State of the Union

Stop the Impeachment Talk

Matt Cadwaller / Flickr

Increasingly, across this city, the “I” word is being heard. Impeachment is being brought up by Republicans outraged over Barack Obama’s usurpations of power and unilateral rewriting of laws. And Obama is taunting John Boehner and the GOP: “So sue me.”

Democrats are talking impeachment to rally a lethargic base to come out and vote this fall to prevent Republicans from taking control of the Senate, and with it the power to convict an impeached president. Still, Republicans should drop the talk of impeachment.

For the GOP would gain nothing and risk everything if the people began to take seriously their threats to do to Barack Obama what Newt Gingrich’s House did to Bill Clinton. The charges for which a president can be impeached and removed from office, are “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” With Bill Clinton, the impeachers had a solid case of perjury.

With Richard Nixon, they had a preponderance of evidence that, at least for a time, he had sought to obstruct justice in the investigation of the Watergate break-in. Article II of the impeachment of Richard Nixon was for misuse of the IRS in what turned out to be futile and failed attempts to have the agency harass political enemies by having them audited. As yet there is no evidence Obama knew of the IRS plot to delay and deny tax exemptions to Tea Party groups, which would be an abuse of power and a trampling upon the constitutional rights of Tea Partiers, who were denied the equal protection of the laws.

The GOP response to the lost emails of Lois Lerner and crashed computers that went missing should be a drumbeat of demands for the appointment of an independent counsel, not an impeachment committee in the House. Obama claims he did not learn of the IRS abuse until years after it began, and weeks after his White House staff learned of it. In the absence of those emails, the claim cannot be refuted.

In the Benghazi scandal, the president’s defense is the same.

He had no idea what was going on. And cluelessness appears here to be a credible defense. Two weeks after the Benghazi atrocity, Obama was at the U.N. still parroting the Susan Rice line about an anti-Muslim video having been the cause of it all. Has the president unilaterally rewritten the Obamacare law, while ignoring the Congress that wrote it? Indeed, he has.

But would a Republican Party that failed and folded when it tried to use its legitimate power of the purse to defund Obamacare really stand firm in an Antietam battle to impeach a president of the United States? Or is this just “beer talk”?

Impeachment is in the last analysis a political act. The impeachment of Nixon was a coup d’etat by liberal enemies who, though repudiated and routed by the electorate in 1972, still retained the institutional power to break him and destroy his presidency. And, undeniably, he gave them the tools.

In the case of Nixon, political enemies controlled both houses of the Congress. Washington was a hostile city. Though he had swept 49 states, Nixon lost D.C. 3-to-1. The bureaucracy built up in the New Deal and Great Society was deep-dyed Democratic. Most crucially, the Big Media whose liberal bias had been exposed by Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew were hell-bent on revenge. All three power centers—the bureaucracy, Congress, the Big Media—worked in harness to bring Nixon down.

No such powerful and hostile coalition exits today with Obama. Read More…

Posted in , , . Tagged , . 28 comments

The Lie of Richard Nixon’s Racism

Richard M. Nixon presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Duke Ellington, 04/24/1969
Richard M. Nixon presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Duke Ellington, 04/24/1969

“For the first time since President Richard M. Nixon’s divisive ‘Southern strategy’ that sent whites to the Republican Party and blacks to the Democrats …” began a New York Times story last week. Thus has one of the big lies of U.S. political history morphed into a cliche—that Richard Nixon used racist politics to steal the South from a Democratic Party battling heroically for civil rights.

A brief stroll through Bruce Bartlett’s Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past might better enlighten us.

Where Teddy Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dinner, Woodrow Wilson re-segregated the U.S. government and had the pro-Klan film “Birth of a Nation” screened in his White House. Wilson and FDR carried all 11 states of the Old Confederacy all six times they ran, when Southern blacks had no vote. Disfranchised black folks did not seem to bother these greatest of liberal icons.

As vice president, FDR chose “Cactus Jack” Garner of Texas who played a major role in imposing a poll tax to keep blacks from voting. Among FDR’s Supreme Court appointments was Hugo Black, a Klansman who claimed FDR knew this when he named him in 1937 and that FDR told him that “some of his best friends” in Georgia were Klansmen. Black’s great achievement as a lawyer was in winning the acquittal of a man who shot to death the Catholic priest who had presided over his daughter’s marriage to a Puerto Rican.

In 1941, FDR named South Carolina Sen. “Jimmy” Byrnes to the Supreme Court. Byrnes had led filibusters in 1935 and 1938 that killed anti-lynching bills, arguing that lynching was necessary “to hold in check the Negro in the South.” FDR refused to back the 1938 anti-lynching law.

“This is a white man’s country and will always remain a white man’s country,” said Jimmy. Harry Truman, who paid $10 to join the Klan, then quit, named Byrnes Secretary of State, putting him first in line of succession to the presidency, as Harry then had no V.P.

During the civil rights struggles of the ’50s and ’60s, Gov. Orval Faubus used the National Guard to keep black students out of Little Rock High. Gov. Ross Barnett refused to let James Meredith into Ole Miss. Gov. George Wallace stood in the door at the University of Alabama, to block two black students from entering. All three governors were Democrats. All acted in accord with the “Dixie Manifesto” of 1956, which was signed by 19 senators, all Democrats, and 80 Democratic congressmen.

Among the signers of the manifesto, which called for massive resistance to the Brown decision desegregating public schools, was the vice presidential nominee on Adlai’s Stevenson’s ticket in 1952, Sen. John Sparkman of Alabama. Though crushed by Eisenhower, Adlai swept the Deep South, winning both Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. Do you suppose those Southerners thought Adlai would be tougher than Ike on Stalin? Or did they think Adlai would maintain the unholy alliance of Southern segregationists and Northern liberals that enabled Democrats to rule from 1932 to 1952?

The Democratic Party was the party of slavery, secession and segregation, of “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman and the KKK. “Bull” Connor, who turned the dogs loose on black demonstrators in Birmingham, was the Democratic National Committeeman from Alabama.

And Nixon?

In 1956, as vice president, Nixon went to Harlem to declare, “America can’t afford the cost of segregation.” The following year, Nixon got a personal letter from Dr. King thanking him for helping to persuade the Senate to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Nixon supported the civil rights acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968.

In the 1966 campaign, as related in my new book The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority, out July 8, Nixon blasted Dixiecrats “seeking to squeeze the last ounces of political juice out of the rotting fruit of racial injustice.”

Nixon called out segregationist candidates in ’66 and called on LBJ, Hubert Humphrey, and Bobby Kennedy to join him in repudiating them. None did. Hubert, an arm around Lester Maddox, called him a “good Democrat.” And so were they all—good Democrats. While Adlai chose Sparkman, Nixon chose Spiro Agnew, the first governor south of the Mason Dixon Line to enact an open-housing law.

In Nixon’s presidency, the civil rights enforcement budget rose 800 percent. Record numbers of blacks were appointed to federal office. An Office of Minority Business Enterprise was created. SBA loans to minorities soared 1,000 percent. Aid to black colleges doubled.

Nixon won the South not because he agreed with them on civil rights—he never did—but because he shared the patriotic values of the South and its antipathy to liberal hypocrisy. When Johnson left office, 10 percent of Southern schools were desegregated. When Nixon left, the figure was 70 percent.

Richard Nixon desegregated the Southern schools, something you won’t learn in today’s public schools. For history is a pack of lies agreed upon.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of the new book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.” Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

Posted in , . Tagged , . 24 comments

Nixon’s The One

nixon 100

I’ve spent the day reading Pat Buchanan’s The Great Comeback—his history cum memoir of Richard Nixon’s capture of the 1968 Republican nomination, and then the presidency. Buchanan was a key part of this. Hired as a 27-year-old who had spent three years writing newspaper editorials for the St. Louis Globe Democrat, Buchanan joined Nixon’s staff in 1966. He traveled with the candidate, handled much of his correspondence, wrote or drafted articles in his name, and wrote Nixon countless strategy memos, which came back with Nixon’s handwritten comments. This trove of historical documents was kept by Buchanan in several filing cabinets in his home, and after literally decades of entreaties by his agent Fredrica Friedman, Buchanan produced this book. It’s probably my favorite of Buchanan’s books, rich in Republican Party and journalistic gossip, full of insight into Nixon, and at the same time deeply personal.

At 27, a time when many young people then or now are in school or trying to figure out what they might really want to do , Buchanan had already compiled a formidable resume as right-wing newspaper editorialist; then in a deftly executed maneuver of ambition and nerve, arranged to meet Nixon and suggest himself for a get-on-the-bus-early campaign role. (He had actually met the former vice president a decade earlier, as a caddy at Burning Tree—a fact which he conveyed to Nixon in that first professional meeting. )

Buchanan was valuable to Nixon in great part as a representative of the New Right, that part of the GOP which had nominated Goldwater two years earlier. He and Nixon saw eye to eye that the next Republican candidate would have to represent the right, but probably not be of it. There was then at least the potential of Ronald Reagan looming, and a subtext of the book is the worry that the charismatic Reagan would somehow get untracked, and a deadlocked convention would be stampeded into going for the movie star governor. Nixon, by contrast, had no political sex appeal: he was deeply intelligent, hard working, fascinated by the issues and personalities of politics. (He seemed bored by the practice of law, and in one unguarded moment told Buchanan that if he had to practice law for the rest of his life he would be “mentally dead in two years and physically dead in four.”)

But one major hurdle to overcome was the sense that Nixon, after the 1960 campaign and his failed 1962 California gubernatorial bid, was a loser who could never win a national election. Liberals hated him for his early campaigns in California, and the left (where they weren’t the same thing) hated him for being right about Alger Hiss. But the right also (correctly) sensed that Nixon was not one of them. Buchanan quotes one Nixon memo where the candidate noted that he disagreed with liberal aides (who were urging him to get to the left of LBJ on various issues.) But he also said (to one of his more liberal aides) that “the trouble with the far right conservatives is that they don’t give a damn about people and the voters sense that.” Buchanan comments that this, too, was “authentic” Nixon. He notes that,

Nixon had grown up in poverty, lost two of his four brothers, one to meningitis, the other to tuberculosis, and likely did not look on the New Deal as taking us ‘down the road to socialism’ but as an effort to help folks like his family.

Part of Buchanan’s job was to smooth out the rough spots between this complicated man and the National Review-reading, Goldwater-admiring, Young Americans for Freedom-belonging Republican right. He did this effectively enough, causing Bill Rusher once to ask him whether he was more the right’s emissary to the Nixon camp, or Nixon’s to the right. The answer: the latter, always.

Romney and Rockefeller were more glamorous Republicans, generally more favored by the East Coast media, and they regularly scored higher in midterm presidential polls. But Nixon outworked them, in a Stakhanovite schedule of campaigning for Republicans in the midterm elections, picking up IOU’s from congressmen and state committeemen all over the country. Eventually Romney and Rocky’s weaknesses displayed themselves. If you were ever of the age to once have wondered how it was that Nixon managed to become the Republican nominee in an era when there were few primary elections, Buchanan’s book is the best possible guide. Read More…

Posted in , , . Tagged , . 13 comments

Is a Hillary Clinton Presidency Inevitable?

Angela Radulescu / cc

Looking back over the last century there were two great coalition builders in presidential politics: FDR and Richard Nixon. Franklin Roosevelt broke the Lincoln lock on the presidency that had given Republicans the White House in 56 of the previous 72 years. From 1932 to 1964, FDR’s party would win seven of nine elections. Nixon broke through in ’68 and built the New Majority that gave the GOP the White House for 20 of the next 24 years.

The Nixon-Reagan coalition, however, has aged and atrophied. In five of the last six presidential elections, the Democratic nominee won the popular vote. And no fewer than 18 states, including four of the most populous — California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York — have gone Democratic in all six of those elections. Also, four states crucial to victory and once regarded as reliably Republican — Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado — have turned purple. The GOP is also facing a demographic crisis. White folks, who provide almost 90 percent of Republican votes in presidential years, are steadily shrinking as a share of the electorate.

Is Hillary thus inevitable?

With the cash she can raise and the support of the sisterhood, she may be able to clear the field in the run for the nomination. And in a general election it is hard to see which Republican today could take 270 electoral votes from her.

Yet the lady has vulnerabilities. If elected, Hillary would be, at 69, the oldest Democratic president ever. Husband Bill was nearly a quarter of a century younger when inaugurated, as was Barack Obama.

Her book tour for Hard Choices, with her tale of woe about having been “flat broke” in 2001, revealed a queen of privilege wildly out of touch with the hard realities of life in Middle America in 2014. Moreover, there is Clinton fatigue in the country and this capital. Americans under 30 never knew a time when she was not around. Her memoir looks likely to be remaindered long before it earns her publisher anything near the $14 million advance she is rumored to have received. Somebody at Simon & Schuster is going to the wall. And the Democratic left is pawing the turf.

Is her record in office impressive? The most critical vote she cast in eight years in the Senate—to take America into war with Iraq—she now admits was a mistake. And it’s not an insignificant one, considering the disaster that is Iraq today. Her record as secretary of state?

The most memorable moment was announcing the “reset” with Russia. How’s that working out?

Not only must Hillary answer for the failures that brought about the Benghazi massacre, and her absenteeism in its aftermath, but she must also defend a foreign policy that has left her country less respected on every continent. While most Americans support President Obama’s decisions to end the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is something about his leadership on the world stage that calls to mind the Carter era. Read More…

Posted in . Tagged . 26 comments

Americans Aren’t Politically Polarized—They’re Sorted

College Republicans by Tobyotter | CC3

Two weeks ago, the Pew Research Center released a sprawling report on the relative politics of Americans, spawning a cottage industry of interpretative articles and posts sorting out just what “Political Polarization in the American Public” says about political polarization in the American public. The problem is, well, it doesn’t say much about it at all. As Stanford political scientist Morris Fiorina expertly explains at the Washington Post‘s Monkey Cage, Pew didn’t measure polarization, that is to say, political extremes. Rather, they measured ideological consistency, according to a 10-question scale of their own construction:

Items in the Ideological Consistency Scale

Pew constructed a scale whereby respondents were scored -1 for a “liberal” response, and +1 for a conservative response, then all the scores were added up to obtain the political consistency scale. A perfectly consistent conservative would score a 10, a perfectly consistent liberal, a -10. Thus, as Fiorina notes, “people in the middle of the Pew distributions are not necessarily centrists.” A “middle” score of 0 would be obtained by a mix of answers, none of which have their intensity or extremity measured, and so would indicate heterodoxy, not moderation. I suspect few TAC readers (or writers), for instance, would score perfect 10′s.

To see what this means in practice, look at the following graphic, frequently reproduced in the coverage of the Pew Report:

Understandably, many see the separation between the two sides, and assume that Americans are moving further apart on issues. What the graphic actually shows, however, is that Americans are becoming more ideologically consistent with their co-partisans. Republicans are becoming more consistently Republican, and Democrats more consistently Democratic. As Fiorina describes,

Prior to the 1980s the Republican Party had a significant liberal wing and the Democrats a significant conservative wing. … Today partisanship, ideology and issue positions go together in a way they did not in the mid-20th century. Issues and ideology used to cross-cut the partisan distribution, now they reinforce it. … The net result is parties that are much more internally homogeneous than was the case a generation ago.

While some may breathe a brief sigh of relief that Americans, on average, generally occupy the same middle ground as they did a generation ago, these sorting changes may in fact be much more politically pernicious than mere extremism. As Noah Millman has discussed periodically, the decline of the pro-life Democrat and the pro-choice Republican has not necessarily been beneficial for either political cause. Instead, it binds the fortunes of abortion policy to nearly every other political issue, so that abortion policy is dependent on the political state of economics, or foreign policy debates. And with less heterogeneity within the parties, there is less reason for politicians to try to cross party lines in the first place: there’s no one waiting for them on the other side.

As the report notes, most Americans are not very ideologically consistent, and heterogeneity is still widespread. But because of the partisan sorting of the past decades, Fiorina says, “The unsorted and inconsistent middle still exists, but it has no home in either party.”


Posted in . 18 comments

David Brat’s Half-Cocked Theological-Economic Fusionism

Michael Tanner recently—but before the shocker primary in suburban Richmond—lamented that the tea party’s influence was waning because it had strayed from its core mission:

Sparked by outrage over the Wall Street bailouts, the original Tea Party was motivated by an opposition to Big Government. The motto of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest and most influential groups, was “fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.” The Tea Party’s core issues were the skyrocketing national debt and opposition to Obamacare.

Social issues were not part of the platform. In fact, Jenny Beth Martin, leader of the Tea Party Patriots told the New York Times, “When people ask about [social issues], we say, ‘Go get involved in other organizations that already deal with social issues very well.’ We have to be diligent and stay on message.”

Tanner is one of an unfortunate many who took the tea party at face value. As I’ve been arguing for years, economic issues, for tea partiers, are inseparable from social ones. It’s the (largely) Protestant version of the seamless garment: capitalism is part of God’s blueprint for human society, just like traditional marriage and heteronormativity. Ironically echoing the atheist Ayn Rand, this worldview values capitalism not merely as an instrumental good, a man’s-estate-reliever, but as a moral imperative.

Research by David E. Campbell and Robert Putnam and long-form reporting by Jill Lepore have lent empirical weight to my intuition that the tea party is a religious movement by proxy. Ed Kilgore put it bluntly: “scratch a ‘fiscal conservative’ and you’ll find a culture-warrior of one sort or another right under the surface.”

Along comes David Brat, professor of economics and slayer of the dragon Rep. Eric Cantor, to bring the argument into sharp relief. The parsing of Brat’s academic writings and theological-economic beliefs has become a cottage industry. The Washington Post called Brat’s primary election an indication of a “rise in the crossroads of religion and economics.”

At first blush, Brat seems to draw from the tradition of thinkers like Wilhelm Roepke, who believed that, to properly function, markets depend on bourgeois virtues. As Brat once put it: “If markets are bad … that means people are bad.” There’s an interesting wrinkle to Brat’s fusionism, however. Where proponents of what can only loosely be called “Christian economics,” such as R.C. Sproul, Jr., tease out capitalist principles from the Bible, Brat teases out a biblical influence on secular economic writing. As Kevin Roose writes:

In one unpublished paper from 2005, “Adam Smith’s God: The End of Economics,” (Word doc here), which I accessed through a Google Scholar search, Brat makes the case that even though Adam Smith (the father of modern economics and author of The Wealth of Nations) is thought of as one of the great figures of the Enlightenment, his “invisible hand” theory should properly be seen in the context of Christian moral philosophy.

“In fact, [Smith’s] system really retains most of the fundamental features of the Judeo-Christian system,” Brat writes. “On paper he places Stoic reason above Christian revelation. But on the other hand, he chooses the Christian God over the Stoic God. And in the end, his choice of virtues and ends take a decidedly Christian turn.”

In a sense, Brat’s brand of Protestant-ethic revivalism completes a circle: now, not only can Christians find Adam Smith in the Bible, they can find the Bible in Adam Smith too!

Posted in , , , , , , . Tagged , , , , , , , . 30 comments

Pitchfork Populism Is Coming for Hillary and Jeb

“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

If Thomas Jefferson’s benign reflection on Shays’ Rebellion, that uprising of farmers in 1786 and 1787, is not the first thought that comes to mind today for his fellow Virginian Eric Cantor, surely it is understandable.

For the rebellious subjects of the 7th Congressional District just voted to end Cantor’s career as House majority leader.

Many lessons are being read into and taken away from Cantor’s defeat. But that election has also revealed a populist path, both to the Republican nomination in 2016 and perhaps to the presidency.

For what were the elements of Randolph-Macon College professor Dave Brat’s victory and of Cantor’s defeat?

First, the perception that Cantor was willing to do a deal with Barack Obama to provide a partial amnesty to illegal immigrants—while the media provided wall-to-wall coverage of the latest invasion across our southern border—proved devastating.

Talk radio, led by Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin, pounded Cantor on the issue of illegal immigration, the emotive power of which our Beltway elites will never understand.

For like Eurocrats, the leaders of our Beltway parties call to mind the “sophisters” and “calculators” of Edmund Burke’s depiction. Read More…

Posted in , . 25 comments

Eric Cantor’s Defeat Is Also Netanyahu’s

Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO
Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO

Of course it isn’t yet clear what Eric Cantor’s stunning and decisive defeat at the hands of an unknown challenger with one twentieth the campaign funds means for the direction of the House GOP. On domestic issues, including immigration, Cantor has been a chameleon—an establishment figure, a reformer, a “young gun,” a Tea Party insurgent with legislative tactician skills, a supporter of immigration reform (aka amnesty), and then a professed opponent of the same immigration reform. (I should note there was a time, in the 1990s, when immigration “reform” meant tightening the borders and tinkering with the legal immigration system so it was more skills-based, less based on “your brother’s wife got in a few years ago, so you are now eligible for a visa.”) The only ads I’ve seen from David Brat, the surprising victor, attacked Cantor’s readiness to hang out with big-money immigration boosters (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) while ignoring the labor market and wage impact large-scale immigration has for voters in his district.

One issue wasn’t talked about, though I wonder if it subliminally registered with some anti-Cantor voters. Cantor in 2010 more or less presented himself as Bibi Netanyahu’s congressman. Newly elevated by the GOP House takeover as the incoming majority leader, he held a private meeting with the Likud leader at the New York Regency. No other Americans were present; Netanyahu was joined by Israel’s ambassador and national security advisor.

It was a tense time in American-Israeli relations: the Obama administration was pushing hard for progress on peace talks and trying to get Israel to stop expanding settlements on the West Bank during the negotiations, an idea vigorously resisted by Israel’s government. During the meeting, Cantor gave Netanyahu assurances that the House would have his back in any showdown with the Obama administration. The Republicans, he told Bibi, “understand the special relationship” and would obstruct American initiatives which made Israel uncomfortable. Ron Kampeas, a veteran and centrist observer of U.S.-Israeli relations, said he could not “remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president.” So Cantor was, in his way, making history.

The ties to Israel made Cantor popular in the GOP caucus. Cantor could raise money more easily than other southern congressmen—from pro-Israel billionaires, for example—and spread it around. Sheldon Adelson poured millions into his PAC. Cantor knew his way around the Regency.

More recently, Cantor has spearheaded House opposition to Obama’s negotiations with Iran, speaking frequently of Iran in terms that echo Netanyahu. His Mideast positions track completely with Likud’s, whether it be aid to the Syrian rebels or aid to Egypt after the Sisi coup. He may be hard to pin down domestic issues, one day a moderate, another a hard rightist, but he is always a hawk—whether it be Ukraine or Syria or Iran, he will be a force pushing the most belligerent policies.

I wonder if this registered in the district in some ways. Pat Lang, of the interesting Sic Semper Tyrannis blog, meditated on Cantor (his congressmen) several years ago, wondering whether this sophisticated Richmond lawyer was a natural fit for a district that trends barbecue. Some have pointed to an ethnic angle, which could well be a factor. But it may be simply that conservative southern Republicans are beginning to get tired of neocons telling them they have to prepare to fight another war. Antiwar Republican Walter Jones won his North Carolina primary earlier this spring, standing strong against a major media assault by Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel. Now, in an election result that stunned political observers more than anything that happened in their lifetime, Cantor goes down before an underfunded Tea Party candidate.

We’ll see what happens with David Brat, but he’s already made history.

Posted in , , , , . 27 comments

Hillary’s Empty Book

I’ve been skimming Hillary Clinton’s State Department memoir Hard Choices, which stands at more than 600 pages. The massive tome, the product of Hillary and her “book team,” is in its way extremely skillful. Throughout the book Hillary appears engaged, intelligent, tough, compassionate—all qualities she obviously wants to project—while effectively muting any controversy that might be politically inconvenient as she pursues her next project. As we know, Hillary has no particular accomplishments as Secretary of State: she traveled extensively, and is able to describe in impressive detail various rooms and furnishings and personages. It has never been reported that she said anything embarrassing to herself or the country. But I haven’t found anything remotely like a “hard choice.” There was no moment when Hillary was in the White House situation room, trying to break down for a president the options about missiles in Cuba; no effort to brainstorm about escalation in Vietnam, or to decide whether Gorbachev was the real thing.

She supports the two-state solution of Israel-Palestine—though of course, as the administration’s commonly used phrase had it, “not more than the parties themselves”. She says nice things about former senator George Mitchell (Obama’s appointee as head Mideast peace processor—who was genuinely committed to a two-state solution) and also Dennis Ross, the epitome of a faux peace process-er who served, more or less, as Israel’s lawyer from his various appointments close to the center of power. The conflict between the two men was important and much speculated upon, but Hillary says not a word about it. Even those who want to attack Hillary from the perspective of the Israeli Right can’t find much to complain about: The Emergency Committee for Israel is running ads condemning her for not objecting publicly when John Kerry said Israel risked becoming an apartheid state. They can’t find anything in her actual record to fault.

And indeed what could there be? The peace process in the Middle East was doomed so long as Americans insisted it would strive to be even-handed between the military occupier and the occupied: this is about as sensible as the Justice Department facilitating even-handed talks between segregated blacks and the Mississippi power structure in 1960. If you want to change the situation, you have to acknowledge the power discrepancies and weigh in to equalize them. There was not the shadow of a chance Hillary would have favored that. Obama apparently believed that making speeches would suffice to change Israeli behavior.

The one place in her narrative where Hillary seems truly energized about a policy matter is lobbying UN member states to support tough sanctions on Iran. I suspect that when she enters the campaign trail she will tout this as her signal achievement—whatever happens with current negotiations. “She was tough enough to bring Iran to its knees.” might be the slogan. A thoughtful Secretary of State, writing at the end of his or her career, might speculate on why Iran would want a nuclear program—and presumably the potential to build a weapon. That question would be at the center of any serious foreign policy analysis. But there is none of that—no history, no mention of the American-supported attack on Iran by Saddam Hussein, or Israel’s introduction of nuclear weapons into the region.

The prominence of Hillary, and more, the absence of anyone who is willing to challenge her quest for the Democratic nomination, is a depressing indication about the state of the Democratic Party and the country. It tells us that there is no lasting impact of the Iraq war on elite Democratic party attitudes, it might as well have never happened. A couple of trillion dollars when the wounded veteran care is factored in. A million Iraqis homeless and refugees. Not only has Hillary not learned any lessons; no one else of prominence has either. There is no rethinking whether the United States needs to be poking its nose militarily in every spot in the globe—not by Hillary certainly, but seemingly not by any other leading Democrat, either.

Andy Bacevich’s Washington Rules contains substantial segments quoting Democratic senators prominent in the 1960s, especially Bill Fulbright and Mike Mansfield. At the time there were several top lawmakers seeking to figure out what went wrong—how we became immersed in Vietnam with no good way out, what that said about American attitudes, hubris, and self-delusion. There is eloquence there, and probing intelligence. There is none of that kind of soul-searching going on now on Capitol Hill, at least at the Senate level. Hillary Clinton, for her obvious wonkishness and impressive grasp of detail, certainly isn’t engaged in it. The sad thing is, no one seems to want her to be.

Posted in . Tagged , , , , , . 3 comments

Eric Cantor Rides Tea Party Tiger, Is Devoured

If you look at the arc of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s last three years of service in Congress, it begins, in 2011, with an ambitious insider’s game to undermine the Speaker of the House. Cantor was the tea party whisperer; he was their not-so-secret champion; he was the guy—“Yes, it’s probably an accurate conclusion”—who stood between John Boehner and a “grand bargain” on fiscal policy with the Great Satan.

Unrest within the House Republican conference boiled over in January 2013 with a hapless attempt to oust Boehner from the speakership (including three votes for Cantor). It was at this point, as symbolized by his loud and clearly irritated voice vote for Boehner to retain his position, that Cantor seemed to have recoiled from his game of sabotage. Sure, just days before, Cantor split with Boehner on the vote to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. Yet, from that point until now, Cantor played the role of dutiful deputy. Maybe it was simply another tack: play nice until the next GOP wave, wait for Boehner to step aside, and smoothly ascend to the speakership.

I’d like to think, however, that Cantor was growing tired of the decrepit state of the GOP governing agenda in the wake of a resounding repudiation of Mitt Romney. At a party retreat earlier this year, he recognized the need for the party to appeal beyond the ranks of small-business owners and entrepreneurs and substantively address middle-class anxieties.

In his concession speech tonight, you could hear echoes of the embryonic reform-conservative movement:

What I set out to do, and what the agenda that I have said we’re about, is, we want to create a Virginia and an America that works for everybody. And we need to focus our efforts as conservatives, as Republicans, on putting forth our conservative solutions, so that they can help solve the problems for so many working middle-class families that may not have the opportunity that we have.

Add that to Cantor’s gestures toward some kind of constructive movement toward immigration reform, and we’ve got a sad and stunning moment in our politics: a conservative leader who ended, limply, where he should have begun. He rode the tea party tiger and discovered, too late, that he and his party might have profited from more bull sessions with Yuval Levin.

That’s a pity.

I know nothing of Prof. Dave Brat. But I know he is a political novice and, as he’s cheered tonight by the likes of Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, I can’t help but suspect he will be yet another useless crank in a still-troubled caucus.

Posted in , , , , . Tagged , , , , , . 32 comments
← Older posts Newer posts →