Democrats and Republicans reverse roles

Have you noticed that it’s now the Democrats who are trying to wage a culture war?  Meanwhile, all Republicans want to talk about today is economics, which was always the interest of the New Deal Democrats.  [Read more...]

One Nation Conservatism

Mitt Romney seems to dismiss the 47% of Americans who will never vote for him anyway.  James P. Pinkerton, though, recounts another kind of conservatism–the tradition of Disraeli, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and others–that is oriented to the 100%.

This is the ideology of the popular conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who described his philosophy this way:

I’m a one-nation Tory. There is a duty on the part of the rich to the poor and to the needy, but you are not going to help people express that duty and satisfy it if you punish them fiscally so viciously that they leave this city and this country. I want London to be a competitive, dynamic place to come to work.

It is also the ideology of Calvin Coolidge, who said this:

The commonwealth is one. We are all members of one body. The welfare of the weakest and the welfare of the most powerful are inseparably bound together. Industry cannot flourish if labor languish. Transportation cannot prosper if manufactures decline. The general welfare cannot be provided for in any one act, but it is well to remember that the benefit of one is the benefit of all, and the neglect of one is the neglect of all. The suspension of one man’s dividends is the suspension of another man’s pay envelope.

via What Happened to the 100 Percent? | The American Conservative.

This brand of conservatism tries to create a sense of national unity, rather than setting groups off against each other, embraces patriotism, tries to reform social evils, and thus inspires voters.

Do you see any prospect for bringing this back?

Are the Republicans still a national party?

Daniel McCarthy,  the editor of The American Conservative, answers that question with a “no.”  He points out that Republicans have become very successful on the local and state levels, but haven’t won a plurality of votes in a national presidential race for four out of the last five elections.  McCarthy explores why this is and why Republicans keep nominating moderates who have to masquerade as conservatives, only to lose national elections.  Samples:

If the only effect in play were the strength of grassroots right-wing constituencies, you wouldn’t expect the party to consistently nominate moderates like both Bushes, Dole, McCain, and Romney. None of those nominees had impeccable conservative credentials — far from it. But once they got the nomination, they didn’t run as the moderates they were; most of them sold themselves as being at least as right as Reagan, even in the general election. At least since 2004, this is because the party has pursued a base strategy: an attempt to eke out a narrow win by getting more Republicans to the polls than Democrats, with independents — a small and difficult-to-market-to demographic — basically ignored. The party tries to leverage its regional identity and regional organization into presidential victory. It has failed four times out of five. . . .

Republicans tend to have a clear establishment front-runner going into their presidential contests, and that individual pretty much always wins the nomination, in part because he usually has far more money than his opponents. Indeed, that financial advantage allows the establishment front-runner to discourage viable semi-establishment opponents — your Mitch Daniels types — from even entering the race. That leaves the ideological groups to field their own non-viable standard-bearer — Huckabee or Santorum types. Because the eventual GOP nominee pursues a base strategy, though, he winds up embarrassing himself by trying to sound “severely conservative.” He has to get religious right and Tea Party voters to turn out for him. But even if they do, they’re not enough: those constituencies don’t add up to 50 percent of the electorate. Republicans are actually closer than Democrats to being the real 47 percent party. (Though it’s more accurate to say the GOP is the 48-49 percent party and the Democrats are the 49-50 percent party.)

This isn’t all about elections, however. The policy options that Congress and the president get to consider and the intellectual life of the nation are also warped by the GOP’s “47 percent” ideology. Because conservatives over-identify with the GOP, and the GOP’s identity is determined by factional and regional ideologies, the result is that conservatives take their definition of conservatism from the party and that definition is more regional- and interest-based than philosophical. This accounts for the spectacle of the GOP periodically getting worked up about “big government” while in fact expanding government — welfare state, warfare state, banning internet gambling, you name it — whenever it’s in power. The blue state/red state psychological divide is more fundamental to the party’s understanding of the world than is any consistent view of the proper extent and uses of government. . . .

None of this has anything to do with the historic conservatism of Edmund Burke or John Adams, Russell Kirk or Robert Nisbet. It doesn’t even look like the capacious conservatism of Ronald Reagan. It’s a scam: it does little for values in the culture as a whole because the values in question are those of an ideological minority only interested in winning through minority-organization politics; it can’t look at big-picture economics because doing so would tick off the financial interests and get anyone who broached the question read out of conservatism by Wall Street’s coalition allies. A traditionalist or consistently libertarian critic would be perceived as speaking up for lazy immoral city-dwelling welfare queens. This fanciful identity politics, and not principled economics, is what lies behind talk about “socialism,” “big government,” and the “47 percent.” If the case were otherwise, you’d see the anti-dependency case made against the Pentagon, defense contractors, churches taking government money, and red-state recipients of all kinds of largesse.

Is the GOP Still a National Party? | The American Conservative.

HT:  Todd

Liberals have no books

Yale professor and political liberal Beverly Gage laments that conservatives have an intellectual tradition carried on in books, but liberals don’t.  They used to–and note what the key books were–but don’t any more, leaving them intellectually weak and poorly grounded:

We tend to think of the conservative influence in purely political terms: electing Ronald Reagan in 1980, picking away at Social Security, reducing taxes for the wealthy. But one of the movement’s most lasting successes has been in developing a common intellectual heritage. Any self-respecting young conservative knows the names you’re supposed to spout: Hayek, Rand, Ludwig von Mises, Albert Jay Nock. There are some older thinkers too—Edmund Burke, for instance—but for the most part the favored thinkers come out of the movement’s mid-20th century origins in opposition to Soviet communism and the New Deal.

Liberals, by contrast, have been moving in the other direction over the last half-century, abandoning the idea that ideas can be powerful political tools. This may seem like a strange statement at a moment when American universities are widely understood to be bastions of liberalism, and when liberals themselves are often derided as eggheaded elites. But there is a difference between policy smarts honed in college classrooms and the kind of intellectual conversation that keeps a movement together. What conservatives have developed is what the left used to describe as a “movement culture”: a shared set of ideas and texts that bind activists together in common cause. Liberals, take note

Once upon a time, the Old Left had “movement culture” par excellence: to be considered a serious activist, you had to read Marx and Lenin until your eyes bled. For better or worse, that never resulted in much electoral power (nor was it intended to) and within a few decades became the hallmark of pedantry rater than intellectual vitality.

The New Left reinvented that heritage in the 1960s. Instead of (or in addition to) Marx and Lenin, activists began to read Herbert Marcuse, C. Wright Mills, and Saul Alinsky. As new, more particular movements developed, the reading list grew to include feminists, African-Americans, and other traditionally excluded groups. This vastly enhanced the range of voices in the public sphere—one of the truly great revolutions in American intellectual politics. But it did little to create a single coherent language through which to maintain common cause. Instead, the left ended up with multiple “movement cultures,” most of them more focused on issue-oriented activism than on a common set of ideas.

Liberals have channeled their energies even more narrowly over the past half-century, tending to prefer policy tweaks and electoral mapping to big-picture thinking. When was the last time you saw a prominent liberal politician ascribe his or her passion and interest in politics to, of all things, a book?

via Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand: Why don’t America liberals have their own canon of writers and thinkers? – Slate Magazine.

Batman as conservative movie

Though, as we posted, the Democrats are making a big deal of the villain in the new Batman movie being named “Bane,” as in Romney’s Bain Capital, John Boot reports that the film is explicitly, unabashedly Reaganite, an overt attack on the Occupy Wall Street ideology:

If The Dark Knight was about the War on Terror, The Dark Knight Rises puts equal force and fury behind a tale about financial crisis and revolution. It’s the first Occupy Wall Street blockbuster, and that Christopher Nolan’s film was well underway before the OWS movement even got started is a tribute to his perspicacity.

The new film is a pleasure, sprawling in its storytelling, satisfyingly brawny, and occasionally moving, particularly in a terrific final act. In addition to all of that, the movie is so unabashed about its conservative message that you practically expect it to end with a dedication to Ronald Reagan. See if you can think of the last movie you saw that shows hundreds of big-city police officers lining up against a rowdy mob — and the police are the good guys. The movie is a counter-revolutionary document with as much damnation for populist revolt as Dr. Zhivago. . . .

Thanks to corporate intrigue [Bruce Wayne has] been marginalized at his company and he’s being hassled by a philanthropist (Marion Cotillard) who wants him to pour more resources into a failed clean-energy project involving a “fusion” reactor that is not only not working but can be converted into a nuclear weapon. With Gotham City at peace, Batman isn’t needed anymore, and thanks in part to the efforts of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), he is regarded as a terrorist psychopath anyway. . . .

When Bane goes to work destroying Gotham City, he first heads for the stock exchange to cause a mini-financial crisis (which, somewhat strangely, morphs into a big action scene that is more enjoyable if you don’t think about it too much). As Selina Kyle warns, in a line that could have been written by Occupy Wall Street, “There’s a storm coming….you and your friends better batten down the hatches.” On cue, her associate Bane launches a full-on proletarian revolution in which the meek are given the support of his thug army as they strike down the rich, the police officers having been caged up. This Michael Moore fantasy, though, is treated with no sentimentality at all. Garbage immediately piles up in the streets and justice is dispensed a la Robespierre, with bourgeois dissenters being sentenced to death without trial. Only Batman, an aristocratic capitalist hero, can restore the balance.

Watching a businessman billionaire smite the forces of a nefarious rabble-rouser who purports to speak for the surly mob is a story line we can only hope to see promoted from the entertainment section to the front page this November. But until then, The Dark Knight Rises is a rip-roaring serving of wish fulfillment, the rare summer blockbuster with a lot of ideas in its head and all of them conservative.

via PJ Lifestyle » Batman, One Percenter?.

The movie opens today.  I’m on the road and can’t see it until I get back.  I’ll leave it to you readers who see it this weekend to let the rest of us know how it is.  Specifically, who is right about the movie?   Is it liberal or  conservative?

Institutionalism vs. Constitutionalism

As I keep saying, there are different kinds of conservatism.  Michael Gerson makes that point in his discussion of Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ ruling on Obamacare:

His health-care ruling did expose a division between two varieties of judicial conservatism — institutionalism and constitutionalism — that can lead to very different outcomes.

Roberts has emerged as the great institutionalist, concerned primarily about the place of the Supreme Court in American political life. In this view, the court maintains its power by exercising it sparingly — deferring whenever possible to the legislative branch. Institutionalism embodies a temperamental conservatism — a commitment to continuity, humility and prudence.

The main constitutionalists on the court are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, focused on the rigorous application of the words of the founding document. In this view, the meaning of the text is primary, whatever the political consequences of applying it. Constitutionalism is often accompanied by an understandable complaint: If the conservative response following every period of liberal activism is humility and continuity, then the ideological ratchet turns only leftward.

My natural sympathies are with institutionalism as an antidote to judicial arrogance. Donning a black robe does not assume or create a superior knowledge of public policy. Roberts’s desire to defer, particularly on a divisive issue in the middle of a presidential election, is the right tendency, the correct Burkean instinct.

But judges are also not hired as political philosophers, Burkean or otherwise. Their legitimacy comes from a credible application of the law. And the outcome of the health care case came down to one point of law: Roberts’s interpretation of the statute as a constitutional tax rather than an unconstitutional mandate. In his ruling, Roberts admits this view is hardly the most obvious one: “The question is not whether that is the most natural interpretation of the mandate, but only whether it is a ‘fairly possible’ one.”

The problem is that Roberts’s interpretation is not fairly, or even remotely, possible. If the law had been written in the Roberts version — as a regressive federal tax on the uninsured — there is no chance it would have passed Congress. More to the point, the law that Roberts describes would have covered a different number of the uninsured. Academic studies indicate that people respond differently to tax penalties than they do the legal mandates. “When the imperative to buy insurance,” notes Yuval Levin, “is instead presented as a choice between two options, more people will likely choose the cheaper option (which, for almost everyone, will be paying the tax rather than buying the coverage).”

Why did Roberts not account for this policy distinction? The most natural interpretation is that he didn’t know anything about it. Which is precisely the point. Roberts is not a health policy expert. His clever reinterpretation of the health law would actually change its outcome. This is not an alternate reading but an alternate universe.

Even in a short time, Roberts’s decision has not worn well. What initially seemed wise now smacks of mere cleverness — less a judge’s prudence than a lawyer’s trick. To find the health-care law constitutional, Roberts reimagined it. It was outcome-based jurisprudence, even if the intended outcome was institutional harmony. It was an act of judicial arrogance, even in the cause of judicial deference. And it raises deeper concerns. Unmoored from a reasonable interpretation of the law, institutionalism easily becomes the creed of the philosopher-king — hovering above the balance of powers, tinkering benevolently here and there, instead of living within the constraints of the system.

via Michael Gerson: John Roberts’s alternate universe – The Washington Post.

Lots of good lines here:  Outcome-based jurisprudence.  Obamacare as a tax on the uninsured.  Fairly-possible interpretations.

I don’t know that a Burkean kind of conservative–one who is protective of traditions, institutions, and culture–would really defer to such a recent decision that has not yet become a tradition.

Still, what do you think of this philosophical dichotomy?  Where else do you see it?


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