As someone who for decades has been kept out of the media-manipulated political conversation and who has had none of his many books reviewed in the mainstream press, despite being published by Cambridge, Princeton and other prestigious presses, I regard my presence in this forum as the equivalent of gate-crashing. Having said that, I see no reason why those who ignore me should want to treat me any better in the future. I have shown my contempt for their orchestrated discussions on whom or what is “conservative.” For thirty years I have argued that the Left enjoys the prerogative of choosing its “conservative” debating partners in the US and in other Western “liberal democracies.” Those it dialogues with are more similar to the gatekeepers, sociologically and ideologically, than they are to those who, like me, have been relegated to the “extreme (read non-cooperative) Right.” At this point I have no objections to creating new categories for “gay conservatives,” “transvestite reactionaries” or any other group the New York Times or National Review decides to reach out to. I consider the terms “conservative” and “liberal” to be empty decoration. They adorn a trivial form of discussion, diverting attention from the most significant political development of our time, namely the replacement of the Marxist by the PC Left.
While the American Right was once geared to fight the “Communist” threat, today’s “conservatives” (yes I am inserting quotation marks for obvious reasons) have capitulated to the post-Communist Left (to which in this country an anachronistic nineteenth-century designation “liberal” has been arbitrarily ascribed). The “conservative movement” happily embraces the heroes and issues of yesterday’s Left, from the cult of Martin Luther King to the defense of “moderate feminism” and Irving Kristol’s confected concept of the “democratic capitalist welfare state” to David Frum’s and Ross Douthat’s praise for gay marriage as a “family value.” When our conservative journalists and talking heads are not engaging in such value-discourses, they do what comes even more naturally, shilling for the GOP. Conservatism and whatever the GOP may be doing at a particular moment to scare up votes . . .
Read more: The Right vs. Conservatives vs. The Left
Following developments in the Republican presidential nominating contest the instability of the race is stark. Every political contest involves flawed candidates: how could it be otherwise? But often the public develops a firm sense of the perspective of the candidates and chooses to join a team. As primary campaigns are waged on a state-by-state basis, it is expected that in some realms one candidate will do better than another, but psychiatric mood swings are something else. We saw the politics of allegiance in the competition between Barack and Hillary (and the wormy love apple: imagine our blue dress politics in an Edwards presidency!). In the states of the industrial Midwest, home to Reagan Democrats, Hillary posted strong numbers; Obama was more successful in states not so hard hit by industrial decline, states with a rainbow electorate, and those open to a new type of politics. Soon one knew the metrics of the race, even if the outcome was uncertain. But the Republican campaign upends these rules as voter preferences lurch wildly. This is a campaign year that reminds us of voters’ cultural fickleness – their political ADD. They are watching a reality television show and so are we (Jeff Goldfarb describes his pained reaction in “The Republican Reality Show”). If one is not newly tickled, one turns away. Media narratives set our politics.
We have gazed at candidates, quasi-candidates, and proto-candidates – Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and The Donald – dance with the stars. Can parties fire their voters? Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty could have had his turn had he the internal fortitude or cockeyed optimism to recognize that to be dismissed in August might lead to be crowned a year later. If politics were based on a comparison and conflict of ideas, this would be inconceivable.
But American politics has become, as Jeffrey Goldfarb emphasizes, a reality show – adore it, dismiss it, or despise it, but depend on it. Voters demand diversion; they want bread and circuses, at least circuses. Around the scrum are kibitzers, now Sarah Palin and . . .
Read more: The Florida Primary and The ADD Electorate
Republican ideological excess and disintegration were in clear view in Iowa. New Hampshire suggested that this would likely lead to a weakened Romney candidacy. Now, the South Carolina results raise doubts about Romney’s inevitability. This was widely discussed yesterday among media pundits of various political stripes. But I think that more importantly the results highlight the sad state of the political culture of the right. They also enrich my judgment of how the general election will look.
The competing candidates represented disintegrating components of the right. Santorum is the value conservative, appealing to the working class, what remains of the Reagan Democrats. Ron Paul is the libertarian anti-statist, as the purist appealing especially to the young. Romney is the capitalist, the Republican of big business, once identified as moderate or even liberal (Romney’s father), now identified unsteadily as conservative. And Newt Gingrich is the Republican of resentment, more expressive of anger than of a clear reasoned position.
Gingrich, the demagogue, prevailed. He not so obliquely is the candidate of racist attack, as he rails against Obama as “the food stamp president.” He is the anti-elitist, denouncing the liberal media, and the Washington and New York establishments, proclaiming himself to be “the Reagan populist conservative.” Yet, Reagan created his coalition through the force of his positive personality, while Gingrich, in South Carolina, put together his primary victory with his personal negativity.
In response to my last post on the Republican primary season, Michael Corey challenged me, and Deliberately Considered readers, to take seriously Romney’s speech after he won the New Hampshire primary, to understand what Romney was presenting as the alternative to Obama’s policies. I think he misunderstood me. I recognize that Romney is presenting alternatives, as are Paul and Santorum. I welcome posts and responses explaining and supporting these positions. Wall Street, libertarian and value conservatives do have positive, but largely incompatible views. I judged, though, that the only thing that holds the Republicans together now is the emotional rejection of Obama. This was confirmed in South Carolina in the Gingrich victory.
I doubt . . .
Read more: All You Need to Know about the Republican Primary in South Carolina
The primary results in New Hampshire Tuesday night point toward the general election campaign. Romney will be the (uninspiring) Republican candidate. As he runs against “Obama’s failed presidency,” many conservatives will wonder whether there really is a choice. Ron Paul will probably not run as an independent libertarian, but his supporters will have to judge, in their terms, whether a big government Republican is really preferable to a big government Democrat. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will dutifully follow the leader, but working class Republicans, or as they used to be called Reagan Democrats, will harbor their doubts concerning the representation of their economic or moral interests. Republican unity, if not enthusiasm, will focus on the negative, the rejection of Barack Obama, but the 2010 Republican emotional advantage, which is very important in politics, as Jim Jasper has explored here, is finished.
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Recent posts and discussions at Deliberately Considered have been about fundamental problems in contemporary democratic culture: the need to engage in political discussion beyond clichés, the consequences of the persistence of modern magical political thinking, and the danger of transition to dictatorship from democracy. It makes me think about the state of the right and the left and the ideal of a contested political center.
Ideology has not ended, to my dismay (as I reported in my New Year’s post). People believe that they have the truth in politics in a variety of different forms, on the left and right, in the U.S. and globally. In a strange mirroring of Socrates, who confirmed that he was the wisest of men because he “knew that he didn’t know,” contemporary ideologues know that their opponents don’t know. Opponents don’t only think differently but incorrectly, politically incorrect. Material interests, character, moral failure and ignorance are used to explain the other’s mistaken position. Alternative views are dismissed instead of confronted. True believing market fundamentalists know that the problem of the economy will be solved through de-regulation. They will not pay attention to the arguments and evidence of those who explain how such de-regulation is the cause of our global economic crisis. Those who are sure that capitalism is the root of all evil won’t pay attention to those who examine how all attempts to construct a systemic alternative to capitalism in the last century have ended in economic and political failure. It is not the convictions that I find disturbing. It is the unwillingness of people to actually take into account the insights and evidence of those with whom they disagree.
Thus, I think that Gary Alan Fine’s imagined magazine is not only a matter of idiosyncratic taste. As he put it in his recent post:
“I hold to a somewhat eccentric contention that there are smart liberals (neo- and old-timey, pink and pinker), conservatives (neo- and paleo-), progressives, reactionaries, socialists, libertarians, and more. Is my generosity so bizarre?”
No, not at all bizarre. I think there is a pressing need . . .
Read more: Between Left and Right: The Contested Center
It’s déjà vu all over again, a nursery rhyme with a political twist.
“The Republican Party sat on the wall. The Republican Party had a great fall. All the Party horses and all the Party men couldn’t put the Party back together again.”
Last night in the Iowa caucuses, the Reagan revolution died before our eyes, and no one seems to be noticing. The fundamental components of the Republican Party, forged together by Ronald Reagan in1980, are no longer part of a whole, ripped apart by the Tea Party and its unintended consequences. The only thing that may keep the party going is hatred of Barack Obama.
“Reaganism” was never a coherent position. It involved tensions that were unified by the power of Reagan’s sunny televisual personality.
In 1991, in The Cynical Society, I observed:
“The ‘conservative mood’ was not a … natural creation. It was constructed … by Reagan himself…his package brought together a new combination of symbols and policies…Fetal rights, a balanced-budget amendment, advanced nuclear armaments, tax and social-welfare cuts, and anti-communism do not necessarily combine. Reagan combined them.
As the satirical columnist, Russell Baker glibly put it, some supported Reagan so that he could be Reagan (the ideologues – this was the well-known refrain of the New Right), others supported him so that he could be the Gipper (the nice guy) he portrayed in an old Hollywood football film. But both sorts of supporters, who were fundamentally in conflict, created the new conservative mood. They constituted the Reagan mandate. Reagan did not represent a diverse constituency. He created it as the political majority.”
Neo-conservatives concerned then about the Communist threat, now are concerned with Islamofascism. Christian moralists, libertarians and corporate conservatives conflict on many issues. Reagan minimized this through his media presentation of self in political life.
The coalition persisted through the one term . . .
Read more: Iowa: The Republicans Fall Apart
If it can be said that the devil is in the details, Barack Obama is on the side of the angels. It has been legislative tradition for the party out of power to complain with piss’n’vinegar about raising the debt ceiling on American borrowing, and even in symbolic fashion to vote against the rise, as pre-presidential Obama did to his lasting regret. In the end the vote is anti-climatic. The debt ceiling is raised and despite promises to do better, politicians relying on the short memories of their constituents go their merry way. Depending on which party is in power, they continue to tax and spend or merely to spend.
But summer ‘11 is different. Unlike most Julys, this is not the Silly Season. The fresh crop of Republicans has that most dire of all political virtues: sincerity. It is not that these freshmen are insane or are terrorists, as flame-throwers on the poetic left suggest. Rather they share a perspective on government that, even if it is not always explicitly or candidly presented, is certainly a legitimate view of how a quasi-libertarian state should be organized. As boisterous tea party rebels, they are children of Ron Paul and, with less intellectual gravitas, of Milton Friedman. It is the task of Speaker John Boehner to hide their deep desires – currently unlikely to be enacted – from the public. These politicians wish broad principled cuts. Call them “radical” if you reject them, but, after all, this rhetoric mirrors the self-enhancing distinction: I am firm, but she is stubborn. As the Speaker’s plans evolve, it is increasingly unclear when and where these billions of cuts will derive. One can’t but imagine that this is a shell game with the American public as the marks. Boehner is the adult in the room, but like so many parents, he tries to misdirect his offspring’s attention hoping against hope that the promises will be forgotten.
The Suckers March: Show Us the Cuts
In his remarks to the nation last night on the way forward in Afghanistan, the leadership style of President Obama was on full view. He presented a clear rational position, addressing immediate concerns with precision and subtlety, placing a simple decision about the pace of troop withdrawals in a larger historical context. It was rhetorically elegant. It was, from a strictly formal point of view, a satisfying speech. It was substantively, though, challenging, concerning immediate military, political and economic calculations.
I watched the address having earlier in the week attended a local organizing meeting of “Organizing for America” (which will soon again become “Obama for America”). The attendees included those who are realistically pleased with Obama’s Presidency, and those who were once enthusiastic, but are now skeptical. I thought about both the skeptics and the realists watching the speech.
An anti-war activist was particularly concerned about Obama’s war policies. To his mind, Obama has continued Bush’s approach, with variations on a deeply problematic theme. While he had listened carefully during the campaign to Barack Obama, as the candidate promised to withdraw from the bad war in Iraq so that we could fight the good fight in Afghanistan, he has still been disappointed by that war’s escalation. He predicted that Obama would announce a minuscule reduction of forces. I recall: 5,000 this summer and 10,000 in a year. He didn’t believe that a real change in direction of an overly militarized foreign policy would be forthcoming.
The announced troop reductions more than double my neighbor’s expectation. But I suspect that he is not satisfied. After all, the announced withdrawal of 33,000 troops by the end of next summer will still leave twice as many troops in Afghanistan than at the beginning of the Obama administration. The Congressional Democrats who are criticizing Obama’s decision are representing broad public judgment that enough is enough in Afghanistan. I should add that I share this judgment.
There were of course no strong opponents of the President at our meeting. Although it is noteworthy that the first meeting . . .
Read more: Obama on Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal
I am allergic to political gatherings. You are not likely to discover me at movement rallies, rubber-chicken circuit banquets, or victory parties (more commonly weep-in-your-drink defeatathons). I treasure the quietude of the old voting booths where one could think one’s civic thoughts while surrounded by worn fabric. I enjoyed the experience so much that I annually decided to change at least one intended vote just because that choice would mean that casting a ballot was an act of deliberation.
Still, nineteen years ago on a bright September afternoon, I made my way to the train station in Norcross, Georgia, near where I resided at the time. That day Al Gore was coming to town. I no longer recall whether Gore was riding a whistle-stop train or merely using the station as a nostalgic background. Given Atlanta’s transportation mess, I imagine it was the latter. The idea of rearranging my schedule to hear Senator Gore declaim might seem an act of perversity, or at least desperation.
But it was not. It was lovely and sweet and purposive, not only because of the flags and the band and National gemeinschaft and Southern gemutlichkeit. Without yelling, Al Gore was eloquent, passionate and true. At least true enough for campaign purposes. I left persuaded that the order of the Democrats’ 1992 ticket should be reversed. I voted standing on my head.
I tell this tale because of current discussions of Indiana’s Mitch Daniels and Minnesota’s Timothy James Pawlenty, both of whom being regarded as a bit wonkish and “Gorish.” Apparently Daniels homelife was slightly Gothic, and he decided that he could miss the attentions of Perez Hilton, Gail Collins, Larry Flynt, and Matt Drudge, but T-Paw has decided to make a go of it. It is too early to trek to a local rail station, if there are . . .
Read more: In Praise of Serious Pols