Daniel Larison

Tories and Fidesz

I’m sure all good Tories wish Cameron well. But one could argue that a Cameron win might be the worst of all outcomes for the Tories. Call it the sorrow of granted wishes, but if he wins, the Conservatives will run on visionless, unimaginative, timid platforms for years. ~Denis Boyles

Via Massie

Besides being a bizarre call for a fourth straight national humiliation for the Tories, Boyles’ description of Cameron’s platform is unrecognizable. One can reject most or all of the “Big Society” platform, and one can attack it for being incoherent, but it is almost exactly the opposite of “visionless, unimaginative and timid,” or at least as far from it as one can reasonably expect a major center-right party platform to be in a predominantly center-left country. That would be a far better description for the Tory platforms from 2001 and 2005. Under the circumstances, it might have been safer to attack Labour for mismanagement and failure and avoid any attempt at proposing something new or remarkable at the same time. Indeed, one of the things the Conservative right dislikes about Tory modernizers is that they are forever proposing to re-brand and remake the party’s image and, to a lesser extent, its policies, too. There are certainly many Conservatives who don’t think their party needs to change that much, but quite frankly the Tories have tried it their way, as Massie reminds them, and come no closer to electoral success.

John O’Sullivan compares what he regards as Cameron’s failure with Orban’s recent overwhelming success in Hungary, and insists that the Tories ought to be replicating Fidesz dominance. As Massie notes, not only does this fail to take account of the sorry state the Tories were in after 2005, but it pays no attention to the differences between the political landscape and the electorates, as well as the state of affairs in the two countries. Britain had the Parliamentary expenses scandal, a financial crisis and exploding debt, but Hungary suffered from many of the same things to an even greater degree. Their government is on the verge of bankruptcy and faces even worse economic and fiscal woes than Britain, and Hungarians are among the nations that have most lost confidence in electoral democracy and capitalism in all of central and eastern Europe.

No wonder that the former ruling Socialists fared so poorly in both rounds of voting and Fidesz wracked up a two-thirds majority. Hungary also obviously has no other mainstream party on the left, so disaffected Socialist voters either voted Fidesz or cast protest votes for Jobbik, and Jobbik’s own status as a hard-line nationalist party necessarily limited how successful it could be. No less important, while Fidesz is a major part of the political establishment, it actually acted the part of an opposition party ever since it lost power in 2002. When Medgyessy dragged Hungary into the Iraq war along with the other embarrassingly obedient central and eastern European governments of “new Europe,” Orban and Fidesz were openly against it from the start. Can the Tory leadership say as much? Of course not. Fidesz has represented a credible center-right alternative to the Socialists for many years, but the Tories have only started to seem credible in the last two years, so Fidesz has had quite a head start both in terms of its political strength going into this year’s elections and in terms of the way it is perceived by the public. After all, it is not enough for a ruling party to have disgraced and discredited itself with failures and bad policies (Blair had already done quite enough of that by 2005), but there must be an opposition that is trusted enough to replace them as well.



When it comes to midterm predictions, Republicans and conservatives have increasingly divided into two camps: the realistic-but-confident camp that expects decent Republican gains in both houses expressed by Gerald Seib this morning, and the barking-at-the-moon-crazy camp to which Minority Leader John Boehner and some over-enthusiastic pundits belong. Seib’s article is worth reading to appreciate just how difficult a 40-seat gain is under our current system:

Of the 16 seats Democrats are vacating, four are in such predominantly Democratic districts that they seem likely to stay in the “D” category, even in a tough year for the party. That would leave Republicans with 12 to gain in open seats—provided they hold on to the 19 seats where a Republican incumbent is retiring.

If that happens, Republicans would have to knock off another 29 Democratic incumbents running for re-election. Could that happen? The Cook Political Report, the gold standard in rating congressional races, lists 21 seats held by Democrats seeking re-election that are highly competitive—meaning either that they now lean toward the Republicans or are toss-ups—and another 31 Democratic seats where the race leans toward Democrats but is competitive.

So Republicans would, in short, have to win just over half the seats being defended by vulnerable sitting House Democrats. That’s possible, but still a tall order in an era when House incumbents win re-election more than 90% of the time [bold mine-DL].

That’s why most analysts think the most likely outcome is a Republican pickup of 25 to 35 seats—enough to bring the GOP close to even in the House, but not enough to allow them to take over and replace Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Republican House Speaker [sic] John Boehner.

It is not at all certain that the Republicans can hold the seats left open by Mike Castle and Mark Kirk, and it is unlikely that Cao in Louisiana will be re-elected. That makes the hill the GOP has to climb a little steeper. The vulnerable Democratic incumbents are already reasonably well-funded, which will make it that much harder to dislodge them. While the House races will inevitably be affected by national issues, nationalizing the House elections could backfire in some parts of the country. It is worth considering that Democrats won both of the House special elections in the last year and a half that the GOP tried to nationalize.

There are also vulnerable Democratic freshmen incumbents in some conservative, McCain-backing districts that have strong local appeal that allowed them to win office in the first place. They will not be so easy to defeat. Travis Childers in MS-01 comes to mind. On paper, he is a highly vulnerable Blue Dog incumbent, and his seat is rated as a toss-up or even Republican-leaning depending on the analyst, but he has the advantage of being a well-liked local political leader with especially strong support from voters in and around the eastern part of his district around Tupelo. It was Childers’ appeal as a respected local official that helped him win his own special election early in 2008. Registration in his district continues to be heavily Democratic, the district has traditionally been represented by Democrats except between 1995-2007, and Childers has mostly voted in line with the conservative leanings of his district. According to CQPolitics, there is a strong contender in the Republican primary, but he faces a tough contest before he can face Childers. MS-01 is one of the seats that Republicans absolutely have to win if they have any hope of winning control of the House, and it is far from a sure thing.

Obviously, Boehner’s prediction of gaining “at least 100 seats” is absurd on its face when there aren’t even 100 truly competitive seats this year, but it is important because this is coming from the minority leader and not just from some overzealous activist. Bloggers and pundits can speculate to their hearts’ content, and it probably doesn’t matter at all, but when a top member of party leadership makes such unreasonable predictions he is encouraging complacency for his party. Just as bad, he is inviting scorn for having absolutely no grasp of the political landscape and disdain for having exceedingly poor political judgment. Being hopeful and confident is one thing, but over-hyping your party’s chances like this can only bring ridicule and disappointment. How can the electorate take any of what Republican leaders say seriously when their electoral projections are completely detached from reality?


Interventionism and International Order (II)

Ted Bromund critiques the Mark Mazower World Affairs essay I discussed at some length a few weeks ago. He compares new liberal respect for state sovereignty with “detente,” and invokes Reagan and Thatcher to attack Mazower’s argument. This might seem like a clever rhetorical move, but Mazower might easily reply that Reagan was mistaken to oppose detente as completely as he did and Thatcher was at least partly wrong when she said “a nation that denies those freedoms to its own people will have few scruples in denying them to others.” Such governments may not be limited by scruples, but it doesn’t follow that they are therefore going to be that much more likely to contribute to international instability and conflict.

Bromund then trots out the usual complaint against respecting state sovereignty:

It is simply not possible to separate the internal behavior of a state from its external policies. States that abuse human rights are not states that respect legal norms, and not ones that promote international stability.

This is a widely-shared conviction that, as far as I can tell, has little evidence in support of it. Abusive and authoritarian governments respect legal norms that they find useful, and a stable international system based on respect for state sovereignty is very useful to them. The world has been full and continues to be full of governments that abuse human rights, and yet very few of them violate other states’ territorial integrity, start wars or kill off foreign nationals on a regular basis in the name of national security. Over the last thirty years, Western democratic governments have done these things at least as often if not more often than authoritarian states around the world.

One could say almost the exact opposite of Bromund’s formulation and be much closer to the truth. That is, states that do not respect international legal norms vis-a-vis other states tend not to abuse human rights at home (or at least they abuse them much less often), while states that abuse human rights at home want to maintain certain strong international legal norms if only to guarantee non-interference in their internal affairs. Internal and external policies are never entirely separable, because the same government is responsible for both, but looking at the last sixty-five years it is not at all clear that repressive and abusive states are more likely to disrupt or undermine international stability.

As a matter of international law, state sovereignty has nothing to do with the type of regime or the consent of the people in that state. China has sovereign rights, regardless of what kind of government it has, and the same goes for every other internationally recognized nation-state. Mazower did not err when he acknowledged this reality. If the people in a country desire to change their government and reject the legitimacy of the regime they have, that is another matter entirely, but that is their internal affair.

Of course, it is true that there are policies in between “universal armed intervention and ‘stability.'” On the whole, it is interventionists who want to deny the existence of alternative policies to make military intervention unavoidable. It is interventionists who tend to deride the importance of “soft” power and reject the use of most multilateral institutions. Whatever their opponents are willing to do, they are always urging a more aggressive posture and continually push to escalate things until there is enough political support for the use of force. Mazower’s essay did not rule out possible alternatives. For the most part, Mazower was describing the decline of humanitarian military interventionism on the left. He was not necessarily rejecting any and all advocacy for human rights and political reform in other countries.

I have no idea if Mazower is “unhappy” with universalism. This is a charge universalists on the political right like to make against people on the left to establish their superior claim to Western universalism. The argument usually goes something like this: you decadent relativists believe all values are equal, but we know that ours are universal. Mazower is almost certainly not the particularist I am, and he may not find the claim that Western values are universal to be as far-fetched as I do. However, if he is “unhappy” with universalism I think it must be a universalism that uses the claim of universal values as a license to dictate terms to other nations at gunpoint. What Mazower’s essay showed was that many on the left are coming to realize that their support for universal values does not have to have a militant, crusading element and that there are far more constructive ways to advance human dignity and welfare than launching ruinous wars in the name of human rights and democracy.

Barone’s commentary on Mazower and Mead a few weeks ago was bad enough, but Bromund’s praise for Barone is even harder to take. Bromund writes:

Instead, I prefer Michael Barone’s reaction. In a thoughtful commentary on Mazower, he points out that, since existing international institutions cannot be effective, the U.S. needs to work more closely with its friends and allies. And that leads full circle back to the incoherence at the root of Obama’s vision: if U.S. policy is not based on a preference for democracy over dictatorship, the pursuit of stability will lead the U.S. to cold shoulder its friends and sidle up to its enemies, who can command our actions simply by threatening to disturb the stability that we prize so highly. And that will leave us without stability, law, peace, or human rights.

Readers can judge for themselves how thoughtful Barone was, but most of his argument was based on the misunderstanding that Mazower was emphasizing the importance of international institutions in his essay. As far as I can tell, he was not, so it didn’t contradict his argument at all when Barone noted Mead’s claim that the world was changing in ways that undermined the “authority and efficacy” of international institutions. Indeed, what makes the move away from humanitarian interventionism not only desirable but largely unavoidable is the way that the world is changing. As I said before, other major and rising powers, both authoritarian and democratic, have no interest in a world order in which military interventions are directed against their satellites and clients, and they will become increasingly effective obstacles to future interventions.

These major and rising powers also tend to be in agreement in their resistance to policies that sustain and extend U.S. hegemony, especially as these policies concern Iran. To some extent, the administration has been trying to maintain good relations with these powers, some of which are authoritarian, because we are moving away from a world in which it is easy for U.S.-led “coalitions of the willing” to act in defiance of the rest of the world. This is part of a slow, somewhat grudging recognition of the shifting balance of power in the world. It has nothing to do with a preference for democracy or dictatorship, and there is no substance to the claim that the administration ignores allies and placates foes.

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The Politics of Contempt

There have been two remarkable episodes this week showing the contempt of two national political classes for their respective electorates and the former’s incredible distance from the concerns of the people they are supposed to serve. By now everyone is quite familiar with Brown’s gaffe referring to a life-long Labour voter as a “bigoted woman” for expressing vague concerns about the influx of eastern European immigrants into Britain. Pretty much everyone in Britain recognizes that Brown made a colossal blunder in saying this on the record, and the assumption is that Brown has likely cost himself huge numbers of votes in next week’s general election.

In fact, all that Brown did was say on the record what much of Britain’s political class thinks of disaffected British voters whose concerns, grievances and objections to the status quo in immigration policy are not addressed or taken seriously by any of the leading parties. That shared disdain leads many voters, many of them traditionally Labour voters, to vent their frustration by electing local councillors from marginal nationalist parties, and this in turn just reinforces the political class’ view that the voters’ objections are motivated mainly by racial resentment. As soon as Brown heard the woman mention immigrants, he probably concluded that he already knew everything about her and her views that he needed to know. He has since had to show contrition because the election is a week away and he has to contain the political damage, but he has already reminded many regular Labour voters what he thinks of them and their concerns.

What is remarkable is how freely Brownian contempt is being heaped on Arizona for its government’s attempt to get some kind of control on illegal immigration after the near-total failure of the federal government for twenty-five years to enforce the law and secure the southern border effectively. For decades, the federal government has failed the border states, and the border states have been left to pick up the tab for an incredibly poor regulated immigration system. In the absence of effective federal enforcement, border states have tried, mostly in vain, to cope with the consequences of mass immigration.

A few years ago, Michael Gerson and his former boss were chief among those proposing the world-of-both-worlds “reform” whose promise of enforcement was not to be trusted, whose guest-worker program was a transparent concession to corporations seeking cheap, exploitable, unprotected labor, and which would have made fools of anyone who went to the trouble to enter the country legally with its “Z visa.” Since that effort was derailed by significant popular resistance from across the political spectrum, Congress has so far not gone near the issue again because it is clear that the prevailing views in Congress are at odds with the views of much of the country.

Byron York has quoted the statute’s language to make clear what the law requires:

For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency…where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person…

So Gerson believes it is “dreadful” that law enforcement officers would run a check on the immigration status of someone already stopped for some other reason. York goes on to make clear that there would be no check on immigration status if the person has a valid driver’s license:

The law clearly says that if someone produces a valid Arizona driver’s license, or other state-issued identification, they are presumed to be here legally.

Unless there is another undesirable provision that critics of the law have failed to mention, it would seem that the only people who have reason to complain about this law are those who are here illegally and those who believe that immigration laws should simply not be enforced. This is one reason why Gerson’s objections ring so hollow: he insists that he favors enforcement of the law, but objects vehemently the moment someone attempts to enforce the law.


Crist’s Exceptional Opportunism

Crist will reportedly run as an independent in the Florida Senate race, and he will make the announcement tomorrow. This is unfortunate for Floridians, who seemed to have a chance to be spared from the continuation of Crist’s candidacy had he followed through on the many public statements in which he explicitly rejected an independent run. Before any silly establishment pundits attempt to anoint him as the Nick Clegg of Pinellas County or as some sort of martyr to the glorious cause of “centrism,” what needs to be emphasized is how unusually unreliable and self-serving Crist is as a politician. As a March Salon article on Crist summed it up:

A series of interviews with Florida political observers and GOP insiders tells a different story — one in which Crist’s problems have less to do with his purported moderation than with an ardor for political expediency and opportunism.

“I don’t know whether Charlie is left-of-center or right-of-center,” says Brett Doster, an unaligned GOP strategist in the state. “Charlie is all about Charlie.”

No one has to agree with or even like Marco Rubio to appreciate the one service he has done for Florida, which is to expose how Crist’s desire for personal advancement trumps any and all other considerations. Whatever their reasons for the Republican rank-and-file’s rejection of Crist, there are few candidates more deserving of rejection than Crist because of the sheer opportunism that has marked his career and which he will continue to display this year.

This is significantly different from the somewhat surprising rebellion that threatens to deny Bob Bennett re-nomination in Utah. Republican leaders and activists decided that the stimulus was going to be a litmus test issue, and Crist failed the test. Compared with the admiration heaped on the far more liberal Scott Brown, the conservative activist loathing for Crist has always seemed fairly arbitrary, but even so this political episode is no more evidence of the “closing of the conservative mind” than Lieberman’s primary loss in 2006 represented some unreasonable extremism from the left. Both are cases of horrible, opportunistic politicians who desperately want to be in political office and have no respect for the views of their core constituents. Their respective parties legitimately rejected them and preferred a challenger candidate instead.

The difference between Connecticut in 2006 and Florida now is that there is a serious Democratic contender in the Florida race, so it is not likely that the state’s Democratic voters will be rallying around Crist to deny Rubio the win. It is possible that he will do enough to split the vote with Rubio that Meek ekes out a victory, or Crist might be able to win a three-way race, but either way his political ambitions will never go beyond the Senate now. If he prevents the new Republican folk hero Rubio from winning, he will probably be more hated on the right than Lieberman ever was on the left, and if he delivers a safe Republican seat to the Democrats he can probably forget about running for office in Florida again. Even if Crist pulls off a win this year, his pattern of looking for the next big political job will come to a screeching halt.


Love of Liberty

Jim Bovard reported on one Tea Party rally he attended (via Andrew and Balko), and he found that most of the activists and speakers held conventional Republican views on national security and war, including support for illegal surveillance and torture. The extent of this probably varies depending on the rally, but it doesn’t surprise me in the least.

If 57% of people who identify with the Tea Party movement have a favorable view of Bush, why are they going to be opposed to Bush’s illegal acts, disastrous policies and increases in the size of government? According to the surveys we have seen already, there are anti-Bush Tea Partiers, and there is a sizeable minority within the movement that really does oppose most or all expansions of government power on principle, but clearly they are being overwhelmed and drowned out by nationalists and hawks. In other words, the Tea Party movement suffers from the same problems as the conservative movement and the Republican Party in that the majority of the movement seems to support just about anything done by and for the national security and warfare state. As in the conservative movement and the GOP, there are principled dissenters who object to these things on small-government, constitutionalist, prudential, moral and religious grounds, but in the end they remain dissenters against the prevailing view.

The dispiriting part of all this is that hating liberals more than loving liberty is hardly a new phenomenon. Unfortunately, it has defined a large part of postwar conservative politics all along. As Prof. Lukacs wrote in his “The Problem of American Conservatism” 26 years ago: “Many American conservatives, alas, gave ample evidence that they were just conservative enough to hate liberals but not enough to love liberty.” What we have seen over the last ten years is a tendency to make loathing for liberals the thing that truly matters, and usually liberty becomes important to most conservatives only when it is useful to berate liberals. To the extent that liberals have defended constitutional liberties against anti-terrorist government intrusions, it is the latter that most conservatives have embraced. It is not just that loathing for liberals exceeds love of liberty, which might be true for members of all kinds of ideological movements, but that love of liberty becomes almost entirely contingent on whether or not it can be marshaled in opposition to liberals.


Still Waiting For the Pushback

I might be setting myself for a healthy serving of crow on November 3rd, but I get a distinct feeling that the GOP may be headed toward to a seat gain in the House of epic proportions — somewhere over 50 seats and well above the historical high point for recent wave elections (the 50-55 seats we experienced in elections like 1946 and 1994).

All in all, I don’t think a 70 seat gain is out of the question. ~Patrick Ruffini

Via Andrew

In fairness to Ruffini, he acknowledges that most of what he is saying is “pure gut.” This becomes quite clear when we consider the reasons for his outlandish prediction. In short, he argues that there is an enthusiasm gap between the parties, he observes that there is powerful anti-incumbency sentiment, and he says that crazy things are happening (e.g., the election of Scott Brown). This allows him to double Cook and Rothenberg’s numbers of projected seat gains for no particular reason, and once you arbitrarily double the number why not hold out the prospect of tripling it?

If we look more carefully at some of the indicators, there is reason to doubt not only Ruffini’s far-fetched prediction of a gain of 50+ seats, but also the more basic assumption that Republicans will win control of the House. For instance, Ruffini cites the report that just 49% say that they would re-elect their representative against 40% who say they would vote out the incumbent. This is an interesting measure of how disgusted many people are with Congress, but as an indicator of voting behavior I doubt that it is very meaningful. In the last forty years, re-election rates for House members have dipped to 90% or below just five times, and in all the elections after 1994 re-election rates have not gone below 94%. Thanks partly to the gerrymandering of the last twenty years, fewer incumbents lose than in previous decades, and it is much harder for public discontent to translate into seat gains for the opposition party.

Four years ago, a presidential party in the sixth year of a deeply unpopular President’s administration lost just 30 seats. This year, the presidential party is coming off of two elections in which they won over 50% of the vote, and we are headed into the first midterm election during the administration of a President whose RCP average approval rating is currently 48%. It would be extremely odd for a presidential party to lose more than 30 seats with Presidential approval that high, especially when that average rating has never dipped below 46% since inauguration. Indeed, it has remained remarkably stable over the last five months. In 1993-94, Clinton’s Gallup approval rating dropped into the mid-30s on occasion before recovering to 46% by the time of the election, and Obama’s Gallup approval rating currently stands at 51% and has never dropped below 45%. If that 51% rating were to hold, the average loss for a presidential party with a presidential approval rating of 50-59% is 12 seats. Obviouly, economic weakness and political issues specific to this Congress are going to make things worse for the Democrats than that, but it is still something of a reach under these circumstances to project a 30-seat loss, to say nothing of 50 or the absurd 70.

My view is that a 30-seat prediction is at least reasonable, but Republican gains of more than 25 seats still seem unlikely. Depending on how toss-up seats fall, my guess is that Democrats will lose between 18-23 House seats and probably five seats in the Senate. It is difficult to find the actual districts where this 40-seat takeover is going to happen. Yes, things could change, we could continue to have a recovery without any decrease in unemployment, and the majority could foolishly pursue an immigration bill this year that could seriously harm them. It is also possible that enough voters will remember how the Republicans governed when they were in power and recoil from them as the year goes on much as people in Britain have started recoiling from Labour as polling day approaches.

Republican pundits and analysts who have been enthusing over the impending mega-victory they are going to win have already made sure that they will lose the expectations game. Not content with aggressive predictions of winning control of the House, which has already potentially set them up for the appearance of failure, some have been pushing the expectations of Republican gains beyond what any modern American political party can possibly deliver under present circumstances. Between Marco Rubio’s “single greatest pushback in American history” hype, increasingly unrealistic claims about Democratic weakness, and wild predictions of unprecedented postwar midterm gains, anything short of a resounding Republican triumph will be seen as a missed opportunity at best and a disaster at worst.

Something Ruffini does not address in his post is the extent to the which the public continues to blame Bush for both deficit and economic woes. That doesn’t mean that Democrats can rely on anti-Bush sentiment for a third straight election, but it has to weaken the appeal of the GOP when the party’s prominent figures continue to try to rehabilitate and praise Bush and effectively reinforce the identification between the current party and the Bush era. According to the new ABC/Post poll, the GOP itself continues to have very poor favorability ratings, its Congressional leadership loses in match-ups against Obama on most issues, and it continues to trail Democrats on being trusted to handle “the main problems” the country faces. Even in the generic ballot, respondents have been moving back to the Democrats (a three-point GOP lead has turned into a five-point deficit since February in the ABC poll), and the generic ballot average now gives Republicans just a 1-point advantage. Perhaps I am missing something, but this does not seem to have the makings of an unprecedentedly large Republican blowout win. Instead, it looks like things are shaping up for a modest and perhaps even below-average performance for the non-presidential party.


Douthat and Anti-Jihadism

Glenn Greenwald’s response to Ross’ last column badly misunderstands what Ross is arguing and imputes views and motives to him for which there is no evidence. First of all, let’s make clear what Ross is not doing in this or any of his other columns. He is not trying “to pretend that threat-induced censorship is a uniquely Islamic practice.” What he is trying to say is that the response to Islamist “threat-induced censorship” from leading figures in our political and cultural institutions is noticeably different to the response to other kinds of threats and censorship. Perhaps Ross exaggerated some for rhetorical effect, and it is fair to say that Ross overlooks a wide array of political and policy taboos that are enforced all the time, but among most Western politicians, journalists and entertainers there is a greater impulse to self-censorship and a greater willingness to acquiesce in the face of potential or real threats when the subject matter concerns Islam.

Ross is not engaged in an “anti-Muslim crusade,” nor is he engaged in “sectarian religious promotion.” He does not write, and to the best of my knowledge has never written, “bitter tribalistic encyclicals.” There are American conservatives and Christians who would fit that description, but Ross is not one of them. This is an error that critics of Ross in particular and critics of Catholic conservatives like him frequently make. For whatever reason, these critics do not see that Ross has not been advancing an “anti-Muslim” agenda, but that he is actually defending fairly conventional assumptions about Western liberal society against a form of illiberalism and, as Ross puts it in this column, “totalitarianism.” Even by the standards of this kind of writing, Ross’ rebuke is mild.

At one point, Greenwald mentions the decision of the previous administration to refuse an entry visa to Tariq Ramadan. It might interest Greenwald to know that when Ramadan was the subject of that interminable, mind-numbing critique in The New Republic, Ross found the article significantly lacking. In his response, he wrote:

Such a piece would have been a valuable contribution to the debate over whether Western liberalism should seek dialogue with the more moderate elements within political Islam – with Ramadan a prime example – or pursue confrontation instead, along the lines suggested by Ali. I’m by no means certain which side of that debate I’m on, Buruma’s or Berman’s [bold mine-DL], but that’s all the more reason for TNR to run an essay that contributes substantially to the argument.

If Ross were embarked on an “anti-Muslim crusade,” do you suppose he would have been undecided about whether or not to engage in dialogue with Tariq Ramadan just three years ago? No, of course not.

What is also clear is that Ross is not writing about state-sanctioned violence and abuse. He is discussing the relationship between Islamists living in Europe and America and the societies in which they live. His column this week is addressing the effect of censorship on civil society and free expression. Greenwald is correct when he insists on remembering “the tens of thousands of Muslims whom the U.S. has imprisoned without charges for years, and the hundreds of thousands our wars and invasions and bombings have killed this decade alone, and the ones from around the world subjected to racial and ethnic profiling, and the ones we’ve tortured and shot up at checkpoints and are targeting for state-sponsored assassination.” It is absolutely right and fair to argue that there should be far more concern for the human costs of illegal, unwise and immoral anti-terrorist and foreign policies than there is for the creative freedom of cartoonists. I would agree completely that conventional anti-jihadism in this country has this entirely backwards and that it is far less credible as a result.

Where I believe Ross’ column ultimately does go wrong is in the final lines of the column:

Happily, today’s would-be totalitarians are probably too marginal to take full advantage. This isn’t Weimar Germany, and Islam’s radical fringe is still a fringe, rather than an existential enemy.

For that, we should be grateful. Because if a violent fringe is capable of inspiring so much cowardice and self-censorship, it suggests that there’s enough rot in our institutions that a stronger foe might be able to bring them crashing down.

While it is good that Ross acknowledges that a small group of fanatics scattered across half a continent on the other side of the planet is not an “existential enemy,” it cannot be stressed too much that these are still “would-be” totalitarians we’re talking about. The Islamists in question have little or no power, and it is at least partly because of this weakness that there is as much willingness to yield to their mainly symbolic demands as there is. Obviously, when even some Muslims are viewed as a remotely serious physical threat, the obsession with countering the threat is intense and the Western response has been marked largely by massive overreaction and quick abandonment of Christian, liberal and constitutional values by our political class. No, this isn’t anything like Weimar Germany, but if there has been an impulse to turn to authoritarian measures and international conflict as a cure for decadence it has come from our non-Muslim countrymen in positions of authority and influence.

One could call the easy and frequent recourse to the use of force and coercion as proof of Western decadence, but what we all should be able agree on is that it has been disastrous. The far greater problem we have today is not that we are too inclined to yield to Islamist demands in Western countries, but that we are far too ready to disregard the lives, property, dignity and political rights of Muslims in their own countries if we think it might marginally enhance our physical security. Perhaps if Westerners made fewer unreasonable and illegitimate demands of majority Muslim nations, we could defend our values at home with more confidence.

There is no question of a foreign foe bringing our institutions crashing down. The greatest danger all along has been that we would destroy or corrupt our institutions and our values out of an irrational exaggeration of the threat posed by jihadists, and that we would make this even worse through a widely shared blindness to the consequences of our national security and foreign policies. One reason anti-jihadist commentary has seemed less and less persuasive to me over the last decade is that anti-jihadists have done nothing to avoid these dangers and have done all that they could to make them worse. In all of this, Ross’ column on the illiberalism of certain Islamists is not the problem.

P.S. Later in his post, Greenwald links to a 2007 item from Ross and claims that he “previously cited with approval Goldberg’s explicit advocacy of right-wing censorship.” The post from 2007 Greenwald links to has nothing to do with censorship, and instead chides Goldberg for ignoring the utopianism of Bush’s Second Inaugural in Goldberg’s complaint against “crusading” forms of conservatism. For that matter, Goldberg’s original post mentioned censorship in one sentence practically as a throwaway remark. The thrust of Goldberg’s argument was a rejection of crusading politics, and it was this rejection of political crusading with which Ross was agreeing. In other words, the post Greenwald cites basically contradicts the claim that Ross is someone strongly interested in political or religious crusades. My original 2007 response to both posts is here.


Hannan: Let’s Preserve Unrepresentative Government for the Sake of Representative Government

The single most important feature of democracy is this: that voters regularly get a chance to turn the rascals out. Think for a moment about the countries that don’t enjoy representative government – Cuba, say, or Iran – and you’ll see why it matters.

Conversely, the chief argument against coalitions, and electoral reforms that give rise to coalitions, is this: that they tend to ensure that most parties are in power most of the time. ~Daniel Hannan

Granted, I haven’t had much interest in Hannan’s views since he declared his devotion to the cause of Oliver Cromwell. Pardon me if I tend not to take seriously lectures on democracy and representative government from an admirer of the Lord Protector, especially when he tries to cast the argument for coalition government as the beginning of the path to dictatorship!

Leave all that aside and just consider whether it makes sense to say that coalition governments are poor examples of representative government. In reality, coalition governments represent a broader cross-section of the electorate and include a greater variety of political perspectives than a majority government formed by one party. For that reason, they tend to be weaker and less effective governments, which makes them poor candidates for paving the way to despotism. The present British system rewards the major parties disproportionately because of the concentrated nature of their support and their established advantages as the two largest parties, even though at the present time the three largest parties apparently have almost equal levels of support from the electorate.

Hannan is attacking European PR systems for producing the result of the revolving-door of governments that are always headed by one of the two major parties, but this is actually the result he would very much like to see in Britain under a different system. As the second-largest party, the Tories are supposed to form the next government if the electorate has rejected Labour, and that’s all there is to it. Hannan is defending a fairly unrepresentative electoral system in the name of representative government, and he would like to see the wishes of millions of voters frustrated in the name of democracy.

Hannan mentions European protest parties, but fails to acknowledge that in Britain it is the Liberal Democrats who are filling the role of the protest parties in the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and elsewhere. The current enthusiasm for the upstarts is the result of profound disgust and weariness with the major parties, just as we have seen all over Europe in the last ten years. Hannan also stresses the importance of a clear division between government and opposition in order to have accountability and to keep the “state small and the citizen free.” He must think that his audience has been asleep for the last decade. On matters of opposing government policy on the trampling of civil liberties and recklessly committing their country to war, it has not been the Conservative leadership that has done very much to resist the excesses of the Blair-Brown years. Indeed, concerning the invasion of Iraq the supposed opposition party was even more supportive of government policy than many of the members of the governing party. How will the electorate be holding politicians accountable if the next government is filled entirely with Tory supporters of the Iraq war? Is it not a telling sign of Tory acquiescence in Labour’s encroachments on liberties that it is only now in a last-minute appeal to Lib Dem voters that the Tories have started taking a stronger stand on undoing some of those encroachments?

Many of the ills Hannan ascribes here to PR systems are already present in the Westminster system, and many of the things he claims that the Westminster system helps to protect have been trampled on with the support or acquiescence of his own party. As approximately a third of the electorate has found the major parties seriously wanting, Hannan would like to keep that third as underrepresented as possible to ensure that British political duopoly survives in spite of its manifest failures.


Clegg, Trident and British Deterrence

Upstart Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats on the other hand, has called for its cancellation, arguing that such a program is both inconsistent with President Obama’s calls to work toward eliminating nuclear weapons and is a colossal waste of money that could be better spent on equipping British ground forces – that are suffering severe equipment shortages after a decade of fighting two wars. ~Max Bergmann

This is one place where I have to admit that Clegg doesn’t make much sense by Clegg’s own standards. On the one hand, he is opposed to “default Atlanticism” and calls for what he calls the “repatriation” of foreign policy, but he would effectively want to make Britain more dependent on America’s nuclear arsenal in order to have more funding for conventional forces so that they could better assist the U.S. in wars in which Clegg believes Britain should not be involved.

The strange thing here is that replacing Trident seems far more consistent with the general tenor of Clegg’s foreign policy vision. It’s true that it would “nothing to bolster the ‘special relationship’,” as Bergmann says, but Clegg has already made clear how little he thinks that relationship as currently defined matters to Britain. If Britain’s “global importance and military significance to the United States” is to be found in “its possession of a highly capable conventional armed forces that can fight alongside American troops,” isn’t the refusal to replace Trident actually playing into the hands of all those who would prefer to keep Britain as Washington’s reliable yes-man?

Bergmann concludes by saying, “If the US was in charge in the UK defense budget, the Trident would be cut in a heart beat.” If that is right, how is it that Clegg supports a move that would signal such dependence?Just a month ago, Clegg was rightly railing against the major parties for having effectively ceded British sovereignty over matters of war, and yet he argues for a position that could very easily reinforce all of the worst habits of the British government in its relations with the United States concerning matters of war. If Clegg wants to repatriate British foreign policy, as he says he does, scrapping Britain’s nuclear deterrent does not make very much sense.

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