alien & sedition.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
  Targeting the GOP Coalition

There are a number of things worth discussing with regard to the Fabrizio poll of Republicans. One thing I haven't seen widely mentioned is that the poll was underwritten by a number of groups dedicated to moving the GOP toward the center on social issues: the Republican Leadership Council (which "supports fiscally conservative, socially inclusive Republican candidates"), Republican Main Street Partnership, Republican Majority for Choice, and the Log Cabin Republicans -- all of whom must be pleased with the survey's finding that Republican voters are much more socially moderate than the conventional wisdom would suggest.

But what I want to focus on in this post is how the data indicate that progressives should not pursue an alliance with libertarians, but should instead focus on building consensus around government-backed social insurance.

Debate about the prospects for a "liberaltarian" coaltion has been bubbling for several months (see Brink Lindsey's initial essay on the subject here; see also Jonathan Chait's rebuttal). Six years of Bush administration assaults on civil liberties and pandering to the religious right have lent the idea an undeniable appeal, but the results of the Fabrizio poll suggest that Lindsey's particular version of "progressive fusionism" would lead liberals in the wrong direction, away from a genuinely strong progressive coalition.

The poll breaks GOP voters down into seven categories, the largest of which are the "moralists" -- social conservatives as we know them, heavily evangelical and defined by a "laser-like focus" on issues like abortion and homosexuality. Yet these moralists constitute only a quarter of Republican voters, and even they retain a surprising degree of flexibility -- 33% would vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed on abortion, if the candidate shared enough of their other views.

Overall, by 53-42%, Republicans believe their party "has spent too much time on moral issues...and should instead be focusing on economic issues." Judging by the poll results, there's little evidence that the views of the moralists represent a GOP consensus on social issues. By 49-42% Republicans favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. By 77-18% (including a large majority even of moralists), GOP voters believe it should be illegal for employers to fire workers based on sexual orientation. Only 28% believe that abortion should be illegal under all circumstances (this does not of course mean that the majority of Republicans are pro-choice, but it does mean that the issue continues to be defined by its nuances, rather than by moral absolutes).

Particularly notable is that, setting the moralists aside, the most anti-government segments of the party -- "Free Marketeers" and "Dennis Miller Republicans" -- are not appreciably more socially liberal than the other groups. Only on one question -- how much impact religion should have on public policy -- do the Free Marketeers stand out as significantly more liberal than their compatriots, and even here the other non-moralist groups are closely divided. In fact, on the abortion and sexual orientation questions, two non-moralist groups stand out as more progressive than the anti-government groups.

These two factions -- the "Heartland Republicans" and the "Government Knows Best Republicans" -- are the most intriguing, from a liberal standpoint. The former, constituting 8% of the GOP electorate, are "more pragmatic and less ideological," worried about gas prices but supportive of government action on economic issues and climate change, and somewhat Midwestern. The latter group are 13% of the party, the "strongest supporters of government intervention to solve social and environmental problems," as well as being "skeptical of the Patriot Act" and of military spending generally, heavily female, and "more likely to be found on the coasts."

These two groups look to be classic examples of voters who are "theoretically conservative and operationally liberal." By large margins, they share with their fellow partisans the broad feeling that government is too big and spends too much, taxes are too high, and the budget should be balanced. But on questions of specific priorities, their views are much different. On economic issue after economic issue they favor government intervention over the invisible hand of the market: they believe that universal health care should be a right; they prefer fully-funded Social Security to private retirement accounts; they believe the federal government should be more involved in the education system; they think the government is not doing enough to combat global warming; and they agree that "government should be there with a helping hand for those who can't make it on their own." On some of these issues, they are even joined by a third group -- the "Fortress America" isolationists.

These groups look not unlike the independent voters Democrats seek to court. And keep in mind that, again, they are pro-government, but for the most part no less socially liberal than the libertarians.

All of this comes in the context of a new divide within the GOP, over war and terror issues. Republican voters overwhelmingly believe that Iraq and the war on terror now define the Republican party, though they are less united in how they feel about that fact. Here it's instructive to return to Reihan Salam's theory about the two Republican narratives most likely to emerge:
I see two ways to do this: a moralistic domestic reformism that ties together the applied neoconservatism of welfare reform and crime-fighting, the social conservatism of moving to reduce the number of abortions (through restrictions or abortion alternatives) and income-splitting and other marriage-friendly and family-friendly measures, and a civic nationalism that emphasizes America's common culture and the central importance of assimilation and integration.

Or War on Terror nationalism, which focuses on the defeat of America's enemies to the exclusion of domestic issues.
I largely agree with Salam, which is why I think that the kind of conservatism that he and his ideological compatriots advocate represents the right's best chance to build a majority over the long term. But I think that these numbers are even more promising for Democrats, if we take advantage of them.

Liberaltarianism represents an effort to build a firewall against moralist and authoritarian conservatism. But Fabrizio's data suggests that such a firewall is unnecessary, because it already exists within the Republican coalition. And building the liberaltarian wall would mean shutting out the very constituencies we should be trying to peel off: socially moderate, operationally-pro-government Republicans and independents. In this regard liberatarianism seems like a cousin of DLC triangulationism, which was driven in part by an elitist distaste for moralists and economic populists alike, and which sought to exploit the right's divide on social issues while ignoring the possibilities of exploiting its divide on economic issues (though, in fairness, the latter divide has widened significantly since the Clinton era).

There is, I think, room to assemble a coalition around sensible, well-considered social insurance ideas. Conservative reformists like Salam are hoping to get there first, and Democrats should realize the danger in allowing them to do so. One advantage for progressives, though, is that efforts to build a "moralistic domestic reform" conservatism will be slowed both by conservative institutional resistance to anything that smacks of compassionate conservatism redux, and by the right's current pre-occupation with war and terror. At the very least we should be in a position to negotiate social insurance policy with the conservative reformers from a position of strength. We should take advantage of the space these delays offer us to get a head start on building a real progressive fusionism.

Cross-posted at MyDD.

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Friday, June 29, 2007
  The Power of Spam

Crazy right-wing chain e-mails take over our media, one small-town paper at a time.

To be fair, I think a lot of that stuff originates in the Wall Street Journal editorial offices.

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  Who are the Republicans? First Guesses

As I said, I'll try my hand at more in-depth analysis of that big Fabrizio poll of Republicans when I've had a chance to dig through it more. Meanwhile, a couple quick notes on it:

Mark Ambinder gives a great rundown of the results. One part worth highlighting:
According to Fabrizio, the party’s social/cultural wing remains about the same size, while the economic wing has “shrunk by nearly two thirds.” Replacing those Republicans have been national security and defense voters. Free marketeers, per Fabrizio, comprise about 8 percent of the GOP electorate. They’re skeptical of government action, largely male, baby-boomerish, less frequent church-goers, and they’re not moralists. Fabrizio believes that these voters comprise Fred Thompson’s strongest voting block.
This speaks to the importance of conservative movement institutions in policing the GOP's ideological consensus. According to Fabrizio's results, social conservatives should be as strong as ever within the Republican coalition, while the influence of fiscal conservatives should be waning dramatically. Yet precisely the opposite is happening. Much more to unpack on this point.

Reihan Salam adds his analysis. Again, I'll comment more later, but on a first read, a couple things stick out. One is that Republican attitudes on economic issues are confusing and in many ways contradictory -- very many of them want both lower taxes and more activist government (though in that regard they're not unlike the public at large). Even more interesting is Salam's theory that two rough strategies emerge as ways forward for Republicans. One is "a moralistic domestic reformism," while the other is "War on Terror nationalism." Salam -- unsurprisingly, if you've read his work -- favors the former; he believes that the latter will, in the long run, end up shrinking the Republican coalition. I suspect he's right, which might make it all the more worrying to conservatives that their party's presidential frontrunner is the definitive War on Terror nationalist.

Of course, that fact worries me too, for other reasons.

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  Dealing with the Supremes

Over at The Third Estate, Arbitrista looks at the Supreme Court mess -- highlighted by a week of awful 5-4 decisions -- and ponders what to do about it all. As he points out:
No matter what kind of political majorities Democrats are able to build in the next dozen years, no matter what sort of policies we manage to enact to reverse the disastrous course of the last seven (or twenty-seven) years, the right-wing Court will be there to stop us. It is the Supreme Court, not Iraq, that is George Bush's ultimate legacy.
While it was Bush who appointed Roberts and Alito, the coming era of right-wing jurisprudence isn't just his legacy, it's the legacy of almost half a century of conservative movement-building. The courts are the ultimate trailing indicator in American politics; seeds that are planted at the grassroots level of electoral politics will bear judiciary fruit decades later. The right's rhetoric in recent years, often so intensely focused on the courts, well-constructed and full of frustration, is testimony to this. The courts were the last bastion of the mainstream world to fall to the movement's forces; even in a right-wing era, years after the Reagan and Gingrich ascendancies, the judiciary branch refused to succumb, because change comes so glacially there.

All of which makes some of Arbitrista's recommendations even more striking:
A less extreme version of the strategy of confrontation would be to apply public pressure - congressional censures, public protests, and most particularly making the Courts and their decisions an explicit political issue. The Democrats in the next Presidential campaign should highlight these decisions, which if they were well-known would be extremely unpopular with the general public. No Supreme Court justice, and most especially not Anthony Kennedy, wants to see the Supreme Court become an issue in electoral campaigns. I believe that making Supreme Court decisions a major element in the campaign would also help Democrat electorally, since it could force the campaign to be much more substantive. The last thing the Republicans want to talk about is repealing environmental laws or gutting civil liberties.

Now some would say that we should not politicize the Courts. To which I respond - the Courts are already politicized. The days of moderate judges who invoke careful legal reasoning drawn from precedent is over. The Court is now ruled by the same clique that we just toppled from power in the Congress and that has drawn Bush down to 26% in the polls.
This, then, would be a liberal version of the very same strategy conservatives have pursued over the years. It wouldn't necessarily be unprecedented for the left, either -- FDR's court-packing scheme might have failed in its immediate objective, but it accomplished his larger purpose, which was to rally political pressure to get a conservative court -- again, a holdover from another kind of era -- to stop obstructing the New Deal. And it's not just about pressuring the courts directly; you also use the unpopularity of their decisions to motivate your base to get you elected so eventually you can appoint the judges.

Being as liberals are meant to value objectivity, fairness, and consensus, a strategy of politically pressuring the courts will be controversial, and I won't address the philosophical merits of the idea here. But history does tell us that ultimately it would be likely to work.

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  Consequences of Electability

Despite Fred Thompson's dramatic gains on Rudy Giuliani in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, Todd points out at MyDD that Rudy still retains considerable leads in all three states. Most signficant, though, are his extraordinarily strong favorability ratings in those states (54/28, for instance, in Florida), which are similar to his favorability numbers nationally. Says Todd:
A lot is made of Clinton's high negatives but not enough is said about Rudy' still high positives, which could end up being the Republicans' secret weapon in the general if he gets the nomination.
The same kind of analysis prompts a couple of conservative observers to declare that Giuliani is "still the frontrunner." At Real Clear Politics, Ross Kaminsky says this is for one simple reason: he's the most electable Republican:
[W]hile it is still VERY early in this process, internals of a recent Quinnipiac University poll show why I believe Rudy is still somewhat more likely to get the nomination than Fred: He is more likely to be able to win the general election.

For example, the Quinnipiac Poll shows Giuliani tied with or leading Hillary Clinton in three critical swing states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. The analysis in the link above focuses on Giuliani's lead shrinking from prior polls, but that is not the key. The key is that Giuliani far outperforms the other Republican frontrunners.
Gary Matthew Miller agrees:
If enough GOP primary participants are persuaded that only the Mayor could prevail in November of next year, that just might be the fulcrum upon which the Republican nomination may pivot.
Of course, the John Kerry experience demonstrated that "electability" is a tricky concept, but there's plenty of reason to believe that Kaminsky and Miller are correct. Yet there's a puzzle at the heart of the equation. It's one thing for primary voters to make a calculation about electablity; it's another thing for the conservative ideological apparatus itself to use the same calculation to endorse a candidate who rejects key tenents of the longstanding conservative consensus. As broad swathes of the right's intellectual, financial, and media elites use Rudy's "leadership qualities," his fiscal conservatism, and his "electability" as excuses to abandon the socially conservative half of their fusionist coalition, the issue for those social conservatives becomes much starker.

Despite their threats, it's unclear just how prepared they are to break decisively with the GOP -- to endorse a third-party candidate should Rudy win the nomination. But keep in mind that the stakes for social conservatives are bigger than just this election. It isn't just about making sure there's an anti-abortion candidate in 2008. It's about the prospect of losing access to the mighty conservative political machine altogether. If they allow the rest of the conservative establishment to leave them behind, they may never recover their place at the table; they may be permanently marginalized within the movement. For social conservatives -- for the Christian right in particular -- Rudy's "electability" is a very dangerous thing, and there's reason to believe they won't let it go unchallenged.

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007
  A Way Forward on Climate Change

This article by Peter Teague and Jeff Navin is the best thing I've read on the politics of climate change in a long time. Teague and Navin argue that environmentalists are headed for political doom if they don't take seriously just how sensitive Americans are to rising energy prices:
Americans' anxiety over rising energy costs is a serious challenge to anyone seeking a solution to global warming. The anxiety is real, and the vast majority of Americans perceive these costs as causing financial hardship for their families. Proposals that raise energy prices risk triggering populist anger; Americans uniformly reject government efforts to increase the cost of gasoline or electricity as a way of encouraging certain kinds of behaviors.
The authors use the failure of California's Proposition 87 as an object lesson, pointing out that the initiative floundered -- despite initial public support -- when advocates were unable to convince the public that its regulatory mandates would not cause gas prices to rise.

Teague and Navin make the case for a response to the challenge of global warming that goes beyond simply imposing regulations on carbon emissions, calling for an integrated approach involving massive public investment in the development of a clean-fuel economy:
Ultimately, the global warming crisis will be solved by the emergence of a new clean energy economy that is also capable of meeting the needs and aspirations of America's -- and the world's -- growing population. Regulation should be only one piece of a larger set of strategies designed to speed the emergence of that economy, with interlocking investment, tax, and fiscal policies also designed to send the right market signals and prompt private-sector investment and innovation. These policies must both solve the problem of climate change and have the political support to be enacted and sustained.

Good policy is therefore inseparable from good politics.
I haven't read enough of the literature on climate change to know how novel Teague and Navin's argument is. But I have read enough conservative writing on the subject to see its importance. As I've been documenting for a few months, the right's approach to the warming debate has been shifting from straight denial to a more nuanced position, which accepts the reality of global warming but rejects regulatory solutions and argues for letting the market take care of the problem -- call it the "Yes, But" approach. See, for instance, the cover story in last week's National Review, or this AEI paper by Samuel Thernstrom and Lee Lane, or this Robert Samuelson piece. It isn't a uniform shift across the conservative spectrum; there's still plenty of denialism mixed in, as well a sort of hybrid, defeatist mentality that accepts warming but would have us just try learning to live with it. But what all the approaches have in common, the pivot point between denialism and the "Yes, But" approach, is a focus on the costs of carbon regulation. What Teague and Navin understand is the power of arguments like the one made by Stephen Hayward:
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.
I know I've quoted that before, but I'm quoting it again, because it's tremendously important. This is the fatal flaw in any attempt to deal with climate change as a strictly regulatory issue, and it's why the whole notion of purchasing carbon offsets is wildly misguided as a feature of the public debate on the issue. I like Al Gore a lot, but the controversy over his energy bills was an example of the kind of thing that will be tremendously damaging to the environmental cause, and his response fell flat. We cannot afford to wind up on the wrong side of a class conflict when it comes to this debate.

Teague and Navin get this:
The "right-wing populist vs. liberal elite" frame is dropping into place with the help of those calling for the deepest cuts in carbon. The deep-cut mantra, repeated without any real understanding of what might be required to get to 60 or 80 percent reductions in emissions, ignores voters' anxieties. It also reflects the questionable view that these changes can be achieved with little more than trivial disruptions in our lives -- a view easier to hold if you're in a financial position to buy carbon credits for your beachfront house.

Labor has indicated a willingness to support action on climate change, but it won't support deep cuts if working people are the most affected. This will leave environmentalists up against the well-financed business lobby. Good luck holding onto moderate Democrats, let alone Republicans -- even those who are beginning to understand the need for action on global warming.
One of their key insights is that "today energy costs seem to generate the kind of ire taxes did a decade ago." Poll data show strong public support for government investment in a transition to a clean-energy economy -- read the article for more details on what that investment might entail -- while empirical evidence suggests that a strictly regulatory approach, by raising energy prices or even threatening to raise energy prices, triggers a backlash that harms the whole effort to fight climate change. Conservatives are preparing to stoke that backlash, even as they offer a faulty "market-based" alternative approach. Teague and Navin are absolutely right: progressives need to step up their game.

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  The Uses of Ann Coulter

The big-picture side of me says it's bad for American political discourse that crazies like Ann Coulter are given so much of a platform in public debate.

The strategist side of me, though, loves it. The Edwardses know what they're doing here. Coulter is the right's Ward Churchill, only she actually speaks for a good portion of the right, who are too dumb to realize the damage she does to them.

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  Remembering the Forgotten Man

The New Yorker has John Updike, instead of an economist, review Amity Shlaes's revisionist, fiscal conservative history of the Great Depression. And the result seems far more devastating to her argument than anything a mere economist could do to it.

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  Those Liberal Republicans

So lately we've been seeing more data indicating that Americans -- especially younger Americans -- have been moving left. Now MSNBC's First Read reports that even Republicans may be considerably less conservative than many have assumed them to be. A new poll by Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates "challenges the conventional notions of conservatism," and indicates that the remarkable ideological flexibility among Republicans might benefit Rudy Giuliani.

I'm going to return the subject in more depth after I've had a chance to parse the numbers. But there are two key findings worth noting here. The first is that, on a broad level, half of Republicans seem to endorse the "liberal" view on any given issue. For instance:
On abortion
-Fifty-two percent believe abortions should be legal under certain circumstances.

On health care
-Fifty-one percent of Republicans agree that universal health care should be a right of all people. The moralists are also split on the issue.

On social welfare
-Half believe the government needs to provide a “helping hand” and safety net.

On gay rights
-Almost half of all Republicans favor gays serving openly in the military. Even four in 10 moralists think gays should be allowed to serve openly.

-Seventy-seven percent believe companies should not have the right to fire employees based on sexual orientation.
The other major finding is that even among dedicated social conservatives -- the "moralists" referred to above, who tend to focus on issues like abortion, gay marriage, and school prayer -- almost a third "say that [candidates'] leadership qualities are more important than their issue positions." And Giuliani leads the other GOP contenders even among these moralists.

This suggests that a substantial portion of the Republican base would disagree with Patrick Ruffini's argument that a panderer who says the right thing on the issues is better than an "authentic" politician who deviates from the party line. Then there's the question of what it is that gives Rudy that aura of authenticity, that convinces Republicans of his so-called "leadership qualities." I of course don't think there's much at all about Rudy Giuliani that's "authentic," but, in addition to and bolstering his reputation as the hero of 9/11 (an insult to the real heroes of 9/11), he may indeed have a certain Reaganesque flair for divining a popular mood and exemplifying it. My best guess is that Thomas Edsall had it right when he wrote that Giuliani's true political skill is his willingness and ability to polarize people. This might be what makes him the man of the current GOP zeitgeist, that in a time of ideological crisis on the right, he's the Republican who best recognizes and is able to take advantage of the fact that "the single thing that truly unites and energizes conservatives is a raw animosity toward liberals."

And that, not ideology, might be what defines the difference between the parties these days. If so, it means that while half of Republicans might agree with us on the issues, we're still very far apart.

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

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  Dodd's YouTube Challenge

The Chris Dodd campaign is trying an interesting experiment with its moment in the YouTube Spotlight:

I like the media criticism in the clip, but I'm particularly impressed by the effort to use interactive technology in a more substantive way than the other campaigns are doing. Rather than encourage a faux reciprocity ("Share your opinions! Pick our campaign song!"), Dodd is seeking to get viewers constructively involved on a real issue -- asking them to video themselves contacting senators in support of the Dodd Amendment, which would mandate the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq beginning 30 days from the date of enactment.

Dodd's campaign is hoping to use the popularity of the "video response" concept to get people -- particularly young people -- actively politically engaged. It's nice to see somebody making an effort to take advantage of new technologies for movement-building and political education, as opposed to simply using them as an extension of a marketing plan.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007
  Don't Fear the Dolchstosslegende?

Check out the snazzy new American Scene. Not only does the site look great, but Reihan Salam has brought on board an excellent group of co-bloggers, ideologically diversifying the site in the process.

The new team includes neo-paleocon Daniel Larison (an opponent of the Iraq war), who suggests that liberals shouldn't be so worried about a revival of Dolchstoss politics:
A turn to Dolchstoss rhetoric would be the final act of self-discrediting by mainstream conservatives in this country. Not satisfied with their own handy knife work in the area of the national spinal column with the Iraq war, they will be only too happy to find scapegoats for a disaster in which they acquiesced and indeed cheered on through each stage of deepening failure. Instead of four or eight years out of power, the right would risk losing its chance at the White House for a generation if it engaged in the active vilification of two-thirds of the country. It would be the ultimate act of blaming America first, which, as they are only too well aware, is not a vote-winner. Watching progressives gird for the coming battle against Dolchstoss is rather amusing, when it seems clear from where I'm standing that nothing could better suit the cause of progressivism in this country than a perpetually imploding, paranoid and delusional conservative movement. Indeed, things would have come full circle, since it was in no small part thanks to the implosion of the left brought on by the excesses and absurdity of the New Left in the late 1960s and early 1970s that helped lay some of the foundations for later conservative success.
Larison also suggests that Dolchstoss is less likely to catch on in a situation where 1) it's effete AEI intellectuals, not the military, doing the complaining, and 2) millions of Americans (or even tens of thousands) haven't died.

Larison certainly has a point about the right's descent into paranoia, though it's something of an incoherent process (isn't it always), particularly in that even pro-war conservatives themselves are vehemently at odds with each other -- and often with themselves -- as to whether the Iraq war is a booming success or a plain failure. One almost gets the sense that they look forward to the days when they can be done with it -- just ditch the cognitive dissonance and settle on a nice revisionist fairy tale that blames the whole thing on the libs. But the paranoid style in America sells books but not candidates, not over the long run anyway, and if conservatives want to revert to a kind of John Birch mentality (and again, Johann Hari's experience suggests that the process is fairly advanced at this stage) then perhaps they'll ultimately settle into a John Birch-style marginality.

We can certainly hope that will be the case, anyway. In the meantime, progressives are intimately familiar with the potency of the conservative noise machine, having been beaten bloody by it on a regular basis over the past quarter century. And we're aware that Dolchstoss is being pumped through the machine at a considerable rate, with the usual message discipline across all manner of movement institutions. So I, for one, might be cheered by Larison's line of argument, I might even believe he's right, but in the meantime, I'll continue to gird.

Update: Ross Douthat makes the same case as Larison:
Myself, I think that liberals should be praying that the Right embraces the "stabbed in the back" theory of what went wrong in Iraq (and possibly Iran as well), because it will push conservatives toward political irrelevance.
Go read the whole post.

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  Conservatives at Sea

I somehow missed this when it was first posted, but it's a delight. I've been one-upped by Johann Hari -- I went into the lions' den for a couple of days, but Hari went on a cruise with the beasts:
I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. "Is he your only child?" I ask. "Yes," she answers. "Do you have a child back in England?" she asks me. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe."

I am getting used to such moments, when holiday geniality bleeds into--well, I'm not sure exactly what. I am traveling on a bright-white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, and 500 readers of National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been "an amazing success." Global warming is not happening. Europe is becoming a new Caliphate. And I have nowhere to run....

The idea that Europe is being "taken over" is the unifying theme of this cruise. Some people go on singles' cruises, some on ballroom-dancing cruises. This is the Muslims Are Coming cruise. Everyone thinks it. Everyone knows it.
It's a great piece -- do read it all if you haven't already.

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  Phoniness Defended

Yesterday, Soren Dayton wondered what it says about conservatives and Republicans that they've become so nonchalant about -- even supportive of -- naked pandering:
So the pattern is clear. Run on some positions your whole life, then change them to win the nomination. Then what?

Is that a healthy way for a political party or a political movement to behave? What does this say about our intellectual class?
Now Patrick Ruffini responds with a spirited defense of flip-flopping. Ruffini argues that it's better to support a panderer who'll give you what you want than an "authentic" candidate (he has McCain in mind) who's "authentically" wrong:
But that's the problem isn't it? McCain led. He led on BCRA. He led on CIR. He led the fight against the Bush tax cuts. He led the Republicans for the Kyoto treaty. All of Romney's flip-flops don't change the fact that McCain is responsible for the abomination that is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Whenever McCain leads, it's usually in the wrong direction. That's why conservatives don't trust him.
He also points out that, having flipped, it's unlikely that Romney et al will flip back again to more "liberal" positions -- it would be political suicide to do so in the election, and history tells us that presidents generally govern more or less as they say they will during their campaigns (subject to all kinds of caveats, but let's concede the point for now).

Lest we drown in a wave of bilious irony, Ruffini assures us that it was totally different when his fellow conservatives attacked John Kerry for being, y'know, a flip-flopper:
But the frame against Kerry was that he was too unsteady and indecisive to win a war.Can McCain credibly make that case against the others? That Rudy Giuliani will wilt against al Qaeda because he moved on CFR? Please.
This is nonsense, of course -- an ex post facto attempt to justify a meta-flip flop, a flip-flop on the subject of flip-flopping. And Bush's "decisiveness" is precisely what got us into a disastrous war, and what is causing us to lose that war. But that's a tangent.

Ruffini's a very smart guy, and on one level, despite his hypocrisy, he's got a case. If you're devoted to a certain set of principles, you prefer candidates who will endorse those principles to those who will not; authenticity is in that regard a secondary consideration. But I wonder if he has given enough consideration to what he himself is endorsing. Romney, for instance, is not just a politician who has changed his mind, he is the definitive phony -- as Josh Marshall put it, he "seems so transparently phony, so willing to say anything that I find him genuinely frightening." Now you can make a case that such a nonentity might not be so bad, from a technocratic standpoint. But to return to Dayton's question: what does it say about the movement?

What does it say that in order to embrace the conservative ideological line, candidates are forced to bend so far that the exercise becomes comical? What does it say that conservatives seem to care more about hearing candidates sing the old standards of the right than about hearing creative ideas to get beyond the current crisis (both the national crisis and that of the conservative movement)? What does it say that the preference is for phoniness and rote ideology as opposed to leadership and vision?

They're open-ended questions, but I can't help thinking of Rick Perlstein's recent article in The Nation, where he describes how Ronald Reagan refused to be limited to his pollsters' advice:
But the more profound lesson is that the greatest politicians create their own issues, ones that no one knew existed. Was the mood in California favorable for Reagan's conservative message in 1966? Obviously, or else Reagan wouldn't have won; he wasn't a magician. But he was--yes--a great communicator, confident of his gifts. By listening and interacting with ordinary people, and sniffing out where his own sense of right and wrong dovetailed with what he heard, he divined a certain inchoate mood....

That's the danger of even the best polling: its power to smother intuitive leaders in the cradle.
One might argue that too much tolerance of poll-driven phoniness will strangle them just as surely.

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007
  Places to Go

I'll be back tomorrow with some meatier stuff. Meanwhile...

Soren Dayton on whether conservatives disgusted with Bush are really being honest with themselves.

Arthur Silber and Undercover Blue weigh in with thoughtful posts on the whole Manicheanism debate.

Maha on the Iraq war endgame.

I've been writing a bunch of stuff at The Right's Field.


  GOP to McCain: Look What You Make Us Do

At NRO, Jim Geraghty picks up on the McCain deathwatch story, and wonders about the role of the immigration issue in his campaign's downward spiral. In an article fueled by quotes from anonymous strategists in opposing Republican camps, Geraghty reveals how McCain's sponsorship of the immigration bill is causing problems not just for the Arizona Senator himself, but for the rest of the Republican field. While rival Republican candidates can use the issue to flog McCain, at least some of their advisors are smart enough to wish the whole issue would just go away:
"I don’t know how much shelf-life this issue has for Republicans," the rival strategist says. "This was Karl Rove’s brilliant idea to permanently cement the Hispanic vote to the Republican base. Well, so far, all we’ve seen it do is aggravate Hispanics and divide our base. The longer we’re talking about this issue, the deeper we’re digging this hole. And where the hell is McCain? He threw our party into this briar patch. He makes the deal with Kennedy, creating this mess, and then he’s out on the campaign trail raising money."
The thing is, it's a briar patch of the right's own making. Geraghty cites an anti-Hispanic "comedy" bit on a recent edition of Rush Limbaugh's radio show, but Linda Chavez's recent complaints tell the story more graphically -- the more that Republicans talk about immigration, the more nastiness they bring out in their own base. And that's not going to be good for them in the long run. Geraghty's source understands the ramifications:
"Symbolism of this bill may be more important than substance," says the rival strategist. He laments that the debate on the Republican side is turning into who can most vehemently denounce illegal immigrants, and to Hispanic ears, it may sound hostile to all immigrants, regardless of their legal status. "Sometimes it’s not the words that people hear, but the theme music in the background."
Immigration may be the most natural issue for McCain's GOP rivals to use against him -- since it's the area in which he is most clearly at odds with the party's base -- but using it that way is ultimately self-destructive for Republicans. No wonder they're all so eager to see John McCain disappear.

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

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  And Yet Civilization Survives

Is it just me, or does this seem rather overblown? John Leo writes that sociologist Robert Putnam (of "Bowling Alone" fame) is "very nervous" about releasing data he's accumulated suggesting that diversity reduces social cohesion within a community:
In the 41 sites Putnam studied in the U.S., he found that the more diverse the neighborhood, the less residents trust neighbors. This proved true in communities large and small, from big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Boston to tiny Yakima, Washington, rural South Dakota, and the mountains of West Virginia. In diverse San Francisco and Los Angeles, about 30 percent of people say that they trust neighbors a lot. In ethnically homogeneous communities in the Dakotas, the figure is 70 percent to 80 percent.

Diversity does not produce “bad race relations,” Putnam says. Rather, people in diverse communities tend “to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”
I live in one of those "diverse" places. Anyone "huddl[ing] unhappily" in front of the television (and how does Putnam know that they do it "unhappily"?) is missing out on a lot, but more to the point: when you think about it, how is this data so astonishing? Of course people living in small, homogeneous towns in the Dakotas feel they have more in common with their neighbors, and act accordingly. But -- and no offense meant to any readers in those states, honestly -- who wants to live in a small homegeneous town in the Dakotas? All I mean is, "to each his own" is a phrase that cuts more than one way.

And on another level: community cohesion and solidarity are important, but it's a diverse, cosmopolitan world, and aren't the kinds of cohesion and solidarity that can't/won't account for that fact often the kinds of cohesion and solidarity you don't want to see?

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  Newt Gingrich Thinks You're Stupid

If this Washington Times op-ed is any indication:
The Hamas victory in Gaza is a warning that World War IV (as Norman Podhoretz has called it) is going to be long and hard. It is also a warning that the West is currently losing that war.

These defeats are not a function of the courage and will of the American people. In a June poll sponsored by American Solutions, 85 percent of the American people said it was important to defend America and its allies. Only 10 percent were opposed. On an even stronger question, 75 percent said it was important to defeat America's enemies. Only 16 percent disagreed.

So the hard left in America is only 16 percent. It is outnumbered almost 5-1 by those who would defeat our enemies.
Never mind the childishness of the "World War IV" thing. Is this what Newt's new organization is blowing its money on? Have they polled the number of Americans who are against bad stuff? What about the number who support happy things? Those results should be pretty telling, I'd imagine.

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Monday, June 25, 2007
  Arnold the Apostate

More evidence that Republicans are refusing to learn from the success of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Charlie Crist: Robert Novak wonders if Arnie can even be considered a Republican anymore. The imediate subject is Schwarzenegger's unwillingness to act as "midwife" for a deal that would loosen term limits in exchange for a Republican-friendly redistricting plan (I don't know the details, but my first reaction is that any Democrat who'd agree to that should be tarred and feathered). Novak goes on to observe that Arnold just hasn't been the same good Republican soldier since 2005:
The Republican Party's condition in the nation's most populous state is desperate, with Schwarzenegger its only visible asset. Yet a redistricting that would help the GOP immeasurably is considered outside the frame of reference for the Republican governor, who remembers the issue as one of the ballot propositions he lost in the disastrous election of 2005. His current national priority is preaching the menace of global warming, and his state mission is practicing the "post-partisanship" of governing across party lines....

The turning point came when Schwarzenegger went head-to-head against the state's powerful labor unions, and all of his ballot initiatives were defeated in the 2005 elections. That brought many changes. Mike Murphy, Schwarzenegger's nationally renowned Republican political consultant, who guided him in victory, in the 2003 recall election, and in defeat, with the 2005 ballot propositions, was gone. Liberal Democrat Susan Kennedy became his chief of staff. His Democratic wife, Maria Shriver, gained influence. Peace was made with labor. The governor broke his pledge of no tax increases by proposing $4.5 billion in "fees" to finance his health plan.
One can understand California conservatives' sense of betrayal. But if Schwarzenegger is the state GOP's only asset, then the logical conclusion is that the California Republican Party is nothing but a liability to a politician who wants to be successful statewide. No wonder he felt compelled to leave it behind, then. The question is whether the party's establishment will, going forward, prefer a rump conservative opposition, or a more dynamic Schwarzennegerian-style progressive Republicanism. I don't follow California politics closely, so I wouldn't know -- but then it doesn't seem too tough to guess.

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  The Fairness Menace

The editors of the Washington Times are angry with Trent Lott for speaking out in favor of the immigration bill. But they're especially upset with the Mississippi Senator's criticism of right-wing talk radio (Lott told the NY Times that "Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem.") -- because they fear his comments will undermine the right's case against revival of the Fairness Doctrine:
Mr. Lott's comments about the immigration bill are unfortunate in their own right. But his suggestion that talk radio is a problem that someone has to "deal with" because it makes it harder to ram the immigration bill through the Senate is even worse, because it raises the specter of reviving the "Fairness Doctrine" — the Federal Communications Commission policy (repealed in 1987 at President Reagan's urging) that effectively barred any serious political debate from occurring on the airwaves.
Paranoia about a return of the Fairness Doctrine has been a staple of conservative commentary over the past couple of years -- and no wonder, since the explosive growth of right-wing talk radio was a direct result of the Doctrine's repeal. Most recently, comments by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and a major report by the Center for American Progress have fueled the fire.

The fear is misguided: for instance, as Think Progress points out, the CAP report specifically did not call for revival of the Fairness Doctrine, instead suggesting that "we should address the more significant problem of concentrated ownership and ineffective regulation in order to push the market structure to better meet local needs." But if conservatives want to uphold their tradition of fighting the wrong war at the wrong time, perhaps that will give progressives a little more space to pursue more effective reforms.

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  The Bleating of the Hawks

Writing from the parallel universe in which neoconservative foreign policy ideas haven't been comprehensively and humiliatingly discredited, Joshua Muravchik takes to the Op-Ed pages of the Wall Street Journal today to beat the Iran war drum. Following on the heels of Normon Podhoretz's addled little screed in Commentary, Muravchik's piece seems to represent an even further regression into a kind of dreamlike, bellicose haze -- a warm and cloudy place where unreconstructed neocons are free to release their gasses without consequence or accountability. Neither Podhoretz nor Muravchik give any indication of having made an effort to understand what a US military conflict with Iran would actually entail. Nor are they even making much effort anymore to protect their historical analogies from strain. We're told that war with Iran is in the cards simply because Iran's regime is obnoxious, because the bad guys are "feeling [their] oats," and because ... something about appeasement:
A large portion of modern wars erupted because aggressive tyrannies believed that their democratic opponents were soft and weak. Often democracies have fed such beliefs by their own flaccid behavior. Hitler's contempt for America, stoked by the policy of appeasement, is a familiar story. But there are many others. North Korea invaded South Korea after Secretary of State Dean Acheson declared that Korea lay beyond our "defense perimeter." Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait after our ambassador assured him that America does not intervene in quarrels among Arabs. Imperial Germany launched World War I, encouraged by Great Britain's open reluctance to get involved. Nasser brought on the 1967 Six Day War, thinking that he could extort some concessions from Israel by rattling his sword.
That authoritarian regimes have often underestimated the warmaking capacities of democracies is certainly true. But that truism has fermented and now fuels the fantasies and revisionist hallucinations of the neocons, who go on to burp out bad history to support their arguments. For instance: on which planet was it that the Second World War began because of Hitler's "contempt" for an America practicing a "policy of appeasement"? In fact, can we come up with a variation on Godwin's Law for the term? Can we ask that advocates for yet another war be required to justify said war without resorting to the word "appeasement"?

And I'm not even going to get into Muravchik's use of "flaccid."

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  Return to the Planet of the Manicheans

Glenn Greenwald responds to Chris Floyd (briefly) here.

Chris responds to me here. I don't think I disagree with what he says in any substantial sense. I wonder if he comes a bit too close to suggesting that anti-communism per se was a Manichean mindset, but I think I'm probably misreading him there -- he's certainly right to point out that today's neocons are the inheritors not just of the paranoid postwar right, but of the Scoop Jackson school of vigorously anti-communist Democrats. Indeed, Richard Perle, Doug Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and Elliott Abrams all worked for Jackson before joining the GOP during the Reagan administration. I still think that you can trace a distinct history of Manicheanism in American postwar foreign policy (as opposed to applying the term over-broadly), but Chris is right to observe that part of that history runs through the Democratic party.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007
  A Swiftly Tilting Public

Even more on America's lean to the left:

Rick Perlstein: Will the Progressive Majority Emerge?

New Politics Institute: The Progressive Politics of the Millennial Generation (h/t: Future Majority).

When I got the idea for this blog it seemed little more than an article of faith that the conservative era might be nearing an end. They're not dead, and they'll be back, and let's not get cocky considering all the work we have to do and the many uncertainties of fate. But let's also remember to have the courage of our convictions -- especially since, for the time being, they seem to be the American public's convictions, too.


  Conservatism and Community

Conservative blogger Daniel Larison considers another possible implication of Stanley Greenberg's data (upon which I commented below). Larison suggests that if Americans do, indeed, value community over individualism, this is "good news" for a certain kind of conservative:
In the battle between solidarity and dislocation, conservatives should naturally be on the side of the former, and it should be conservatives who benefit from the public’s interest in “strong community” and even, yes, “a sense of togetherness.” (For some reason, the latter sounds much less ridiculous when you call it solidarity.) Conservatism’s “failure” has been that conservatives have defined themselves or allowed themselves to be defined as individualists and advocates for the interests of the self. A conservatism of place and virtue has very little to do with these things. These numbers suggest that a conservatism that is both skeptical of government action and that also encourages the building up of community life and a politics of solidarity would fare very well. It would not be the slash-and-burn, “every man for himself” anti-government style of certain libertarians, nor would it be an endorsement of the effects of “creative destruction.” Settling people in a location, a place, not dislocating people through the constant flux of what some might call “cosmopolitan dynamism” and what we call social insanity, is the conservative way forward.
Larison has elaborated upon the relationship of individualism to conservatism elsewhere; while I'm not sure "cosmopolitan dynamism" is something that can be simplified enough to be opposed, his rough philosophical ideas are interesting, and most notably they seem to be much more along the lines of traditional European conservatism than the overbaked right-Whiggish classical liberalism that the American right has generally embraced.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007
  Manicheanism Reconsidered

Chris Floyd raises some excellent objections to Glenn Greenwald's thesis, and to my comments on it. In particular, he wonders why the present Manicheanism should be seen as unique in American history:
If anything, the Cold War "division of Good v. Evil" was far more "simpleminded" than what we see today. Imagine a Cold War president stating in public that Communism was a worthy doctrine, dedicated to human betterment, but had unfortunately been hijacked by extremists and rogue states, etc. Yet Bush has consistently made such remarks about Islam (for public consumption, at least). And of course, many of his allies in his "Terror War" are Muslims....

But the fact is, such Manicheanism has been long been operative in American history. What else but a simpleminded division of Good v. Evil, a rampant and uncritical exceptionalism, could have "justified" the decimation of the Native Americans and the theft of their land? Or the existence of slavery -- and its incorporation into the Constitution itself? Or the mass-slaughtering conquest and "pacification" of the Philippines, which the Manichean McKinley saw as a holy crusade to "Christianize" the benighted natives (many of whom were already Catholics)? Wasn't this same kind of Manicheanism -- this automatic assumption that whatever we do is "good," that whatever serves our interests (or rather, the interests of those who rule us) is right and honorable -- operative in the CIA's overthrowing of government after government throughout the Cold War?
This is a vast subject, worthy of a book of its own (there probably is one already) and I can only offer a few tentative thoughts. Manicheanism has certainly been a force in American history before the present era, but I'm not sure I would ascribe to it all the examples above. For instance, my old pomo philosophy training tells me that inasmuch as there was any philosophical aspect to the genocide of Native Americans (as opposed to simple, brute material interest), it was more a matter of Enlightenment's hostile indifference to the "not-rational." In fact, most of Floyd's examples strike me as being matters that were much less defined by a division of Good v. Evil than by the general Western assumption of white superiority, which manifested and was justified in all kinds of ways, but which I'm not sure can be described as "Manichean."

The most proximate -- and to my mind, most challenging -- comparison is with the Cold War. Certainly the Manichean worldview was a factor in the conduct of American foreign policy during that period, and Floyd's right that it's absurd to imagine an American president praising the basic idea of communism -- though on the other hand, American leaders were perfectly willing to sell grain to and negotiate arms treaties with the communists. The real Manicheanism during the Cold War was enforced by the organized right-wing, who, notably, were the direct forebears of the modern conservative movement. They were strong enough to force Democrats to act tough so as to deflect charges of being "soft on communism," but they were too weak to, for instance, keep Nixon from going to China. It was only in Reagan's first term that they really came into their own, and even he wound up betraying them (another point worth discussing, though, is that realist policymakers can make means/ends calculations just as depraved as those made by the ideologues).

I certainly agree with Floyd that Manichean thinking has influenced the range of choices available to American policy makers over the broad scope of our history. But I just don't think the modern conservative Manicheans have ever been so empowered as they have during the Bush administration.

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  After Conservatism -- Piecing Together the New Majority

If you haven't already, check out the excellent trio of articles at the American Prospect on US politics "after the failure of conservatism." Start with Robert Borosage's piece on a subject dear to my heart: why the disaster of the Bush administration has been a failure not of execution, but of conservatism itself. He doesn't go into the tensions surrounding "compassionate conservatism," but he does provide a wonderful reality check for those whose reaction to Bush's misrule is to slip into Reagan nostalgia.

John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, meanwhile, revisit their thesis of an "emerging Democratic majority" -- a majority they argue was only temporarily derailed by 9/11 and the politics of war and terror:
What one sees in the 2006 election is not simply a revolt against the administration's conduct of the war but a return to the political perceptions of the two parties that was inclining the electorate before September 2001 toward a Democratic majority....

In the 2006 election, all the groups that had been part of the emerging Democratic majority in the late 1990s came roaring back into the fold.
Judis and Teixeira suggest that not only have the original building blocks for the new majority -- women, minorities, and professionals -- returned to the Democratic camp, but the coalition has been further enlarged by the addition of young voters ("millennials") and independents. But their analysis comes with a couple of warnings for Democrats. The best way to cement a majority would be to pass "landmark" legislation, a modern equivilant to Social Security -- national health insurance is an obvious possibility -- but, while we may be entering a more progressive era, we're not experiencing the sort of crisis that has, in the past, proven a prerequisite to overcoming the serious institutional obstacles to substantive new legislation (though I wonder if the mid-1960s, which gave us Medicare, Medicaid, immigration reform, and other ambitious progressive legislation, can be counted as a period of crisis -- civil rights movement aside).

Their other warning concerns tensions withing the emerging coalition over social issues and attitudes about the role of government. In particular, they remind us that those independents who helped fuel last year's victory may be socially liberal, but they are resistant to tax increases and skeptical of big government programs. These voters remain susceptible to the appeal of a hypothetical Republican party that might distance itself from religious extremism.

I'd love to break down the numbers on those independents a little further. I suspect that, while they might be "libertarian-leaning," they are far removed from the Milton Friedmanesque orthodoxy of the conservative movement. While I certainly don't disagree with Judis and Teixeira about the challenges involved with holding together a new progressive coalition, there might yet be a more coherent way forward for Democrats than for the conservative coalition. Part of this is to do with another element of their analysis of the independents: "they are particularly wary of 'special interests' in Washington (including the parties themselves) and often favor reforms in lobbying and campaign finance."

Stanley Greenberg's article, while it doesn't break down the electorate like Judis and Teixeira's does, nonetheless provides a useful supplement to their analysis by reporting on a broader trend: how conservative failures have so discredited government that it will be difficult for Democrats to use government effectively. The key finding seems to reflect a curious schizophrenia: by overwhelming numbers, Americans want government "to be more involved on a range of issues including national security, health care, energy, and the environment." Americans prefer the values of solidarity and community to individualism and self-reliance, they believe -- overwhelmingly -- that government should help those who can't help themselves, and they even favor a Canadian-style national health care system.

Yet, by the same overwhelming numbers, Americans think government is wasteful, inefficient, and indifferent to the needs of ordinary people. They think it wastes their tax dollars and they disapprove of its performance in nearly every area (they're evenly split over its performance on national security).

A conservative analysis of these results -- I've seen this before -- would be that Americans might like the idea of government "goodies," but they know on a more visceral level that, as Reagan said, "government is the problem, not the solution." Greenberg's more plausible take is that Americans believe that government has an important role to play in solving the problems of modern life, but they're disgusted by the corruption and incompetence they've seen in Washington over the past six years.

This is why, for Greenberg, it's critical that Democrats be seen as the party of government reform and accountability -- "not just in the spending of tax dollars ... but also in politicians' behavior." And while Greenberg's polling helped guide Bill Clinton's decision-making -- a history that might tempt progressives to mutter darkly about "triangulation" -- the fact is he lays out a convincing case for the fact that advocating for reform doesn't mean accepting the conservative "government=bad" frame, but simply upholding progressive values. Greenberg's list of recommendations includes:
  • Advance a strong fiscal-accountability agenda to cut waste and make government spending more efficient and results-oriented. This includes auditing every federal department and agency to make sure funding is going to meaningful projects and to people, not the bureaucracy; eliminating no-bid contracts; creating an inspector general for Iraq to oversee US spending there; and reducing energy costs by requiring all federal buildings to meet modern energy-efficiency regulations.

  • Go much further on anti-corruption, ethics, and lobbying reform. Institute new whistle-blower legislation to protect government employees from retribution if they report waste or corruption.
Again, six and a half years of Bush administration cronyism and corruption have done much to remind people just how antithetical government reform really is to the conservative project. Those independents who mistrust government are a part of the progressive coalition whether they realize it or not, and Democrats can take advantage of this -- and expand their freedom of movement when it comes to the use of government -- by embracing a reform agenda (and here's where the recent Democratic failure to follow through on ethics reform really galls) and by making the case that it's precisely the conservative anti-government mentality that leads to corruption and wastefulness, since it fosters cynicism and contempt among those entrusted with the federal purse.

I'd like to see that last point made a lot more often -- returning to the notion of framing, it seems to me that linking the anti-government mentality to corrupt and incompetent governance offers progressives a way to build on their ties to those socially-liberal but fiscally-"conservative" voters who will be so important to that emerging Democratic majority.
Friday, June 22, 2007
  Plus Ca Change...

Soren Dayton notes that, given Congress's abysmal approval ratings, 2008 might not be so bad for Republicans in House races. Certainly the latest polls should serve as a wake-up call for Democratic Congressional leaders. And I agree with Dayton that we're in for an "anti-Washington" election. But the overall picture looks a little bit absurd:
In any case, look for candidates of all sorts to push anti-Washington agendas. That is why Mitt Romney says, "I can’t wait to get my hands on Washington." (Never mind that his campaign is stuffed to the gills with lobbyists. I know what they would do if they got their hands on Washington) And why Thompson says, "After eight years in Washington, I longed for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood."
Yet, on the issue fueling the greatest part of the public's disgust with Washington -- the Iraq war -- the GOP candidates are promising nothing but "Bush - Only Moreso."

And with the top of the ticket so invested in the status quo, how will Republican Congressional candidates manage to portray themselves as agents of change?

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  Refusing to Look Left

E. J. Dionne points out that as the American political center moves left, the Democrats are following it. It's a good piece -- now if only the national media as a whole would take Dionne's points to heart.

He also remarks on a consequence of this shift for Republicans -- one that hasn't received enough attention:
The most important sign that the center has shifted left (or, if you prefer, away from the right) is the behavior of Republican politicians who are thinking about their prospects beyond the Bush years.

Florida's Gov. Charlie Crist, who succeeded Jeb Bush and is governing as a Schwarzenegger-style Republican moderate, had an approval rating of 70 percent in a recent Quinnipiac poll. As Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune pointed out this week, Crist's score is "higher than the peak ratings for Jeb Bush, who was thought to be the model of popularity at the end of his eight years." Crist's politics reflect the center's drift.

In the Senate, it's Republicans up for reelection in 2008 who were among the first in their party to oppose George W. Bush's policies on Iraq. The contrast with the recent past could not be plainer: In 2002, Democrats fearful of losing reelection tried to minimize their differences with the president. Republicans in political trouble are now trying to highlight theirs.
There are two different trends at work here. One is simply the basic instinct of politicians to distance themselves from things that everyone hates (the Iraq war, George W. Bush). The other, which applies only in a smaller set of cases, is that a small number of Republican politicians have found that the key to popularity is to move leftward on a general level.

It's remarkable that with the GOP in such crisis, the party's establishment refuses to learn anything from the examples provided by Schwarzenegger and Crist, who have demonstrated how to rehabilitate the unpopular Republican brand. This failure to adapt is undoubtedly a result of the comprehensive takeover of the party by the conservative movement over the last few decades. The GOP is run by a movement designed to prevent the very adaptation that would allow the party to survive in the new context. To switch metaphors: having let the movement lash them to an ideological mast, Republicans now find themselves unable to escape a sinking ship.

Notably, the examples of success-through-moderation are large-state governors. I'm reminded again of Seymour Martin Lipset's analysis of the GOP from 1956 -- before the Goldwater campaign launched the modern conservative movement. Lipset observed that control of the direction of the national party was contested between two main groupings: the governors of industrial states, who by political necessity tended to be moderate or even liberal, and members of Congress, who, representing smaller districts, were often much more conservative. In those days the governors generally managed to keep the upper hand. But the conservative movement of the 1960s and beyond tipped the balance in favor of the right-wing faction, who defined themselves by their revolt against everything the moderate governors -- symbolized by Nelson Rockefeller -- stood for.

It worked for a while. But these days, the ideological heirs of Rockefeller are a lot more in touch with the spirit of the times than are the reactionaries; yet the reactionaries still maintain a firm grip on the controls. Did the conservative movement work too well for its own party's good?

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Thursday, June 21, 2007
  Is There a Progressive Conservatism?

Commenting on the Taibbi discussion, "Crunchy Con" Rod Dreher says:
The value I see in Taibbi's essay is his sense that the left doesn't have a lot to offer now -- that it's populated by a bunch of cranks and juveniles who are great at whining and complaining, but who don't offer much practical help. Ross has said that it's ridiculous for a leftie like Taibbi to complain about the worthlessness of the left when everything's coming up roses for them in advance of the 2008 election.

I just don't see this. If Ross is right, would he have instructed the disillusioned rightists of The American Conservative to quit complaining about conservatives in 2004, because the GOP was doing well at the polls?
To which Douthat responds:
I don't just think that the left is doing well politically; I think that they may get the chance to enact a pretty substantial and wide-ranging policy agenda if things go well for them in '08. Taibbi (and Rod) think liberals don't have anything substantive to offer; I think that's plain wrong, and it's a dangerous delusion for conservatives, in particular, to entertain. True, what the left has to offer now is roughly the same thing it offered in the 1970s and '80s, which is to say a dramatic expansion of the welfare state - but the ideas for how to go about this are much sharper than they used to be, thanks to years in the wilderness and a greater appreciation for free markets, and the political climate is a lot more favorable to a renewed push for social democracy than it was in, say, 1979.
I'll head off in the direction Douthat's going here, but take it farther than he probably would. Dreher's analogy is flawed because the GOP, winning in 2004, faced a broadly different set of circumstances than did the Democrats in 2006. I think it's beyond serious question that Bush's re-election was a factor of war and terror; even then, the margin was smaller than an incumbent party at wartime might expect to win -- a sign that the tide of public opinion on the war was already turning against the Republicans.

Likewise, it's a truism to say that the Democrats won last year because voters were rejecting the GOP, not because they were embracing the "Democratic agenda." That's how elections always work.

But the underlying evidence suggests that the American public is, by a growing majority, more favorable to basic Democratic philosophies on the role of government, and is increasingly liberal-minded on social issues (I'll leave foreign policy out of this discussion). Structurally speaking, the Republicans' 2004 victory looks a lot like an anomaly made possible by the politics of war. If even in the most conservative times Americans tend to be "ideologically conservative and operationally liberal" (meaning they like the idea of smaller government but resist actual efforts to reduce its size), there's good reason to believe that, these days, they're increasingly liberal in ideology, too.

I bring this up for the nth time because, having just finished Jacob Hacker's book, I'm struck by the pseudo-parallels between his work and the work being done by the few conservative intellectuals -- Douthat is one -- who have been engaged in serious efforts to re-imagine conservatism so as to account for those underlying structural issues. Yet -- and I'll elaborate in later posts -- many of them seem to be stuck in a sort of limbo between the orthodoxies of fiscal conservatism and the sensible social insurance ideas advocated by people like Hacker.

The cumulative effect of conservative government since 1980 -- and particularly of the Bush administration -- has been to grow the size of government and the national debt, even while undermining social insurance: the worst of both worlds. Compassionate conservatism, in its misguided obsession with "weaning" people off of government, managed to expand spending vastly while failing to address in any effective sense the various sources of insecurity plaguing Americans. At the root of the problem has been the conservative tendency to atomize the public -- whether into individuals or families -- to undermine solidarity and to break up the broad risk pools that make effective social insurance possible.

Again, I'll analyze this in greater detail later, but it looks to me that these new conservative "reformers" seem poised to make the same mistake -- and that's a shame, since it seems as though there could be some points of cooperation between the left and this right when it comes to using government to help foster the economic security that makes true freedom possible. But to do this effectively means preserving those broad risk pools and emphasizing progressivity. Would the new social conservatives be willing to support a Universal 401(k) or Medicare Plus (pdf)? If you're going to risk the wrath of the fiscal conservative enforcers and support the use of public funds to enhance economic security, why be hobbled by the ideological habits that have undermined that security in the first place?

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  The GOP's Idea Drought

Speaking of the Prospect, check out Paul Waldman's piece surveying the bleak intellectual landscape of the 2008 Republican presidential primary. The GOP, as Waldman observes, has become the "party of no ideas." Not a single candidate has proposed a genuine policy innovation of any kind (save for McCain's immigration bill, which Republicans wish had never happened) -- not in the debates, not on their websites, not anywhere. Not even in the area of national security, which is supposed to be party's strong suit (yes, I know -- stop laughing), but which instead has served as a stark example of reverse-evolution:
The national-security discussion coming from the candidates resembles nothing so much as the dominance displays of lower primates ("Ooog! Ooog! Me double Gitmo! Ooog!"). Anyone looking for a serious analysis of our security challenges in the coming years will be sorely disappointed.
While it's true that candidates generally prefer to be coy about policy specifics, the deafening silence on the Republican side is noteworthy, particularly since this is a party that has, in recent decades, been fed a steady diet of policy advice from its network of conservative think tanks.

Waldman points out one major reason for the vacuum:
As with most of the Republicans' problems, this aversion to anything resembling an agenda can be traced in no small part to George W. Bush. Like a Bizarro World King Midas, everything Bush has touched has turned to garbage, with the consequence that the standard Republican agenda is almost irredeemably tainted by its association with the last six years.

Tax cuts? We tried that, and got huge deficits. Gettin' tough with terrorists? Not working out so well. Protecting the family? That song's getting older by the month. Nearly anything a Republican proposes can be answered with, "That's just another version of George W. Bush's plan for [insert issue here]. We don't need more Bush."
This isn't to say that there aren't any ideas on the conservative side. In fact, there are a number of interesting young conservative intellectuals grappling with the policy problems facing their movement. What's notable, though, is how little connection they seem to have to the various presidential campaigns. In part this might be to do with the fact that the most interesting ideas on the right these days look, to establishment conservative eyes, suspiciously like variations on the dreaded "big-government conservatism" of the Bush administration.

Over the next few months I'll explore the ideas put forth by some of these intellectuals in greater depth. I'll also take a look at the policy advisors to the various GOP presidential campaigns, in search of clues as to where their candidates might be inclined to go, should any of them -- God forbid -- actually win next November.

(Cross-posted at The Right's Field.)

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  Taibbi Revisited

Ross Douthat's comment on Matt Taibbi's Adbusters piece touched off some interesting discussion on the right side of the internets. James Poulos argues that the left is just as riven by "tensions and contradictions" -- in fact, he says, liberals are divided in the very same way -- as conservatives. It's a difficult post to quote selectively, but his main contention seems to be that both young leftists and young conservatives are finding themselves in revolt against a culture of homogenization, corporate banality, and "the open-ended expansion and entrenchment of squalid, overpriced, invasive, pancultural, inefficient, counterconstitutional, and therapeutic politics." To Poulos, articles like Taibbi's belie the notion of any triumphant liberal ascendancy. On the contrary:
Young leftists of the sort that keep Adbusters one of the consistently sane mags on the stands are now experiencing the sort of nauseous reappraisal of Democratic orthodoxy as certain young conservatives are concerning post-Bush Republican orthodoxy.
This looks to me like wishful thinking. As I said before, what's odd about Taibbi's piece is that he's attacking the fringe left as though it were the mainstream left. It's one thing to do this when you're a conservative out for liberal blood; it's another to do it when you're a liberal whose views are, in fact, right in the mainstream of the progressive movement. The vital center of the liberal/progressive/whatever left is much closer to the American Prospect than to Z Mag, to John Edwards than to Reverend Billy.

Douthat gets this:
[M]ost of the smart young lefties I know aren't interested in some grand convergence with disillusioned populist-conservatives; they're interested in harnessing the kind of "office-park populism" that gave us Jim Webb and Sherrod Brown and Jon Tester in order to dramatically expand social democracy in the United States. For some, this means a return the old-time religion (a higher minimum wage, strong unions, government jobs programs, etc.); for others, it means a smarter, more growth-friendly form of social democracy (think Denmark*, rather than France); for most, it means some combination thereof. But the overall model is still bigger government plus cultural permissiveness, not some kind of "small is beautiful" left-conservatism out to defend the permanent things against the ravages of modernity.
And this is why, as he writes in another post, Taibbi's complaint seems to strike such a false note:
He's trotting out warmed-over Thomas Frank, kvetching about how the DLC made the Democrats "sell out on financial issues in exchange for support from Wall Street" and how "no one has stepped up to talk to the 30 million working poor who struggle to get by on low-wage, part-time jobs" in a year when (as Matt points out) the Dems have moved so far toward the "progressive" wing of the party that Hillary Clinton, the rightward-most of the leading candidates, is running well to the left of John Kerry in 2004.
None of which is to say that the Democrats are now, en masse, willing to take dictation from the progressive left -- much as I wish that were the case. But we are managing, roughly, to steer them in the right direction (and to be fair, Thomas Frank played his role in that effort). Nor does it mean that all of the left's internal tensions and contradictions have been resolved. Far from it -- yet for a number of reasons those contradictions simply aren't as stark and fundamental as the ones with which the right is faced.

This discussion also hints at another interesting topic: parallels between the proto-new-new right and the emerging progressive movement. I'll look at that in another post.

*If you haven't read that Denmark article, do.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007
  Beyond Good and Evil

Glenn Greenwald, as he tends to do, nails it. In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Greenwald attacks the Manichean worldview that structures conservative discourse on war and terror:
One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness -- who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to a crusade against Evil -- is that the moral imperative driving the mission will justify any and all means used to achieve it. Those who have become convinced that they are waging an epic and all-consuming existential war against Evil cannot, by the very premises of their belief system, accept any limitations -- moral, pragmatic, or otherwise -- on the methods adopted to triumph in this battle.

Efforts to impose limits on waging war against Evil will themselves be seen as impediments to Good, if not as an attempt to aid and abet Evil. In a Manichean worldview, there is no imperative that can compete with the mission of defeating Evil. The primacy of that mandate is unchallengeable. Hence, there are no valid reasons for declaring off-limits any weapons that can be deployed in service of the war against Evil.

Equally operative in the Manichean worldview is the principle that those who are warriors for a universal Good cannot recognize that the particular means they employ in service of their mission may be immoral or even misguided. The very fact that the instruments they embrace are employed in service of their Manichean mission renders any such objections incoherent. How can an act undertaken in order to strengthen the side of Good, and to weaken the forces of Evil, ever be anything other than Good in itself? Thus, any act undertaken by a warrior of Good in service of the war against Evil is inherently moral for that reason alone. [...]

These principles illuminate a central, and tragic, paradox at the heart of the Bush presidency. The president who vowed to lead America in a moral crusade to win hearts and minds around the world has so inflamed anti-American sentiment that America's moral standing in the world is at an all-time low. The president who vowed to defend the Good in the world from the forces of Evil has caused the United States to be held in deep contempt by large segments of virtually every country on every continent of the world, including large portions of nations with which the U.S. has historically been allied. The president who vowed to undertake a war in defense of American values and freedoms has presided over such radical departures from the defining values and liberties of this country that many Americans find their country and its government unrecognizable. And the president who vowed to lead the war for freedom and democracy has made torture, rendition, abductions, lawless detentions of even our own citizens, secret "black site" prisons, Abu Ghraib dog leashes, and orange Guantánamo jumpsuits the strange, new symbols of America around the world.
Greenwald's critique is tremendously important. Right-wing Manicheanism has taken over the national debate on security matters, operating as a literally totalitarian thought system, in that it subsumes all discourse into its own unanswerable internal logic. We've become familiar with the notion of framing in political discourse: well, this is the meta-frame. It quashes every attempt by liberals and moderates to raise rational points and does tremendous damage to constitutional liberties, the national interest, and global well-being.

It's a sort of cousin to the most disastrous forms of secular utopianism history has seen, echoing the logic that drove the Khmer Rouge and the Cultural Revolution, and if saying this means I've blown completely by Godwin's Law, so be it -- we're talking about the governing philosophy of the world's sole superpower, and the stakes really are that high. Moreover, as Greenwald points out, it's un-American:
But our entire system of government, from its inception, has been based upon a very different calculus -- that is, that many things matter besides merely protecting ourselves against threats, and consequently, we are willing to accept risks, even potentially fatal ones, in order to secure those other values. From its founding, America has rejected the worldview of prioritizing physical safety above all else, as such a mentality leads to an impoverished and empty civic life. The premise of America is and always has been that imposing limitations on government power is necessary to secure liberty and avoid tyranny even if it means accepting an increased risk of death as a result. That is the foundational American value.
Because it is a totalitarian framework of logic, the only way to defeat it is to attack it at its foundations, to root out its very premise, as Greenwald is doing. Conservatives have often gained the advantage in American public discourse because they build and re-enforce these meta-frames with great care; for liberals to bring reason back to the debate we'll need to do a considerable amount of foundational work of our own. This means, in the present case, repeatedly making the argument that Manicheanism is foolish and destructive, that we cannot afford to make policy according to a worldview defined by a simpleminded division of Good v. Evil.

When we make this case, we'll be accused of "moral relativism," which argument is the meta-frame's self-defense mechanism. But the point, of course, is that moral relativism is actually the product of the Manichean worldview, because it permits its adherents to justify any action -- no matter how depraved -- as taken in the service of "Good."

We've already seen that the current crop of Republican presidential contenders are holding tighter than ever to the Manichean frame, desperate as they are to win support from the right on war and terror, since there is nothing else on which the GOP can run. They're betting that liberals will be unable to destroy that meta-frame. Greenwald has the right idea: let's get started on destroying it. Now.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007
  Now This Would Be Neat

"Mets Said to Be Looking Into an MLS Franchise."

I can't remember whether or not it's cool to be interested in MLS these days, but I dig it. Only I just can't see myself commuting to New Jersey to root for a team named after an energy drink (though I'll admit that at least they're finally starting to put a pretty good product on the field).

But a team in Queens owned by the Mets? I'm there.

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  Not Getting It, for Business or Pleasure

I've suggested before that conservatives tend to have a very poorly developed theory of mind when it comes to liberals -- that is, they seem to be very bad at understanding how liberals actually think. It's something I ponder because as a liberal who purports to write about how conservatives think, it's good to stay pretty humble about my capacity to genuinely understand the psychology of the other side.

I was reminded of this again while reading John Miller's interview with Manhattan Institute scholar James Piereson, who has, apparently, written a book about how the JFK assassination transformed -- and destroyed -- American liberalism, by making liberals all cynical and angry. I wasn't around at the time and I won't comment on the main thesis (which may have its grains of truth, or may be nonsense). But the interview is funny-odd, full of head-shaking moments, like when Miller asks Piereson if it bothers liberals that Lee Harvey Oswald was a communist. There is, especially, Piereson's devotion to The Big Lie that Bush-era conservatives insist on propagating about the American left:
We know from looking back over the decades that Kennedy’s sudden death cast a long shadow over American life, which I have tried to describe. Many of us thought that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 would also have great consequences for the way Americans looked at politics, the parties, and national security. In particular, some felt that the attacks might drive out of our politics the tone of anti-Americanism that had been a key feature of the American Left from the 1960s forward. That did not really happen. The liberal movement today remains far more the product of the 1960s than of the terrorist attacks and their aftermath. Indeed, the terrorist attacks now seem to have had very little effect on the thinking of American liberals who view the war on terror and the war in Iraq through the lenses of the Vietnam War. That is not true of conservatives. In that sense, the terrorist attacks have simply deepened the divide between liberals and conservatives. What is surprising, then, is what little enduring effect the terrorist attacks have had, particularly for liberals.
Honestly, for the longest time I thought that conservatives were smarter than this, that they didn't actually believe this garbage but merely used it for their own political gain. But I'm starting to think that they really do believe it. These are ostensibly intelligent people, getting paid to write books about this stuff. And they really have no idea.

(Incidently, I have to wonder how well Piereson really understands conservatives, given his rather preposterous claim that they don't view Iraq through the lens of the Vietnam war.)

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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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