A couple of interesting tidbits from Robert Novak, who may or may not have been a willing dupe in an effort to out a CIA agent as part of a political smear job:
Sen. John McCain, who was the darling of the political press corps during the 2000 election cycle, complains to friends that he is getting much rougher treatment from the news media than his competitors for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.In this analysis, the objective for McCain isn't to get better coverage, it's to point out that his opponents are the ones in bed with representatives from the reality-based world (this, remember, is supposed to be a bad thing). It's like a game of Old Maid, and the Senator has just passed on the deadly card.
McCain feels that his support for President Bush's Iraq policy has soured his erstwhile reporter friends. Although Giuliani and Romney also have been criticized by the media, McCain privately expresses the view that they have gotten off easy.
Private House Democratic polls of the 50 most competitive congressional districts project a gain of 9 to 11 seats in the 2008 elections that would be an unprecedented further surge by the party after its 2006 gain of 30 seats to win control of the House.Yeah, these are Democratic polls, and it's way too early to take them very seriously. But they do suggest that, five months after the midterms, Republicans continue to have a pretty serious brand problem.
All previous major surges of House seats have been followed by losses in the next election. The 54-seat Republican gain in 1994 that produced GOP House control was followed by an eight-seat loss in 1996. However, the current Republican political slump, fueled by President Bush's unpopularity, would reverse that pattern if the election were held today, according to the Democratic polls.
There's a very interesting conversation going in the conservative intellectual blogosphere over yesterday's David Brooks column, in which Brooks warns Republicans that, unless they take the public desire for change seriously, they are headed for an even greater electoral disaster next year than the one they faced last November. Brooks wonders at the "strange passivity" among Republicans who may be personally disgusted with the state of both the nation and their party, yet who seem paralyzed by an inability to offer any creativity or initiative of their own.
Mitt Romney created an interesting health care reform, but he’s suppressing that in an effort to pretend to be George Allen. Rudy Giuliani has an unusual profile that won him a majority of votes on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, of all places, but he’s suppressing that to be George Allen. John McCain has a record on taxes and spending that suggests he really could take on entitlements. But at least until last week, he suppressed that in order not to offend the George Allen vote.Why the malaise? Brooks lists a few reasons, including a "bunker mentality" and a mindless "teamism." More interestingly, he suggests that the conservative movement itself is hampering the GOP, locking the party into an orthodoxy enforced by James Dobson's veto over social policy innovation, and the Club for Growth's veto over new economic ideas.
And just in case any of these George Allen wannabes weren’t George Allen enough for voters, Fred Thompson may enter the race as the Authentic Conservative, even though deep in his heart he’s no more George Allen than the rest of them.
Conservatives have allowed a simplistic view of Ronald Reagan to define the sacred parameters of thought. Reagan himself was flexible, unorthodox and creative. But conservatives have created a mythical, rigid Reagan, and any deviation from that is considered unholy.It's hard not to suggest that conservatives are being damaged by a number of their own political personality traits: their tendency towards hero-worship, as well as their habit of simplifying and personalizing complex issues. Having reached a consensus about the Greatness of Ronald Reagan, and learned to define the virtues of their own movement through what they agree to be Reagan's virtues, they've painted themselves into a rather narrow -- if warm and bright -- historical spot. And it's not one very well positioned in the current political context.
I've been remiss in not yet linking to the new blogs by Bill Scher and Rick Perlstein, at the Campaign for America's Future. Getting this kind of talent on board was a real score for the new organization.
I read Naomi Wolf's "Fascist America, In 10 Easy Steps" with great interest. Wolf lucidly recounts a number of the Bush administration's sins against American democracy -- from Gitmo to the politicization of the bureaucracy to the equation of dissent with treason -- arguing that "we need ... to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US." I certainly don't want to discount the seriousness of those events, but I do want to take issue with the use of "fascism" as descriptive term for their cumulative significance.
[D]espite her talk of dictatorship and her several allusions to fascism, Wolf has a couple of qualifying sentences registering a different awareness. Thus:What Geras means, of course, is that you shouldn't call something fascism if you don't believe that it really is fascism. The term has a particular historical and political meaning, and while Wolf correctly identifies a list of outrageous anti-democratic administration practices, she herself seems to recognize that what they add up to is something rather different than what Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were all about.Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini's march on Rome or Hitler's roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.These sentences might be taken as showing that Wolf doesn't fully believe her own case.
Call America's national government and dominant media whatever you will; it's pointless to quibble over labels. Except in one instance. This is no longer a democracy.It's not a pointless quibble to demand precise analysis of our political situation. And it's simply absurd to claim that "this is no longer a democracy." This is a democracy -- only less so, for the moment. The way to rectify the conservative degradation of America is to remember that we are a democracy, and to act accordingly.
After six and a half exhausting years, it seems strange to remember that when George W. Bush hit the campaign trail in 2000, he ran not as an ideologue, but as something of a cipher. There was no talk of grand schemes to bring democracy to the middle east, no bragging about a permanent Republican majority. Bush's major campaign pledges seemed to involve not sleeping with interns and healing the vicious partisanship his own party had done so much to create. In the estimation of many analysts - left and right - there was little to separate the Texas governor from his Democratic opponent.
[T]here is no denying that the GOP has indeed become a party in decline. Many of the issues and conflicts that energized Republicans over the past twenty years have dissipated or disappeared altogether. Even more significantly, from the perspective of presidential politics, the electoral coalition that emerged at the end of the 1970's to sweep Ronald Reagan into office no longer exists in any meaningful form.To Casse, this state of affairs came about in part because the conservative priorities of 1980 had largely been addressed:
The Soviet Union collapsed. Taxes were cut. Confidence returned. The federal budget was balanced. In time, the party's libertarians and cultural conservatives drifted off to pursue other, sometimes conflicting, political agendas.A neutral observer might point out that Reagan in fact left massive structural deficits, and that while he made government meaner, he in no sense made it leaner, failing -- as we've discussed in other posts -- to achieve any significant transformation of American political economy. But such criticisms are beside the point. Casse is describing the breakdown of the fusionism that had bound the conservative movement before and during the Reagan years; like Sager, he understands the failures of the Buchanan rebellion and the Gingrich revolution as being both causes and effects of that process. At the center of the breakdown, though, was a policy problem: "tax cuts, once the signature issue of the party, were no longer the galvanizing force they had earlier been." Clinton's stimulus package had both fueled the economic recovery and wiped out the marginal tax cuts theretofore cited by Reagan's supply-siders as their most significant victory. Bob Dole's tax cut proposals had failed to impress the voters, and Republicans, who had once dreamed of totally overhauling the federal tax code, were reduced to advocating "a few incremental measures" like eliminating the estate tax. And the philosophical rot at the heart of the conservative coalition was spreading:
Yet if tax cuts had lost their force as an issue, the party was also unable to come together on much else. Preparing to select a nominee for the 2000 election, the GOP could boast no internal consensus on how to reform Medicare or Social Security, and no single view on what to do with the growing federal budget surplus. Within the party, there were bitter divisions over foreign engagement and military spending. On abortion, trade, immigration, debt reduction, and antitrust policy, no unity was to be found.Bush seemed unlikely to resolve these uncertainties. In a party whose vestigial ideological camps were the flat-taxers and the Buchananites, Bush was neither. Rather than promising a firm ideological hand, he seemed to project his candidacy as something moderate and humble. As Casse puts it:
[A] plausible reading of his campaign oratory was that, as President, Bush would be a West Texas version of his father -- an establishment Republican filled with the spirit of noblesse oblige who had promised his own version of "compassionate conservatism" and had turned out to be merely a diligent public servent with no clear sense of political mission."In the final analysis, diligence is probably the last quality anyone might ascribe to our 43rd president, but what matters here is that "compassionate conservatism," which looked so much like a symptom of moderation, was in fact intended as a vector of radical conservatism. And this is precisely the point of Casse's article: "Bush's emphasis on aiding the poor, the disabled, and minorities not only differentiated him from other Republicans but formed the banner under which he advanced what were some truly bold ideas."
For how long will voters abide Democratic leaders who remain steadfastly against any use of private accounts for Social Security? How supportive will the public be of Democratic insistence on opposing the use of school vouchers in every case, even for the poorest children? Should the left wing of the party stick to its guns, and should Bush succeed in winning over some centrist Democrats and independents, he may well end up moving these traditionally "Democratic" issues onto the Republican side.Casse sees compassionate conservatism for what it was meant to be: an "ambitious project of realignment." His only worry is that Bush's "reticent and stumbling speaking style" might undermine the president's efforts to make his case.
And that, combined with other trends, could prove a turning point for his party.
So, Blogger seems to be crapping it up, again. We'll attempt to stay the course nonetheless. I'll be back later this afternoon with the long-awaited (by me, anyway) third part of the Republican Futures Past series, reporting from that brief time when we all thought the George W. Bush presidency wouldn't amount to much either way.
The rest of McCain’s campaign — which he officially launched in New Hampshire yesterday — is likely to be characterized by a dissonance: Whatever turns off the press and prompts it to write about how much he is hurting himself will probably only help him among Republican voters.McCain's "embittered ex-lovers" in the media may end up driving conservative voters into his arms.
If any of you are lucky enough to be on Newt Gingrich's email list, you may have read his latest missive: "We Can Have Green Conservatism -- And We Should." In which the former Speaker announces that "the time has come for the development of Green Conservatism as an alternative to big bureaucracy and big litigation liberal environmentalism."
For example, former Vice President Al Gore suggests that global warming is so bad that we could have a 20-foot rise in the oceans in the near future. No responsible scientist anywhere believes that to be true. But if the debate becomes, "Al Gore cares about the earth, and we're against Al Gore," we end up in a defensive position where the average American could end up perceiving conservatives as always being negative about the environment.What a fuzzy bundle of conservative climate change-related pathologies! Newt's use of Al Gore, Strawman is textbook, as is his misleading opposition of the scientific consensus to that favorite denialist talking point, the 20-foot rise claim. Yet Gingrich seems concerned that demonizing Gore, as much fun as it is, may be counterproductive in the long run.
Cliff Schecter's blog brings us this charming video from the American Family Association, who should win some kind of prize for it. It takes a special skill to exploit tragedy so crassly.
Ross Douthat points out an interesting example of a contrast in conservative intellectual syles: call it honesty vs. hackdom.
Government has been robbing Peter to pay Peter. The similarity between the tax proportion for the high-income family and that of the middle-income family will surprise many. That's because the federal income tax, which is steeply progressive -- the higher your income, the more you pay in taxes -- gets all the media attention. But other taxes that are less visible, such as sales taxes, hit lower-income families with a heavy thud and quickly fill in the gap between their lower federal income taxes and the higher rates paid by those with high incomes.This is an important insight: not only does it illustrate how absurdly regressive our tax code has become - families earning $50,000 pay the same amount in overall taxes as those earning $150,000 - it reveals the political sleight-of-hand that has brought this situation to pass. Of course, Hassett's conservative perspective still comes through: one could re-write the paragraph I emphasized above to point out that "politicians get to pretend that they are virtuously cutting middle-class taxes, and they can maintain that fiction without sacrificing the economic interests of their wealthy supporters." But the formula is the same.
This is evident in the calculations that went into this chart. The federal income tax in 2003 for the family earning $50,000 was about $3,800, whereas it was about $17,500 for the family bringing in $150,000. But everything else worked to more than offset this difference. Middle-class families spent a larger share of their income and thus paid more sales tax. Gasoline and property taxes also ate up a larger share of the middle-class family's budget. Finally, the payroll tax is limited to 15.3 percent of income, so the wealthy paid a smaller share.
Governments at all levels have voracious appetites for cash, but taking revenue from the middle class is a politically risky maneuver; after all, that's where the votes are. So lawmakers have crafted ingenious ways around the dilemma, imposing hefty levies on those with lower incomes but relying on stealth taxes to do it. If you're going to tax widows and orphans, you'd better be quiet about it; use a sales tax.
Government thus takes more from the wealthy through income taxes, but extracts more from the poor with all the other taxes. By doing this, politicians get to pretend that they are virtuously redistributing wealth from the richer to the poorer, and they can maintain that fiction without sacrificing the cash. Voters seem to like this approach.
Fleischer waxes indignant about how the top 1 percent is paying a higher share of the tax burden than it was 25 years ago. The reason this is true, of course, is that the top 1 percent is earning a far higher share of the national income.Fleischer insists it's because they're paying higher tax rates. He cites a study last year by CBO which, he says, shows that since 1979, the "[The top 1 percent] share of the nation's income has risen, but their tax burden has risen even faster."As refreshing as it is to see honest analysis of an important issue by a conservative like Hassett, it's deeply depressing that hacks and liars like Fleischer are not only considered equally important voices, but are actually governing this country. I'm glad Douthat demands a higher standard from conservative discourse; I wish more of his compatriots would do the same.
I found that study, and it shows just the opposite of what Fleischer says. In 1979, the highest-earning 1 percent of taxpayers paid an effective federal tax rate of 37 percent. In 2004, they paid an effective federal tax rate of 31.1 percent.
Mitt Romney's policy director, Vin Weber, makes an appearance today at the National Review to talk up the governor's bona fides as a fiscal conservative. It's a tax cut-ocopia!
More than any other candidate, Governor Romney has outlined an aggressive agenda to cut the size of government while transforming it to meet this century’s challenges. The centerpiece of Governor Romney’s proposals to limit the size and scope of government is his pledge to veto any budget — Republican or Democrat — that does not cap non-defense discretionary spending at the rate of inflation minus one percent. This will save taxpayers $300 billion over ten years.Campaign pledges generally are good for trips into shiny fantasy worlds; add to this the hallucinations brought on by Republican economic theory and the effect is dizzying indeed.
The imminent downfall of California Congressman John Doolittle offers yet another opportunity to observe the intriguing failure of most conservative commentators to draw appropriate lessons from the 2006 elections (read all about Doolittle's "stumble into oblivion" here). This particular example comes courtesy of Wall Street Journal writer John Fund, who reflects on "a sad end to a political career that began with such promise." Fund tells the story of a "Reaganite idealist who lost his way" - the author knows Doolittle personally and writes with a tone of genuine regret at the Congressman's fate.
Fiscal conservatives will shed few tears over Mr. Doolittle's likely departure from Congress. Ever since he joined the Appropriations Committee in 2001, he has been preoccupied with shoveling pork back to his district, telling one reporter he had adapted his small-government principles to the system Congress had created to spend money: "You work with what you've got." In conversations with me, he would marvel at how well Democrats and Republicans got along on the Appropriations Committee because "we so often have the same priorities"--namely spending other people's money.Now, earlier in the article, Fund notes that "last year, publicity about his ties to Mr. Abramoff caused his popularity to plummet." Here, however, he's re-framing the scandal as being an example of the loss of the mythical Reaganite fiscal discipline. One can see how the two narratives fit together. And yet, it leads to a conclusion that might or might not be justified in Doolittle's own case, but certainly has little to do with the real problems facing the GOP as a whole.
Mr. Doolittle's near-death experience at the polls last November did not prompt a return to his ideological roots. He had already angered voters in Roseville, the largest city in his district, by opposing their ultimately successful efforts to repeal a utility tax through a ballot measure. Then this month, the former antitax champion appeared before the Sacramento Bee's editorial board and delighted them with his apparent surrender on a proposed half-cent sales-tax increase to pay for local transportation projects in the Roseville area.
PFAW's excellent Right-Wing Watch reports that Mike Huckabee is getting a little fed up with all the love and forgiveness going on between religious right leaders and the various adulterers and cross-dressers in the Republican presidential field:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, beloved by many on the Religious Right for his positions on wedge issues but dismissed as a serious presidential candidate, has spent the last few weeks deploying a seemingly desperate gambit aimed at undermining support for frontrunners Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. They should “be held to a standard of personal accountability and responsibility for their personal lives,” he said, alluding to what Vision America’s Rick Scarborough called “multiple marriages and serial adultery” among the candidates. “If Republicans in this election vote in such a way as to say a candidate’s personal life and personal conduct in office doesn’t matter,” said Huckabee, “then a lot of Christian evangelical leaders owe Bill Clinton a public apology.”Huckabee is stuck in a vicious circle: he's doing terribly in the polls because he has been unable to gain support from the leaders of what should be his base in the primaries; he has been unable to gain that support because he's perceived by said leaders as unelectable.
In a recent appearance in Iowa, Huckabee sharpened his “personal lives” attack, noting that “I’m specifically referencing Christian evangelical leaders who were the most vocal in saying back during the Clinton era that personal behavior, personal responsibility and character were the key factors in a president’s criteria.” He accused those leaders of selling out to the Republican Party.
Novak has been predicting it, and it's looking more likely: The Right's Field reports on more signs that Fred Thompson is about to jump into the race.
Labels: Fred Thompson
Couldn't post yesterday, which was almost a blessing because I wouldn't have known where to start if I did. This blog is deliberately non-newsy, focused more on underlying histories and trends in the conservative movement, with some running commentary on the GOP horse race thrown in. But sometimes the news is impossible to ignore.
The ruling is a good indication pro-lifers would do well to continue this strategy of incrementalism in the future.In New's analysis, the incremental strategy succeeds because it allows the the anti-choice movement to establish fresh narratives drawn from the margins of the abortion debate, where public opinion is less settled and therefore more susceptible to the "pro-life" line. It's a sort of bait-and-switch approach, which seeks to center unusual procedures like "partial birth abortion" as the symbolic face of the debate: defining the norm according to the extreme.
Indeed Wednesday’s decision was made possible by pro-lifers whose hard work resulted in a Congress, a president, and a Judiciary who were all supportive of the partial-birth-abortion ban. This decision builds on the Casey v. Planned Parenthood decision, argued almost exactly 15 years ago. Casey strengthened constitutional protection for public-funding bans, parental-involvement laws, waiting periods, and informed-consent laws. The Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday extends constitutional protection to yet another piece of pro-life legislation.
[I]ncremental legislation often serves an important informational purpose. Many people pay little attention to politics and are unaware of the permissive polices the United States has regarding abortion. Many do not know that in many states a minor can obtain an abortion with out her parents’ knowledge. Furthermore, many do not know that a woman can obtain a legal abortion during her ninth month of pregnancy. As such, it is undeniable that the national campaign to end partial-birth abortion gained a considerable amount of publicity and was effective in moving the general public toward a more pro-life direction.As New observes, the incremental strategy has only recently achieved a degree of consensus among anti-choicers:
While this may seem relatively uncontroversial in pro-life circles today, the battle between incrementalists and purists at one point was extremely divisive. Many pro-lifers are too young to remember the bitter battles within the pro-life movement during the late 1970s and the early 1980s about the best way to design a human-life amendment.This is the other trend lurking within the movement; it has been manifested in moments of overreach like the South Dakota abortion ban and even the failed attempt to impose forced sonography in South Carolina. The incremental approach requires a great deal of discipline - all the more so, one would think, as it begins to succeed. With each victory, anti-choice extremists will be tempted to see the endgame on the horizon, and to break ranks in pursuit of it. This, as New seems to realize, threatens to undo the movement altogether. "The pro-life movement would do well to remain united," he argues, pointing out that in a broad sense abortion rights have gained durable public support since Roe. It remains unrealistic for anti-choicers to anticipate overturning that consensus - but they can keep chipping away at the margins, through "parental-involvement laws, waiting periods, and informed-consent laws." In this analysis, things are going the anti-abortion movement's way, but only if they don't go too far.
Now by the mid 1980s most pro-lifers realized that a constitutional amendment was not a realistic short term political goal. As such, the strategy of most pro-life groups shifted toward changing the Supreme Court. This enjoyed somewhat broader support and tensions cooled somewhat. However, it is possible that a reversal of Roe v. Wade could reignite these tensions. Legislators may be called to dismiss incremental legislation in favor of politically infeasible laws that would eliminate abortion entirely.
Americans now have the green light to enact state partial-birth bans modeled on the federal ban. Legislatures should also pursue more robust informed-consent rules on, for example, ultrasound imaging and fetal pain.In contrast to New, who seemed to focus on gradually changing the terms of the debate and actually trying to reduce the number of abortions (however mistaken his analysis), Whelan seems to see an opportunity to regulate abortion out of existence. Licking his chops at the prospects of "further improvements in the court's makeup," Whelan sounds very much like one of those reluctant incrementalists who, having had a taste of blood, is anxious to surge forward - discipline be damned.
Not only did the Court not overrule its Roe and Casey decisions, it didn't even overrule Stenberg v. Carhart, the 2000 decision that overturned a Nebraska law banning partial-birth abortion. Instead, Justice Anthony Kennedy upheld the 2003 Congressional ban because he said it was more narrowly drawn. "The Act makes the distinction the Nebraska statute failed to draw," he wrote, "by differentiating between the overall partial-birth abortion and the distinct overt act that kills the fetus."What this does represent, to the Journal's editors, is a chance to debate an abortion-related issue in state legislatures. The issue itself might be a narrow one, but it's a sort of rehearsal for the large-scale shift that "respectable" conservatives want to achieve: by overturning Roe and Casey, they intend to make abortion policy a question for state politicians to decide. You have to admire how neatly this dovetails with the entire conservative history of disingenuous federalism: we all know by now what support for "state's rights" really says about one's opinion on civil rights.
Justice Kennedy had been a dissenter in Stenberg, so changing his position would have been a little too protean even for him. The fact that he wasn't willing to overturn even Stenberg suggests that this Court is not in the mood for sweeping reversals of precedent. As for Messrs. Roberts and Alito, the Court's opinion also gives no clue about how many abortion precedents they might be willing to overturn. The Court has shown a very modest new deference to the will of the voters on abortion, but no more.
No one is holding Joe Klein up as a model of progressive journalism. But his piece on the "epic collapse" of the Bush administration is worth a certain number of schadenfreude points (see the News Blog for Klein's rebuttal of his own argument).
"The entire VA hospital system is unprepared for the casualties of Iraq, especially the psychiatric casualties. A lot of vets are saying, 'This is our Katrina moment.' And they're right: this Administration governs badly because it doesn't care very much about governing."Emphasis mine. As we like to say: conservatives can't govern, because conservatives don't believe in government.
Speaking of the New Republic, this is a must-read. (I know it's considered declasse in the liberal blogosphere to link to TNR these days, but as aggravating as that publication can be, it does often feature worthwhile reporting.)
Roberts's raw imperialism informs the advice he offers Bush today. For one, he urges Bush to adopt a supreme imperial indifference to public opinion. He counsels that "there can be no greater test of statesmanship than sticking to unpopular but correct policies." The real threat isn't abroad, but at home, among domestic critics. Roberts writes, "The greatest danger to [the British and, by extension, the American] continued imperium came not from declared enemies without, but rather from vociferous enemies within their own society."Don't miss the bare-knuckle follow-up exchange between Roberts and Hari, in which the former claims that were the article published in a British journal, it would result in a libel suit. Hari, for his part, gives no ground. At any rate, the dispute focuses on details, leaving unchallenged the issue that the President has embraced the advice of a self-described "extremely right-wing" imperialist, who calls for harsh and unapologetic repression abroad, no matter how much opposition it engenders here at home.
In this Bushian history, democratic debate--especially in wartime--is a sign of weakness to be suppressed. "Contrary to the received view of the Vietnam War, the United States was never defeated in the field of battle," he writes. It was Walter Cronkite, not Ho Chi Minh, who was the true menace: "Some of the media was indeed a prime enemy of the conflict." Self-criticism is only ever interpreted in these histories as "self-hatred," which he says is "an abiding defect in the English-speaking peoples, and for some reason especially strong in Americans." It can only sap the "willpower" of any empire.
It doesn't appear to occur to Roberts that the British or U.S. empires could simply hit up against a limit to their power. Could there be a worse adviser for George W. Bush right now? Roberts's advice is a vicious imperial anachronism: Target civilians, introduce mass internment, don't worry about whether people hate you, bear down on dissent because it will sap the empire's willpower, ignore your critics because they're just jealous, and--above all--keep on fighting and you'll prevail.
Wolfy's defenders are circling the wagons. The Wall Street Journal insists that "this flap is a political hit based on highly selective leaks to a willfully gullible press corps." According to the Journal, the Bank's files on the affair reveal that its own ethics committee recommended the promotion and pay raise, then hung Wolfowitz out to dry.
[I]magine you're the poor schlub who serves as the Bank's representative in one of those impoverished, not-part-of-the-war-on-terrorism African countries that Wolfowitz has so vocally championed. Here in this sweaty, distant posting, you've been funneling loans to the country for things like rural electrification. But there's a problem: The minister for public works has been skimming 10 percent from all the contracts. His deputy gets another 5 percent. And so on and so forth, until all the country has to show for its electrification debts are a few gangly power lines that don't even work most of the time. So now you're paying him a visit in the finance ministry to chat.... As a servant pours you a cup of coffee--grown on the plantation the minister somehow managed to buy during a Bank-promoted privatization in the late 1990s--you read him the riot act.Once again, the cartoon superhero turns out to be disastrously incompetent in the real world.
Now, in light of the allegations swirling around the Bank's anticorruptionist-in-chief, just how likely is it that your message will get through? It's far more likely that it will be understood as more empty rhetoric.... As you drone on, the minister may well be wondering why it is that, if you're so smart, you're counting electric poles in his godforsaken country rather than hooking your own girlfriend up with a sweet job back in D.C. If he's a polite sort, maybe he furrows his brow and promises to thoroughly examine your allegations as you wind up your lecture. As soon as he gets back from a holiday trip to Brussels, of course. So much for ending corruption.
As you might expect, the conservative noise machine barely paused to catch its breath before beginning its effort to spin the horrible events at Virginia Tech into political gold. Instapundit was among the first out of the gate, as this DKos diary noted. The New York Sun, to nobody's surprise, takes up the same talking points, couching them on a fluffy layer of righteous talk about how America caught "a glimpse of evil" yesterday. There's a certain kind of conservative who loves nothing more than an opportunity to crow about Evil. It allows him to trumpet his own Moral Clarity, the primary purpose of which is to aid in the process of simplifying and personalizing some difficult issue, and demonizing all those who point out that, by simplifying and personalizing it, the conservative has guaranteed that he will never do anything effectively to resolve it. Talking about "Evil," for this kind of conservative, is a ticket to a cartoon universe whose bright colors and vivid characters might just be enough to distract folks from noticing that such conservatives tend to be disastrously incompetent at dealing with problems in the real world. As for that Moral Clarity, count on it to be discarded the first time it becomes the least bit inconvenient.
The shooting erupted as a little noticed legal war was gathering between Virginia and New York over our city's legal maneuvering to stem the sale of what Mayor Bloomberg calls illegal guns. The smell of cordite hadn't cleared from the Virginia Tech campus when the declared candidates for president began addressing the shooting, ending, as Mr. Hope put it, "what had been seen as an unwillingness to fully address gun issues so far in the campaign."And here the Sun goes on to make the utterly predictable, and mouth-frothingly insane, argument that the problem was about not enough people having guns. Virginia's legislature recently refused to overturn a ban on guns at college campuses. This, we're told, is why the death toll was so bad:
Today, however, the question hanging over this tragedy is whether the legislature acted wisely or whether, in fact, the campus would have been safer had the students and others been permitted to keep and bear arms in the dorms and on the greenswards. It's not a theoretical question. In 2002, according to a report on CNSNews.com, a disgruntled student at the Appalachian Law School, Peter Odighizuwa, allegedly shot and killed the school's dean, a professor, and a student on campus. He was subdued, CNSNews.comreported, only when two students reportedly ran to their cars to fetch their own guns and returned to confront the killer, who surrendered.The Appalachian Law School shooting is a favorite canard of the all-guns-all-the-time people, who insist it proves their case that an armed society is a polite society, since the gunman was ultimately subdued by a pair of students with their own weapons. What goes unmentioned is the fact that he was only subdued after he had finished shooting and run out of ammunition, and that the students had not been armed at the time of the shootings, but had run over a hundred yards to retrieve their weapons, which begs the question of why the real lesson of Appalachian Law shouldn't be about the need for more effective policing.
Vernon Lee has some good thoughts on the relationship between primary elections and intra-party ideological disputes. He points out something I didn't observe in my own post on the subject:
Just because party factions don't engage in open, pitched battle for nominations - in which ideological differents are on full display - doesn't mean that individual candidates don't have ideas that deviate from mainstream voters (of Party or general electorate). We just don't hear about them unless there is some benefit to the candidate.Much of the presidential primary process, of course, is based around trying to draw these "hidden beliefs" out of the candidates, and obliterate them if necessary. It's also useful to keep an eye on who is advising whom on policy - this is something I'll try to do here over the next few months.
The Giuliani example appears to be a sui generis candidacy - a "one-time exception" - but perhaps is an unusually vivid example of the Right-Wing Authoritarian dominance of today's Republican party. In this model, RWAs will support any candidate pre-approved by their leadership regardless of ideological differences.I think there's a certain dovetailing between lockstep tendencies among the rank-and-file and the new conservative embrace of expansive executive power, but the phenomena are not precisely the same thing. Would Republican activists and donors and intellectuals be inclined to purge either tendency from their party? On the whole, I don't see it, at least for now. Certainly a President Hillary Clinton could inspire them to re-think (or at least hypocritically ignore) their Bush-era approach to executive privilege, I suppose. Meanwhile, it seems to me that the fundamental dilemmas facing the next generation of Republican leaders involve how to re-think 1) the party's relationship to the conservative movement, and 2) the conservative philosophy of government.
In the first few years of the Bush presidency, when the Southern wing of the Republican party overwhelmed both the party and two and a half branches of government, many liberals were heard to wonder, "What happened to the Rockefeller Republicans?" Now, such questions seem maddeningly quaint: the ideological battle is not one between Rockefeller and Southern populist Republicans, but between authoritarians and non-authoritarians. We have John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience, Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians, Joe Conason's It Can Happen Here, and journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Dave Neiwert, and Digby to thank for midwifing and popularizing these essential explanations of our political moment.
The next ideological rift within the Republican party will not be over elements of the party's platform - small-bore ideology - but Ideology write large: the extent to which the Republican party will remain captive to its RWA base. The question for Republicans is, What to do with the authoritarians among us?
The Right's Field has posted a breakdown of Q1 fundraising numbers for the GOP candidates so far. Not only are the Republicans raising much less than the Democrats, they're spending it a lot quicker. The only candidate with a "burn rate" (money spent as a percentage of money raised) of less than 50% is Rudy Giuliani. John McCain spent 70% of the $13 million he raised - and his campaign is falling apart anyway.
Byron York, White House correspondent for the National Review, warns conservatives that the US Attorneys scandal isn't going away any time soon, even if Attorney Gen. Gonzales does resign. Ultimately, says York, even if Congressional hearings fail to turn up conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, the mystery of the missing e-mails will fuel speculation about a cover-up:
In the end, that is what the U.S. attorneys affair will likely come down to: a fight over documents. Even if there is no evidence that the attorneys were fired to interfere with prosecutions, and even if there is no evidence that some attorneys weren’t fired to interfere with prosecutions, and even if Alberto Gonzales resigns, and even if a lot of other things happen, there will still be an enormous struggle between the White House and Democrats in Congress over allegations that documents have been withheld, or have been destroyed, or have simply disappeared. Accusers always claim that there is some sort of secret evidence to prove their accusation. Sometimes there is, but even if there isn’t, the lack of such evidence can still sustain charges of coverup. Either way, with Democrats in control of Congress, the investigation can go on a long time.But has York forgotten, or merely discarded, the neoconservatives' epistemological dogma: "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"?
If you're not reading The American Scene, you should be. Ross Douthat is probably the brightest conservative writer out there these days, and his generous, civil style makes for a refreshing contrast from what one finds in a lot of conservative publications. I believe that he has a book in the works based on his Weekly Standard article urging Republicans to be the "party of Sam's Club" - I'll post a review here.
[W]hile being an anti-immigration Democrat or an anti-war Republican might, if you were lucky, get you to thirty percent in some primaries, it would pretty much doom your chances of getting to fifty-one percent, because there's just too much institutional weight leaning against you. [...]For Douthat, Giuliani is "the exception that proves the rule," since his entire candidacy is premised on asking for a one-time exemption from the GOP's ideological consensus "to allow him to get into the Oval Office and kick some terrorist ass."
It wasn't always thus: Presidential nominating contests used to be serious ideological battles - think Goldwater versus Rockefeller, or Reagan versus Ford - and journalists are still conditioned to think about them that way, which is why they get excited about the silly idea of Chuck Hagel as a "rebel" Republican who'll shake things up in the primary season. But the big primary battles of recent vintage have tended to be more about style than substance: The difference between George W. Bush and John McCain in '00, or John Kerry and Howard Dean in '04, was more a matter of self-presentation than ideology. The last time a candidate made even a modest primary splash while deviating starkly from one of his party's core positions was Pat Buchanan, in '92 and '96, breaking with the GOP on free trade and to a lesser extent free markets in general - and he didn't get very far.
At MyDD, Jonathan Singer slices out a portion of the latest Bloomberg/LA Times poll (pdf), to make an interesting observation, based on this question:
Q28. In your opinion, should whoever becomes the next Republican nominee campaign on a platform of continuing the policies of George W. Bush, or should he talk about moving the country in a new direction?Singer's comment:
REP L/M CON MEN WOM RELIG Continue Bush policies 30 15 36 31 29 41 Move in a new direction 61 79 54 59 64 48 Don't know 9 6 10 10 7 11
On this retrospective question on George W. Bush and his policies ... Republicans offer a thumbs down by better than a two-to-one margin. Even the religious right, which has gotten much of what it wanted from the Bush presidency (two new hard right conservatives on the Supreme Court for a likely net pick up of one seat for the anti-choice side; federal funds for faith-based initiatives; a curb to funding for stem cell research; a push, however unsuccessful, to ban same-sex marriage; etc.), would prefer the 2008 GOP presidential nominee not be a George W. Bush Republican -- and they remain more supportive of the President than other Republican groups polled.My thought: yes and no. It would be a mistake to read too singular a narrative into these results. Republicans who disapprove of Bush tend to do so either because they're moderates (as shown in the survey) or because they're ideologues who believe Bush hasn't been conservative enough. Undoubtedly a certain amount of this discontent has to do with voters' distress over an era of incompetence, corruption, and war. And in that regard it will be simple enough to hang the Bush presidency around the GOP's neck.
With such numbers, the Democrats' effort to make George W. Bush the 21st century's equivalent of Herbert Hoover -- an albatross for Republicans to carry for several election cycles even after he has left office -- shouldn't be so terribly difficult.
Ronald Reagan is alive and well -- at least, he was at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend. In a straw poll of conference participants, 79% said they would support "a Ronald Reagan Republican" for president, while only 3% said they would support a "George W. Bush Republican." Still, 82% said they favor the president's strategy in Iraq.Singer allows that "these numbers could be as much an indication of respect for Ronald Reagan as they are a sign of disrepect for George W. Bush" - but argues that they nonetheless represent negative attitudes about the Bush presidency that could trickle down to the base. My own estimation would be that the high opinion of Ronald Reagan among conservative elites is directly tied to their discontent with Bush. It's both cause and effect: the more the Bush era fails to redeem the promise of what these elites believe conservative government should achieve, the more Reagan is held up nostalgically as a model for the way things should be. And the more Reagan is valorized, the worse Bush looks by comparison. The CPAC poll was not registering a coincidence, but an ecology of opinion.
Via Feministing - Another stumble for the anti-choicers:
A legislative panel on Thursday dropped a measure from an abortion bill that would have made South Carolina the only state to require women to review an ultrasound images of the fetus before terminating a pregnancy.The anti-choice movement has made the promotion of sonography a major part of their strategy. At the conservative summit, Robert George paired it with "de-funding" abortion as a primary focus for anti-choice efforts going foward. Talk to Action, in the course of a very interesting profile of prominent anti-abortion doctor Eric Keroack, described how Keroack "pioneer[ed] the use of ultrasound as a high-tech weapon in the war on abortion."
[T]he A Woman's Concern centers directed by Keroack delay women's access to abortion care by suggesting to them that early miscarriages are common, that they could have an ectopic pregnancy or a blighted ovum, and that it would be best to wait a few weeks before making an appointment for an abortion: "For the CPC counselors, meanwhile, the extra 2-3 weeks provide another opportunity to persuade the woman that she should continue her pregnancy. And if the process calls for a follow-up ultrasound examination, there is one more opportunity for the mother to bond with her unborn child."As T2A notes, the use of sonography for non-medical purposes has been condemned by professional medical organizations, but since when have legitimate scientific or ethical standards mattered to the obscuritanist fringe?
"[The revised bill] is not forcing a woman to do something against her will," said Sen. Linda Short, the only woman in the Senate and a member of the subcommittee that dropped the measure.The whole thing echoes the South Dakota abortion ban fiasco. Once again, the anti-choice movement overreaches in a conservative state, and once again they suffer an embarrassing defeat.
Five Before Chaos has a thoughtful post about my ruminations on the rise of moderate evangelicals. JD is generally in agreement, but makes another important point:
The key is for the Dems to not go overboard with the God talk, because then they're going to lose the support of those who hold secularism and rational inquiry in highest regard.This is a valid concern, and it reflects - albeit more moderately - the worries of many secular progressives who are very reluctant to see Democrats attempt to appeal to evangelical voters.
Democrats crushed Republicans among secular voters, broadly defined as those who attend church seldom (favoring Democrats 60% to 38%) or never (67% to 30%). Republicans retained strong support among those who attend church more than weekly. But among those who only go weekly -- the larger portion of the religious vote -- the Republican lead shrunk from 15 points to 7.These secular voters, Digby points out, represent the fastest growing religious group in America.
In short, Republicans failed to be competitive among secular voters, while Democrats were at least competitive among regular churchgoers. And since the secular vote is roughly equal to the regular churchgoing vote, according to the last several national election exit polls, that means Republicans and their conservative base have a far bigger secular problem than their rivals have a religion problem.