alien & sedition.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
  And We're Back

I'm home, and sporting a serious farmer's tan. Way sexy. Too much to catch up on to post tonight; I'll be back for real tomorrow morning.


Monday, July 23, 2007
  Going Camping

The vacation continues. This week I really won't be posting much if at all. Back on the 30th or 31st. Until then, have a great week.


Friday, July 20, 2007
  Getting Over Bush's Messiah Complex

David Brooks writes a column about George W. Bush's child-like devotion to his own failed war policy. This is not delusion, says Brooks:
Rather, his self-confidence survives because it flows from two sources. The first is his unconquerable faith in the rightness of his Big Idea. Bush is convinced that history is moving in the direction of democracy, or as he said Friday: “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.
This graf sets off a chain of reaction from conservative writers who are ready to pronounce themselves fed up with Bush's self-aggrandizing theological fantasies. Andrew Sullivan writes:
[A]s a political or historical principle, this is dangerous, delusional hogwash. There is a distinction between theology and politics, a distinction between theory and practice: distinction at the core of the very meaning of conservatism. The notion that free will or even human freedom is destined to be humanity's future, and that this destiny can be achieved by a Supreme Leader, is a function not of conservatism in any sense, but of a messianic, eschatological ideology.
Bush, says Sullivan, is not a conservative statesman; he is a "delusional fanatic:"
If you define liberalism broadly as the belief that human society is perfectible, that heaven can be created on earth by force of will, then Bush is one of the most recklesss enemies of conservatism who has ever held high office in America.
Rich Lowry thinks it sounds suspiciously liberal, too:
Bush believes the spread of liberty is "inevitable." If that is the case, why not spare ourselves all the effort and let the inevitable flowering of liberty take hold? Now, he does say that there will be different expressions of liberty and a different pace—"but we've all got the same odds of achieving the same result." That strikes me as flat-out wrong, an otherwordly leveling of all the culture and history that separates various societies.
Rod Dreher says Bush is "living in a dream world," in thrall to a "social engineering ideology [which] is anti-conservative to the marrow:"
Well, look, I believe there's an Almighty too, and that He desires his human creatures to live in freedom. But good grief, you can't start wars based on that messianic principle, and continuing them on the same grounds!
Ross Douthat is a bit more vehement:
I'm fed up with the President's messiah complex, and I don't bloody well want to hear any more about Bush's "theological perspective" that freedom is the Almighty's gift to all mankind, and so history's on our side in the Middle East, and yada yada yada.
Douthat also emphasizes the distinction between theology and politics:
The gift of freedom that Christ promises is far more real than anything else in this world, if Christian teaching on the matter is correct. On the other hand, there's nothing that's political about that promise, and the attempt to transform God's promise of freedom through Jesus Christ into a this-world promise of universal democracy is the worst kind of "immanentizing the eschaton" utopian bullshit.
All of this is very interesting: it's a return to a sort of ur-conservative thinking; it's a revival of Burke in an era when the American right has been driven by a very un-Burkean revolutionary zeal. One of the key tenets of traditional conservatism has been its mistrust of politics. As Burke said:
Wise men will apply their remedies to vices, not to names; to the causes of evil which are permanent, not to the occasional organs by which they act, and the transitory modes in which they appear. (Reflections on the Revolution in France)
Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously defined it thusly: "The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society."

From the traditional conservative view, an over-emphasis on politics as opposed to culture means social engineering at home; Wilsonianism and "nation-building" abroad: all of these things are to be abhorred. But the modern conservative movement, the movement that ultimately brought Bush to power (even if it mistrusted him) succeeded because of its political skill and innovation. The movement has talent for politics, and an instinct for it, and we should hardly be surprised to find that that instinct has eventually found its way into its foreign policy. This is not, in fact, Wilsonianism; it is the traditional interests and preoccupations of the conservative classes cross-bred with a distinctly un-Burkean aggressiveness. That it has learned to broaden its appeal by using Wilsonian language should not distract from its essential nature.

Even when the movement has emphasized culture as a pre-political concern, it has been more Gramscian than Burkean, waging an aggressive war of position to further a transformative agenda that the movement itself understands is too radical for the tastes of most Americans.

This is not to let American conservatives escape by creating a distinction between Bush and "true" conservatism. That's a political version of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy; we didn't accept such excuses when Marxists made them and there's no reason we should accept them from conservatives. American conservatism is what it is, and there are undoubtedly reasons why it seems so frequently to escape the careful bounds of Burkean wisdom. One possible reason is that the United States is not a Burkean state; it is a liberal, constitutional regime, whose legitimacy is derived from popular sovereignty and a dedication to upholding the natural, abstract rights of human beings. Ramesh Ponnuru, in the same debate discussed above, reminds us of this, when he cautions:
Now it may be unconservative to think that an aggressively liberty-promoting foreign policy follows from the idea that all human beings have a God-given right to be free, and certainly Christians are not obliged to believe that it does so follow. But the proposition that our rights are a gift from God is neither un-conservative nor un-Christian; it is a commonplace observation in the context of American political history.
A couple of notes here: for one thing, when Ponnuru says that the observation is not "un-conservative," it is "in the context of American political history." Conservatism in the context of American political history is something very different from conservatism in other contexts. It's a conservatism rooted partly -- but not wholly -- in a devotion to the very kind of liberal order to which conservatives once defined themselves as opposed. This creates all sorts of odd effects, including especially the strange American conservative relationship to politics, which is often enthusiastic but tortured, destructive, and prone to inspire bouts of conservative self-loathing like the ones witnessed above.

The other note, and what should have become apparent here, is that I don't think this is really a debate about theology at all: it's about politics. When these commentators talk about Bush's "messianism," they may be referring to religious expression in an immediate sense, but in more significant sense they're talking about the frightening effects of a conservatism that has too readily embraced politics. The dramatic irony is that they can see the tragic results of such an embrace, but as American conservatives they can't quite disentangle themselves from its legacy.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007
  The Path to a Brokered Convention?

Gary Andres explains how it isn't just Democrats who are looking at a real possibility of winding up in a brokered convention next year. Republicans may find that none of their candidates will be able to take a majority of delegates into St. Paul, though for different reasons.

The wild cards in the GOP process are the "winner take all" primaries, used by Republicans in 20 states. Andres observes that Giuliani is well positioned to work around poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire by winning key early WTA states like Florida, California, New York, and New Jersey. Still, other frontrunners may be able to counter:
But Fred Thompson and Mr. Romney may also do well in other early WTA states like South Carolina, (47 delegates), Georgia (72 delegates), Missouri (52 delegates) and Tennessee (55 delegates), which all take place on or before February 5. And Mr. Romney's current lead in New Hampshire and Iowa could bode well for generating momentum going into the WTA primaries. This all has the makings of a topsy-turvy end-game.
A brokered GOP convention would be a fascinating exercise in testing the relative strengths of different parts of the conservative coalition. Is it likely? Maybe not. But it's perhaps a stronger possibility this cycle than it has been in quite a while.

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  Rudy Hearts Right-Wing Judges

Rudy Giuliani spent yesterday stumping in Iowa -- not his usual territory. Along the way, he made it quite clear that he intends to govern from the far right. Besides his continued support for a disastrous and deeply unpopular war, besides his opposition to the kind of universal health care favored by a huge majority of Americans, there's his commitment to nominating extremist judges.

That commitment was his primary message yesterday, as he heaped praise on the current Supreme Court's right wing, and insisted that while "the abortion question is not a litmus test," he would only name "strict constructionists" to the Court.
In the speech, he went out of his way to praise the four most conservative members of the current U.S. Supreme Court - Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and two nominees of President Bush, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

"These are the kinds of judges I would appoint," he said, calling them "strict constructionists" who interpret, rather than rewrite, the U.S. Constitution.

The term "strict constructionists" is often used by religious conservatives who say they want judges who will overturn, among other past decisions, the landmark abortion rights ruling Roe vs. Wade.
Religious conservatives may or may not find Rudy's words convincing. But ordinary Americans should be alarmed by it. Following his appointment of a group of hard-right judicial policy advisors, Giuliani's rhetoric in Iowa suggests that he is putting his promise to appoint ultra-conservative judges at the center of his campaign. PFAW's Right Wing Watch sees what's happening:
Giuliani may not be the Right’s favorite candidate, but with no clear front-runner emerging, he appears to be seeking to position himself as the candidate most committed to fundamentally and lastingly shifting the balance on the Supreme Court in favor of the Right – a temptation he hopes just might be enough to weaken the resolve of even his most hardened right-wing foes.
There is no such thing as Rudy Giuliani the moderate.

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007
  Another Travel Day

Off to S.F. Man, I love Seattle, though. Sometimes I almost think I could move back here. But who would look after Brooklyn?

I'll try to be back tomorrow, but things are likely to continue to be sparse here for the next week and a half.

Have you been reading your Perlstein and Scher? Do.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007
  From Direct Mail to Email

Patrick Ruffini, Republican web guru, has a very interesting post on how the GOP is learning to adapt to the use of online media. The modern conservative movement was largely built on direct mail (it's why Richard Viguerie keeps getting attention, even when he shouldn't), which as Ruffini points out is something that can be targeted toward your supporters and invisible to your opponents. If a key goal of politics is to be heard disproportionately by your own constituencies, conservatives -- from direct mail to "dog whistle politics -- have been masters of the technique. But the internet and email come with a different set of challenges, and as Ruffini says, the external environment matters a lot more:
At the end of day, your message carries your online fundraising. In a good environment, the message is the good environment and how great you’re doing. That’s why the Democrats have a baseline advantage right now. In a bad environment, it becomes incumbent on you to use the viralness of the Web to orchestrate a massive pushback against the environment itself. That’s why Fred is tapping the frustration of the rightroots. And, as a friend pointed out to me the other day, McCain now has no choice but to use the Internet as a strategic vehicle for turning things around, because he certainly can’t afford to do it any other way.
It's worth noting that, of the various GOP candidates' online operations, Ruffini seems to think most highly of Fred Thompson's.

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  Talking Up an Iran-Al Qaeda Connection

I haven't read the new National Intelligence Estimate (as if! I'm on vacation), nor have I read much of the reporting on it. But the mainstream reports I've seen so far do not allude to the subject at the center of this article in the neocon New York Sun: an alleged link between Iran and Al-Qaeda. Sun correspondent Eli Lake says:
One of two known Al Qaeda leadership councils meets regularly in eastern Iran, where the American intelligence community believes dozens of senior Al Qaeda leaders have reconstituted a good part of the terror conglomerate's senior leadership structure.
I have no information to give context to this allegation, so I merely note it for the record, with the warning that we may end up hearing a lot more about this from Iran-warmonger types.

The Corner, for instance, is already flogging it.

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Monday, July 16, 2007
  "Lower-Middle Reformism" and the Battle for the Midwest

Frank Luntz, self-exiled in LA, pops up to tell Republicans that they should run in 2008 as the party of optimism and reform. Take a moment to stop laughing, and then read on, because there's a worthwhile nugget of discussable material in his piece (plus it'll make you feel good). Note these points:
A GOP victory is not absolutely out of the question, of course, but getting there would take a forward-looking agenda, unparalleled message discipline, a strict focus on the millions of independent voters, an innovative candidate and campaign and a lot of luck....

To be perfectly blunt, no Republican can win the White House without winning Ohio. Although readers of this column would no doubt like to see and hear the presidential nominees up close, the reality is that California, at least when it comes to elections, is as blue as the Pacific. A successful Republican candidate in Ohio will have learned how to articulate a culturally conservative message fused with government accountability and economic opportunity specifically tailored to voters in the industrial heartland. Without the support of the anxious working class, Ohio will also turn deep blue. And so will the United States.
Daniel Larison and Ross Douthat are quick to jump on this, because they've spent a good deal of time arguing precisely this sort of thing (despite Jonah Goldberg's painfully embarassing attempt to condescend to a group of writers who are 1) smarter and 2) no younger than he). As Larison once put the basic argument:
[S]mall-government conservatism doesn’t sell and “strong government” conservatism does... I don’t like it, but it is true. Ceteris paribus, a GOP that does not attempt to co-opt or develop its own answer for ”lower-middle reformism” or populism is a GOP that is much more likely to lose in a nationwide contest with a party that has started turning to precisely that kind of politics. It will in all likelihood lose the presidential race if it does not address this weakness and instead continues to trot out the old “tax cuts and deregulation” mantra.
Larison now points out that the Republican candidates best positioned to carry a "lower-middle reformist" message ("Huckabee, The Other Thompson, Hunter") are stuck in the second tier of presidential contenders, while the frontrunners seem unable to learn the lesson of how to talk about economics. If Luntz is right, then the Republicans are getting the geography all wrong:
Giuliani and McCain poll better in named match-ups with Democratic contenders than the other two “leading” candidates, but on trade and economic policy they have nothing to offer Ohio, Pennsylvania and other Midwestern states. Leave aside their foreign policy craziness for a moment, and remember (if you somehow had forgotten) that these two are the strongest pro-immigration advocates in the field. That will not, already does not, play well with Republican voters, and it likely will not play very well with the electorate in Ohio, either. Needless to say, the state that went for Bush in ‘04 at least partly thanks to the gay “marriage” ban referendum is not going to be a good fit for Giuliani.

The Republicans need to be able to compete in Ohio and Midwestern states like Ohio, and they appear to be gearing up to nominate a candidate that will make them relatively more competitive in either the South (Fred), California (McCain), the Northeast (Giuliani) or nowhere in particular (Romney). They have apparently learned nothing from the close call in 2004 and the repudiation of 2006.
A very important point here is the different direction the parties are heading in when it comes to economic rhetoric. It's not just the candidates, it's the entire conservative message apparatus, which seems determined to ignore what Larison calls the difference between "economic indicators" and "political reality," as witnessed by Bill Kristol's latest Kudlow-esque "everything is fine, stop whining about he economy" piece in the Weekly Standard. Democrats, meanwhile, are finally taking just the opposite tack, noting that while the numbers may look good, the lived experience of the American economy these days is one of insecurity and doubt. Pundits will surely warn the Democrats away from their new populism, but Democrats are starting to understand the economy as Americans do, not as Beltway economists do, and that's going to give them a huge advantage next fall.

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  Still Punching in the Court Fight

Conservative judicial activist Kenneth Blackwell takes to takes to the New York Sun today to argue that conservatives should not rest on their laurels after their recent string of 5-4 victories in the Supreme Court. I'm always impressed by how right-wing writers are able to strike such a consistently victimized, even apocalyptic, tone when they discuss the courts -- as though they are always, even when they win, just holding out on some judicial Masada, waiting for the activist liberal judges to overrun the last bastions of God-fearing, "originalist" jurisprudence.

Blackwell looks at Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, in which the Court sharply limited taxpayer standing to sue over violations of the Establishment Clause. Panda's Thumb has a good explanation of the decision, which narrowed the scope of, but did not overturn, Flast v. Cohen -- the decision that affirmed such standing to begin with. Roberts's Court ruled that Flast does not apply in cases where Congress does not make a specific decision to use tax money to support religious institutions, but instead gives the funds to the executive branch in lump sums, leaving it to the administration to decide how to distribute the money. In fact, the decision was muddled, with Roberts claiming that he was not overturning Flast's precedent, while Scalia criticized Roberts for the hair-splitting. The efforts at nuance leave Blackwell cold, too: he argues that Hein "showed that this is no longer a liberal court, but neither is it a conservative one":
Conservatives should consider Hein both a victory and a missed opportunity. The fact that Flast was not expanded means what would have been a whole new line of attack by the Left against churches and ministries has been stopped. But the fact that Flast was not overturned means that all the current attacks will continue until such a time when one more conservative justice is confirmed to the Supreme Court.

Hein shows that conservatives have gotten halfway to the Court they desire, but are most definitely not there yet. Conservatives can celebrate, but they need to double their efforts in the 2008 elections.
Blackwell warns that liberals will be politically energized by the latest string of decisions, while conservatives might be tempted to let down their guard. Given the immense investments of time, resources, and spin that right-wing judicial activists like Blackwell have made in taking control of the courts, it's hardly surprising that he should insist on keeping up the fight. Is his op-ed a sign of the conservative rhetoric to come during the 2008 electoral cycle?

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Cool and cloudy in Seattle this morning, which means all is right with the world (I understand it was sweltering just a few days ago). I'll pick up with real analysis next week, but in the meantime you can drop by The Right's Field, where I've posted a few items on the presidential race.

Have a great weekend.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007
  I'm Off

Travel day. I'll try to check in tomorrow, though as I said things are going to slow down here for a couple of weeks.

See you soon.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007
  Giuliani Hires Norman Podhoretz, Neocon Warmonger

Via Think Progress: The Giuliani campaign unveiled its foreign policy team yesterday, and prominent among the names is Norman Podhoretz, the murderous lunatic who recently demanded that the United States "bomb Iran" despite his own admission that such an attack could "unleash a wave of anti-Americanism all over the world that will make the anti-Americanism we’ve experienced so far look like a lovefest."

Podhoretz is an unapologetic extremist of the very same neoconservative crowd that has been so thoroughly discredited by its role in formenting the Iraq war. His advocacy of war with Iran is insane not just from a moral but also a strategic standpoint: an attack on Iran would not stop, and would likely accelerate Iran's nuclear program, and would almost certainly benefit the very hardliners the neocons claim to be so worried about. Podhoretz is an addled ideologue, not a serious foreign policy thinker, and by hiring him, Giuliani has demonstrated that he is determined to stick to -- and possibly expand upon -- the failed policies of the Bush administration. Some conservative commenters have hinted that they'd like to see Iran at the center of the debate during the 2008 election; Rudy seems intent on granting them their wish.

I'll do a full post on Podhoretz, as well as other members of Giuliani's foreign policy team -- which includes notable conservative names like Peter Berkowitz -- as part of the policy advisors series. Look for the Podhoretz profile soon.

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

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  The Huckabee Menace

Ben Weyl at the Iowa Independent has an excellent post on the not-quite-forgotten Mike Huckabee. As I've written before at this blog, and discussed recently at The Right's Field, Huckabee has enormous talents and is probably the conservative candidate best poised to thrive in a liberal era (to thrive as a conservative, not as a Schwarzenegger-style centrist).

Ben compares Huckabee's own rhetoric to the "Party of Sam's Club" ideas advocated by Ross Douthat and Reiham Salam, and puts them in the context of this analysis by liberal pollster Stanley Greenberg:
Huge majorities want the government to be more involved in a range of issues including national security, health care, energy, and the environment. To tackle global warming, two-thirds of Americans support stronger regulation of business. When it comes to health care, the results are dramatic. By a two-to-one margin, people opt for a universal health care system rather than separate reforms dealing with problems one at a time.
The Republican field in this cycle's presidential election has been pretty void of ideas so far. But it looks like there's a pretty natural match between what Huckabee is saying and what the conservative movement's smartest intellectuals are saying. Of course, they have the albatross of "big-government conservatism" around their necks, which may sink them, but I remain convinced that this kind of synchronicity is why Huckabee, should he somehow overcome his terrible fundraising and lousy poll numbers, would be a very dangerous candidate for Democrats -- someone who, as Ben says, could "steal much of their message and cut deeply into their natural constituency of working Americans."

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  STILL Not Gonna Happen

Given all the recent noise about defections in the GOP Senate caucus over Iraq, I'd like to call attention to this post by Jonathan Singer, which takes a little bit more of a critical look at what the cash value of these developments might be. Says Singer:
Neither in the [Washington Post] article nor in other reporting has there been much of an indication that Senators like George Voinovich -- or John Warner or Pete Domenici or Susan Collins or Richard Lugar or almost any of them on the Republican side of the aisle -- have a willingness to do what it takes to bring forward an end to the Iraq War. Sure, they'd be willing to support the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group -- recommendations that might have made a difference had they been implemented last year when they were released but today would do little to either improve the situation on the ground in Iraq or help move us closer to an end to the war -- but they remain unwilling to support legislation that would actually mandate the draw down of forces from Iraq with the goal of ending U.S. military involvement any time before the end of the Bush presidency.
I stand by my previous assertion that virtually all the expressions of Congressional Republican "dissent" on Iraq, no matter how breathlessly reported, are meaningless -- full of sound and simulated fury, signifying nothing.

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  Wallyworld, Here I Come

One feature of life on the long tail is that solo bloggers, save for a handful of superhumans, have to take breaks. I'll be on vacation for the next couple of weeks, which means posting will be sporadic until about the end of July -- though I promise not to abandon you completely.

I hadn't really thought about this much until now, but so you know: the door is open at A&S for anyone who might want to contribute occasional guest posts analyzing the conservative movement (or closely related topics). That goes for not just while I'm on vacation, but any time. Just email me, and I'll set you up.

I'll check in later this afternoon with a real post or two; much to be done at the day job before I go away.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007
  The UK Conservative Breakdown

Conservatism is in crisis not just in the US, but in Britain as well. I don't pretend to know the nuances of the British political situation, but the latest developments make for an interesting point of comparison with the tribulations of our own American right.

At the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum frets that the Tories, having finally seen a glimmer of hope for their electoral prospects during the malaise of the late Blair years, have been thoroughly demoralized by Gordon Brown's strong start:
The polls are quite a blow: Buoyed by Blair's personal unpopularity, by dissatisfaction with public health and education, and above all by dislike of the Iraq war, the Conservatives were just beginning to whisper of victory in the next general election, which must be held by 2009. But by late last week, at least one of my Tory acquaintances had already lost faith. "We'll lose," he told me, matter-of-factly.
For Applebaum, as for many American conservatives, the worst thing the Tories can do is continue to move left in reaction to Labour's triangulation; she suggests that such a path may lead to the end of the party itself:
Political parties have life cycles much like the human beings who create them. They are born, they mature, they gain wisdom. Then, sometimes, they die -- and not just in Britain.
Her final sentence may imply a warning to a Republican party struggling over its own conservative soul, though the path to extinction may seem to head in different directions depending on one's point of view (for what it's worth, I think the sentiment is overstated when it comes to the Republicans; the Tories have been mired in a far deeper ideological crisis than the GOP).

One of the latest attempts to define a conservative agenda for the British Conservatives might be found in Breakthrough Britain, a report released by former Tory leader Ian Duncan Smith's Social Justice Policy Group. The report suggests for Conservatives a policy slate of moralist ideas, with tax breaks for married couples at the center of it. The Guardian has a good summary.

You can get a decent sense of the thinking behind the report from a column by Duncan Smith published in the Times last December, titled "Breakdown Britain." As the title indicates, Duncan Smith paints a bleak picture of British society, where "in every area life is getting worse." Unable to attack Labour on economic issues -- since the British economy has been robust -- he describes a country wracked by social failure: drug abuse, crime, dependency. Such themes provide the impetus for the new report.

Writing at the Guardian, Polly Toynbee denounces Duncan Smith's "reactionary mood music," and warns current Tory leader David Cameron against abandoning "their present uneasy course towards liberal modernity:"
Here is why the Breakdown Britain theme is a dangerous temptation. Most people are easily persuaded that everything is getting worse, the young are decadent, morals and manners are in freefall, community is collapsing, children are neglected, family is fragmenting and nothing is what it was in a golden age imagined somewhere safely beyond memory, in our grandparents' youth. It is the human condition to believe in perpetual decline. All societies have "something deeply wrong" with them, and Cameron's marriage talisman captures strong political emotions.

But the more he hammers away at this theme, the more he loses his drive for modernity and falls captive to the praise of the Mail and Telegraph.
Toynbee argues that while the Conservatives might reach for low-hanging political fruit -- social negativity, tax cuts, and hardline rhetoric on immigration -- such a party will find itself wedded to "that solid 30% of core Tory voters," a constituency that will strain even within itself to uphold a commitment to old and unrealistic moralist policies. In other words, implies Toynbee's argument, the death of the Conservative Party may result from precisely the treatment Applebaum would prescribe.

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  Greetings from the Long Tail

Open Left looks to me like a pretty positive development -- as far as I can tell, a worthwhile effort to link the netroots with the progressive establishment in a more comprehensive way. The dirty little secret of any influential political "movement" in America is the disconnect between the rank and file and the Beltway leadership. Any attempt to bridge that has to be a positive thing.

If you haven't already, check out the latest by Chris Bowers on the state of the progressive blogosphere. As he points out, the divide occurs within the netroots itself, between the increasingly-established "short head" of the blogosphere, and the vast "long tail" trailing out into obscurity. I more or less agree with him as to the characteristics of and reasons for that divide, though I think his point can be simplified. When blogging was a new medium, early adapters could make their mark even if nobody knew who they were. Now that the reach and the dynamics of the medium are better understood, those with the most resources -- financial, social, political -- are able to leverage their advantages into the blogosphere.

Bowers is also right to imply that during the recent blogroll wars, this phenomenon was often mischaracterized: it's not a matter of the early adapters pulling the ladder up after them. As he points out, and as all the evidence I've seen indicates, blogrolls play a very small role in driving traffic. It seems to me that some very talented people let their bruised egos get in the way of a more hardheaded analyis of what was going on. Those with resources were getting in on the game; the early adapters were just about the only "provincial" bloggers able to make the transition at the highest level, since they at least had the resource of having been early adapters.

I say this as someone standing on the unfashionable end of the long tail -- and thanks again to those of you who make the effort to come all the way out here. We in the netroots masses must be able -- as Bowers acknowledges -- to influence the short head and the Beltway establishment. After a brief interlude during which we thought we were the new establishment, collectively and en masse, we're being brought back to earth, and now we'll have to focus on the challenge of figuring out how to re-open the channels a bit.

Still, we're in a better place than the status quo ante. Even with the emergence of a blogospheric short head connected to an enduring movement establishment, the new forms of technology and discourse, and the expectations we have created through them, have given us peasants significantly expanded access to national politics from the days when were expected to vote, send checks, and at best carry worthless membership cards around in our wallets. The tail may not yet wag the dog, but we can move him a little better than before.

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Monday, July 09, 2007
  The Advisors: Bill Simon, Jr. (Giuliani Policy Director)

The premise behind this series is simple: if, during the 2000 presidential campaign, more of us had thought more about the significance of George W. Bush's choice of policy advisors -- from Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz to Marvin Olasky and Myron Magnet -- not only would we have heard a lot less about how there was "no difference" between the two major candidates, but we would have also had a pretty good idea just what kind of president Bush would be.

When Rudy Giuliani named William Simon, Jr. to head his policy team, he was undoubtedly guided by strategic calculations, not by faith in the dynamism of Simon's ideas. Simon, a financier and former California gubernatorial candidate (described by one commentator as "the only person less popular than incumbent Gov. Gray Davis back in 2002"), is not a particularly distinguished man. But his selection as policy director says something about how the Giuliani campaign seeks to define itsef.

Simon's father, William Simon, Sr., served as treasury secretary during the Nixon and Ford Administrations. He was a hard-charging financier and movement conservative; the son, by contrast, was apolitical and, according to some accounts, happy enough to lead the comfortable life of a wealthy heir. From 1986-88 Simon worked for Giuliani as an Assistant US Attorney in the Southern District of New York; following that stint he took up the family business, moving to Los Angeles as an executive of the William E. Simon & Sons investment firm. He has at times shown signs of questionable judgment in his business decisions, as a San Francisco Chronicle article reported:
There have been some noticeable failures, including a savings and loan seized -- unfairly, Simon said -- by the government; a disastrous deal with a former drug lord to invest in Southern California pay phones [in 2002 a California jury found Simon's firm guilty of defrauding the drug trafficker; the judge later overturned the verdict]; and the bankruptcy of two companies that left hundreds out of work.
A 2002 article in The Nation investigated Simon's ties to Enron; as a board member at the Houston company Hanover Compressor, Simon conceived a number of joint-venture ideas through a partnership with Enron called Joint Energy Development Investments. The Nation article also reported on questions raised about Simon's work at Hanover independent of the Enron dealings:
Simon was also involved in Hanover in matters separate from the Enron deals that could raise legal concerns. Hanover said in February that it would have to restate its financial results beginning in January 2000 because of improper accounting for a partnership that--as with Enron--made the company appear more profitable than it was. Over several years during this time, according to the Wall Street Journal, Hanover officers sold millions of shares of stock--again much like Enron, where officers who were allegedly aware of the company's accounting practices were encouraging employees and others to buy shares even as they were selling their own. Hanover is now the target of at least four class-action lawsuits by shareholders who have alleged the company misled investors; and it is also under investigation by the SEC.

Simon wasn't a member of Hanover's board at the time of the improper accounting, but a week before Hanover made the announcement, the company reported that every annual report it has issued since going public in 1997 contained errors. Simon, as a member of Hanover's audit committee, was responsible for approving the company's annual reports. The audit committee, according to Hanover's investor relations department, was held responsible by Hanover for the error.
Simon's challenge to incumbent California Governor Gray Davis in 2002 delighted conservative pundits, who saw the political novice as one of their own. William F. Buckley, Jr. praised him as a sort of "Superman"-in-waiting, poised to rescue the state from Davis's spending; The National Review's John Miller called him "the sort of candidate conservatives can get excited about," someone who had, almost literally, been born into the movement. Davis labelled Simon a "true-blue think-tank conservative;" what was meant as a pejorative sounded like high praise to conservative ears.

Calling himself a "candidate of ideas," Simon ran for governor as both a social conservative -- anti-choice and a supporter of California's Proposition 22, the "Defense of Marriage Act" -- and a tax- and budget-cutter. His proposals for solving the latter equation were vague; he promised cuts in unspecified "new" programs and pledged to "hold the line" on taxes. He also expressed opposition to college tuition and drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants. Despite his opposition to abortion (except in cases of rape or incest), Simon had "no plans," according to the Chronicle, to reduce state funding for reproductive health care. On education, Simon advocated "restoring local control" of schools, but conceded that "the voters have spoken" against tuition vouchers, indicating that he would not press the matter. Simon won the Republican nomination after the Davis campaign trained its fire on LA mayor Richard Riordan; in the general election he earned 42.4% of the vote, losing to Davis by five points.

As Giuliani's policy director, Simon has so far refused to discuss the specifics of his candidate's domestic policy positions. One of his major roles is simply to reinforce Giuliani's right flank against social conservative attack. He claims to "have an assurance" that Giuliani is in favor the Hyde Amendment (which would forbid "taxpayer-funded abortion") and makes much of a statistic showing a decline in New York's abortion rate during the Giuliani mayoralty.

Simon was reportedly the main author of Giuliani's "12 Commitments" speech. The speech itself, a laundry list of wild, unsupported conservative promises, gives little indication of what Giuliani would actually do as president, though Simon does suggest that a President Rudy would be a free-trader and a supporter of "portable free-market solutions" (possibly "Health Savings Accounts?") to the health care crisis. Despite his fiscal conservative appeal, Giuliani has refused to sign Gover Norquist's "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," a decision Simon has been forced to defend to supply-side fanatic Larry Kudlow.

California is a critical state in Rudy Giuliani's path the the GOP nomination. It's also a state that presents the former mayor with something of a problem: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Pundits have compared Rudy to Arnie, discussing the ways in which each represents a "new" kind of Republicanism -- coastal, pro-choice, "liberal." The political consequences of this kind of talk are very different for Schwarzenegger than they are for Giuliani, and it's hardly a surprise that, in the primary at least, Rudy would want to draw a sharp distinction between himself and the Governator. By making Bill Simon, Jr. his policy director, Giuliani was doing just that. Simon is possibly the most prominent figure in the conservative wing of the California Republican party, which makes him a valuable asset for Rudy. A blue-blood businessman, Simon reinforces Giuliani's fiscal conservative cache; an anti-choice conservative Catholic, he sends a reassuring signal to the social right. And as a "true-blue think-tank conservative," he tells the right that Rudy, far from being a different kind of Republican, wants very much to be anchored to the orthodox conservative movement.

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

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Friday, July 06, 2007
  Is It All About the Lindens?

Every so often in the modern era somebody crops up with a loopy, poorly-considered manifesto about how this technological development or that cyber-whatsit proves the case for libertarianism. Twelve years ago it was the "Californian ideology" of Wired and Mondo 2000 and other bright and ignorant young tech geeks; lately Newt Gingrich has been carrying the standard for those unable to grasp the relationship between technology, public investment, and the real world.

Now comes Michael Gerson, who writes that Second Life is "a large-scale experiment in libertarianism." Gerson, a social conservative, is not out to argue that the experiment is a success, but it got me thinking.

You may or may not be into SL. I had fun, for about a week, running around with my avatar ("Cosmo Mills," which I thought was a decent name for a character in a manufactured universe) looking at all the neat stuff and pretending to have a soul patch and a jacket made of shag carpeting. That was about as far as it went for me, but I can understand why people like it, especially when they get involved in what is, undeniably, a working economy of the game. But Gerson seems to buy the claims that it's somehow relevant to actual political economy:
Instead of showing the guiding hand of an author, this universe is created by the choices of its participants, or "residents." They can build, buy, trade and talk in a world entirely without rules or laws; a pure market where choice and consumption are the highest values.
Now, Gerson is actually using SL to criticize libertarianism, arguing that the game reveals the bankruptcy of a world without "moral rules" or "social obligations" or negative consequences to bad choices (thus resulting in too much random sex and consumerism). (Ramesh Ponnuru points out a flaw in Gerson's logic.)

At any rate, I've seen this claim before, from SL enthusiasts: that the game is somehow one big exercise in libertarianism, a "pure market" as Gerson calls it. Do people really believe that a "pure market" consists of a world in which there is no need for food or shelter or medicine, no scarcity at all beyond an economy of status items?

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  The Enduring Appeal of the Reactionaries

Last seen proposing a grand alliance between liberals and libertarians (I explained why I think that would be a bad idea here), Cato's Brink Lindsey resurfaced last week to try his hand with the conservatives, taking to the pages of the National Review to offer advice from a "well-wishing outsider." It won't shock you that Lindsey's advice to the right is much like his appeal to the left: an invitation to think like libertarians do.

Lindsey proposes that conservatives set aside their "traditionalist" objections to things like gay marriage and Mexican immigration, commenting that "much of what has defined modern social conservatism — namely, political resistance to the incessant cultural change engendered by economic development — is not authentically conservative at all. It is reactionary." Social conservatism assumes a fragility to American culture that is not borne out by the evidence; more importantly, it's on the wrong side of history, in a sort of historical-materialist sense.

Naturally we progressives will be more enamored of his arguments when he is directing them against the assumptions of social conservatism, though Lindsey is careful to frame his case in a way that flatters the traditionalist preoccupations of decades past -- even as he rightly condemns the right's record of getting it wrong on things like civil rights and the entry of women into the workforce. He puts it this way:
The culture wars are over, and capitalism won. The question now is: Will the Left or the Right be the first to figure this out? The answer may well determine the future balance of political power.
Lindsey surveys post-war American history on a broad level, arguing that we have arrived at this juncture after mid-20th century prosperity first unleashed a tidal wave of cultural change:
As the post-war boom took off, however, the unprecedented development of technology and organization made America the first society in human history in which most people could take satisfaction of their basic material needs more or less for granted.

The story of post-war America is thus the story of adaptation to fundamentally new social realities, particularly mass affluence. Time-honored practices that had developed during the long reign of scarcity were now in need of serious revision or even wholesale abandonment. At the same time, new values and priorities began to assert themselves. Wrenching cultural conflict was unavoidable.
In Lindsey's telling, the prosperity brought by unfettered capitalism triggered cultural changes both positive -- feminism, sexual liberation, the end of legal segregation -- and negative. On the negative side, Lindsey describes "a radical assault on all traditions, all authority, and all constraints" -- a sort of general "Aquarian" madness (I wasn't around at the time, but reading the right's literature I imagine that a typical day in, say, 1971 probably involved packs of cannibalistic hippies raiding churches and boiling peyote in the hollowed-out skulls of former Mouseketeers. But I digress.). Social conservatives, he says, were right to push back against the chaos and crime thus unleashed, but now, in saner times, they have reached a crossroads:
The fundamental question for conservatives today is: What should they be seeking to conserve? The great American heritage of limited government, individual liberty, and free markets seems the only viable answer. As Peter Berkowitz has frequently and wisely noted, a truly American conservatism must have at the core of its concerns the defense and preservation of the liberal tradition. Which makes it a special kind of conservatism indeed: Its function is not to arrest change generally, or even slow it down, but rather to preserve the institutions that are both the chief source of change and the primary means through which we adapt to new conditions.
One obvious flaw in Lindsey's narrative is that he, a committed libertarian, ignores the important role of government investment and social insurance in fueling that post-war boom and widening the scope of its public benefits. But for the purposes of a debate with social conservatives, another problem stands out. Lindsey argues that they, clinging to their traditionalist views, are at odds with the march of history. Yet, as Ramesh Ponnuru points out in a rebuttal, Linsdey has also said that traditionalists were right to resist that march in certain ways at certain times. In that case, each social conservative argument must be judged on its merits; you can't simply dismiss them all with the proposition that, if we take care of capitalism, capitalism will take care of the rest. Ponnuru, in a sur-reply, writes:
[A]nyone who has taken up a social-conservative cause or two, or declines to sign on to all of Lindsey’s arguments, is supposed to don sackcloth and ashes and take historical responsibility for other conservatives’ having been segregationists. (Speaking for myself: No thanks.) The demand makes sense if all social conservative causes are the same, impermissibly reactionary thing, except when they happen to further “the logic of social development under capitalism,” whatever that means.
Ponnuru acknowledges, and I agree, that Lindsey is correct in pointing out that material forces, not just ideas, move history. As Ponnuru puts it, "Feminism didn’t happen when it did just because Betty Friedan wrote a book, which is why anti-feminist books can’t undo it."

Lest I sound too much like a defender of the traditionalists, let me add that we needn't simply let Ponnuru and his compatriots wiggle out from under the historical burden of social conservatives' many serious mistakes -- nor should we allow them to pretend that their arguments really do always resonate on their philosophical merits, when we all know perfectly well that naked bigotry provides much of their constituency. Whether or not Ponnuru wants to accept it, when we judge social conservative arguments on gay marriage, we can and must consider the precedents and legacy of their positions on civil rights and the role of women in society. For that matter, the record shows that a considerable number of the very same social conservatives leading the reactionary charge today still haven't abandoned the racism and sexism of the previous era. Ponnuru doesn't have to wear the sackcloth, but that doesn't mean his movement won't be judged by its own historical sins.

Ultimately, the negotations break down, with Ponnuru dismissing Lindsey's views as marginal -- just as Jonathan Chait did from a liberal perspective. The debate will be between the Ponnurus and the Chaits. I do believe that the traditionalists will continue to lose -- as they always do -- and they will lose in part because capitalism and other large-scale forces will continue to undermine the appeal of their prejudices. But I don't think they'll disappear, or that the right will limit itself to a simple defense of "classical liberalism." The social disruption and insecurity wrought by capitalism's "creative destruction" (to use a favorite libertarian term) mitigate against such reductionist politics. Social conservatism may be reactionary -- a misguided response to those dislocations -- but it's not going away.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007
  Liberal Wall Street?

One thing that struck me about Craig Shirley's jeremiad in Conservative Battleline was his pairing of the hated "GOP elites" with "their master’s voice, corporate America." It's not the first time I've seen anti-Wall Street sentiment expressed in recent conservative denunciations of where the GOP is heading.

So then I read Dana Goldstein's piece at TAPPED about Fortune Magazine's glowing assessment of Hillary Clinton. Goldstein mentions a few of Hillary's Wall Street supporters -- people like John Mack of Morgan Stanley, Jeffrey Volk of Citigroup, and James D. Robinson III of American Express. And he cites this passage:
Clinton's GOP business supporters say they have other priorities [than tax issues]. Volk wants to see the federal budget balanced. Robinson wants health-care and education policies that will improve American's competitiveness. Hillary Clinton says simply, "It's important not to have a tax discussion separate from [deciding] what are our goals."
Goldstein also suggests that this may be part of a trend:
[Y]ounger corporate types really do have a different set of priorities. They may not be ready to support John Edwards, but they're increasingly calling themselves Democrats.
One can react to this kind of thing with all kinds of populist suspicion, but let's set that aside for the moment. Without wanting to read too much into this -- and it remains the case that the Republicans are the party of big business -- there's an ever-so-faint echo here of the 1950s, when upstart conservatives excoriated the decadent Republican elites, who along with their northeastern capitalist class generally, had come to an accomodation with labor and the social safety net.

Take the historical parallel for what you will.

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  Religious Right Abandoning Mitt for Fred?

Another good post by Dayton, who looks at evidence that religious conservatives (or at least their leaders), after an initial flirtation with Mitt Romney, are beginning to move into Fred Thompson's camp.

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  Republicans Abandoned by the Mainstream

Conservative blogger Soren Dayton uses a poll about the Libby commutation to note a trend that should disturb Republicans. Comparing ideological self-identification ("conservative"-"moderate"-"liberal") to party ID, he notes:
  • The GOP and conservatives are, basically, the same with Republicans being 30% and conservatives are 29%

  • Liberals are, however, only half the self-identifying Democrats with self-IDing Dems being 40%, while liberals only 19%

  • In other words, 50% or so of self-identified moderates feel comfortable identifying as Democrats.

  • In other words, almost no moderates are identifying as Republicans.
The GOP is not appealing to moderates at this moment while half of self-identified Democrats are moderates. That should scare us.
As Dayton notes, caveats apply. Bush hasn't helped the right's numbers, and it's plausible that they could recover after he's gone -- though given the GOP's current commitment to a war-and-terror strategy, they might not. At any rate, this is not a good sign for Republicans.

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  This Time I Really Mean It

At Conservative Battleline, Craig Shirley says it's time for conservatives to consider declaring their independence from the GOP -- emulating the actions of the "Manhattan Twelve," who, in 1971, confronted Richard Nixon over his deviations from conservative orthodoxy:
True conservatives are now faced with this choice once again. In order to save their ideology, should the conservative movement declare it’s independence from the Bush Administration and the GOP? The arguments for doing so are compelling.

The immigration bill, most conservatives believe, is a sellout of everything they hold dear – the rule of law, justice, freedom and sovereignty. But rather than listen to the grassroots American people, the GOP elites are listening intently instead to their master’s voice, corporate America....

The war has held together the unhappy shotgun marriage of the elitist GOP and the populist conservatives, but the D-word (“divorce”) is now on the lips of many in the movement.

The arguments for at least a trial separation are legion; from steel tariffs to federal mandates to the states educational systems, to the biggest entitlement since the Great Society to the corruption of Republican “lawmakers” and Enron and the GOP K Street walkers, whose main job is to convince GOP lawmakers into doing un-Republican things. Arrogance, ignorance, the unseemly pursuit of power over principles and betrayal of conservatism are the hallmarks of the current GOP.
Shirley doesn't really identify who the "GOP elites" are -- the Bush administration, one supposes, but who specifically, and why should we believe that they will continue to be the party's "elites" in 2009? And would conservatives have as much leverage with a self-absorbed lame-duck as they did with Nixon, who after all was about to seek re-election? What about the candidates for 2008? And what does a "divorce" from a major party mean? A third party?

In fact Shirley is simply calling for the conservative movement to lead the party, as it did in the 1970s. Unfortunately for Shirley, the movement is a lot less coherent now than it was in the days of the "Manhattan Twelve."

At any rate, Shirley and his compatriots got their way on the immigration bill. Articles like this one might serve as reminder not to mistake conservative sound and fury for any actual plan to break with the GOP.

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  Wishing the Manicheanism Away

You may have seen the excellent pair of articles at the New Republic revisiting the work of two heroes of post-war conservatism. Sam Tanenhaus writes about Whitaker Chambers, while Alan Wolfe takes on Russell Kirk.

Over at Red State, Kevin Holtsberry has a lengthy rebuttal to Tanenhaus's piece. I'm not familiar enough with the history to comment with much authority on the merits of Holtsberry's arguments with regard to Chambers (I'm reading Witness and may write about it in a few weeks), but I can't resist commenting on Holtsberry's rhetorical strategy. Holtsberry finds Tanenhaus "infuriating" because, on the one hand, he seems to "poke" at certain "odd leftists," yet on the other hand he insists on criticizing conservatives -- or worse, using one conservative to criticize others:
In the liberal world there are only two kinds of good conservatives: those that attack other conservatives (see the New York Times editorial page) and those that are far enough removed from today’s troubles as to seem harmless and/or useful in carrying out the first point.
Holtsberry is not wrong, but he demonstrates an odd lack of reflection in failing to note that conservatives act the very same way with regard to liberals. It's simply one of the most common habits of political writing, even among those who strive to achieve balance; it's a product of believing in the validity of one's own set of views.

Beyond this Holtsberry launches into a tiresome defense of the indefensible, though, to him, it is the complaints themselves that are tiresome: war, torture, extra-constitutional detention, exploitation of terror for political ends, etc etc. He refuses to acknowledge that the Bush administration has been polarizing and fear-mongering since 9/11, and he considers it frightfully declasse ("the stuff of the Democratic Underground") to even allege such things. It's as though he was in a coma for the entire 2002 and 2004 elections.

Alan Wolfe once responded to Peter Berkowitz, who had said much the same kind of thing:
In the world according to Peter Berkowitz, there are no right-wing bloggers calling the president's critics traitors, no Swift-boating of Democratic candidates, no violations of civil liberty associated with our Republican president, no authorized leaks of the names of CIA agents, no dramatic increase in the use of presidential signing statements, no use of torture, no suspension of habeas corpus, no breaks with our historic allies over such methods, no biased editorial pages and networks, no Rush Limbaughs, no vigilantes patrolling our borders, no invented quotations from Abraham Lincoln, no manipulations of intelligence, no appeals to racial and religious bigotry.
I don't know whether the life of Whitaker Chambers is or is not an appropriate metaphor for, or critique of, the current conservative Manicheanism. But it's no use pretending that that Manicheanism is all a figment of fevered liberal imaginations.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007
  Happy Independence Day

I'm off to see if I can get into the New Pornographers show at Battery Park.

Meanwhile, to celebrate the birth of our nation, you can read in the National Review about how you and your illegal immigrant friends aren't patriotic enough (they're actually using that cheesy eagle-with-a-flag-on-its-face graphic).

Or you can check out the successor to Steve Gilliard's site, the Group News Blog.

Or you can read my analysis of the GOP candidates' Q2 fundraising over at The Right's Field.

See you tomorrow!
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
  Rise of the Right Blogosphere?

In an example of the very triumphalism Linda Chavez is warning against, June Kronholz and Amy Schatz write in the Wall Street Journal about how the defeat of the immigration bill may be a sign that the conservative blogosphere has become increasingly influential:
But the immigration bill marked the first time conservative Web logs could claim to have targeted and derailed a major piece of legislation. The triumph underscored their increasing influence and signaled that the balance of online power may be evening out in the political arena.
Kronholz and Schatz suggest that conservative blogs can have the most impact when they work closely with right-wing talk radio.

There's plenty to be said on the subject -- a lot already has been said -- but a couple of quick points. For one thing, if the right's blogs are attaching themselves to the conservative machine, is that a sign of greater "influence" or simply a noticable increase in the noise level? Were the blogs actually driving the debate or simply amplifying it? I'll leave that as an open question for now.

Perhaps more signficantly, I would suggest that there's a difference between a blogosphere that pushes its party toward more popular positions, and one that helps move its party further toward political irrelevance.

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  Immigration: What Cost Victory?

In a Washington Times op-ed, Linda Chavez calls the defeat of the immigration bill a "Pyrrhic victory" for conservatives:
Our borders will be less secure, not more. Employers who want to do the right thing and only hire legal workers won't have the tools to do so. The 12 million illegal aliens here now will continue to live in the shadows, making them less likely to cooperate with law enforcement to report crimes and less likely to pay their full share of taxes. In other words, the mess we created by an outdated and ill-conceived immigration policy 20 years ago will just get worse.

But you won't hear this if you tune in to talk radio over the next few days or read conservative blogs. There will be lots of gloating over having killed "amnesty." There will be claims that senators finally "listened to the people." And, no doubt, some conservatives will be emboldened to consider the next step in their war against illegal immigration, namely to deport those now here illegally.
Chavez, whose heresies on the immigration issue have helped draw out some of the vicious racism of the Republican base, warns that Democrats will be planning to revisit the issue in 2009, with what could be expanded control over both the legislative and executive branches. And she thinks they'll be right to do so, given the myriad contradictions and failures of current immigration policy.

What Chavez sees is a conservative noise machine grown fat and happy after its latest "triumph," oblivious to the consequences its short-term actions will have in the longer run. She argues that "Republicans who believe this will help them at the polls in 2008 may find themselves sitting on the back benches for years to come."

At this point, it probably doesn't even matter whether anyone else on the right is listening to her. On immigration, at least, the damage to the Republican coalition has been done.

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  Libby and the Right

I won't pretend to do a comprehensive post on this, but we can sample some of the conservative reaction.

The National Review's editors are basically satisfied:
We wish the president had chosen a pardon. But as it is, he has removed the most onerous burden facing Libby as a result of this strange and maddening case, and for that we applaud him.
Byron York compares the decision to Bush the First's pardon of convicted Iran-Contra criminals, thus providing further historical evidence for the notion that conservatives expect a different sort of justice than the rest of us, since their crimes are committed for totally good reasons.

The Wall Street Journal is outraged -- that Bush didn't issue a full pardon. In the Journal's telling, Libby was merely trying to defend the administration's Iraq policies against mean old Joe Wilson, and when mean old Patrick Fitzgerald and mean old Judge Walton ganged up on the poor guy, Bush abandoned him. The commutation is par for this unfortunate course:
Mr. Bush's commutation statement yesterday is another profile in non-courage. He describes the case for and against the Libby sentence with an antiseptic neutrality that would lead one to conclude that somehow the whole event was merely the result of Mr. Libby gone bad as a solo operator....

Mr. Libby deserved better from the President whose policies he tried to defend when others were running for cover. The consequences for the reputation of his Administration will also be long-lasting.
Daniel Larison, on the other hand, thinks the WSJ editors are out of their damn minds:
It could have been written before the fact, but regardless of this it is a rich artifact of Bush-era propaganda. Mr. Bush is “evading responsibility” by failing to pardon Libby, when his act of commutation before Libby’s appeal was heard was something that he definitely did not have to do. He is “evading responsibility,” even though the WSJ position on this entire matter is one, long evasion of responsibility, moral, political and legal. These people are simply amazing. The commutation is a “dark moment” in the history of the administration–and not because it is giving cover to a convicted perjuror! It is a “dark moment” because the President did not misuse his pardon power to completely exonerate a felon. That is what these people mean. The WSJ said that Libby deserved better. Actually, he deserved to go to jail. He should be glad that the President was willing to do this much for him. So should his moronic defenders.
Andrew Sullivan jeers as "the aristocracy rejoices":
The wealthy, connected, powerful coterie around Scooter Libby are reveling in their power to subvert the decision of a petty bunch of know-nothing jurors in favor of their best friend.
Alas, Larison and Sullivan are not typical of conservatives in their reactions. As Todd Beeton reports at MyDD, the GOP presidential candidates, as well as 2/3 of their conservative base, fall somewhere on the spectrum between "it was a good decision" and "it should have been a full pardon." That puts them at odds with 60% of the American public, who believe that Bush should have respected the judge's decision. As Todd notes:
Once again, pandering to their base will marginalize them with the electorate at large and serves as further evidence of just how far outside the mainstream the Republican Party has become.
To drive the point home, the Carpetbagger Report has some questions we might ask the GOP candidates over the next few months:
* Will you, as president, routinely overturn criminal sentences for unrepentant convicted felons before they serve time behind bars?

* If obstruction of justice and perjury are not serious crimes deserving of serious punishment, what other felonies are you inclined to disregard?

* Will your White House out covert CIA agents in a time of war, too?

* If there are two systems of justice — one for politically-connected Republicans, and one for everyone else — how will you decide who makes the cut?

* Why is privilege more important than justice?

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  He Are Serious Writer

Tired of waiting for Jonah Goldberg to finish Liberal Fascism? Not to worry: Jon Swift has it in LOLcats form.
Monday, July 02, 2007
  A Failure of Compassion

I have a rather long post over at The Daily Gotham about how the Bush administration's commitment to ideological fanaticism is undermining its own much-trumpeted efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide.

The very short version: USAID and HHS, at the instigation of Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), attached a requirement to the disbursement of PEPFAR (that's Bush's $15 billion anti-AIDS effort) funds requiring that any organization receiving the money sign an "anti-prostitution pledge" -- precluding them even from spending their own private money on AIDS prevention and assistance for sex workers anywhere in the world. The result has been that the most marginalized and at-risk segments of the population in many countries are being abandoned, and those who still seek to work with them are shunned by NGOs fearful of losing the funding. The whole thing runs directly counter to best practices in public health and humanitarian services, and threatens to make PEPFAR more an agent of harm than good, undermining much of the work that has been done so far, and sacrificing the AIDS-prevention cause to silly ideological nonsense. Last year a federal judge found the pledge unconstitutional, but the Bush administration has responded by only making things more difficult for relief organizations.

This video titled "Taking the Pledge" (it's about 13 minutes) has more, including interviews with relief workers affected by the policy. You can also read about the Open Society Institute's lawsuit against the pledge here.

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  Bush's Anti-Legacy

By now you may have read the big article in the Washington Post, examining the state of a failed president who is too self-absorbed to feel as beleagured as he actually is. At this point, the article tells us, Bush is focused on Iraq to the exclusion of everything else, convinced that his legacy will ride upon that war alone.

Matt Yglesias reminds us that, arguably, his legacy lies equally in his extraordinary failure to have a legacy, particularly in domestic matters:
It's also true that for a two term president who enjoyed GOP congressional control for several years, he really does have remarkably few legislative accomplishments. Where other leaders would have seen an opportunity to push a governing agenda, Bush saw an opportunity to evade congressional oversight as he used the executive branch to commit crimes against the constitution, fill many executive agencies with incompetents, and fill others with people who helped his campaigns' financial backers rob the public. Which leads us to what's probably the most important aspect of Bush's non-Iraq legacy, his decision to provide an elegant demonstration of public choice theory and destroy public faith in the possibility of government action by showing exactly how poorly a government can be run.
Yglesias goes on to list some of the failures.

Compassionate conservatism, it seems to me, was the theory behind a potential agenda. But therein lies another legacy: our debate over why it failed as a governing philosophy. Because Bush wasn't sufficiently committed to the actual policies the campassiocon theorists prescribed? Because he was too incompetent to implement them properly, or to sell them to the public? Because ideas matter less to conservative elites than opportunities to enrich their friends and strip away irritating regulations? Or because they really weren't very good ideas to begin with?

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  GOP Candidates Snub Hispanic Forum

While the seven Democratic candidates for president made appearances at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference on Saturday, the Republican contenders suffered from a mysterious case of scheduling conflictitis: of all the GOP candidates, only Duncan Hunter managed to make it to Orlando for the event. It was left to Florida Senator and RNC Chair Mel Martinez to make the excuses:
"When you're running a campaign, it is difficult to be everywhere you want to be," he said. He called it "wrong and unacceptable to draw from that the conclusion that the Republican presidential candidates don't care about the Hispanic vote or Latinos in this country. … As this campaign unfolds, I think that will become completely clear."

Asked about the harsh opposition to the immigration bill by several of the GOP candidates, including Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Thompson, he said, "This is a very politically toxic issue, and those that are running for office sometimes run away from tough problems."

While the Republican candidates were running away from a conversation with Hispanic leaders, the Democrats had plenty of time to comment on the nastiness fueling GOP rhetoric on immigration. Barack Obama mentioned the "ugly overtone" to the immigration debate, while Joe Biden suggested that it has become "has become a race to the bottom - who can be the most anti-Hispanic."

According to reports, there was plenty of "buzz" at the conference about the remarks by Fred Thompson seemingly comparing Cuban immigrants to terrorists. Hillary Clinton said the comments "appalled" her, adding: "Apparently he doesn't have a lot of experience in Florida or anywhere else, and doesn't know a lot of Cuban-Americans."

Thompson's comments will be particularly unhelpful to Republicans at a time when Democrats are seeking to expand their Hispanic support, even in Florida, where Cuban exiles have provided a stronghold for the GOP:
In Florida, Republican-leaning, anti-Castro Cubans have long dominated Hispanic politics, and most big-name Hispanic politicians are Republican. But Democrats see hope in the growing proportion of non-Cubans and in the generational erosion of Republican dominance among Cuban immigrants.

While Republicans are "conceding the Latino vote in Florida to Democrats," the Democratic candidates are "fully recognizing the importance of the Latino community in Florida and nationally," trumpeted a state Democratic Party press release about the candidates' forums at the conference.

The no-show on Saturday may only hasten the GOP's demographic doom. They fed the fires of the immigration debate and now they're being held hostage to the rages of their own shrinking base, watching as Democrats move in on the voters they have abandoned.

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

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  Novak: GOP Depressed

Novakula reports on the mood in the Republican Senate caucus following the failure of the immigration bill. Republicans who stuck with the administration and voted for the bills are furious with majority leader Mitch McConnell, who abandoned them during the fight. And they are exhausted and demoralized, especially after the harrowing experience of reaping what their party sowed over immigration:
It is difficult to exaggerate the pessimism about the immediate political future voiced by Republicans in Congress when not on the record. With an unpopular president waging an unpopular war, they foresee electoral catastrophe in 2008, with Democratic gains in both the House and Senate and Hillary Clinton in the White House. That's the atmosphere in which these lachrymose lawmakers have for several months faced an increasingly hysterical onslaught from constituents demanding the death of the "amnesty" for immigrants they heard vilified on talk radio...

"This isn't a day to celebrate," McConnell said in his postmortem. Indeed, Republicans drove another nail in George W. Bush's political coffin and undermined hopes for winning the growing, and winnable, Hispanic vote. Contending that the time "wasn't now" for immigration, McConnell added: "It wasn't the people's will. And they were heard." He was blaming Republican failure on his fellow citizens, which seldom works in politics.
Now, don't let schadenfreude get the best of you: politics has a way of turning the depressed into the triumphant suprisingly quickly. But for the purposes of brightening a Monday morning (er...afternoon), you're allowed to feel a little bit of pleasure in the Republicans' pain.

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  Mitt: Fatcats' Favorite

Why doesn't anybody use the term "fatcat" anymore? Anyway, the fatcats over at Barron's have judged the Rs and the Ds, and declared Mitt Romney "best Republican candidate [and the best overall] for stocks, bonds and the economy" (they like Richardson best of the Democrats).

The article, which is drawn from a questionnaire focusing on taxes, health care, energy, and other issues, is worth a read for those looking to get an idea where the candidates stand on economic issues (though you need to be a subscriber to get the full version). And it's worth noting that, if you believe that what's good for wealthy investors is good for America, Mitt's your man: he wants to abolish the estate tax, thus relieving super-rich heirs of the worry that they might have to give up the beach house in St. Tropez; he favors maintaining the Bush administration's low tax rate on capital gains and dividends, and he offers a vague promise to reduce marginal income tax rates across the board.

Of the rest of the candidates, Rudy Giuliani -- who has been seeking to burnish his supply-side credentials -- scores second, while John Edwards meets with disdain for daring to suggest that nurses working overtime should not be taxed at a higher rate than millionaire hedge fund managers.

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

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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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