The Bush administration has often seemed bent on vindicating, in the short run and by force of arms, Francis Fukuyama’s famous long-term prediction that liberal democracy will ultimately triumph. Now Bush’s hopes for vindication depend on the Middle East’s following a gradual, Fukuyaman track toward free markets, democratic government, and the “end of history.” And just as crucially, they depend on American troops’ staying in Iraq for as long as it takes for that to happen [bold mine-DL].
There is something a bit strange about this paragraph. If Bush’s hopes for vindication rest on the old long-term evolution towards the triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism, which will, if we believe Fukuyama, happen because there are no viable rival doctrines or systems that can compete with these things, and the attempt to force that vindication through the war in Iraq was the wrong way to promote this, how exactly does it aid in Bush’s vindication over the long term to keep American forces in Iraq? Either Fukuyama’s long-term argument about the effects of modernisation is basically correct, in which case the U.S. does not need to maintain a neo-colonial steward role in shepherding Iraq towards continued modernisation, or it isn’t, which raises the prospect that liberal democracy and capitalism will not endure in Iraq without a perpetual American presence propping up an alien and artificial system that will collapse as soon as we leave. The latter alternatve is neither realistic nor desirable, and the former theory is almost certainly false, but in either case vindication by Fukuyama’s long-term theory necessarily means that a continued U.S. presence is unnecessary, just as the war was actually unnecessary in the first place on the terms most favourable to Fukuyama’s original argument, or Fukuyama is wrong and our forces will have to stay there indefinitely, which is not a politically or militarily viable possibility. Any way you slice it, the prospects of Mr. Bush’s future vindication are not very good. As Ross says, “This seems improbable, to put it mildly.”
As Mike Steketee in The Australian relates in a new article on Fukuyama:
And what about the Islamic rejection of modernisation? Fukuyama argues this does not invalidate his thesis because radical Islam is not a viable alternative to democratic government. Radical Islamists had come to power only in Iran and for a period in Afghanistan and had influence in Saudi Arabia. China has managed spectacular development while remaining an authoritarian state and Fukuyama concedes that this looks like the strongest challenge to the idea that economic growth leads to democracy.
But he argues it is early days, with China only half as rich as South Korea and Taiwan in the 1980s, when they became democracies.
The implication of Fukuyama’s position (which, I suppose, is more consistent with his break with the neocons and his new support for Obama than with his old pro-war views) is that liberal democracy and capitalism will prevail in these places eventually regardless of whether our forces leave Iraq or not, which seems to drive home the point that war really was for nothing. If he truly believes that there are no viable alternatives that people will continue to accept and champion far into the future, then his is an all together more fanciful and ideological, but potentially less dangerous way of thinking about the “end of history.” It is the gradualist approach rather than the Leninist revolutionary one, to borrow a comparison that Fukuyama himself once used.
As an aside, I would just add that it has always been a glaring flaw in imagining that modernisation would result in anything that could credibly be called “the end of history,” since there will continue to be nations and a number of independent states (and possibly more states emerging all the time on account of the enduring power of nationalism), and their democratisation and economic development will increase the occasions for conflict and intensify national rivalries. The assumption that international conflicts are produced by ideological clashes is itself an ideological one that ignores the importance of concrete interests and power relations, and partakes of the same fantasy that those in the administration had when they proposed that “democracies don’t war,” to quote the President’s succinct and false claim. The role that modernisation has had in intensifying the power of religion in modern politics, and particularly fairly strict or severe forms of religion, also points to a rather large hole in the Fukuyaman vision.
Political donors report Sen. John McCain complains he is under pressure from President Bush and his former political adviser Karl Rove to select former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as his vice presidential running mate.
If someone were telling me I had to associate myself with Mitt Romney, I would complain, too, but the striking thing about this report is how Bush has continued not-so-secretly to prefer the one candidate of the 2008 major Republican candidates possibly less electable than he would be if he could run for a third term. (No, I’m not kidding.) If Mr. Bush is preoccupied with legacy-building at this point, it is quite odd that he would be pushing McCain to take on the
dead weight political strength of Mitt Romney, who demonstrated a remarkable ability to become less popular the more people saw of him. Perhaps this is an expression of Bush’s unconscious desire to see McCain fail, the product of some leftover animus from years ago?
What do they say the first rule of VP selecting is? Isn’t it “do no harm”? You don’t need to be as much of an inveterate Romney foe as I am to see that this choice would do a great deal of harm to McCain. Where McCain is beloved by the press, Romney is hated. McCain is considered, rightly or not, to be genuine and honest, while Romney is widely held to be a fraud. McCain wants to close Guantanamo as a detention facility, and Romney famously wanted to “double” it. McCain is supposed to run against Obama’s health care plan with a running mate who signed into law health care legislation that was effectively to the left of Obama’s position on mandates? McCain is going to compete in the Rust Belt with the living embodiment of corporate America standing by his side? Romney might help in Michigan and (marginally) in Massachusetts, but he would cost McCain dozens of electoral votes elsewhere. In the spirit of Romney’s withdrawal speech at CPAC, I think Romney should withdraw himself from consideration for VP, since he said he didn’t want to contribute to a Democratic victory and putting him on the ticket would all but guarantee one.
The politics of American-ness needs to be cloaked in policy, simply because it’s unpalatable otherwise.
This year the Republican argument is reduced to its barest essence: Americans versus “pluribus,” unprotected by the politeness of issues or safer symbolism.
No one knows for sure what Mark Schmitt thinks pluribus means, but he seems to think it refers to minorities and marginal populations. Of course, appeals to American-ness don’t need to be “cloaked in policy,” since expressions of Americanism are rampant and all around us, especially in an election year. That Schmitt treats such appeals as inherently unpalatable speaks volumes about why Republicans are able to exploit such appeals to their advantage year-in and year-out. While American-ness can be and has been deployed as a cudgel, it is potentially both extremely inclusive and conformist the rest of the time and worryingly requires the subordination or even elimination of other forms of identity. When the content of American-ness can be made as vague and ahistorical as possible (usually when it is reduced to an abstraction or a set of propositions), it can mobilise a number of different sentiments of loyalty, pride, aspiration, resentment and fear all at the same time. When people joked about John Kerry being “vaguely French,” there was no real policy issue at stake, but a simple effort to distance him from his American identity. That he actually had European cousins (as most of us, in theory, also have at a great remove) was somehow treated as disqualifying because it made him seem less American, which was then tied to various policies on national security and so forth to put those policies in a bad light. These sorts of appeals for or against a candidate’s American-ness and general appeals to American identity are not only palatable to most of the public, but they are treated as absolutely necessary for presidential candidates.
Schmitt comes close to making a good point, but then misses it when he says:
When Republicans went after Michael Dukakis for his policies on crime, they weren’t just saying his policies were bad. They were saying, he’s not like us; he’s a cold-blooded, academic mush-brain who wouldn’t give his kids a whupping if they needed it.
On crime, they were quite explicitly saying that he was a weak abettor of felons, and that you can’t trust him. It’s questions of strength and trust that make law and order appeals so effective for the GOP. On the Pledge of Allegiance controversy in 1988, they were saying very plainly, “He doesn’t respect the flag, he doesn’t think people should be loyal to this country, he doesn’t want to instill patriotism in children!” That this was rubbish is beside the point–respect for the flag, patriotism and loyalty to America have no obvious connection to the Pledge in any case. It was this sort of purely symbolic issue, combined with making use of legitimate issues such as crime, and then portraying the opponent’s record on that issue in the worst possible light that increased the overall power of the attack more than any one alone could have done. If you can sow doubts about a candidate’s American-ness, you make it harder for people to identify with him and therefore harder to trust him, which then makes any critiques of his policies more effective in peeling away supporters than if you had simply laid out why you think the policies are objectionable. You don’t need policy to function as a cover or a code for this move. Indeed, without the original challenge to the opponent’s American bona fides, the policy critique might not gain traction at all.
A shockingly large group of people, that’s who. On the economy, McCain is trusted more than Obama (47-41%), and likewise on Iraq (49-37) and national security (53-31). Concerning the economy, McCain leads Obama 55-33 among men, wins every age group except 18-29, gets 31% black support, 25% of Democrats and wins every income group above $40K. On Iraq, McCain wins men 56-31 and wins women by a point, he wins every age group, he gets 39% of black voters, 22% of Democrats and every income group above $20K. On national security, obviously it’s a blowout: McCain wins men by 33 points and women by 13, he wins every age group (including 18-29 year olds by 27 points), gets 44% of black voters, 28% of Democrats and wins every income group.
In light of the respective positions of the two parties and public attitudes towards them and in light of public attitudes about which party they trust more on these very issues, these numbers are amazing. The question of trust is going to be decisive, and Obama is being beaten like a drum when it comes to winning the public’s trust. Look on the bright side, Obamaites–his numbers can only go up, right?
But compassionate conservatism has come under criticism for a variety of reasons. For some, it is fundamentally at odds with fiscal conservatism — no social priority is deemed more urgent than balancing the budget. For others, it is a violation of their vision of limited government — the state’s only valid purpose is to uphold markets and protect individual liberty. But by drawing these limits so narrowly, such critics would relegate conservatism to the realm of rejected ideologies: untainted, uncomplicated and ignored. And by leaving great social needs unmet, they would grant liberalism an open field and invite genuine statism. ~Michael Gerson
As opposed to the supposedly faux statism that Gerson and his minions promote? Raise your hand if you’re sick of this condescending garbage!
How tiresome it is to hear that “social needs” are unmet because government is not involved in meeting them, or that government must be involved if those needs are, in fact, unmet. If they’re unmet, they’re probably unmet because someone whining in the name of “compassion” forty years ago complained that the government wasn’t doing enough, so the state usurped the proper social functions of existing institutions that have since withered and died from neglect and lack of support, and now all we are left with is recourse to still more government. However the program or initiative is designed, it will always be another form of dependency and another means to concentrate power in the state by creating these bonds of dependency on government initiatives. How insulting to listen to someone who has never blinked at proposing spending other people’s money on the problems of people he has never met mock fiscal responsibility, and then claim that those interested in the profoundly moral effort to not pass on our debts to our posterity supposedly believe that balanced budgets are the top “social priority.” What is Michael Gerson’s top social priority? It seems that gratifying his undying need for atoning vicariously through good works that he isn’t doing that are paid for by wealth he isn’t creating in places he will never go is his top priority, and woe betide the moneychangers who block him on the path of righteousness!
But it is a stretch to interpret his personal challenge to the rich young ruler as a biblical foundation for libertarianism.
But then Tom Coburn isn’t urging libertarianism on anyone. He was calling for voluntary charity and self-sacrifice, which are not exactly what most people would associate with any form of libertarianism. That isn’t to say that libertarians can’t be charitable and self-sacrificing, but that libertarianism does not call you to be these things; Christ does. But you have to remember that for Gerson there is Catholic social thought, which he doesn’t understand very well but claims for himself, and then there is the howling apocalyptic wasteland infested with demonic zombies that is “libertarianism” (a.k.a., whatever Michael Gerson wants to identify tendentiously with his opponents in a policy debate). There are theological arguments for preserving and upholding the common good, but Gerson never makes them and sometimes he makes me wonder if he even knows them. If he engaged with these arguments, he would have to grapple with questions of subsidiarity, the same principle of subsidiarity that the policies he and his allies have championed have trampled all over.
Once again, Gerson invokes Shaftesbury, as if what Shaftesbury did has any real relationship to the state intrusion into religious charities that was the faith-based initiative or the state intrusion into local schools that was NLCB. That is what “compassionate” conservatism has meant in practice. You don’t get to cite what Tory reformers or Christian socialists of another era on another continent did that happened to be successful when your agenda has been a catastrophic failure. “Oh, look, they were Christian reformers, too!” These examples also make no effort to ground this sort of activism in an American context. Different peoples are suited to different kinds of regimes, and they are likewise suited to different sorts of collective action.
Instead of a supposedly libertarian Christ, Gerson offers us Christ the social worker, which is an appropriation every bit as unpersuasive as the other caricatures he rejects, and the disciples of this social worker have an unerring ability to be extremely annoying.
This NPR poll (via Krieger) has an interesting feature that measures agreement with a series of statements with and without partisan labels. On the whole, the overall difference in support or opposition for a given position between the “partisan” and “non-partisan” respondents is not that great (the GOP’s position loses approximately 60-40 regardless of labeling), but there was one figure that caught my attention in the breakdown of the Iraq responses. When told that it was the Republican position, Republican respondents were significantly more likely to support that position than otherwise. Agreement was 69-28 in the “partisan” group and 55-38 in the “non-partisan,” so when not conditioned to respond tribally according to party loyalty Republicans were much less likely to support the party’s standard Iraq position. Put simply: when voters are considering the policy substance offered by the competing parties, the Republican position scarcely wins a majority of its own partisans and loses badly with everyone else. It will hardly be news to anyone that supporting the war in Iraq is a losing issue for the GOP, but past polling has given the misleading impression that the party is overwhelmingly supportive in such a way that makes Republican dissent difficult. Perhaps these results point towards a more evenly-divided GOP that would tolerate more open opposition to the war.
Partisanship was a bigger factor in Republican responses. Democrats were only slightly more likely to choose their party’s position when given a “partisan cue”–agreement was 80% in the “partisan” and 76% in the “non-partisan” group. Independents were slightly less likely to agree with the Democratic position when it was associated with the Democrats by name (53% in “partisan” vs. 57% in “non-partisan”), but this is obviously not as dramatic as the difference in the Republican responses. There does seem to be some small resistance to the Democratic position on Iraq simply because of that party’s ”brand” image among independents, and this resistance naturally grows much stronger among Republicans. It is actually Republicans who make up this 14-point difference who bother me the most, since it seems that these are the people who don’t really believe what the party leadership is offering but go along out of herd instinct. It is not entirely surprising that party loyalty (or antipathy) would shape how people respond to these questions, but the gap between Republicans who agreed with the substance of the position and those who seem to have felt compelled to agree with the party line is quite remarkable.
More striking, and also of interest to readers of TAC, is the difference among Republican respondents to positions on trade. When told that it was the Republican “free trade” position, Republicans agreed with it 63-33. Without partisan cues, Republicans agreed with a less “free trade”-oriented Democratic statement that included a call to renegotiate NAFTA 54-43. That’s a forty-one point swing that apparently hinges entirely on partisanship. All that cognitive dissonance has to give these people a headache. Interestingly, Democrats feel more obliged to agree with their party’s line on trade in an almost mirror image of the differences in Republican responses on Iraq: 69% of Democrats in the “partisan” group agreed with their party’s line, while just 53% agreed in the “non-partisan.” Independents are significantly more likely to agree with the Democratic position when the Democratic label isn’t attached to it: 61% agreement in “non-partisan” and 52% in the “partisan” group. The Republicans have a policy problem. It’s the Democrats who seem to have a brand or image problem.
P.S. There’s no comfort for the GOP in these results when it comes to tax policy, either. Without partisan cues, Republicans agree with the Democratic line 52-38, which is a 53-point shift from the “partisan” group where Republicans agreed with their party’s view 66-27.
But of course we’re not supposed to talk about this, anymore than we’re supposed to talk about why Phil Donohue got fired or why Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan both had fierce anti-war positions off air that they avoided expressing on camera.
I can’t recall how outspoken Matthews was, but anyone who was actually watching Buchanan on television during the relevant 2002-03 period in question knows this is a lot of nonsense. On the show that they hosted together, Bill Press and Pat Buchanan regularly inveighed against invading Iraq for the whole of 2002 and through the beginning of the war. I should know, since I watched it daily. They once had Medea Benjamin on as a guest, for pity’s sake, and that was a good deal more of an antiwar stand than certain current Atlantic bloggers were taking at the time.
I don’t doubt that there was corporate pressure on newsrooms to spin their coverage in the months leading up to the war, and Buchanan and Press was cancelled at the end of 2003, so make of that what you will. Of course there was pressure from corporate executives. You don’t need journalists to admit the exisence of this pressure to you–you just needed to watch and read the coverage. The fawning credulity with which most journalists treated the administration’s claims was everywhere, and it is hard to believe that it was the result of a collective lapse of intelligence and common sense. That makes it all the more bizarre that anyone would choose to cite Buchanan in particular as having been somehow reticent about his antiwar views on air, since he was one of the few notable exceptions to what was often an otherwise mindless pro-war stampede of pundits and bloggers that accompanied the months leading up to the invasion.
Republicans need to be Republicans. The greatest threat to classic Republicanism is not liberalism; it’s this new brand of libertarianism, which is social liberalism and economic conservatism, but it’s a heartless, callous, soulless type of economic conservatism because it says “look, we want to cut taxes and eliminate government. If it means that elderly people don’t get their Medicare drugs, so be it. If it means little kids go without education and healthcare, so be it.” Well, that might be a quote pure economic conservative message, but it’s not an American message. It doesn’t fly. People aren’t going to buy that, because that’s not the way we are as a people. That’s not historic Republicanism. Historic Republicanism does not hate government; it’s just there to be as little of it as there can be. But they also recognize that government has to be paid for. ~Mike Huckabee
The sound you just heard was Mike Huckabee’s hypothetical 2012 campaign imploding. It was one thing to justify tax hikes to balance budgets or pay for necessary road maintenance, but to adopt the treacly, preachy Gerson-style whining about mean ol’ right-wingers who want everyone to suffer and die will guarantee that Huckabee’s future political endeavours will be as cash-strapped as they were this time and the resistance to any future candidacy will be doubly intense. Before this, economic conservatives merely hated him. Now they will become obsessed with thwarting him at every turn. Frankly, a lot of us who enjoyed the angst he was causing mainstream conservatives and were rooting for him secretly or openly against Romney will not be sorry to see him lose in the future. No one wants to be lectured to by someone spouting Gersonism, especially the particularly disingenuous kind that calls for “as little” government as there can be without ever being able to find a single thing that government does that it shouldn’t do.
There are obviously many, many problems with Huckabee’s assessment. First, it vastly overstates the power and influence of what he calls “social liberalism and economic conservatism” within the GOP. As his own candidacy demonstrated, social conservatism and something less than strict economic conservatism pack a lot more punch electorally, and meaningful Hayekian libertarianism in the GOP is generally so scarce and strongly opposed that Huckabee warning against it is a bit like warning about a Zoroastrian takeover of Iran. He is not alone in this, since some people at Cato have made a cottage industry out of inflating the political strength of libertarians by conflating libertarianism with “social liberalism and economic conservatism,” but this is wrong. If Huckabee thinks that this force represents the gravest threat to the GOP and “Republicanism” it suggests that Huckabee has not been fully conscious for the last eight years, since the chief things that brought the GOP into discredit have been 1) Iraq; 2) New entitlement spending; 3) The mishandling of Katrina; 4) Abuse and torture of detainees; 5) The administration’s effort to force-feed the country ”immigration reform” of a kind it didn’t want; 6) Corruption. These discredited the GOP with different constituencies, but all combined to create the generally miserable conditions for the party. Whether or not they were consistent with one kind of “historic Republicanism” or another, they were all serious errors that cast doubt on the capacity of anyone who embraces Republicanism to be a competent governor.
Here Huckabee seems to be making Medicare Part D some sort of litmus test for what it means to be a good Republican, when pushing this entitlement through Congress was one of the worst blunders of the current administration. He mistakenly imagines that the economic conservatives who waged a scorched earth campaign against him in the primaries are particularly influential or powerful, when they could not even derail his candidacy. Meanwhile, Huckabee has consistently shown himself to be on the side of the “compassionate” conservative boondoggles and errors of this decade, and here he has effectively aligned himself with the government-expanding forces within the GOP, which is to say that he has aligned himself with a lot of “historic Republicanism” of the Nixon variety and against a significant part of conservatism.
Sullivan points out that some maps projecting the candidates’ electoral votes at this time four years ago were wildly wrong as predictions of the outcome, which ought to send cold shudders through every Obamaite in the country for a couple reasons. First, the electoral maps are only representations of the polling at the time, and most polling (except for reliable operations such as Rasmussen) in mid-2004 did show Kerry with sizeable leads. John Zogby, to his everlasting embarrassment, was predicting a Kerry landslide on Election Night itself. Oops. Second, Kerry’s lead earlier in the year in many polls gradually evaporated over the summer and fall, which reflected the typical erosion of support for the candidate from the non-incumbent party. What does this mean? It means that Obama’s continued weak levels of support in reputable national tracking polls (he continues to trail in both Gallup and Rasmussen this week) and his anemic polling in many swing states should be worrying his supporters a lot more than they are, and it may mean that Obama’s results on Election Day may be much worse than what those electoral maps are projecting today. Just as polls are not predictive, but are a rough measurement of opinion at the time they are taken, these electoral maps are not predictive, and we all understand that things will change between now and Election Day. The rather grim thing for Obama boosters to consider is that the change is more likely to be for the worse for their candidate than it will be for the better.