alien & sedition.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
  Aping the Surrender Monkeys?

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.

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.
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."

A couple of points:

1) Gringrich's Sarkozian strategy seems to involve perpetuating the conservative impulse toward counterculture. Why do Republicans need to circumvent the media through internet channels? Don't they have Fox News? AM Radio? Over the past few decades, conservatives have built an entire parallel communications apparatus, one they use to talk amongst themselves while studiously ingoring the experiences and opinions of the American mainstream. This looks like little more than a Gingrichian pseudo-futurist twist on traditional conservative paranoia.

2) The United States, it turns out, is not France. The structural problems we face are nothing like those facing the French. There's an argument to be had over whether France needs a dose of Thatcherism; Sarkozy's election should be understood in that context -- this is the France of the 35-hour work week, powerful unions, and rather astonishing job security laws. The problems in the United States are entirely the opposite -- after decades of conservative ascendancy, our public investment and social insurance fall woefully short, leaving both our physical and social infrastructure crumbling. After Katrina, how can anyone credibly make the argument that the US needs more Thatcherism, more conservative economics? Conservatives want to use their own failures in government to discredit the notion of government itself; the only "change" they represent is an accelerated degradation of the ability of government to do what Americans expect it to do.

In the end, as always, Gingrich's rhetoric is mostly for show. He dresses up old conservative hobbyhorses as something fresh and futurist, but he offers nothing genuinely new or original. Much of what he says directly contradicts itself -- for instance, he raises the specter of economic and educational competition from China and India, only to use it as an opportunity to launch into yet another denunciation of teachers and yet another argument for undermining the funding and accountability of our schools through vouchers and "school choice." This is astonishing -- he uses the rise of our competitors to insist on the very things that would further damage our competitiveness!

You can't blame Republicans for looking wistfully across the Atlantic to the country they so recently demonized. They understand how deeply unpopular they have become after a catastrophic era of conservative government, and naturally they look to the one example they can find of conservatives finding a way to win despite their own unpopularity. Unfortunately for the Republicans, though, the similarities are only superficial. Again, and as these same patriots were at such pains to remind us only a few short years ago, the United States of America is not France.

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