February 21, 2010

A Moderate Afternoon

Justin Katz

Owing to the moderately light traffic, I've arrived moderately early for the Moderate Party kickoff event at the Everyman Bistro. Actually, part of the reason that I made such good time was that I've been here before. In one of those small-Rhode Island coincidences, I actually met RI Future administrator Brian Hull here for dinner in the autumn. (I initiated the meeting; he chose the location.)

Mine was the third name on the "press" sign-in sheet, and although I didn't devote too much energy shuffling through my disorganized memory for names, I didn't recognize the other two, but the flow of people into the joint has been steady since I arrived.

1:50 p.m.

It's a funny experience, to set up at these things. Since last summer we've increasingly been treated as official members of the press. But then I set up with the cheap little netbook and the tiny camcorder, my shoelaces thoroughly frayed and holy sweater, and the "press pass" around my neck feels kinda inappropriate.

Perhaps I should begin droppin' my Gs in order to make the whole thing seem like a conscious imaging plan, rather than a consequence of limited funds and a sparse wardrobe.

2:13 p.m.

They've pretty well packed the place, although it's small and three candidates and a new party really shouldn't have had any trouble filling it. Not very many familiar faces, although that's probably more a measure of my lack of networking rather than the party's lack of connections. WRNI's Ian Donnis is walking around. So is Arlene Violet. Republican Representative Brian Newberry is here, undercover, as it were. A registered Republican who recognized me from Tiverton is here to check things out. That's about it, so far.

2:25 p.m.

Moderate Party Communications Director Kate Cantwell just took the podium to say that the program would start shortly and to request a moment of silence for the victims of the Station Nightclub fire. I know we're somewhat near the anniversary of that tragedy, but I'm not sure what the connection is.

2:39 p.m.

Executive Director Christine Hunsinger opened up the speeches with the message, essentially, that the party is made up of newcomers and motivated novices. Outsiders.

Next up is the new chairman Robert Corrente. He's offering a typically Republican assessment of the state's problems. If you've read Ed Fitzpatrick's column today featuring Corrente, you know what he's saying.

Passing note: An Anchor Rising reader just introduced himself and gave me a matchbook from the Reagan/Bush '84 campaign. Really neat. There's a metaphor in there somewhere about Anchor Rising setting Rhode Island on fire, but politics is such a litigious game that I'll work on the metaphor carefully before unleashing it.

2:47 p.m.

There's something telling in the fact that Corrente just expressed outrage about legislative grants. Good thing we've got a budding Moderate Party to raise that sort of issue, huh?

2:49 p.m.

So far, Corrente's just stealing the low-hanging fruit of the RIGOP's message. I suspect that the effect of having two parties that are mainly distinguished by the fact that they are not each other will allow the Democrats to jump in with a smarmy "Hey, us, too" and eliminate the strength of the civic complaints.

2:53 p.m.

"You don't have run as part of the monolith, and you don't have to run as part of the dysfunctional group that would rather spend time bickering internally." Lot of scorn in his voice on the second clause. I take it that Corrente's not interested in attracting the votes of Republicans who aren't necessarily bitter and hateful about their party. The vibe I'm getting from him is that he's interested in actively pulling voters away from the GOP rather than fostering a cooperative front against the Democrats. That could be significant in races that lack Republican candidates and Republican voters have a bad feeling about the Moderates.

3:14 p.m.

AG candidate Chris Little didn't really say anything unexpected, although he wasn't hostile to anybody other than the current AG. Lt. Gov. Candidate Jean Ann Guliano is essentially suggesting that the Moderates can accomplish all of the obvious repairs to the civic culture without partisan baggage and bickering. You know, because the Democrats and the Republicans will see that the Moderates are really just uniters... new kids with whom everybody can work. Right?

3:20 p.m.

Guliano is a Gist supporter. Funding formula. You know, so far I don't see the argument for a Moderate Party other than avoiding Republican and Democrat primaries.

3:32 p.m.

Ken Block is expressing his centrist extremism, as if we who are ideologically firm on the left or right are some insignificant niche, while most everybody else is ideologically pure in the center.

3:36 p.m.

"I will find common ground with everyone!." Cue bluebirds.

3:38 p.m.

Ken's first step as governor: Ask for federal money and issue bonds to invest in business. He'll then create business zones. Actually a surprisingly government-heavy solution.

"We must take every step to increase our tax base" to continue paying for welfare services.

From home:

Two notes:

  • A reader points out that simultaneous to the Moderate Party event, there was a memorial for the Station Nightclub, thus explaining the moment of silence.
  • Andrew and I were able to interview each of the candidates. I'll have that video, as well as full video of the event, up soon, hopefully by morning.
Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Justin, Rod Driver just came in, he's sort of behind you near the door. All flavors are here. I see faces from both sides. Are any of the little ones running around yours?

Posted by: mangeek at February 21, 2010 2:58 PM

It's beyond me why the Moderates are running a campaign for Lt Gov when presumably (maybe I'm wrong about this) their resources are limited. Why not go after Sec of State if you are interested in securing statewide elected positions? At least they would hold some degree of power, unlike the placeholder seat of the Lt. Gov.

Posted by: MadMom at February 21, 2010 3:48 PM

To borrow a phrase from Bill Gates, did Ken Block think about this for more than fifteen seconds before he started the Moderate Party?

Posted by: BobN at February 21, 2010 3:52 PM

Aren't the Moderate Party and the Chafee independent candidacy kind of a replay of Lowell Weicker's 1990 third-party run in Connecticut?

Weicker's solution to Connecticut's fiscal crisis was an expanded state income tax (although he ran against it during his campaign).

Is this really something new?

Or is it just "old wine in new wineskins?"

Posted by: brassband at February 21, 2010 5:33 PM

Re: the Station nightclub moment of silence: at the same time as the MPRI event there was a memorial service for the fire victime.

Posted by: station question at February 21, 2010 5:34 PM

Justin, you can thank yourself and your fellow theocrats for the creation of the Moderate Party. They're people who were driven away from the GOP when the fundamentalists took over.

Posted by: Pragmatist at February 21, 2010 7:05 PM

"'We must take every step to increase our tax base' to continue paying for welfare services."

Really Justin, is that what you heard? I think a focus will be on finding ways to deliver social services that are efficient and effective. That's a good strategy from the middle. Right now we just throw money at non-profits with virtually no accountability.

I know that you would like to see the services cut entirely, but here in the city that's a non-option. I won't live in a society where people starve and freeze to death.

What I do want is for the services to be accountable, effective, and genuinely helpful, while still being conscious of the taxpayers.

The little Republican on my shoulder gets angry when I go visit my sister (who gets heating assistance) and her heat is cranked-up to the mid-seventies. The little Progressive on my other shoulder knows that she wouldn't be able to afford the heat even if it was set to 62. The technologist and centrist in me says that National Grid should be installing wireless thermostats that they can 'dial down' to a limit for customers on assistance. The businessman says that if we created that device in Rhode Island, it would be a nationwide best-seller, and there would be a few more tech and manufacturing jobs here on account of it.

I'm not a fan of the rather totalitarian idea of having the utility dial-down my heat to 'cool but safe' when I don't pay, but it's far preferable to the current situation (the one that encourages the poor to crank up the free heat) -or- letting people freeze.

Posted by: mangeek at February 21, 2010 7:56 PM


It's not just what I heard. It's exactly what Ken said:

Rhode Island's current fiscal crisis presents a clear danger to the social safety net currently in place. We must take immediate action to increase our tax base to pay for the services that so many desperately require.

I heard far too many conservatives and "moderates" explain that they just knew that Obama would govern from a restrained center to fail to listen to what a candidate actually expresses in favor of what I'd prefer that he said.

During our face-to-face interview, I got Ken to concede that we shouldn't continue the incentive for welfare-seekers to choose our state over others, but it really shouldn't take an on-camera interview with a conservative ideologue to draw that out of an ostensibly fiscally prudent "moderate."

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 21, 2010 8:12 PM

I'm moderating my enthusiasm for the Moderate Party as it moderates its already moderate stance on fiscal moderation, lest it be forced to modestly moderate the state's social service cornucopia.

Now, tell me again, what exactly is the point of the Moderate Party/

Could you explain its platform, please?

And where do its candidates stand on homosexual marriage and illegal immigration / amnesty / family reunification?

Since those will be issues, no matter what, I'd like to know.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at February 21, 2010 10:01 PM

Okay,show the Constitutional grounds for the government to be a social service,welfare agency.

Posted by: helen at February 21, 2010 10:08 PM


I asked Ken Block about some of those issues in an interview that I'll have up tomorrow. He sees same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue. He's pro-choice. And he's for the easy answer of eVerify, but he's not inclined to boot people who are already here.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 21, 2010 10:09 PM

My understanding is that candidates are screened to have a conscience, regardless of whether it's right or left leaning in nature.

Also, the 'platform' is the 4 Es, with an extra emphasis on Economy. Candidates are expected to bring their own conscience with regard to social issues. I actually find that quite refreshing.

Also, I know that they have filtered-out plenty of wingnuts from both sides. You don't think 34,000 people sign petitions for a party and only five want to run for office, do you?

As far as what Ken said...

A bigger tax base is the best answer to keeping tax rates down. The more people who are net-payers into the system (read: people with middle-class jobs), the lower your taxes can be. You're an advocate for drastically cutting services to raise the tide. Ken seems to be an advocate for raising the tide to have fewer people on the services. I have no problem with that.

Also, we deliver the services in a wasteful way right now. I have a friend who works at a housing program where they have five state-reimbursed non-profit employees for a housing program that only serves six people. A well-administered program might only need two employees to serve ten people. Better oversight of state fund-receiving non-profits is important, and it's a good way for us to keep the social services and cut our tax bills.

Posted by: mangeek at February 21, 2010 10:35 PM


In other words, typical liberal Democrat with an inclination to be moderately more fiscally prudent (pun intended). Yawn.


Running candidates with no shared inclination toward social issues is not a foundation for a political party (just ask the RIGOP).

It appears to me that the Moderate's are social liberals who'd just assume not discuss it, at least not before an election.

As for "you're an advocate for drastically cutting services to raise the tide" I'm an advocate for raising the tide for everyone, including by drastically cutting social services, since 40-odd years after the War on Poverty began they've proven to perpetuate poverty, not help lift people up.

Universal vouchers to give all kids a shot at a quality education (i.e., giving them an opportunity to escape the grasp of the monopolistic teachers unions and bureaucrats) AND re-stigmatizing out of wedlock births would do far more to reduce poverty.

Somehow I don't see any of those being advocated by Democrat champions of the poor, the Moderate or the so-called Republican Party in RI.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at February 21, 2010 10:46 PM

Well, I guess as long as the folks providing oversight have the heads of lions, the bodies of goats, and the tails of snakes. Or something similarly plausible.

I'm an advocate for cutting expenditures and government intervention in our lives to an extent that would allow people to thrive. The Moderates appear to believe that the problem isn't liberal policies, but the implementation as performed by Democrats and Republicans. There is zero reason to believe that they'll be any better at pursuing wrong-headed strategies.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 21, 2010 10:57 PM

How is having state-reimbursed i.e.(paid by taxpayers)non-profit employees for a "housing program"
consistent with and in alignment with the supreme law of our land? How does that align with protecting our individual rights?

Posted by: helen at February 21, 2010 10:59 PM

"I know that you would like to see the services cut entirely, but here in the city that's a non-option. I won't live in a society where people starve and freeze to death."

False dichotomy alert...

People can live without government services. That there may be a learning curve to living without them is another issue entirely.

Mangeek, if the "wingnut free marketers" took over government tomorrow and turned off your sister's free heat, would you let her freeze to death, or would you help her pay the bill? Well, there's your answer.

Posted by: Dan at February 21, 2010 11:13 PM

"...my shoelaces thoroughly frayed and holy sweater"

Wearing your Jesus sweater, Justin?

Posted by: Russ at February 22, 2010 9:52 AM

Just what we all need....another conservative ideologue in the press. Chris Little is the only candidate of the three that I know. I'll be listening to all the AG candidates as the time goes on.

Posted by: Phil at February 22, 2010 11:06 AM

Re: Helen and Dan...

You folks know by now that I'm pro-business and pro free-market, but with -some- constraints and a bit of governmental compassion.

As far as the housing program... Spend some time in Central Falls and talk to people. There are a lot of people who would starve and freeze without some assistance. Most of the clients of the place I'm talking about have trouble reading or have mental and physical health problems that essentially cripple them. I live a mile away. I don't want these people roaming the streets desperate and starving, because then they'll be breaking into my house to for the heat and food while I'm at work. I don't have the time to sit at home all day with a gun pointed at the window, nor the inclination to run my own homeless shelter. One of the reasons crime is down so precipitously over the past decade is the expansion of programs that keep the poor from turning to desperate measures.

And Dan, when my sister fell off the wagon and had nowhere to go, I welcomed her into my home to try to get her on her feet. Unfortunately, a family of two who each work two jobs is a much -less- supportive environment than a well-run housing program with a substance-abuse specialty.

This is the whole idea, I think, behind the Moderate movement. Progressives want to throw more money at these programs, Conservatives want to eliminate them. The other 80% of us want the programs to do better work for less money, which I think is entirely possible.

I'm not sure where both of you live, but I lived in downtown Pawtucket for several years before I bought my house closer to the East Side, I can't tell you how many times I've run into hungry, sobbing runaways, heroin-addicted vets nodding-off in the bushes, guys who don't speak English who are out of gas on their way to work, or crazy women wandering about speaking in tongues because they were off their meds. My neighborhood has problems that no amount of labor demand or 'free market' can fix. What we can do is streamline the services and build a business environment that keeps regular folks from needing government services too.

I'm not happy when I look at my paycheck and see how much gets siphoned-off for programs that give other people what I've rightfully earned for myself, but until you really pound the pavement where every-other house is boarded-up, you might not fully-grasp the depth of the problem.

Posted by: mangeek at February 22, 2010 12:57 PM

Mangeek, just as an aside, I hope you don't equate me with the likes of the lunatic zealots on RIFuture who say it's their way or the highway and everyone else should be purged. I have my own personal preference, which is that I would like to live in a voluntary society without violently coerced taxation. However, I would be absolutely *thrilled* with the society you describe in which government programs cost far less and actually help people who need it. Our differences are mostly philosophical and abstract, I would gladly support what you are proposing as a solid move in the right direction. At that far off point, then we could perhaps discuss where to continue from there.

Sometimes it seems like there is more disagreement on this blog than there actually is, because there is no point rehashing what we all agree upon. I just bring up thought experiments like the one above to expose myself to new ways of thinking or try to get people to challenge their own positions in those few areas where we disagree. I personally believe that there would be both less need for charity as well as more charity in a totally privatized system, but I also understand that to make the switch overnight would result in people freezing and starving, since so many have become dependent upon the government just to go about their day to day life. That is precisely the problem, and it has not been true in other cultures and historical periods that without massive social spending people simply die, but I do recognize that there would have to be a large and incremental cultural change which would take time.

Posted by: Dan at February 22, 2010 2:01 PM


I'm persuaded that you aren't aware of your condescension, so I'll withhold the swear words that I'm tempted to type. Moderates are "screened to have a conscience," while the ignorant likes of me wish to drive people "desperate and starving" out into the street.

Here's an honest opinion: An objective, issue-by-issue analysis would probably find that I'm closer to the political center than is Ken Block. The centrist rhetoric from "moderates" appears more and more to be a simple ploy to frighten the broad middle so that it doesn't move slightly toward the right, but accepts the policies of folks who are well to the left.

Put in your percentages: I'm no more extreme than the right-leaning 30%. You and Ken Block would probably fall in the left-leaning 20-10%. Yet, your strategy is to distort the playing field such that the voters between us think that I'm in the right 10% and you're in the left 40%.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 22, 2010 5:27 PM

I agree with Justin that how we frame the issues is extremely important, and, as he puts it, it is at times difficult to hold back the swear words that come to mind when people create patently false dichotomies between their own interventionist economic policies and the alternative privatized system of charity, which they characterize as "letting people die" or some such indoctrinated nonsense. Welfare itself is an extremely "left" position, it is a relatively recent program and an unnecessary one, from a survival standpoint. When you take a welfare system as the starting point or presupposed moderate position of the discussion, it is a distortion of what it really means to be moderate. I am quick to remind my friends in our own conversations that there is nothing inherently reasonable or moderate about being "in the middle" on an issue. For a somewhat silly example, advocating for a moderate amount of murder or a moderate amount of cannibalism are not really moderate positions at all.

Posted by: Dan at February 22, 2010 5:54 PM

I certainly don't mean to come off that way. It's easy to convey the wrong tone when exchanging ideas on a politically-charged blog. Dan, I enjoy the debate, and I'm not trying to demonize as much as inform. When we discuss system changes at work, occasionally someone will pipe-up and explain how a change in X will completely break Y. That's what I'm trying to do.

Justin, pitting those two things I said against each other as if they were part of a contiguous argument seems unfair to me... One was my observation of a political party's screening and selection criteria, the other was about my personal views. I'll take the blame for not keeping on-topic. Those are two different discussions in the same thread with the same people; I'm the one who switched gears. As far as where we sit on the spectrum, we're in different realms, so both of our views of the other side are probably pretty skewed. I don't know many other people who drove an hour, set up a camera, liveblogged, and interviewed candidates like you did. I watched you, it was a labor of love what you did at the kickoff. Your dedication and sacrifice put you further towards the end of the spectrum. Ideologically you might be 'within 30%' of the end, but ideology means nothing without action, and I judge people by their actions. You can place me similarly, since I came to Anchor Rising during my 'dedicate two hours a day to keep the loophole open' mission.

I don't want to create a division that doesn't exist, or frame myself as 'right and good' compared to everyone else, or even to say that I represent all of the middle. That's not my intention at all. I'm guessing that I'm actually relatively far to the right of Ken on fiscal issues, and relatively far to the left on social issues, based on what I heard on Sunday.

So, assuming that the Moderate selection discussion is not the juicy stuff... What exactly would the academic conservative do about urban poverty, crime, jobs, and education? I'm curious because I'm having trouble seeing how communities that don't pay taxes (because they don't earn enough) are going to improve with a tax cut, sans regionalization.

I'll guess that the academic conservative approach is fundamentally different from mine, but I know that we have the same end-goal in mind. We all want a better society, we all want more people working gainfully and living within their means. I just feel that responsible fiscal stewardship of social programs is the answer (or at least a beginning to an answer). I regularly walk through areas that are too short of 'goodwill amongst men' to expect success from a total withdrawal of government assistance.

I think I offer a traditionally right-wing blog a taste of gritty urban reality. I might be wrong, but I don't think many AR readers live in neighborhoods where the problems I talked about are on full-display. I've called the police four times in the year since I moved here, all because of violent crime or animal abuse. I've scrubbed blood off my arms and hands after giving first aid to a gang violence victim, while a police officer stood over me and told me about 'the ABCs' (that's for Ambulance Before Cops). I also know that that stuff is happening a lot less than it was in the mid 90s. Don't take that as an endorsement of unfettered spending, but as a point to work off of.

I'm as far to the right as I've ever been in my life... Maybe because I'm a homeowner and investor now, maybe because I'm getting older and wiser. When I was fourteen I was reading Engels and Mao and thinking, 'this makes sense', and now I'm finding myself advocating for privatization or outright elimination of failing government programs. I'm not an expert here. I haven't read all the books. I don't like the Progressive answer to urban issues, because I've seen it fail already. What's the conservative answer?

Posted by: mangeek at February 23, 2010 12:18 AM

"I regularly walk through areas that are too short of 'goodwill amongst men' to expect success from a total withdrawal of government assistance."

Mangeek, do you think it's possible that people abrogate their own social responsibility precisely because they expect government to take care of other people for them? I am always willing to help somebody in need if I think it will actually make a difference (individuals are the best judges of how to allocate aid), but even I catch myself sometimes asking, "Why should I have to help on top of already paying taxes?"

In my view, the whole culture is rotten because it is set up so that nobody has to take responsibility for themselves or anyone else. People want the government to do everything for them, and the government employees just blame up the ladder or across branches all day.

Posted by: Dan at February 23, 2010 1:30 AM

Dan, there's certainly a lot of value to that. We're all guilty of occasionally not helping when we could because it's 'out of our domain' or 'someone else's job'. Personal responsibility sure does seem in short supply these days, at all levels.

I just think there's not enough people like you and me, people with enough resources to lend a hand, in some of these places. Take Central Falls as an example, with only a tiny portion of households breaking into what we would call 'middle class' income brackets, what is the realistic capability of a well-meaning populace? I get the impression that overstretched people there are already doing whatever they can for their neighbors and the community, and it's still not working.

What do we do about that? What can we do without compromising a bit? Should a place like Central Falls be brought into the fold of a slightly less-dysfunctional neighbor like Pawtucket? State control has failed, for sure. Local control has failed in several places. Federal control seems abhorrent to the ideals we were founded upon, nor do I see much promise in it.

It gives some insight as to why cities are loaded with Democrats, even conservative Democrats. People look around and see that they can't do with less help, and could certainly use more. I look at the way the help is being delivered and wonder if it's actually keeping people down instead of lifting them up (either because the help deincentivizes individual success, or that the infrastructure to deliver it doesn't want to put itself out of work). Either way, my answer isn't to eliminate the help, but to make it palatable for those of us who eventually foot the bill. That means cutting wasteful or unhelpful programs, keeping a close eye on what helps the most for the money spent, and maybe fostering a little competition amongst the social service agencies to keep them from devolving into monopolistic bureaucracies.

I guess I'm saying that for some things, clear-cut capitalism might not be the best bet, but applying some successful principles from capitalism might be a good way to keep productivity of government services up. That might look like performance-based bonuses instead of steps, or making it easier for managers to hire and fire staff, amongst other more technical business strategies.

Posted by: mangeek at February 23, 2010 2:28 AM

May I submit that the core issue is not unfettered capitalism versus paternalist government/socialism, but as they used to say in the business books 10 or 15 years ago, a "paradigm shift."

In this case, reversing a paradigm shift that occurred as a result of the 1960s "war on poverty" and radicalization of the Democratic party.

starting then people were inculcated with the message that they were helpless victims and simultaneously the stigma against unwanted pregnancy was eliminated (single parenthood is the single greatest leading indicator of poverty).

The societal message, as transmitted through governmental policy, needs to be a restoration of the expectation that if one is of sound mind and body they are expected to be self-supporting via at least completing high school and then getting and keeping a job. The phrase "deadbeat" and "lazy bum" means to reappear in the generally accepted vocabulary. In other words, lack of ambition and a work ethic needs to be restigmatized, not excused as victimhood.

So to with out of wedlock births.

Yes we need to reintroduce the concept of being judgmental vis-à-vis irresponsible behavior and poor life choices, instead of the current "progressive" selection of judgmentalism being limited to topics that are "politically correct."

Economists say that if you subsidize something, you will get more of it then will naturally occur. The current government programs insulate people from the consequences of lack of ambition and irresponsible behavior -- which constitutes a subsidy of same.

That is why poverty rates were declining into the late 60s, but after the "war on poverty" kicked in flatlined, and have flatlined since.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at February 23, 2010 1:11 PM

Block is an atheist, so he won't get very far. God won't let him.

This will irk some, but face it; nothing good ever comes about without God's help.

Posted by: Smith at February 23, 2010 10:12 PM
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