alien & sedition.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
  It's All Happening at the Zoo

A slice of life from The Corner:

Car runs over a bottle of Drano. K-Lo freaks out and heads for the bomb shelter.

Sam Brownback says he ain't descended from no monkey. Derbyshire disagrees. Jonah G. tries to split the difference. Somewhere between man and ape, hilarity begins to ensue.

And Larry Kudlow sends us a postcard from Bizarro World, where the Democrats are Doomed! by their insistence on rolling back Bush's tax cuts for the rich. If I have only one piece of advice for Democrats running for office next year, it's: listen what Larry Kudlow says, and then do the opposite.


  Fred Thompson: In

I'm sure we'll get a whole series of "official" announcements, but for now we'll have to settle for his minions' confirmation: Fred Thompson is running.

Matt Yglesias thinks Thompson's weakness is that he was a Senator (and a distinctly mediocre one, at that). Others think he's going to be the GOP's Wes Clark (I was having the same conversation with Justin last night, actually -- he suggested that it could be Thompson's laziness that makes him like Clark. Which isn't to say The General is lazy -- far from it. But with Thompson, as with Clark, there's some question as to whether he's ultimately willing to do what it takes to win.) Andrew Sullivan sees a lack of substance.

I think he's got a great shot at the nomination. But in the general? It seems to me that Thompson is the kind of candidate who could do well in another kind of cycle. But this is shaping up to be a "change" election, and Thompson represents the very opposite of a change candidate. A good-ol-boy lobbyist might be a tough sell after eight years of disastrous cronyism. And while conservatives might like him because he'll tell them what they want to hear -- that the problems of the past few years are the result of an administration that wasn't conservative enough -- it's hard to imagine that the public at large are much in the mood for that kind of nonsense.

We'll look at him in greater depth soon.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007
  Karl Rove, Optimist

Ross Douthat has an excellent post on this New Yorker piece about Karl Rove -- I haven't read the whole article yet; there may well be more parts worthy of commentary, but Douthat singles out this passage:
“There are two or three societal trends that are driving us in an increasingly deep center-right posture,” [Rove] said. “One of them is the power of the computer chip. Do you know how many people’s principal source of income is eBay? Seven hundred thousand.” He went on, “So the power of the computer has made it possible for people to gain greater control over their lives. It’s given people a greater chance to run their own business, become a sole proprietor or an entrepreneur. As a result, it has made us more market-oriented, and that equals making you more center-right in your politics.” As for spirituality, Rove said, “As baby boomers age and as they’re succeeded by the post-baby-boom generation, within both of those generations there’s something going on spiritually—people saying it’s not all about materialism, it’s not all about the pursuit of material things. If you look at the traditional mainstream denominations, they’re flat, but what’s growing inside those denominations, and what’s growing outside those denominations, is churches that are filling this spiritual need, that are replacing sterility with something vibrant, something that speaks to the heart of the individual, that gives a sense of purpose.”
Douthat suggests that Rove's two arguments here -- that Americans are getting more materialistic and that they are getting more spiritual -- don't add up:
It's hard to imagine a balder description of the essential contradiction at the heart of the GOP coalition, and yet Rove seems unaware that there's anything contradictory here at all.
Of course, one could imagine both trends operating together -- your basic "Jihad vs. McWorld" dynamic. But that sort of thing tends to involve more instability and strife than the happy symbiosis Rove is positing (on the other hand, who's to say the right doesn't benefit from instability and strife?).

But it's when you break down each part of the equation that its silliness becomes most apparent. One the one hand, there isn't any evidence that trends in American religious belief will benefit conservatives over the next few years. If anything, it's the other way around. Douthat observes that even if there is growth among more-conservative demoninations, it doesn't represent an increasingly religious America: such developments are a familiar pattern in American history, and they are almost always "more a matter of the religious portion of the population shuffling from one faith to another ... than of the country's overall religiosity increasing." And as Digby and Bill Scher pointed out some time ago, the fastest-growing "religious" group in America is actually the "unchurched" -- a demographic that, unsurprisingly, tends to vote overwhelmingly Democrat. Meanwhile, the very particular political organization that in recent decades made it seem that religious faith necessarily led to conservative politics is falling apart. It has never been a given that Republicans benefit from Americans' religiousity; it was, in fact, the product of a well-organized religious right operation from 1979 on. As that operation fades, so will the electoral potency of faith-based GOP politics.

The other side of Rove's equation is, in its way, even more absurd. I mean, really: Americans are going to vote Republican because of ebay? This is Rove doing an impression of Newt Gingrich's breathless futurism at its nuttiest. Just as Gingrich rhapsodizes about technological developments as though every innovation were produced by private as opposed to public investment, Rove is getting caught up in the wild assumption that a post-industrial economy will make market disciples of the masses. Douthat points out the problem with this:
[I]t's by no means obvious that the Information Age's winners are natural Republicans (as opposed to, say, natural Clintonites or Spitzerians), and neither is it clear that the unfortunate externalities of skill-based technological change (growing social immobility, for instance) won't transform the Information Age's losers into disgruntled Lou Dobbs Democrats, rather than the Sam's Club Republicans whose votes were crucial to the fleeting Bush majority.
I've been reading Jacob Hacker's The Great Risk Shift (I'll review it when I'm finished), which seems to me to be exactly based on reading the "unfortunate externalities" of the new economy, and understanding the pitfalls for ordinary Americans in a way to which Rove is entirely oblivious.

The fact that Douthat recognizes this, too, is an indication that he continues to be one of the most interesting conservative thinkers out there at the moment.

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  Michelle Malkin, In a Nutshell

"Will President Bush speak out against the treatment Miss USA received in Mexico?"

So, yeah, I'm back from a nice long holiday weekend. More to come soon...

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Friday, May 25, 2007
  On the Courage of Politicians

This Daily Kos diary is interesting, in how its author channels his/her frustration over the Iraq funding vote through both a very important insight and a completely useless cliche.

The cliche is that "we are, indeed, a one-party state in this country." It's a lazy sentiment driven by a cranky defeatism, and it demonstrates an unwillingness or inability to analyze, with competence, American politics as they actually function. The United States, for various reasons, has almost always had two large coalition parties, each vying against the other for overlapping constituencies, but each also veering out in various directions, sometimes with great thrust and surprising radicalism, and each party also contradicting itself with regularity. If anything, the American parties have in recent years arguably become more disciplined, more "party-like" in the European sense than ever before. In fact, that development is closely related to the current crisis.

The insight in theyrereal's diary is contained in this observation:
Who do the Democrats fear?

Do they fear us? Obviously no. Not one stinking bit.

Do they fear the American people in general? Same answer, only with laughter.
The diarist veers in the wrong direction with the next sentence, arguing that what the Democrats fear is something called "The Corporatocracy Gang of Which George Bush is the official Figurehead." Not that "coporatocracy" and "gang" are necessarily bad ways to describe the Bush administration. But the analysis is headed into the weeds. Let's bring it back on track.

I write a lot about the various dilemmas facing the conservative movement and the Republican party. They are serious, complex problems, but I don't want to come across as a pollyanna. If there is one thing that the cave-in on the Supplemental has demonstrated, it is the continuing power of the machine built by the modern American conservative movement. That's the answer to theyrereal's question. Who do the Democrats fear? They fear that machine.

That's why something so apparently remarkable can happen -- how, at a time when the American public hates the Iraq war with more intensity than ever before, and when the President who owns the war is himself less popular than ever, the party that was given a majority with a clear mandate to end the war can, to its own humiliation, completely give up on trying to do so. The Democrats folded because they felt unable to call the right's bluff, because they fear what Bill O'Reilly and the American Enterprise Institute will say about them, and how Chris Matthews and the Washington Post will take up the same talking points -- Pelosi and Reid found it in themselves to resist that pressure for a time, but couldn't summon the courage to withstand an intensified and ongoing barrage of it. They folded because in the end they didn't trust their newfound party unity to hold up to the more practiced discipline on the other side of the aisle. They folded because they felt too exposed.

It isn't to let them off the hook, but let's consider the possibility that the progressive movement still has a good way to go before we can really counter the effects of what the conservative movement has built. And even when we have the institutions, it'll take a while for the politicians to catch up.

The single-best piece of advice for progressives is still Franklin Roosevelt's admonishment to that group of labor leaders who visited him in the Oval Office with a demand: "You have convinced me. Now go out and find a constituency and make me do it." This is the principle around which the entire conservative media and political edifice is built.

The lesson of the 2004 election was that the fortunes of a political movement cannot ride upon the fate of a presidential campaign; if anything, it should be the other way around.

Likewise, the fortunes of a political movement cannot be made dependant upon the courage of politicians. The point of a political movement is to make the courage of politicians irrelevant.

(Cross-posted at The Daily Gotham and The Albany Project.)

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Thursday, May 24, 2007
  Impaled by Immigration Again

People keep pointing out -- correctly -- that immigration is an issue that should divide Democrats as well as Republicans. Yet it's the Republicans who keep finding themselves on the pointy end of the wedge.

In part that probably has to do with the parties' contrasting philosphies - differences over the issue are mitigated somewhat when everyone agrees on the importance of unionization and a strong social safety net. But it also has to do with political circumstances -- specifically, the role of a Republican White House dedicated to the pursuit of Hispanic votes (if no longer for itself, then for its own strategists' plan for the future of the GOP national majority).

Conservative pundits are looking at the McCain-Kennedy bill with alarm (though, to be fair, the bill has critics from across the political spectrum). At NRO, for instance, the Editors are freaking out over the notion that the bill's "probationary status" and "extreme hardship" provisions will effectively grant amnesty to undocumented aliens the very day the bill passes, regardless of the administration's claims about enforcement; Stanley Kurtz, meanwhile, thinks the fiendishly clever Ted Kennedy is suckering Republicans by promising them a move from family-based immigration to a skills-based points system that will never actually happen.

Whatever becomes of the current bill, on a larger level the Republicans continue to find themselves on the horns of rather ugly dilemma. It isn't the philosophical debate causing them so much trouble, of course, it's the political problem. Fred Siegel compares the issue to the Dubai ports controversy, in that once again "the Bush administration seems to be undermining its own core principles by failing to put security first." That analysis does beg the question of whether "putting security first" really is the administration's core principle, as opposed to, say, political self-interest (it also begs the question of whether "security" is really the best paradigm from which to approach the issue). Still, it's an interesting comparison inasmuch as one could argue that, either way, both cases involve the White House acting irrationally against its own prime directive.

An anonymous NRO contributor illustrates the supposed political irrationality at work in a satirical "memo" from one "H. Dean to HRC." This mysterious Mr. Dean is delighted by the Bush administration's support for immigration reform, arguing that "the Republicans are handing us the future on a silver platter.... The 'bi-partisan McCain-Kennedy plan' seemed almost deliberately designed to help Democrats and hurt Republicans." Why?
First and foremost, most Hispanics are Democrats.... The record shows that since the Second World War, the Hispanic community has supported Democrats for president ranging from a high of nearly 90 percent for their fellow Catholic JFK to a low of 60 percent for Mondale, McGovern, and Kerry, for an average of roughly 2 to 1 Democratic. So any amnesty plan will create more Democratic than Republican voters in the foreseeable future. It took the last wave of Catholic immigrants — from the Irish famine refugees of the 1840s and Southern/Eastern workers of the post-Civil War era — nearly a century to consider voting Republican for Ike in the 1950s. Now a similar scenario is being set up again.
Morevoer, the issue divides Republicans and will undoutedly lead to more business support for Democrats. What does it all add up to?
The likely end result of this will be a nasty fight in the Republican primaries of 2008, an alienated business community, very few Hispanic Republicans, more Democrats, and a depressed GOP base. The textbook definition of a disaster is getting the worst of all worlds.
Ross Douthat argues that Bush's strategists correctly diagnosed the GOP's major problem, but they've prescribed the wrong cure:
The GOP can build a political majority around the married, Middle-American middle class, but not if it remains a lily-white party: It needs larger percentages of the Hispanic and yes, the African-American vote to offset the growing Democratic advantage among white, socially-liberal Bobo voters who might have been Reaganites a generation ago.... Bush's insight in this regard was correct, but his strategy for winning a larger share of the minority vote rests on three wobbly pillars - gay marriage, which won him Ohio in '04 but won't be a national issue for much longer; the war, which worked until it became clear how badly he mismanaged it; and amnesty for illegal immigrants, which is aimed at precisely the wrong part of the Hispanic demographic. There's no evidence that middle-class Hispanics, the people the GOP needs to woo, are likely to reward the Republicans for legalizing millions of maids, dishwashers, and migrant laborers, and the migrant laborers themselves certainly aren't going to vote for the GOP anytime soon.
And thus we arrive at the Big Question that seems to drive much of the right's internal debate over immigration: are Hispanics natural Democrats or natural Republicans? Douthat suggests that "they're like any immigrant population, natural Democrats while they're in the barrio and natural Republicans once they've reached the suburbs." Our anonymous satirist, on the other hand, argues that "even if Rove’s vision of middle class Hispanics eventually turning Republican is true, at best, they’ll be a swing vote replacing older whites in the Sun Belt who have voted 2-1 Republican in the last generation."

It's unclear what the anonymous paleocon would have Republicans do to combat their central demographic problem -- though he doesn't in fact appear to view it as a problem in itself. It's not that he doesn't explicitly acknowledge that the GOP is a "white Christian" party; he seems to believe that this is the party's strength, and the more Republicans seek to diversify their party, the more they will alienate their base. This is undoubtedly true in the short term, but it's this short-term calculation that is crippling the Bush administration's effort to plan for the long-term health of the GOP coalition.

And here let's return to the wider project of compassionate conservatism, which was designed to solve a number of political dilemmas for the Republicans. Some of these were immediate -- for instance the need for Bush to disassociate himself from unpopular Republican congressional leaders. But some were long-term, particularly two linked issues: changing American demographics and the public's rejection of Republican anti-government ideology. The strategy has largely failed because of its own inherent limitations, but also because it comprehensively antagonized so much of the Republican establishment, which establishment was itself the product of 40 years of anti-government, pro-white Christian movement-building. I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that the current immigration debate is one last reprise of the right's Wars of Compassionate Conservatism.

The big question, though: if the conflict has been a conservative civil war, which side represents the Lost Cause?

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007
  Not Gonna Happen

I'll leave it to better bloggers to explore, in depth, the ramifications of the Democrats' capitulation on war funding. But I will take the opportunity to suggest that we finally ditch the notion that any significant number of Republicans are ever going to "abandon" the president and turn against the war in any substantive way. Atrios and Yglesias have made this point with regard to the GOP's presidential contenders, none of whom -- Ron Paul aside -- are going to break with the current administration's pro-war line. Ever.

I'll quote Yglesias at length, since he explains it well:
[I]t's worth noting that a significant faction of Democrats have persistently believed that the Bush administration was about to begin withdrawing from Iraq ever since 2004.

After three years of that forecast being perpetually wrong, it's now been displaced onto Mitt Romney or John McCain or whomever. Since this idea is so persistent, I think it bears mentioning that it's part of a pretty contradictory set of beliefs. The conventional wisdom, in essence, holds that running stridently against the war spells political doom for the Democrats. It also holds, however, that running stridently against the war is unnecessary because the Republicans will end the war anyway. Meanwhile, the Republicans are supposed to be doing this for political purposes.

These things can't, however, all be true. And, indeed, I think time has proven that the Republicans basically think the "doves are doomed" theory of politics is correct. They attribute their loss in 2006 to corruption and (hilariously) to "earmarks," attribute their wins in 2002 and 2004 to "toughness" and think that it always makes sense politically for the GOP to mark itself off as more militaristic and nationalistic than the opposition. My guess is that the persistent belief that Bush would end the war was driven by a fear that this theory is correct; it's a form of wishful thinking. But people should get over it. The war is, in fact, unpopular. The GOP is, in fact, determined to stay robustly to the Democrats' right on the war.
One might add that even if the Republican contenders were inclined to go dove, they'd hold back from doing so simply because the Bush administration, weakened though it may be, still has plenty of power to meddle in the politics of the upcoming elections.

All of this serves to reinforce the point that hopes for a change of course in the September Defense bill negotiations are groundless. There is no reason to expect the political dynamic then to be any different than it is now. The administration will continue to insist that victory is right around the corner, pundits will continue to repeat the talking point that any Democratic move to limit war funding would constitute Not Supporting the Troops, the veto will continue to be in play, and Republicans will be just as convinced as ever that their best strategic option is, as Yglesias says, to stay to the Dems' right on war and terror.

The various signs of GOP dissent over Iraq -- for instance, the recent visit to the White House by a delegation of "concerned" Congressional Republicans -- are, almost without exception, acts of political theater designed to demonstrate their disapproval of bad stuff without requiring them to actually do anything of substance. We keep hearing how demoralized Congressional Republicans are by the war, but they don't vote like they're demoralized. And the GOP presidential candidates won't jump ship either. That may or may not prove to be their political undoing -- but let's stop pretending that they're ever going to say no to this war in any meaningful way.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007
  A Prison of Their Own Design

This is a couple weeks old, but I just caught it -- Crooks & Liars reports (h/t: LowerManhattanite) on the latest project from the alternate reality that is modern American conservatism: QubeTV. Like Conservapedia, QubeTV is an attempt to combat reality's liberal bias, as manifested in online communities -- in this case, YouTube:
Apparently, cats playing the piano and homemade videos of soap stars and Harry Potter characters to the soundtrack of the latest pop love song are too…shall we say…liberally biased:
The popular video-sharing Web site first debuted "Hillary 1984," which compared Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. to a Orwellian dictator, then-Sen. George Allen's career-altering "macaca" moment and the "I Feel Pretty" video that chided former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' good looks.

But YouTube, which is owned by Google, has also been a favorite target of conservatives, who accuse the site of a liberal bias.

Railing against YouTube, two Republican White House veterans have launched QubeTV as a conservative alternative.

"The 2008 campaign will be dominated by video and in particular by user-generated video," says QubeTV founder Charlie Gerow, a former aide in the Ronald Reagan White House.

"There are a vast array of young conservative activists and operatives out there armed with cell phones or hand-helds that are going to capture the next 'macaca' moment or John Kerry bad joke and put them on Qube TV," says Gerow, whose Pennsylvania strategic media firm, Quantum Communications, created the Web site.

Gerow insists YouTube banned a video by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin about radical Islamists.

Responding to that incident, a statement on the Web site reads: "We fly the conservative flag here at QubeTV, and we will not be about banning or deleting conservatives."
For what it's worth, Michelle Malkin personally has 25 of her videos on YouTube and a site search yields 251 results, so she's hardly underrepresented. But that's just that pesky reality again. It's much more fun to embrace victimhood, even if it's a ridiculous lie.
The whole thing is eminently mockable in and of itself, but web-based projects like QubeTV and Conservapedia are excellent illustrations of the pitfalls of the larger conservative strategy of constructing parallel institutions. The point of something like YouTube is to share information and experience with the widest social network possible -- what makes it useful as a political tool is the fact that political speech (even if it's just self-produced propaganda) joins the same pool where millions of people are looking for American Idol clips or breakdancing 5-year-olds. It's an online agora, a form of civic sphere.

But conservatives, over the past few decades, have increasingly focused on talking to each other, not to the public. In fact, they're openly suspicious of conservative politicians who do make an effort to talk to the wider public -- I've referred to this in the past as "cultural secessionism." You could also just call it a counterculture.

The strategy has boosted conservative political fortunes to an extent - is there any doubt about the role of Fox News in disciplining and motivating the Republican base? But it has its limits, and something like QubeTV is a perfect example. Okay, ghettoize yourself - post your video clips at QubeTV and nowhere else. You'll be the only ones watching them. Everyone else will be over at YouTube, or whatever replaces YouTube.

Not satisfied with merely preaching to the choir, conservatives seem intent on building walls around the choir box to shut out the rest of the congregation entirely.

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  The Storm and Fred Thompson

On the subject of conservative meltdown, Vernon Lee makes a good point: what looks like a preordained crisis is really a factor of contingency. As much as I think that modern movement conservatism is unworkable and thus destined to find itself in crisis when forced to govern, Vernon's right that the "perfect storm" tearing through the conservative movement and its pet political party may appear to have been easier to forecast than it actually was. Or as Vernon puts it, "the obituaries written about the losers will retroactively cast them as inevitable losers."

The implication of which is that the crisis, even now, is not so insurmountable as many observers -- left and right -- might believe. Thus the appeal of a Fred Thompson:
One big X-factor is the possibly candidacy of Fred Thompson. He inspires the yearnings of Republicans precisely because he seems most likely to extend and renew the Dubya-era of a solid coalition between sociocons, paleocons, and fiscal (cough cough) conservatives.

If Fred Thompson enters the field and wins the nomination, it's possible that this moment of crisis in the Republican party's coalition will quickly fade into distant memory. A Giuliani primary win likely be read as a stake driven through the heart of movement conservatism, and a chance to reset the playing field. A Romney nomination - which now seems the most likely outcome - will solidify the meme of desperate calculation.
I'm still quite flummoxed as to what is really "the most likely outcome" -- I think we're watching a giant experiment in progress, a chance for primary voters to make a substantive decision about the direction of their party for the first time in decades. But you can see why they might choose Thompson, if they care for the unity of the conservative movement. It's a movement that maybe needs an actor at its head to pull off the illusion that all its many demands can be reconciled among themselves and then sold without dilution to the American public at large. It needs an actor to bring life to the conceit that conservatives can be both a distinct, even persecuted identity group, and the natural majority. It needs an actor to turn a record of failure into an image of success. It needs an actor to make the magic happen.

I think Vernon's right. Thompson offers one last chance at the Reagan idyll, which was both a myth about America and a myth about the conservative movement. Giuliani, for all his rote attempts to invoke the Gipper, means something very different for the future of the GOP. We'll look at this in greater depth soon.

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Monday, May 21, 2007
  Falwell and Revisionist History

Compare Max Blumenthal's excellent account of the rise of Jerry Falwell to Jeffrey Bell's curious little piece at the Weekly Standard.

Bell observes the magnitude of the shift among evangelical voters from 1976 to 1984:
[T]he swing in terms of partisan margin among theologically conservative white Protestants was a breathtaking 87 points--from a Democratic margin of 25 points in 1976 to a Republican lead of 62 points in 1984. By way of comparison, the margin swing in the electorate as a whole was 20 points--from Carter-Mondale's 2-point victory in 1976 to Mondale-Ferraro's 18-point defeat in 1984.

These numbers might suggest that the entire GOP presidential gain between 1976 and 1984 could be accounted for by the striking change among the roughly 20 percent of the electorate classifiable as Bible-believing white Protestants. In pure statistical terms this is true, and much was happening in the campaigns of 1980 and 1984 to explain the shift in terms of social issues and the status of religion in American life.
So what, according to Bell, accounted for this shift? "Judicial elites" banning spoken prayer in school, for one thing. The hardening politics of abortion, too. And then there was the Carter administration's revocation of tax exemptions for "Bible schools."

Blumenthal points out that, whatever the politics of abortion after 1980, before founding the Moral Majority in 1979, Falwell had shown very little interest in the issue. What had motivated him was the loss of the tax exemption - not because it was an "attack" on Christians, but because it was aimed at eliminating public subsidy for segregationists like the good minister himself.

Falwell was a virulent racist who saw private education as a last refuge for white supremacists. It was the breach of that refuge that drove him to politics -- with the help of Paul Weyrich:
For Falwell and his allies, the true impetus for political action came when the Supreme Court ruled in Green v. Connally to revoke the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory private schools in 1971. At about the same time, the Internal Revenue Service moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, which forbade interracial dating. (Blacks were denied entry until 1971.) Falwell was furious, complaining, "In some states it's easier to open a massage parlor than to open a Christian school."

Seeking to capitalize on mounting evangelical discontent, a right-wing Washington operative and anti-Vatican II Catholic named Paul Weyrich took a series of trips down South to meet with Falwell and other evangelical leaders. Weyrich hoped to produce a well-funded evangelical lobbying outfit that could lend grassroots muscle to the top-heavy Republican Party and effectively mobilize the vanquished forces of massive resistance into a new political bloc. In discussions with Falwell, Weyrich cited various social ills that necessitated evangelical involvement in politics, particularly abortion, school prayer and the rise of feminism. His pleas initially fell on deaf ears.

"I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed," Weyrich recalled in an interview in the early 1990s. "What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation."
There is, of course, none of this in Bell's piece. It takes a pretty tight tunnel vision to ignore the reality of Falwell's history, so we shouldn't be shocked when Bell's piece ends with a reference to "the pivotal role of 'values voters' in the 2004 presidential election." The fact that Bell is just about the last person on Earth to believe this canard is hardly surprising, given the myopia at work in his article generally.

But in another sense it is a little surprising to see such shallow analysis of the subject in a conservative intellectual journal. The question of Falwell's legacy is one of urgent importance to the right these days, as it's forced to decide how to negotiate its way between that legacy and a Giuliani-ized future. One would think that more clear-headed analysis was in order.

The Moral Majority was unpopular with significant portions of the intellectual and fiscal right during the early 1980s. Conservative elites knew Falwell's gang scared people -- scared them too, a little bit. Still, they managed to enter into a productive partnership. Now, though, the continued usefulness of that partnership is very much in question. A good time, one would think, to prefer sobreity to sentiment.

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Friday, May 18, 2007
  Heterodoxies, Real and Imagined

I know it's been a light couple of weeks here at A&S, and to be honest, I'm unlikely to be doing multiple posts every day for the foreseeable future. But it'll still be regular (should be around one a day, maybe two), and hopefully we'll maintain our reputation for sterling quality control (er, do we have a reputation for that?).

At any rate, E.J. Dionne has a column today that could almost be a stand-in for an A&S post, except that his thesis is a little bit flawed. Dionne discusses the various heresies of the various GOP presidential candidates (Rudy on abortion, Huckabee on taxes, McCain on campaign finance laws) and sees it as a symptom of the breakdown of conservative orthodoxy:
One dynamic forcing Republicans to new ground is the failure of the Bush presidency. This is leading liberals to insist that President Bush's tenure proves conservatism doesn't work, and conservatives to insist that Bush was never a real conservative (something they didn't say when his poll ratings were high).

Something similar happened to Jimmy Carter in 1980 when conservatives attacked him as a liberal while liberals disowned him. Carter's defeat by Ronald Reagan was followed by an extended liberal nervous breakdown. Now it's conservatives who are panicking.

But Republicans also know in their guts that their old axioms don't work anymore because their constituencies are breaking up.

The obituaries this week for the Rev. Jerry Falwell often took the form of elegies for the entire religious right. Younger and suburban evangelicals may be more or less conservative, but they do not share the ideological fervor of the Moral Majoritarians. These new evangelicals care about issues other than abortion and gay marriage. They yearn, along with almost everyone else, for problem-solving competence. [...]

If conservative ideologues were the dominant force in Republican primary politics, Giuliani would not be at the top of the pack, Gilmore the Pure would be doing better, and McCain and Huckabee would not be placing bets on pragmatism and political reconciliation. Yes, every Republican still wants to be called a "conservative." But they are all feeling pressure to pour new wine into that old vessel because it's almost empty. And Democrats beware: A less orthodox Republican Party would be a lot more popular.
I agree with Dionne's last assertion, and on a general level I think he is seeing the same crisis in the conservative movement that I'm seeing, but I don't think he's getting the nuances quite right - and they're important nuances.

It would take more than just the collapse of the religious right to bring down the conservative ideological edifice. Dionne's one example of deviation from an economic conservative line consists of Huckabee's defense of his own record on taxes. But I think that what's going on here is something rather different than what Dionne sees.

Christopher Orr's critique of Dionne's article is instructive:
[T]he idea that the heresies (most of them minor) on display in South Carolina somehow represent the GOP candidates' efforts to rethink party ideology seems, well, wrong. For the most part, they're exactly what they appear to be: The candidates' efforts to deal with (and, wherever possible, minimize) their inconvenient political baggage.

As Dionne notes, Huckabee may have raised taxes as governor of Arkansas, but he still pitches himself as a fiscal conservative who cut taxes "94 times." Giuliani has only embraced his pro-choice past because his earlier efforts to finesse it away were such an abject failure. As for Romney, he defended a federal role in education because he was specifically asked whether, in light of his many convenient ideological conversions (on abortion, gay rights, etc.), he'd had any conversions that might hurt him with the base. Defending No Child Left Behind seemed a better bet than admitting that he's a shameless, flip-flopping opportunist. Really, the only candidate who proudly defended his apostasy was McCain on torture.

Far from being characterized by the kind of freethinking, let's-reinvent-the-party spirit Dionne seems to describe, the GOP primary has thus far been a race to the right on almost every issue: McCain suddenly recognizing the advantages of tax cuts for the rich, Romney reeducating himself on fetal rights, and of course everyone (with the exception of fringe candidate Ron Paul) embracing a war that, while ever-more unpopular with the public at large, is still a rallying cry for the GOP base.
Let's consider Huckabee again. The former Arkansas governor is saying what he's saying about taxes precisely because he's on the defensive against enforcers of conservative orthodoxy. That's why he emphasizes the "94 tax cuts" claim; his refusal to renounce all tax increases comes across more as a self-defense strategy than anything else -- an attempt to avoid complete capitulation, which would make him look weak. In fact, I think Huckabee would have a sound strategy for success in a general election if he were to more strongly emphasize his disagreements with economic conservative orthodoxy, but as he well knows, the Club for Growth won't let him.

But here's the nuance that I think both Dionne and Orr miss. Giuliani's refusal to submit to the abortion litmus test is substantively different -- very different -- than any of the other "heresies" under consideration here. The issue is precisely what Dionne aluded to when he pointed out (as I did the other day) the waning power of the Christian right.

There is, on a general level, a crisis in the conservative movement. At the same time, though, it isn't a question of anybody "rethinking" anything. The chaos on the right is operating differenly in a theoretical fashion than it is in a practical fashion. That is, nobody can sort out to what extent the crisis is a matter of discredited ideas, and to what extent it's a matter of weakened institutions.

The difference between the social conservatives on the one hand, and the economic conservatives on the other, is crucial here. The various candidates continue to pander mindlessly to both sides because they're mostly too blinkered and mediocre to notice that, suddenly, the enforcers of some conservative orthoxies are a lot weaker than others these days.

Here's what I think, tentatively, is beginning to happen: Rudy Giuliani's break with the anti-abortion line is, as I've said, the only truly heterodox move by a major Republican candidate in a long time. The economic conservatives are happy enough with Rudy, and they see him as the most electable Republican -- probably the only electable Republican -- next fall. The conservative intellectuals, who mostly stick with the economic side of the movement (since that's the side that finances them, and since they generally aren't the types to sign chastity pledges themselves), also dig Rudy for what they see as his war and terror cred. And the economic conservatives and the intellectuals perceive that, suddenly, it's possible for a candidate to leave the whole abortion thing behind. So if that's what they think he needs to do, tactically, they'll support him.

What this means is that, after several years now of complaining about the effects of the Christian right on their party, economic and intellectual conservatives are finally beginning to leave the fundamentalists behind. And they seem to be positively giddy about it.

It's still very early and difficult to forecast this stuff. But I'll try to document it going forward.

Here's the grand irony, though. As the rise of the moderate evangelicals saps the enforcement power of the social conservatives on Republican candidates (even while drones like Mitt Romney fail to see it), the economic right, by default, becomes more powerful within the movement. Thus Rudy, who rejects the core social conservative tenet, is still a frontrunner, while a skilled politician like Huckabee is hobbled for being insufficiently zealous about tax cuts.

But while Rudy could somehow coast to the White House on the hero-worship factor alone, it's Huckabee who represents the more potent forumula for a future Republican party. I would bet my cats that a formula of moderate-conservative religiosity (with a self-help sheen) plus a willingness to acknowledge a positive role for government is much more appealing to the American public over the long run than tough-guy pseudo-libertarianism. Even if we end up with a President Rudy -- especially if we end up with a President Rudy -- we may be watching the conservative movement destroy itself.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007
  Falwell Dead; Conservatism Ailing

One could cut and paste today's New York Times headlines into a pretty instructive narrative about the state of American conservatism today. Something like this:

First, The death of conservative evangelicalism. Okay, not the death -- that's far too optimistic. But the passing of Jerry Falwell is symbolic of a shift in the politics of evangelical Christianity in the United States. Falwell, by founding the Moral Majority in 1979, founded the modern Christian right. Too often these days we forget that evangelical Christians have by no means always been a conservative force in American politics. In other eras they've been progressive forces -- even radically progressive; in still others they have simply been politically disengaged. The equation "evangelical=fundamentalist=right-winger" is very much a creation of Jerry Falwell and his allies. As the Times obit puts it, the Moral Majority's "very name drew a vivid line in the sand of American politics."

But now the line is blurring, as moderate evangelical leaders guide their flocks away from conservative dogma, and as the conservative movement's elites and intellectuals are emboldened to advocate for abandoning core Christian right priorities. It's more than cosmic coincidence that Falwell died only days after the frontrunning candidate for the GOP presidential nomination openly embraced a pro-choice, not-anti-gay line. So have you checked out the National Review lately? It's full of conservative pundits spinning away on Rudy's behalf. Falwell is dead; his movement may be going to the grave with him. What that means for the Republican Party is yet to be seen.

Second, Republican candidates cling desperately to war and terror. The conservative elites' eagerness to embrace Giuliani has much to do with the perception that his electability is based in the very issues that, in recent history's most operatic irony, have been both the GOP's greatest strength and its great downfall. War and terror are Republican specialities; if they do not own war and terror, they own very little in a country whose electorate moves inexorably into the progressive column on issues of government, economics, and teh gays. Having brought the public far more war and terror than anyone ever really wanted, along with their incompetence, their mendacity, and their cronyism, the Republicans can only hope to reinvigorate the brand. The various candidates' enthusiasm, during last night's debate, for more torture!, more war!, more Gitmo!, might be understood as rather confused efforts to do just this. But it was Giuliani who best defined himself, precisely as his supporters have hoped he would, as the Candidate of War and Terror -- But Better This Time!, when he seized an opportunity to blow-torch a straw man dressed up to look like the inimitable Ron Paul. We'll let the National Review's Byron York tell the tale:
It all started when Paul was asked how September 11 changed American foreign policy. “Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us?” Paul answered. “They attack us because we’ve been over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for ten years…”

Questioner Wendell Goler, of Fox News, asked, “Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?”

“I’m suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it,” Paul said. “They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free. They come and they attack us because we’re over there.”

Enter Giuliani. “May I comment on that?” the mayor said, interrupting the orderly flow of things for the first time in the debate. “That’s really an extraordinary statement. That’s an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t think I’ve heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th.”

The audience loved it. As the applause built, Giuliani added, “And I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.”

Paul didn’t back down, but by cutting in, Giuliani had scored some of the best, and perhaps easiest, points of the night.... Giuliani’s aides seemed genuinely happy with his performance Tuesday night, in contrast to the way they seemed to be faking their happiness in California. “He was better,” said Jim Dyke, a top Giuliani adviser. “9/11 is very personal to the mayor. You can’t coach something like that.”
Giuliani, of course, "lived through" the attacks of 9/11 much as I "lived through" them -- by being in the city at the time. The idea that he was some sort of hero that day, or in the days thereafter, is a myth. But it's not the myth that matters here -- it's the conservatives' need to believe in it. It appears to be all they have. And for its sake, they'll abandon the coalition that made them what they are today (or at least, what they were before last November's elections).

Finally, the crony capitalism machine churns on. I mentioned this in a previous post, and I should continue to emphasize it. As giddy as we can be over all the various acts of immolation and cannibalism on the conservative side, let's not forget that, in perhaps its most essential function, their movement has continued to hum along quite efficiently. My own thesis, advanced many times, is that since conservative principles for government don't work, conservatives wind up governing without principles. And so you get things like this:
A senior lobbyist at the National Association of Manufacturers nominated by President Bush to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission will receive a $150,000 departing payment from the association when he takes his new government job, which involves enforcing consumer laws against members of the association.


As chairman of the commission, Mr. Baroody’s salary would be $154,600. With the severance payment and an additional lump sum of $44,571 for unused leave time, Mr. Baroody would receive $349,171 this year. That amount, which excludes Mr. Baroody’s pension and retirement payments, nearly matches the $344,607 salary that Mr. Baroody earned as the second-highest-paid executive at the association last year.

The nomination of Mr. Baroody, executive vice president at the association, has provoked heavy criticism from Democrats and consumer groups. He is the latest in a line of industry officials and lobbyists to be given senior jobs by Mr. Bush at federal safety agencies that oversee matters like workplace and mine safety and transportation as the administration has sought to roll back hundreds of regulations that businesses viewed as excessive.
Of course, you could argue that there is a principle at work here, and you wouldn't be wrong. There are more than one, I'd say. "Reward your friends, punish your enemies" is a principle that seems to crop up a lot in this administration. It's not much, as principles go, but it's a good general rule of thumb for, say, a street gang. On a larger level, there's "keep those meddling bureaucrats from messing with American business." That's a principle that could almost, if you argue it right (and conservatives are very good at arguing things right), derive from a legitimate philosophy, which is that "capitalism works better than government, so don't pollute capitalism with government." That's a numbingly foolish, short-sighted, and simple-minded philosophy, but it is a philosophy nonetheless.

So we can't say the Bush administration operates entirely without principles (and I won't delve here into a discussion of whether the president's devotion to his war counts as a principle or merely as evidence of insanity), though the few remaining principles in evidence seem to have almost nothing to do with an argument about the good society, and a lot to do with looting the Treasury and gutting the regulatory apparatus before the electoral hordes can finally break down the White House doors.

Modern Republican party conservatism isn't a pretty picture. Denuded of principle, fleshed by mutual purge attempts, insensately clinging to its once-fearsome reputation as the party best able to use violence and the threat of violence to further its own aims, it seems to hurtling toward some kind of reckoning. We can only guess how much of the public interest it will drag along toward that doom.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007
  Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

So I was reading Michael Kinsley's review of Christopher Hitchens's new book on religion, and this passage jumped out at me:
The big strategic challenge for a career like this is to remain interesting, and the easiest tactic for doing that is surprise. If they expect you to say X, you say minus X.

Consistency is foolish, as the man said. (Didn’t he?) Under the unwritten and somewhat eccentric rules of American public discourse, a statement that contradicts everything you have ever said before is considered for that reason to be especially sincere, courageous and dependable. At The New Republic in the 1980s, when I was the editor, we used to joke about changing our name to "Even the Liberal New Republic," because that was how we were referred to whenever we took a conservative position on something, which was often. Then came the day when we took a liberal position on something and we were referred to as "Even the Conservative New Republic."
Ezra Klein noticed it, too:
It's remarkable that prominent journalists will simply admit that an easy way to attract a reputation for intellectual independence is to engage in an endless series of ideological repositionings, and this does not appear to give them pause. All due acclaim to Kinsley for writing it, but this is actually a problem, not just an endearing quirk in a noble profession.
Interesting that it was Kinsley who made this admission, since he has been one of the biggest enablers of this dirty journalistic habit. It's one of the major reasons why the New Republic under his guidance was so deeply irritating (the magazine is still struggling to escape from the pattern), and why Slate is so often annoying in exactly the same way. It's no coincidence, for instance, that Slate is the online home of Mickey Kaus, who has made a career of praticing this pseudo-contrarian schtick in one of its most obnoxious forms. The fact that writers like William Saletan and Hitchens himself have taken up residency at Slate is further evidence.

Progressive activists and bloggers, of course, are enraged -- justifiably so -- when we see the same practices employed by politicians and political operatives, which is why "centrists" like Joe Lieberman and the DLC crowd frustrate us so much. It isn't that they're centrists, it's that they're "look-at-me" knee-jerk contrarians who are perfectly happy to make their political fortunes by attacking their own obstensible allies -- a tactic they're able to employ since the pundits moderating the national debate are the very same ones who tend to think that such dime-store heresy is so interesting and commendable.

The whole thing goes a long way toward informing the gap in perception between liberals and conservatives over the so-called "liberal media." Conservatives see a mainstream media largely made up of individuals who are personally liberal -- though most often in superficial, lifestyle-y ways. Be that as it may, those same pundits, as Kinsley admits, have elevated knee-jerk contrarianism to a defining virtue of political reporting; and since they tend to be liberal-ish themselves, they consider it most "courageous" and "interesting!" to attack liberal leaders, activists, and ideas. Of course, other factors are at work here -- timidity, laziness, elitism, and financial imperatives -- but one can't help but think that if mainstream reporters and pundits found it most courageous to, say, doggedly seek the truth, or to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, those other obstacles might be overcome.

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Monday, May 14, 2007
  Adding Up the Costs of Conservatism, at Last

Ezra Klein's op-ed in yesterday's LA Times helps illustrate the way the Bush administration has effectively begun to turn the way Americans think about government -- and not in the direction it wanted them to turn.

Klein's piece is a defense of goverment services and investment, not just at the level of high-profile programs like Social Security, but the array of smaller-scale services from police work to schools. As Klein demonstrates, it's these local services that really suffer most from neglect and under-capitalization in a conservative era:
Conservatives talk a lot about government failure, but over the last few years, it's really we who have failed government, depriving it of the revenue, the conscientious management and the attention needed for it to succeed. Undercapitalize a pizza joint and your customers will taste the poor ingredients, become frustrated by the long waits and grow repulsed by the grimy environs. Staff it with your unmotivated drinking buddies and the service will falter, as will the quality of the product. It's no way to run a pizza place, and it's certainly no way to run a government.

But that's exactly what we've done. With Proposition 13 and the famous California tax revolt, and with presidents whose entire domestic programs amounted to mindless tax-cutting, and with Congresses that have been happy to pass cuts and stack deficits, we have systematically deprived the government of the revenues it needs to provide basic services, even as we've come to need it to do so much more.

The Bush administration has only added to the problem.... Not only have we spent more than $500 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan and untold more on homeland security measures, but we've created, in Medicare Part D, the most expensive new entitlement since President Johnson signed the Great Society into existence. We've also increased education spending through the No Child Left Behind Act.

And during all this, tax cuts have robbed the Treasury of $200 billion in revenue; the need for a two-thirds majority in the Legislature impeded the flexibility of California to raise state taxes to compensate, while Proposition 13 continued to handicap our municipalities. All that money has to come from somewhere. And the "where" isn't the high-profile initiatives that the media is watching — the Medicares and Social Securities (although they may suffer too) — but from the smaller, less-noticed, but critically important programs and departments that millions rely on.
Substantively speaking, the grand conservative ideological crusade "against" government has never been about achieving any real transformation of American political economy; it has been a mechanism for profiting politically from the periodic tax revolt, and it has been an excuse for a malign neglect of public services. There has never been a libertarian paradise on offer, just cynicism and deterioration (Rick Perlstein has been doing a great job of documenting that deterioration as manifested in unglamorous but critical areas like water infrastructure and food safety).

Proposition 13 is emblematic of the way this dynamic has operated since the 1970s: a middle-class tax revolt savages what was once the finest education system in the nation, and lingers as a poison in the public bloodstream for decades thereafter. Little by little, Americans have allowed their public infrastructure to be defunded and their governments -- local, state, and federal -- to be restrained from dealing with the attendant problems.

But Bush has been such a disaster for conservative politics that, despite his own administration's intention to win the ideological war once and for all, he may finally have pushed Americans to the point where we are forced to make a decision about government. After so many years of creeping disinvestment, Bush's catastrophic misrule may, at last, have woken us up to the cost of the conservative scam.

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  Hagel to Elope with Bloomie?

So Chuck Hagel is hinting at a third-party run. And NRO's Jim Geraghty wonders if the Nebraska Senator is sending coded messages to another favorite of the middle-of-the-road warriors, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg:
Chuck Hagel, fanning the flames of third-party bid talk:
"We didn't make any deals, but I think Mayor Bloomberg is the kind of individual who should seriously think about this," Hagel said. "He is the mayor of one of the greatest cities on earth. He makes that city work. That's what America wants." He said, "It's a great country to think about - a New York boy and a Nebraska boy to be teamed up leading this nation."
Hm. He lists the "New York boy" first. Is this a way of pitching himself to Mayor Bloomberg as a running mate?
I can't exactly explain why, but the prospect of a Bloomberg-Hagel third-party ticket just depresses me right out of my skin.

Incidently, Hagel's "I Didn't Leave My Party, My Party Left Me" timeline seems a little screwy:
"I am not happy with the Republican Party today," Mr. Hagel said on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "It has drifted from the party of Eisenhower, of Goldwater, of Reagan, the party that I joined. It isn’t the same party."
Poor Hagel hasn't been getting the memos in quite a while: isn't the whole idea that party of Reagan is not supposed to be the party of Eisenhower?

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Friday, May 11, 2007
  Friday Beer Blogging

No, I don't expect this to be a regular feature. I only want you to read the defense of Budweiser by Daniel over at Crooked Timber. I'll admit to flirting with beer snobbery, but I'm not above drinking Bud, either, especially if I'm watching people do sports things on the teevee (or at the stadium, since it's too much trouble to seek out the good brews at Shea). Anyway, here's a sample:
Budweiser is not “full of chemicals”. It does not comply with the German “Purity Law”, but this is because it has a non-barley grain in it (rice). The Rheinheitsgebot is a stupid law in any case, and was originally passed not to safeguard the sacred purity of German fluids (a concept that ought to be regarded as suspicious in its own right, as history has shown that when the Germans get keen on “purity” it is not always a wholly positive development) but to preserve wheat for making bread.
And then there's this:
Budweiser does not taste like piss. Normal urine has a pH of 4.6 to 8.0. Budweiser, like most lagers, has a pH of around 4.0. Therefore, Budweiser is definitely more acidic than piss.
If nothing else, you can look at it as a pretty good exercise in rhetorical contrarianism.

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  They're Not Giving Up Yet

You have to admire conservative pundits. Faced with a considerable challenge -- how to keep defending their favorite candidate despite his having openly embraced a pro-choice position that should make him anathema to their party's base -- they're rising to the occasion:

Byron York says the clarity is a good thing, and abortion may not be the deal-breaker it's made out to be.

Charles Krauthammer says... something not entirely coherent, but it has to do with judges.

Mona Charen says that terrorism is the new abortion anyway.

And yet, one suspects that all these efforts to reason their way out of Rudy's abortion dilemma aren't going to amount to much.

UPDATE: On the other side of the fence, Human Events has a copy of a NARAL candidate questionnaire Rudy filled out in 1997. Ruh-roh.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007
  Rudy's Bold New World

So Rudy Giuliani has, we're told, decided to drop the tortured pretenses and run as an openly pro-choice candidate for the Republican nomination. Ross Douthat has a pretty good analysis of some of the implications:
I doubt that he can win the nomination like this, but it's not entirely out of the question, particularly in a frontloaded primary season where his weaker rivals may not have time to accept defeat, drop out, and allow the anti-Rudy vote to coalesce around a single candidate. (Though a brokered convention - the dream of pundits everywhere - might be a more likely outcome in that scenario.)

The larger question is whether winning the GOP nomination as a down-the-line pro-choicer might prove to be a poisoned chalice. Frankly, if Giuliani being the Republican nominee doesn't prompt a third-party run by a pro-life candidate that cuts into his general-election support, then social conservatives ought to retire from politics out of sheer embarrassment.
In a larger sense, Giuliani's decision makes him a considerably more interesting candidate, since it clarifies his candidacy's role as a significant litmus test for conservative and Republican politics. Are there circumstances in which a candidate can win the GOP nomination despite openly rejecting the anti-abortion position that has been so important to the strength of the party's base over the past two decades?

One might argue that many conservatives are reaping what they have sowed since 9/11: having done so much to spread paranoia over what they depict as an epochal clash of civilizations, and to encourage simple-minded hero worship and glorification of the strong leader in response, these conservatives are confronted with the harvest: a candidate whose power to reject fundamental elements of the conservative movement's agenda is drawn precisely from his ability to profit politically from those "long war" themes.

Of course, it might also be seen as a test of the relative strength of those conservative elites who have never cared much either way about abortion versus those who are dedicated to keeping the issue at the center of the conservative project. To put it more concisely: if you simply follow the money, how far will it take you?

History tells us that the conservative party in American politics tends to fare quite badly when it lacks a mass populist wing. Like it or not, for modern Republicans the anti-abortion movement is that wing. Can they survive without it? Will they dare to try?

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The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger opines that what Republicans really want is a chance to "re-boot" their party. If the right's reactions to the first GOP debate were lukewarm, it was probably because that debate did little to clarify questions about where conservatives and their party might go from here. "What [Republicans] want," suggests Henninger, "is not so much Mr. Right as a clearer understanding than they've got now of what it means to be a Republican."

It's a funny little article for the way it reflects the comprehensive ideological befuddlement among conservatives these days. The disarray, we are told, is largely Bush's fault -- especially because of the war, which diminished his political capital and sucked all the air out of other policy debates; the effect of all this was to undermine an otherwise agreeably conservative agenda. Or not: there is, on the other hand, "the ideological confusion of lavish spending on education and prescription drug insurance." For conservatives, "the Bush presidency leaves behind a puddle of confusion."

If Henninger's piece is an accurate indicator of the right's current confidence levels, then we really have seen a remarkable change. Far from projecting even the bold dismay of an ideologue betrayed, he retreats all the way to a lament about the mysteries of the American electorate. I can't help but sympathize, since pretty much any committed political activist, of any ideological stripe, has felt the same way at one time or another:
This isn't the kind of campaign that appeals to the pundit class, accustomed to dividing all life into A versus B or pollsters' percentages. There's no clear front-runner setting the daily agenda in either party. That exposes to view the fact that the parties themselves have become shifting inkblots with no meaning until one candidate wins the nomination and redefines the party, for awhile. The only people giddy about our current blank slates are the political scientists. Dial one up and he'll tell you that the muddle is the normal condition of the American political mind.


And that's the rub: Political scientists have known for over 40 years, when detailed election data began to appear, that most of the millions of people who vote have no settled political ideology. You and your friends may watch all the political talk shows on Sunday morning. But most people don't.

The originator of the notion of politics as eternally wet cement was Philip Converse of the University of Michigan. His study, "The American Voter," with Angus Campbell and other Michigan colleagues, remains the basic starting point for all arguments over why people vote. It is why a John McCain or Hillary Clinton pay political professionals huge fees to lie awake nights trying to match the content of their candidate's next speech with what's tripping through the minds of 50%-plus listeners. In short, divining the collective mind of 121 million U.S. presidential election voters remains, gloriously, a deep and unsolvable mystery.
There is indeed something "glorious" about that inscrutability, but that isn't how a movement activist should feel. Not that I mean to categorize Henninger himself one way or another. But when the pages of the Opinion Journal are given over to melancholic rapture about the shifting and non-ideological nature of the elecorate's views, one might suppose that we are beginning to see a change -- or at least a hesitation -- in the step of the army that once marched so confidently across the American political landscape.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007
  Out of Town

Been on vacation the last few days - tomorrow I'll be blogging for the Daily Gotham, live from the New York State Democratic Party's spring meeting. Here at A&S, things are likely to be quiet until Thursday afternoon or so.

See you then...


Saturday, May 05, 2007
  Adventures in Pseudo-Science

Read this article in the Times about the emerging debate over Darwin within conservative ranks. It's not just about the fact that some of their leading politicians admit to not believing in evolution. It's about whether Darwin can be used to justify conservative social and economic policies. Some conservative intellectuals, apparently, are contending
that Darwin’s scientific theories about the evolution of species can be applied to today’s patterns of human behavior, and that natural selection can provide support for many bedrock conservative ideas, like traditional social roles for men and women, free-market capitalism and governmental checks and balances.

“I do indeed believe conservatives need Charles Darwin,” said Larry Arnhart, a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, who has spearheaded the cause. “The intellectual vitality of conservatism in the 21st century will depend on the success of conservatives in appealing to advances in the biology of human nature as confirming conservative thought.”
One common tactic of creationists is to smear their opponents with the legacy of early-20th century Social Darwinists, as though they have anything to do with the teaching of evolutionary science. But perhaps it's a tactic that makes sense to the right-wingers, as it seems that it's their own allies who are, in fact, susceptible to to those very crackpot ideas.

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Friday, May 04, 2007
  GOP Debate: Surveying the Damage

Having been smart enough to avoid drinking at every mention of Reagan's name last night, I'm sober and alert this morning (er, early afternoon) and ready to report on the right's reaction to last night's festivities.

Points of rough consensus among our conservative friends:The big story seems to be Giuliani's blunders -- especially on abortion (though his mishandling of the Shia/Sunni question didn't help him, either). At NRO, Kathleen Parker says "he seemed nervous and disorganized." John Pitney warns that "his abortion comments — 'nuanced' if you like them, 'hairsplitting' if you don’t — are already making the YouTube rounds." Byron York says Giuliani "botched a question on abortion so badly that it’s unclear whether he will ever learn how to discuss the issue in the context of Republican presidential politics — a significant handicap for someone running for the Republican presidential nomination." And Mark Levin tries to give the mayor some friendly advice:
Look, Rudy, you're not pro-life. But you're trying not to offend the Republican base. The best approach is to be honest. This is not an issue for obfuscation. And if you continue down this road, it will only get worse. [...]

Make the case for federalism and make the case for strictly limiting abortion. Mitt Romney, whose position has changed in the last two years (and good for him), and John McCain, who has done nothing in over 20 years in Washington to advance the pro-life cause (indeed, it wasn't that long ago when he was at war with Evangelicals) aren't standing on the firmest ground either. However, they've staked out their positions with clarity and can articulate them whenever called upon to do so.
At Human Events, Nathanael Blake is feeling significantly less charitable:
[H]e's offering pro-lifers almost nothing. "Vote for me and I'll appoint judges who might rule that abortion isn't a constitutional right." Not an attractive proposition for pro-lifers who believe that abortion is murder and therefore the most important moral issue in our nation.

Of course, Rudy might do quite well among those who aren't pro-life, but he's alienating those of us who are, and we're a majority in the GOP base.
Byron York reports on the "Crazy John McCain" angle:
“McCain looked like something out of The Shining, that part where Jack Nicholson goes GGGRRRRRR!” confided one adviser from a rival campaign.

“McCain looked like that guy down the street who yells at you to get off his lawn,” said one reporter.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Sen. John McCain’s surrogates in the Spin Room, preferred the word “passionate.” But the fact is, McCain did look a little overeager, or maybe overcaffeinated, at the beginning of the debate. But he was overeager and overcaffeinated in favor of tracking down Osama bin Laden, a position which, given that bin Laden is still at large more than five years after 9/11, seems unlikely to meet with much disapproval.

“He’s responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans,” McCain said of bin Laden. “He’s now orchestrating other attacks on the United States of America. We will do whatever is necessary. We will track him down. We will capture him. We will bring him to justice, and I will follow him to the gates of hell.”

Reading the transcript of the debate, the answer seems both solid and catchy. But the transcript does not show the strange little smile McCain made after he said “gates of hell.” Maybe he was relishing the prospect of getting bin Laden. Maybe he just liked saying “gates of hell” in a nationally televised political debate. In any event, like much of McCain’s performance Thursday night, it looked better in print than on TV.
Kathleen Parker is a little more direct:
McCain made me want to spirit valium to Simi Valley before he followed Osama bin Laden to the Gates of Hell. His answers and delivery seemed canned and cartoonish.
Some people think he won, though.

Many commentators seem to share Ross Douthat's opinion that "Mitt Romney was the winner by default." Ryan Sager puts it well:
If anyone stood out from the other candidates, in terms of looking polished and poised, it was clearly Mr. Romney. He got off some of the best lines of the night, partially because Chris Matthews gave him some oddball questions (I particularly liked: "I don't say anything to Roman Catholic bishops. They can do whatever the heck they want." [see: 8:38]). He, more than any of the others, managed to sound reasonable and assured no matter what he was saying. He's still got a major flip-flopping problem, and basically lied about it during his answers on abortion. But any casual observer of the debate (were there any non-junkies watching?) would probably have to view him as head-and-shoulders above the others.
All this analysis probably overestimates the importance of a May 2007 debate, which was watched by a pretty small slice of the American electorate. Kevin Drum points to a Survey USA poll of California voters who think Rudy won -- he notes that the results appear to "mostly just track how popular the candidates were before the debate even took place."

Still, the debate will matter to opinion leaders, which is why I've just spent all that time cataloguing their reactions. Look for their support for Giuliani to slide, particularly if he doesn't get a handle on the abortion issue by the next debate -- though at this point the damage is probably repairable if he does figure it out. Romney did a good job of maintaining his support among conservative elites, even if ordinary voters don't know who the hell he is. I'd say he's on track. McCain didn't self-destruct but he didn't do a lot to regain momentum, either. Fred Thompson, meanwhile, continues to lurk menacingly over the entire field.

Overall, the right seems underwhelmed by the performance. Happily for them, though, they can take it out on their favorite target: the MSM.

It's left to the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes to point out last night's real winner:
The most praised person was, of course, Ronald Reagan. The candidates put as little distance as possible between themselves and Reagan. The debate may have been forgettable. Reagan wasn't.
For better, as they say, or for worse.

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  An Oldie but the Only Goodie

Kevin Drum points out a major reason why Republicans, especially during a presidential election cycle, seem so desperately hooked on Reagan nostalgia:
After all, what choice do they have? Bush Jr. is radioactive; Bush Sr. was an apostate; Ford was an accident; Nixon was a crook; Eisenhower was practically a socialist by modern Republican standards; and Hoover was....

Well, let's not even go there. The less said about Hoover the better. But the bottom line is that aside from Reagan, there's literally no Republican president in the past 70 years that Republicans really feel comfortable with. The unpopular ones (Hoover, Nixon, Bush Sr., Bush Jr.) are toxic and the popular ones (Eisenhower, Ford) are far too moderate for today's crew. So Reagan worship is in full swing because, really, they don't have any other choice, do they?
Dubya was supposed to be the cure for this. He was supposed to be both conservative and popular, just like Saint Ronnie. But his war president schtick has evaporated, his approval ratings are stuck in the basement, and now Republicans are discovering ways to claim that he was never even a conservative anyway. Rather than building the future off the successes of their two-term incumbent president, conservatized Republicans are forced to go back to the only well they have.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007
  The GOP Debate: Call Your Broker

Advice for all you traders in political futures, based on first impressions:

Giuliani: Sell. He seriously bungled the abortion questions, and hardly got a chance to talk about how he Totally Ruled on 9/11. There's no reason to think that this won't be a pattern going forward. On the positive side, he didn't totally blow the parts about immigration -- though he didn't get much chance to go into it. Overall, the early reviews are not kind.

McCain: Sell. At least until he figures out how to project passion as opposed to cartoonish, rehearsed rants.

Romney: Hold. He was overly-slick and overly-calculated, but those are qualities that will work better for him over the long run than they do when compressed into a single debate.

Huckabee: Buy. Suddenly I'm not the only one saying this guy's a star waiting to be noticed. And he obviously was ready to deal with his big weakness, the tax issue. He doesn't have any money or organization, so the debates are certainly going to be his main chances to shine. But he did shine. He helped himself tonight.

Brownback: Hold. He's firmly in the second tier, but he didn't do anything to hurt his standing with his evangelical base. Especially if he was one of the loons who raised his hand on the evolution question.

Tancredo: Buy. But buy cheap. He didn't come across as crazy -- at least, I don't know, maybe he has an outside chance at a cabinet spot if a Republican wins next year?

Thompson: Hold, if you have any. He's already been in the cabinet, and there's no reason to think he couldn't do it again, I suppose.

Gilmore: Buy. Not much to go on here, but he handled himself well.

Hunter: Don't tell me you bought stock in Duncan Hunter.

Paul: Buy whatever it is he eats for breakfast, and start kicking ass.

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  Liveblogging the debate, part 28 2/3

The Shiavo question: should Congress have gotten involved? Romney says no, but it was okay for Jeb to do it. McCain says "we should've taken more time." But that doesn't answer the question, unless he means they should've waited for Frist to do another video diagnosis.

Giuliani says "that's what courts are for." His best answer tonight.

Now it's time for Democrat-bashing. Specifically, Hillary-bashing. Tweety's making sure everyobody gets his turn to get a lick in. It seems to invigorate them.

Peter Robinson wonders what the hell's wrong with Giuliani:
John, you're the most astute Rudy observer that I know, so a question: Tonight Rudy hasn't proven memorable, funny, or even—his usual strength—compelling. He's phoning it in. Is he really even running? Or do you sense that he's still at some level undecided?
John Podhoretz promises to answer tomorrow in the NY Post.

On the Bush question: Romney won't criticize him. McCain says the war "was badly mismanaged" and says he would have "vetoed spending bill after spending bill" (sure, Senator). The minor contenders list a variety of minor differences. Giuliani seizes the opportunity to talk about 9/11. I'm thinking it's a little late for him. Ron Paul, once again, gives the most interesting answer, and does a very nice service by ending the debate with the words "habeas corpus."

And it's over. Stand by for spin...


  Liveblogging the Debate, part MCMXVII

Giuliani thinks a national ID card is "critical." He would. Remember, this guy is being supported by people who call themselves libertarians.

Romney agrees. Brownback does not. McCain uses the question as a chance to get tough again, though his answer's a little unclear. Ron Paul uses it as a chance to actually be tough.

Jonah G. says exactly what I keep thinking about Romney:
I'm sorry but Romney still comes across like a well-cast actor in a movie of the week about a guy running for president.
I've said before, the guy reminds me of Martin Sheen on the West Wing.

Oh, now they're all clarifying: the ID card is not for citizens, but only for aliens. Isn't that called a green card?
  Holy CRAP

Interactive question: is there anyone up there who doesn't believe in evolution? THREE CANDIDATES RAISE THEIR HANDS. I didn't see who they were. Anyone see?

McCain himself gives a qualified yes. Good Christ.
  Liveblogging the debate, XXIX

I think the problem for McCain -- and I'm going to get really shallow here -- is that his tough-guy thing is undercut by his slightly ridiculous jowlyness. When he says things like "pork barrel," he sounds like a cartoon character.

Brownback wants to let people choose if they want to be subject to a flat tax. Think about that one for a while, and tell me if it makes any sense. Huckabee's talking like an anti-tax warrior, which is exactly what he needs to do.

Ron Paul, I swear, is just going to tear somebody's throat out. And I'm gonna love watching it.
  Live blogging the debate, XVI

More snap judgments from the Corner:

Huckabee's stock is going up:
Mike Huckabee is really terrific. It's hard to know whether a debate watched only by a few million people can really launch someone, but I'd say halfway through that he is far and away the most likable and eloquent candidate on that stage.
Giuliani's is tanking:
Rudy Is Getting Very Many Chances on Abortion Tonight...and he hasn't made any progress.

I hate to be premature here, but even without Fred Thompson here to destroy his star's lustre a bit, Rudy is doing it all on his own.

I agree, and I'd add that Romney seems to be holding his own, too.
  Liveblogging the debate, 6

Another hour of this? Demoralizing.

Interesting: Did Tweety just McCain whether he was criticizing Rudy for screwing up the fire department's radios? McCain denies it. He launches into another pre-planned tough-guy rap, this time over government spending. I think he's trying to look strong, but the effect is more "Hey you kids get off my lawn!"

Rudy's being forced to confront the abortion question again. "I would support a woman's right to make a different choice." Matthews: "we'll have to kill you now." Oh, he's talking about the time limit.

Jonah G. on McCain -- this is pretty funny, actually:
McCain should hold his hand over an open flame — like G. Gordan Liddy — for the duration of each of his answers just to prove his steely resolve and his willingness to go to eleven in defense of America.
Tweety, referring to immigration, asks "anybody want to take a strong view? Senator McCain?"

Hell yeah, Senator McCain wants to take a strong view. He wants to kick your ass, commies.
  Liveblogging the debate, 5

Huckabee: "We're a great nation not because government is great, but because people are great." See, he's slick. Oh, and he mentions Reagan again.

Thompson believes it's okay to fire people for being gay.

Romney talks about the separation of church and state -- appropos, for some reason, the question of whether Catholic communion should be regulated by the government. Subtext: "There's nothing wrong with voting for a Mormon!"

Huckabee: "When a person says my faith doesn't affect my decision-making, that says their faith isn't significant enough to be part of their decision-making." Direct attack on Romney. It's starting to get ugly. Mitt's trying to be gracious about it, though.

Rich Lowry thinks "they're all talking too fast."

Also at the Corner: Peter Robinson thinks Mitt blew it on abortion, but Jonah Goldberg thinks he nailed the religion question. Lowry agrees.

Thompson: Reagan, Reagan, optimism.

Harris asks Brownback: "What's with your party and all this corruption?" Brownback blames it on the breakdown of the nuclear family. Fair enough.
  Liveblogging the GOP, 4

Oooohhh... interactive question for Giuliani: "did you learn anything about relating to African-Americans during your time as mayor?" Rudy seems thrown off by the question, firing a half-cocked version of his tough-love welfare thing.

Romney: "Gosh, I love America." I missed the rest of the statement because I went into hypoglycemic shock.

Huckabee says God told him to be an environmentalist. Actually, he says it pretty well. I'm telling you, this guy's good. Doesn't directly answer the question of whether global warming exists, though.

Another fascinating moment: Question: will the day Roe v. Wade is overturned be a great day? Right down the line, every contender answers with a vehement "yes." Except Rudy, who absolutely bungles his answer, fillibustering and stuttering about "strict constructionist judges" and federalism. You can't hide when you're under the lights, Rudy. Romney gets hit with the follow-up question: aren't you a flip-flopper on abortion? He answers with his standard "I was pro-choice until the blastocysts converted me. Also, Ronald Reagan."

Tweety to Rudy: "why do you support public funding for abortion?" Not "do you," "Why do you?" It's not getting any easier for Giuliani.
  Liveblogging the debate, 3

Tweety asks Gilmore if Bush should shake up his cabinet. Gilmore responds by calling for engagement in the Middle East. Que? Also: another R-bomb.

Thank God for Ron Paul -- he may be the only thing interesting to happen tonight. I'm hoping he chews McCain's leg off.

Now it comes to Iran: what's McCain's tripwire for war? McCain resists the temptation to break out in song. He also resists the temptation to answer the question. Tweety presses, and McCain indicates that the tripwire, for him, would be Iran actually possessing a nuclear weapon.

Giuliani, answering the same question: "Blah blah blah, Ronald Reagan, blah, blah, Ronald Reagan, blah."

Twice now, the moderators have tried to get Gilmore to criticize Bush. Why are they picking on him?

We're 21 minutes in, and all we've heard is a bunch of guys in suits telling us how important it is that bad stuff not happen in the Middle East.

Romney sounds blase about Bin Laden, McCain responds to a question about immigration by seizing the opportunity to yell about Osama, laying into an obviously pre-planned tough-guy boast: Squinting into the camera, he shouts "I'll follow him to the gates of hell!" Everyone else in the room is quite obviously embarassed by the display.

Give us more Ron Paul!

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