There are a number of things worth discussing with regard to the Fabrizio poll of Republicans. One thing I haven't seen widely mentioned is that the poll was underwritten by a number of groups dedicated to moving the GOP toward the center on social issues: the Republican Leadership Council (which "supports fiscally conservative, socially inclusive Republican candidates"), Republican Main Street Partnership, Republican Majority for Choice, and the Log Cabin Republicans -- all of whom must be pleased with the survey's finding that Republican voters are much more socially moderate than the conventional wisdom would suggest.
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.I largely agree with Salam, which is why I think that the kind of conservatism that he and his ideological compatriots advocate represents the right's best chance to build a majority over the long term. But I think that these numbers are even more promising for Democrats, if we take advantage of them.
Or War on Terror nationalism, which focuses on the defeat of America's enemies to the exclusion of domestic issues.
Crazy right-wing chain e-mails take over our media, one small-town paper at a time.
As I said, I'll try my hand at more in-depth analysis of that big Fabrizio poll of Republicans when I've had a chance to dig through it more. Meanwhile, a couple quick notes on it:
According to Fabrizio, the party’s social/cultural wing remains about the same size, while the economic wing has “shrunk by nearly two thirds.” Replacing those Republicans have been national security and defense voters. Free marketeers, per Fabrizio, comprise about 8 percent of the GOP electorate. They’re skeptical of government action, largely male, baby-boomerish, less frequent church-goers, and they’re not moralists. Fabrizio believes that these voters comprise Fred Thompson’s strongest voting block.This speaks to the importance of conservative movement institutions in policing the GOP's ideological consensus. According to Fabrizio's results, social conservatives should be as strong as ever within the Republican coalition, while the influence of fiscal conservatives should be waning dramatically. Yet precisely the opposite is happening. Much more to unpack on this point.
Over at The Third Estate, Arbitrista looks at the Supreme Court mess -- highlighted by a week of awful 5-4 decisions -- and ponders what to do about it all. As he points out:
No matter what kind of political majorities Democrats are able to build in the next dozen years, no matter what sort of policies we manage to enact to reverse the disastrous course of the last seven (or twenty-seven) years, the right-wing Court will be there to stop us. It is the Supreme Court, not Iraq, that is George Bush's ultimate legacy.While it was Bush who appointed Roberts and Alito, the coming era of right-wing jurisprudence isn't just his legacy, it's the legacy of almost half a century of conservative movement-building. The courts are the ultimate trailing indicator in American politics; seeds that are planted at the grassroots level of electoral politics will bear judiciary fruit decades later. The right's rhetoric in recent years, often so intensely focused on the courts, well-constructed and full of frustration, is testimony to this. The courts were the last bastion of the mainstream world to fall to the movement's forces; even in a right-wing era, years after the Reagan and Gingrich ascendancies, the judiciary branch refused to succumb, because change comes so glacially there.
A less extreme version of the strategy of confrontation would be to apply public pressure - congressional censures, public protests, and most particularly making the Courts and their decisions an explicit political issue. The Democrats in the next Presidential campaign should highlight these decisions, which if they were well-known would be extremely unpopular with the general public. No Supreme Court justice, and most especially not Anthony Kennedy, wants to see the Supreme Court become an issue in electoral campaigns. I believe that making Supreme Court decisions a major element in the campaign would also help Democrat electorally, since it could force the campaign to be much more substantive. The last thing the Republicans want to talk about is repealing environmental laws or gutting civil liberties.This, then, would be a liberal version of the very same strategy conservatives have pursued over the years. It wouldn't necessarily be unprecedented for the left, either -- FDR's court-packing scheme might have failed in its immediate objective, but it accomplished his larger purpose, which was to rally political pressure to get a conservative court -- again, a holdover from another kind of era -- to stop obstructing the New Deal. And it's not just about pressuring the courts directly; you also use the unpopularity of their decisions to motivate your base to get you elected so eventually you can appoint the judges.
Now some would say that we should not politicize the Courts. To which I respond - the Courts are already politicized. The days of moderate judges who invoke careful legal reasoning drawn from precedent is over. The Court is now ruled by the same clique that we just toppled from power in the Congress and that has drawn Bush down to 26% in the polls.
Despite Fred Thompson's dramatic gains on Rudy Giuliani in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, Todd points out at MyDD that Rudy still retains considerable leads in all three states. Most signficant, though, are his extraordinarily strong favorability ratings in those states (54/28, for instance, in Florida), which are similar to his favorability numbers nationally. Says Todd:
A lot is made of Clinton's high negatives but not enough is said about Rudy' still high positives, which could end up being the Republicans' secret weapon in the general if he gets the nomination.The same kind of analysis prompts a couple of conservative observers to declare that Giuliani is "still the frontrunner." At Real Clear Politics, Ross Kaminsky says this is for one simple reason: he's the most electable Republican:
[W]hile it is still VERY early in this process, internals of a recent Quinnipiac University poll show why I believe Rudy is still somewhat more likely to get the nomination than Fred: He is more likely to be able to win the general election.Gary Matthew Miller agrees:
For example, the Quinnipiac Poll shows Giuliani tied with or leading Hillary Clinton in three critical swing states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. The analysis in the link above focuses on Giuliani's lead shrinking from prior polls, but that is not the key. The key is that Giuliani far outperforms the other Republican frontrunners.
If enough GOP primary participants are persuaded that only the Mayor could prevail in November of next year, that just might be the fulcrum upon which the Republican nomination may pivot.Of course, the John Kerry experience demonstrated that "electability" is a tricky concept, but there's plenty of reason to believe that Kaminsky and Miller are correct. Yet there's a puzzle at the heart of the equation. It's one thing for primary voters to make a calculation about electablity; it's another thing for the conservative ideological apparatus itself to use the same calculation to endorse a candidate who rejects key tenents of the longstanding conservative consensus. As broad swathes of the right's intellectual, financial, and media elites use Rudy's "leadership qualities," his fiscal conservatism, and his "electability" as excuses to abandon the socially conservative half of their fusionist coalition, the issue for those social conservatives becomes much starker.
This article by Peter Teague and Jeff Navin is the best thing I've read on the politics of climate change in a long time. Teague and Navin argue that environmentalists are headed for political doom if they don't take seriously just how sensitive Americans are to rising energy prices:
Americans' anxiety over rising energy costs is a serious challenge to anyone seeking a solution to global warming. The anxiety is real, and the vast majority of Americans perceive these costs as causing financial hardship for their families. Proposals that raise energy prices risk triggering populist anger; Americans uniformly reject government efforts to increase the cost of gasoline or electricity as a way of encouraging certain kinds of behaviors.The authors use the failure of California's Proposition 87 as an object lesson, pointing out that the initiative floundered -- despite initial public support -- when advocates were unable to convince the public that its regulatory mandates would not cause gas prices to rise.
Ultimately, the global warming crisis will be solved by the emergence of a new clean energy economy that is also capable of meeting the needs and aspirations of America's -- and the world's -- growing population. Regulation should be only one piece of a larger set of strategies designed to speed the emergence of that economy, with interlocking investment, tax, and fiscal policies also designed to send the right market signals and prompt private-sector investment and innovation. These policies must both solve the problem of climate change and have the political support to be enacted and sustained.I haven't read enough of the literature on climate change to know how novel Teague and Navin's argument is. But I have read enough conservative writing on the subject to see its importance. As I've been documenting for a few months, the right's approach to the warming debate has been shifting from straight denial to a more nuanced position, which accepts the reality of global warming but rejects regulatory solutions and argues for letting the market take care of the problem -- call it the "Yes, But" approach. See, for instance, the cover story in last week's National Review, or this AEI paper by Samuel Thernstrom and Lee Lane, or this Robert Samuelson piece. It isn't a uniform shift across the conservative spectrum; there's still plenty of denialism mixed in, as well a sort of hybrid, defeatist mentality that accepts warming but would have us just try learning to live with it. But what all the approaches have in common, the pivot point between denialism and the "Yes, But" approach, is a focus on the costs of carbon regulation. What Teague and Navin understand is the power of arguments like the one made by Stephen Hayward:
Good policy is therefore inseparable from good politics.
Liberals in the 1960s and 1970s never comprehended how damaging "limousine liberalism" was to their cause. They seem even more oblivious to the self-inflicted wounds of "Gulfstream liberalism." Whatever the intricacies of climate science, middle-class citizens understand that Gore wants them to use less energy and pay more for it, while he and his Hollywood pals use as much as they want and buy their way out of guilt, like a medieval indulgence.I know I've quoted that before, but I'm quoting it again, because it's tremendously important. This is the fatal flaw in any attempt to deal with climate change as a strictly regulatory issue, and it's why the whole notion of purchasing carbon offsets is wildly misguided as a feature of the public debate on the issue. I like Al Gore a lot, but the controversy over his energy bills was an example of the kind of thing that will be tremendously damaging to the environmental cause, and his response fell flat. We cannot afford to wind up on the wrong side of a class conflict when it comes to this debate.
The "right-wing populist vs. liberal elite" frame is dropping into place with the help of those calling for the deepest cuts in carbon. The deep-cut mantra, repeated without any real understanding of what might be required to get to 60 or 80 percent reductions in emissions, ignores voters' anxieties. It also reflects the questionable view that these changes can be achieved with little more than trivial disruptions in our lives -- a view easier to hold if you're in a financial position to buy carbon credits for your beachfront house.One of their key insights is that "today energy costs seem to generate the kind of ire taxes did a decade ago." Poll data show strong public support for government investment in a transition to a clean-energy economy -- read the article for more details on what that investment might entail -- while empirical evidence suggests that a strictly regulatory approach, by raising energy prices or even threatening to raise energy prices, triggers a backlash that harms the whole effort to fight climate change. Conservatives are preparing to stoke that backlash, even as they offer a faulty "market-based" alternative approach. Teague and Navin are absolutely right: progressives need to step up their game.
Labor has indicated a willingness to support action on climate change, but it won't support deep cuts if working people are the most affected. This will leave environmentalists up against the well-financed business lobby. Good luck holding onto moderate Democrats, let alone Republicans -- even those who are beginning to understand the need for action on global warming.
The big-picture side of me says it's bad for American political discourse that crazies like Ann Coulter are given so much of a platform in public debate.
The New Yorker has John Updike, instead of an economist, review Amity Shlaes's revisionist, fiscal conservative history of the Great Depression. And the result seems far more devastating to her argument than anything a mere economist could do to it.
So lately we've been seeing more data indicating that Americans -- especially younger Americans -- have been moving left. Now MSNBC's First Read reports that even Republicans may be considerably less conservative than many have assumed them to be. A new poll by Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates "challenges the conventional notions of conservatism," and indicates that the remarkable ideological flexibility among Republicans might benefit Rudy Giuliani.
On abortionThe other major finding is that even among dedicated social conservatives -- the "moralists" referred to above, who tend to focus on issues like abortion, gay marriage, and school prayer -- almost a third "say that [candidates'] leadership qualities are more important than their issue positions." And Giuliani leads the other GOP contenders even among these moralists.
-Fifty-two percent believe abortions should be legal under certain circumstances.
On health care
-Fifty-one percent of Republicans agree that universal health care should be a right of all people. The moralists are also split on the issue.
On social welfare
-Half believe the government needs to provide a “helping hand” and safety net.
On gay rights
-Almost half of all Republicans favor gays serving openly in the military. Even four in 10 moralists think gays should be allowed to serve openly.
-Seventy-seven percent believe companies should not have the right to fire employees based on sexual orientation.
The Chris Dodd campaign is trying an interesting experiment with its moment in the YouTube Spotlight:
Check out the snazzy new American Scene. Not only does the site look great, but Reihan Salam has brought on board an excellent group of co-bloggers, ideologically diversifying the site in the process.
A turn to Dolchstoss rhetoric would be the final act of self-discrediting by mainstream conservatives in this country. Not satisfied with their own handy knife work in the area of the national spinal column with the Iraq war, they will be only too happy to find scapegoats for a disaster in which they acquiesced and indeed cheered on through each stage of deepening failure. Instead of four or eight years out of power, the right would risk losing its chance at the White House for a generation if it engaged in the active vilification of two-thirds of the country. It would be the ultimate act of blaming America first, which, as they are only too well aware, is not a vote-winner. Watching progressives gird for the coming battle against Dolchstoss is rather amusing, when it seems clear from where I'm standing that nothing could better suit the cause of progressivism in this country than a perpetually imploding, paranoid and delusional conservative movement. Indeed, things would have come full circle, since it was in no small part thanks to the implosion of the left brought on by the excesses and absurdity of the New Left in the late 1960s and early 1970s that helped lay some of the foundations for later conservative success.Larison also suggests that Dolchstoss is less likely to catch on in a situation where 1) it's effete AEI intellectuals, not the military, doing the complaining, and 2) millions of Americans (or even tens of thousands) haven't died.
Myself, I think that liberals should be praying that the Right embraces the "stabbed in the back" theory of what went wrong in Iraq (and possibly Iran as well), because it will push conservatives toward political irrelevance.Go read the whole post.
I somehow missed this when it was first posted, but it's a delight. I've been one-upped by Johann Hari -- I went into the lions' den for a couple of days, but Hari went on a cruise with the beasts:
I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. "Is he your only child?" I ask. "Yes," she answers. "Do you have a child back in England?" she asks me. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe."It's a great piece -- do read it all if you haven't already.
I am getting used to such moments, when holiday geniality bleeds into--well, I'm not sure exactly what. I am traveling on a bright-white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, and 500 readers of National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been "an amazing success." Global warming is not happening. Europe is becoming a new Caliphate. And I have nowhere to run....
The idea that Europe is being "taken over" is the unifying theme of this cruise. Some people go on singles' cruises, some on ballroom-dancing cruises. This is the Muslims Are Coming cruise. Everyone thinks it. Everyone knows it.
Yesterday, Soren Dayton wondered what it says about conservatives and Republicans that they've become so nonchalant about -- even supportive of -- naked pandering:
So the pattern is clear. Run on some positions your whole life, then change them to win the nomination. Then what?Now Patrick Ruffini responds with a spirited defense of flip-flopping. Ruffini argues that it's better to support a panderer who'll give you what you want than an "authentic" candidate (he has McCain in mind) who's "authentically" wrong:
Is that a healthy way for a political party or a political movement to behave? What does this say about our intellectual class?
But that's the problem isn't it? McCain led. He led on BCRA. He led on CIR. He led the fight against the Bush tax cuts. He led the Republicans for the Kyoto treaty. All of Romney's flip-flops don't change the fact that McCain is responsible for the abomination that is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Whenever McCain leads, it's usually in the wrong direction. That's why conservatives don't trust him.He also points out that, having flipped, it's unlikely that Romney et al will flip back again to more "liberal" positions -- it would be political suicide to do so in the election, and history tells us that presidents generally govern more or less as they say they will during their campaigns (subject to all kinds of caveats, but let's concede the point for now).
But the frame against Kerry was that he was too unsteady and indecisive to win a war.Can McCain credibly make that case against the others? That Rudy Giuliani will wilt against al Qaeda because he moved on CFR? Please.This is nonsense, of course -- an ex post facto attempt to justify a meta-flip flop, a flip-flop on the subject of flip-flopping. And Bush's "decisiveness" is precisely what got us into a disastrous war, and what is causing us to lose that war. But that's a tangent.
But the more profound lesson is that the greatest politicians create their own issues, ones that no one knew existed. Was the mood in California favorable for Reagan's conservative message in 1966? Obviously, or else Reagan wouldn't have won; he wasn't a magician. But he was--yes--a great communicator, confident of his gifts. By listening and interacting with ordinary people, and sniffing out where his own sense of right and wrong dovetailed with what he heard, he divined a certain inchoate mood....One might argue that too much tolerance of poll-driven phoniness will strangle them just as surely.
That's the danger of even the best polling: its power to smother intuitive leaders in the cradle.
I'll be back tomorrow with some meatier stuff. Meanwhile...
Labels: Other blogs
At NRO, Jim Geraghty picks up on the McCain deathwatch story, and wonders about the role of the immigration issue in his campaign's downward spiral. In an article fueled by quotes from anonymous strategists in opposing Republican camps, Geraghty reveals how McCain's sponsorship of the immigration bill is causing problems not just for the Arizona Senator himself, but for the rest of the Republican field. While rival Republican candidates can use the issue to flog McCain, at least some of their advisors are smart enough to wish the whole issue would just go away:
"I don’t know how much shelf-life this issue has for Republicans," the rival strategist says. "This was Karl Rove’s brilliant idea to permanently cement the Hispanic vote to the Republican base. Well, so far, all we’ve seen it do is aggravate Hispanics and divide our base. The longer we’re talking about this issue, the deeper we’re digging this hole. And where the hell is McCain? He threw our party into this briar patch. He makes the deal with Kennedy, creating this mess, and then he’s out on the campaign trail raising money."The thing is, it's a briar patch of the right's own making. Geraghty cites an anti-Hispanic "comedy" bit on a recent edition of Rush Limbaugh's radio show, but Linda Chavez's recent complaints tell the story more graphically -- the more that Republicans talk about immigration, the more nastiness they bring out in their own base. And that's not going to be good for them in the long run. Geraghty's source understands the ramifications:
"Symbolism of this bill may be more important than substance," says the rival strategist. He laments that the debate on the Republican side is turning into who can most vehemently denounce illegal immigrants, and to Hispanic ears, it may sound hostile to all immigrants, regardless of their legal status. "Sometimes it’s not the words that people hear, but the theme music in the background."Immigration may be the most natural issue for McCain's GOP rivals to use against him -- since it's the area in which he is most clearly at odds with the party's base -- but using it that way is ultimately self-destructive for Republicans. No wonder they're all so eager to see John McCain disappear.
Is it just me, or does this seem rather overblown? John Leo writes that sociologist Robert Putnam (of "Bowling Alone" fame) is "very nervous" about releasing data he's accumulated suggesting that diversity reduces social cohesion within a community:
In the 41 sites Putnam studied in the U.S., he found that the more diverse the neighborhood, the less residents trust neighbors. This proved true in communities large and small, from big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Boston to tiny Yakima, Washington, rural South Dakota, and the mountains of West Virginia. In diverse San Francisco and Los Angeles, about 30 percent of people say that they trust neighbors a lot. In ethnically homogeneous communities in the Dakotas, the figure is 70 percent to 80 percent.I live in one of those "diverse" places. Anyone "huddl[ing] unhappily" in front of the television (and how does Putnam know that they do it "unhappily"?) is missing out on a lot, but more to the point: when you think about it, how is this data so astonishing? Of course people living in small, homogeneous towns in the Dakotas feel they have more in common with their neighbors, and act accordingly. But -- and no offense meant to any readers in those states, honestly -- who wants to live in a small homegeneous town in the Dakotas? All I mean is, "to each his own" is a phrase that cuts more than one way.
Diversity does not produce “bad race relations,” Putnam says. Rather, people in diverse communities tend “to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”
If this Washington Times op-ed is any indication:
The Hamas victory in Gaza is a warning that World War IV (as Norman Podhoretz has called it) is going to be long and hard. It is also a warning that the West is currently losing that war.Never mind the childishness of the "World War IV" thing. Is this what Newt's new organization is blowing its money on? Have they polled the number of Americans who are against bad stuff? What about the number who support happy things? Those results should be pretty telling, I'd imagine.
These defeats are not a function of the courage and will of the American people. In a June poll sponsored by American Solutions, 85 percent of the American people said it was important to defend America and its allies. Only 10 percent were opposed. On an even stronger question, 75 percent said it was important to defeat America's enemies. Only 16 percent disagreed.
So the hard left in America is only 16 percent. It is outnumbered almost 5-1 by those who would defeat our enemies.
More evidence that Republicans are refusing to learn from the success of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Charlie Crist: Robert Novak wonders if Arnie can even be considered a Republican anymore. The imediate subject is Schwarzenegger's unwillingness to act as "midwife" for a deal that would loosen term limits in exchange for a Republican-friendly redistricting plan (I don't know the details, but my first reaction is that any Democrat who'd agree to that should be tarred and feathered). Novak goes on to observe that Arnold just hasn't been the same good Republican soldier since 2005:
The Republican Party's condition in the nation's most populous state is desperate, with Schwarzenegger its only visible asset. Yet a redistricting that would help the GOP immeasurably is considered outside the frame of reference for the Republican governor, who remembers the issue as one of the ballot propositions he lost in the disastrous election of 2005. His current national priority is preaching the menace of global warming, and his state mission is practicing the "post-partisanship" of governing across party lines....One can understand California conservatives' sense of betrayal. But if Schwarzenegger is the state GOP's only asset, then the logical conclusion is that the California Republican Party is nothing but a liability to a politician who wants to be successful statewide. No wonder he felt compelled to leave it behind, then. The question is whether the party's establishment will, going forward, prefer a rump conservative opposition, or a more dynamic Schwarzennegerian-style progressive Republicanism. I don't follow California politics closely, so I wouldn't know -- but then it doesn't seem too tough to guess.
The turning point came when Schwarzenegger went head-to-head against the state's powerful labor unions, and all of his ballot initiatives were defeated in the 2005 elections. That brought many changes. Mike Murphy, Schwarzenegger's nationally renowned Republican political consultant, who guided him in victory, in the 2003 recall election, and in defeat, with the 2005 ballot propositions, was gone. Liberal Democrat Susan Kennedy became his chief of staff. His Democratic wife, Maria Shriver, gained influence. Peace was made with labor. The governor broke his pledge of no tax increases by proposing $4.5 billion in "fees" to finance his health plan.
The editors of the Washington Times are angry with Trent Lott for speaking out in favor of the immigration bill. But they're especially upset with the Mississippi Senator's criticism of right-wing talk radio (Lott told the NY Times that "Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem.") -- because they fear his comments will undermine the right's case against revival of the Fairness Doctrine:
Mr. Lott's comments about the immigration bill are unfortunate in their own right. But his suggestion that talk radio is a problem that someone has to "deal with" because it makes it harder to ram the immigration bill through the Senate is even worse, because it raises the specter of reviving the "Fairness Doctrine" — the Federal Communications Commission policy (repealed in 1987 at President Reagan's urging) that effectively barred any serious political debate from occurring on the airwaves.Paranoia about a return of the Fairness Doctrine has been a staple of conservative commentary over the past couple of years -- and no wonder, since the explosive growth of right-wing talk radio was a direct result of the Doctrine's repeal. Most recently, comments by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and a major report by the Center for American Progress have fueled the fire.
Writing from the parallel universe in which neoconservative foreign policy ideas haven't been comprehensively and humiliatingly discredited, Joshua Muravchik takes to the Op-Ed pages of the Wall Street Journal today to beat the Iran war drum. Following on the heels of Normon Podhoretz's addled little screed in Commentary, Muravchik's piece seems to represent an even further regression into a kind of dreamlike, bellicose haze -- a warm and cloudy place where unreconstructed neocons are free to release their gasses without consequence or accountability. Neither Podhoretz nor Muravchik give any indication of having made an effort to understand what a US military conflict with Iran would actually entail. Nor are they even making much effort anymore to protect their historical analogies from strain. We're told that war with Iran is in the cards simply because Iran's regime is obnoxious, because the bad guys are "feeling [their] oats," and because ... something about appeasement:
A large portion of modern wars erupted because aggressive tyrannies believed that their democratic opponents were soft and weak. Often democracies have fed such beliefs by their own flaccid behavior. Hitler's contempt for America, stoked by the policy of appeasement, is a familiar story. But there are many others. North Korea invaded South Korea after Secretary of State Dean Acheson declared that Korea lay beyond our "defense perimeter." Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait after our ambassador assured him that America does not intervene in quarrels among Arabs. Imperial Germany launched World War I, encouraged by Great Britain's open reluctance to get involved. Nasser brought on the 1967 Six Day War, thinking that he could extort some concessions from Israel by rattling his sword.That authoritarian regimes have often underestimated the warmaking capacities of democracies is certainly true. But that truism has fermented and now fuels the fantasies and revisionist hallucinations of the neocons, who go on to burp out bad history to support their arguments. For instance: on which planet was it that the Second World War began because of Hitler's "contempt" for an America practicing a "policy of appeasement"? In fact, can we come up with a variation on Godwin's Law for the term? Can we ask that advocates for yet another war be required to justify said war without resorting to the word "appeasement"?
Glenn Greenwald responds to Chris Floyd (briefly) here.
Even more on America's lean to the left:
Conservative blogger Daniel Larison considers another possible implication of Stanley Greenberg's data (upon which I commented below). Larison suggests that if Americans do, indeed, value community over individualism, this is "good news" for a certain kind of conservative:
In the battle between solidarity and dislocation, conservatives should naturally be on the side of the former, and it should be conservatives who benefit from the public’s interest in “strong community” and even, yes, “a sense of togetherness.” (For some reason, the latter sounds much less ridiculous when you call it solidarity.) Conservatism’s “failure” has been that conservatives have defined themselves or allowed themselves to be defined as individualists and advocates for the interests of the self. A conservatism of place and virtue has very little to do with these things. These numbers suggest that a conservatism that is both skeptical of government action and that also encourages the building up of community life and a politics of solidarity would fare very well. It would not be the slash-and-burn, “every man for himself” anti-government style of certain libertarians, nor would it be an endorsement of the effects of “creative destruction.” Settling people in a location, a place, not dislocating people through the constant flux of what some might call “cosmopolitan dynamism” and what we call social insanity, is the conservative way forward.Larison has elaborated upon the relationship of individualism to conservatism elsewhere; while I'm not sure "cosmopolitan dynamism" is something that can be simplified enough to be opposed, his rough philosophical ideas are interesting, and most notably they seem to be much more along the lines of traditional European conservatism than the overbaked right-Whiggish classical liberalism that the American right has generally embraced.
Chris Floyd raises some excellent objections to Glenn Greenwald's thesis, and to my comments on it. In particular, he wonders why the present Manicheanism should be seen as unique in American history:
If anything, the Cold War "division of Good v. Evil" was far more "simpleminded" than what we see today. Imagine a Cold War president stating in public that Communism was a worthy doctrine, dedicated to human betterment, but had unfortunately been hijacked by extremists and rogue states, etc. Yet Bush has consistently made such remarks about Islam (for public consumption, at least). And of course, many of his allies in his "Terror War" are Muslims....This is a vast subject, worthy of a book of its own (there probably is one already) and I can only offer a few tentative thoughts. Manicheanism has certainly been a force in American history before the present era, but I'm not sure I would ascribe to it all the examples above. For instance, my old pomo philosophy training tells me that inasmuch as there was any philosophical aspect to the genocide of Native Americans (as opposed to simple, brute material interest), it was more a matter of Enlightenment's hostile indifference to the "not-rational." In fact, most of Floyd's examples strike me as being matters that were much less defined by a division of Good v. Evil than by the general Western assumption of white superiority, which manifested and was justified in all kinds of ways, but which I'm not sure can be described as "Manichean."
But the fact is, such Manicheanism has been long been operative in American history. What else but a simpleminded division of Good v. Evil, a rampant and uncritical exceptionalism, could have "justified" the decimation of the Native Americans and the theft of their land? Or the existence of slavery -- and its incorporation into the Constitution itself? Or the mass-slaughtering conquest and "pacification" of the Philippines, which the Manichean McKinley saw as a holy crusade to "Christianize" the benighted natives (many of whom were already Catholics)? Wasn't this same kind of Manicheanism -- this automatic assumption that whatever we do is "good," that whatever serves our interests (or rather, the interests of those who rule us) is right and honorable -- operative in the CIA's overthrowing of government after government throughout the Cold War?
If you haven't already, check out the excellent trio of articles at the American Prospect on US politics "after the failure of conservatism." Start with Robert Borosage's piece on a subject dear to my heart: why the disaster of the Bush administration has been a failure not of execution, but of conservatism itself. He doesn't go into the tensions surrounding "compassionate conservatism," but he does provide a wonderful reality check for those whose reaction to Bush's misrule is to slip into Reagan nostalgia.
What one sees in the 2006 election is not simply a revolt against the administration's conduct of the war but a return to the political perceptions of the two parties that was inclining the electorate before September 2001 toward a Democratic majority....Judis and Teixeira suggest that not only have the original building blocks for the new majority -- women, minorities, and professionals -- returned to the Democratic camp, but the coalition has been further enlarged by the addition of young voters ("millennials") and independents. But their analysis comes with a couple of warnings for Democrats. The best way to cement a majority would be to pass "landmark" legislation, a modern equivilant to Social Security -- national health insurance is an obvious possibility -- but, while we may be entering a more progressive era, we're not experiencing the sort of crisis that has, in the past, proven a prerequisite to overcoming the serious institutional obstacles to substantive new legislation (though I wonder if the mid-1960s, which gave us Medicare, Medicaid, immigration reform, and other ambitious progressive legislation, can be counted as a period of crisis -- civil rights movement aside).
In the 2006 election, all the groups that had been part of the emerging Democratic majority in the late 1990s came roaring back into the fold.
Again, six and a half years of Bush administration cronyism and corruption have done much to remind people just how antithetical government reform really is to the conservative project. Those independents who mistrust government are a part of the progressive coalition whether they realize it or not, and Democrats can take advantage of this -- and expand their freedom of movement when it comes to the use of government -- by embracing a reform agenda (and here's where the recent Democratic failure to follow through on ethics reform really galls) and by making the case that it's precisely the conservative anti-government mentality that leads to corruption and wastefulness, since it fosters cynicism and contempt among those entrusted with the federal purse.
- Advance a strong fiscal-accountability agenda to cut waste and make government spending more efficient and results-oriented. This includes auditing every federal department and agency to make sure funding is going to meaningful projects and to people, not the bureaucracy; eliminating no-bid contracts; creating an inspector general for Iraq to oversee US spending there; and reducing energy costs by requiring all federal buildings to meet modern energy-efficiency regulations.
- Go much further on anti-corruption, ethics, and lobbying reform. Institute new whistle-blower legislation to protect government employees from retribution if they report waste or corruption.
Soren Dayton notes that, given Congress's abysmal approval ratings, 2008 might not be so bad for Republicans in House races. Certainly the latest polls should serve as a wake-up call for Democratic Congressional leaders. And I agree with Dayton that we're in for an "anti-Washington" election. But the overall picture looks a little bit absurd:
In any case, look for candidates of all sorts to push anti-Washington agendas. That is why Mitt Romney says, "I can’t wait to get my hands on Washington." (Never mind that his campaign is stuffed to the gills with lobbyists. I know what they would do if they got their hands on Washington) And why Thompson says, "After eight years in Washington, I longed for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood."Yet, on the issue fueling the greatest part of the public's disgust with Washington -- the Iraq war -- the GOP candidates are promising nothing but "Bush - Only Moreso."
E. J. Dionne points out that as the American political center moves left, the Democrats are following it. It's a good piece -- now if only the national media as a whole would take Dionne's points to heart.
The most important sign that the center has shifted left (or, if you prefer, away from the right) is the behavior of Republican politicians who are thinking about their prospects beyond the Bush years.There are two different trends at work here. One is simply the basic instinct of politicians to distance themselves from things that everyone hates (the Iraq war, George W. Bush). The other, which applies only in a smaller set of cases, is that a small number of Republican politicians have found that the key to popularity is to move leftward on a general level.
Florida's Gov. Charlie Crist, who succeeded Jeb Bush and is governing as a Schwarzenegger-style Republican moderate, had an approval rating of 70 percent in a recent Quinnipiac poll. As Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune pointed out this week, Crist's score is "higher than the peak ratings for Jeb Bush, who was thought to be the model of popularity at the end of his eight years." Crist's politics reflect the center's drift.
In the Senate, it's Republicans up for reelection in 2008 who were among the first in their party to oppose George W. Bush's policies on Iraq. The contrast with the recent past could not be plainer: In 2002, Democrats fearful of losing reelection tried to minimize their differences with the president. Republicans in political trouble are now trying to highlight theirs.
Commenting on the Taibbi discussion, "Crunchy Con" Rod Dreher says:
The value I see in Taibbi's essay is his sense that the left doesn't have a lot to offer now -- that it's populated by a bunch of cranks and juveniles who are great at whining and complaining, but who don't offer much practical help. Ross has said that it's ridiculous for a leftie like Taibbi to complain about the worthlessness of the left when everything's coming up roses for them in advance of the 2008 election.To which Douthat responds:
I just don't see this. If Ross is right, would he have instructed the disillusioned rightists of The American Conservative to quit complaining about conservatives in 2004, because the GOP was doing well at the polls?
I don't just think that the left is doing well politically; I think that they may get the chance to enact a pretty substantial and wide-ranging policy agenda if things go well for them in '08. Taibbi (and Rod) think liberals don't have anything substantive to offer; I think that's plain wrong, and it's a dangerous delusion for conservatives, in particular, to entertain. True, what the left has to offer now is roughly the same thing it offered in the 1970s and '80s, which is to say a dramatic expansion of the welfare state - but the ideas for how to go about this are much sharper than they used to be, thanks to years in the wilderness and a greater appreciation for free markets, and the political climate is a lot more favorable to a renewed push for social democracy than it was in, say, 1979.I'll head off in the direction Douthat's going here, but take it farther than he probably would. Dreher's analogy is flawed because the GOP, winning in 2004, faced a broadly different set of circumstances than did the Democrats in 2006. I think it's beyond serious question that Bush's re-election was a factor of war and terror; even then, the margin was smaller than an incumbent party at wartime might expect to win -- a sign that the tide of public opinion on the war was already turning against the Republicans.
Speaking of the Prospect, check out Paul Waldman's piece surveying the bleak intellectual landscape of the 2008 Republican presidential primary. The GOP, as Waldman observes, has become the "party of no ideas." Not a single candidate has proposed a genuine policy innovation of any kind (save for McCain's immigration bill, which Republicans wish had never happened) -- not in the debates, not on their websites, not anywhere. Not even in the area of national security, which is supposed to be party's strong suit (yes, I know -- stop laughing), but which instead has served as a stark example of reverse-evolution:
The national-security discussion coming from the candidates resembles nothing so much as the dominance displays of lower primates ("Ooog! Ooog! Me double Gitmo! Ooog!"). Anyone looking for a serious analysis of our security challenges in the coming years will be sorely disappointed.While it's true that candidates generally prefer to be coy about policy specifics, the deafening silence on the Republican side is noteworthy, particularly since this is a party that has, in recent decades, been fed a steady diet of policy advice from its network of conservative think tanks.
As with most of the Republicans' problems, this aversion to anything resembling an agenda can be traced in no small part to George W. Bush. Like a Bizarro World King Midas, everything Bush has touched has turned to garbage, with the consequence that the standard Republican agenda is almost irredeemably tainted by its association with the last six years.This isn't to say that there aren't any ideas on the conservative side. In fact, there are a number of interesting young conservative intellectuals grappling with the policy problems facing their movement. What's notable, though, is how little connection they seem to have to the various presidential campaigns. In part this might be to do with the fact that the most interesting ideas on the right these days look, to establishment conservative eyes, suspiciously like variations on the dreaded "big-government conservatism" of the Bush administration.
Tax cuts? We tried that, and got huge deficits. Gettin' tough with terrorists? Not working out so well. Protecting the family? That song's getting older by the month. Nearly anything a Republican proposes can be answered with, "That's just another version of George W. Bush's plan for [insert issue here]. We don't need more Bush."
Ross Douthat's comment on Matt Taibbi's Adbusters piece touched off some interesting discussion on the right side of the internets. James Poulos argues that the left is just as riven by "tensions and contradictions" -- in fact, he says, liberals are divided in the very same way -- as conservatives. It's a difficult post to quote selectively, but his main contention seems to be that both young leftists and young conservatives are finding themselves in revolt against a culture of homogenization, corporate banality, and "the open-ended expansion and entrenchment of squalid, overpriced, invasive, pancultural, inefficient, counterconstitutional, and therapeutic politics." To Poulos, articles like Taibbi's belie the notion of any triumphant liberal ascendancy. On the contrary:
Young leftists of the sort that keep Adbusters one of the consistently sane mags on the stands are now experiencing the sort of nauseous reappraisal of Democratic orthodoxy as certain young conservatives are concerning post-Bush Republican orthodoxy.This looks to me like wishful thinking. As I said before, what's odd about Taibbi's piece is that he's attacking the fringe left as though it were the mainstream left. It's one thing to do this when you're a conservative out for liberal blood; it's another to do it when you're a liberal whose views are, in fact, right in the mainstream of the progressive movement. The vital center of the liberal/progressive/whatever left is much closer to the American Prospect than to Z Mag, to John Edwards than to Reverend Billy.
[M]ost of the smart young lefties I know aren't interested in some grand convergence with disillusioned populist-conservatives; they're interested in harnessing the kind of "office-park populism" that gave us Jim Webb and Sherrod Brown and Jon Tester in order to dramatically expand social democracy in the United States. For some, this means a return the old-time religion (a higher minimum wage, strong unions, government jobs programs, etc.); for others, it means a smarter, more growth-friendly form of social democracy (think Denmark*, rather than France); for most, it means some combination thereof. But the overall model is still bigger government plus cultural permissiveness, not some kind of "small is beautiful" left-conservatism out to defend the permanent things against the ravages of modernity.And this is why, as he writes in another post, Taibbi's complaint seems to strike such a false note:
He's trotting out warmed-over Thomas Frank, kvetching about how the DLC made the Democrats "sell out on financial issues in exchange for support from Wall Street" and how "no one has stepped up to talk to the 30 million working poor who struggle to get by on low-wage, part-time jobs" in a year when (as Matt points out) the Dems have moved so far toward the "progressive" wing of the party that Hillary Clinton, the rightward-most of the leading candidates, is running well to the left of John Kerry in 2004.None of which is to say that the Democrats are now, en masse, willing to take dictation from the progressive left -- much as I wish that were the case. But we are managing, roughly, to steer them in the right direction (and to be fair, Thomas Frank played his role in that effort). Nor does it mean that all of the left's internal tensions and contradictions have been resolved. Far from it -- yet for a number of reasons those contradictions simply aren't as stark and fundamental as the ones with which the right is faced.
Glenn Greenwald, as he tends to do, nails it. In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Greenwald attacks the Manichean worldview that structures conservative discourse on war and terror:
One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness -- who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to a crusade against Evil -- is that the moral imperative driving the mission will justify any and all means used to achieve it. Those who have become convinced that they are waging an epic and all-consuming existential war against Evil cannot, by the very premises of their belief system, accept any limitations -- moral, pragmatic, or otherwise -- on the methods adopted to triumph in this battle.Greenwald's critique is tremendously important. Right-wing Manicheanism has taken over the national debate on security matters, operating as a literally totalitarian thought system, in that it subsumes all discourse into its own unanswerable internal logic. We've become familiar with the notion of framing in political discourse: well, this is the meta-frame. It quashes every attempt by liberals and moderates to raise rational points and does tremendous damage to constitutional liberties, the national interest, and global well-being.
Efforts to impose limits on waging war against Evil will themselves be seen as impediments to Good, if not as an attempt to aid and abet Evil. In a Manichean worldview, there is no imperative that can compete with the mission of defeating Evil. The primacy of that mandate is unchallengeable. Hence, there are no valid reasons for declaring off-limits any weapons that can be deployed in service of the war against Evil.
Equally operative in the Manichean worldview is the principle that those who are warriors for a universal Good cannot recognize that the particular means they employ in service of their mission may be immoral or even misguided. The very fact that the instruments they embrace are employed in service of their Manichean mission renders any such objections incoherent. How can an act undertaken in order to strengthen the side of Good, and to weaken the forces of Evil, ever be anything other than Good in itself? Thus, any act undertaken by a warrior of Good in service of the war against Evil is inherently moral for that reason alone. [...]
These principles illuminate a central, and tragic, paradox at the heart of the Bush presidency. The president who vowed to lead America in a moral crusade to win hearts and minds around the world has so inflamed anti-American sentiment that America's moral standing in the world is at an all-time low. The president who vowed to defend the Good in the world from the forces of Evil has caused the United States to be held in deep contempt by large segments of virtually every country on every continent of the world, including large portions of nations with which the U.S. has historically been allied. The president who vowed to undertake a war in defense of American values and freedoms has presided over such radical departures from the defining values and liberties of this country that many Americans find their country and its government unrecognizable. And the president who vowed to lead the war for freedom and democracy has made torture, rendition, abductions, lawless detentions of even our own citizens, secret "black site" prisons, Abu Ghraib dog leashes, and orange Guantánamo jumpsuits the strange, new symbols of America around the world.
But our entire system of government, from its inception, has been based upon a very different calculus -- that is, that many things matter besides merely protecting ourselves against threats, and consequently, we are willing to accept risks, even potentially fatal ones, in order to secure those other values. From its founding, America has rejected the worldview of prioritizing physical safety above all else, as such a mentality leads to an impoverished and empty civic life. The premise of America is and always has been that imposing limitations on government power is necessary to secure liberty and avoid tyranny even if it means accepting an increased risk of death as a result. That is the foundational American value.Because it is a totalitarian framework of logic, the only way to defeat it is to attack it at its foundations, to root out its very premise, as Greenwald is doing. Conservatives have often gained the advantage in American public discourse because they build and re-enforce these meta-frames with great care; for liberals to bring reason back to the debate we'll need to do a considerable amount of foundational work of our own. This means, in the present case, repeatedly making the argument that Manicheanism is foolish and destructive, that we cannot afford to make policy according to a worldview defined by a simpleminded division of Good v. Evil.
"Mets Said to Be Looking Into an MLS Franchise."
I've suggested before that conservatives tend to have a very poorly developed theory of mind when it comes to liberals -- that is, they seem to be very bad at understanding how liberals actually think. It's something I ponder because as a liberal who purports to write about how conservatives think, it's good to stay pretty humble about my capacity to genuinely understand the psychology of the other side.
We know from looking back over the decades that Kennedy’s sudden death cast a long shadow over American life, which I have tried to describe. Many of us thought that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 would also have great consequences for the way Americans looked at politics, the parties, and national security. In particular, some felt that the attacks might drive out of our politics the tone of anti-Americanism that had been a key feature of the American Left from the 1960s forward. That did not really happen. The liberal movement today remains far more the product of the 1960s than of the terrorist attacks and their aftermath. Indeed, the terrorist attacks now seem to have had very little effect on the thinking of American liberals who view the war on terror and the war in Iraq through the lenses of the Vietnam War. That is not true of conservatives. In that sense, the terrorist attacks have simply deepened the divide between liberals and conservatives. What is surprising, then, is what little enduring effect the terrorist attacks have had, particularly for liberals.Honestly, for the longest time I thought that conservatives were smarter than this, that they didn't actually believe this garbage but merely used it for their own political gain. But I'm starting to think that they really do believe it. These are ostensibly intelligent people, getting paid to write books about this stuff. And they really have no idea.