...after Labor Day. I'll be bringing back the "advisors" series, and, eventually, the conservative history series.
Even the more respectable members of the conservative commentariat seem susceptible to the strange game of parsing the political significance of pop culture for the sake of determining whether x is good or bad for The Cause. The newest question: is The Bourne Ultimatum anti-American? Yes, really -- that's the question.
The problem is the film is unredeemed by any sense that America or the American government ever stands for or does anything that is right. It is a big hit overseas. ...From here the debate moves into tonier intellectual quarters, as Ross Douthat ponders whether Paul Greengrass's film wanders too far into the "large gray area between generic 'corruption in high places' films that don't have a broader anti-American message and exercises in explicit Amerika-bashing like Dogville."
The first mistake anyone who flings the “anti-American” accusation makes is to equate the government with the society as a whole. If someone or something is critical of the U.S. government, it is very often deemed anti-American or, if the person doing the criticising is American, unpatriotic. This plays by the state’s rules: it makes patriotism dedication to the state, rather than the country, and it makes the state into the embodiment of America. This is simply not true, and it’s a very good thing at times that this isn’t true. That doesn’t mean that the citizens don’t have some small part to play in the dreadful policy decisions made by the state (it is our government, after all), but the decisions being taken in Ultimatum are the sort that the public is never supposed to know about because the average citizen of this country would still probably be horrified at ordering the deaths of foreign journalists in the name of protecting some part of the behemoth security state. [...]I'll give Douthat a mulligan on this one. But it's fascinating that the very basic level of nuance Larison brings to the debate is completely beyond the grasp of people like Kaus and O'Reilly, who, for whatever reason, are unable to differentiate between certain people in a government and a nation in toto. Meanwhile even the smartest conservatives find themselves spending their intellectual energies in pop culture controversies drummed up by knuckle-dragging shouters and their vapid enablers. I suppose that's the price you pay for an attachment to a political movement that believes in the primacy of culture. But it looks pretty silly.
Mickey Kaus’ main complaint is that “the film is unredeemed by any sense that America or the American government ever stands for or does anything that is right.” Here’s the crucial point, since the movie is not concerned with America in general, but is very specifically concerned with one nasty corner of the American government.
On the second anniverary of the New Orleans levee failure in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, d-day offers an instructive comparison between the two American political parties. While each of the frontrunning Democratic candidates for president has a comprehensive plan for reconstruction, the Republican candidates have, er... not so much:
Rudy Giuliani: Three-line press release, no specifics.Katrina was a natural disaster. The catastrophe in New Orleans, though, was a disaster of conservative government. The fact that conservatives continue to have nothing to say about it suggests that they remain as great a danger to public health and well-being as ever.
Mitt Romney: Nothing on the front page.
Fred Thompson: Nothing on the front page.
John McCain: Three-paragraph press release, no specifics.
Mike Huckabee: Nothing on the front page, at the top of the site is a news flash that "Gov. Mike Huckabee to Participate in the New Hampshire Republican Presidential Debate on September 5, 2007."
Sam Brownback: Nothing on the front page.
Subbing for Andrew Sullivan, Hilzoy reposts a fantastic essay examining the common right-wing trope that victory in Iraq is primarily a matter of will -- and its corollary, which is that those who oppose the endless prolongation of the war are a "party of defeat," since they sap the nation's will to victory.
[W]hose will and resolve failed us in the war in Iraq? And to the extent that any sort of success in iraq was possible, whose feckless irresolution and lack of full commitment should we blame for our failure?And these seem to me like critical questions. At the heart of it is the simple proposition that "if you really want something, you will not make fundamental or careless mistakes about it." By this measure, it seems incontrovertible that the Bush administration has never really cared about "victory" in Iraq. The administration, from the beginning, refused to plan for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, relying instead on careless faith in its own platitudes.
But none of the people who led us into war could possibly have really cared about succeeding in Iraq. If they had, they could not have made the mistakes they did. And so, led by these feckless and irresponsible people, who were not nearly afraid enough of "defeat, nor dishonor, nor an Iraq under the terrorist heel," we invaded Iraq. Their failure of will predictably led to the present catastrophe. The consequences of our defeat will be disastrous, most of all for the Iraqi people, but it is not at all clear that those consequences can now be prevented. We have made too many mistakes, and while they could easily have been avoided had anyone cared enough to do it right, no one did. And they cannot be undone.The wider failure of will, Hilzoy argues, was by the American people in general, who, swayed by muddy trivia like the details of John Kerry's purple hearts and whether or not the Democratic challenger had changed certain of his positions, cast their votes for the tough-talking Bush, despite ample evidence that Bush's management of the war -- tough talk and all -- was diastrously incompetent. By this measure, it could be said that the American people, in voting for Bush, demonstrated their lack of seriousness about "victory" in Iraq.
The party of Josh Trevino [et al] has had complete control over the war in Iraq. Given the feckless and criminally irresponsible way this administration has conducted that war, as well as the complete irresponsibility of supporting Bush's reelection when his incompetence in Iraq was clear, I think it's a bit much for them to be lecturing the American people on their lack of resolve now.They were the ones who led the discussion, who framed, and continue to frame, the constant enabling of the Bush crowd as the only route to victory. They're the ones with access to the information that contradicts such nonsense. They're the ones who are to blame for defeat in Iraq.
Has it really been ten years since the release of Mermaid Avenue? Almost -- and Alan Jacobs wonders why the project never gained the kind of fame that a very similar collaboration -- the Basement Tapes -- did.
Following on the previous post, let's return for a moment to the "Movement 2.0" conversation. Consider these two points from Soren Dayton's post about possible ways forward for the GOP coalition:
Another option would be to continue to play for the working class, as Bush so incredibly succeeded in 2004, with "the party of capital" winning the white working class vote by 23%. The problem is that we lost a bunch in 2006, and we are unlikely to succeed in 2008. However, that would be the strategy of the Sams Club Republican advocates....Dayton says he favors the latter approach, though he concedes it may be "too post-partisan" for many conservative activists. He also hints at melding a reformist politics onto a redoubled pro-war line.
Another option would be the resurgence of a reformist movement in the GOP. This would be a strategy for holding on to the upper-middle class and appealing to students. There would be process reforms like earmark reform, which is clearly a Republican issue, and ethics reform, which could be. There are more complicated parts like redistricting, which is a Republican issue in California, but Democratic in places where GOPers lose from it. There’s actually a natural technological niche here with things like the Sunlight Foundation, Ruffini’s open API stuff, etc. There is a historical antecedent in the TR Progressive movement, and it doesn’t damage the existing coalition too much. Right now, this is a post-partisan issue rather than a partisan one. But once the Democrats take charge, it will quickly become a partisan one. It is already starting. In fact, we could use the cover of a Hillary Clinton presidency to co-opt the anti-Hillary anger into a constructive direction.
[T]he deeper problem is that we need to re-evaluate and re-configure our core issues so that they appeal to 60-70% of the American people. After all, and as I have noted, you cannot win elections without independents. Right now the Dems are winning because the GOP is not competing. "You can’t beat something with nothing."The problem is how to get to that 60-70%. It seems that, among the brighter young conservative activists, two broad approaches are emerging, and right now they are competing against each other.
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....Dayton essentially makes the contrasting case in a series of posts criticizing Mike Huckabee for the candidate's nativism, economic populism, and isolationism. If Dayton seems to favor a combination of "post-partisan" reformism, libertarian-esque economic policies, and something like the "war on terror nationalism" Salam identifies, Huckabee apparently represents the specter of "Buchanan/McGovern Republican[ism]," which would amount to "isolationism, protectionism, and "'culture war.'"
Or War on Terror nationalism, which focuses on the defeat of America's enemies to the exclusion of domestic issues.
Right now, WOT nationalism is surprisingly potent, certainly in the Republican primary race. In part, this is a function of the collapse of the GOP's big tent. My sense is that the shelf-life of War on Terror politics is limited. Over the long term, I think a commitment to WOT nationalism will shrink the Republican Party.
This is bad, bad news for the GOP:
A Democracy Corps poll from the Washington firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner suggests voters ages 18 to 29 have undergone a striking political evolution in recent years.(h/t: Donklephant)
Young Americans have become so profoundly alienated from Republican ideals on issues including the war in Iraq, global warming, same-sex marriage and illegal immigration that their defections suggest a political setback that could haunt Republicans "for many generations to come," the poll said.
The startling collapse of GOP support among young voters is reflected in the poll's findings that show two-thirds of young voters surveyed believe Democrats do a better job than Republicans of representing their views - even on issues Republicans once owned, such as terrorism and taxes.
[Arnold] Schwarzenegger, by supporting issues "once owned by the Democrats," such as the environment and education, has lured many young voters to support him and "closely identify themselves as Schwarzenegger Republicans," Mendelsohn said.I've said it before, I'll say it again: in Sacramento, the Republicans have a model for how to resuscitate their party in blue/purple states and on a national level. But Schwarzenegger's politics are precisely the kind that conservative activists have spent 40 years trying to purge from the GOP.
The right is in full-on pony mode over Iraq now, between Bush's latest speech and the upcoming
William Kristol is an intellectually bankrupt thug. It's a point that hardly needs elaboration, but Jon Chait elaborates quite satisfyingly on it anyway, coming to a nice summation of the state of the Dolchstosslegende:
The theme of traitorous liberals is becoming a Standard trope. Last week's cover depicted an American soldier seen from behind and inside a circular lens--as if caught in the sights of a hostile sniper--beneath the headline, "does washington have his back?" The Weimar-era German right adopted the metaphor of liberals stabbing soldiers in the back. Kristol is embracing the metaphor of liberals shooting soldiers in the back. I suppose this is progress, of sorts.Ross Douthat objects to Chait's piece -- not on the merits, but because Chait's magazine, the New Republic, has never taken a coherent stance on the war.
There was a time when neoconservatives sought to hold the moral and intellectual high ground. There was some- thing inspiring in their vision of America as a different kind of superpower--a liberal hegemon deploying its might on behalf of subjugated peoples, rather than mere self-interest. As the Iraq war has curdled, the idealism and liberalism have drained out of the neoconservative vision. What remains is a noxious residue of bullying militarism. Kristol's arguments are merely the same pro-war arguments that have been used historically by right-wing parties throughout the world: Complexity is weakness, dissent is treason, willpower determines all.
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. Yes, many conservatives have long nursed the belief that we could have won in Vietnam if liberals hadn't turned gutless and anti-American, but this belief hasn't won the Right any elections ...This is a pragmatic argument, not a principled one, though there's no reason to believe that Douthat has any sympathy for Dolchstoss talk on any level. Maybe he was simply using Chait's piece as an opportunity to grind an axe over TNR's editorial policy. But it sure would be nice if he, as a conservative, would also take the opportunity to denounce the thuggery of his ideological cousin.
So when Dinesh D'Souza tells conservative cruisegoers that "it's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'? ... The left won by demanding America's humiliation," he isn't broadening conservatism's base - he's shrinking it. Which is what a post-Bush conservatism that obsesses over how the liberal media undid the Iraq Occupation by failing to "report the good news" would do as well.
Sensible people saw Hurricane Katrina as a horrific natural and human disaster. They also saw it as an illustration of the serious drawbacks of the anti-government mentality.
Cross-posted at The Right's Field.
" ‘I would support changing that. I think there is reason to revisit that, just because a person, through sheer chance of geography, happened to be physically here at the point of birth, doesn’t necessarily constitute citizenship,’ he said. ‘I think that’s a very reasonable thing to do, to revisit that.’ "This is a naked appeal to the sheer racism of the kind of people who rant about "anchor babies," and while Huckabee may see an immediate political advantage in it -- as Dayton notes, it's just the kind of thing that'll help him pull in the Paul/Tancredo crowd -- it undermines his core utility to the GOP.
I haven't read any of this yet, so I can't vouch for it in any meaningful sense, but Liars for Jesus looks like an interesting effort to debunk, in detail, the religious right's peculiar revisionist version of American history.
What if military success by Gen. David Petraeus, the American commander, is matched by a political breakthrough engineered by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki? Or matched by the acceleration of political reconciliation at the provincial rather than the national level in Iraq? Either scenario is possible....Wishful thinking on the war and the economy is one thing. And the budget battle may be a distinct possibility. But is Barnes actually rooting for another major natural disaster? Imagine the crucifixion scene if a Democrat talked this way.
Nothing would boost Republicans more than visible progress in Iraq, yet other conceivable events would help. Mr. Bush can't erase the memory of his inept handling of Hurricane Katrina. But if another disaster occurred and the president responded effectively, that would counteract the memory of his Katrina performance.
So would a serious confrontation with Congress over spending, assuming Mr. Bush and Republicans win public approval as thoughtful budget cutters. And so, too, would the absence of an economic downturn as the president prepares to leave office enhance the reputation of Republicans for pursuing sensible economic policies. In short, a positive turn of events, while unpredictable, is the best hope of the GOP.
As Karl Rove has noted, Republicans need a big idea. The best available is the one Mr. Bush abandoned: ownership. Allowing private investment of payroll taxes for Social Security would only be a start. An Ownership Society would allow individual Americans, rather than government, to control how and where their health care, public education, 401(k) and IRA funds are spent.My Republican friends, please listen to Fred Barnes. Run on Social Security privatization and the "ownership society." I hear the Whigs are looking for company in the dustbin of history.
I'm not sure I quite agree with this, though I can see why the diary is getting such a positive reception. Traditionally, the American newsmedia aims for objectivity yet often fails to rise above vapidity. But it's not inherently conservative, if conservatism is understood as a particular socio-political project in America. Indeed, conservative success with media has come about largely as a product of decades of careful work cultivating an alternative to mainstream media, combined with strategies to pressure journalists and take advantage of the objectivity-vapidity paradigm. The legitimacy granted to what is, as the diarist points out, actually a rather fringe ideology, is not primarily the result of a "top-down" media structure, but of a movement that had the audacity to refuse to play by the rules of what was modern American journalism.
As often happens when a government does something particularly loathesome, the Bush administration waited until Friday evening, in the middle of a congressional recess, to announce its drastic new restrictions on SCHIP:
The Bush administration, continuing its fight to stop states from expanding the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, has adopted new standards that would make it much more difficult for New York, California and others to extend coverage to children in middle-income families....
In interviews, they said the changes were intended to return the Children’s Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage.
After learning of the new policy, some state officials said yesterday that it could cripple their efforts to cover more children and would impose standards that could not be met.
“We are horrified at the new federal policy,” said Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey. “It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children.”
Before, "compassionate conservatism" may have seemed like a political bumper sticker. Now it seems like the punch line of a sad joke, at the expense of millions of impoverished children.
Upon further review, I can see how this post, in which I remarked on conservative instrumentalism, contradicted this one, in which I sympathized with Ross Douthat's defense of Kristol and Kagan on the question of whether they were giving too much weight to the interests of the conservative movement in staking out their foreign policy positions.
Returning to the question of "Movement 2.0" -- Ruffini and Dayton, while they seem understandably intrigued by the galvanizing possibilities, for conservatives, of a Hillary Clinton nomination, nonetheless recognize that Hillary hatred would not suffice as an ideological basis for a new movement. They go on to review a number of issues around which such a movement could potentially be organized.
Even if Movement 2.0 is two or more years away, there are things we should be doing now to prepare. At this point in the Clinton years, MoveOn had already started. Perhaps the analog to that is the immigration issue, where the right kicked ass. But, again, what did we create with the immigration issue? Where is the million person email list of people who got involved because of immigration, and can now be activated on other issues? It sounds like people were thinking of the right techniques for radio, but not for online.I can understand why conservative activists are tempted to see immigration as an issue upon which they can build. After all, in a pretty bad year for the right, it's where they scored their most significant victory. It fires up the base and it can be milked for patriotism points.
Yesterday, one of the stand-ins at Andrew Sullivan’s blog argued that perhaps we could add African-Americans through railing on immigration. I, personally, find the idea both morally repugnant and unlikely to succeed. We want to get African-Americans back by increasing racist sentiment? Probably not a winner. Nevermind that we would lose our Hispanics, so it might not even add votes. And business wouldn’t tolerate a protectionist agenda....Dayton is entirely correct. The experience of "victory" seems to have confused very many conservative activists and pundits, but if they don't pay close attention to the bigger picture, that victory will be Pyrrhic (more than it already was). Immigration is an issue that divides the existing Republican coalition, prevents outreach to a crucial new constituency (and no matter how much conservatives reassure themselves that "a lot of Hispanics oppose illegal immigration too," there's simply no way the GOP can act on the issue without unleashing the bigotry that will cost them even those Hispanic votes), and puts them on the wrong side of majority opinion. I can't see how any sensible conservative could possibly imagine that it would make a useful issue for a Movement 2.0.
Another [option] would be to try to organize and reach out to Hispanics. Bush tried that with immigration, and the party revolted. (wrongly, in my opinion).
For whatever reason, I haven't been able to log into Blogger all day. I've had enough -- I'm moving this blog over to WordPress as soon as I have the spare time.
Henry Farrell responds to Ross Douthat on the question of whether (and to what degree), when they wrote their infamous paper "Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy," Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan were more concerned with the political fate of the Republican party than with the national interest.
As Corey Robin has argued, both neo-conservatives like Irving Kristol and David Brooks and more traditional conservatives such as William F. Buckley appear to have been in the market in the late 1990’s for an existential struggle between good and evil, a rationale for crusade that would make politics seem exciting and meaningful. In David Brooks complaint, “The striking thing about the 1990s zeitgeist was the presumption of harmony. The era was shaped by the idea that there were no fundamental conflicts anymore.” It’s obviously easier to cast politics in sweeping moral terms when you can use a struggle of this sort as a metric, even if the struggle isn’t really there, or isn’t the kind of struggle that you claim it is. It’s also easier to galvanize the conservative movement into action:Emphasis mine. I think that such impulses have been pretty apparent in both the behavior of the Bush administration and the rhetoric of its apologists -- the endless references to Churchill and Lincoln and "long wars," etc. I suggested just a few days ago -- in what was hardly an original observation -- that there has long been a link between the Republican party and the portion of Americans, particularly in the elite, who feel a need to attach themselves to some promise of "transcendence." What's fascinating is how performative conservatism seems to have become in many respects -- less a set of beliefs than a way of acting, and a way of watching oneself acting. One very often gets the impression that conservatives are trying to convince themselves that they're well-suited by the costumes they wear. This self-conscious performance moves to the center of the conservative experience, which, as Farrell says, is in turn emptied of any permanent content of its own.[quoting from Kristol and Kagan]Without a broader, more enlightened understanding of America’s interests, conservatism will too easily degenerate into the pinched nationalism of Buchanan’s America First, where the appeal to narrow self-interest masks a deeper form of self-loathing. A true conservatism of the heart ought to emphasize both personal and national responsibility, relish the opportunity for national engagement, embrace the possibility of national greatness, and restore a sense of the heroic, which has been sorely lacking from American foreign policy—and from American conservatism—in recent years.This emphasis on conservatism as a movement which must have a sense of the heroic lest it dwindle into mere selfishness, has the paradoxical effect of emptying out the core of conservatism. Kristol and Kagan suggest that what matters is a sense of “national greatness” rather than a specific set of virtues, or goals, or policies. Rather than being a defence of a particular set of transcendent values, conservatism becomes a kind of perpetual crusade, a continued attempt to create a sense of national greatness and of heroic endeavour. The content of politics – the particular tasks that the heroes must carry out, and the dragons that they must slay – becomes secondary to the heroic form. Here, conservatism is reduced to nothing more than a more-or-less aesthetic disposition towards politics, a kind of “proto-cognitive itch.” Not so much a commitment to a set of transcendent values, or even a pragmatic Burkean attachment to tradition, as a desire that politics provide a sense of the heroic.
MyDD's Todd Beeton examines whether it will be possible for any Republican to run as a "change candidate" this cycle, noting that many in the beleagured party of George W. Bush have been looking to French President Nicolas Sarkozy as an example of how to do it. As Todd points out, it's Newt Gingrich -- framing expert, nutty futurist, and current "none of the above" candidate -- who seems most fixated on le chemin Sarkozien:
So Sarkozy comes along and he's brilliant and he understands that [the French] are in a crisis of their culture. And he's in, in terms of the current politics of where we are in Washington, he is in the second term of a 12-year presidency, which has been decaying. Chirac was unpopular. So if you set up the normal political science equation, the left is going to win because after 12 years of the center right they've run out of energy and he manages to put together this magic formula of arguing that the greatness of France requires real change. So even though he is in Chirac's cabinet, he is the candidate of real change and Royale is the candidate of reactionary bureaucracy.Speaking Tuesday at the National Press Club, Gingrich elaborated on what Sarkozian strategy might mean for the GOP:
Sarkozy, he said, did two important things.Gringrich also spoke about the threat of economic competition from China and India, particularly in light of lagging American education standards, the usual terrorist stuff, and the evils of "government bureacracy."
First, Sarkozy established 16 Internet channels that were like YouTube and rigorously avoided trying to communicate through the French media, which Gingrich defined as hostile to conservatives.
"What (Sarkozy) said is, 'If I can communicate with you, then the news media can watch our conversation,' which is very different than having a conversation with the news media which (average people) watch," Gingrich said.
"The second thing is he made a very important speech where he said we must have a clean break" from Chirac, Gingrich said. "And I would say to (Republican) candidates, there is a lot of parallel there."
Gingrich used education as an example, asserting Republicans can win by advocating bold changes and framing failing schools as economic and national security issues. Gingrich said Democrats are too beholden to teachers' unions to match that argument.
More on the conversation about "Conservatism 2.0"... I should point out that in this analysis, the new movement is meant to be an upgrade over the first generation of the "online right" (e.g. Drudge, Free Republic, Instapundit, etc.) -- in other words, the "1.0" implied here is not necessarily the whole post-Goldwater conservative movement per se. My own analysis, though, is that that whole movement is in fact at a crossroads, and that the challenge facing next generation activists like Patrick Ruffini and Soren Dayton is not just to redeem the movement of the 1990s, but to find a new logic for a coalition that was in fact assembled beginning in the 1950s. This means the problem goes considerably beyond issues of technology -- though Ruffini and Dayton seem to understand that.
But a lot of folks also hoped that we’d be at least partly there by now. With Hillary looking good on the Democratic side, and Republicans in the opposition (and on offense) in Congress, have things gotten any better? Is there any evidence that the Stop Her Now stuff that was so effective in 2000 is working this time around? I haven’t gotten as many direct mail letters or fundraising e-mails with Hillary front and center as I would have expected by now.The other side of this coin is Dayton's assumption (shared with most of his conservative compatriots) that "opposition to Bush," or, in a more common phrasing, "Bush-hating," has worked as an "organizing principle" for the progressive netroots. As Dayton himself notes, such a "principle" is not the same thing as an actual idea.
Ron Brownstein describes the dual pressures eroding the last remnants of the GOP's moderate wing, as the party continues its process of self-marginalization:
Some moderate Republicans, including Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter and former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, also have confronted arduous primaries from conservative challengers in recent years, and Maryland's Wayne Gilchrest, a leading House centrist, is facing one now. But for most of the remaining GOP moderates, primaries are no longer the principal danger. Instead, because they mostly now represent swing or even Democratic-leaning constituencies, the moderates face a growing danger in their general election campaigns. In 2006, the Republican Party suffered heavy general election losses in the affluent, white-collar suburbs where moderates tend to be located and where they once thrived (especially along the coasts and in the upper Midwest). And "the environment for them in 2008 could be as bad or worse," said independent election analyst Stuart Rothenberg.As Brownstein says, "moderate Republicans have been in decline for so long that decline itself has become part of their tradition." This is not a simple process of evolution: it's the result of decades of deliberate and determined efforts by the conservative movement. As the conservatives see it, there's only room for one queen in the hive, and the Goldwater bee has accordingly gone to work stinging the Rockefeller bee to death.
This difference is rooted in the fact that the Democrats today are much more of a coalition party than the Republicans: Polls show that only about half of Democratic voters consider themselves liberals, while three-fourths or more of Republicans call themselves conservatives. That means to win elections, Democrats depend more than Republicans on the votes of moderates -- which compels them to accept more dissent from party orthodoxy.It's unfortunate that Brownstein resorts here to the old ideological self-identification canard. As we've seen, on the issues, and on basic questions of political philosophy, moderates have much more in common with liberals than they do with conservatives. The difference is that people with liberal views are not necessarily trained to think of themselves as liberals, whereas conservatives have paid close attention to building their "brand." The conservative movement has spent the last 40 or so years working both to get its people to self-identify as conservative, and to recognize the importance of killing off the moderates. In so doing, I think they've created a new kind of political actor. When voters are asked whether they think of themselves as liberal, moderate, or conservative, I suspect those in the last column are defined as much by their unique ways of understanding strategy and tactics, as by any differences over policy.
So Karl Rove is resigning. Words I'd been wanting to type for some time now (though not as much as I've wanted to type, say, "Rove Frogmarched to Federal Prison; Norquist Eaten By Howler Monkeys," but it's an imperfect world, so hey). Why he's leaving isn't so clear -- though Marcy Wheeler has some theories. I can't speculate as to whether he might be in any legal jeopardy, but when Wheeler suggests that "Republicans think he's a loser," she's at least partly right. That may not, in itself, be why Rove is leaving, but it's certainly hard to imagine that many in the GOP will be shedding tears to see him go (I'll look at conservative responses to the move a little later).
So Rove engineered only one successful presidential election. By a bare 3 million votes (or just 70,000 votes in Ohio, if you care to count it that way). Against a mediocre candidate who ran another bad campaign. For an incumbent president during wartime. Not really a feat for the ages, but okay, a win is a win.Matt Yglesias, drawing off a new Atlantic article by Josh Green, suggests that "Rove's talk of masterminding an electoral realignment wasn't just bluster, but played an actual causal role in his thinking about the administration's political and policy choices." I think this has been pretty clear from the beginning, in fact. Generally speaking, as much as we (righfully) demonize Rove as the catalyst of so much of the Bush administration's mendacity and cynicism, it's important to keep a clear analytical picture of the role he played within the GOP coalition. He was the strategist who aimed to create a lasting Republican majority with a combination of "big-government conservatism" and a broadened appeal to minority voters.
I said there was one exception to the rule that Rove simply "creates his own reality" and makes policy promises without delivering on those promises. The exception was supposed to be Latino voters. That is, Rove really did want to court the Latino vote, rather than just claiming Republicans had Latino support. The reason is obvious: if Republicans don't get Latino voters, they're sunk.But then, that's the broader historical irony surrounding Karl Rove's turn at the wheels of power. He failed because he was a bit stupid, and because he was so dishonest, and because he was so easy to dislike. But mainly he failed because he was simply unable to overcome the challenges he correctly identified as needing to be overcome. There's a very good case to be made that Rove's basic strategic instincts were correct. The Republican party can't remain the party of white Christians and survive. And it must come to terms with the fact that the majority of Americans do expect the government to provide effective services and to act on behalf of the common good.
Of course, this conflicts (and has, in noticeable ways) with the nativist instincts of the base of the Republican party. About the only thing, at this point, that could mobilize the Republican base (and save some Congressional seats, if not the White House) is to give in to these nativist instincts, and start attacking brown people with gusto. But I doubt Rove would stick around for that--he knows the numbers too well. So it's possible that Rove is out so the Republicans can turn into the full-fledged racist party they've always been.
This is a few days old, but I wanted to bring it up anyway: Patrick Ruffini has some very interesting thoughts on Yearly Kos and its relation to the conservative movement -- past and present. Ruffini points out that, while conservatives wonder "where's our Yearly Kos?", YK itself arose out of the question among progressives: "where's our CPAC?" Any progressive will admit -- will explain at length -- that our movement was largely modeled on the one built by conservatives beginning with the Goldwater campaign (though of course we've come up with innovations of our own).
The conservative analog to YearlyKos is 30 years old. The 800lb. gorillas of the conservative Web initially went online in the 1995-97 timeframe. And many have failed to innovate. They are still Web 1.0, where the Left jumped directly into Web 2.0 in the Bush years.Ruffini goes on to describe how poorly the conservative web -- Drudge, Free Republic, the right blogosphere, et al -- is aging (it's worth reading the post for the digs at Freepers alone). Are conservatives locked into outdated technologies?
It would be one thing if we didn’t have any of these institutions, and could start from scratch just as the netroots did. My fear is that we have a bunch of institutions that still function somewhat well, but are long past their prime. With that, there is the danger we will slowly die without knowing it, as our techniques gradually lose effectiveness year after year. Just like newspaper circulation numbers. And there are a number of people on the right who are still complacent about this.Ruffini and Soren Dayton follow on this post with a pretty good exchange, about which more later. But I think there's absolutely something to this -- after all, social institutions rely on accumulated legitimacy, which can hold them back when it's time for those institutions to reinvent themselves. This is a lesson for the left as much as for the right.
What does it mean that Barack Obama is currently the third choice of Iowa Republican voters in the general election -- after Romney and Giuliani but before Thompson and McCain? What does it mean that, as the campaign goes on, abortion apostate Rudy Giuliani is losing strength not among conservative voters, but among Republican-leading independents?
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."So here you have a good 21% of 2000 Republican voters with distinctly moderate -- we might even say progressive -- politics. And who, in the current crop of GOP presidential candidates, represents them? McCain has glued himself to Bush on the war. And Giuliani's standing with R-leaning independents has sunk precisely during the time in which he has run away from his previous reputation as a moderate and made a name for himself as one of the most belligerent, partisan candidates in the race.
John McCain, during the recent Republican debate, says:
I also firmly believe that the challenge of the 21st century is the struggle against radical Islamic extremism. It is a transcendent issue. It is hydra-headed. It will be with us for the rest of the century.Josh Marshall, who is skilled at doing this sort of thing, lucidly analyzes the absurdity of the remark:
Now, think about that. That's ninety-three years. My old graduate school advisor Gordon Wood used to say that humans have a very hard time seeing more than fifty years into the future. Of course, even a year into the future is difficult. But more than a few decades and we haven't the slightest idea what the world is going to look like ...The Carpetbagger Report expands on this:
But John McCain states it as a matter of fact that the war against militant Islam will still be the defining national security threat for this country in 2099 and for years after.
I know we customarily give a rather wide berth to rhetorical excess in the theater of politics. But what on earth is McCain talking about? Not long ago it was enough to sate the historical vanity of the War on Terror mongers to dub it a 'long war' or 'generational struggle', which it may well be. But apparently even that is now insufficient. Only an entire century will do. It is almost as if as the concept in the real-world present looks more and more ill-judged and foolhardy its credentials must be buffed up by giving it more and more ridiculous lifespans ranging off into the unknowable future.
We’re engaged in an undefined, open-ended war against an undetermined enemy that spans several continents and is unaffiliated with any specific nation-state. I’m rather surprised McCain was willing to limit his vision to just the 21st century.The two writers note other aspects of the "transcendence" of this struggle: for one thing, as Marshall points out, it puts McCain, Bush, and their ideological fellow-travellers beyond the realm of mere evidence -- and ultimately beyond judgment and consequences altogether: "the future is the only territory where empirical evidence or -- more plainly put -- reality can't be brought up to contradict you." I've suggested before that "victory" in Iraq, as it is postponed ad infinitum into the future by its neoconservative devotees -- always just around a corner or two -- is a similarly unassailable concept. Lest we forget, our travails in Iraq are, in the minds of the neocons, bound up conceptually into the general "long war" McCain was describing during the debate; indeed, there's no particular reason to believe that, given the unity and "transcendence" of the war as described by McCain, we should expect "victory" in Iraq to arrive at any point during the front end of that 93-year struggle. If Iraq is the front line in the war on terror, and the war on terror is expected to last a century, well...
Indeed, as long as we’re looking at this in a big-picture kind of way, a McCain-like vision of a “war on terror” can’t end until we’ve “won.” I’m curious how those who share McCain’s ideology would define “victory” in this context.
When the Middle East is dominated by democracies? That won’t do it; people can vote for terrorists. When al Qaeda is destroyed? There are other networks that can and would take its place. When religious extremists are no longer motivated by their faith to commit acts of violence? That might, um, take a while.
Alien & Sedition's Law: Conservatives can't govern, because conservatives don't believe in government.
But just wait, Republicans will use this bridge collapse as an excuse to decry how awful things get when government tries to handle the public's infrastructure and safety. And they will call for more private control, and more"free market" expansion.They wouldn't dare, would th-- oh, right. Of course they would:
But in this case, anger is an appropriate response, and it is proper for that anger to be directed at government - government at all levels.Why? Not because of massive underinvestment in American infrastructure during an era of conservative governance. No:
Maintenance is necessary but boring, and since government is made up of human beings who abhor boredom, few elected officials or high-level managers are all that interested in this mundane task. Instead, they want to do big, exciting, bold new things - things they can claim for their own.See, our bridges are collapsing because government inevitably prefers to spend its time cramming gay marriage down our throats (always down our throats) than doing boring maintenance. Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, sends an email to his list claiming that, when it comes to rebuilding, government will be the problem, not the solution:
And in the past half-century, American government has redefined its core responsibilities. No longer does government exist for the purposes of maintenance and upkeep. Instead, it is seen as a means - perhaps the only significant means - of healing social flaws and reweaving the social fabric.
The lessons are clear, as these cases prove. Yet, already some in Minnesota are calling not for unleashing American ingenuity but instead for more taxes to feed the same failing bureaucracies.For the nth time, my conservative friends: the fact that you find it impossible to govern competently, does not mean that competent government is impossible.
Their answer is to further punish Minneapolis drivers by raising the gasoline tax. This knee-jerk reaction is precisely what happens when the right lacks an effective vocabulary of solutions to compete with left-wing tax-and-spend policies.
Raising taxes to spend on bureaucracies -- which in all three cases were the main impediment to a safe, efficient and speedy rebuilding effort in the first place -- is exactly the wrong answer.
Reihan Salam has some very interesting comments on Daniel Gross's review of Robert Frank's Falling Behind. Frank's book (which I have not read) is about inequality in America; he apparently argues that the experience of relative deprivation (owning, for instance, a smaller house than one's neighbors) fuels a kind of inflation of consumption, by which each income bracket, struggling to keep up with the one above it, raises the consumption bar for the brackets below it. In Gross's description, this "societywide arms race for goods" has dangerous effects in the context of ever-deepening American inequality:
But since 1979, gains have flowed disproportionately to top earners. In an economy where the wealthy set the norms for consumption and people at every rung strain to maintain the consumption of those just above them, that spells trouble. In today’s arms race, the top 1 percent are armed to the teeth and everybody else is scavenging for ammunition. Between 1980 and 2001, Frank notes, the median size of new homes in the United States rose from 1,600 to 2,100 square feet, “despite the fact that the median family’s real income had changed little in the intervening years.” The end result? Frank methodically presents data showing that the typical American now works more, saves less, commutes longer and borrows more to maintain what he or she views as an appropriate standard of living.Frank's proposed remedy is a progressive consumption tax that would slow the arms race from the top down. Salam's response is a very interesting exercise in what you might call neo-traditionalist conservative thinking. In an earlier review of Frank's book, Salam wrote:
But what if the real inequality problem isn’t a technical problem? What if it really is a moral problem? Not moral as in “envy is a corrosive thing, so get over it.” Moral as in no progressive consumption tax will prevent people from building overlarge houses or custom cabinets at the expense of spending time with family and friends. A culture that is plagued by materialist excess won’t be cured by a progressive consumption tax. It can only be cured, if at all, through a revival of postmaterialist – or, if you will, prematerialist – family values. It could be that this eminently “progressive” concern can only be successfully addressed with a “conservative” solution.Now he expands on this by revisiting the question: "what does this mean for us as political actors?" Salam distinguishes between "right-liberals" (by which I presume he means American "conservatives" of the free market-worshipping variety), who see no problem at all with inequality and the consumption arms race, and "left-liberals," who see a problem of justice and advocate institutional solutions. But neither group, he argues, sees anyone as doing anything "wrong" -- an outlook he questions:
What if there is some kind of wrongdoing, in some meaningful sense? As a nonreligious person, I'm not very conversant in the language of sin, but I have a sense that there are some kinds of consumption, perfectly voluntary, that have a deleterious effect on the moral ecology we share. So what if there is a moral problem, and that it's a problem that is not all that susceptible to an institutional solution? After all, no progressive consumption tax will teach children right from wrong, or prevent them from becoming frankly gluttonous adults. A progressive consumption tax would be a very good thing. But it's clearly not enough to teach a culture, which is to say us, restraint. What if, rather, this moral problem in fact indicates a need for some kind of civic education, or a renewed cultural emphasis on the many ways a fulfilling life is at odds with excessive consumption?This is very interesting -- very Burke-with-a-human-face, suggesting an emphasis on cultural solutions to problems liberals view through the prism of injustice. Justice, of course, does imply an institutional framework; it implies law, civitas, action in the public sphere.
Rick Perlstein brings to our attention this excellent essay by Nancy MacLean, in which she examines the history behind Justice Roberts's decision prohibiting schools from pursuing diversity plans. As MacLean points out, the decision has its orgins in a concerted effort by segregationists to apply PR techniques to gain the advantage in the fight over civil rights:
Roberts’s decision, which denied local communities the right to choose race-conscious methods, is replete with quotable phrases from the lexicon conservative strategists honed in their think tanks in the 1970s and then carried into the nation’s courtrooms through their various legal societies.Titans of the conservative movement like William F. Buckley, Jr., Frank Meyer, and Irving Kristol were involved in the effort to use the language of civil rights to accomplish racist ends. Read the whole piece.
K-Lo and her Senate "friends" are shocked at Harry Reid's statement that the Minnesota bridge collapse should be a "wake-up call" as to the need to reinvest in our crumbling infrastructure -- investment the anti-government Republicans have manifestly, and now disastrously, failed to accomplish.
He's one of the most adept and infuriating propagandists in the GOP, but then he'll say stuff like this. There is, undoubtedly, more to the story. I'll follow up if I can figure out what he's up to.
Labels: Newt Gingrich
I'm certainly no expert on the abortion issue, but I can recognize bad logic when I see it, and NRO's "symposium" in response to Anna Quindlen's new column is full of it.
Lawmakers in a number of states have already passed or are considering statutes designed to outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned. But almost none hold the woman, the person who set the so-called crime in motion, accountable. Is the message that women are not to be held responsible for their actions? Or is it merely that those writing the laws understand that if women were going to jail, the vast majority of Americans would violently object? [...]Apparently the argument strikes a sore note for the "pro-lifers," as NRO recruited no fewer than 17 scholars, activists, and writers to offer rebuttals. What's striking is that none of them can answer the question, either. That's because it is logically impossible to agree with all four of the following propositions: 1) Women are human beings with free will; 2) Abortion is murder; 3) Murder is a crime deserving serious punishment; and 4) Women should not be seriously punished for having abortions.
[T]here are only two logical choices: hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place. If you can't countenance the first, you have to accept the second. You can't have it both ways.
The law assigns differing degrees of culpability in various situations -- including killing other people -- all the time. If you kill someone in self-defense, you get zero punishment. It does not mean that the guy lying on your kitchen floor with a knife sticking out of his chest is not dead — or not human.But, of course, killing someone in self-defense is not murder. Is abortion murder? Or is it a lesser sort of killing? If the latter, it can't be because the act is lesser. Are social conservatives tacitly admitting that a fetus is a lesser "victim" than a person?
The crucial legal goal of the pro-life movement is not any particular set of punishments. It is that unborn children be protected in law.Franck actually comes closest to putting his finger on the problem when he says that "the proper approach (after Roe) is to ask, what policy would reduce the number of abortions as much as possible now?" This is one of the most peculiar failures of the anti-abortion movement. They are so consumed with outlawing the supply of abortions that they are willing to almost totally ignore truly constructive approaches to reducing the demand. This obsession even limits Franck to imagining that somehow policies to reduce the number of abortions can only be developed "after Roe," when in fact there are a number of potential policies -- focusing on women's health, access to birth control, and sex education, among other things -- that could drastically reduce the need for abortions much sooner.