alien & sedition.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
  William Donahue, Jihadist

Why is William Donahue still talking, and why are the media still listening? The anti-semitic racist's latest hissy fit involves a chocolate Jesus, which, according to Donahue, is "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever." Donahue and his fellow terrorists have successfully intimidated the gallery in question into cancelling the exhibition.

Five Before Chaos has a comprehensive demolition of the towering stupidity at work here. Go read - you'll laugh your ass off.

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  Laffer Curve to Infinity - And Beyond!

Above: The Earth as Viewed from Larry Kudlow

Larry Kudlow is the Last Supply-Sider, which is not as exciting as being the Last Starfighter, but involves nearly as much spaciness.

Anyway, if you're interested, here's Kudlow's take on the GOP presidential field. He is, of course, delighted by Rudy's recent flip-flop in favor of the flat tax. Kudlow only gets loopier as he gets older, and it seems he's happy to have a couple Republican candidates to keep him company:
It’s good to see that Republican presidential contenders are focusing on supply-side economics as a pro-growth strategy for their campaigns and presumably, for their presidential vision if elected.

The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel tells the story in her “Tax Talk” column today. Having interviewed the “Big Three” candidates on CNBC’s Kudlow and Company, I agree with Ms. Strassel’s assessment that Mayor Giuliani and Governor Romney have developed the best tax strategies so far. Senator McCain remains a distant third.

Incidentally, Steve Forbes’ endorsement earlier this week of Rudy Giuliani is a significant development. Both Rudy and Romney have strong supply-side tax advisors in their camps. And if economist Kevin Hassett can convince Sen. McCain to slash corporate tax rates, that would surely give the Arizonan a much stronger economic growth platform.
I dearly hope that Kudlow gets his way, and the 2008 GOP nominee ignores David Brooks and runs as a supply-sider.

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  Storm Brewing over Dobson Remarks

There's some pushback by the conservative netroots against James Dobson's calculated attack on Fred Thompson. Dobson, as you'll recall, phoned up US News & World Report to say what a shame it is that Thompson hates the little baby Jesus. The move seemed like a pretty straightforward result of Dobson's quid pro quo with Newt Gingrich: Newt reaffirmed Dobson's status as A-Number One Top Evangelical Honcho by using the Rev.'s radio show to confess his adulterous ways. This put Dobson in the position of being the one to give the green light for evangelicals to support the cancer-suffering-wife-divorcer's candidacy. Dobson's smear of Thompson, who looks to usurp Gingrich's role as the movement conservative favorite who'll ride in on a white horse to do battle with Rudy McRomney, seems like part of the package.

Some in the movement are hitting back. Here's GOPUSA President Bobby Eberle, who has been flogging a "Draft Thompson" petition:
Dobson should NOT play politics with someone’s Christian beliefs, and his unsolicited phone call to U.S. News & World Report seems very strange, indeed.

Being a Christian is a PERSONAL decision. It is a relationship between the person and his or her Lord and Savior. The decision to share that relationship publicly is also a PERSONAL decision. Dobson has absolutely no idea what is in Thompson’s heart, and to profess to know is wrong.
Playing politics with Christian beliefs is of course the entire premise of James Dobson's existence. If being a Christian is a strictly personal matter, then Dobson might as well be doing tent revivals on the Arkansas fairground circuit (and I'm not saying he shouldn't be).

At PoliBlog, Steven Taylor likewise wonders whether Dobson doesn't have too much influence:
[W]hile Dobson has the right to support whichever candidate he likes, this is a really good example of the problems some (many?) religious leaders get into when they start trying to be political brokers. By stating who and who isn’t a Christian (by Dobson’s definition, I might add) and linking that to a candidate’s desirability while simultaneously giving support to another candidate who has had questionable moral behavior creates a rather odd synergy. [...]

while Dobson has, as I noted, legitimate policy interests, he should place the reputation of his faith above short-term political gains and for some time, Dobson hasn’t (in my opinion) done a very good job on that front (another recent example would be his dismissive attitude in the Mark Foley scandal).

For Dobson to be so smitten with Gingrich is probably as much about the other candidates as it is about Gingrich, who has never struck me as an especially evangelical fellow (and I have paid close attention to his career for some time). However, Romney is a Mormon, Rudy is, well, Rudy, and the rest haven’t got much of a shot. Since Gingrich was willing to do the mea culpa routine on the radio with Dobson a few weeks back coupled with the lack of an alternative, I guess gave Newt the Dobson slot by default.
And, as Pam's House Blend noted, Dobson's remarks stirred up a a backlash at Free Republic, where the commenters were in no mood to tolerate the efforts of an old-guard gatekeeper to shut Thompson out. Sample comment:
Stuff it Dobson. We should be more interested in saving the US than your stupid concept of what a Christian is.
This is an interesting dustup because it may prove to be a test of the relative strength of James Dobson vs. the actual conservative grassroots. At the New Republic, Christopher Orr simply assumes that Dobson's smear means the end of Thompson's brief shot at being the conservative candidate. I'm not so sure - the reaction against Dobson, from the right, has been harsh. Grassroots conservatives seem to view Thompson as a genuinely conservative - yet genuinely electable - candidate. And they aren't taking kindly to Dobson's rather transparent hit job on Gingrich's behalf.

Of course, the Reverend has more political power in his little finger than do all the Freepers put together. But that power is based on the perception of his ability to marshal grassroots conservatives. If that perception is damaged, his power wanes. Meanwhile, let's not be so quick to say that his attack means that Thompson is no longer the conservative candidate.

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Friday, March 30, 2007
  Giuliani's Mob Prob

As you've no doubt already read, it turns out that Giuliani knew that Bernie Kerik was mobbed-up before Kerik was appointed NY Police Commissioner. A little bit of information that America's Mayor claims to have "forgotten."

Best post I've seen on this so far is by Bouldin at the Daily Gotham. Read it all, but go around telling your friends about this line:
People forget dinner reservations, not being told that their nominee for police commissioner has mob ties.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007
  Glenn Greenwald Has It All Wrong

Glenn Greenwald is one of the most cogent analysts of American politics today. His writings have been a beacon in dark times. But, like any mortal, Greenwald sometimes makes mistakes. Consider this an inversion of the stopped-clock analogy: even Glenn Greenwald can be wrong. Not twice a day, but on occasion. This is one of those occasions. His response to the latest column by David Brooks betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamics of modern American conservatism.

Now, David Brooks is easy to mock. His facile stylizing about bobos or momos - or whatever - reduces political analysis to half-baked latte-fueled personal conjecture. And his "national greatness conservatism" concept was aptly derided by Jonathan Chait as "a governing ideology whose one specific programmatic detail was a call for more national monuments." Nevertheless, Brooks's most recent column in the New York Times is an incisive account of the dilemma with which American conservatives are presently faced. And Greenwald, in his justifiable anger at the perfidy and authoritarianism of the Bush administration, misses the point entirely.

Brooks takes on the most common refrain in current conservative discourse: "that in order to win again, the GOP has to reconnect with the truths of its Goldwater-Reagan days." The idea is that Republicans must renew their destiny as the party of small government, personal freedom, and rugged individualism. As Brooks correctly points out, this is political "folly."

His argument is grounded in a sort of rhetorical truism: that Reagansim developed in a context of creeping socialism and decadent government overreach, which it countered with an invigorating dedication to "liberty" as opposed to "power." The 1970s were never as socialized as Brooks portrays them, nor was Reaganism ever as libertarian. Reagan might have broken briefly through the "malaise," but he never represented any fundamental public urge to throw off the shackles of the New Deal. What matters here, though, is the internal narrative of the conservative movement itself. Conservatives, riding the political waves of Reagan's personal popularity combined with their deft exploitation of populist reactions against taxes and civil rights, interpreted their success as a mandate to abolish the welfare state altogether.

That Brooks himself believes in the conservative narrative of that era is beside the point. What matters is that he understands how the popular mood runs strongly in another direction today. Faced with deepening inequality, diminished job security, health care crisis, globalization, global warming, terrorism, instability, and a general atmosphere of risk, Americans are increasingly demanding that government play an active role in providing social insurance.

Go back and read the recent Pew political values poll. It is absolutely devastating to small-government conservatives. American support for activist government - always strong - has increased dramatically since the 1990s. As Brooks himself puts it:
The Democrats have a 15 point advantage in voter identification. Voters prefer Democratic economic policies by 14 points, Democratic tax policies by 15 points, Democratic health care policies by 24 points and Democratic energy policies by 20 points. If this is a country that wants to return to Barry Goldwater, it is showing it by supporting the policies of Dick Durbin.
The lesson, to Brooks, is that the "'liberty vs. power' paradigm" of Reaganism must give way to an understanding that "security leads to freedom." As Brooks puts it, "people with a secure base are more free to take risks and explore the possibilities of their world."

Greenwald reacts vehemently to this thesis: he condemns it as naked authoritarianism. In so doing, Greenwald makes a trio of errors:
  1. He conflates the "security leads to freedom" thesis with neoconservative aggression and the expansion of executive power under Bush;

  2. He takes Brooks as representative of the conservative movement as a whole; and, by implication

  3. He takes the Bush/Rove faction as representative of the conservative movement as a whole.

The first mistake is an understandable reaction to Brooks's observation that
President Bush sensed this shift in public consciousness back in 1999. Compassionate conservatism was an attempt to move beyond the “liberty vs. power” paradigm.
This point seems to imply that Brooks, by his argument, means to endorse the radical overreach of the Bush administration. But it misreads both Brooks and the political function of so-called compassionate conservatism. Brooks himself is undertaking little more than a conservative articulation of Jacob Hacker's thesis: that government must play an active role in mitigating social risk. The Brooksian version of social risk management would extend beyond economics to social engineering of 'family values' - a vision that one can certainly criticize as overly authoritarian, but which is in no sense an endorsement of neocon adventurism or royalist interpretations of executive privilege. We'll return to this point.

Greenwald's second mistake is to assume that Brooks is speaking for the conservative movement generally. He argues, for instance, that
Brooks admits what has been crystal clear for some time -- namely, that so-called "conservatives" (meaning the contemporary political "Right") no longer believe (if they ever did) that government power should be restrained in order to maximize freedom. That belief system, says Brooks, is an obsolete relic which arose out of the the 1970s, and has been replaced by the opposite desire -- for expanded government power on every front.
To suggest that Brooks is somehow "admitting" the secrets of a unitary conservative mentality is comprehensively to misunderstand the conservative movement. Brooks is not the movement's apologist. He is, in this context, an apostate. He is virtually alone among conservative intellectuals in calling for a repudiation of the Goldwater/Reagan mythos.

The crisis of American conservatism is that the movement's intellectual leaders are committed to a small-government ideology that is fundamentally at odds with both structural and political reality. And here is Greenwald's third mistake: the failure to understand that "compassionate conservatism" was designed as a way to overcome this crisis. It's lost in the pre-history of Bush's reign of disaster now, but recall that when the current president was first elected, he was hardly a model proponent of conservative thought (or, yes, any thought at all). Writing in Commentary in March of 2001, conservative writer Daniel Casse defended Bush as just the kind of "triangulator" needed to save the GOP - a "party in decline" - from its own traditional neglect of issues like Social Security, health care, and education. According to Casse:
Bush's theme of "compassionate conservatism," while vague and occasionally tedious, served a clear strategic purpose: disassociating him in the public mind from either the confrontational stance of the Gingrich years or the more libertarian impulses of the Reagan era."
Casse's article was written in an attempt to rebut general right-wing skepticism toward the ideologically untrustworthy Bush and his suspiciously unconservative-sounding "compassionate conservatism."

Six years later, that skepticism - submerged for a time after 9/11 - has metastacized into full-blown hostility. Compasionate conservatism is bitterly derided as "big-government conservatism," a political and moral black hole into which Bush and Rove have sunk the Republican party. I read conservative publications every day - this theme is an obsession on the right. It's what spurred books like Imposter and The Elephant in the Room. It's what fuels the constant conservative pining for a resurrection of the Reagan Messiah. It's why, when I sat through three days of the National Review's conservative summit, all I heard - again, and again, and again - was self-excoriation of a party and a movement that had lost its way, that was addicted to earmarks and entitlements and to power itself, that needed, somehow, to return to a pure anti-government mentality. It's why John Boehner was ritually humiliated in front of the summit's audience, and why Pat Toomey and Paul Ryan were the weekend's heroes.

Modern conservatism is in crisis. Says Greenwald:
The dominant right-wing political movement in this country that has spawned and driven the Bush presidency has nothing to do with -- it is in fact overtly hostile to -- the ostensible principles of Goldwater/Reagan small-government conservatism. Though today's so-called "conservatives" exploit the Goldwater/Reagan mythology as a political prop, they don't believe in those principles in any way.
The thing is, most conservatives would agree that the Bush presidency has "nothing to do with ... small-government conservatism." They feel as hijacked by so-called "big-government conservatism" as the nation at large does by the Bush regime. This is not to excuse them: my own idee fixe is that the failure of the small-government ideology - and it has, manifestly, failed - has led to a vacuum on the right, which has in turn been filled by power-hungry Rovians and and reckless warmongers, since they have offered the only models for keeping the party together. And there are two points that follow from this: 1) there's no essential contradiction between being a small-government conservative and a warmongering unilateralist; 2) Rovianism is a product of the failure, not the success of the conservative movement.

The architects of compassionate conservatism - the Marvin Olaskys and Myron Magnets - are not the same as the architects of the Iraq war. Neither project depended on the other in any fashion - in fact, one might argue, each has undermined the other. The simple, nonideological genius of Karl Rove was to understand how electorally powerful each could be. In the latter case, it was the appeal to nationalism and the silencing of dissent. In the former, it was a mechanism for keeping on board the "pro-government conservatives" who in fact make up the majority of the Republican party's base. (It was also, of course, an experiment in the gradual privatization of government services, but that's for another time).

Conservative movement intellectual leaders were generally perfectly content to ride along on the war bandwagon. But they have regarded compassionate conservatism - big-government conservatism - as an outrageous betrayal of the conservative project. And they spend much of their time denouncing this betrayal. The Rovian faction can be described as "dominant" only in the sense that it currently occupies the White House. It has little intellectual support within the movement, and when the Bush presidency ends, the quixotic small-government conservatives will take the reins again. The next generation of Republican candidates are already kowtowing to them. The impracticality of their agenda may force yet another round of big-government conservatism, but the dynamic is a cycle of crisis, not a bold embrace of expansive government.

There are two reasons I wanted to bring all this up. This first has to do with our opposition: liberals should understand just what a service the Club for Growth is doing for us. By undercutting conservative politicians who might be willing to embrace the possibilities of activist government for domestic risk management, groups like the CfG are weakening the Republican party. A candidate like Mike Huckabee - who is a Brooksian conservative - would be truly dangerous to Democrats; it's a sign of how much power the small-government crowd still have that the strongest GOP presidential candidate is currently so marginalized.

The other thing at stake here is the liberal understanding of the relationship between security and freedom. I've already mentioned Hacker. Greenwald, in demonizing as "Orwellian" Brooks's formulation that "security leads to freedom," is missing how vital this very idea is to progressivism. When Brooks compares "negative liberty" to "positive liberty," what should immediately leap to mind is FDR's own "four freedoms" - which redefined freedom as a positive, as well as negative concept.

"Security leads to freedom" is a liberal idea. The difference between liberals and Brooksian conservatives is that liberals understand where to draw the line against activist government: at the bedroom, and at the point of unnecessary and unilateral war. Without security - a strong safety net and responsible national defense, both of which have been liberal areas of expertise - individual freedom is undermined by inequality and instability. Indeed, one of the most devastating criticisms of neoconservative aggression is that it has made us less secure: unrestrained adventurism tends to sow chaos and ignite resentment, as we have seen in Iraq and around the world. Similarly, the vast expansion of executive power makes Americans less secure in their Constitutional rights. Liberals very much believe that security leads to freedom - but we also understand that true security is grounded in rule of law.

The Bush administration is not representative of the dominant trends in movement conservatism. It is regarded by that movement as a nasty aberration. If we allow ourselves to be lured into thinking that big-government conservatism has become the dominant ideology on the right, we'll be caught with our pants down in 2011 when the small-government conservatives come at us with a hard-hitting plan to rewrite the tax code and dismantle our entitlement programs. We'll fail to understand the dynamics of the health care debate, in which our opponents will be hashing out differences among themselves as to what should be the proper role of government. And when a more coherent Brooksian risk-management conservatism does emerge, we'll fail to recognize it in time.

Most importantly, if we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we will, as a movement, end up deeply regretting it. We will have abandoned one of our own most fundamental liberal principles: that security - grounded in the rule of law and respectful of personal liberty - does, indeed, lead to freedom.

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  Free Trade Means Fair Trade

Following on yesterday's Right-Wing Think Tank Review, here's a good piece in the Financial Times by Dani Rodrik, which points out that the future of free trade itself depends on its ability to accomodate social safety nets in the developed world and modestly protective trade policies in developing countries. As Rodrik says:
If there is one lesson from the collapse of the 19th century version of globalisation, it is that we cannot leave national governments powerless to respond to their citizens. The genius of the Bretton Woods system, which lasted for about three decades after the second world war, was that it achieved such a compromise. Some of the most egregious restrictions on trade flows were removed, while allowing governments freedom to run independent macroeconomic policies and erect their own versions of the welfare state. Developing countries were free to pursue their own growth strategies with limited external restraint. The world economy prospered like never before.
Rodrik points out that the most successful developing nations in the current era - China and India - relied on Bretton Woods-like strategies that sheltered their economies during crucial phases and "continue to restrict short-term capital inflows."

Meanwhile, free trade regimes will simply fail in the face of political realities if they threaten the safety nets built up by Western nations. The paradigm Rodrik proposes is simple: a trade-off in trade negotiations that takes these complementary forms of self-interest into account:
When rich and poor nations come together to negotiate the rules of the game they should stop thinking in terms of exchanging market access: "I will open my markets in x if you open yours in y." They should consider ins-tead exchanging policy space: "I will allow you to protect your national social compact if you allow me to engage in development strategies that conflict with WTO and International Monetary Fund rules of good behaviour." The challenge is to design procedures that enable the use of policy space for socially desirable purposes while limiting it for beggar-thy-neighbour purposes.
Rodrik concedes that this strategy is not without risks. But a fundamentalist opposition to any form of protectionsim may be even more risky for global trade agreements.

I do recommend you give the whole article a read.


  "Like Hemophiliacs with Chainsaws"

Jonathan Chait tracks the bloody recriminations on the right over Rudy's flat tax flip-flop.

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  As the Immigration Worm Turns

The immigration issue continues to plague Republican candidates. Under the strain, Mitt Romney recently did what he does best in times of trouble: he flip-flopped:
"I don't think there should be a special pathway to citizenship for those that are here illegally," he said. "It makes no sense at all to have a border which is basically concrete against skill and education but wide open to people to just walk on in who have neither."

That position sets the former Massachusetts governor apart from a major rival, Arizona Senator John McCain, as well as President George W. Bush, both of whom back a guest-worker plan that gives undocumented workers the opportunity to become U.S. citizens. It also sets him apart from some of his own former positions.
Bolded text = LOL.

Another paragraph caught my eye:
Romney's decision to shift his stand demonstrates how a big issue sometimes boils up from the voters, forcing candidates to adjust their messages. "For Republicans it's immigration; for Democrats it's trade," Illinois Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel (news, bio, voting record) said March 28 at the American Society of Newspaper Editors meeting in Washington. "Both issues reflect the unease Americans feel about the effects of globalization."
Good to see Rahm acknowledging the need for the Dems to account for their constituents' concerns on trade. And if Romney needs to change his tune on immigration, so be it. But - and I say this without actually looking at polling data, so I could be off base - it seems to me to be a case of two very different situations. Republicans are being pushed by their base to take a stance on immigration that will actually harm them electorally, while the Democratic base is pushing the party toward a more popular trade policy than the one they had previously embraced.

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  Right-Wing Think Tank Review - 3/29/07

Heritage Foundation (Sourcewatch profile here)

Free Trade Is Dead, Long Live Free Trade
By Tim Kane
WebMemo No. 1409, pub. 3/27/07

Kane's article assesses the implications of increased skepticism in Congress toward unrestrained free trade agreements. At stake, Kane argues, is the success or failure of the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks. More immediately, the issue is whether Congress will renew the president's trade promotion authority (TPA), which is set to expire on June 30. Noting that the previous renewal, in 2002, passed the House with only a thin majority, Kane worries that a growing protectionist mood in Congress will doom the TPA, thus undermining President Bush's efforts to successfully conclude the Doha round: "Will Congress grant American negotiators the authority to close this multilateral deal?"

The article recounts increased Republican support for measures like the ones blocking the Dubai Port World bid last year, punishing China for pegging the yuan to the dollar, or requiring country-of-origin labeling on imported produce. It also blames "special interest groups ... notably European agribusiness" for "scheming to abort" Doha. But Kane reserves special criticism for what he calls "conditional trade deals" pushed by American politicians:
"Yes, Peru, Americans will trade ‘freely' with your citizens on the condition that you do X, Y, and Z." This is not the American way; conditional interstate commerce among the United States was made unconstitutional in 1789 precisely because the Founding Fathers recognized the pettiness and gross inefficiency of protectionism.
The analogy is a bit confounding, since Congress of course has the authority to regulate interstate commerce - states may not set their own conditions because American citizens are fully enfranchised in a federal government that has the authority to do so. That government in fact has a long history of enforcing labor and environmental standards - the very sorts of "conditions" that Kane is denouncing. There is, of course, no overarching sovereign authority on the global level.

Nonetheless, from a progressive perspective there are strong arguments for supporting the success of the Doha round. American trade can be made both freer and fairer: for instance, Daniel Tarullo has argued that, by easing some of its domestic agricultural subsidies, the US can both increase American farmers' access to global markets and help improve the lives of farmers in the developing world - which, in turn, would be good for global security. However, as Tarullo notes, the Bush administration "has never shown more than pro forma support" for the Doha round; meanwhile, its strategy of "competitive liberalization," meant to build demand for multilateral trade negotiations through a series of bilateral and regional agreements (such as CAFTA), has accomplished little more than creating distractions and polarization in the trade debate.

Tarullo argues that senior Administration officials should be more involved with the Doha talks. To do so, however, they will need to work with a Democratic Congress. The Administration shut out Democrats during the CAFTA debate, but it can no longer avoid compromise, especially as it is seeking TPA renewal. Contra Kane, labor and environmental standards will be necessary parts of any comprehensive multilateral trade agreement. It is politically unrealistic - a fantasy - to believe otherwise. However, Kane's article attempts to make the case against such standards anyway.

Advancing Freedom in Iran
by Steven Groves
Backgrounder No. 2019, pub. 3/26/07

Groves argues that "there is still an opportunity to bring about peaceful democratic change in Iran." The primary obstacle to such change, according to Groves, is Iran's constitution: "a cancer that must be excised." The constitution renders Iranians' efforts to elect reformers futile, because it creates so many mechanisms for the mullahs to reject the democratic will of the people - for instance, through the authority of the Guardian Council to vet all presidential candidates and to veto any legislation the Council deems contrary to the precepts of Islam. Therefore, says Groves, "the United States should focus its funding and public diplomacy efforts toward supporting a national referendum on Iran's constitution."

Groves criticizes "unrealistic diplomatic 'grand bargains,'" which would seek comprehensive solutions to the multiple disputes between Iran and the West. Such efforts unrealistically assume that there is anything that can persuade Iran to abandon core policy objectives such as the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Moreover, the "grand bargain" approach would "do little to nothing to advance freedom, democracy, and human rights for the Iranian people."

Instead, says Groves, US policy should turn on a re-interpretation of the 2006 Iran Freedom Support Act, which regulated US sanctions against Iran and financed democracy-promotion efforts.
Regrettably, the act stated that U.S. policy was merely “to support efforts by the people of Iran to exercise self-determination over the form of government of their country.” As an official policy position, this statement rings hollow. The United States supports the efforts of the people of every nation in the world to exercise self-determination over their form of government. Instead, the U.S. government should state explicitly what the Iran Freedom Support Act only implies: The United States supports a peaceful democratic transformation of the Iranian regime.
This policy would mean using the funding authorized by the Act to "unite the various groups interested in constitutional reform" under a "Rainbow Civil Movement," to support internet outreach and the dissemination of printed material advocating a constitutional referendum, and to "covertly provide cellular phones and other communications devices" to Iranian dissidents.

Groves argues that congressional legislation relating to Iran should "clearly state that the United States government supports a democratic transformation of the Iranian regime." He also advocates for increased public diplomacy efforts, including increasing the amount of "serious analysis and programming" on Radio Farda - or establishing an alternate station for this purpose. Finally, Groves insists on the need for stronger efforts to "squeeze Iran financially," both on behalf of the US Treasury Department, and European nations, who should end government-backed export guarantees that account for an important part of Iran's trade.

The idea of suspending European export guarantees for Iran has been raised by numerous commentators, including Timothy Garton Ash at the Guardian, and Nile Gardiner at Human Events Online. Both of these articles were written in response to the Iranian seizure of 15 British sailors. It's instructive to compare Gardiner's article - which was also posted at Heritage's website - with the Groves piece. Each rejects diplomatic engagement with the regime. Gardiner, however, uses the current hostage crisis as an opportunity to ramp up the right's already-aggressive rhetoric, calling Iran's latest move "a hostile act of war." Without any sense of irony or acknowledgment of the rhetoric churned out by hawks during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, Gardiner neatly reprises the very same claims:
Iran poses the greatest threat to global security of our generation, and the West must be ready to meet the challenge with strength and determination. Not since the rise of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia has the free world been faced with such a grave danger from a state actor. While the use of force is always a last resort, the United States, Great Britain and their allies must be prepared to disarm the Iranian regime if it refuses to back down, with or without the backing of the UN Security Council.
It is left to the reader to decide whether Groves is simply a more serious analyst than Gardiner, or whether the two articles represent different formulations of the same underlying approach to Iran.

American Enterprise Institute (Sourcewatch profile here)

Arnold, Rush Battle for the Republican Party's Soul
By Kevin A. Hassett
Pub. 3/26/07; also pub. at

Hassett reviews the recent contretemps between California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh. Observing that "the Republican party is at a historical crossroads," Hassett suggests that the Limbaugh-Schwarzenegger dispute perfectly illustrates the major debate within the GOP. And "only one side can win."

The controversy is rooted one of the most fundamental dilemmas in democratic politics: how to balance effectiveness with principle. Because, as Hassett notes, there have been no politicians since Reagan with the political skills to sell unpopular conservative ideas to the general public, Republicans are forced to decide between compromise and ideology.

Hassett notes that Schwarzenegger's recent move to the left, which has included hiring a Democratic chief of staff, agreeing to an increase in the state minimum wage, tackling carbon emissions, and developing a health care program, "has boosted his popularity." The governor's latest job approval ratings are 11 points higher than they were in 2005. However, says Hassett, "popularity might come at the expense of principle." And it is this "sell out" of conservative principle that has led extremist conservatives like Limbaugh to harshly criticize Schwarzenegger.

The governor's response was that "Rush Limbaugh is irrelevant." Unfortunately for the Republican party, however, that does not in fact appear to be the case. Hassett forecasts that the GOP's presidential primary debates will largely involve rehashing the very same kind of dispute - and he believes that, both in those debates and in the general intra-party debate, the Limbaugh faction will win. In other words, the Republicans, with a model for the resurgence of their party on prominent display in California, will reject it and instead choose to further marginalize themselves. (It should be noted that Hassett himself seems to approve of this scenario.)

One final note on the stakes involved: Hassett actually puts this dispute into an important context when he suggests the "compromisers"
will argue that the country urgently needs to come together to address long-run problems such as the entitlement programs that are headed for financial ruin. That can only be done, it will be argued, if Republicans are willing to compromise with Democrats.
As this blog and other observers have repeatedly pointed out, the United States is indeed heading toward a major debate over its fiscal priorities, including taxation and entitlements. Milton Friedmanite movement conservatives are focusing on a showdown over the entire tax code - and, by implication, the future of American entitlements - in 2011. One way or another, there is a major budget gap that will need to be addressed. If the Rush Limbaugh ideologues do indeed triumph over the Schwarzenegger "compromisers," it will have important effects on the politics of the great budget debate when that time comes.

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  Giuliani Gets Nutty

The New York Times reports on Steve Forbes's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani. I'm sure it's nothing like a quid pro quo, just a coincidental change of heart that's suddenly led Rudy to reverse himself and endorse Forbes's pet crank cause: the flat tax, "something Mr. Giuliani denounced when Mr. Forbes was running for president."

It's good to know that when Giuliani goes around strenuously denouncing things, he doesn't really mean it. Everything Giuliani says is without prejudice to his right to completely contradict himself for later political advantage. To whit:
If there were no federal income tax, “maybe I’d suggest not doing it at all, but if we were going to do it, a flat tax would make a lot of sense,” Mr. Giuliani. [...]

In 1996, when Mr. Forbes first ran for president, Mr. Giuliani, then the mayor of New York City, disparaged a flat tax in general and Mr. Forbes’s plan in particular. The Forbes plan called for a single tax rate above a certain income, instead of several rates based on income. Mr. Giuliani said that a central part of the proposal, eliminating deductions, would hurt taxpayers in urban areas and reduce tax revenues for populous cities and states.

“You’re giving them more authority, more autonomy, and you’re giving them less resources to deal with the problems,” he said then in an interview with CBS, calling the proposal “a mistake.”

He used stronger language on CNN a few days later, saying the Forbes plan “would really be a disaster.”
Fire up the YouTubes. America's Mayor has performed a magnificent flying forward one-and-a-half somersault flip-flop. And he's landed in a pool of nuttiness.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007
  Tom DeLay Is Smoking Grass(roots)

America's favorite criminally-indicted exterminator has been keeping busy lately. His blog has come a long way since the days when he had to shut off comments because, well, nobody likes him. Now it's slick, conversational, and steeping in the aura of netroots authenticity. Most of its posts, naturally, seem to involve a fixation with Nancy Pelosi.

Next to a banner ad for the Bugman's new book (No Retreat, No Surrender - to which, one might add, Just Disgrace), the "About the Blog" blurb makes an earnest pitch:
The importance of the blogosphere in shaping and motivating the current conservative movement is unquestionable- not only has it served as an important tool in breaking through the liberal MSM clutter but it has helped to keep our elected officials true to principle.

This blog is meant to further the online discussion in the marketplace of ideas.
The peculiarly Republican interpretation of "keeping true to principle" has a lot to do with DeLay's own early retirement - not to mention his party's current Congressional exile. DeLay himself was a leader in finding new and often wholly inverted ways to define "principle." He also figured out how to look fabulous in a mugshot - give the man some credit.

So, like I said, he's been keeping busy. Eve Fairbanks of the New Republic caught up with the Hammer and found a man determined, apparently, to become the right's version of Kos, Howard Dean, and Eli Pariser - all rolled into one. Besides the blog, his new projects include: TDGAIN promises to be organized in every congressional district in America, to "advocate for conservative first principles." Its members are promised the chance to both "Communicate with Tom DeLay" (by reading his newsletter) and "Help Tom DeLay" (by, well, it's unclear - but petitioning will probably be involved). As a special bonus:
You will also receive insider updates on Mr. DeLay’s schedule including appearances, events, and book signings both in your area and nationally.
Lucky you!

Like TDGAIN, the CCM "will organize in all 50 states" and do grassrootsy-things. The CCM site also reveals the true story of the progressive grassroots:
For six years now, former leaders of the Clinton Administration have studied and surpassed the conservative grassroots network, creating a liberal coalition unprecedented in its size, scope, and funding. This is the network that beat conservatives in 2006 and handed Congress back to the Democrat Party – and that was just the warm-up. The liberal Shadow Party has been built for one reason: to elect Hillary Clinton President of the United States in 2008. They have the money, the organization, and the coordination to do it, and there is no conservative network capable of standing in its path. Until now.
That's right folks: the entire progressive movement was built by and for the Clintons. It's fascinating, actually - this is the same mindset that reacts to 9/11 by fixating on Saddam Hussein. Complex phenomena are simplified and personalized - and very often attached to people who in fact have nothing to do with them. Meanwhile, you can almost hear the rumbling low-register voice of the movie trailer: And only one man could stand in their way....

Tom DeLay doesn't just want to grow the conservative grassroots. He wants to rip up the soil, plant his own seeds across the nation, and control every inch of the turf. He wants to be the sun toward which every blade turns. Having been expelled from the corridors of power, DeLay intends to marshal his forces out on the lawn. Fairbanks quotes Paul Weyrich on the Bugman: "He wants to run the outside."

None of it sounds much like real grassroots organizing as you or I know it. It's more like astroturf, on a grand scale. And there's a certain unsettling mania to DeLay's effort. As Fairbanks describes it, the man who once put the fear of God into the Republican Congressional caucus now "sees a need for such harsh discipline in the grassroots." But while he swings around rolling out the plastic turf, his real motives emerge:
DeLay's mission to save the conservative grassroots isn't driven only by an ideological calling, the fulfillment of the American Passion's prophecy. There's also revenge. The activist troops he's now so eager to captain are the very ones that failed to come to his aid enthusiastically enough when he was under siege a year ago. "He was extremely frustrated at the end" of his time in Congress, notes Weyrich, because he "thought that he did not get the kind of support from the outside that he felt he was entitled to." Now DeLay has the chance to take over the grassroots and mold them into an obedient force. Says Weyrich, "He's thinking to himself, If I construct an organization. ...'"
Fairbanks interviews a few conservative activists who say that DeLay's efforts are bound to come up against resistance:
Several conservative activists told me they find the idea that they need DeLay's training distasteful, as if he were on a mission to civilize savages. "I don't think it'll work, because conservatives are very individualistic, and they don't take well to people dictating to them what they need to do," says one.
I'll let you make your own judgments as to whether that's an accurate portrayal of the conservative psyche. The real problem for DeLay may be that he's not the only disgraced conservative trying to build Conservative Grassroots Machine 2.0. As Fairbanks points out, Dick Armey's got a gang of his own. And we've already mentioned Newt's new network.

Three former conservative leaders of Congress. Three under-employed ideologues. Their machines failed to save them from their own corruption and incompetence. So, with nothing else to do, they've set themselves to building better machines. It's easy to mock - really, delightfully easy - but take this new flurry of activity in the conservative movement as a warning. Armey, Gingrich and DeLay may be politically dead, but they're building armies of zombies to carry on anyway.

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  Happy Days Are Here Again

America hates New York, reports the New Criterion blog, reports Roy at alicublog. Roy's reaction?
Thank fuck! I was really tired of them pretending not to.
Meanwhile, a commenter named "chuckling" - who appears to live somewhere in my own general vicinity - asks: are you talkin' to me?
I can understand why people hate New York. I hate it myself, but not for the BMA. That's one of the few things I actually like about this hellhole -- a stroll around Prospect Park, through the Botanic Garden, and a pass through the museum, especially if there's some anti-religious art or quasi-pornography, which there always is, and especially on a saturday night.

But Manhattan? All the animals come out there - ivy leaguers, skunk pussy Wellesley grads, stock brokers, tech dweebs, art directors, religious types, tourists in their white shorts, Walt fucking Disney, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I think someone should just take this city and just... just flush it down the fuckin' toilet.
Here - indeed - is a man who would not take it anymore.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007
  Immigration: Playing with Matches

A couple of years ago, I was doing opposition research for a candidate for Congress out in western New York. I had at my disposal a copy of the Frank Luntz playbook, which had recently been disseminated online. If you haven't read it, I recommend you take a look sometime. The specifics are a bit dated but the techniques are classic Luntz - it's a window into the mind of the GOP Congressional delegation's communications guru. (Sample line: "Remember, it's NOT drilling for oil. It's responsible energy exploration.")

One thing that wasn't in the memo was how to talk about immigration. But we knew that Luntz and other GOP strategists were planning to use it as their new wedge isssue, just as they had done with gay marriage in the previous cycle. Eventually, Luntz's memo on how to talk about immigration turned up, full of the same kind of carefully-crafted talking points. Luntz insisted that "Americans are not only ready for an overhaul of illegal immigration policy, they are demanding it."

But in one of their more significant political blunders of recent years, Republicans failed to foresee that they would be the ones who ended up getting wedged.

Luntz never quite grasped the way the immigration debate would play out. In his playbook, he insisted on the importance of nationalizing the 2006 elections - drawing a lesson from the GOP setback of 1986, he called for an "umbrella effort to unite voters across the country to keep Republicans in office." Getting bogged down in local issues would be disastrous. Meanwhile, Luntz claimed that his focus groups were going wild over immigration.

His warnings were directed against a Republican establishment that many conservatives feared was out of step with the party's base on this issue. But that establishment - specifically, Rove's White House - saw the field in a way Luntz and his Congressional clients could not. Immigration was not a properly national issue; it was something that resonated very differently in different parts of the country. And it threatened to undercut one of the Rovian/Compassionate Conservative faction's most cherished projects: winning the Hispanic vote and creating the permanent Republican majority.

By ramping up the immigration debate, the Luntzian faction agitated part of the conservative base - thus in turn forcing the hands of many Republican members of Congress from conservative districts. But the numbers never added up to anything but trouble for the national party. The White House, with a very different set of interests, would never give the crackdown crowd what they wanted. It became a disastrous self-fulfilling prophesy for the party's pundits and Congressional delegation, who set the base on fire, only to be themselves consumed by the flames.

And the issue still smolders. Newt Gingrich, who is a master of political rhetoric but sometimes a remarkably incompetent strategist, is putting an English-only proposal at the center of his non-campaign campaign. Debate continues on the right (see this Max Boot thread at Contentions), and the tone suggests that conservatives are deeply frustrated by the dilemma they've caused for themselves.

Meanwhile, Chris Bowers has pointed out that 2006 saw a thirty point shift among Latinos to the Democratic party. To stick with the metaphor from above, Luntz and the other GOP strategists who encouraged the immigration alarmists tried to burn down the Democrats' house - without realizing that, on immigration, their own party was far more flammable.

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  Funny How It Works

The Third Estate:
For years the media has practiced a double standard to the advantage of Republicans. Hillary's problem is that she's shrill and calculating, but McCain's is that he's a moderate. Edwards is that he's a pretty boy wealthy hypocrite who doesn't care that his wife has cancer, while Giuliani's is that he's a moderate. Obama's problem is that he's vacuous, crooked, and a liar, while Romney's is that he's, you guessed it, a moderate.
And, of course, these just happen to be the very themes with which the conservative media is obsessed.

Exhibit No. 245 in Who's Calling the Tune v. Who's Dancing.

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  Right on the Road to Nowhere?

You may already have seen Paul Krugman's piece in yesterday's Times - delicious title: "Emerging Republican Minority." Krugman refers to a recent Pew poll showing that the Democrats have opened a wide lead in party identification. But he also points out that other findings in the poll indicate a serious problem developing for a party religiously devoted to an anti-government philosophy:
Consider, for example, the question of whether the government should provide fewer services in order to cut spending, or provide more services even if this requires higher spending. According to the American National Election Studies, in 1994, the year the Republicans began their 12-year control of Congress, those who favored smaller government had the edge, by 36 to 27. By 2004, however, those in favor of bigger government had a 43-to-20 lead.

And public opinion seems to have taken a particularly strong turn in favor of universal health care. Gallup reports that 69 percent of the public believes that “it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage,” up from 59 percent in 2000.
There is simply no evidence that the American people reject the notion of activist government. In fact, the data show that, after years of conservative rhetoric and disastrous conservative government, Americans want competent activist government more than ever.

Krugman ends by pointing out something that some on the left have noticed, but which few other people - on the right or in the media - seem to have emphasized: the fact that there's a model for Republican resurgence staring everyone in the face, but the conservatives refuse to look at it.
Many Republicans still imagine that what their party needs is a return to the conservative legacy of Ronald Reagan. It will probably take quite a while in the political wilderness before they take on board the message of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback in California — which is that what they really need is a return to the moderate legacy of Dwight Eisenhower.
The project of the modern conservative movement has been to destroy the political imperatives of the Eisenhower era. Schwarzenegger, turning back to that legacy, also turned his back on the entire conservative movement. He now represents everything the movement is designed to destroy. As long as the conservative movement remains at the wheel of the GOP - and there's no reason to believe it'll surrender control any time soon - the party will be headed in the wrong direction, away from the road to resurrection.

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  Calculating the Iran Crisis

At the Corner, Stanley Kurtz says the 2008 election is likely to be more about Iran than about Iraq. Kurtz suggests that the Persian front is about to heat up:
What if Mario Loyola is right, and Iran is likely to expel U.N. inspectors and ramp up its nuclear fuel processing in a matter of months. That will provoke not only a national security crisis, but an American, and global, political crisis. At that point, the key question for every presidential candidate will be what to do about Iran. [...]

By election time, we’ll see a raft of conflicting estimates on just when Iran is likely to get a bomb. None of them will be completely reliable, but there will also be good reason to fear that the worst scenarios are true.
At that point, predicts Kurtz, "the anti-war left" will point to the lessons of Iraq and "deride all the guesswork as bogus fear-mongering."

This, of course, will be a conundrum of the right's own making. The Bush administration and their neoconservative enablers have so degraded the US intelligence apparatus, and so undermined the public's faith in the honesty of the executive branch, that as long as Bush remains in office we will simply have no reason to believe that any of his warnings, any of his dire predictions of smoking-guns-as-mushroom-clouds, have any validity at all.

Still, Kurtz estimates that "overall, if this turns into an Iran election, it will help the Republicans." And probably it will, as Democratic frontrunners will feel compelled to reserve judgment on intelligence that could be legitimate - but which they won't be able to analyze for themselves. The Bush administration will have the advantage of being the information gatekeeper on the Iran situation. The GOP candidate will simply have to talk tough. The Democrat will be obliged to account for the possibility that this time there really is a wolf - even while the entire Democratic base throws its hands up in outrage at yet another round of transparent Republican fearmongering.

You can hear Kurtz licking his chops. Look at this framing:
Unfortunately, I wonder if, by the time a new president comes in, it won’t already be too late to stop Iran. Iran no doubt remembers how it sent the hostages home at the start of Ronald Reagan’s new presidency. It greatly feared Reagan’s combination of toughness and fresh political capital. That’s part of why Iran is racing so hard right now to get the bomb.
There's a little bit of everything here: Reagan worship, self-aggrandizing tough-guy posturing, dark warnings that the sky is falling and only the Republicans can stop it.

It's a funny little paragraph. I doubt Ayatollah Khomeni gave a damn about Reagan's "fresh political capital." He certainly did like the weapons Reagan's people sold him, though.

And if Iran is racing hard to get the bomb, it's because the Bush administration, in its incompetent and incoherent policies toward Iraq and North Korea, has shown that it's in the interest of card-carrying members of the Axis of Evil to get nukes before the US can invade.

But that's not the narrative we'll hear if Iran becomes the issue next year. The Republicans, once again, will be on message - and the Democrats will be, once again, in a quandary.

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Monday, March 26, 2007
  All Your Reality Base Are Belong to Us

Good piece by Jonathan Chait at the LA Times yesterday: "Why the Right Goes Nuclear over Global Warming." It's a quick look at the dynamics behind the perverse fact that, as evidence for global warming goes stronger, Republican politicians are actually getting more skeptical. As Chait points out, it's a process largely driven by a small number of hard-core denialist ideologues (the very same ones we cover regularly at this blog):
Your typical conservative has little interest in the issue. Of course, neither does the average nonconservative. But we nonconservatives tend to defer to mainstream scientific wisdom. Conservatives defer to a tiny handful of renegade scientists who reject the overwhelming professional consensus.

National Review magazine, with its popular website, is a perfect example. It has a blog dedicated to casting doubt on global warming, or solutions to global warming, or anybody who advocates a solution. Its title is "Planet Gore." The psychology at work here is pretty clear: Your average conservative may not know anything about climate science, but conservatives do know they hate Al Gore. So, hold up Gore as a hate figure and conservatives will let that dictate their thinking on the issue.
Emphsis mine. Once again, culture war trumps all.

Chait notes that several Republican Congressmen who do take global warming seriously - Reps. Wayne Gilchrest, Roscoe Bartlett, and Vernon Ehlers - were recently turned down by the Republican leadership for seats on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Bartlett and Ehlers are research scientists. Observes Chait, "Normally, relevant expertise would be considered an advantage. In this case, it was a disqualification."

So on a critical issue - and at a criticial juncture - we find, once again, Republicans failing in their duty to provide constructive leadership because of the overriding conservative refusal to believe in the utility of science or activist government. The qualified members of their own party are undermined by the ideologues. John Boehner knows which side his freedom toast is buttered on - that's why he turned up at the conservative summit to grovel before the very same "intellectuals" who insist that climate change is a liberal fairy tale. They're driving the movement, and the movement is driving the party.

Still, if you understand conservative dynamics and know how to manipulate them, you can use them to your advantage. Thus, Chait points out, John McCain's efforts to address climate change center on his advocacy of nuclear power. Whatever you think of nuclear plants, you have to admire the political insight here:
In reality, nuclear plants may be a small part of the answer, but you couldn't build enough to make a major dent. But the psychology is perfect. Conservatives know that lefties hate nuclear power. So, yeah, Rush Limbaugh listeners, let's fight global warming and stick it to those hippies!
It's not exactly reverse psychology. Call it perverse psychology.

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  Skeletons in Media May Be Larger than They Appear

I tend to bounce back and forth between the "don't underestimate Giuliani" camp and the "Giuliani can't possibly win" camp. Each has a pretty convincing point. The thing is, there's more dirt on the man than on just about any presidential candidate I can remember. Any rival campaign that fails to take advantage of it is verging on criminally incompetent.

At the same time, there's a clear reluctance in the media to look at the dirt. I don't know whether Rudy's got teflon or if it's just journalistic laziness. Even the stories discussing the skeletons packed into his closet seem almost designed to innoculate him.

Take, for instance, this AP article from the weekend. It reviews four of the many issues Rudy should be confronted with, but fails to really examine any of them. For instance, the piece brings up Bernie Kerik's apartment renovations but not his nanny, his Taser International stock, allegations of misuse of police personnel and property, or - especially - Kerik's alleged ties to organized crime.

Likewise, the article mentions Giuliani's "painfully public separation" with Donna Hanover, but not the fact that he cheated on her, mocked her by making public appearances with Judith Nathan, told the media about the divorce before he told Hanover, and fought her in court over who would have the right to live in Gracie mansion. Every divorce is "painful". This one was vicious.

While it may not be the reporter's intent, the overall tone of the article gives the impression that Rudy's various scandals aren't really that big a deal after all. His supporters get plenty of column inches. The piece even features Al Sharpton's criticisms of the mayor. Sharpton is Giuliani's most useful enemy - and articles like this one may be similarly helpful to him.

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  Another Bad Week for McCain

You never really know. John Kerry was famously in last place not too long before Iowa last time. So it might not mean anything, but the news is still bad for John McCain.

Here he is missing his fundraising targeet (and getting schooled by Romney!).

And here he is bleeding support to Giuliani in his own home state.

By the way, here's a somewhat strange poll. "Democratic insiders" were asked who would be the strongest Republican candidate in the general election, and "Republican insiders" were asked to gauge the Democratic field. I have no idea who these "insiders" were, and I'm not sure their collective judgment is all that sharp.

But I guess that's why I'm not an insider.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007
  The Ghost in the Conservative Machine

"Oh dear, oh dear," said Lucy. "And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you'd let me stay. And I thought you'd come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away - like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid."

"It is hard for you, little one," said Aslan. "But things never happen the same way twice."

-C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian
You may have read Karen Tumulty's cover article for last week's Time Magazine - "How the Right Went Wrong." It's a pretty good survey of the state of the conservative movement - I'm happy to say that if you've been reading this blog regularly for the past couple months or so, you should already know most of what Tumulty reports.

The cover image, a retouched photo portraying Ronald Reagan with a tear running down his cheek, calls to mind the legendary "Crying Indian" anti-pollution spot of the 1970s. The metaphor seems straightforward: icon of purity distressed to see how later generations have despoiled the landscape.

But Peggy Noonan finds the imagery a little more difficult to process. Her column at the Wall Street Journal, responding to the Tumulty piece but especially to the cover image, both exemplifies and attempts to overcome the tortured relationship of modern coservatives to the Reagan legacy. If you follow the conservative movement for any length of time, you encounter this phenomenon with regularity. Reagan has transcended the role of conservative icon to become a secular saint - even, in many ways, a messiah. It's hardly hyperbole - it's an inescapable conclusion when every aspiring conservative politician is compared unfavorably to the Gipper, when Reagan is the single consensus point of reference in an increasingly fractious movement, and when across the right everyone seems constantly to pine for the return of the One True Conservative.

Noonan has a sense of the political pathology at work here. She argues that while Democrats tend to take inspiration from their FDRs and JFKs, Republicans are "spooked by their greats." This, she observes, is an unhealthy habit for conservatives, who too often find themselves paralyzed, asking themselves "what would Reagan do?" It's holding the right back:
Republicans should take heart from his memory but not be sunk in him or spooked by him. Life moves. Reagan's meaning cannot be forgotten. But where does it get you if it's 1885, and Republicans are pulling their hair out saying, "Oh no, we're not doing well. We could win if only we had a Lincoln, but they shot him 20 years ago!" That's not how serious people talk, and it's not how serious people think. You face the challenges of your time with the brains and guts you have. You can't sit around and say, "Oh what would Lincoln do?" For one thing it is an impractical attitude. Lincolns don't come along every day. What you want to do with the memory of a great man is recognize his greatness, laud it, take succor from it, and keep moving. You can't be transfixed by a memory. Hold it close and take it into the future with you.
Which is good advice as far as it goes, but Noonan herself slips right back into the most reflexive conservative habit: she blames it all on the media. "Republicans," she says, "should stop allowing the media to spook them with [Reagan's] memory."

Noonan glibly accepts the conventional conservative wisdom that Reagan was indeed a transformative president. I won't delve into a discussion of whether and how he 'ended the Cold War.' But, as I discussed a few days ago, he certainly didn't achieve anything like the transformation of American political economy that his acolytes like to pretend he did. Broadly speaking he was a likeable guy who left no real domestic legacy. His real legacy was a conservative movement that has found itself both energized and confounded by his example. The right believes that he accomplished great conservative things while riding wave after wave of public acclaim (despite the perfidy of the liberal elites). So why can't they do the same today?

They can't do what Reagan did, because Reagan didn't do what they think he did. Noonan says that Democrats think Reagan had some "strange and secret magic." But insofar as that was the case, he worked his charm on the right as much as upon the population at large. And the spell has lasted.

Better for conservatives if they were to confront the real structural impediments to their agenda, but an honest assessment of those obstacles would inevitably require them to confront the fact that Reagan left them no real example of how to remake American political economy according to conservative ends. On a strictly factual level, many conservatives are aware of this - they can see that the welfare state has grown every year since the New Deal was conceived. But truly admitting that Reagan was unable to shift this paradigm would rob them of the one example upon which they've relied to prove to themselves that such a shift would be possible.

Far too uncomfortable. The easy alternative, for a movement rooted in its own sense of persecution, is to blame the media for making conservatives feel bad. And that's what Noonan does, accusing said media of "mischievously" comparing modern conservatives to the Gipper. In Noonan's narrative, the problem is that conservatives are cowed by a media determined to demoralize them by waving Reagan's image in their faces. What Noonan doesn't mention is that references to Reagan are generated primarily in conservative publications and discourse. It's easier to blame others. But that won't make those nagging thoughts go away.

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Friday, March 23, 2007
  Universal Health Care: Now or Never

I'll return to this in much more detail soon, but here's a short version: The Bush administration's "compassionate conservatism," as much as it was mocked by liberals and derided by the right, drew from an important insight about the future of American conservatism - one that the Milton Friedmanites haven't understood. The idea, in part, is that conservatives can no longer ignore issues like health care and public education. Instead, the compassiocons realized, they needed to transform those issues so as to move them onto conservative turf. And while compassionate conservatism, the brand, has been discredited, the concept lives on - and is likely to become even more important.

Thus the op-ed by Kimberly Strassel in today's Wall Street Journal. Strassel reports a sudden optimism among conservatives - on the health care debate, of all things. The effort to remake health care as a conservative issue got a big boost this week,
when Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn released a big-ideas blueprint for restructuring the entire health-care system--the tax code, Medicare, tort liability, insurance laws--along free-market lines. Dr. Coburn's plan builds on the White House's own bold proposal in January to revamp tax laws so as to put consumers back in control of their health-care decisions. Both plans are about fundamental, bottom-up health-care reforms, cast in the language of markets, consumers and individual control.
Describing the chintzy little tax breaks President Bush proposed in the last SOTU as "bold" may call Strassel's judgment into question, but there's no doubt that conservatives feel they're onto something here. Strassel frames it as a distinct alternative to Romney- and Arnold-style insurance mandates, as well as to the frightening specter of "government-run" health care as proposed by The Libs. Strassel even has the chuztpah to try and smear single-payer proposals with a reference to the Walter Reed scandal - once again demonstrating how conservatives mistakenly believe that everyone else is as incompetent as they themselves are when it comes to governing.

Whether the conservative plan for "health savings accounts" is serious or not is a matter for debate. What are conservatives trying to accomplish? Pardon my cynicism, but the least likely possibility seems to be that they are genuinely trying to find an affordable way for all Americans to have adequate health care. Oh, I'm sure a few of them are really after that goal, but not enough to matter.

Another possibility is that conservatives are hoping to use the health savings account concept to undermine any social insurance-based approach to health care. They see another social security about to be born, and they're looking to strangle it in its crib. Yet another possibility is that they simply want to look like they're doing something about health care, for short-term electoral reasons.

This is all pretty surface-level analysis - we'll get into in greater depth soon. The point for now is that the right is now talking about health care, for real. And with increasing enthusiasm:
Conservative health-care guru John Goodman remembers going to Washington in the early 1990s to get Republicans interested in individual health savings accounts, and "only about five guys would even meet with me," he recalls. Now, HSAs "are a religion" among the right, he notes, and Republicans used their last years in the majority to significantly expand access to these accounts. In the past 15 years, the GOP has also planted the roots of Medicare reform, looked at interstate trade in health insurance, and got behind competitive Medicare reforms in their states. [...]

The important thing is that debate equals education, which equals understanding, which equals precisely what the GOP needs right now. The Heritage Foundation's Mike Franc says Republicans are still too preoccupied with health-care small-ball--which procedures should be covered by Medicare, how much should generics cost--to get their heads around the broader subject. "This is still outside their intellectual comfort zone, and Republicans never do well in that situation," he says. "But to win this debate--the defining issue of the next 40 or 50 years--they're going to have to address it forcefully, head-on, and with every bit of their intellectual firepower."
Of course, "for real" is a relative term when discussing conservative policymaking. But at the same time, compared to liberals, the right has better understood the power of words. And they're putting their linguistic talents to work in a debate which we should have won years ago:
Those on the free-market side are starting to understand the need for a new language, especially if they are to coax more nervous elements of their party into embracing radical change. When President Bush unveiled his health-care tax overhaul in the State of the Union, he stressed that health-care decisions needed to be made by "patients and doctors," not government or insurance companies. Mr. Coburn's bill summary is littered with the words "choice," "empowerment," "competition," "flexibility," "control"--which is not only an honest assessment of what his proposal would provide, but one with which Americans can identify.
There are all kinds of reasons why conservative health care "reform" is a ridiculous idea. But even if it never goes beyond rhetoric, the right's health care plan could fatally cripple any attempt to achieve truly universal coverage. All the more reason for liberals to be bold and simple when talking about health care, rather than dinking around with what seem like safe little proposals. Mike Franc is right: it's time to stop playing small ball.

The health care debate is suddenly far, far more urgent than many Democrats realize. Because if we don't get the public's attention, the other side will.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007
  Elizabeth & John

This is one of those posts where it doesn't really matter what I think, 'cause everyone else thinks the same thing. At any rate, I'm sad to hear that Elizabeth Edwards's cancer has spread. The fact that she is, by all accounts, a wonderful person and an asset to our political culture is actually immaterial - it's sad for any person to be challenged this way.

But she is those things, and so is her husband, and I'm glad he's staying in the race, because we need his voice out there, and hers too.

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  Die, Blogger, Die

And no, I don't mean "The, Blogger, The." So I missed a tag in the Think Tank Review and thus lost half my post, along with an hour and a half I could have spent in all kinds of other, less thinky activities.

I know, save your work, and I also know, stop complaining and get off Blogger already. Still.

So the post was reconstructed to include the main piece. What was lost? Short versions:

"Make English our Official Language": Newt Gingrich thinks the linguistic sky is falling, but doesn't produce any evidence that Americans are particularly culturally fragmented, nor does he propose a solution to the real problem with ESL education: the fact that "over 90% of the need for English as a Second Language classes goes unmet." (Link via The Right's Field.) His list of recommendations seems to be aimed not at solving a policy problem but at reasserting a conservative voice in the immigration debate. And you can't help but notice that it also seems intended to depress immigrant (and thus Democratic) voter turnout.

"Tortured Credibility": Anne Applebaum turns up - at the AEI website! - to denounce the use of torture from a practical perspective. She points out that the Khalid Sheik Mohammed "confessions" have been met with indifference and skepticism around the world. And even if he wasn't tortured, the extrajudicial means used to confine and interrogate him undermine the legitimacy of any confession. The lesson?
[I]t is not merely immoral to operate outside the rule of law; it is also ineffective and in fact profoundly counterproductive: There is no proof that it produces better information but plenty of evidence that it has discredited the United States.
Given AEI's influence in conservative policymaking circles, it's heartening to see this piece at their website.

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  Right-Wing Think Tank Review: 3/22/07

American Enterprise Institute (Sourcewatch profile here)

Gore on the Rocks
By Steven F. Hayward
Pub. 3/21/07; also pub. in National Review.

Hayward's article attempts to establish the idea that there is a "backlash" under way, in the scientific community and among the general public, against climate change "alarmism." Celebrating the fact that "public opinion has barely budged" on climate change, Hayward uses Al Gore as a foil for various denialist assertions.

He begins by citing William Broad's recent article in the New York Times, which purported to show a backlash against the former Vice President's climate change lobbying "'from rank and file scientists' who 'have no political ax to grind.'" (See here and here for criticism of Broad's piece). Hayward goes on to quote Mike Hulme, a British climatologist who sounds a reasonable note of caution about the dangers of always assuming worst-case scenarios. The article then distorts the sense of Hulme's statement by following it with a quote about "internal backlash" from Kevin Vranes - who is also cited in the NYT piece, and who, critics have noted, has published very little peer-reviewed work on climate change.

Hayward then argues that the recent report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "undermines many of Gore's most spectacular claims" [emphasis mine]. Citing, for instance, Gore's warning about the possibility of a 20-foot rise in sea level, Hayward uses the IPCC's more limited conclusions to criticize outlier claims about the effects of global warming, without noting that the report itself affirms extremely strong evidence for anthropogenic influence on climate.

Like a number of other conservative writers, Hayward cites the recent British documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle as evidence of a scientific "backlash" against warnings about climate change. Critics have noted that the program offered little more than the usual debunked denialist claims; one of the scientists featured in the program, meanwhile, has stated that Channel 4 misled him about the nature of the documentary and distorted his opinions.

Hayward and other conservative writers are focusing on examples of extreme rhetoric from non-scientist climate change activists, then conflating the more cautious language of actual scientists with discredited denialist claims, to impute the existence of a "backlash" against warnings about global warming in general. Using certain activists as a straw man, Hayward is attempting to attach denialism parasitically to actual science. As has warned,
Much of the sensationalist talk in the public discourse (and to which the scientists in the piece, and we, rightly take exception) are not the pronoucements of serious scientists in the field, but distorted and often out-of-context quotes that can be further mangled upon frequent repetition. We have often criticised such pieces (here, or here for instance) and it is important to note that the 'shrill voices of doom' referred to by Mike Hulme were not scientists, but campaigners.
Yet we cannot expect conservative think tanks to make the same distinctions.

Meanwhile, Hayward also attempts to portray a backlash against climate change campaigners among the general public. Again, he resorts to ridicule of Al Gore, criticizing Gore's "profligate energy use" (here we see the synergy of the conservative think tanks and right-wing media/attack operations). At the same time, Hayward mades an important political point - one which progressives should carefully consider:
Liberals in the 1960s and 1970s never comprehended how damaging "limousine liberalism" was to their cause. They seem even more oblivious to the self-inflicted wounds of "Gulfstream liberalism." Whatever the intricacies of climate science, middle-class citizens understand that Gore wants them to use less energy and pay more for it, while he and his Hollywood pals use as much as they want and buy their way out of guilt, like a medieval indulgence [Emphasis mine].
Carbon offsets have a emerged as a way for people to use market-like mechanisms to mitigate the environmental harm caused by their personal energy use. This is a laudable idea, but it has the potential to be politically disastrous. It implies that burdens will not be equally shared, and could allow cultural and class-based resentments to undermine serious efforts at emissions reduction. It structures emissions reduction much as the Union's ill-conceived military draft was structured during the Civil War: theoretically, anybody can buy out of it, but in practical terms, only the wealthy can do so. Carbon offsets are not technically hypocritical, but they are deeply hypocritical on a symbolic level.

[Remainder of post lost]

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007
  The Stench of Stale Hubris

When Dick Cheney famously told Pat Leahy to go fuck himself, he and the rest of the administration clearly never anticipated the day when Leahy would return to powerful chairmanship; I think they internalized Karl Rove's visionary scheme of a permanent Republican majority and thought the future was in the bag. Now they're holding the bag and it's leaking all over their laps.
I've never mentioned it, but there was a particular point implied when I named this blog Alien & Sedition. It's also why there's a picture of Jefferson in the top corner there. The point is the same one made by the proverb about the Chinese emperor who asks his wise man to tell him one thing that will always be true:

"This, too, shall pass," is the answer.

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I have no idea why comments aren't enabled on the post below. My theory is that is has something to do with the fact that Blogger Sux.

At any rate, hope you enjoy going back to the future. Light posting the rest of today. If dusty memories from the Commentary archives aren't enough for you, may I recommend:

Amazin' Avenue: You know what they say about a bad dress rehearsal...

The Right's Field: McCain gets clubbed.

Vernon Lee: Comrade Romney vs. the Boston Herald (Also see "Vernon Lee's Law," which has nothing to do with anything horrible happening to some kid named Vernon Lee).

Undercover Blue: What might really lie behind the US attorney firings.

John Cole: Democratic overreach? Hardly.

Slacktivist: Teh MSM is undermining our pets!!!!11!!1!

They hate our freedom and our pooties.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007
  Republican Futures Past: 1983

In November 1982, during a time of recession and 10 percent unemployment, American voters punished President Ronald Reagan and the Republican party, expanding the Democrats' majority in the House of Representatives by 27 seats.

The following January, as the new Congress took its seats, Commentary Magazine published an essay by James Nuechterlein titled "The Republican Future" [pp. 17-25]. Responding to conservative disappointment, Nuechterlein argued that the results constituted "no realignment, no repudiation" - only a "gentle rebuke." Still, there was no denying the fact that "the Democrats remain the majority party in America."

A quarter-century later, we're accustomed to remembering the 1980 election as the 'Reagan Revolution.' But in the wake of the '82 midterms, Nuechterlein suggested that Reagan had originally earned only a "tentative mandate" - one that Republicans should endeavor to renew despite their midterm defeat. Nuechterlein is clear about the stakes involved:
Reagan is no ordinary President. He is our most ideological chief executive since Franklin Roosevelt, and he intends as consequential a revision of our political economy as did FDR. [...]

[Reagan's] political fate will resonate through our political culture with an urgency that no American will be able to disregard.
The starting point for Nuechterlein's effort to divine that fate is his review of a pair of books published shortly before the midterms. The first, by a Heritage Foundation analyst and former Time Magazine writer named Burton Yale Pines, forecast the emergence of a "traditionalist" movement that would, Pines predicted, transform American culture as much as its politics (click here for a New York Times review of the same book). The second appears to have represented an interesting moment in the evolution of Kevin Phillips, the Nixon strategist who has since become a vehement critic of the right.

By "traditionalism," Nuechterlein tells us, Pines meant:
a revolt against dominant modernist liberal values in virtually every area of public and private life: economics, politics, education, family relations, religion, crime and punishment, and the intellectual world. He means defense of private enterprise; advocacy of growth over redistribution ... preservation of the nuclear family as a cultural norm (which implies, among other things, anti-feminism and repudiation of gay rights); defense of religious orthodoxy and opposition to secular humanism... and an overriding skepticism and fear of government plans to build, by rationalist enterprise, the good society.
The mass evangelical re-entry into electoral politics had only begun recently, during the Carter years, so we might not be surprised that it apparently doesn't quite occur to Pines or Nuechterlein to give this phenomenon the label we know it by today: the Christian Right.

"Fusionism" is another term that neither author uses, even though it is the very concept that frames each author's concerns about the prospects for the future of this new traditionalism. Nuechterlein cites the divide between traditionalists on the one hand, and "conservative and neoconservative intellectuals, corporate executives, and mainline Republicans" on the other. "In Pines's view," we're told, "these two groups seldom communicate." History, of course, tells us that they would learn to communicate quite well before very long.

Still, Nuechterlein is not quite ready to jump in with both feet. While he concedes that the left has unfairly maligned honest conservatives, he points out that
there are crazies, zealots, and fanatics on the right, and there is no greater obstacle to the progress of a responsible conservatism than the perception ... that the Right is inhabited only by inadequate and unhinged personalities.
He criticizes Pines for the latter's "popular-front mentality" - the idea that "there are no enemies on the right." Conservatives will ruin themselves, says Nuechterlein, "if they do not distinguish themselves from the know-nothing fringe." One hardly need point out the irony of the fact that "no enemies on the right" was the concept behind the "11th Commandment" devised to protect Ronald Reagan himself. For the time being, at any rate, Nuechterlein takes comfort in the "apparent failure of right-wing dogmatists to achieve their objectives" in the '82 elections - especially given how organizations like the Moral Majority had inspired liberal fundraising efforts. The message he wants to reiterate is that "a conservative is not at all the same thing as a radical of the right." Twenty-five years later, unfortunately, that message is not so clear.

In Post-Conservative America, on the other hand, Kevin Phillips appears to have predicted a descent into extremism of a somewhat different sort: "radical reactionary upsurges and the emergence of 'a species of European corporate statism.'" Nuechterlein feels compelled to refute Phillips's thesis, which does indeed come across as overly pessimistic - but which is grounded in an otherwise astute analysis of the dilemma with which conservatives would ultimately be faced. Phillips, it seems, argues that Reagan's coalition of economic conservatives, old-line Republicans, and the social right, cannot hold. Ultimately, Phillips says, social conservatives simply aren't on board with the Reaganite dream of remaking America's political economy. Nuechterlein summarizes:
Reagan's program of budget cuts, monetarist restraint, and reduction in marginal tax rates ... held little attraction for the populist Right. That group was more interested in reductions in property taxes - the Proposition 13 phenomenon - than in progressive income tax rates, and its anti-business instincts ... made it suspicious of monetarism. [...]

Moreover, the populist Right's generalized animus against big government did not preclude its expectation that the federal pork barrel would remain accessible to itself. While Reagan's middle-class supporters wanted cuts in welfare, Phillips argues, they were not prepared for the widespread reductions in social programs that the administration's policies called for.
Phillips's pessimism lies in how he predicts this contradiction will resolve itself: with Balkanization, radicalization, and "revolutionary conservatism" demanding massive but illiberal government intervention in the economy, leading even to joint government-business central planning. Thus the European-style corporatism he fears, bearing the possibility of authoritarian politics along with it. What Phillips refers to is, essentially, a variety of fascism.

Nuechterlein derides this apocalyptic vision, arguing that there is no reason to believe that the right will disintegrate into radicalism on account of tensions between economic and social conservatives. Defending Reagan against charges of intellectual inadequacy, Nuechterlein says that
Reagan has already brought a good deal more coherence into American politics than it has experienced in recent years. He has, first of all, united the conservative movement and turned the Republican party into a vehicle of that movement.
And anyway, if social conservatives dislike the president's economic policies, there's no other place for them to go - certainly they won't turn to the Democrats, and any third party would be a waste of their time. Ronald Reagan, according to Nuechterlein, would remain firmly at the head of the conservative coalition. And there was no reason to believe that the project would fail:
The Reagan administration may wind up in ultimate frustration, but Phillips's Chicken-Little analysis simply comes to early in the game for us to believe it is anything but predetermined.
Looking back, certain things do in fact seem to have been predetermined - not by Phillips's analysis, but by economic and political reality. Reagan achieved no consequential revision of American political economy - to echo Nuechterlein, the so-called Reagan Revolution ended in no realignment, no repudiation of the New Deal. As Michael Kinsley has described,
Federal government spending was a quarter higher in real terms when Reagan left office than when he entered. As a share of GDP, the federal government shrank from 22.2 percent to 21.2 percent—a whopping one percentage point. The federal civilian work force increased from 2.8 million to 3 million [even excluding Defense Department employees]. [...]

And taxes? Federal tax collections rose about a fifth in real terms under Reagan. As a share of GDP, they declined from 19.6 percent to 18.3 percent.
For context, Kinsley compares this record to that of President Clinton, under whom the federal civilian workforce shrank, and federal spending grew at half the rate in real terms - and was reduced as a portion of GDP by twice as much - as it had under Reagan. Even during Reagan's term, monetarism was abandoned and Laffer Curves were quietly put away. All in all, Reagan managed some modest cuts in non-defense discretionary spending, but made no dent on entitlements and ultimately racked up massive deficits which forced his successors to raise marginal tax rates, thus wiping out the one Reagan legacy that conservatives have been able to cite as a great triumph of supply-side economics. And, of course, the rise in marginal tax rates under Clinton only fueled the economy.

One might cite Clinton's deceleration of government spending as evidence for a Reagan Revolution that remade the American political context and forced even Democrats to join the small-government bandwagon. Conservatives have often referred to Clinton's pronouncement in his 1996 State of the Union address that "the era of big government is over." This, we are told, is evidence of Reagan's triumph. But the argument mistakes rhetoric for fact (and Clinton's next sentence was a reaffirmation of the need for activist government: "But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves.") And the explosion of government spending under the conservative George W. Bush essentially puts the myth of the Reagan Revolution to bed.

The irony of all this is that the failure of the Reagan Revolution turned out to be a good thing for the Republican party. By avoiding significant budget cuts, Reagan was able to retain the support of the social conservatives who have come to constitute the party's base - and who, contra Pines, were always much more interested in culture than in political economy. Thus the right was not forced to split, and Phillips's dark hypothesis was never tested. The conservative movement may have been saved by its own hypocrisy.

True supply-siders are well represented in the ranks of conservative intellectuals and donors. But they have never had a significant electoral base of their own. The latest Pew Political Typology, for instance, finds that so-called "Enterprisers," who are "strongly pro-business" and "oppose social welfare," constitute only 11 percent of registered voters - dramatically underscoring the extent to which Republican fortunes lie in the hands of "pro-government conservatives." As Phillips and others have pointed out, the populist embrace of right-wing economics extends only as far as the occasional tax revolt will carry it. The Friedmanites have developed various coping strategies in response. They've over-idealized the Reagan years. They've blamed Democrats for blocking the conservative economic program. They've searched for silver linings. But over the past six years, they've had little cover for the failure to advance their agenda - and the result has been a series of noisy complaints about their own party - and especially Bush. In fact, the current administration has, with its "compassionate conservatism," sought a way out of the dilemma facing economic conservatives. But that's for the next installment.

The Republican future of 1983 was fraught with promise and peril. Ultimately it neither realized its promise nor succumbed to the peril. The fusionist conservative movement did not in fact achieve a revolution under Reagan, but neither did it disintegrate into fascism. Rather it has perpetuated itself by a kind of mythmaking: overstating both its successes (as exemplified by Reagan and Newt Gingrich) and its supposed powerlessness under Clinton and the first President Bush. The movement has held more political power than it will admit, but it has accomplished less than it would like to believe. Yet this dual myth has benefited conservatives: it has held the movement together and given it impetus, providing a vision of what conservatives might achieve and a hunger to overcome the political obstacles standing in the way.

But in the era of total conservative government, this sustaining myth ran aground. The obstacles to implementation of the conservative agenda were no longer just political, but structural; conservatives, with only feeble Democratic opposition, and the guiding star of the Reaganite ideology showing the way, were forced to navigate waters far more difficult than they had imagined. This was the dilemma that would confront President George W. Bush, and it was in many ways a legacy of a president who proved, in the end, to be a great actor - but not much of a revolutionary.

Cross-posted at Progressive Historians.

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"An obscure but fantastic blog." - Markus Kolic


Critical analysis of the American conservative movement from a progressive perspective. Also some stuff about the Mets.

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Favorite Posts

I Was a Mole at the Conservative Summit, Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Wars of Perception, Part One
Wars of Perception, Part Two

Conservative Futures
Reading Conservative History


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