Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Country Club Republican



I've often wondered why the Lynn Swann campaign wasted the spring and most of the summer dithering when it had a wonderful opportunity to make merry over the issue of the legislative pay raise. Let me count the ways I think it could have helped the Republican challenger:
First, Swann's handlers could have used the pay-raise as a fulcrum to position their candidate as an outsider-reformer who would shake Harrisburg out of its politics-as-usual stupor that had so angered voters. Suggested slogan for the campaign: I'm angry as Hell and I won't take it anymore!
Second, it was a stance that would have taken Swann's lemon -- his lack of government and political experience -- and turned it into lemonade. Suggested slogan: A New Broom Sweeps Clean. (It's a bald theft of the Clean Sweep movement's slogan and icon, but what the heck.)
Third, it would cast Gov. Rendell in the role of retrograde -- excuse the expression -- fat cat pol in bed with the forces of evil. He signed the damned payraise bill in exchange for what? More of his pet tax- and- spend programs that's what! Suggested slogan: We don't need a governor who kisses ass. We need a governor who kicks ass. (Swann's machismo aura as a former jock would help here.) It could have positioned Swann early and strongly as The Reform Candidate.
Fourth, it would have played well in the Angry Zone of Pennsylvania -- that vast area west of the Susquehanna River, where go-for-the-throat populism strikes a chord with many voters. That's a voter base which, once you add in the Republican T, would have given Swann some solid ground from which to wage his (admittedly uphill) campaign.
In retrospect, though, I was wrong.
While the idea of running a populist campaign against Rendell was a good one, Swann's the wrong guy to do it. And watching him try is painful.
That's because he's the rich white guy in the race.
Whoops! Strike that. That was Jim Seif's characterization of Swann made before the primary. Seif, campaign manager for Bill Scranton, uttered it on a PCN call-in program and was promptly fired for his observation. As Seif explained to The Inquirer at the time:
"There's no excuse. It was a stupid thing to say," said Seif, who added that the comment was not intended as a racial slur. Seif said he was trying to say that Swann, who portrays himself as a political outsider, was really part of the establishment.

Seif said the wrong words, but he had the right idea. More accurately, Swann is a Country Club Republican -- a wealthy and comfortable member of the establishment. It's quite an accomplishment for an African-American born to parents of modest means, a transmigration made possible by sports.
The country club part came through last night when I watched Rendell and Swann debate on WPVI-TV. Go here for video snippets.
Swann is, in many ways, an ideal TV-age candidate: He is an articulate, handsome man, who looks 10 years younger than his chronological 55. He exudes poise, especially when set beside the rumpled Rendell. In this debate (the last) the governor clearly had the command of facts, but Swann had the commanding presence.
Here is the Inquirer's Amy Worden take on the debate. Here is the PG's story on it.
But Swann simply isn't credible in trying on the mantle of "citizen soldier" ready to take on the Harrisburg establishment. He's not running to burn down the country club. He's running to chair its board of directors.
His views -- as enunciated in the debate and elsewhere -- are a paint-by-the-numbers reiteration of Republican positions dating back, oh, about 100 years. Even when given the opportunity by Rendell to join the anti-gun movement (and maybe attract some urban votes) he declined. Guns don't kill people, Swann said, in so many words. People kill people.
It's pretty weak tea when set beside Rendell's governor-as-activist model. Think of FDR versus Calvin Coolidge. (who, I understand, was a pretty mean golfer.)
This is not meant as a shot at Swann. In politics, above all, you must be true to yourself. Swann's not a ranter. He's not a populist. He's not angry. And he won't pretend to be.
It's obviously too much of a pretzel twist for him to to run against the Republican establishment when he is the candidate of that establishment.
What we get is a vigorous, youthful, commanding candidate with nothing much interesting to say.
And the voters are telling the pollsters they aren't at all impressed.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

sometimes, reading your blog makes me want to vote republican.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

There's another point and that is the state economy is doing pretty well, not a small acheivement considering the general wreck the national GOP has made of things. I suspect most people are better off after 4 years of Rendell than they were 4 years ago and that's still a big deal when it comes to voting.

I also believe Pennsylvanians have rightly put the pay raise blame where it belongs, on the legislature
and not the governor. The GOP controlled house and senate demanded
a pay raise as the price for passing the budget, Rendell did not make
a legislative pay raise the center piece of his budget.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous ownsmoke said...

I used to belong to the Country Club and I used to be a Democrat. I can't say that I belong to either right now, the reason being that I'm angry. I'm angry with the establishment for rigging the system, looking down on the little guy, and unfairly receiving all of the breaks. America I thought was the land of opportunity, but from my perspective, PA only offers real opportunity to those on the bus who pay the driver.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous jordon said...

i was really nervous when he declared his campaign that he may get a chance to fool blacks into voting for him based on race. thank god he failed to do that, because he bleeds republican red. nothing moderate about this guy.

moreover, i was stunned (let's talk about it in the past tense, since this race is effectively over) that swann didn't try harder to court the black vote. there are plenty of successful black moderates in pennsylvania who may have come from a background similar to swann's. in fact, not only did he not aggressively court blacks, but also when asked about how his background informed his politics, he seemed to skirt the issue. this may have been honest--one thing about lynn swann is that he seems like a profoundly honest man--but it wasn't politically intelligent.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous DNT said...

Wow -- phillydem has it exactly backwards: the strong national recovery is pulling PA's economy forward, despite Rendell's retrograde Harrisburg agenda of tax, borrow, spend, and regulate.

Proof? PA's rate of job growth, wage growth, and population growth are only a fraction of the national average.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

Well, planet dnt checks in where alternate reality rules the day.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous ownsmoke said...

Maybe the addition of a few shiny new skyscrapers dotting the Philadelphia skyline has given some folks the illusion that the PA economy, not just the Philly economy, is booming. There's been enough propaganda put forth by the powers that be to pull the wool over all of us. But what exactly is the truth and who are the ones most buying into Rendell's rhetoric besides the Philly Dems? Just who is paying for these architectural works of art anyway? The private sector? The public? Private-public? If it is private-public, who gets to play with our tax-dollars? Swann can't be afraid to ruffle any feathers concerning this issue.

5:53 PM  
Anonymous stryker said...

Former Repub govs Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker had a repub legislature to work with and not much got done in Pa. Dem Rendell still has a Repub legislature to work with and they still don't get a whole lot done. Sounds a lot like D.C. If Swann would win, he wouldn't get anything done either because Perzel and Co. would do whatever they felt like doing. Maybe if more Dems got in the legislature, more would get done. As it is now, the Repubs don't seem to care how little, if any thing, gets accomplished.

6:17 PM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

Check the want ads, there are more and better jobs especially in western PA.

The state has run a surplus for the past three years, yes owing in part to the minute raise in the PIT, but also to good stewardship from Rendell and especially budget secretary Maisch.

And, yes, the state has contributed seed money to new construction because econominc development is as much a result of a positive mindset as it is about money alone. And, yes, legislation Rendell got through
mandating a higher percent of energy production come from alternative energy has helped to jump start that
industry. Look at the blossoming redevelopment in downtown Pgh which
is being helped along by state funds.

Government does have an active role to play in economic development and IMO most voters recognize intuitively that what Rendell has
done strikes exactly the right balance between public investment and regulation and private enterprise.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Anthony Verna said...

If I were still living in PA (I always check in to read my hometown newspaper), I'd be concerned that Swann knows nothing about any issues east of, say, Happy Valley.

7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wondering. Have you ever censored phillydem's "Amen" posts like you've done with others who don't agree with your Democratic leanings?

Or, are you one and the same? This was another typical post for you. Take Rendell or Casey talking points and rewrite them as your own. I guess you'll go back to "attacking" Democrats after the election.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say this blurb on teh blog is utterly useless. Swann is a "Country Club Republican" because he is successful. Is Rendell angry? He's not exactly a poor man made good. He's done quite well for himself financially and is from a middle class background. Still this is a better comparison than the ludicrous Coolidge vs. FDR comparison. Roosevelt was as blue blood as they come. Worse still, living standards improved more in the 1920's for everyone than almost any other decade and FDR oversaw the worst economic performance of the country's history. His legacy is one of insolvent federal programs and an uncompetitive economy.
Getting things done-People liek to say "so and so gets things done" as if politicians were carpenters. It's irrelevant "how much" gets done since more bad laws are less preferable to less. Ridge lowered the corp income tax from 11.99% to 9.99% and set the pace to eliminate the corp franchise tax. He also enabled charter schools and it was Schweiker (I think) that seized the Philly School District. Both have had large positive impacts on Philadelphia. Those are monumental changes. Sure, maybe they didn't pump out laws everyday but thosse were improvements. I was disappointed Rendell didn't do more to lower our corp tax rate to competitive levels. I also worry that if he had a D legislature he woudl spend too much

1:14 PM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

LOL, anonymous, Ferrick and I are definately not one and the same.

As for the last anonymouse, the takeover of the Phila schools was actually something the city and Mayor Street supported. It has worked out well, but not because of anything Schweiker did. The main reason is Jim Nevels who put the interest of the city's kids above his own Republican partisanship. I'm pretty sure Nevels'independence was
a shock to the Harriburg pols who expected him and the SRC to turn over the PSD to their friend at Edison.

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what was discussed in the debate? Does anyone care? Or is it all about stuffing your least favorite candidate into the ugliest possible box?

It didn't come up during the Philly debate (go figure) but, in Pittsburgh, Rendell answered a question about the state's CNI tax by saying that most corporations to which the 9.9% rate applies don't pay it, and that it could be lowered by making sure all of them pay something. Anyone know what he was talking about?

3:44 PM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

I don't know the specifics of how the CNI works, but I've long heard it said that few companies actually pay it -
maybe one quarter, although I don't know the true percentage.

What Rendell, and others, have said is
we could generate the same revenue, or more, by lowering the CNI rate but applying it to everyone. I suppose the
CNI would then be closer to our flat income tax.

5:30 AM  
Blogger LVDem said...

The CNI tax has so many legislatively created exemptions that anybody with a lobbyist (sorry, gov't affairs director) has an exemption. That excludes most smaller corporations who pay in full every year. If the tax was lower and all the exemptions repealed then more revenue could be generated and less of a burden on small corps could be found. Rendell proposed this over the last two fiscal debates but the GOP didn't do much moving. I guess all those donations from Verizon PAC and the others were just too attractive.

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the CNI is sort of like the BPT where the "type and nature" of your business determines "the actual taxes that you are liable for" since "there are some exemptions available for certain businesses."

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. I would be interested in seeing what types of businesses qualify for exemptions in Philadelphia, alongside a breakdown of the types of businesses located in the city (I suspect that law and architecture might be present in both places).

2:43 PM  
Anonymous ownsmoke said...

In my hometown that has been greatly affected by the urban redevelopment barrage, we have primarily lawyers, non-profits, and bars. Of course the planners, architects, and developers have been quite active too. I'd say at least half of the properties are tax-exempt. Retail, with the exception of a few low-end stores brought in from Philadelphia, is largely non-existant. And they call this progress?

1:26 PM  

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