Daniel Larison


Bloggers have had a name for political writing that defines a person’s moderation and reasonableness by his embrace of the most vacuous establishment truisms as his highest political truths.  We have called it High Broderism, in honour of one of the masters of the art.  Some of these truisms might include “America is a nation of immigrants” or “diversity is our strength” or “our country is too polarised” and its corollary “we should work together in a bipartisan fashion to solve our country’s problems.”  By solve, of course, they mean compound, and by “bipartisan fashion” they mean “in slavish conformity to the status quo.”  In this view, “extremism” is that which threatens the establishment’s hold on political power and which proposes to challenge or dismantle levers of power that the establishment of both parties wishes to preserve.  Among the bugbears of such “centrists” are chiefly populists, the religious and the vehemently antiwar.  In the last few weeks, we have seen the Broders of the right getting very anxious about disgruntled religious conservatives and evangelicals and disgruntled lower-middle class voters who are propelling Huckabee’s campaign forward.  Over the past several years, we have become only too familiar with the “Very Serious” foreign policy establishment that dismisses the majority’s desire to end the Iraq war in the very near term.  Now we are being told once again that the elite is reasonable and all those citizens who are at odds with it are not, just as the rationality and decency of the latter were denied by the leaders of the political class during the immigration debate.   

A Kossack succinctly described it when he defined High Broderism as a “school of thought, best exemplified by Washington Post reporter David Broder, that Washington DC elites should provide the common wisdom to the ragged masses beyond the beltway. Moreover, Higher Broderism [sic] believes that the only acceptable politics is centrist. It’s not so much where the center is at any given time, it’s the centrism itself.”  In this context, “extremism” is any political position outside an exceedingly narrow range of permissible options, even if that narrow range includes policies that are in practice brutal, unjust or destructive.  In this view, it is “centrist” to maintain self-defeating hegemony overseas and launch aggressive invasions of other countries, while it is “extremist” to oppose these measures. 

So we have a new facet to this kind of political argument: the monopoly on rationality claimed by those who are deemed suitably centrist, responsible and, undoubtedly, serious.  This was always implicit in arguments for moderation and “centrism,” but now it is made clearly.  Peggy Noonan has provided us with this insulting political analysis, by which those candidates best known for their anti-corporate and populist arguments (i.e., Huckabee and Edwards) are cast as “non-reasonable,” and those most wedded to the establishment or those least likely to challenge anything about the way government and corporations operate are “reasonable.”  She declares Clinton “non-reasonable” to mix things up a little. 

What ultimately makes this analysis so thoroughly Broderian is its complete arbitrariness and subjectivity.  Noonan defines reasonableness largely by those candidates whom she finds agreeable for one reason or another, and imputes a lack of reasonableness to those whom she finds viscerally unappealing, which is not, as you may have noticed, a very rational basis for dividing up the candidates.  Most absurd of all is her assessment of Giuliani as “reasonable,” even if he is not “desirable,” when there is ample reason to think that this is one of the least appropriate ways to describe him even if you agree with him on policy.


Bhutto, Pakistan and ’08

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination yesterday in Rawalpindi deserves some comment, and actually deserves much more than I will be able to give in the short time I have today.  Djerejian has interrupted his hiatus and said much that needs to be said.  In short, I am still convinced that Musharraf is a liability to the stability of Pakistan, as I have argued twice before in TAC, and I agree that it would be wise to watch what Kiyani does in the coming weeks.  With no disrespect intended to Bhutto, I think we have (as usual) personalised our view of Pakistan policy far too much and many now seem to assume that Bhutto’s death makes civilian government in Pakistan unfeasible.  That strikes me as a mistaken conclusion.  If the structures of Pakistani civil society, such as they are, are so weak that a single assassination can so badly undermine them, they will not be prepared for the task of a return to civilian rule in the next many years.  I think this places far too much importance on one party leader and stands as an example of how we routinely misunderstand the politics of other countries by investing hopes for reform, democratisation or Westernisation in a single person, who then is either killed or badly disappoints the people who foolishly placed so much emphasis on one leader.  That said, the current situation in Pakistan is unstable enough that any elections held in the next few weeks would be plagued with violence and be the cause of still more outbreaks of civil unrest. 

On the effects of the assassination on our presidential politics, Ross makes an interesting point:

Our Pakistan problem is a vexatious question, ill-suited to being addressed in sound bites and press releases. But it’s precisely because it’s so impossibly vexatious, and likely to remain so no matter who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania, that the news from Rawalpindi fleetingly inspired me to greater sympathy not for “ready to lead” politicians like John McCain or Hillary Clinton, but for the “come home, America” candidacy of one Dr. Ron Paul.

To the extent that most pundits and journalists are not reacting this way, but are instead playing up McCain and Clinton, any effect this assassination will have on our politics will be determined by the willingness of our media to accept at face value the campaign narratives of these candidates.  As it happens, McCain was saying some uncommonly sane and sober things about Pakistan yesterday in an interview with Laura Ingraham, swatting down Obama and Huckabee’s Kaganesque lunacy of ordering American soldiers to go inside Pakistan. 

If the events in Pakistan have any impact on caucus-goers and primary voters, which I very much doubt in light of the extremely limited attention most will have been paying to foreign affairs, much less Pakistani affairs, they will benefit candidates who appear to understand Pakistan and who have not made provocative or dangerous statements about Pakistan policy.  (Huckabee’s provocative statements cancel out his surprisingly well-informed grasp on Pakistan’s internal politics.)  By all rights, Paul, Biden and, indeed, McCain ought to gain if the late-deciding, uncommitted voters are actually moved to make their decision based on what happened on the other side of the world.  That is almost certainly not the case.  What it will change is the relative kid-glove treatment that all the major candidates have received concerning their foreign policy ideas.  The candidates coming out of Iowa who will likely have prevailed on their domestic policy agenda, namely Edwards and Huckabee, will have to demonstrate some competence on foreign affairs if they are to avoid even more intense criticism.


Signing Off

This may be my last post in 2007.  As always with Eunomia, you can never be sure that a blogging hiatus will, in fact, be a hiatus, but I do intend to keep it to a minimum.  Tomorrow I begin my trek home for Christmas, and I probably won’t be checking in while on break.  This is what the blog-as-pastime has become: something from which sane people must take extended vacations.  Ilyen az elet.  Merry Christmas to you all, and Happy New Year!  S Rozhdestvom i S Novim Godom!


“What Republican Establishment?”

On countless levels, however, 2008 is aeons away from 1996, let alone 1992. In each of his races, Buchanan was trying to topple a genuine, formidable front-runner: a sitting president, a Senate majority leader. But today it’s evident that, after a year of frantic campaigning, no such creature exists; indeed, Huckabee’s leap into the top tier is itself vivid proof of the point. The GOP too is a very different beast from what it was in the nineties: no longer the majority party in Congress, its foundations crumbling, its leadership dazed, confused, and helpless. When I recently asked a senior party operative if the Republican Establishment could block Huckabee from the nomination, he replied, with a tiny chuckle, “What Republican Establishment?”

More to the point, the conditions on the ground are arguably more conducive to populism now than in Pitchfork Pat’s heyday. In 1996, after all, the economy was in the midst of a historic boom, one that was on the verge of kicking into overdrive. Today, the situation is the reverse: Recession looms, the Dow sags, the housing and credit markets buckle. The economy has elbowed aside Iraq as the central locus of voter anxiety. ~John Heilemann

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The Tea Party

As of early this morning (around 5:00 a.m.), the Tea Party “moneybomb” had already raised over $1 million.  Go here to see the fundraising total for today, and go here to support the campaign.

Update: As of 2:45 p.m., the Tea Party has raised just under $3.5 million and the quarterly total now stands at $14.9 million.

Second Update: As of 6:15p.m., the day’s total is at $4.75 million and the quarterly total is now over $16 million.

Third Update: As of 11:25 p.m., the campaign has raised over $6 million, setting the one-day primary fundraising record, and the quarterly total is on the verge of reaching $18 million.

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Reckless Iowa Predictions

For the Republicans, I’m going to say that the obvious leader, Huckabee, wins the caucuses.  The GOP side will be, in order, Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani, Thompson and Paul.  For the Democrats, I will be a bit more daring and say that Edwards wins, Clinton comes in second and Obama finishes third.  That will probably prove to be horribly wrong, but those are my predictions.

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Republican Pride

He will lead our country in a way that will make us proud, not ashamed, to be Republicans. ~Sarah Huckabee

Via Michael Crowley

Right there Ms. Huckabee may have summed up why Huckabee is doing surprisingly well, and how many voters could resist identification with Bush (preferring instead Reagan) while at the same time rallying behind someone who is so much like Bush. 

She also says, “The majority of us got involved [in politics] for social issues in the first place.”  That highlights Huckabee’s strengths effectively, while also effectively de-emphasising all those areas of policy where Huckabee is perceived as flawed or weak.

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McCain-Lieberman Rides Again

Democratic and Republican sources say that Sen. Joe Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut and fierce supporter of the war in Iraq, will formally endorse Sen. John McCain tomorrow in New Hampshire.

A McCain spokesperson declined to comment.

A source familiar with the endorsement said that the two will appear of NBC’s Today Show tomorrow morning and at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire.

The endorsement could help McCain with independents in the state. Combine that with news that Rudy Giuliani is scaling back his advertising buy there [bold mine-DL], that the Boston Globe endorsed McCain, and that McCain’s rivals are spending most of their time in Iowa. ~Marc Ambinder

It’s not clear to me how this really helps very much with independents, and it could conceivably harm him.  New Hampshire voters have turned sharply against the GOP, in no small part because of the war, and independents in New Hampshire are unlikely to be receptive to the endorsement of a politician whose support for McCain is premised on McCain’s support for a war that aready hurts him with independents.  The important part of this story is that Giuliani is backing away from competing more actively in New Hampshire, where he had started trying to make a play for a decent finish.  As Huckabee has begun moving up more in N.H. and McCain maintaining a respectable second place, Giuliani was faced with the real danger of actively competing and still winding up in fourth (or worse, if Ron Paul has anything to say about it), so he has now retreated back to Florida where he vainly hopes to make his stand.   

P.S.  Here‘s a classic Colbert moment from last year: “You cannot stop Joementum.”

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Money And Values (III)

Globalization is the closest thing the money-cons have to a religion. In addition to thinking that it’s good for them, they genuinely believe that it’s good for the world. Huckabee, by contrast, seriously believes that the U.S. should be economically autarchic, with high trade barriers. That’s what really sticks in the money-cons’ craw; the outpouring of abuse directed at Huckabee’s social background (he’s “Huckleberry” to some of them) and his religiosity is largely secondary to the fear of Huckabee’s Peronist economic tendencies. ~Mark Kleiman

Peronist?  That’s a bit of an exaggeration.  He’s more like a “Perot-nist” in some respects, and you would be hard-pressed to find him arguing for autarchy.  In his careless moments, I have heard him speak well of NAFTA (he said so in his interview with Ross in GQ, for example), so his corporation-bashing and rhetorical nods towards protectionism may not be as indicative of his policy views as we may think.  I agree that it is his trade and economic views (or at least what they think his trade and economic views are) that make him unusually unpopular with conservative elites:

What I think really bothers the mainstream about Huckabee, to the extent that they are bothered (and if he wins Iowa, you can expect them to come after him with guns blazing), is his view on trade.  Along with Hunter, he is really the only other protectionist in the GOP field.  Like Hunter, he has not had much luck raising very much cash, because his position on trade alienates wealthy donors and establishment figures.  The main orthodoxy Huckabee is running up against is not over the size of government, but rather the free trade orthodoxy that has almost completely captured the GOP (and which is, incidentally, killing them in the Midwest and elsewhere).  In practice, this is a much more important “orthodoxy” and politicians who go against it have a much harder time getting support.  What I think frightens the mainstream about Huckabee is that he may be able to smuggle in his protectionism under the cover of the big-government conservatism that the GOP has been practicing for years.  What is also frightening to them about Huckabee is that his views on trade are much closer to a strong plurality view within the GOP (his views on immigration, not so much), which gives him a decent shot at appealing to the voters in the primaries and the general election.  If he advances very far, Huckabee’s appeal will throw free traders into a bit of a panic, since it will mean that major candidates on both sides are openly talking skeptically about the benefits of free trade.         

This still seems right, but the other factors are still very important.  I think you also have the desire to marginalise or keep down social conservatives, subordinate their goals to those of economic and “national security” conservatives (as usual) and resist the takeover of the party leadership by someone who embarrasses urban sophisticates with his rusticity and creationism.

The calculation that a Huckabee nomination leads to epic electoral disaster for the GOP is naturally one that his opponents within the party would promote, but it is curious to see how readily it is being accepted on the other side.  Here’s Yglesias:

A Huckabee-led Republican Party would, even if it got its act together and started offering a well-briefed candidate with cutting-edge policies out of the conservative think tax universe, be very very very Southern and not even in a particularly “New South” kind of way. You could pull this off, perhaps, under generally favorable political circumstances, but given the bad overall climate it’d be a recipe for disaster.

Unless the nominee is Obama, I’m not sure I see how Huckabee’s Southern-ness becomes that salient, and if the nominee is Obama the Democrats are going to have their own electability problems.  How does his being from the South really impact a Clinton-Huckabee or Edwards-Huckabee race?  In any case, I don’t see the disaster happening.  I should qualify that: I don’t see a GOP electoral disaster happening because of a Huckabee nomination.  If the GOP are going to be blown out or at least defeated next year, it will be because of changes in the electorate brought on by disillusionment with this administration and its actions.  The Republicans are either unwilling or, in some cases, unable to fix that, so they have to find a nominee who gives them the most competitive chance.  According to the conventional (and wrong) wisdom that social conservatism wrecked the GOP and the Republicans needed to cut back on it to be competitive, Giuliani or McCain seemed the logical choices for making the GOP as competitive as possible.  Appealing to social moderates by nominating a social moderate made a certain amount of superficial sense.  However, as the economy became one of the main issues in the campaign and the leading issue of concern to voters, these two were never going to be particularly well-positioned to win over an electorate that will likely be in a much more populist mood.  Likewise, Romney and Thompson would also make poor standard-bearers, their other personal flaws and liabilities aside, given their rosy and positive assessments of the economy.       

What many observers seem to be missing about Huckabee is that he is very New South, which is what has informed his heretofore gushy “compassionate” views on immigration policy.  Unlike Bush, who has no more real claim to being a Southerner than I do (west Texas is not the South), Huckabee is someone born and raised in the South who has embraced much of the New South image, particularly as it pertains to race relations.  Like Bush, he has made appealing to minority voters something of a priority, but unlike Bush he has actually been successful in getting black voters to vote for him (this is itself partly a function of his heterodox policy views).  According to exit polls in his ’98 re-election, he supposedly won 48% of the black vote, which is almost certainly too high, but he probably did get at least 20%.  His populism will be helpful in the Midwest, which the GOP has to hold to win the election, and his views on teaching creationism in schools are actually in agreement with the majority of the public.  He is in some ways the only candidate the GOP has on hand to appeal to “downscale” voters, and while the champions of Sam’s Club Republicanism don’t want to identify their cause too closely with him (understandably, given the current backlash and the man’s real flaws) he is nonetheless the most plausible candidate for what they are promoting.  

For all the people who are constantly chattering about how the GOP has to expand its coalition or go into decline, Huckabee is in some ways the obvious choice…except that he frightens off the money and the elites back East.  The hostility to Huckabee derives finally, I think, from the fear of a Huckabee victory and not fear of an electoral blowout by the Democrats.  As I have suggested before, this would mean GOP fratricide for four years.  This might then pave the way to a Democratic landslide, or it might not, but it would probably leave the GOP changed beyond recognition.

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And Hardly Anyone I Know Voted To Re-Elect Bush, Yet Here We Are

Though Huckabee’s star is still rising, his southern populism on trade and economic questions — and the blatancy of his appeals as a ‘Christian leader’ to Iowa’s religious voters — are so irritating to most Republicans that he is uniting the party nationally against himself. ~John O’Sullivan

It is far from obvious that this is true.  This assumes that populism on trade and economic questions is an unpopular approach, and it assumes that most Republicans are not receptive to an evangelical who talks up his religion.  That is probably a mistaken view. 

He is uniting most conservative pundits and journalists against him, along with a number of activist groups, so from a certain perspective he does irritate “most Republicans,” if the Republicans you know write columns, work in think tanks, blog regularly or inhabit the I-95 corridor.  There is a candidate who, unfortunately, has high unfavourables among Republicans, and that is Ron Paul.  He unites most Republicans in opposition, since most Republicans support the war he adamantly opposes.  Paul challenges them radically and repudiates most of what the party has been doing for the last seven years.  That is how you get a majority of a party to unite against you–by attacking its most deeply valued policies.  By contrast, Huckabee irritates his enemies out of all proportion to his heterodoxies, because he represents not so much a deviation from what the GOP is as he is a reminder of what it became under Bush as well as being a reminder of who actually makes up a huge part of the GOP coalition.  This is irritating, since it reminds many of the pundits of the dreadful Bush administration that they have defended at one time or another, and it reminds them of the voters they would normally just as soon forget about once the ballots are counted.   

Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee has favourables that are nearly as good as, if not better than, the other major candidates in every state where measurements have been taken.  It’s possible that this will change as he becomes better known, but right now the people Huckabee is irritating seem to be concentrated among the highly unrepresentative people who are already extensively familiar with the details of his policy record and can quote his Cato Institute scorecard ratings as readily as Huckabee can cite Scripture.  (A contrast in references, by the way, that might sum up nicely just how divorced political observers may be from the voters whose opinions they are attempting to discern.)  In Florida, according to Rasmussen, he has a fav/unfav of 68/26, which gives him lower unfavourables than McCain, Thompson and Giuliani.  Even in New Hampshire, where you would expect his unfavourables to be highest on account of the general incompatibility of Southern candidates in the Granite State, they are only 35%, and his favourables are 59%.  In Michigan, the numbers are 67/22, and in South Carolina they are 70/21.  In Iowa, of course, they are an unbelievable combination of 81/16 with 51% who have a very favourable view.  These favourable numbers represent a lot of people who are not necessarily selecting him as their candidate, but they are also making it possible for him to compete or lead in every early state except New Hampshire.  All candidates should be so lucky to “irritate” a majority of their party’s members in this way.

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