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Schieffer and centrism

Tom Schieffer continues his task of making the case for himself as the Democratic nominee for Governor.

Fort Worth lawyer Tom Schieffer helped make George W. Bush a wealthy man. And as President Bush’s ambassador to Australia, Schieffer sold the war in Iraq and the indefinite detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

Now, Schieffer hopes to convince the liberals, progressives and populists who dominate the Texas Democratic primary that he is their best chance for their party to win a statewide election for the first time since 1994. Schieffer on Wednesday will formally announce as a Democratic candidate for governor in 2010.

Schieffer, 61, will become the first official candidate in a race where the public attention so far has been focused on U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s expected challenge to Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary. Other Democrats looking at the contest are state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio and 2006 independent candidate Kinky Friedman.

A former state legislator from Fort Worth, Schieffer was then-Gov. Mark White’s Tarrant County coordinator. His core campaign leadership was White loyalists.

Schieffer in an interview with the Houston Chronicle last week said Democrats have a rare opportunity next year to win statewide because the Texas Republican Party has moved too far right and a Perry-Hutchison primary fight will leave the winner bloodied and vulnerable. But he said Democratic victory is only possible if the party nominates a centrist, not someone from the left wing.

“There’s no question that some people in the Democratic Party don’t want to go there, but I believe that when the Democratic Party is successful, it is a big tent party that can appeal to a broad coalition of people in Texas,” Schieffer said.

You can listen to some of that interview here. He’s got his work cut out for him. I think a big part of the problem is that “centrist” is rather a dirty word among Democratic activists these days, as it is often used to describe recalcitrant Democratic members of Congress who are doing their best to obstruct, water down, or otherwise not implement key elements of President Obama’s agenda – you know, things like health care, financial reform, climate change mitigation. It’s often accompanied by a fetishization of bipartisanship as an end, rather than as a means to an end. So from my perspective, at least, the question I would have for Schieffer is what does being a “centrist” mean to him, philosophically and practically? What does he think he can gain by this approach that a more open and aggressive progressive approach cannot? I realize that part of his answer to that is “win the election”. That’s a debate we Democrats have been having for a long time now, and all I can say is that if it reminds people of the 2002 campaigns, it’s not likely to go too well for him.

The point I’m trying to make is that the message progressives will hear from this is that we need to give up on some of the stuff we want in order to try to get some of the other stuff we want. This is a message we feel we’ve heard a lot these past few months, with a lot more emphasis on the stuff we can’t have than on the stuff we can, and that’s in the context of a historical win in the Presidential election plus large majorities in both legislative chambers. What does that mean for Texas and a Governor Schieffer? My advice, for what it’s worth, is that it would probably be best for Schieffer to focus more on the things we can and will achieve with him than on the things we can’t.

Having said all that, Schieffer is clearly right about the direction the Republicans are going, and the opportunity it presents for Democrats.

At [his Volunteer Leadership Summit, Governor Rick] Perry was introduced by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who proclaimed his support for Perry and described the governor’s race as a life-or-death struggle for the conservative philosophy.

“This is an important event today – important for our party, important for our state, important for the world … Today is the beginning of showing the rest of the country and the rest of the world that conservatism is alive and well in Texas,” Patrick told volunteers.

Later, to reporters, Patrick said that “the way Texas goes America goes” and that he doesn’t want the state to veer from a strong course he sees as strongly fiscally conservative, pro-life and pro-family (some critics, among other complaints, say Texas doesn’t invest enough in programs for its citizens, including education and health care for children).

Patrick said that he and Perry line up on issues “probably closer than anyone else in the Legislature.”

“I don’t want to see us move to the middle, with all due respect to whoever else is running,” Patrick said. “I don’t want to move to the middle. That is political suicide for the Republican Party.”

My, how things have changed. I couldn’t come up with a better illustration of why this past legislative session was about nothing but Rick Perry’s primary campaign. I at least believe that Dan Patrick’s vision of Texas is not a mainstream one, and as far as that goes I do most certainly agree with Tom Schieffer about the opening this gives Texas Democrats. The more he, or any other candidate, can provide a contrast to this vision, the better I believe he, or some other candidate, will do. What can we accomplish if we get off this Dan Patrick/Rick Perry road to perdition? That’s what we need to hear. BOR has more.

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5 Comments

  1. Baby Snooks says:

    In today’s political milieu the word centrist means “will work well with the other party” as in “will sell you out to the other party” as in there is just one party called the Republicrat Party which could give a flip about Democrats or Republicans.

    What are we left with? The conservatives and the liberals. A growing number of whom are Independents simply because they see only Republicrats controlling their former parties.

    The interesting thing about the Bushes is they have become very unpopular in both parties and the association with them calls into question the very foundation of partisan politics. The Bushes are simply Republicrats. “Of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation.” And the reality is the Clintons and now Obama serve that ideal as well. As do quite a few members of Congress. As will Schiefer. As do both parties at least on the national level. The one good thing is that the “extremes” in both parties are what will eventually take the parties back.

    As for 2010, most assume Rick Perry will prevail no matter who challenges him simply because so far he’s managed to keep Texas from capsizing economically. That matters. To Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Until the economy improves, voters are most likely going to be voting according to their pocketbook. And in Texas that means there may be some Democrats voting for Rick Perry unless Main Street sees some improvement from Obama’s stimulus which so far seems destined only to stimulate the private interests as did Bush’s stimulus. Wall Street is doing just fine. Main Street is going under.

    A strong Democratic candidate might prevail but Schiefer isn’t it and Kinky certainly isn’t it and so that leaves Leticia van de Putte and no one knows whether she will or whether she can. The question of whether she can has to do with Rick Noriega and whether he lost to Cornyn because of a poorly run campaign and lack of a concerted effort by the Texas Democratic Party or because he’s Hispanic.

    Everyone is making their bets on the basis of the expectation that Kay Bailey Hutchison will resign and there is no guarantee that she will. She is, after all, equally tarred by the Bushes as is John Cornyn despite appearances. Both were, and are, Bush lapdogs.

    As for Congress impeding Obama’s agenda his agenda seems growingly to be the agenda of the Bushes. Everyone is tired of the agenda of the Bushes. So if Congress is impeding that, god bless Congress.

    It’s a shame Molly Ivins isn’t around. She would be having a ball with it all.

  2. […] for Schieffer and centrism Kuff does a great job of fleshing that out. He’s got his work cut out for him. I think a big part […]

  3. […] and full marks to him for his confidence in a matchup with KBH. That’s the sort of thing I had in mind for Schieffer as he introduces himself. Keep it up, Tom. Although Schieffer is a Democrat, his […]

  4. […] came out strongly for Perry last month, and as HK notes would make an excellent anti-KBH attack dog, especially with […]

  5. […] be talking to about it. Other than that, I’d call this a good start. If Schieffer’s definition of “centrism” is about supporting CHIP and education and casting opposition to those things as being extreme, […]