31 March 2010
30 March 2010
It looks increasingly as if liberal and progressive Americans have made their decision and declared the Tea Parties their enemy. In recent weeks I've noticed a change in perceptions and portrayals of the movement. They are less likely now to be seen as dupes of the Republican party, and more likely to be seen as a dangerous fringe that is luring or pushing Republicans ever further to the right. This perception probably makes obvious sense from a liberal-progressive prospective. They saw Republicans prostrate after the 2006 and 2008 elections, yet confident of victory now. What's the difference? The Tea Parties, which seem to have finally acquired a life of their own in the liberal-progressive imagination. Charges of "astroturfing" orchestrated by Republicans seem less urgent now, replaced by a belief that the Democratic reform agenda has awakened something more primitive, more atavistic, more authentic than the GOP. In the minds of ever more Democratic sympathizers, the TP tail is wagging the GOP dog and the archetypal Tea Partier, to the extent to which he is the stereotypical Angry White Male -- the kind who resents his fellow working-class people for getting breaks he can't -- is the enemy closer to the liberal heart. Republicans are mere politicians, after all, while the grass roots grow genuine haters, and in their frustration over the obstacles thrown into the path of reform, Democrats and their auxiliaries are increasingly inclined to answer hate with hate.
If I'm right about this, an unexpected opening has emerged for the Republican party. They'll have to be careful about it, but so long as they keep their distance institutionally from the Tea Parties, however much individual Republicans egg them on, the GOP could occupy a position in the consensus imagination closer to the center of the political continuum, with Democrats on the "left" and the Tea Parties on the "right." This may only testify to how much the terms of discourse as a whole have shifted drastically rightward, but it still leaves Republicans an opportunity to triangulate their way back into power as the conservative alternative to Democrats and the responsible, statesmanlike alternative to the Tea Parties. All it would take would be the discovery and repudiation of some "Sister Souljahs" of the far right and Republicans would suddenly appear, to the gullible, as the reasonable, moderate option. Any such move would risk losing Tea Party votes, but the risk might be justified by the prospect of gains from "moderates" spooked both by the propaganda version of "socialist" health care reform and the propaganda vision of "lunatic" Tea Partiers. I can't guarantee that the Republicans will manage this trick; they may be too dumb to do it or too genuinely zealous to want to. But there are months to come for the backlash against the Tea Parties to build and motivate people to vote Democratic if only to stick it to the TPs. If Democrats want to go to war with a group still only tentatively affiliated with the Republican party, and thus easily jettisoned if necessary, GOP leaders should say, "let's you and him fight" while stepping above the fray. They might be surprised by how many people they fool.
29 March 2010
Do Muslims hate their freedom, too?
Russian freedom? But doesn't the American media tell us (and not without some justice) that Russia under Putin and Medvedev is not free?
In fact, most informed Americans will concede (or else assume) that Russia is oppressing Muslims in Chechnya. At the very least, they'd allow that Chechens have cause to believe that Russia is oppressing them, if only because Russia happens to control Chechnya. It wouldn't take much mental effort to draw some connection between what Russia does in Chechnya and what happened in Moscow. It's an effort many Americans still refuse to make, and are still discouraged from making, when the subject shifts to the role of the United States in the Middle East and its growing role on the Afghan-Pakistan frontier. Many Muslims may see the U.S. and Russia in much the same way, but we're reluctant to accept that they lash out against both countries from the same motive -- unless we assume the most outlandish motive of forcing us all into a global Caliphate.
If Putin or Medvedev were to say today that the Moscow attacks took place because the perpetrators hated freedom, most Americans would probably laugh. But they wouldn't like it if people laughed when they told the joke. In itself, that's pretty funny, in a sad way.
Something seems just a little fishy about this story. If the Hutaree are so fearfully obsessed with big, federal government, why would they be targeting local cops or mere policemen from far away? My first skeptical impulse was to assume that some of the Hutaree may have a beef with a local cop over local crime, and may have wanted to conceal the venality of their hostility by making a political or religious crusade out of it. At the same time, skepticism as a matter of principle requires me to leave open the possibility that the Hutaree have been entrapped. Skepticism toward highly publicized arrests of alleged Muslim extremists leads to suspicion of entrapment because there always seems to be an informant goading hapless characters into legal peril. It's not impossible that something similar has happened this time. Some people, however, may not feel similar skepticism this time.
If you think the government is waging an unwarranted war on Islam, Islamism or Islamic states, you may be suspicious every time that government arrests alleged Muslim terrorists. If, at the same time, you think Christian rightists and irregular militias are inherently more threatening to Americans, or you simply don't like them, you may not extend accused militia types the same benefit of doubt, either because you do take them more seriously than any Muslim conspiracy or because you want to see the whole movement crushed. The government may be going about its business in the same way each time (apart from changes in personnel that may come with political turnover), but for many observers the end will probably justify the means whenever they agree with the end.
Don't take any of this as a defense of the Hutaree or anything they stand for. Think of it as a thought exercise instead, and judge for yourselves how you've done on it.
28 March 2010
Here's a video fantasy of the Hutaree liberating a flagpole from the dreaded United Nations.
They're raising the banner of the Colonial Christian Republic. A Hutaree forum describes the CCR as something "set up for people to join as allies with us ... this way you get to keep your own unique way of doing things." In other words, it seems to be a loose affiliation of basically like-minded groups, in keeping with the presumed ideal of decentralized localism. The "Colonial" part looks strange, though; I'm not sure what they mean by that.
This news isn't likely to be a game changer for anyone. It will confirm Democrats and progressives in their fear of the militia movement. It will confirm the militias' fears of an impending, more sweeping government crackdown. It will confirm Christian extremists' fear of imminent state persecution. It will confirm Republicans' fear that the Obama administration intends to inflate the militia threat in order to discredit all dissent from the right. I'm not saying that the facts about the Hutaree will confirm all these things objectively, but simply that conspiracy-minded people will take the news as evidence justifying their suspicions about militias, the Christian right, or the government. In any event, we're likely now to learn much more about the Hutaree and the Colonial Christian Republic than anyone ever really wanted.
27 March 2010
His opinion of Palin is unclear, but others in Arizona are disappointed in her show of loyalty, or fulfillment of a debt, to McCain. This article notes that McCain may have erred in following Palin on the podium, since many of her fans didn't stay after she finished to listen to him. Some were willing to express their disappointment with her, and their disdain for him, to reporters.
McCain's opponent, J. D. Hayworth, is careful not to criticize Palin for supporting the incumbent, but he does warn that it isn't up to her who'll represent Arizona in the Senate. He has some cause for confidence. His campaign site reports a poll showing that he's shaved McCain's lead in opinion from 22 to 7 percentage points in the last two months. Hayworth himself may be in a position to decide who sits in that Senate seat next year. He could win the Republican primary, or he could bolt, as principle would seem to dictate, if McCain wins.
The Arizona race will be one of the clearest indicators of the strength and resolution of the Tea Party movement. For now, the Arizona TPs hope to seize the GOP by toppling McCain. The real question is: what do they do if Hayworth loses? Do they accept the GOP yoke out of partisan loyalty or fear of Democrats, or do they make a stand (as progressives also should) to demand better representation in the upper house? Palin's role in the drama is clear enough by now; she hopes to wed the TPs to the GOP as a matter of personal loyalty to her. Anyone who listens to her outside Arizona should bear that in mind.
25 March 2010
Objectively speaking, the Republicans are right to insist that the violent ones don't represent the entire opposition to health care reform. Not every dissident on this particular issue is motivated by hatred, however much I may believe that they show insufficient concern for the well being of their fellow citizens. At the same time, I sense a retreat from the precious principle of personal responsibility when Republicans properly protest that they don't condone the recent outbursts, yet deny any causal relationship between their hysterical rhetoric, which was only amplified on the radio and online, and the emergence of people possibly determined to defend their supposedly-threatened liberty by any means necessary. Republicans must know that they played with fire by identifying the Democratic legislation with "Socialism" for an audience many of whom might still rather be dead than Red, but would really rather kill Reds. They may not have expected to be burned by that fire, but if the fire spreads and burns longer and hotter, they'll certainly and rightly stand exposed in its light.
24 March 2010
The radical center is “radical” in its desire for a radical departure from politics as usual. It advocates: raising taxes to close our budgetary shortfalls, but doing so with a spirit of equity and social justice; guaranteeing that every American is covered by health insurance, but with market reforms to really bring down costs; legally expanding immigration to attract more job-creators to America’s shores; increasing corporate tax credits for research and lowering corporate taxes if companies will move more manufacturing jobs back onshore; investing more in our public schools, while insisting on rising national education standards and greater accountability for teachers, principals and parents; massively investing in clean energy, including nuclear, while allowing more offshore drilling in the transition. You get the idea.
In Friedman's opinion, the two-party order has broken the American political system. The system is broken, he explains, when "Republicans will be voted out for doing the right thing (raising taxes when needed) and Democrats will be voted out for doing the right thing (cutting services when needed)." Interestingly, this can only mean that the party primary process is the heart of the problem, since that's where elected officials will be punished (if ever) for deviating from the orthodoxy of the ideological base. But Friedman concludes more broadly that the parties themselves, not just their primaries, are the main problem. He takes his cues from Larry Diamond, a political scientist who recommends as a model first step against Bipolarchy a California referendum that stripped legislators of the power to draw the borders of state legislative districts. Diamond and Friedman hope that this reform will end the process of partisan gerrymandering that guarantees both major parties safe seats and uncompetitive elections. How the borders will be drawn now is unclear from this brief reference, but an end to gerrymandering is only a first step, and nearly no step at all if more competitive elections remain two-party contests. This is where what Friedman calls "alternative voting" comes in. He could be describing instant runoff or score voting, but in either case he wants election law to encourage people to consider third parties as their first choices.
Friedman is a globalist above all, and some people who see themselves as either centrists or radicals might quarrel on principle with planks of his "radical center" platform. But I like the sound of the term, to be honest, because it makes the refusal to go "left" or "right" sound less wishy-washy. In any event, if his pursuit of his preferred ends leads him to publicize means that may benefit everyone, and not necessarily him the most, then this new commitment to third-partyism can only be a good thing.
Wouldn't my theoretical previous donation have furthered this goal? Looking back at the earlier letter, Kaine wrote that my money would "not only aid our political efforts to defeat Republicans in the 2010 congressional elections, but will also provide more urgently-needed funding for our Organizing for America project, which is using the techniques that proved successful in the 2008 election to build grassroots support for President Obama's agenda."
I suppose some people like to target their donations, but why not allow them to do so while making a single donation to a single, central Democratic fund? There's a redundancy at work here that doesn't exactly argue for efficiency under party rule, but it is probably making money for someone.
In any event, Biden's letter echoes Kaine's litany of Democratic accomplishments and its anathemas against Republican obstruction. Not only does the GOP resist expanding health care or enacting financial reforms; Republicans also "want to stop us from rebuilding our economy and creating the jobs that Americans so desperately need." That's pretty worrisome. It sounds like an America Forever conspiracy theory.
In one point of particular interest, there's no more ambivalence about the Tea Party movement. In Biden's opinion they are the enemy.
The GOP is guided by the Tea Partier crowd, which doesn't seem to appreciate that progress in this country isn't about yelling the loudest, and that blind obstruction is not a serious answer to the serious questions we face. There are only two possible motivations for their actions ... Either they want to return to the destructive policies of the Bush-Cheney administration, or they think the only way they can succeed is by causing us to fail.
As far as I know, most Tea Partiers remain ambivalent, to say the least, about George W. Bush, though their hatred for President Obama has led some to start waxing nostalgic for Dubya, if not for Cheney, whose name Biden brandishes to provoke his readers into angry action. My perception was that the TPs saw Bush as a sell-out, as much a stooge of the "big" establishment (government+corporations) as Obama is now. But I can understand why the differences between TPs and Bushites seem minimal from a Democratic or progressive perspective. In any event, Biden depends on his potential donors hating Tea Partiers as much as they hate Bush and Cheney. If he's right, then the Tea Parties have failed as a remedy to political polarization in the country, if they were ever meant as that. In a Bipolarchy, I suppose, anything that isn't on your side can be used as a bogeyman for fundraising purposes, though Kaine neglected to mention the TPs in his begging for the DNC. It makes me interested to learn which begging letter ends up drawing more money.
23 March 2010
Anyway, the Obama Administration needs my help. Governor Kaine says that I should give something between $25 and $50 to the DNC. Just as important, apparently, is my filling out an enclosed survey. That's strange, given it's just the sort of survey you'd expect to come attached to a begging letter. However, it's special if I fill it out. That's because, little did I know, I'm "part of a select group of leaders who have been chosen to participate in this survey." But the governor flatters me. He doesn't even know me as the author of this blog, but rather, most likely, as a subscriber to The Nation.
It reads as if I'm being invited to help set the President's priorities. After ranking his performance overall and in six categories (economy, health insurance, energy, diplomacy, Afghanistan, Iraq), I'm to rank "14 national issues" in my preferred order of priority. There's some redundancy here, since my choices include "America's Economic Situation" and "Lowering Unemployment." Apparently some respondents will think these issues can be prioritized separately. Then I'm asked to rank the institutional priorities of the Democratic party, with "Organizing Grassroots Support," "Raising Funds for 2010 Congressional Elections," "Electing Democrats on the State and Local Level," "Reelecting President Obama in 2012" and "Combating Republicans' Obstructionist Tactics" to choose from. Finally, I'm given four lines on which to write down my thoughts on "President Obama, the Democratic Party, and the issues our nation is facing." The party doesn't expect much thought, apparently, or else it expects pretty small handwriting.
Should I be flattered by the invitation, as a "leader," to offer my suggestions to the President and his party. I might have been, had I never, ever received a partisan begging letter before, and if this time Kaine hadn't written, "We want to make certain that key leaders such as you have the opportunity to show your support of the President and his initiatives. This will allow us to demonstrate widespread support for President Obama's agenda."
To be honest, I don't know if Kaine means the money or the survey in that last bit, but I'd bet on both. This survey is, after all, just another poll of predictable respondents, guaranteed to show overwhelming widespread support for President Obama's agenda. Only, whom do they hope to convince with this evidence? Has anyone ever seen a news report of results from polls like these? More likely, Democratic leaders (not including me) use these things to convince themselves (if not the President himself) of widespread support for their agenda of the moment, just as Republicans use their own fundraising surveys. Most likely, however, the party keeps the money and trashes the poll. They could save some money (and some extra fundraising) by skipping the poll part of these mailings altogether, -- and they might earn some extra respect, at least, from people who don't have their intelligence insulted.
22 March 2010
Parker addresses herself to the "approximately 70 million" people she believes to be "equally disgusted with both traditional parties and the special interests that control them." Noting that independents now outnumber avowed Republicans and Democrats, she wants to dispel the conventional assumption that the nation is "divided into hard left and hard right." That should be easy, since I doubt that anyone actually believes such a thing. If you're opposed to the "hard left," for instance, you probably don't think of yourself as "hard right." The same is true for opponents of the "hard right;" they don't see themselves as "hard left." Each most likely sees itself, contra Parker, as the mainstream, forced into a "hard" stance by the extreme measures of a singularly "hard" faction. From another perspective altogether, neither faction may appear particularly "hard," but Parker wants to rally those people who see the political sphere split evenly between "hard" factions, those who are really disgusted, not necessarily with the hard core elements of either major party, but with the American Bipolarchy as a whole.
If a moderate, independent majority is neither "hard left" nor "hard right," then what do they stand for? This question doesn't necessarily require an answer, for moderation and independence should encompass pragmatic problem-solving in the national interest and exclude prejudicial, preemptive ideological prescriptions. But Parker presses forward: defining the nation as a whole as "slightly right of center," she identifies "centrists" as "fiscally conservative, socially libertarian-ish." Are "centrists" also "slightly right of center?" They can't be both, and Parker would be better off dropping the whole left-right-center framework. As for fiscal conservatism, it may well be the viewpoint of a majority of Americans, but if it's adopted as a rigid ideology its acolytes instantly cease to be moderates. There are bound to be times in the future when the government will need more money than it expects to have in hand for important purposes. To say that it would never be appropriate to borrow money or print money for such purposes is to put an abstract principle above the national interest, if not above human lives.
As for the "socially libertarian-ish"-ness of centrists, I'd be happy to agree if Parker were less ishy about what she means. Overall, however, her attempt to define the independent, centrist mindset isn't entirely convincing because it's clearly influenced by her lingering conservative biases. We don't need self-styled independents who claim to have all the answers to the nation's problems in advance. They are independent only in relation to the two-party system, but to the extent that they have anything resembling an ideology they aren't as independent as they'd like us to think.
Is health care reform to crate total government control or to trigger a chain of events leading to civil unrest and state separation from the union? Either way the Constitution will DIE ... But who wins?
America Forever anticipates that some states will reassert their primitive sovereignty and not recognize the health care reforms, while individuals will refuse to pay taxes to fund the monstrous measure. In turn, the federal government will withhold funds from the defiant states. Then?
With the homosexuals, lesbians, Human Rights Campaign, and MoveOn.org, on his side, [Obama] counts with the support of the most ready and organized group with 20 years of experience in going to the streets as well as bringing along the immigrant minorities and african-americans, he is set and sure to create civil unrest and excusing himself to execute full control over all our rights by force.
I assure you that I leave out no words or punctuation in the above quote. In any event, America Forever has a delicious sense of irony. It turns out, they inform us, that Barack Obama, this arch-forger of totalitarian big government, actually wants to break up the United States. Health care reform is "a 'NO WIN' scenario for the American people, because even if by forcing the states to stand up, America will break apart, therefore achieving his ultimate goal."
How did they figure that out? To be fair, I can't expect them to show all their work in a single-sheet fax, but I don't think they can take this particular assumption for granted. Why on Earth would the "most powerful man on" it want to break up that power which makes him so? The nearest thing to an explanation (and it's not that near) is this charge: "He counts with foreign powers who want America, the watchdog of freedom, out of the picture." On the other hand, elsewhere in the document it's acknowledged that the dissolution of the Union could well be "a simple oversight of the President and his administration with the news media and who knows who else is involved."
Speaking of foreign powers, the rhetorical skills displayed in this latest fax again leave us wondering how American America Forever is. Odd little formulae like "counts with" don't seem like the work of a native or well-educated English speaker. Dare I suggest that these alleged patriots are in fact thinly disguised emissaries of an enemy state? As Ernest Hemingway used to say, "How do you like it now, gentlemen?"
America Forever aims to transcend partisanship. Last week's fax ends with an appeal to Democrats:
How can you live with yourself and face your family and posterity knowing you consciously betrayed your own blood, surrendering and delivering up the sacred principles of liberty, equality and justice bequeathed by the founding fathers to a grim Moloch of a President, who is lying and deceiving and trampling under foot our God-given rights, afforded to us by the blood of the ones who courageously died to defend the constitution and American way of life? We call upon you fellow Americans members of Democratic party to not forget who you are. You are defenders of the Constitution not destroyers of it.
Again, the telltale lapses in conventional grammar and punctuation could cause concerned citizens to question the nationality or national loyalty of these purveyors of black propaganda. "Members of Democratic party?" That sounds like an evil Asiatic from an oldtime movie serial. Is that the inscrutable signature of the Red Chinese? Or is it an unconscious cry for help, sent to offices across the country, from a disordered mind struggling with its own unreason? I might suggest that the government could arrange for some psychiatric help, but I fear that the sender would take that the wrong way. It might be too late now to do anything for this poor soul. Even as we speak, the author may be digging in, somewhere in the woods, waiting for the end....
21 March 2010
As far as social issues go, Paladino has the credentials. Both Lazio and Levy are pro-choice, by comparison. But it looks like Conservatives statewide aren't as hardcore as those in the state's 23rd Congressional district, who rebelled against a "too liberal" Republican anointee a few months ago. The majority of party leaders may envision a "big tent" approach that focuses narrowly on fiscal issues, though how the rank and file will respond to Lazio remains to be seen. There seems to be a perception among both Conservatives and Republicans that he's a "loser" due to his poor performance on short notice against Hillary Clinton in the 2000 Senate race. But if the only alternatives are a renegade Democrat and an untried businessman, Lazio may be the safe choice for both parties on the right.
Lazio himself is determined to run the race to the finish. He's said most recently that he will keep the Conservative line even if he loses the Republican nomination, threatening rightists with their nightmare scenario of a divided movement against a united Democracy. Lazio may well depend on that threat to cow Republicans into endorsing him. As nearly every news article reminds us, since the founding of the Conservative party no Republican has won statewide office without also getting the third party's endorsement. Of course, some Republicans have lost in spite of that endorsement, so no one should assume that transpartisan agreement guarantees victory for the rightists. Nor should anyone assume at this fluid moment in grass-roots politics that the "right" is as uniform as either Republicans or Conservatives want it to be. Voters who see themselves as "right" may be deciding now that fellow "rightists" are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Things will get really interesting if, instead of deciding that those problem people weren't really "right," people begin to realize that accepting the "right" (or "left") label has burdened them with problems all along.
Note: For what it's worth, I found it impossible to access the Lazio campaign site today. Whether this is due to high traffic, ordinary techinical difficulties or sabotage is impossible to know right now.
20 March 2010
19 March 2010
Levy's history shows that his idea of transcending partisanship is to amalgamate the major parties under the banner of fiscal conservatism. To some people, particularly those looking for a new "moderate" option, Levy's approach may be an appealing alternative to Bipolarchy as usual, but I wonder whether he isn't an ultimate product of the Bipolarchy, living proof of an essential consensus that belies the irreconcilable conflict propagated in election years. From what I could tell, he parted with the Democrats without any particular rancor, and no denunciation of his former fellows was included in the early report of his announcement cited above. He seems uninterested in waging any culture war either with the Democrats or with Lazio's supporters, to whom he recommends Ronald Reagan's "eleventh commandment" -- thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. By bolting one major party for another, Levy presents himself as an independent politician, albeit within obvious bounds. I assume he hopes it will prove him worthy of consideration by independent voters. But before anyone concludes that he'd be just as good as a genuine independent, ask whether his candidacy really expands the political discussion in New York to include new ideas that haven't been represented adequately in government or the media. It'd be wise to let Levy work a little before drawing conclusions, but his credentials aren't necessarily cause for confidence.
17 March 2010
From civilized man's very beginning, there has been nothing more despicable than government; nothing which more consistently attracts the power-mad, the morally depraved. It has been -- and always will be -- a magnet to every true tyrant. Except for a relatively brief time, when our great Republic was instituted by the inspiration of brave, God-fearing men -- and the temporary solace of a few good public servants along the way -- brazen bureaucratic predators have dogged the people. These collectivists live only to extend their own power in an ever-expanding government moving inexorably to enslave us.
Not war, not slavery, not human sacrifice, but government is the most despicable thing in human history, according to Mr. Davis. His is the despite of apathy, since government, in his mind, is something that happens to him, or someone else does to him. What he envisions in the absence of government is unclear, though his praise for allegedly "God-fearing men" is an unhappy hint that it wouldn't necessarily be an absence of government at all. But his vision of the world as a whole is dangerously unclear, since he seems to think that the only predators among us are bureaucrats, or that the only enslavers among us are "collectivist" politicians. But history is ample with examples of slaveholders and slavedrivers, literal and metaphorical alike, who have nothing to do with the state, and against whom a state governed by and for the people may be the best or only defense. But Davis, I suspect, sees self-government only as a matter of looking out on his own for himself. He is unfit to live in a democratic republic on this evidence, and while letters like these have appeared in papers for most of the last century, I worry lately that this viewpoint is becoming more common. But if he thinks he's emulating the Founders in his distrust of "government," he has another think coming. If the Founders could walk the land today, they might not like what the government or the opposition is doing, but they would certainly look on Frank James Davis with the contempt he deserves.
"You do have to be very careful that the potential of President Obama's presidency not be destroyed by this debate....Even though I have many differences with him on policy, there's something much bigger at stake here for America."
Whatever we may think of Obama's potential at this point, we can still ask whether Kucinich's first responsibility is to the Obama presidency or to his constituents, whether defined narrowly as the people of his district or broadly as all those nationwide who look to Kucinich as a principled leader. Just as Ron Paul's principles are compromised by his dependence upon the Republican Party, Kucinich's are likewise compromised to the point that he now settles for a plan he had deemed inadequate for the good of the President and their common party. There's space enough between the lines of his remarks for us to see that what's "at stake" for Kucinich is maintaining Democratic rule and preventing a Republican takeover at all costs. On this blog I've defined the essence of conservatism as the demand that people settle for whatever the powerful tell them is all they can ask for. By that standard, Dennis Kucinich is today a conservative Democrat.
16 March 2010
"Maybe they just believe that Americans should all have decent health care," I suggested.
"They do," Mr. Right affirmed, "When they're in an accident or gravely ill they're taken care of. They can go to the emergency room. If they're indigent they have Medicare or Medicaid."
"What about decent health care on a regular basis, not just in a crisis or when you're helpless?"
"Why, do you think people have a right to health care?"
"What about a roof over their heads?"
"Do you think some people shouldn't have those things?"
"Have I ever given you any cause to believe I don't?"
"But if you don't think they have a right to health care, you must assume that there are circumstances when they don't deserve it."
"I just said that the indigent should be taken care of, and they are."
"Yeah, and your ideological ancestors were probably crying 'Socialism!' when those plans were up for debate."
"Well, those are different. They're meant for people who for whatever reason absolutely can't afford health care for themselves. The difference is, the majority of people in this country can afford to pay for their own health care, and it's their responsibility to pay for it themselves. Why should my grandchildren have to pay for Rush Limbaugh's health care? Why should your grandchildren have to pay for mine? It isn't a right, it's a responsibility, and that's what the majority of people in this country believe."
That's what it comes down to. For people like Mr. Right there's an irreducible element of individual responsibility in life that society can never replace. The answer that his grandchildren and mine (in theory) are fellow citizens of himself and Limbaugh, and that we're all mutually obliged to each other, simply does not occur to him. He's incapable of envisioning a civil sharing of resources; any such proposal sounds to him like robbery. In this kind of mind there are only three options: the regime of "personal responsibility" under which each person ideally pulls his own weight; the regime of charity that stigmatizes the recipient whether the donor intends it that way or not; and "socialism," the antithesis of "personal responsibility" and thus immoral in some profound way. But "socialism" would not seem offensive to people like Mr. Right if they didn't believe, whether they admit it or not, that those people who don't meet their standard of personal responsibility deserve to suffer. Mr. Right himself denies that people would be left to suffer in America, thanks to the existing safety net (since he claims to have been a Democrat until the late 1970s he may not have opposed those once-"socialistic" measures), but when it comes down to the principle of the thing, there's inevitably an "or else" inherent in the personal-responsibility ethic. There may be an "or else" in any ethical system, but whether your system is cooperative or competitive makes a big difference. An ultimate insistence on "personal responsibility" may make a competitive order inevitable, since those who insist on it may be too distrustful or too proud -- or too competitive -- to live cooperatively. It may offend them, but it shouldn't surprise them if other people question whether their right to compete as a matter of "personal responsibility" counts for more than other people's well-being, or their very lives. Mr. Right is offended when this comes up. He accuses me of leaping from "Point A to Point P" without recognizing any middle ground -- but how much middle ground is there, really?
15 March 2010
The writer is Alexander Cockburn, himself a man of the left, though I'm not sure how much longer that label will apply accurately. In the same issue of The Nation that features his latest "Beat the Devil" column an article on the 50th anniversary of New Left Review notes that Cockburn has removed his name from that journal's masthead over its endorsement of the manmade global warming model. He explains his decision by observing that "uncritical and unscientific...climate catastrophism" has become "the prime obsession of what passes for the left." Increasingly, though he may despise the comparison, Cockburn is shaping up as this decade's Christopher Hitchens, a champion polemicist whose pet peeves may end up driving him out of the "Left" altogether.
"The lower middle class is what we're focusing on here, the people who own auto repair shops, bakeries, bicycle shops, plant stores, dry cleaners, fish stores and all the other small businesses across America -- in sum, the 'petite bourgeoisie,' stomped by regulators and bureaucrats while the big fry get zoning variances and special clause exemptions. The left always hated the petite bourgeoisie because it wasn't the urban proletariat and thus the designated agent of revolutionary change. Today's left no longer believes in revolutionary change but despises the petite bourgeoisie out of inherited political disposition and class outlook."
Still, from the left Cockburn has come out in defense of the Tea Party movement, answering what he deems a slanderous op-ed by Frank Rich in the New York Times. Rich's article was in turn provoked by what Cockburn describes as a "perceptive and rather sympathetic account" of the movement by David Barstow that appeared in the Paper of Record earlier that month. Barstow and Cockburn have in common an understanding that the Tea Parties are made up of people who have been genuinely hurt by the economy over the past decade and have legitimate suspicions about the motives of politicians, whether Republican or Democratic. Neither writer denies the existence of what Cockburn calls "nuts and opportunists" within the movement, but the columnist's verdict is that the TPs are "legitimately pissed off."
Cockburn is furious over Rich's labeling of the TPs as the "Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged," a blanket libel of the entire movement as the second coming of the 1990s militia movement. Barstow himself gave Rich cause to think so by reporting that the TP ideology comes closer to "Patriot" thinking than it does to the Republican platform. All three writers would agree that the TPs believe that the federal government as it exists today is fundamentally untrustworthy regardless of which party controls it. Rich and to a lesser extent Barstow are alarmed by what looks like a wholesale rejection of the idea of modern "big government," but Cockburn is more receptive. He remains enough of a leftist to agree with a founding TP premise: that "big government" as presently constituted inevitably serves the interests of an elite at the expense of the "petite bourgeoisie" or even the ordinary working person. Liberals vehemently reject this stance, believing that "big government" can be made to serve the people's interests if made more Democratic or simply more democratic. Arguably, Cockburn remains enough of a revolutionary leftist to think that only a different form of government, "big" or not, can faithfully serve the people's interests.
Whether Cockburn fully embraces the Tea Partiers' apparent preference for smaller, decentralized government remains to be seen, but I can understand why that preference unnerves most liberals. In the 20th century localism was proven, to most liberals' satisfaction, an inadequate guarantor of minority or individual rights. Given the perception of the Tea Parties as a "populist" movement and of the exclusionary tendencies of populism, most liberals most likely see the TPs as a transparent facade for all the ugly historical tendencies to be expected of a movement that's for now predominantly white in complexion. Liberals are also likely to see "big government" as the average American's only defense against Big Business, and may see Cockburn's "petite bourgeoisie" as mere stooges for "big business." If there's a fallacy implicit in the liberal critique, it may be the assumption that our current constitutional regime and the regulatory order established in the 20th century can still steer the country toward the common good. If there's a fallacy on the other side, it may be the assumption that anything "big" is inherently corrupt or oppressive. I think a case can still be made for "big government," but it isn't well made by a liberal complacency that assumes, in true conservative fashion, that what we have now will have to do, and that there's no alternative but chaos or terror.
It's not clear whether Cockburn considers himself a Tea Partier, but the movement needs an infusion of ideas from the "left" if it intends to do more than reproduce the ideology of entrepreneurial Republicanism. There's no guarantee that the influence of people like Cockburn would make the Tea Parties any more helpful in our current crisis, but at least liberals wouldn't be able to dismiss it as the same old thing in new wrapping.
12 March 2010
One hundred years ago, the social gospel was the popular trend in many religious circles. A generation of clerics criticized their churches for catering too readily to the interests of the wealthy and powerful in centuries past. They reminded their congregations of Jesus's ministry to the poor and warned against focusing exclusively on moral teaching without fulfilling the church's historic role of caring for society's casualties. They met resistance from moralists who worried that the social gospel concerned itself with material matters at the expense of essential doctrine and personal morality. The majority of social-gospelers, however, would most likely have fit comfortably with the "moral majority" of the late 20th century, if not for that group's preference for entrepreneurial conservatism at home and bellicosity abroad.
Christians deserve some credit when they develop social consciousness, but Beck, despite his provocative extremism, raises old and fair questions that should make us question how useful the social gospel can be for secular progress. As far as I can tell, Beck does not dispute that Jesus preached charity for the poor. No Christian does. The controversy arises when charity is equated with "social justice." When Beck hears that term, apparently, he infers some kind of coercion, whether in the mild form of taxation or to the extreme of confiscation of wealth by the state. Critics of the social gospel emphasize that Jesus only ever recommended voluntary giving. They imply that the giving loses its virtue when it's involuntary, which suggests that some Christians give less for the benefit to the poor than for the merit they expect to earn. In any event, the critics have a point. Jesus was no Robin Hood. We have no record of him taking whatever wealth the moneychangers left behind after he scourged them out of the Temple and giving it to the poor. He only coerces giving on a moral level. There is no mandate from Jesus's own teaching for a state apparatus for the redistribution of wealth. While the Apostles allegedly practised a form of communal living, they never agitated to our knowledge for the Roman Empire to practice social justice. Instead, the church became a charitable organization unto itself and in that capacity, arguably, won most of its converts in ancient times.
My point is that if Christians try to make the argument for social justice too dependent on the example and teaching of Jesus, they could find themselves losing the argument, just as many historians now concede that the Bible vindicated slaveholders more than it mandated abolition. Since Jesus was not that concerned with the state, except to pay his taxes, he can only be of limited help to those who want to use democracy to advance the equality upon which democracy ultimately depends. He may be more useful, however, when it comes to confronting self-professed Christians with the contradictions of their entrepreneurial conservatism. For while Jesus never sketched out a model of state-organized wealth redistribution, he never fell for the old argument that people need to get wealthy in order to give to the poor. He seemed to believe that some people's wealth had something to do with other people's poverty. Why else would he say that it would be tougher for the rich to reach heaven than it would be for a camel to fit through a needle's eye? Nor had he any use for the "Protestant work ethic" or anything like it, believing instead that God would provide for everyone the way he apparently provided for the rest of nature's creatures. That's not necessarily a good example for the 21st century, but it's a good fact to put in the face of any so-called Christian who's actually an idolator -- a worshipper of The Market or Mammon itself.
11 March 2010
10 March 2010
One thing that distinguishes entrepreneurial conservatism is its contempt for any notion of "entitlement." Never mind that civilization itself is an entitlement claim to relief from the laws of the wilderness; this kind of conservatism despises what it perceives as a demand for "something for nothing" or, worse, a demand by Paul to live off of Peter's earnings, extracted by taxation. The entrepreneurial conservative dreams of breaking liberals' sense of entitlement, presuming that the liberal will become a more productive member of society once he realizes that nobody owes him anything but respect for his freedom to stand or fall on his own. I suspect that this mindset appeals to evangelicals because it's similar to their own belief regarding human destiny. The first premise of evangelism, after all, the beginning of the "born again" experience, is the acknowledgment that you are a sinner, the admission that you deserve to burn in hell if you don't submit to God's grace and acknowledge Jesus as Lord. The entrepreneurial conservative, in turn, wants you to admit that you deserve to die -- if you prefer, to suffer, to do without the best health care, the best education for your children, etc. -- if you don't submit to the laws of The Market and fend for yourself without making demands on others.
The idea that people in a community can entitle each other to life by committing themselves to cooperation -- that they might do such a thing on the assumption that we all deserve to live because we all want to live -- violates the dearest tenet of the evangelical and the entrepreneurial conservative alike: that there is an eternal and unalterable law that all must obey, or else. That people might make a better law, and stick to it, is an intolerable idea for this mentality, which is characterized in either case by a contempt for man's capacity to consciously order society to eliminate what one group considers intractable (sin) or what another considers necessary (competition for survival). The kinds of people I've described are full of professed love for mankind and faith in its ability to innovate and improve life, but they seem to be united by a kind of misanthropy and a corollary imperative, on the spiritual and material levels alike, to save themselves first. I apologize if this characterization offends or misrepresents evangelicals of liberal or leftist views, but to them I respectfully suggest that their views are exceptional, whether they prove my rule or not.
08 March 2010
Big business is not “right wing,” it’s vampiric. It will pursue any opportunity to make a big profit at little risk. Getting in bed with politicians is increasingly the safest investment for these “crony capitalists.” But only if the politicians can actually deliver.
The writer is Jonah Goldberg, a columnist who infuriated liberals by writing a book that purported to show the affinities between their political philosophy and European fascism. In other words, he might be assumed to be one of the last people to be found writing lines like those above. Imagine a confirmed liberal writing those words, however, and most conservatives (or at least most Republicans) would condemn the author. What do they make of Goldberg, I wonder.
Goldberg has written some interesting columns recently questioning both the linkage of conservatives and "big business" in the popular imagination and the tendency of conservatives to link themselves to big business. He's emerged as a critic of crony capitalism, having discovered that many big businesses, rather than dismantle the allegedly oppressive regulatory apparatus of government, would rather exploit it to handicap competitors, so long as they have influence with the regulators or the elected officials who appoint them.
He notes reports that show corporate donations to Republicans increasing, but attributes them less to corporate opposition to the Democratic agenda than to a realization that the political tide is turning against the Obama administration. At the same time, he points out, corporations are still giving to Democrats in a major way. It only makes sense to seek influence in both parties, after all. Goldberg is actually worried that corporate donors will have too much influence with Republicans, yet again.
The political failures of the Obama White House have translated into business failures for firms more eager to make money off taxpayers instead of consumers.That’s good news. The bad news will be if the Republicans once again opt to be the cheap dates of big business. For years, the GOP defended big business in the spirit of free enterprise while businesses never showed much interest in the principle themselves. Now that their bet on the Democrats has crapped out, it’d be nice if they stopped trying to game the system and focused instead on satisfying the consumer [emphasis added].
In other words, Goldberg wants Republicans to walk the walk as well as talk the talk and enforce the rules of The Market despite the temptations of corporate favor. This poses a challenge the scope of which Goldberg may not yet fully appreciate. As a conservative Republican Goldberg presumably favors limited government. He seems to believe that big government is too vulnerable to corporate influence to be trusted to regulate the economy in accordance with The Market. He may even believe that The Market can enforce its own rules of competition without the assistance of government bureaucracy. I don't want to jump to conclusions until Goldberg has developed his interesting ideas more completely, but I worry that he hasn't allowed for two possibilities: 1) that there can be no Big Business without Big Government; and 2) that Big Government doesn't necessarily emerge in opposition to Big Business, but is called into being by it as a means of consolidating its gains against the inevitable challengers of future generations. The Market may work fine in a small town where a better craftsman might easily drive an older, established competitor out of business by doing better work, but economies of scale may distort the Market to such a point that the People need to step in and create a Big Government on their terms before Big Business does it for them on its terms. Goldberg may never have trusted Big Government, and he may now not trust Big Business, but if he wants a Big Economy or a Big Society he can't do without both, and he's going to have to choose a side.
05 March 2010
As a floor-level witness to the convention, Raban contends that TV coverage of the convention gave a false picture of universal assent to the positions of such characters as neo-nativist Tom Tancredo and arch-Birther Joseph Farah. "What struck me was how many remained seated through the ovations," he writes, "how many muttered quietly into the ears of their neighbors while others around them rose to their feet and hollered."
Most delegates were political novices, Raban notes. They identify with Sarah Palin more than with any other politician because, to them, she seems like one of them. There's no getting around their hostility toward the President and the Democratic party, but he insists that the rank-and-file he saw in Nashville -- albeit an elite rank-and-file willing to spend their way in while others grumbled about politics for profit -- don't share the extremist views expressed by the headline-grabbing orators. Sometimes it seems like Raban has to reach to make this point, as when he emphasizes a couple who refused to applaud when Tancredo called for a "civics literary test" or blamed Obama's election on illiterate immigrants. To give you an idea of the demographic character of the convention, Raban notes that most were unlikely to share Tancredo's apparent hostility toward immigrants because "they employed them in their houses and businesses, to look after their children and work on their yards." When Farah gave his Birther rant, some disgusted audience members told Raban that they thought he might be a liberal plant trying to discredit the Tea Party movement. One woman resented any distraction from a focus on "taxes and government spending and national defense."
On those issues the average Tea Partier may be bad enough. Raban tries to convince himself that his fellow conventioneers didn't really take it seriously whenever a speaker started raving about "socialist totalitarianism." He sees real divisions, however, that the media may have ignored, particularly the divide separating secular libertarians from the religious right element. He claims that the applause was "conspicuously scattered" when Palin appealed for divine intervention, for instance, and he again relies on the subtlest of sign or body language to salvage nuance from the Tea Party stereotype. His entire article is worth reading to get a more complete sense of the atmosphere in Nashville, but I think it expresses Raban's essentially liberal impulse to find the humanity in any person, no matter how odious their opinions or hateful their attitude. If he meant to demonstrate that the Nashville conventioneers were not monsters of reaction, I'll concede the point, but he did nothing to convince me that they aren't profoundly misguided people whose anger at government has little if any constructive potential for the country.
04 March 2010
Ford's 1909 essay on "The Direct Primary" was praised in the latest American Conservative magazine as a work of prophecy that predicted unfortunate consequences unintended at the time by the progressives in both major parties who pushed for direct primaries. The intended consequence, Ford notes, was to take control of political parties, or at least the selection of candidates, away from tyrannical party bosses, and put it in the hands of "the people," i.e. the partisan rank and file. "This is pure nonsense," Ford wrote.
Politics has been, is and always will be carried on by politicians, just as art is carried on by artists, engineering by engineers, business by business men. All that the direct primary, or any other political reform, can do is to affect the character of the politicians by altering the conditions that govern political activity, thus determining its extent and quality. The direct primary may take advantage and opportunity from one set of politicians and confer them upon another set, but politicians there will always be so long as there is politics. The only thing that is open to control is the sort of politicians we shall have.
Direct primaries, Ford warned, would alter the conditions, first by expanding the ranks of "politicians," by which Ford meant the "spoilsmen" who would conduct the electioneering for the primary campaigns. "The more elections there are," he wrote, "the larger becomes the class of professional politicians to be supported by the community." Worse, direct primaries would increase "graft pressure" by increasing the cost of electioneering. If it became more expensive to secure a party nomination, as Ford expected would be the case, successful politicians could be expected to "find ways and means of reimbursement and compensation" through graft.
In some cases, Ford considered direct primaries doubly unnecessary because he believed that certain offices should not have been filled by elections. He was a believer in executive responsibility, assuming that government would work more efficiently in many cases if officeholders were appointed by and responsible to executives rather than elected by the people. A culture of perpetual electioneering diffused responsibility and created opportunities for irresponsible conduct. By comparison, Ford argued, the then prevailing "oligarchy" of party bosses had "a principle of responsibility that is gross and imperfect, but is nevertheless genuine" because "party organization has a corporate interest that may be reached and acted upon by public opinion, and be held to some responsibility for results." The presumptive independence of all elected officials in a system of direct primaries might render each official more accountable to the people, but Ford warned that it could make the system as a whole less accountable by breaking up existing hierarchies of responsibility.
Our political class is inordinately numerous and inordinately expensive; but the only effectual way of curtailing their number and diminishing the burden of their support is to have less for them to do. Elections should be reduced in number. The direct primary proposes to give the politicians more to do. It provides for a series of elections in advance of the present series. And, at the same time, it strikes down party responsibility by providing that party agents shall no longer hold their posts by efficiency, as now, but by faction favor. The practical effect will be to substitute for existing boss rule a far more corrupt, degraded and impervious sort of boss rule.
Bearing in mind that political parties themselves are arguably redundant if not parasitical institutions, Ford's argument has merit. To an extent, however, he may have misrepresented the situation on the ground. Direct primaries would not be a new round of elections, but would replace existing rounds of indirect primary elections in which local partisans chose delegates to conventions where candidates were nominated -- the system by which the major parties still choose their presidential candidates. However, these primaries were often a matter of routine unless a personal rivalry disrupted the usual orderly process. If that happened, the primary would be contested between a "Regular" and "Opposition" ticket of delegates, with varying degrees of vehemence and spending. A direct primary, meanwhile, could accommodate a larger field of candidates for any nomination, while requiring all of them to spend more to get the public's attention. Thus democratization of the nomination process plutocratized the process of running for office, pricing it further out of the range of the average person than it had already been.
Since boss rule represents power founded on organized personal connection, it may admit poor men to its sphere and may select poor men for its candidates. Thus it has frequently occurred that poor men of ability have been raised to high office by dint of personal ability, and party interest is thus made subservient to public interests. The case of Abraham Lincoln is typical. But when power is conditioned upon ability to finance costly electioneering campaigns, plutocratic rule is established.
Ford, if challenged, would probably defend the American Bipolarchy as it existed in his time, so long as the major parties remained the sort of top-down hierarchies that assured, in his opinion, at least a minimum of responsible government. He had no illusions about the virtues of such a system.
[A] system of party responsibility ... is a poor substitute for representative government, for it is unconstitutional in its structure and oligarchic in its authority. It secures its revenues by processes of extortion, justified by custom in consideration of its necessities. Corporations serve as its toll-takers, turning over to it large sums and receiving legislative favor and official protection in return.
But he saw no benefit from expanding the scope of electioneering and fundraising. If anything, from his perspective direct primaries might have appeared to lend undeserved legitimacy to the necessary evils of partisan government. As I suggested in a recent post, that seems to have been the case, depending on how much less likely defeated candidates in direct primaries were to bolt and run as independents compared to when party nominations were decided in an "undemocratic" manner. Patrick J. Deneen argues that direct primaries eventually enhanced the influence of ideology, with bad consequences for the country's conservative tradition. That observation makes sense, since ideology allows candidates to differentiate themselves from each other in an attempt to make personal rivalries more significant (and less plainly personal) in voters' minds. Historically, direct primaries met resistance from the local bosses Ford had halfheartedly defended. Those bosses probably saw direct primaries as part of a centralization process that would give more power to state and national party leaders (hence Governor Charles Evans Hughes's support for the idea in New York). " But while bosses and machines come and go," Ford wrote, "the boss and the machine are always with us." If anything, the machine became more powerful in the process, democratizing itself in order to consolidate its oligarchic power over the country.
03 March 2010
You are victims. You are helpless against the wiles of big corporations and insurance companies and you need protection. You need the government to take over and do things you cannot do for yourself.
It's a common theme among conservatives. There's a variation specifically addressed to blacks in which the "liberal" supposedly tells them that white America is so irredeemably racist that they must depend on the government for all the necessities of life. That's one I hear all the time from Mr. Right, for instance, but one he's never been able to back up with an actual quote from any recognized liberal. Likewise, I'd like Michael Barone to show us even one quote in which a liberal, progressive or Democrat explicitly states that the average American is "helpless."
Needless to say, to the extent that I am liberal or progressive, I reject the characterization. But I don't think comments like Barone's are really meant for me. Like most opinion columnists, whether conservative, liberal or centrist, he preaches to a choir. His readership is conservative, and his comments are meant to rile them up by making them think that liberals think that they specifically are helpless. Diatribes against the "nanny state" or "Obama's nanny care" are meant to make conservative readers feel insulted. The headline for Barone's column spells this out: "Obama's nanny care insults the American spirit."
Barone believes that Americans have a cultural hostility to feelings of dependence on government. He claims that "Americans are more likely than Europeans to believe that there is a connection between effort and reward. And to believe that they can improve their situation by their own hard work and ingenuity. As a result, Americans cherish their independence." Independence, in this case, is defined as a refusal to be dependent on, or indebted, or obliged to anyone else. Capitalism allows Americans to believe that, so long as we throw money at each other, our mutual dependence is actually universal independence and individual liberty. That's not my point for today, however.
My theory is that the "nanny state" slander is only effective on people who actually feel anxious about their supposed independence, those susceptible to an unreasonable shame at receiving aid for any reason from one's own government. Writers like Barone may hope to shame liberal readers by invoking the nanny state (though his pseudo-populist rips at "the educated class" will more likely just insult them), the potency of the slander depends on the fears of conservative readers who worry that they are not as independent or self-reliant as they're supposed to be. People to the left, meanwhile, take interdependence for granted and rightly see their government as a resource for assistance in tough times. They also see regulatory government as a proper safeguard against the constant efforts of "big corporations and insurance companies" to screw us over, given the obvious inequality in power and resources of corporations and individuals. I don't think you have to be an academic or a European, as Barone implies, to see things this way. But to see things his way you have to be incorrigibly vulnerable to partisan psychological warfare operations designed to make you feel insecure about your independence, not to mention your standing as an adult, and to blame liberals for your insecurity. By appealing to anxious pride, by telling people not to think of themselves as "victims," polemicists like Barone are actually playing them for suckers.
02 March 2010
The winner must get 50% of the vote, but most observers expect Perry, the front runner, to fall short of a majority. He will most likely have to wage a runoff campaign against the second-place finisher, which might yet be Medina despite the damage done by the Beck interview. The ultimate winner will face a comparatively unified Democratic party, and given that fact liberals and progressives may scoff at the Republican spectacle or take pleasure at the divisive conflict. But someone who believes in greater democracy in America might ask why, given the apparent diversity within the Republican party, Texans as a whole shouldn't have as many choices as Republicans do. Perry, Hutchinson and Medina seem to represent distinct constituencies? Why shouldn't all of them be represented on the November ballot? For that matter, try this thought exercise: what if these were the only three candidates on the fall ballot? A disaster for progressive-minded Texans, no? Not necessarily. While all three primary contenders are conservatives, if they all had to compete on the November ballot common sense tells us that at least one of them, presumably wanting to win, would begin moving leftward. Such a scenario might produce a synthesis of conservatism and progressivism that's impossible as long as each side is supposedly guaranteed representation in November thanks to our American Bipolarchy. As long as there's a Democrat who's assumed to get liberal votes, Republicans or conservatives have no incentive to appeal to them.
Unless a defeated Medina bolts, which I think unlikely, the diversity within Texas conservatism is destined to be homogenized in the service of a single candidate for the fall election. Primaries, arguably, are a more public expression of the Leninist principle of "democratic centrism." In a Leninist party, free debate is supposed to prevail at the highest level of management, but once that debate is settled, party discipline requires all members to endorse the prevailing party line unconditionally. In the American context, the democratic nature of the direct primary process in most cases intimidates defeated contenders into submission. When the nomination process was less democratic, party discipline was less rigid.
Consider my home town of Troy in the year 1905, a mayoral election year. The incumbent, Joseph F. Hogan, was a Democrat who had alienated the party bosses. There was a Democratic primary that year, but party members didn't choose the mayoral candidate directly. Instead, they chose delegates to a convention where the candidate would be chosen. At the primary, they chose between delegates loyal to Mayor Hogan and "Regular" delegates loyal to the party leadership. Regulars would nominate whomever the bosses told them to. Hogan lost the primary and the Democratic convention nominated another man to succeed him. In response, Hogan formed his own party and secured a spot on the November ballot. A similar process split the Republican party. A reformer, Thomas W. Hislop, believed that he'd been promised the mayoral nomination by the GOP leadership. He'd been assured by a rumored contender, Elias P. Mann, that Mann would not contest the nomination. The weekend before the primary, however, the leadership endorsed Mann. On Primary Day, Troy Republicans endorsed the Regular ticket of delegates, who nominated Mann. In protest, Hislop formed his own party. As a result, there were four "major" candidates for mayor, not counting socialists and prohibitionists. In this divided environment, Mann won the election with little more than 30% of the vote, becoming Troy's first Republican mayor in more than thirty years.
Because Hogan and Hislop could claim that the primary elections weren't truly democratic as long as primary voters didn't choose candidates directly, they felt justified in carrying their claims into November. It's reasonable to question whether either man would have done so had he lost a direct primary. Similarly, Theodore Roosevelt could use undemocratic or indirect primaries as an excuse to bolt from the Republican party in 1912 and outpoll its candidate, the incumbent President, as the candidate of the Progressive Party. Presidential primaries are actually just as indirect as nearly all primaries used to be, but it's hard to imagine a losing contender for a major-party nomination bolting now the way Roosevelt did.
The Texas primary comes one day after I received the new American Conservative, in which I was pointed by Patrick J. Deneen toward a fascinating article that appeared back in 1909, just as progressives of both parties were advocating the general adoption of direct primaries. Readers may recall that Charles Evans Hughes, then governor of New York and a historical apologist for the Bipolarchy, called for direct primaries because he thought they'd break the power of local party bosses who'd impeded his reform agenda. But a Princeton political scientist, Henry Jones Ford, warned in "The Direct Primary" that direct primaries would have consequences unintended by their advocates. While appearing to democratize the selection of candidates by breaking bosses' power of dictation, direct primaries, Ford predicted, would undermine democracy by pricing elections out of most people's reach. Ford claimed that direct primaries would actually consolidate a plutocracy of campaign donors. Deneen adds to Ford's apparently prescient analysis the conclusion that direct primaries made the major parties more ideologically rigid, thanks to the rise of well-funded national advocacy groups. That emphasis on ideology may also explain the "democratic centrism" that prevails in the major parties.
Later this week I hope to present excerpts from Ford's article, which is available in several formats online, unfiltered by Deneen's paleoconservative perspective. He may prove even more of a prophet than even Deneen realizes if it turns out that the democratization of direct primaries was a factor in the consolidation of the American Bipolarchy. It may seem simply wrong for any democratization process to have that kind of effect, but we have to remember to ask what was being democratized here. If the thing itself is a cancer on the body politic, then it's fair to ask whether any degree of democratization could make a Bipolarchy any less cancerous.
Texas Update, March 3: Gov. Perry actually eked out a majority win to avoid a runoff. He got 51% of the vote to about 30% for Sen. Hutchinson and around 17% for Medina. On the radio this morning I heard Perry boasting as if he'd won a general election, equating his victory over fellow Republicans with GOP wins over Democrats in recent months. He presents his triumph over Kay "Bailout" Hutchinson as a rebuke of "Washington" comparable with Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts, among other uprisings. I'm curious to know if exit polls were taken to identify Tea Partiers. I suspect that they made up most of Medina's total, though much of her support reportedly comes from not necessarily related Ron Paul loyalists. The big question for future reference is whether Sarah Palin can claim credit for Perry's victory. Did she sway TPs from Medina to Perry, or did more TPs reject Medina after her interview with Glenn Beck? As for the larger issue of my original post, Hutchinson has conceded and endorsed Perry for the general election, but it was unclear from what I've read whether Medina has done so. If she tries to rally diehard antiparty TPs for the general election, she might cause more problems for Perry in the fall than she has so far.