31 August 2011

The interventionist impulse and the right to revolution

Lots of people who are not Libyans are patting themselves on the back now that Col. Khadafy has been driven from his capital and apparently overthrown. In Newsweek, Niall Ferguson credits the U.S. and NATO for the people's victory, assuming their bombing runs and no-fly-zones to have been decisive. On NBC yesterday, Dick Cheney took long-distance credit, noting that Khadafy might have had WMDs with which to beat down the revolt had he not been intimidated into giving them up by the fall of Saddam Hussein. In The New York Times, op-ed writer Roger Cohen agrees with Ferguson that Libya vindicates an American foreign policy motivated by humanitarian interventionism.Cohen's model for intervention is Bill Clinton's war against Serbia, which is understood to have been based, like President Obama's war on Libya, entirely by the desire to prevent a "massacre" of innocents. That's the kind of war Democrats prefer, especially when it means no American boots on the ground to be blown off by IEDs. Cohen sees it as characteristically American, not because Americans are afraid to put boots on the ground, but because "interventionism is inextricable from the American idea" of itself as "a nation dedicated, however much it falls short, to a universalist ideal of freedom."

Marxists have subjected the ideology of humanitarian interventionism to a relentless critique ever since Clinton's time, when the more paranoid Marxists accused the U.S. of targeting Serbia solely because the Milosevic regime was still ostensibly socialist. With that critique has come a somewhat alarming polemic against the whole idea of human rights, at least insofar as the idea is used to justify humanitarian interventions or thwart revolutionary change. While I can agree with the Marxists that there's no such thing as "natural" human rights, I get worried whenever self-style communists disparage all rights talk. I do think that people can assert rights, so long as they understand that its up to themselves to defend the rights they assert, and that the assertion and the defense are necessarily inseparable in the absence of any divinity or "nature" to whom you can appeal. Intellectually I appreciate the Marxist argument that all such assertions of rights, individual rights especially, are conditioned by the prevailing social relations of a given time and place, and therefore can't be assumed to be universal and unchanging -- or, to use a different emphasis, they'll only be universal and unchanging as long as you can back up your assertions with more than words. I also understand that assertions of human rights by capitalist cultures, liberal or reactionary, are never neutral, and often prove hostile to rival assertions of rights, or right, that question the rights or rightfulness of capitalism. The worst-case scenario for a Marxist is the use of "human rights" as an excuse for "humanitarian intervention" against a Marxist regime accused of "massacring" reactionaries or counter-revolutionaries. But at the same time the Marxist critique of human rights and humanitarian intervention often sounds like special pleading for revolutionary coercion and terror, a ruthless assertion that no one has any kind of right to prevent Marxists from carrying out their historically-mandated revolutions by any means necessary. That strikes me as not merely the risk of a slippery slope but a demand for it, an insistence that Marxists be able to do anything to anyone as they see fit, against which there can be no appeal on any grounds. While I oppose the Libyan intervention on jurisdictional grounds -- Libya was none of NATO's business -- I have a problem with Marxists' wholesale rejection of the humanitarian-intervention principle. I assume that few Marxists actually endorsed the Khadafy regime, but I bet most of them opposed Obama's war on Khadafy, and less because it was none of Obama's business than because they thought that the same thing could happen to them if they got Khadafy-like power over a country at some point. In short, I can't help but wonder sometimes whether Marxist opposition to interventionism justified by human rights simply means that Marxists want to massacre people whenever they get the chance.

Whether that's true or not, it doesn't necessarily follow that Marxists did not want to see Khadafy overthrown. I'm not aware of any Marxist having said that the Libyan people had no right to rebel against Khadafy's rule. In fact, as Costas Douzinas asserts in his contribution to the Idea of Communism symposium, the one human right Marxists endorse unconditionally, and the one that trumps all other asserted rights, is the right to revolution. In his account, the main reason Marxists oppose most rights-assertions is because those, being vested in individuals or in property, only reinforce inequality while denying meaningful redress to those who perceive and oppose social injustice. Douzinas is one of those pessimistic Marxists who regard injustice as a permanent condition of human existence and recognize no eternal ideal of justice. While "the principle [of justice] has been clouded in uncertainty and controversy," he writes, "we know injustice when we come across it; its truth is felt." For that reason, the reaction to injustice -- revolution -- always has priority over assertions of justice in the form of rights, because "every time a theory of justice is put into practice, it soon degenerates into another instance of injustice." Douzinas notes that the founding documents of the American and French revolutions strongly assert the right to revolution, but that both countries acted quickly to suppress the fundamental revolutionary impulse by imposing the rule of law and immunizing individuals and property by granting them rights. In this sense, Douzinas might agree with Roger Cohen that interventionism on behalf of revolutions against tyranny is innately American, insofar as the American nation was born in revolution. Douzinas would argue, however, that American intervention in Libya represents a corruption of the country's founding revolutionary impulse, a projection of it away from the domestic sphere that comes with a rejection of its domestic relevance. Americans might be more faithful to their revolutionary heritage, Douzinas might say -- not to mention more faithful to the cause of humanity -- if they made a revolution at home.

30 August 2011

America's Red Guards, part 2: reactionary class consciousness

Just as I was thinking about the ironic similarities between the right-wing populists in the Tea Party movement and the Red Guards of the Maoist extreme left, The American Conservative published an article called "Marx's Tea Party" in its September 2011 issue. Anthony Gregory's subject is the common resort of the Marxist left and the populist right to class analysis. He opens on a historical note: Karl Marx did not invent class consciousness, but particularized it. Before Marx, Gregory writes, "it was the classical liberal tradition that first employed the class analysis that has survived to this day in altered forms." Liberal class consciousness, he explains, was bipolar, dividing the world between the masses and the ruling class. The latter was understood to be essentially political rather than economic; the ruling class oppressed the masses, and acquired wealth, because it had power. Marx's departure, Gregory claims, was to base class conflict on economic status, specifically one's place in "the process of economic production." In Marx's view, according to Gregory, the state had simply become the handmaiden of capitalism. This had the long-term effect of enticing many erstwhile classical liberals away from their mistrust of the state. "By endorsing the proletarian capture of state power, Marx, his followers, and the entire left side of the spectrum have in a sense inverted the original purpose of class analysis," Gregory writes.

Modern libertarianism is, to a great extent, a reassertion of the political basis of class and the role of the state as the chief oppressor. The more sophisticated libertarians, Gregory acknowledges, retain part of Marx's critique, "agreeing with leftists on many particulars of how big businesses -- especially the banking industry and defense contractors -- use the state to line their pockets at the expense of the people." Gregory traces present-day Tea Party populism in large part to the thought of Murray Rothbard, a libertarian ideologue who believed, in Gregory's words, that "the state was born when bands of marauders decided to stick around and extract regular tribute from their victims." Rothbard and his disciples embraced part of Marxist class analysis, but sought to end class conflict by minimalizing or marginalizing the state. The Tea Parties, while distrusting politics and the idea of a political class, fall short of Rothbard's anti-statist rigor. Gregory regards them as mostly jingoistic, knee-jerk militarists who fail to see that "nothing done by America's government is more rapacious, collectivist, or dangerous to liberty than its warfare policies." If they were more consistent in their opposition to state power, he claims, they would admit that "if welfare bums and teachers are on the public dole, so too is everyone who carries a gun for the regime." Their apparent failure to admit this may reveal a flaw in their assumption that "patriotic Americans can reclaim the government and purge it of its predatory nature." Marxists may be "more wrong than right" in Gregory's view, but at least they're more "coherent" than most Tea Partiers.

It seems to me that, like their counterparts at the Leninist-Maoist extreme, Tea Partiers dream of power without the mediation of bureaucracy -- the direct rule of the masses, which is to say the proletariat for bolsheviks, the entrepreneurial bourgeoisie for the TPs. All institutions carry the potential for developing institutional self-interests that transform them into ends unto themselves rather than means. That potential is the core of truth within Gregory's notion of classical liberal class-consciousness, and a real problem that Maoists and TPs are not wrong to perceive. Both groups assert a radical rule of accountability, the TPs through party primaries, the Red Guards through party purges, each hoping that a purged polity will realize the general will as each understands it. Each is hypocritical to the extent that it opposes "power" in the interest of unlimited power, that of Chairman Mao for the Red Guards, that of the entrepreneurial bourgeoisie for the TPs. The distrust of the state, and even the party, is an old issue for the historic left, and I expect to return soon to this subject to explore how communist discussions of the subject may further inform our understanding of the anti-statism of the entrepreneurial right in America.

29 August 2011

Idiot of the Week nominee: Rep. Michele Bachmann

A Republican's first resort when confronted with an offensive statement he or she has made is to attempt to defuse the offense by calling it a joke. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are the most frequent perpetrators of this tactic, each wishing, when it serves their interests, to be recognized as a misunderstood humorist. The bonus of this approach is that you can reinforce the image of your antagonists as a humorless lot, that presumed lack of humor presumably betraying deeper character flaws among the "left" as a class. Today, Rep. Bachmann takes a leaf from the Limbaugh-Coulter playbook by having her flacks insist that her statement in Florida yesterday, in which she described last week's earthquake and last weekend's hurricane as warnings from God to Washington D.C., was just a jest. I haven't heard the original sound bite, but the statement, as quoted in subsequent news stories, does sound somewhat irreverent for the alleged theocrat. If you want to know whether Bachmann actually believes that these natural upheavals were divine warnings, I can only say: I don't know, but I have my doubts. However, I'm not sure how her lack of sincerity mitigates the offense she may have given. She's either told the suffererers that God struck at them merely to warn politicians about excessive spending, or she's treated the occasion of their suffering as the occasion for a joke.

I've long felt that Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern are two sides of the same coin, that the former taps the same wells of irreverence and transgression as the latter. Limbaugh himself might agree that articulating his ideology at the time he started in radio was, in some way, as transgressive as anything a "shock jock" like Stern was broadcasting, and the two titans of all media have in common that enjoyment of offending people that characterizes the internet "troll." It may be that a culture that was ready for Howard Stern was also ready for a pop ideology based on indifference to the opinions or even the well-being of other people. The shock-jock attitude that treats almost anything as material for comedy, and often treats life itself as a big joke, seems related to the life's-not-fair attitude that fuels lumpenbourgeois contempt for "whiners." Does Rep. Bachmann share this attitude? I can't say. Her budding reputation as a theocrat doesn't seem consistent with the fundamental irreverence toward humanity that defines the likes of Limbaugh and Coulter -- and, regardless of his actual politics, Howard Stern. But Bachmann's official response to yesterday's alleged gaffe is somewhat disappointing, not to mention idiotic. Calling a controversial statement a joke is usually intended as a conversation stopper, an assertion that a joker, like the jester of old, is immune from conventional judgment. The more that everything is made out to be a joke, the less conversation we'll have at a time when we need it more than ever.

28 August 2011

America's Red (state) Guards: is the Tea Party a Cultural Revolution?

During a Borders liquidation sale this month I picked up the essay collection The Idea of Communism at a 60% discount. Edited by Slavoj Zizek and Costas Douzinas, it's a collection of papers given at a 2009 London conference inspired by Alain Badiou's Communist Hypothesis. A wide range of viewpoints were represented, but most were the sort of abstract intellectuals Karl Marx outgrew and came to despise. That's okay, though, since Badiou's idea of "communism" seems to have little specifically to do with Marx, since he traces it rhetorically to the French Revolution and intellectually to Plato. In any event, there's a lot of jargon about "events" and "inscription," but there was also this observation about the Cultural Revolution in Maoist China by Judith Balso that got me thinking about a non-communist context, far from China.

The extreme importance of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and and Maoism was to reopen the question if the socialist State, of its identification, in terms quite other than those of the Stalinist party/State. On Mao's initiative, two things are made starkly evident: the emergence of the proletariat once organized as a dominant class will not signify the disappearance of classes, and will not coincide with the rapid extinction of the State. Or again, in Mao's words, 'the dictatorship of the proletariat' does not signify an 'integral dictatorship relative to the bourgeoisie.' On the contrary, in a country like socialist China, one experiences a very difficult struggle 'between two orientations and two classes,' 'between the capitalist orientation and the socialist orientation,' even inside the Communist Party itself....In a situation like
this, which Mao describes with a political acuteness and clarity that resemble Lenin's, the effort to follow the road to communism is aimed at the party. The Cultural Revolution is an attempt to transform the Communist Party in opening up
a large debate about the fact that the struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat is going on within socialism, and that the Communist Party itself is exposed to the possibility of becoming a bourgeois space dominated by the will to restore capitalism. Transforming the political party by placing it under the political control of the masses -- students, workers, peasants -- was the means by which Mao sought to resist this.

Change the terminology and Balso could well be describing the relationship within the Republican party between the party establishment and the Tea Parties. In an American context, the Tea Party is founded on the assumption that, to paraphrase, the emergence of conservatives as a dominant party will not signify the disappearance of politics, and will not coincide with the rapid extinction of the political class. Our American Maoists, who'd never consciously emulate a bloodstained bolshevik like Mao, seem to share his intuition that a revolutionary struggle must continue within the revolutionary party, that a conservative party or movement experiences a very difficult struggle between two orientations and two classes, the statist and the anti-statist orientation. The Tea Party arguably seeks to open up a debate about the struggle between bourgeoisie and politics within conservatism, as well as the possibility of conservatism becoming a statist space, and seeks to transform the political party by bringing it under the control of the masses -- the bourgeoisie being the only masses the TPs recognize. It all makes sense -- or at least more sense -- when you recall that the stated objective of Marxist and even Leninist parties is the withering away of the state, a goal with which no Tea-drinker would quarrel.

The analogy is perhaps more precise than Balso herself would admit. She takes Mao seriously as a thinker concerned with the bourgeois potential of bureaucracy, and seems to regard the Cultural Revolution as a grass-roots mass uprising. But like the Tea Parties in America, the Red Guards can be described as "astroturf," having been planted by Mao himself to give himself an edge on his Communist peers who'd been trying to marginalize him since the debacle of the "Great Leap Forward." An uncharitable account of the Cultural Revolution would trace its motivation to Mao's desire for unconditional obedience, all resistance being "bourgeois" or "capitalist" by definition. The Tea Parties are perhaps more sincerely concerned about the menace of a political class, but may also have been astroturfed into position, not necessarily by a faction or leader of the same political class, but by those movement leaders above electoral politics -- the donors -- who might find a governing party unlikely to be sufficiently responsive to their needs. To the extent that politics blocks the bourgeoisie's direct rule of society, the donor class has every reason to keep up a political agitation against politics itself. The Tea Parties share with Marxists a concern that the state's inherent self-interest compromises its potential as a tool for social transformation, and a desire to control the state all the same. They share an invective strategy toward "bureaucratic" elements, the TP's "RINOs" matching the Red Guards' "capitalist roaders." The Americans should invite comparisons with the Chinese, because they could then note that they, at least, don't make people wear dunce caps, or beat them, or eat them.

25 August 2011

How dare you want free drinking water???

George Will was in Wisconsin recently to gloat over Democrats' failure to seize control of the state senate through recall elections. Because partisan control was at issue, the recall campaign has been seen as an all-or-nothing effort. The fact that angry constituents recalled and replaced two state senators at a moment of Republican triumphalism is thus obscured by the fact that Democrats failed to replace a third senator and gain control of the upper house. More Republican triumphalism results, and Will waxes contemptuous toward the grievances of "progressives." He finds graffiti denouncing "fa$ci$m" hilarious -- I personally find it stupid, given the anti-statist bias of bourgeois Republicans, but not particularly funny -- but he finds another message even more damning. Here's how he closes his latest column:

As the moonless night of fa$ci$m descends on America's dairyland, sidewalk graffiti next to the statehouse-square drinking fountain darkly warns: "Free water ... for now." There, succinctly, is liberalism's credo: If everything isn't "free," meaning paid for by someone else, nothing will be safe.

And there, succinctly, is Republican idiocy. I assume that someone might expect water to be free because, in nature, it is. Meanwhile, presuming that the graffiti author is a taxpayer, then he or she, and not just "someone else" is paying to have that fountain provide "free" water. If Will presumes that the author is not a taxpayer, that only means that his beef is with the poor, not with liberals. Furthermore, Will leaves unclear whether he thinks that the water from the drinking fountain should not be free. Would it be more fair, or just, if the fountain were coin-operated? Finally, what exactly were Democrats, progressives, or union members in Wisconsin demanding to have for "free?" Public employees pay more into their health insurance now, but were they paying nothing before? Clearly, they weren't paying enough as far as George Will, who pays no taxes to the state of Wisconsin that I know of, was concerned, but do insufficient payments, as defined by someone who apparently thinks that everything can or perhaps should be rendered a commodity, really amount to "free" services? Only for those, I suspect, who see anyone using collective or political power to get a better deal from the system as getting "something for nothing," and who have a hard time reconciling their presumably principled refusal to be dependent upon the political order with their resentful envy of those who benefit from a dependence upon their own empowerment through political action. But when that attitude leaves you looking like you've just scoffed at the idea of free public drinking water, you might want to ask if you have an attitude problem.

George Will might argue that I didn't get his point, which may be that it's silly to think that Republicans will make you pay for drinking fountains just because they want unions to pay more toward their own upkeep -- but how silly is it, really? What's more consistent with GOP dogma: free fountains or the alternative? Don't Republicans think that nothing is free -- not even freedom, if you believe a lot of bumper stickers -- except for people? If Will actually draws a line limiting the commodification of the universe, he shouldn't assume that we should know where it is. Nor should he take such offense when others draw the line somewhere else.

24 August 2011

A Revolutionary Party in Troy, N.Y.

The Troy Record reports that independent mayoral candidate Jack Cox Jr. has submitted nearly double the amount of signatures required to earn a city ballot line for the Revolutionary Party. Needing 500 signatures, Cox collected 914, most of them by going door-to-door, as my frequent correspondent Crhymethinc can attest. The Revolutionary Party will appear on the November ballot unless the two major parties challenge Cox's signatures before the end of the week. Neither has yet signalled that it will do so.

If two similar phenomena make a history, then Troy has a history of third-party campaigning by disgruntled businessmen. As every account of Cox's campaign has noted, the previous mayoral election, which was won by Republican incumbent Harry Tutunjian, was marked by the intervention of Elda Abate, a restaurant owner who created the People's Party as part of her feud with the mayor. Abate got only 144 votes. Cox is "known for his past battles and ongoing lawsuit with the city administration" regarding his and his fathers' businesses, and has become a gadfly at City Council meetings. He promises Record reporter Cecilia Martinez that "I'm no Elda Abate" when it comes to electioneering.

You probably have to have been visited personally by Jack Cox to have any solid idea of what the Revolutionary Party stands for. His remarks to the reporter suggest a responsive moderate. "I had the opportunity to talk to many people," he says, "and most in the city are interested in some kind of choice for mayor aside from the major two parties." Having been "affiliated" with both Democrats and Republicans in the past, Cox proposes to "take the best part of each party and create a new mentality."

Mayor Tutunjian is blocked by a term limit from seeking re-election. The Republicans have tapped Carmella Mantello to succeed him, while the Democrats are on their second mayoral candidate, Lou Rosamilia, after the first, Clem Campana, had to drop out due to a scandal over his father's eligibility for subsidized housing. There probably won't be more than three choices for Trojans this year. The Libertarians and Greens have no dogs in this fight, to my knowledge, and it's been a long, long time since Socialist candidates were a regular feature of Troy mayoral campaigns. Now that his spot on the ballot seems assured, Cox has an obligation to get his message before the people by every means at his disposal. He should not assume that he can simply exploit whatever Bipolarchy-fatigue may exist in Troy. A vote for an independent candidate still needs to be an informed and not a reactionary choice. It's up to Cox to show how revolutionary his candidacy actually is.

23 August 2011

Operation 'Push' II: Are donations effective?

How should liberals and leftists feel when libertarians offer them advice? The answer depends on the subject, and the immediate subject of Matt Welch's advice column on the editorial page of Reason magazine (not yet posted online) is drug policy reform. That's a subject on which libertarians and many to their left generally agree, and in the October 2011 cover story Jacob Sullum points out how President Obama's drug policies have belied what Welch calls his "promising" pre-election statements. On drug policy, Welch claims that Obama has been no better than his predecessor. For the editor, this typifies Democratic indifference to many of the party's leading constituencies -- and even some of its leading donors.

As a libertarian, Welch is wont to dismiss the charge that campaign donors dictate policy to politicians, but he offers the case of George Soros -- long a moneybagged bogeyman for right-wingers -- as proof of his point. Welch claims that Soros hasn't gotten much for his money, and explains that the infamous financier has been spending that money unwisely.

The continued crackdown [on medical marijuana, etc.] demonstrates the futility of elevating political parties and their candidates over single issues. Consider that three of the biggest supporters of the Democratic Party since the end of Bush's first term have been George Soros, Peter Lewis, and John Sperling -- who also happen to be three of the country's most generous supporters of drug policy reform. Soros in particular is a case study in how giving blanket support to a political party can undermine your favorite causes. According to a 2004 New Yorker article about anti-Bush billionaires by Jane Mayer, Soros's bill of particulars against Obama's predecessor included Bush's attempts to spread democracy at gunpoint, his expansions of presidential power, and his prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. In every one of those areas, as in the drug war, Obama has not been signficantly better than Bush.

Welch seems to have a point, though it'd be more convincing if he could show whether Soros has declared himself satisfied overall with Obama or not. But whatever Soros's personal scorecard looks like, Welch isn't wrong to argue that "Politicians who can take supporters for granted will do precisely that, particularly when taking supporters' issues seriously would require upending the status quo." Because Soros is apparently all in with the Democratic Party, due to whatever aversion he feels toward the Republicans, the financier, despite his reputed vast wealth and power, has no more leverage with the party, on this account, than unemployed urban blacks -- or even less, since he can only ever cast one vote. While his money might appear enticing to Democrats, they'd be willing to do without it, Welch assumes, as long as they don't have to worry about Soros spending it on someone else.

If Soros or any other activist cares more for particular issues than the general benefits of Democratic rule, Welch advises them to swallow their pride and learn something from the Tea Party movement. The TPs have leverage with the Republican party, Welch contends, because they've been able to exert meaningful pressure on GOP leaders like Speaker Boehner, whom the editor describes as "anything but a fiscally responsible, government-limiting public servant." In Welch's analysis, the TPs' power is based on their conviction that "single issues matter more than whether the opposing party might win this or that congressional seat." They'd rather risk defeat in a general election by nominating a candidate who's committed to the issues they care about most than accepting a party hack who puts electability, i.e. the party's interests, first. While the TPs have disappointed opponents of the American Bipolarchy by attempting a takeover of the Republican party, Welch notes that their Republican commitment is always conditional. Despite their presumed hatred of liberals, not getting their own way is more intolerable to them than Democratic victories; if a Republican won't do things their way, there may as well be a Democrat in his place, though the TPs will do all they can to elect one of their own. Perhaps paradoxically, their threat to make Republicans unelectable through the primary process has made them something like an independent force in Bipolarchy politics. Until activist constituencies in the Democratic camp show equal daring, Welch warns, they'll never push their party effectively in any direction. As one opponent of the "war on drugs" tells Jacob Sullum, Obama ignores his group's demands because "those who care have not made him pay a political price yet."

According to this logic, if George Soros cares strongly about drug policy, he should use his money to finance primary challengers to Democratic drug-war hawks, or third-party candidates if necessary, and he should find ways to pressure Democratic legislators into linking drug-policy reform to essential bills in order to "grind the gears of politics as usual" as the Tea Partiers have. Other activist constituencies could do likewise. Such an approach might restore to Congress the pluralist clash of interests originally envisioned by the Founders in place of the bipolar clash of parties that has plagued the nation. On the other hand, if you blame Tea Party successes on a weak President, as many disgruntled Democrats do, it might not follow that TP tactics will work every time. However the experiment might turn out, Matt Welch has made a provocative argument that stresses the dependence of donors upon parties, rather than vice versa, as a cause of political paralysis. If partisan inertia can thwart the influence of money, then partisanship is at least as much of a problem as the role of money in politics. But if rule-or-ruin single-issue politics is the cure for partisanship, it remains to be seen whether that might prove worse than the disease.

22 August 2011

A historical note on antiparty sentiment

It may be considered disappointing that The Concise Princeton Encylcopedia of American Political History doesn't have an entry on "third parties" or "independent politics," nor a general article on political parties. Instead, there are several separate articles on different stages of Democratic and Republican history. Edited by Michael Kazin, an expert on populism who wrote the entry on that tendency, the Concise Encylcopedia contains 150 out of 187 articles in the original edition, so some of what I'm missing may actually appear there. For our purposes, however, Stuart M. Blumin contributes an article on "antiparty sentiment." Blumin is the co-author, with Glenn C. Altschuler, of Rude Republic, a revisionist account of 19th century political culture that downplays partisan identification among ordinary Americans. For Princeton, he notes that "Hostility toward the political party has been an important dimension of American culture from the earliest days of the republic." He summarizes classical republicanism's suspicion of faction and stresses that neither the Federalists nor Jefferson's Republicans envisioned themselves as permanent electioneering entities. They played to win, and victory meant the elimination of one or the other as a threat to the republic. The fall of the Federalists was interpreted by Jeffersonians as "the fulfillment of classic republican principles," and few people seemed greatly troubled by James Monroe running unopposed for President in 1820.

Blumin traces "a fully institutionalized and enduring two-party system" to the struggle between Andrew Jackson and the Whigs. With the new system came "a new set of ideas that legitimized the party as necessary to the functioning of a viable democracy." On these, Blumin does not elaborate, except to note that "well-organized parties linked themselves not only to new theories of power and legitimate opposition but also to popular ideas and symbols intended to establish each party as truly national and fully American." He doesn't discuss the legitimization or canonization of a two-party system, despite Martin Van Buren's insistence, for his own party's sake, on the necessity of a single enemy party whose existence allowed him to define the terms of each campaign as a struggle for the American soul or a re-enactment of the Revolution. Of course, Bipolarchy isn't Blumin's assigned subject; antiparty sentiment is, and he notes that, while that sentiment was "deliberately weakened," in the antebellum era, "it survived not merely as an old-fashioned idea but discovered a new foundation in the very success of political parties as institutions."

According to Blumin, partisanship shaped the negative popular image of the politician from an early point.

Perhaps more than party platforms supporting or opposing one or another interest-based program, professionalism and patronage undermined each party's republican character. Increasingly, Americans defined partisan activists as 'politicians,' driven by the quest for power and for private reward in the form of government jobs or contracts rather than by service to the public good, even when that good was loftily declared in the party's specific program....The corruption that followed from self-interest was now to many Americans --
including regular voters and avid partisans -- the concrete property of the party system.

Third party movements drew on antiparty sentiment, promoting themselves as "freer from the corruption inherent in routine partisan activity." While none of these has managed to overthrow the post-1860 two-party order, Blumin writes that "traditional antiparty themes such as political careerism, corruption, and the pursuit of interests opposed to the general good continued and still remain persuasive in political discourse." What it means to be persuasive is unclear, but Blumin points to "a long trend toward independent voter registration" as well as "more personalized political campaigns, stressing the qualities of the candidates rather than his or her party affiliations and in many cases portraying the candidate as a political outsider transcending mere partisanship." He concludes (the first edition of the Princeton Encylcopedia appeared last year) that "a culture long suspicious about partisan methods and motives [is] newly inclined to reduce the role of parties in the shaping of public affairs." I'll believe this when I see it. Most recently, we've seen an ostensibly antipartisan yet irreconcilably ideological movement -- the Tea Party -- reach for power through the traditional means of taking over a major party. The TPs' hostility to "career politicians" suggests that distrust of politicians is not as strongly linked to antiparty sentiment as Blumin claims -- or not as strongly linked as it once may have been. Many Americans, and not just the TPs or GOPs, believe that "Washington," not partisanship, is the root of political corruption. Meanwhile, Americans have not yet demonstrated their readiness to entrust power to people who don't bear the brand-name labels that still denote a minimal competence to govern, despite all current evidence to the contrary. If antiparty sentiment persists, it probably reflects resentment of our dependence on experts for government, exacerbated by a feeling that ordinary people are incapable of governing the country. It antiparty sentiment is to have any practical result, it will have to drive people to educate themselves and trust each other. Until the American people regain confidence in their ability to govern their own country, and their right to govern it to improve their lives, antiparty sentiment will remain angry, incoherent and impotent. Blumin's is one of the shortest articles in the Concise Encyclopedia; it's up to us to prove that the subject deserves more.

Operation 'push': diagnozing progressive cluelessness

Like nearly all professed progressives, the editors of The Nation are disappointed with President Obama. The lead editorial in the latest issue complains that "Obama never played to win" during the debate over raising the debt ceiling. In the editors' opinion, the President might have seized the initiative by demanding a "straight up-or-down vote" on the debt ceiling, challenging Republicans to drop any linkage of the decision to a partisan agenda. And as progressives are wont to wish, Obama could have played the class card. They long for the language of 1936, when Franklin Roosevelt, himself a sort of American aristocrat, could rail against "economic royalists" and boast that he "welcomed their hatred." Perhaps it's still harder for a black man to welcome hatred in any context, but The Nation acknowledges that Obama, for whatever reason, "is not going to break the cycle on his own." He needs a push. To be specific, "he will need a strong push from progressive forces to implement" better policies. He will "also need a push from the progressive base that elected him in 2008 -- and that he will need to win re-election in 2012." The editors already see this push in motion in the form of the vaunted "American Dream Movement," but they are maddeningly vague when it comes to the actual physics of the push. I'm not sure they even know what they're writing about.

Part of the problem can be seen in Ilyse Hogue's article, "Downgrading Democracy." Hogue believes that the debt-ceiling debacle proved that "ordinary people had no real part to play" in government. She infers this from the government's failure to reflect the will of the people, as expressed in opinion polls, regarding the necessity or desirability of tax increases for the wealthy. She also notes the futility of "more than 600 rallies" held across the country -- by none other than the American Dream Movement in many cases. By comparison, she claims to have been aware of a single "sparsely attended" Tea Party rally during the same period. How did the TPs get their way? Hogue blames lobbying, corporate donations and the Citizens United decision, as well as a "centrist" bias (my word, not hers) in the media that "skewed coverage away from reporting the facts in favor of presenting both parties' claims equally, regardless of facts." I can see this last point, but don't progressives usually insist on "equal time" for all points of view? But the media is a side issue for the moment. Hogue's main complaint, and that of her editors, is that a lot of people held demonstrations, but didn't get their way. Somehow, a "push" will make a major difference -- but what will this push look like? I suspect it'll look like a lot of demonstrations and rallies. These people seem to think that democracy means that, if a critical mass of people make a lot of noise, they should get their way -- or that one interest group should prevail over another if it proves objectively louder and more numerous in the street. This is naive.

In any event, Hogue is wrong on one count. Ordinary people did have a part to play in the process. Let's not assume that every self-professed Tea Partier is a millionaire or somehow not of the grass roots, after all. The Tea Party exists on the streets, not exclusively in think tanks, corporate boardrooms or lobbyists' offices. Hated though they are, perhaps by a majority of Americans, they remain a popular mass movement. They remain a powerful mass movement because they know how to push. They are willing to primary unsatisfactory representatives at the slightest sign of compromise. They form a sufficiently large part of the Republican base to make their threats meaningful to many GOP officeholders. If anything, their all-or-nothing approach, their willingness to nominate "unelectable" Republicans like Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle for the sake of ideological purity, has probably given them more leverage with the party. Better for a Republican incumbent to make peace with them at least some of the time than to throw the seat away. The TPs have the courage of their conviction that things are so intolerable now that it makes little difference to them whether a tepid Republican or a radical Democrat holds power. I wonder whether progressives have either conviction or courage. Neither Hogue nor the Nation editors include a primary challenge to the President among the tools for pushing him in their direction. Nor, need I add, does a third-party campaign appear as an option. They really seem to believe that the President will be obliged to respond to them if they just yell loud enough like a mob of Whos. Are they not the People? Not quite. In a democratic republic, the People are the ones who show up to elect officeholders. In a partisan republic, they're the ones who show up to nominate candidates. Merely demanding stuff is powerless. Progressives won't be able to push Obama anywhere unless they convince him that they're willing to push him off a cliff.

19 August 2011

Am I a bigot?

Cal Thomas would probably think so. His latest column denounces an alleged new wave of politically motivated anti-evangelical bigotry directed at two of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, Rep. Bachmann and Gov. Perry. His exhibit A is a Rolling Stone hatchet-job on Bachmann written by Matt Taibbi and illustrated by Victor Juhasz. Thomas finds the illustration objectionable because it portrays Bachmann as a Joan-of-Arc style holy warrior presiding over the burning of heretics. The Taibbi article is a more sensationalist and on some points more detailed version of the ideological biography presented by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker last week. Compared to Lizza, Taibbi is an easy target because he indulges in exaggerated rhetoric and deems Bachmann delusional. This is the second time, the first being the Newsweek cover-photo controversy, that Bachmann's sympathizers have avoided engaging with Lizza's more substantive and alarming story by attacking something more superficially outrageous. But the difference between Lizza and Taibbi determines whether all questioning of Bachmann's (or Perry's) religious commitments is as bigoted as Thomas charges.

Thomas cites the Collins English Dictionary to clarify his charge. According to Collins, a bigot is "intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, especially on religion, politics, or race." My own office copy of Webster's opts for a different emphasis, calling a bigot a "narrow-minded, intolerant person" or one who holds intolerantly to certain set ideas. The Collins definition seems to help Thomas's case, since it doesn't make the common distinction between "who you are" and "what you do." To my mind, a bigot is a person who hates you for who you are before he has any idea of what you do or what you think -- he often assumes those details on the basis of who you are. Anti-semitism, for instance, is no in-depth critique of Judaism, but evolved into a hatred based on assumed innate racial characteristics. Thomas would like us to think of anti-evangelism as equivalent to anti-semitism or the anti-Catholicism of Know Nothing days. He might be closer to the mark in the latter case. Know Nothingism was founded on an ultimately-unfounded assumption about Catholics: that their political behavior would be dictated by their priests, and that their first loyalty in all cases was to the Pope. Thomas certainly has a right to argue that anti-evangelicals are making unfounded assumptions about all born-agains. But that would require him to tell us what those assumptions are, and to prove that they're unfounded.

Instead, Thomas tries to alter the terms of the dispute without providing the original context. He sees the attacks on Bachmann and Perry's religion as a tactic in a "God vs. government battle." In this scenario, the Republicans' enemies "attack people who believe the Supreme Being does not sit in the Oval Office." That phrase itself should shame Thomas into silence on the question of bigotry. He accuses the "secular left" of worshipping the state, if not the current President. They supposedly worship the state as their god by asserting or reinforcing mass dependence on the state. Their policies, Thomas charges, have left "growing numbers of people...addicted to government." Somehow, he suggests, Bachmann and Perry can combat anti-evangelical bigotry through a joint project that would introduce "people who want to escape poverty...to local churches and synagogues, or secular organizations that operate on similar principles." The more people are inspired to emulate those who "liberated themselves from government," the more anti-evangelical bigots will be "shamed into silence." This all fits together if you accept Thomas's premise that anti-evangelical bigotry is a cynical attempt to repudiate conservative social and economic ideas through ad hominem attacks on conservatives' religious beliefs.

What has any of this to do with Dominion Theology? If Bachmann's beliefs, in particular, are being subjected to intense scrutiny and alarmist criticism, it's not simply because she's an open evangelical, but because reporters like Ryan Lizza have exposed her acknowledged intellectual debts to thinkers who have advanced a theocratic agenda for the United States. An analysis of Dominionism and its various exponents is not bigotry, even if the conclusions prove negative. But because Thomas avoids the subject of Dominionism entirely, and ignores any provocative positions or statements Bachmann has taken or made, he might convince superficial readers that the "secular left" is persecuting Bachmann solely because she's an evangelical Christian. His approach leaves one big question hanging: does Thomas think it bigoted of anyone to question Dominionism? As someone who walked away from the Moral Majority because he'd decided that society couldn't be redeemed through political action, Thomas ought to be the first Christian columnist to denounce Dominionism, and he should not think it bigoted of anyone to ask Bachmann to do the same. Does he think the charges against Dominionism are exaggerated, or baseless? If so, he should have said so. But you cannot defend a person suspected of a Dominionist agenda on the ground that the suspicion is motivated by bigotry while completely ignoring the charge. Bachmann's campaign and her history have forced a discussion of Dominionism on us, and to demand Dominionists to explain themselves, or suspected Dominionists to clear themselves, is, to repeat myself, not bigotry. It's no more bigoted than would be suspicion of a Muslim politician whose mentors had called for sharia law to rule the country. To deny the real issue and dismiss critics of Bachmann's religion as bigots, however, is bigoted.

18 August 2011

Cross-endorsement sends 'wrong' message

In Rensselaer County, New York, the Working Families Party has long been a plaything fought over by the Democratic and Republican parties. In Troy, the county seat, the WFP has reportedly endorsed the Democratic candidate for mayor, Lou Rosamilia. The endorsement drew an objection from a city Republican spokesman, who says that Rosamilia's acceptance of the WFP nod "raises ethical questions" about the candidate. As is well known, local Democratic politicians are under investigation for allegedly forging signatures on absentee ballots for a WFP primary in 2009. How past Democratic interference in WFP elections taints the party itself isn't exactly clear, unless the Republicans mean to question how Rosamilia won the party's endorsement. In any event, Republican criticism would ring less hollow had GOP operatives not struggled mightily in recent years to seize control of the very same allegedly independent party by colonizing it, swamping the primaries and nominating dummy candidates to deceive those few voters who accept Working Families uncritically, as Rosamilia himself urges us to do, as "a party that cares about working people." The Republicans engaged in legal cheating, as no law prevents insincere people from registering with a party, while Democrats allegedly cheated illegally to reclaim what they probably considered rightfully theirs. The one certain fact is that the Working Families Party lacks viability, if not integrity, in Rensselaer County. Why its endorsement of another party's candidate should mean anything to anyone except those who can exploit it negatively, eludes me. There is, however, at least one genuine independent candidate for Mayor of Troy. Jack Cox Jr. is currently collecting signatures to earn a ballot line for his new Revolution Party. He has no presence online that I know of, but if anyone wants an actual alternative to the local Bipolarchy, Cox is it so far. I work in Troy but don't live there; nevertheless, I wish any independent success in getting on the ballot. It's just too bad that so many purported independents actually compromise what independence they have to stay on the ballot.

17 August 2011

Project Vote Smart: are all candidates equal?

Back in 2008, I did a series of profiles of presidential candidates. My principal resource for the survey was the candidate list maintained at Project Vote Smart, the home of the "Political Courage Test," which every self-designated candidate is invited to take. On a lark, I decided to visit the website today to see how many people had declared their candidacies already. There were nearly 200 candidates, though some (usually high-profile Republicans) are listed as "potential," while many "announced" aspirants to the major-party nominations may as well be independents, given their obscurity. Candidates for the major party tickets easily outnumber announced third-party candidates; many of the latter identify with no particular party, their candidacies in some cases probably reflecting no outreach to the general public. At some point soon I'll have to start a fresh profile series, if not of the actual candidates then of the numerous parties listed on the site. For now, I have a bone to pick.

Project Vote Smart has a page with a presumably comprehensive list of announced and potential candidates, listed in alphabetical order. That's perfectly fine and appropriate, but this page is actually a kind of back room and is not the page you're sent to when you click on candidates for President on the project's home page. Do that, and you get a little album of photos and a much shorter list of candidates -- all of whom are Republican except for President Obama and some of whom are only "potential" candidates. Only if you click on a small line of text to the right of the photos can you access the complete list of candidates. I can only interpret this to mean that the candidates with photos -- all candidates of the Bipolarchy -- are the first-class or first-tier candidates, while those who appear only on the second list are second-tier at best. There seem to be no criteria for inclusion on the photo page apart from being the President of the United States or a high-profile Republican. At this time of intensifying dissatisfaction with the products of the two leading parties and an at-least increasingly professed interest in independent candidates, is this the message Project Vote Smart really wants to send?

Demanding reform from 'under the bus'

Last weekend the local paper ran a letter from Frank J. Lazzaro of Green Island, who presented his remarks on America's dysfunctional political order as a "View From Under the Bus," -- that place where dispensable people are thrown to lighten others' load. In Lazzaro's opinion, "'Government by the people' has degenerated to a phrase," because, when you vote, "you have to choose from party-endorsed candidates and with all the cross-endorsement, what choice? All are quite wealthy so guess who will be favored by their decisions." Lazzaro's proposed remedies include caps on campaign spending (to "give less wealthy candidates a chance to run") and an easier procedure for initiative, referendum and recall. As it happens, the New York state senate has approved a constitutional amendment facilitating the initiative and referendum process, though the assembly has not yet taken action. As far as parties and elections are concerned, Lazzaro believes that "cross-endorsing should be stopped." He takes the common-sense position that "if a minor party doesn't have its own candidates for all open offices, it has no reason to exist." I wouldn't go that far -- such a party might choose to endorse another party's presidential candidate while pushing its own slate of legislative candidates -- but the follies of the Conservative, Independence and Working Families parties make New Yorkers' unforgiving attitude understandable.

Lazzaro also demands that "no elected officials should have less than two opposing candidates available to voters." That is, he wants every election to be contested. Again, you can understand the feeling. "How can anyone really feel he has elected anyone when he had to vote for a party-endorsed candidate who is also many times the only one on the ballot?" he writes. I'm obliged to note that the Founders did not really envision contested elections in every instance -- at least not elections contested along party lines. No one felt a need to challenge George Washington in his two presidential campaigns, and a single electoral vote was cast against James Monroe in the 1820 election, despite the absence of an actual challenger, simply because one elector abhorred the idea of unanimity. An uncontested general election is not necessarily a bad thing; everything depends on why a particular race ends up uncontested. I don't think the Founders would have approved automatically of an election in which the sole uncontested candidate is the choice of a permanent faction. They preferred to at least perpetuate the illusion that candidates were nominated by assemblies of the general population on their own grass-roots initiative, however stage-managed or self-selected such gatherings actually were. In our own time, it's hard to imagine anyone accepting the representative legitimacy of any such gathering -- but there is probably no better way to choose an opponent for an incumbent or a dominant party when the party system itself proves unwilling to back a challenger. In olden times, of course, such a challenger didn't have to worry about qualifying for the ballot. The ballot was simply the piece of paper a voter put in a box, with any name he pleased written on it. In that respect, all candidates were equal. Today, the ballot is a barrier and a class system; it impedes the spontaneous spread of opposition to an unsatisfactory "consensus" candidate. If Lazzaro wants to be assured of contested elections, he should consider how it might be made easier for elections to be contested when parties fail to fulfill their supposed purposes. If the assembly approves that amendment and it gets ratified, ballot reform could be accomplished by initiative, bypassing partisan politicians entirely. That seems like the best answer right now to Lazzaro's question: "How do we -- the sheep -- get the shepherds, who are satisfied with the status quo, to institute these changes?" The sheep need to find ways to change things on their own, and they should learn to do without partisans in shepherds' clothing. Reforming elections so they aren't organized on party lines won't eliminate the advantages of incumbency and celebrity -- it won't even eliminate all the advantages of partisan solidarity -- but it would certainly make the ballot itself less of a deterrent to electoral competition than it is right now.

16 August 2011

The Elvis Presley memorial post on what Presidents should know

While I begrudge no one a good laugh at Rep. Bachmann's expense following her latest gaffe today, let's put this episode in perspective. I do not expect our political leaders to have extensive knowledge of the lives and deaths of pop celebrities. As culturally literate people they should know who Elvis Presley was. They should have some idea of his cultural relevance, but they shouldn't be expected, much less required, to display that knowledge in public. You wouldn't want them to be caught wondering "Who is this Alvin Priestly, exactly?" but it shouldn't be snobbery to suggest that the details of Presley's career should be beneath a politician's notice. I wouldn't expect Woodrow Wilson or Theodore Roosevelt or Eugene Debs to speak knowledgeably about the vaudevillians, ballplayers or early movie stars of their day. Being no populist, I wouldn't take it as any sign of damning aloofness or elitism if any of today's politicians confessed ignorance of the pop singers of today or fifty years ago. By that standard, it should not be a big deal if Bachmann confused Presley's birthday with the day of his death. August 16 may matter to millions of people, but it doesn't have to matter to all of us.

On the other hand, she's the one who brought up the subject. For that reason, this story's moral is: If you're going to pander to pop culture, you need to remember that in trivia, unlike in politics, everyone agrees on the facts.

When must representatives face the people?

Democrats are making a predictable stink over the fact that some Republican congressmen are eschewing "town hall" meetings this summer in favor of what the Politico website calls "pay-per-view" meetings. A grand total of three Republicans, most notably Rep. Paul Ryan of budget fame, are reportedly restricting their appearances to fundraisers or, in Ryan's case, private "office hours" instead of mass meetings. Writing for Politico, Reid J. Epstein puts motives in the Republicans' mouths, noting that by "outsourcing" their public appearances to "third parties" (no irony intended), GOP pols can "eliminate most of the riffraff while still -- in some cases -- allowing reporters and TV cameras for a positive local news story."

I don't doubt that more Republicans would like to avoid encounters with the organized hecklers that MoveOn and other Democratic sympathizers are sending to "town halls," and it's only natural for Democrats to call Republicans chickens under the circumstances. The worse charge, I'd think, is that these Republicans and their sponsors are charging admission for access, but I'm not sure how different the events under discussion are from the pay-per-plate fundraisers staged by both Democrats and Republicans. However they spin it, Democrats will say that Republicans in general -- on the evidence of three -- are afraid to face the people. But I stand by my objections to "town hall" meetings raised last week. As indicated by reports of "town halls" urging representatives not to compromise or seek middle ground, these events are probably not as representative as either major party would like to claim. While such meetings are theoretically open to anyone, they are most likely either to be packed with the "base" of the incumbent's party or organized hecklers from the opposition. Any invitational event is likely to reproduce the partisan divisions of the given place and the activist or apathetic tendencies of the population. Someone who doesn't vote because he sees no meaningful choice available, for instance, is unlikely to attend a "town hall," while the most dedicated partisans are probably most likely to do so. The most representative gathering a representative can face would be the one most randomly generated and thus most likely to include nonpartisan citizens. If the choice facing congressmen was between this kind of meeting and "pay-per-view" fundraisers, our preference should be obvious. But the actual choice is between fundraisers and subjecting yourself to organized partisan heckling -- and given our current partisan environment, I wouldn't be surprised to find Democrats choosing the same option as these three wicked Republicans.

15 August 2011

Class warfare: knowing the combatants

The New York Times has printed an op-ed column by Warren Buffett in which the billionaire investor asks to be taxed at a higher rate along with others in his income bracket. This isn't the first time that Buffett has made such a request, but the Times runs it as if Buffett's words should have some sort of sobering or shaming effect on the nation's taxophobes. While Buffett's sentiments are admirable -- and many Americans would tell him to simply write a check if he feels that way -- we should be careful before assuming how representative they are, or whom Buffett's supposed to represent.

I can see a Times editor arguing that if Buffett not only asks to be taxed more but debunks the prevailing assumption that higher taxes discourage investment, his op-ed should carry special weight with the taxophobes, who for this purpose are presumed to be "the rich." If Buffett, among the richest of all, doesn't object to higher taxes, why should anyone less rich do so? But one can imagine a rejoinder almost instantly: "He can afford it!" It is, after all, one thing for Warren Buffett to say that taxes don't deter him from anything -- but many people of apparent wealth may feel differently, even though Buffett tries to show that that wasn't the case in the past.

How representative is Buffett, one of the "super-rich," of the taxophobe vanguard that appears to control Congress at this time? Not very, I suspect, but our debates about deficit spending, debt and taxes, etc., are presumed to pit the "rich" against the rest, or the "haves" against the "have-nots." It's not that simple. Wealth alone doesn't determine the mentality of taxophobes -- many of whom probably aren't "rich" by any definition. Many of them may aspire to Buffett's level of wealth; a few of them may even do so realistically. They may feel that it's fine for Buffett to feel as he does -- he's got his already. Taxophobia may prevail among those who see -- or want to see -- their fortunes rising and thus grow anxious and resentful of anything that might hold back their growth. They are neither satisfied nor secure, however subjective either feeling is. They are probably the people most likely to see taxation as "punishing success," because they see themselves as trying harder and accomplishing more than the losers below them who are looking for a free ride and the idling elite above who probably want to hold them down. For now I'm only speculating, but it would be interesting to see a survey that probed for linkage between taxophobia and people's aspirations, their feeling of satisfaction with their wealth or work, and so on. Until then, it's still a good idea to do away with "the rich" as an antagonistic category. However, an old but now rarely-used word might more accurately describe the demographic and the mentality of the people who most vehemently oppose the regulatory welfare state and the taxes that sustain it. Instead of "the rich," and instead of lumping such conscientious or repentant philanthropists as Buffett in with the forces of political reaction, why don't we aim for more precision, a stronger sense of history, and the likelihood of really pissing them off by describing the taxophobes as the American bourgeoisie?

14 August 2011

Straw polls and hollow men: Farewell to Pawlenty

Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, has discontinued his candidacy for President of the United States because he finished third in a non-binding "straw poll" held at an Iowa county fair. If anything can illustrate the idiocy of the American system of choosing national candidates, this should. I don't regret Pawlenty's departure for his sake; his only good point, it seems, was that he was the relatively sane Minnesotan in the race. But Pawlenty aspired to national office and was presumably appealing to a national constituency, so why should the disinterest of a gang of Iowans deter him from his quest? The answer is that the media assign disproportionate significance to news from Iowa because the Republican and Democratic parties allow Iowans to have their say on the presidential candidates before anyone else. They persist in this tradition, I suppose, because Iowa is deemed a test of "retail politics," the ability to cajole voters to caucus sites. A national primary, by comparison, would be a mere popularity contest that might give rank-and-file partisans the candidate they really want, but that candidate might not be the most effective campaigner from the party's point of view. Of course, I'm sure that Rep. Bachmann would be eager to have a national primary right now, before Gov. Perry's patriarchal charisma eclipses her moment in the sun, but too bad for her. In any event, whatever you think of Pawlenty, it should be self-evidently false that he's exhausted his national base of support in Iowa, but the straw poll apparently did fatal damage to his credibility as a campaigner for the Republican nomination. After all he's said about Bachmann, it's hard to imagine him endorsing her as a nominee, but as a good little partisan he must -- even though he obviously considers himself more fit to be President for a number of good reasons apart from any of their announced policies. Partisanship forces him now to defer to the verdict of the primary campaign trail, but shouldn't a sense of duty to country oblige him to rise against Bachmann in the unlikely event of her nomination? Even, as is somewhat more likely, Bachmann becomes the nominee's running-mate to secure the Tea Party vote, can Pawlenty accept the prospect of his enemy being a heartbeat away from executive power? As a partisan, he must accept that prospect, but Pawlenty himself must wonder whether his duty as a partisan is a dereliction of duty to his nation.

This analysis of Pawlenty's failure reflects even more poorly on Republican base voters. The author may be no Republican sympathizer, but his point seems valid. It's that the GOP base seems so far more interested in attitude than actual achievements or objectives, and that Pawlenty failed because, despite advocating the same austerity and trickle-down dogma as everyone else in the field, he somehow seemed too "nice" for the base. I can believe that. The base intends to pass judgment not just on the President and the Democratic party but on millions of Americans whose perceived (and actual) failures will be blamed for our economic troubles, and they want a hanging judge to represent them. They want "shock therapy" for the United States and withdrawal from "addiction to government," no matter what the toll. They are in no mood for lenience -- I only wonder what led them to think Pawlenty would be lenient?

12 August 2011

Is there a constituency for compromise?

If you read the New York Times, you're more likely to think "no" after perusing this article that follows legislators to "town hall" meetings following the vote to increase the debt ceiling. Jennifer Steinhauer reports that Republican and Democratic legislators alike are being "push[ed] to get back into the ring and fight harder" by angry constituents, none of whom seem satisfied with the debt-ceiling deal. Democrats feel that their leaders gave away too much, and many Republicans somehow feel the same way about their representatives. Does this mean that the only people calling for moderation and compromise are the pundits in the news and opinion media?

The answer depends on how representative you take "town halls" to be. Steinhauer notes that they are often packed, spontaneously or deliberately, with activist partisans, most of whom favor the representative holding the meeting while others are organized hecklers. It would be hard for a "town hall" not to be a partisan environment, whether in its unanimity in favor of the representative or in its division along standard party lines. If there is a mass constituency for compromise, they're most likely not attending "town halls" because they recognize them as partisan rallies or bipartisan shouting matches.

It's possible that the more spontaneous or random a political visit is, the more likely that we'd find voices for moderation. Scheduled events result in self-selected or pre-screened audiences that are virtually guaranteed to be partisan. At the least, partisanship is likely to drown out any individual who'd dare to speak for compromise based on moderation. Politicians might get different messages from constituents if they attempted unannounced appearances in apolitical settings. A more representative "town hall" might result if attendees were chosen at random from the census or the city directory. If any politician actually wants to hear constituents call for compromise, or if he or she simply wants to hear the more authentic voice of the constituency, the politician must strive to eliminate the filter of party. A "town hall," if anything, concentrates partisanship by attracting activists of both great sides. A good reporter should know better than to use them to determine whether Americans want compromise.

Romney: Corporations are people, too.

Here's one edition of the remarkable scene from Iowa on August 11 when hecklers and critics confronted Mitt Romney and provoked him into uttering lines that should never be forgotten as long as he remains a Presidential candidate. The crucial section comes at the 2:00 mark of this clip uploaded to YouTube by Mikexsandy.

11 August 2011


My hunch is that one year from now, Rep. Michele Bachmann will be remembered as the Howard Dean of 2012: a candidate who spent a year before the actual voting began being hyped to the skies as the story of the campaign, only to sputter as soon as votes were cast. Those early caucuses and primaries really boil down to boots on the ground, and the love of Tea Partiers across the country won't count for anything if it can't be translated into a massive retail-politics workforce in Iowa. Bachmann is thought to have some advantages in the caucus state, but Gov. Perry of Texas has not yet begun to fight, and right-wingers all over America have a strange love for Texans. Also, a magazine article this week may have done Bachmann some lasting damage.

I am not talking about the infamous Newsweek cover story, which proves to be an insubstantial affair -- two pages of text following a two-page photo. I get the feeling that Lois Romano actually reports nothing new here, while there's very little input from Bachmann herself. The congresswoman denies that she embodies "anger," insisting that she and her supporters are simply "saying the country is not working." But Newsweek dubs her the "Queen of Rage" and sees her ultimate vulnerability in not just her own but the Tea Partiers' perceived radicalism and declining popularity among Americans in general. A great deal of fuss has been made, and not just in the Bachmann camp, about the August 15 cover, but I don't really understand the controversy. It's said that the cover photo makes her look crazy, but the real offense, I suspect, is that it makes her look all of her 55 years.

It wouldn't surprise me, however, if Bachmann's people made a conscious decision to complain about Newsweek in order to focus people's attention there rather than on Ryan Lizza's profile of the candidate in the current New Yorker, which is both more substantial and more damning. This issue has its own provocative cover: a cartoon, as usual, illustrating three top-hatted millionaires sipping champagne on a lifeboat as a stock-stricken steamship goes down with many helpless silhouettes still on board. A sympathetic profile of Bachmann is not to be expected inside.

Lizza allows us to infer that Bachmann embraced authoritarian Christianity as a teenager so God could make up for the lack of a strong father figure in her life. This champion of family values is a child of divorce; like many such people, she takes commitment very seriously -- and that's the problem. Her career as a Christian, a student, an activist and a politician has been shaped, Lizza relates, by a particularly pernicious form of faith called Dominionism (or Dominion Theology). She and her husband were influenced by the filmed lectures of Francis Schaeffer, a major influence on the politicization of evangelicals in the 1970s. Schaeffer was merely a cranky intellectual until the Roe v. Wade decision, which made it imperative, in his opinion, for Christians to take over the government -- by force if necessary, Lizza reports. Bachmann continues to tout Schaeffer's lectures on the campaign trail, telling an Iowa audience that he opened her eyes so that "we understood life now from a Biblical world view." Bachmann attended Oral Roberts University, where she was John Eidsmoe's research assistant for his book Christianity and the Constitution. Eidsmoe, who has endorsed the principle of secession, wrote that American culture "should be permeated with a distinctively Christian flavoring." Again, Bachmann still praises Eidsmoe as a mentor, while he tells Lizza that Bachmann's present views are fully consistent, as far as he can tell, with his own writings. While it isn't clear from Lizza's interviews with Eidsmoe or Bachmann whether she upholds secessionism, Lizza discovers that one of Bachmann's favorite books is a sympathetic biography of Robert E. Lee whose author defends slavery as a civilizing influence on pagan Africans. At the start of her political career, she became involved in Summit Ministries, an "educational organization" opposed to homosexuality and secular humanism, while founder David A. Noebel once denounced the Beatles as hypnotic agents of the international communist conspiracy.

A lot of this information could be dismissed as circumstantial evidence, except for Bachmann's recent endorsements of all these thinkers. At the very least, Lizza's findings should put the candidate in the same position Senator Obama was in during his presidential campaign, when he was compelled to clarify his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. It might have been wise to clarify now, in a low-profile setting, but Lizza tells us that Bachmann blew off his questions about Francis Schaeffer. He notes that "the success of her campaign will rest partly on her ability to keep these influences, which she has talked about for years, out of the public discussion." It'd seem to be too late for that now, but what Republican will actually want to attack Bachmann for being, so to speak, too much of a Christian. Not prayer-meeting Rick Perry, certainly. Certainly not Mitt Romney, who'd have no business questioning anyone else's religious particulars. Maybe this is the weapon with which her would-be nemesis Tim Pawlenty can finally score a telling blow, if only he can do so without appearing to oppose the entire Christian Right. Pawlenty might despise Bachmann just enough to take the chance, but the rest of us, fortunately, don't have to depend on Republicans to keep this issue on the agenda.

Update: 12 August. Pawlenty had his own line of attack at last night's debate, and the line of the night was his, at Bachmann's expense. Commenting on her boasts of legislative leadership, her fellow Minnesotan detailed the Democratic congressional victories of 2009-10 and advised her: "If that's your idea of leadership, please stop, because you're killing us!" But the big story of the Ames debate has proved Ryan Lizza something of a profit. Byron York didn't pursue Bachmann's theocratic connections to my knowledge, but he captured headlines by asking whether she, as a conservative Christian, would "submit" to her husband while she was President of the United States. Bachmann echoed her past responses to such inquiries; she understands "submission" to mean no more than a show of respect, and insists that the biblical mandate to submit is a mutual one. The following day, Ex-Gov. Palin was asked during her travels what she thought of such things. She appeared blissfully contemptuous, telling the reporters that she couldn't imagine her husband telling her what to do. For a moment, I almost wanted Palin to join the campaign at last and fulfill my fantasy of a hilarious pseudo-intellectual catfight between the Republican titans.

10 August 2011

Hoover in a dress: a new chapter in American individualism

Margaret Hoover is the great-granddaughter of Herbert Hoover and a custodian of the 31st President's legacy as an overseer of the Hoover Institution. As a Republican activist and contributor to The O'Reilly Factor, she's defensive about her ancestor's legacy. This puts her in conflict not only with Democrats who blame President Hoover for inaction in the early stages of the Great Depression, but also with fringers like Glenn Beck, who denounces Hoover as a quasi-leftist "progressive." Margaret herself acknowledges that the elder Hoover made mistakes (including signing the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill), but insists that he's unfairly accused of inaction. Herbert Hoover did inherit some of the Progressive political tradition -- he was a kind of "czar" during World War I -- but his descendant offers him as a model for government that's "limited but energetic." Its energy, she argues, should lay with bringing people together to formulate policy through consultation rather than forcing top-down policies down their throat, which she sees as the style of present-day liberalism. President Hoover did not abhor government like so many modern Republicans seem to do, but he insisted throughout his long life that true initiative lies not with the state, but with individuals. He collected some of his thoughts along these lines into a treatise titled American Individualism. Margaret Hoover has appropriated that title for a new book with a twofold purpose. She wants to convince Republicans that they need to reach out to a new generation of "millennials" if they hope to remain competitive, and she wants to convince millennials that the Republican party, once some adjustments are made, is their natural political home.

The 21st century Hoover makes the stakes clear for Republicans. "I would not be surprised if millennials embraced a dynamic third-party candidate in a national election if they remained dissatisfied with the offerings of the two major parties," she writes on page 66, "A third-party candidate could easily present himself or herself as a better choice than the candidates of the major parties, drawing on the best of their respective political philosophies and casting aside the rest." Neither Republicans nor Democrats can take the millennials -- people born during the 1980s or 1990s who've come of age in the last decade -- for granted, but Hoover worries that Republicans face a special handicap. As long as the GOP is perceived as the party of "social conservatives," aka the Religous Right, millennials, whom Hoover describes as the most diverse and tolerant -- and possibly the most spoiled -- generation in American history, will remain suspicious of Republicans. Social conservatives will have to make "a painful, if not impossible, adjustment" if they want the GOP to have a future. For all intents and purposes they must capitulate once and for all on the gay-rights issue (Hoover is an advisor to GOProud, a gay Republican group) as well as on abortion if the Republican party is to present itself consistently as the party of individual liberty. It won't be enough in millennial eyes to champion economic liberty, though economic liberty is the primary reason why millennials should become Republican.

You can go a long way into Hoover's book before you can figure out why she doesn't just lead millennials into the Libertarian party, since that already-existing third party has what would seem to be the ideal millennial platform. You might suspect that Hoover holds out for a greater role for government than strict libertarians would allow, but real differences emerge only late in the story, when Hoover asserts that securing the border must be the first stage of immigration reform and insists that the U.S. remain in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from retaking power. Defeating the Taliban is an imperative, both because Hoover thinks another mass-murder attack on America more likely if they regain power, and because it would prove, to her at least, that the U.S. stands for equal individual liberty for everyone. Earlier in the book, she argued that American feminists should focus on the fight against "Islamic chauvinism" around the world instead of railing against an imaginary patriarchy.

It's worth noting, however, that joining the Libertarians never appears as an option in American Individualism, even if only to be dismissed. The possibility of a third-party, as Hoover's warning implies, is something to be averted rather than embraced. Why should this be? The answer is that Hoover practices a rhetorically mild form of lesser-evilism. Her overriding interest is in defeating liberalism, which she sees as a threat to individual liberty. That's because she defines liberalism as a top-down governing philosophy according to which the state insists on a single standard for every aspect of life. Liberals, she writes, assume that "the state must guide people's lives from cradle to grave." At the same time, they see government as "something you pay for with taxes and from which you can then extract the benefits, like some kind of bank. It's as if people are owed something by the government." Hoover quickly equivocates, admitting that "in one sense government does owe much to its citizens," but she clearly thinks that liberals expect too much "government largesse" and don't give enough weight to "the notions of personal sacrifice, initiative, and individual responsibility." Again, Hoover isn't an anti-government ideologue; she states that "government is a necessary player in our civic life," but "not the essential one." But as is so often the case in Republican propaganda, this essentialism is largely imaginary. Who actually asserts that everyone should depend on the state for their lives and livelihood? Can someone give me a quote that isn't actually a description of liberal beliefs in a conservative tome? I won't hold my breath while I wait.

Hoover poses the case between liberalism and individualism in mostly abstract terms, to such an extent that you could believe that she actually believes what she's writing. American Individualism is largely detached from real economic issues apart from some perfunctory prescriptions for tax and entitlement reform. The book seems detached from reality itself in its account of politics as a struggle between the individual and the state. Hoover has nothing whatsoever to say about labor and the workplace, for instance, even though labor issues long set the terms of debate between left and right. This may be because her millennials "do not take easily to base-level employment" and have (and worse, expect) little job security when they do. But it's mainly because Hoover refuses on principle to reduce individuals to class. This becomes most clear during her discussion of feminism. "I recognize that there are challenges unique to me as a woman," she writes on page 132, "but I never blamed an oppressive male patriarchy, as some professors no doubt hoped I would. I saw the challenges of being a woman as personal challenges, not social injustices." That last sentence sums up the difference between individualism and leftism pretty neatly. Marxists would insist on a closer relationship between Hoover's personal challenges and social injustice, arguing that social structure shapes the challenges facing everyone but the dominant class. Liberals would not see a social revolution as the necessary response to Hoover's challenges, but they would still acknowledge a linkage that Hoover denies, and that requires a political remedy. Individualists on the right insist that they are free no matter what their social circumstances, unless the state places obstacles in the way of their freedom. The rest of the social environment is taken as given, and freedom consists in not being prevented from doing what necessity dictates, within moral bounds. Both viewpoints actually see freedom as determined by environment, but the individualists on the right insist that freedom depends on refusing to question the environment -- unless they see the "artificial" presence of the state. The state appears as the only obstacle to individual freedom -- though Hoover might add the Religious Right to the list of obstacles.

American Individualism doesn't offer a blueprint for the millennial takeover of the Republican party. In part that's because the book's purpose is really to urge current Republicans to meet the millennials halfway. Hoover's implicit hope is that the social conservatives will also play the lesser-evil game and make concessions on moral issues in order to secure a stronger individual-liberty coalition. At the moment, however, that element is in no mood to compromise on anything. It's possible that millennials could simply swamp the Religious Right by registering en masse as Republicans and outvoting them at the primaries. Would social conservatives stand for the result? All of them doing so seems very unlikely. As a result, Hoover's dream coalition is just as unlikely. Her warning about third parties actually points both ways. If millennials may form or join a third party if Republicans won't accommodate them, the Religious Right might form or join a third party if the GOP goes too far in accommodating the millennials. The real story of Hoover's book isn't her appeal to a theoretical millennial ideology, but her challenge to the Republican party. It's still her impulse to take for granted that the GOP is the true home of individual liberty, but the challenge of the millennials may force Republicans to prove once and for all whether they really stand for individual liberty or not. Hoover already concedes that many Republicans do not. As Ronald Reagan might have asked: where's the rest of them?

Pat Buchanan: a 'civilizational crisis' transcends partisanship

"I almost never write letters like this," Pat Buchanan writes in his begging letter on behalf of the National Humanities Institute, but he's driven by a sense of crisis. "We can no longer ignore that America is on a crash course with catastrophe. Nor can we continue to fool ourselves that our nation's decline will be arrested if we simply exchange one party for another in Washington, D.C." He admires some aspect of the Tea Party movement -- the "phenomenon has been quite refreshing and promising for the future," -- but realizes that "legitimate rebellions can be co-opted by the powers-that-be," i.e. the Republican party. Buchanan's begging letter confesses an abandonment of partisanship; his disgust with the Obama administration is no greater than his disgust with the recent Bush administration. "If the 2000s taught us anything," he asserts, "they taught us that our leadership class is disastrously ill-equipped to make wise decisions for America's future." Their ignorance of "history and human nature" transcends party lines. Buchanan perceives a civilizational crisis that "goes beyond economics" and "is not a partisan issue. Changing deck chairs on the good ship Political Class won't alter the vessel's course. Unfortunately, it matters little these days whether a candidate calls himself 'conservative.' For conservatism has been twisted by the political class to serve its own ends -- not vice versa."

What, then, can the National Humanities Institute do about this crisis? The institute is a think tank that publishes a scholarly journal and creates multimedia educational tools to promote "anti-utopian" traditional values. The guiding mind of the institute is a Swedish-American scholar named Claes G. Ryn, a major critic of Leo Strauss and the neocons who has an unusually large and enthusiastic following in China. Indeed, Buchanan emphasizes the extent to which the NHI promotes intercultural dialogue with China "in an effort to find common human ground on which both countries might build a peaceful and prosperous future." The guiding spirit of the institute, based on the frequency of references to him, is the early 20th century philosopher and literary critic Irving Babbitt, who promulgated a "New Humanism" which, based on an opposition to Rousseau's thought cited by Wikipedia, set the "anti-utopian" tone for the NHI.

The word "traditional" is a red flag for some readers, so let's try to clarify what the NHI is about. The institute declares its own objective as "the renewal of civilization."

The need for such a strategy should be obvious. Spreading self-indulgence, continued erosion of the family, moral and religious decay, rampant crime and drug abuse, falling standards of personal conduct, the decline of education and the arts, economic and financial irresponsibility and collapse, political opportunism and paralysis—these are just some of the signs that America is suffering a crisis of civilization.

Reflecting Buchanan's own latter-day opinion, the NHI is avowedly apolitical. "One of the great illusions of the present age is that politics holds the key to the future. Politics reflects general cultural trends that politicians have not themselves generated and that they can only marginally control or resist. " The institute wants to reach people in the schools, before the enter the political sphere. It also hopes to "speak to cultural elites -- our current and future teachers, professors, judges, lawyers, journalists, writers and artists ...If we want to save our nation we must influence, even rebuild, the opinion-shaping classes."

How do they intend to shape the opinion-shapers? By going back to "the traditional humanities," which, on the evidence of some of the NHI literature I've sampled, includes the Classical as well as the Biblical tradition. In a speech he gave in China, Ryn cites both traditions (as well as some Asian traditions) as confirming his view of human nature, which Buchanan condenses as "human beings are mixed, being both like the angels and like the beasts....keeping the beast at bay is the most important cultural, and therefore educational, task facing each generation." In Ryn's account, the West went wrong starting with Rousseau, who failed to acknowledge the beast in man and assumed that a reformed society would result in improved people. Ryn (and by extension the NHI) takes the opposite view from Marxism, at least as the latter was summarized by Terry Eagleton. While Marxists hope that perfecting institutions will liberate human nature so it can flourish benevolently, and "Enlightenment" rationalists assume that science can do likewise, "traditional humanism" argues that bad character will corrupt the best-laid institutions and abuse the advances of science, while placing a priority on cultivating moral character. In Buchanan's words, "To change our course, we must fortify and train what is highest in our natures."

Most of the articles available at the NHI website are intellectual rather than political, though from the titles it's obvious that there's plenty of anti-neocon polemics going on. I don't have time right now to delve deep enough to discover what the NHI considers "highest in our natures," but their project needn't be rejected out of hand. It should, however, be open to the possibility that the last word on the subject of morality hasn't yet been spoken. They should be invited to reconsider exactly what aspects of human activity are beastly and which are more "angelic." If the NHI is true to its mandate, it should not, for instance, offer an unconditional endorsement to capitalism in all its manifestations -- Buchanan himself is a well-known critic of unconditional free trade. Meanwhile, it shouldn't take a divine revelation to convince people that some of their impulses ought to be suppressed, and others cultivated. Disagreement still exists over which impulses are which, and as long as NHI doesn't consider the debate closed, they're welcome to it. They're not wrong about the need to educate people for responsible citizenship before partisanship possesses them, but they're not necessarily right about what they mean to teach. If we disagree, then it's up to us to propose our own alternatives instead of merely shouting them down.

09 August 2011

Does increasing inequality make the poor more conservative?

The Christian Science Monitor alerted me the other day to research undertaken by two social scientists, Peter Enns and Nathan Kelly, who claim to have discovered a paradoxical tendency of poor people to become more fiscally conservative, to oppose measures for redistributing wealth, as the income gap between rich and poor grows. Their work derives from inquiries into whether inequality is "self-reinforcing" and whether politics is a factor in greater inequality. Politics is accepted as a factor on the common-sense ground that political action can redistribute wealth. The question then becomes whether politics exacerbates inequality because of a flaw in the political system -- whether inequality increases because politicians are unresponsive to demands from the poor for redistribution, or because the poor have no effective means to influence politicians. Enns and Kelly have worked out formulae that I'm not equipped to critique, but which tell them that an unresponsive political system is not automatically to blame for widening income gaps because the poor are not demanding redistributive measures to the extent we might expect. Instead, when inequality reaches a certain point, the poor seem to have no greater desire for redistributive measures than the wealthiest Americans.

If this finding seems counterintuitive, the researchers' explanation is predictable enough. Without pointing the finger at Fox News or talk radio, Enns and Kelly suggest that, if anything, the media reinforce inequality, though not necessarily by means of ideological propaganda. After disproving the premise that the poor might be simply guilty of false consciousness or lack of information -- their statistics show that the poor realize that the income gap is growing -- they suggest that straight news reflects the changing social reality. Since "the decline in inequality prior to 1970 ... was driven primarily by increasing incomes at the bottom of the income distribution," they argue that news would have "generated stories emphasizing government's role in education and job creation" simply because that's what appeared to be actually happening, and the news would increase people's confidence in government's effectiveness. By contrast, "given that rising inequality since the 1970s has been driven in large part by gains at the top of the income distribution," news media "may have increasingly emphasized stories of individualism," because individual achievement was what appeared to be actually happening. Such news stories, they suggest, would generate "a negative link between rising inequality and public opinion liberalism." This would also belie the conservative-media narrative of pervasive liberal bias prior to the advent of Rush Limbaugh on the radio and Fox News on cable television, since that narrative presumes that the "liberal media" would only report on the suffering of the poor during, say, the Reagan administration.

Whether such elaborate media-dependent explanations for the Enns-Kelly trend are necessary is debatable. It's been said elsewhere that most people, regardless of income level, become less willing to share, and far less willing to see allegedly undeserving people share the collective wealth, in tough economic times. Americans in particular may be more ready than other people to indict their neighbors as freeloaders in a crunch, though they are probably more ready to do so now than they were eighty years ago, and that fact, if true, would require some explanation. Another possible factor is an increased sense of dependence on the part of the poor. Here media propaganda may be a factor, since the conservative media have tried hard to teach the public a relationship between government spending and private-sector layoffs and outsourcing. Class is unlikely to determine whether anyone scapegoats politics for poor economic performance. Indeed, a lack of class consciousness is arguably the defining characteristic of Americans among the world's peoples. People don't want to think of themselves as working-class or poor, and that refusal to face facts may help explain the researchers' findings. On the other hand, the Monitor itself noted that a decrease in confidence in government, which tends to be identified with a conservative mentality, can result from simple dissatisfaction with ineffective government. If government seems incapable of accomplishing anything, people are bound to wonder what good it is in general or on principle. Of course, given how conservatives themselves argue that today's poor aren't really poor by historic or global standards, maybe these findings are still a matter of society not having grown unequal enough and people not having suffered enough to react the way you'd think they should. Enns and Kelly should test their models again a few years from now and tell us what they find.