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Another small piece of evidence that McCain is Dole redux: I went back and found that Dole’s lifetime ACU rating in 1996 was 83, which is actually seven tenths of a point higher than McCain’s lifetime rating but close enough to be a bit uncanny.
Bush has received little attention or thanks for his compassionate reforms. This is less a reflection on him than on the political challenge of compassionate conservatism. The conservative movement gives the president no credit because it views all these priorities — foreign assistance, a federal role in education, the expansion of an entitlement — as heresies, worthy of the stake. ~Michael Gerson
It doesn’t help that these “compassionate reforms” are all monumental failures and/or appalling burdens on the national fisc of dubious value and poor implementation. Why might no one be congratuating the President on sending unfunded mandates to the states? Could it be that introducing vast new entitlements–when our current entitlement system is already in serious trouble over the long-term–is an irresponsible, short-sighted gamble with the wealth of future generations for the sake of brief, transitory and already vanished political gain? No, it must be that there are unimaginative inquisitors who are intent on ripping out Bush’s bleeding heart and throwing it on the pyre. That must be the only explanation. What would we do without Gerson to explain these things to us?
He views both meditation on the past and speculation about his legacy with equal suspicion, preferring to live in the urgency of the now. ~Michael Gerson
Who knew that George Bush was already living Obama’s dream?
Mitt Romney’s campaign is based on the wholesale deception of voters. ~John McCain
This has been, and remains, the crux of the problem with Romney. Of course, McCain can be charged with deception every time he denies that “comprehensive immigration reform” is amnesty, and the same criticism can be leveled at the other candidates who have suddenly discovered the importance of border security, but with Romney it has always been on an entirely different scale. It is conceivable that Romney could have legitimately changed his mind on one or two questions, but there have been so many changes (or evolutions, if you prefer) in such a short span of time that depart so radically from the core assumptions of what the man publicly claimed to believe earlier that he simply cannot be trusted. Where he once would not dare “impose” his values on others in matters of life and sexuality (his dear, departed relative had once been pivotal in his views on abortion, but her fate ceased to bother him when the White House beckoned), he suddenly discerned that it was essential that he do so. The awakening of his moral conscience occurred in direct relationship to the approach of the 2008 campaign season. That in itself might not be so bad, were it the only instance of Romney’s re-invention. Where he once derided the idea of deportation and accepted McCain’s immigration legislation as an acceptable alternative, he has since adopted the pose of a restrictionist true believer. The man who brought you government-mandated health insurance enforced by the assessment of penalties is the one who now casts himself as more Reaganite than Reagan…all the while promising subsidies to weakened industries. The proponent of federal gun control laws discovered his inner varmint-slayer. You assume there will be a certain degree of opportunism and shifting in an election. To some extent, that is how elections hold politicians more accountable to what voters want to see in government. But for someone who has gone through a complete political metamorphosis to then adopt the pose of the righteous enforcer of True Conservatism and to accuse his opponents of being willing to say anything to get elected simply amazes me. What amazes me still more is the willingness of so many people, who can see perfectly clearly the dishonesty of the entire thing, to go along with it.
On an ascending scale of willful arrogance, there is gall, then there is chutzpah, and then there is whatever Romney is doing. In fairness, no politician should ever receive very much trust, and what trust is bestowed should always be provisional and easily revoked, but even by the extremely low standards of a cynic who assumes all politicians are out to mislead and abuse the citizenry Romney is unacceptably deceptive. Any past or present Bush supporter who now wants to complain about the rise of McCain should look first to the absolute fraud many of them were willing to rally behind as the alternative to understand why their anti-McCain candidate did not succeed. As wrong as McCain is on so many things, for which we anti-Bush conservatives were criticising him all along, the idea that you ought to hold McCain accountable for his deviations from the movement and party lines while embracing a man who had been, as of three years ago, far to McCain’s left on almost everything was and still is preposterous. This is not about the relative purity of their conservatisms as such, but the ridiculous application of a purist standard for one and an absolutely accommodating, flexible standard for another, especially when the latter only rates as ”more conservative” on account of this incredible metamorphosis. This is one of the reasons why the concerted effort to rally anti-McCain forces has fallen short for the second straight week: the bulk of this effort has no intellectual or moral credibility when the rallying point is Romney’s campaign and the opponents of McCain are simultaneously some of the strongest supporters of George Bush. Those who wish to label McCain a liar for his past and recent false statements, but who will pretend that Romney’s many new positions are proof of his true convictions, are the same kinds of people (in some cases, literally the same people) who embraced, legitimised and shilled for George Bush, the greatest liar of them all, for seven years. They are right about McCain, but what they would offer in his place and what they have defended in the past throw into doubt their ability to discern conservative principle and their willingness to confront deception when it is politically disadvantageous for them.
So Giuliani dubbed the GOP the “party of Bush” on the night that McCain won out over Romney 36-31 and the day before Giuliani endorses McCain. That is unfortunately fitting, as it is only the “party of Bush” that could have ever briefly vaulted someone like Giuliani into major contention or propelled McCain to his frontrunner position (for a second time), since the presence of these two in national roles is almost unthinkable without Mr. Bush, the Iraq war and the ruinous transformation Mr. Bush has wrought in the party. Why the most plausible anti-McCain candidates have fared poorly is part of my next column, so I will hold off on that point, but I can make this observation: two-thirds of Florida primary voters opted for the candidates deemed unacceptable to one or more factions of the party, while the alleged “full-spectrum conservative” could scarcely cobble together 30% of the vote. Once again, in a real contest Romney fell short and has shown his limitations as a campaigner. The party of Bush has discovered its true heir, who represents clear continuity with Mr. Bush on the major policies (and major blunders) of his administration. Whether he did so consciously or not, Thompson delivered the killing blow to the efforts to stop McCain. His last-ditch anti-Huckabee salvo cleared the way for McCain, and the way is now clear for him all the way to Minneapolis. The disastrous “new fusionism” has taken hold of the party and will in all likelihood drag it down to defeat.
P.S. It is true that the exit polls show that McCain’s strongest support comes from anti-Bush voters. Once again, he did best among those who were dissatisfied and angry with the administration. This represents a deep confusion and sickness in the Republican Party, when even most of the people who are alienated by Mr. Bush seem to have no idea that they have just rallied around someone who give them a more intensified, less sane version of Bushism.
Giuliani must be dropping out. He just included Ron Paul in the list of other candidates he respects.
It’s still a bit early, so the Republican result is not certain, but if Romney should lose it will reinforce the impression that, having tried to buy his way to a victory through massive ad buys (3x McCain’s advertising), he could not persuade most voters to bring themselves to vote for the man even though they probably saw his ads more often than almost anyone else’s in the last week. There will be a temptation in the pro-Romney conservative media to blame Huckabee for a Romney loss, because he seems to have pulled away many of the same kinds of voters that backed Romney, but Giuliani’s role in siphoning off likely McCain voters will have to be kept in mind. Huckabee’s result will hurt him, but he has a future at least through next week. Giuliani has little reason to continue. Certainly, Giuliani can help the establishment and keep holding down McCain’s vote by pulling away supporters, but so long as Huckabee ties up a sizeable part of the conservative vote it won’t do Romney any good. Nothing compels Romney to withdraw, but he has few likely prospects for success next week if he loses tonight.
But as an analysis of what’s actually going through the minds of those same sophisticated conservatives as they say nice things about Obama now - and especially of what’s going through the mind of David Brooks - this imputation of machiavellian bad faith seems like the purest nonsense.
I don’t know who is supposed to be counted among the “sophisticated conservatives” in question, but assuming we are talking about all the conservatives, including Brooks, who have been heaping praise on Obama in the last six months I have to agree with Ross. The typical Obama-praise is paired with an immediate statement of Obama-fear: “Obama is a wonderful proponent of liberalism, and I would much rather live in an America with Obama liberals, but he is so wonderful that he may destroy the right for a generation.” This is a bit exaggerated, but this is basically the refrain one hears. Granted, this response to Obama sounds like a parody because it is so excessive and slightly detached from reality, and so naturally inspires a cynical response from those on the left who are not nearly as smitten with Obama’s supposed potential for landslide victory and realignment. “What’s their game? They must think Obama is an easy target–nothing else explains this overflowing panegyric!” Some of the Obama-praise is getting pretty embarrassing, and if his admirers are right they are actually enabling the landslide victory they fear by providing all of these very friendly quotes that his staff can dig up and put in campaign commercials. “Even so-and-so of The National Review thinks Obama is just swell, so you have nothing to worry about.”
Obama undoubtedly generates a lot of enthusiasm, especially among the young and the unthinking, but what is striking is how little enthusiasm he generates among bloggers, pundits and activists on the left. For example, Kos can barely bring himself to vote for him, and emphasises that he will not be “supporting” him actively. If Obama were the Democrats’ Reagan and the leading progressive candidate in the race, this would almost be equivalent to the editor of Human Events grudgingly saying that he would support Reagan if he really had to do it. Therein lies an important clue: Obama is neither the progressive movement leader nor the realignment-making, revolutionary political figure of conservatives’ nightmares. This is not someone who toiled in the trenches for past progressive candidates at the national level for more than a decade, nor is it someone who built up a large, loyal following and then launched a national campaign. Instead, he has descended as if from on high, translating airy speeches and media frenzy into political capital to manufacture an Obama movement, which is coming into existence alongside and not out of the progressive institutions that have been developing in recent years. Where Reagan rose in collaboration with the conservative movement, Obama has created his own that represents a competitor of sorts with the new progressive institutions, and his style of politics represents a departure from the more pugnacious, unapologetic and polemical progressivism of the netroots, which is probably a large part of why he was received somewhat more coolly than Edwards in the beginning and continues to receive criticism for being too accommodating and conciliatory. In other words, the very things that make conservative observers think Obama has the potential to realign American politics in a pro-progressive way are the things that make the professional progressive bloggers and activists embarrassed and annoyed. This is not the making of a realignment.
But it is unmistakable that there are many on the right who seem certain that an Obama nomination spells doom for them, yet they seem willing to welcome that doom because Obama makes them feel good, whether it is feeling good about themselves or about America or about something else all together. Nothing could better capture the confusion and disarray of the American right than this emergence of a conservative Obama admiration society.
Wait a minute. Why is Obama giving his own response to the SOTU? Didn’t Sebelius already say everything for him? He sounds surprisingly combative and not very “post-partisan.” Obama pushes back on the rhetoric about the “surge,” insisting on holding the administration accountable for its claims that progress on the Iraqi political track was the purpose of the “surge.” On this he is entirely right–it is the only thing he is right about–but he doesn’t talk about this nearly often enough. The “politics of fear” also make a guest appearance. He rehashes many of the points from his South Carolina victory speech.
In a couple months, I will be the best man at a friend’s wedding in Taipei and then turn around the next day and come back home to get back to work on Tuesday. That old saw that the journey is what matters must be right, since I will probably be spending more time on the journey than I will in Taiwan. Anyway, here’s the point of this post: I have never taken a trans-Pacific flight before, much less taken two of them virtually back-to-back as if I were engaged in shuttle diplomacy with Japan. Does anyone out there have advice for preparing for the insane jetlag that this will cause? (I know what you will say: don’t fly back from Taiwan the day after you arrive.)
P.S. If conscious and coherent, I will attempt to take some pictures of Taipei for the blog.
And isn’t that a fitting end for the Bush Administration: resurrecting the best of the Bob Dole 1996 campaign… ~Andrei Cherny
It is all the more fitting when you consider that McCain is on the verge of launching the Bob Dole Mk II down in Florida, and represents mind-numbing continuity with the administration on a host of major policies.
A final thought on the now-preposterous notion that anyone would select Kathleen Sebelius as a running mate: if Obama chose the female governor of Kansas, wouldn’t that be over-egging the Obama symbolic biography pudding just a bit?
The shameless insertion of the Kennedy line on the day of Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama is the epitome of a partisan argument: we are the New American Majority, we are the New Frontier.
P.S. Did she just wish the President a good night’s sleep? That was weird.
Update: Word is that Sebelius is endorsing Obama tomorrow, which may help him a bit in Kansas next week. For his sake, I hope that she delivers a better endorsement speech than she did a SOTU response.
“Caring for our children…is what grow-ups do.” Apparently, grown-ups do this by passing federal subsidies. This speech is a guarantee that no one will confuse Gov. Sebelius with a potential vice presidential pick ever again.
“Each of you is, above all, an American.” I was wrong. Sebelius is going to rehash Obama’s stump speech. She’s right about the eye-rolling line. The eyes are still rolling.
It’s like this, James: if you push for more neoliberal policies in Latin America, that will magically reduce the popularity of the “false populism” that has flourished on account of the backlash against the last round of neoliberal policies pushed by Washington, whereas if you don’t support those policies “false populism” will run wild. That’s clear, isn’t it?
My assumption is that this response is going to be much more low-key than Jim Webb’s “I’ll show you where you can put your agenda” speech, especially since Sebelius is reportedly going to declare as an Obaman. Her state holds a caucus next week, and it seems unlikely that she’s going to craft the response in a way that aids one candidate or another. I expect a fairly unremarkable, ho-hum response.
So far, he has vowed almost as many vetoes (2) as he has actually issued (3) in his entire Presidency.
The emerging theme seems to be “trust.” Bush makes for a rather odd messenger for this kind of “restore people’s trust in the government” message, wouldn’t you say?
Rod says of Obama:
A conservative’s dilemma: Is the pleasure one takes in watching the vaderish Clintons vanquished by Barack Skywalker worth the increasing possibility that not only will Obama win this fall, but he will transform the political landscape such that the GOP turns into what the Tories were under the Blair government?
There is a solution to this dilemma, which seems to be confronting more and more people, and it is simply this: stop cheering on Obama. I drank a toast to him on caucus night, because it was satisfying to see those people humbled, but if you believe (I think incorrectly) that Obama represents a dire threat to your views and interests, stop giving him a pass. Of course, if the Clintons are “vaderish,” that means that Bill Clinton fills the role of Obama’s father, which is a disturbing thought.
Suppose that Obama admirers on the right are correct that he could be for the Democrats what Reagan was for Republicans. Leave aside that only two post-war Democratic nominees have ever won over 50% of the vote in a national election (and Carter only barely achieved this under pretty unusual circumstances), and that a “liberal Reagan” would need to win by a margin of approximately nine points to get close to replicating the ‘80 result. (That requires Obama to repeat Clinton’s ‘96 re-election result and the Republicans will have to make a similarly, well, doleful effort.) Forget for a moment that Obama has less experience in elective office than any major contender for the Presidency in at least a century and a half, or that his ADA is 95. If that is right, and they can foresee the danger to their ideas and politics, why take the chance? In a strange way, Republicans and conservatives have become so dead-set in their opposition to the Clintons that they would, by their own admission, embrace political and electoral doom rather than give them another chance at power.
They take this view despite the fact that the Clinton administration was, relative to the current horror-show, more conservative in most of its effects and ultimately worked to the advantage of the GOP (an advantage they have shamelessly squandered). The right reason to cheer on Obama is if you think he is the weaker of the two and the one likely to deliver the Democrats to unexpected defeat, while giving the GOP an entirely undeserved victory. I am also not enthusiastic about going this route, since a failure to hold the GOP accountable in a presidential election will mean that they will ignore the ‘06 elections as a fluke and will change little or nothing from the failed policies of the current administration. If the Democrats nominate Obama, they let the GOP leadership off the hook. Besides, what better way to drive home the error of their ways than to make it clear that the wages of Bushism are Bill and Hillary Clinton returned to power?
What still puzzles me about the Obama-fear is how it can be driven by Obama’s delivery of speeches that are mostly about nothing.
Between Ryan Sager and Giuliani, that is. In his analysis, Sager has missed the crucial point: there was never any reason to have a Giuliani candidacy when McCain provided a viable alternative for the “moderate GOP electorate.” Because McCain was already occupying his space in the race, and because the one thing that nearly destroyed McCain’s campaign was the immigration debate last summer, Giuliani needed to win McCain supporters without appearing to be pro-amnesty (even though he has been, in fact, to the left of McCain on immigration all along). Hence Giuliani’s laughable attempts to run to the right of Romney on immigration.
But faced with deficits to make up on abortion and past support for gay rights, Giuliani pursued a strategy that systematically dismantled everything that once made his candidacy appealing to his core supporters.
Yet the very things that Sager finds so distasteful are the things that made him remotely viable: playing the tough authoritarian leader who will “get things done,” restore order and protect you from the villains of the world. Without that, he had no possible claim to the support of a majority of Republicans in a nominating contest. Of course Sager thinks Giuliani pursued the wrong message. But then he doesn’t think that Giuliani’s liberalism on social issues matters and doesn’t really see it as a deficit, he thinks the one issue where the GOP has an advantage (immigration) is one of its greatest liabilities, and he continues to operate under the strange assumption that “the Christian Right” runs the Republican Party, which ought to make you doubt the value of his analysis. Giuliani’s mistake was not that he tried to appeal to the majority of Republican primary voters, but that he ran for President at all, especially when McCain was already in the race and was likely to attract likely “moderate” Giuliani voters anyway.
Finally, if Giuliani’s “the Arabs are out to get you” ad sickened him, he must not have been paying much attention to Giuliani’s view of the rest of the world before that ad aired. His entire campaign has always been centered around such fearmongering. The only reason he was still a national political figure was that he had played on the reaction to 9/11 and the urge to lash out at anyone that followed; his would have been a more successful candidacy in 2004, when much of the country was still much more in that frame of mind. Sager was too busy painting Giuliani as some kind of “libertarian” to notice.
I will second Will Wilkinson up to a point when he complains about this pro-McCain article, since I am probably just as appalled for different reasons by “National Greatness Conservatism” and its cousins as he is. The misspelling of Friedman’s name in the article (and the fact that no editor there managed to catch it before it was published) is indicative of a general inattention to what libertarians say, and the purpose of libertarians in this article is obviously to serve as a foil for the supposed prudence and virtue of John McCain. It is particularly unfortunate that someone from the Committee on Social Thought would seem not be familiar with the most famous economist ever to work here at the University, but in defense of the Committee I have to add that it is, by its nature, an eclectic and wide-ranging program that could not be reduced to the “big fire and antlers on the wall” approach to life that Wilkinson imputes to it. Plus, it was once home to Hayek, so that must count for something. Most libertarians (and Mr. Wilkinson in particular) would probably say that I don’t pay enough attention to what they say, either, but even I would argue that the description of libertarianism here is rather crude. Of course, it is intended to be. If you can make a candidate into a Man of Virtue who resists pernicious ideology, his reputation will increase and his opponents will be demonised as fanatics. It helps, though, if the effort isn’t completely transparent and entirely unpersuasive.
The Wall Street reference reveals something else important about the real source of hostility to McCain in the Republican Party: McCain’s worst enemies are not adherents to “strict free-market ideology,” because his worst sins, according to the
indictments columns you read these days, are departures from adhering to the demands of corporate interests, which need not have anything to do with the free market, much less “strict free-market ideology.” (That doesn’t mean that he isn’t, in general, on board with corporate interests with respect to trade, etc., but he is being criticised in these cases not because he questions the Market, but because he threatens to raise costs for multinationals.) Republicans and mainstream conservatives these days certainly do not actually espouse a “strict free-market ideology,” yet it is they, not primarily the folks at Reason or elsewhere in the Beltway libertarian set, who wish to be rid of McCain more than anyone. The libertarians are dragged in to serve as the right-wing version of the “dirty hippies” who threaten to thwart the glorious onward progress of the state. (If the way many Beltway libertarians have run away fron Ron Paul in recent weeks is any indication, it should be clear that the “national greatness” types have nothing to fear from them on this score.) This Weekly Standard article reminds me of nothing so much as Michael Kinsley’s op-ed, in which he claimed to be talking about Ron Paul and modern libertarianism, but never actually engaged any arguments of living, breathing libertarians (or Ron Paul supporters of any kind for that matter). The difference is that this article was openly pushing for McCain, while Kinsley was just wasting our time.
As for the objection that “liberal individualism” is more functional than the cluttered and garish “National Greatness Conservatism,” I also have a hard time disagreeing in this particular case. Though he would probably not agree, what Wilkinson objects to here is something that I think any sane conservative who takes seriously ideas of virtue, honour, duty and sacrifice should also reject. What Wilkinson is objecting to in this case is, in fact, the crass abuse of these things and the manipulation of their meaning in service to the state and to the constant drive for conflict. Virtue would require not only andreia in a conflict, but also the wisdom and temperance to not start wars (McCain has never shown much of either on this count). Virtue also calls for restraint and moderation, which you do not find in the unseemly eagerness to offer up young Americans to a “cause higher than themselves,” as McCain always puts it. Sacrifice in defense of your friends, your family, your neighbours, your plot of land is a worthy thing, but it has precisely nothing to do with what “National Greatness Conservatism” is calling for. In lumping these worthy things in with what he calls a “quasi-fascist” impulse, Wilkinson does more to validate the Storeys’ criticism of libertarians than they could ever have done in their own polemic.
Compassionate conservatism was, in practice, nothing more than spin and a vague gesture at a higher-order justification for corruption. ~Matt Yglesias
Speaking as someone who viewed “compassionate conservatism” as something more than spin, I would note that from a conservative perspective the first term proposals of “compassionate conservatism,” whether NCLB or the “faith-based initiatives” or something else, were a form of corruption all their own–a corruption of schools on the one hand, and a corruption of churches and charities on the other. But to divide the high Gersonian rhetoric from the corruption and policy disasters of the Bush years is a mistake that allows both to escape from real censure much too easily. Gersonism facilitates corruption, because it breeds a sense of entitlement and a loss of restraint in how power and resources are used. Gersonism almost has to lead to policy disasters, because its assessment of ends and means is horribly wrong. Fundamental to the entire project is an unreflective optimism and self-confidence that says, “I know I’m trying to save the world (and I will save the world), and anyone who doesn’t appreciate that is a moral monster.” The obvious danger with self-appointed revolutionary transformers of the world is that the only thing they see more clearly than the rightness of their own view is the depravity of their foes, which makes for the perfect recipe for fanaticism and abuse of power.
This is the trouble that both cynics and progressives have in trying to make sense of Bush. People will assume that he is using “compassion” and “democracy” talk as cynical cover for something else or that he’s cloaking his allegedly deep right-wing commitments (ha!) beneath a lot of talk about government moving to assist hurting people. What is difficult for Bush’s critics, myself included, to appreciate is just how obliviously sincere they are that they think they really are caring for people and helping people by laying waste to their countries, imposing absurd unfunded mandates on their schools, frittering money away on feel-good foreign aid projects that leads directly to more corruption abroad, etc. They feel they are doing good, and so the consequences do not concern them, which is probably why they apparently give so little thought to consequences and the possibility that things will go awry.
Romney told the crowd of roughly 150 at the Jorge Mas Canosa youth center that he ‘’would never give money to Fidel Castro'’ — prompting a swell of cheers. ~The Miami Herald
Perhaps I haven’t been following Florida politics as closely as I thought I was–is there a live controversy about subsidies for Castro that has eluded my attention? Now that Liz Cheney is advising him on foreign policy, perhaps he can also pledge that he will not fund Bashar Al-Assad. Before Cuban-American voters get too swept up in these bold promises of not funding Castro (that’s some bold leadership for America, Mitt!), I would remind them that this is the same master of the pander who insisted that patria o muerte, vinceremos! was a wonderful, patriotic message that free Cubans should “reclaim” as their own. Who let the dogs out, indeed.
Watch out, Romney supporters: Liz Cheney, fresh from badly advising Fred Thompson on foreign affairs, is backing your candidate. It’s only a matter of time before the cold, creeping touch of Matalin follows and brings political doom with it. In the endorsement race, McCain has picked up nods from two popular Floridian politicians who endorsed him out of annoyance with Romney’s sleeve-tugging, and Romney has the support of…Liz Cheney. Those who have proposed that Romney represents some meaningful break with the Bush administration in foreign affairs might want to reconsider that view.
According to American Spectator’s Prowler, Romney’s over-eager approach to courting endorsements in Florida backfired spectacularly on him:
In the past week both Florida Sen. Mel Martinez and Gov. Charlie Crist wavered on their promised endorsements for Sen. John McCain, before finally having their fill of the heavy-handed arm-twisting of the Mitt Romney campaign.
“It finally got to the point for both of them that they just got fed up with the constant harassment,” says a source close to both men who has worked for them as a political consultant. “They weren’t going to endorse Romney and under the right circumstances, one or both of them might have chosen to sit the primary out, but the Romney people just made it intolerable.”
Note: Sorry for the interruption Sunday night. Whatever server problems there were seem to have been resolved.
Since, unlike the present, tomorrow is always imaginary, such idolatry can be manipulated in many ways. On the one hand, of course, the Stalins of the world can demand the death of millions in the name of a future paradise. This is an especial concern of Camus, who complains of those who “glorify a future state of happiness, about which no one knows anything, so that the future authorizes every kind of humbug.”…
Given the ironic character of history, we should, at the very least, make sure that our actions have some value in the present. The future that we imagine is unlikely to come about, if it does come about it will not last, and when it does come about we will probably despise it. ~Prof. Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism
This election is about the past vs. the future. ~Barack Obama
I saw the Obama victory speech live on C-SPAN online, and I admit that it was an impressive rhetorical display. It was all the more impressive because he managed to amaze his listeners and yet he didn’t say very much at all. He kept saying things like, “We’re looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington.” This is a line that gets cheers, and sets up a nice opposition between Obama the unifying insurgent and the divisive, nasty status quo. He pushed his campaign themes effectively, and he got in some clever digs at the Clintons. That is what victory speeches are for, and he gave a good victory speech. There is still something hubristic about the idea that his campaign marks the chance to end the old politics “once and for all.” It is curious to me that Obama’s us vs. them rhetoric, while he defines himself as a candidate dedicated to unity, does not receive the same scorn for being like a “conspiracy theory” that Edwards’ similar rhetoric routinely receives. The one solid, substantive line in the speech is his implicit pledge to end the Iraq war. The rest of it is quite vague. If that is what is scaring Republicans these days, they are in worse shape than I thought.
Here’s a Giuliani ad that seems more like a parody of a Giuliani ad (don’t they all?), as if there were a movie trailer about Giuliani’s campaign: “In a world full of danger, only Rudy Giuliani knows what to do!” I kept recalling National Treasure previews for some reason.
Well, Obama surpassed the pretty high standard that I was setting. I said that he needed to win convincingly with Romney-in-Nevada-like numbers, and he did. Even taking the large black electorate into account, winning by 28 points in a three-way race is a convincing victory. Obviously, the significance for the Democratic race is great, especially for his potential in Illinois, California, New York, New Jersey and states across the South, and Obama deserves credit for his impressive win. Still, let’s keep some perspective. There’s no need to be overcome by Obama-fear just yet.
This result does not necessarily mean that he will be able to compete effectively in a national race, much less does it mean that he can “put Southern states into play.” Some points: he finished third among non-black Democrats (23%), and he likewise finished a closer third among non-black non-Democrats (27%). He received a similar level of support from white men (27%), and was weaker with white women (22%). An Obama-led ticket would probably not ”put Southern states into play,” but would rather take them out of play. It would not necessarily be race that does this, but instead a combination of his left-liberal record and his “politics from above” that will simultaneously drive away moderate voters and downscale voters.
If the current numbers hold up, Obama will have won 55-27 over Clinton. If both Clintons are going to run against him as they have been doing, it is oddly fitting that he get two votes for each one of hers.
P.S. He seems to have exceeded all expectations tonight, and won by 12 points more than his best poll results before the vote and outperformed the RCP average of his South Carolina position by 17 points.
Related to the infrastructure post below, I was watching Huckabee talk about delays in commuting and travel on roads and at airports on C-SPAN, and he had this one brilliant line that we should work to have “time to be Americans again.” He was referring specifically to the lost time and wasted social capital (he actually used the phrase “social capital”) that people are losing in commuting and travel. That line is perfect for a slogan–it states Huckabee’s message succinctly while still actually meaning something. If there are any Huckabee people out there reading this, you should latch on to this phrase and work it into Huckabee’s speeches as often as possible.
McCain snags one of the most-coveted endorsements in Florida, and probably one of the few endorsements in the state that may move votes to a candidate.
According to exit polls, Obama has trounced Clinton by a very impressive margin. He received about a quarter of the white vote, and won four out of every five black votes. He won almost every age group, and he did win every education and income group. Obama has a good chance of winning this by at least
20 25 points.
The polls are closing in South Carolina in about twenty minutes, so we’ll begin to see just how large a margin of victory Obama has racked up. There has been talk of a possible Edwards surge into second, which I suppose might keep him slightly viable for another week. More important will be the effect of an Edwards second-place finish on Clinton, who has clearly written off S.C., but probably wouldn’t be expecting to lose to Edwards. Failing that, the margin of victory will be important for Obama, since there is already an expectation that he is going to carry an overwhelming percentage of the black vote, so he will need a gaudy Romney-in-Nevada-like result to put to rest the concern that he is becoming the 2008 Jesse Jackson in terms of his base of support. Like Romney with the large Mormon turnout, Obama needs to be able to show that he would have been competitive had he carried a much smaller percentage of the black vote. If not, he becomes the Democratic equivalent of Huckabee in one sense only: he starts to be seen as the candidate of one constituency. Just as Huckabee’s Iowa victory has been discounted because of the large number of evangelicals who participated, Obama’s South Carolina victory, as many other observers have already said this week, will win him a good number of delegates but give him only a very small boost.
I was reading this Andrew Ferguson article on Fred Thompson’s campaign, and it occurred to me that Thompson suffered from a deficiency of the thing that Obama has in excess, and this excess will eventually bring down the latter as surely as the deficiency has the former. Thompson and Obama do not have exactly the same problem, obviously, but their problems are related. Thompson was the candidate who hated process and did not like to be constrained by the rules of the process in this cycle. It was a telling moment for Thompson that one of his best moments in the entire campaign was his refusal to raise his hand in a debate, the perfect example of a rebellion against a genuinely stupid part of the process that nonetheless reflected a deeper antipathy to the role of the media in campaigns. Huckabee and McCain, by contrast, are virtually always available to journalists and talk shows (how many times has Huckabee been on Scarborough’s show? at least 32 times), while the loathing for the ultra-scripted Romney among many journalists is palpable. Accessibility and personaibility lead to more and more positive coverage.
On the other side, Obama is obsessed with process and with transforming process. To that end, Obama subjects himself to the rigours of campaigning more readily than Thompson was ever willing to do (it helps that he is also twenty years younger), but also gives the impression that he finds much of it as distasteful as Thompson does. (In fairness, I think any reasonably well-adjusted, intelligent human being would have to have distaste for what these people are called upon to do–put it down as another mark against mass democracy.) It is in his desire to “change” the process and “change” politics in the capital that Obama wins the endless positive coverage from the press, while he feeds their cynical hearts with the ambrosia of his ”uplifting” rhetoric. Thompson was hoping to change the electoral process by ignoring the rules, while Obama wants transformation of politics as such by going along with them, albeit somewhat reluctantly. The chant that has now become an inescapable part of the Obama campaign, “Fired up! Ready to go!” was, as many of you will already know, the product of Obama’s own listlessness one early morning on the campaign trail when his supporters had to spur him on.
Michael Crowley described the scene last fall:
Tired and cranky, he steps out into a downpour, and his umbrella blows inside out. On the interminable drive, “my staff’s not talking to me because they know I’m in a bad mood.” Obama arrives at a small building to find a mere 20 supporters. “And they don’t look too happy to be there, either.” The mood shifts, however, when an elderly woman in the back strikes up a call-and-response cheer. “Fire it up!” she shouts. “Ready to go!” answers the group. Obama describes being baffled at first. But then, he says, “I’m startin’ to feel fired up! I’m feeling ready to go!” At big rallies, the recitation of the anecdote culminates with Obama himself leading a spirited call and response with his crowd. “Fire it up!” “Ready to go!” “Fire it up!” “Ready to go!”
It’s an uplifting story. But it’s also, notably, one about a cranky candidate who needs firing up in the first place.
Both candidacies emerged in a similar way, as the result of glowing media coverage and an initially enthusiastic response to the personality of the candidate, but their fortunes diverged sharply as Thompson embraced a largely adversarial relationship with all media, both mainstream and conservative, and Obama cultivated his media image and his campaign remained fairly open to journalists. Both are celebrity candidates, but an important difference in their fortunes is that Thompson made the mistake of shunning the trappings of being a celebrity and sought instead to become the Serious Policy Candidate. The policies he proposed were often quite good by conservative standards, but evidently he thought that he had been drafted into the race because he was smart and informed, and not because he had a deep baritone and made jokes about sending Michael Moore to mental asylum. Obama, meanwhile, has done best when he keeps substance to a minimum and can talk about being a hopemonger. The hopemonger who nourishes the media with high-flown, empty talk naturally fares much better than the candidate who takes a certain pride in his contempt for mass media (a notable if not entirely surprising attitude for an actor to take). In the end, however, even the hopemonger must provide more than fluff and soaring phrases. When he has tried to provide this, as he has done in the debates, the “magic” of his speeches is gone and he reverts to the one-term Senator with slightly uneven delivery, a lack of discipline in fending off attacks and too little, well, “fire in the belly” for throwing punches at his rivals.
Most of the candidates ignored Wyoming and focused on the New Hampshire primary, except Rudy Giuliani, who’s following a shrewd strategy, originally developed by the Miami Dolphins, of not entering the race until he has been mathematically eliminated. ~Dave Barry
This latest Tennessee poll was timed just perfectly to be almost completely useless for the Republican race, as it included Fred Thompson in the polling and was then released on the day he dropped out. The interesting thing about it was that Thompson was just barely ahead of Huckabee in his home state, 25-24, and the competition was very weak with McCain at 12, Romney at 7 and Giuliani and Paul at 2 apiece. (26% said they still didn’t know, but I have to say that it doesn’t look good for the single-digit candidates.) Assuming the Thompson vote splits more or less evenly three ways, or even possibly goes more to McCain and Huckabee, Huckabee’s position in Tennessee appears to be much better than his current standing in Alabama and Missouri, where he is only tied for first. The main post-Florida question seems to be: will Super Tuesday be entirely a McCain blowout or will Huckabee manage to steal a few states to keep things interesting? Romney trails badly in non-Mass. Northeastern states, he trails in Illinois, and McCain understandably leads him in California and Arizona. I don’t see where Romney breaks out in the space of a week.
While immigration hurts black and white low-wage workers, the authors note, the effect is three times as large on blacks because immigrants are more likely to compete directly with them for jobs. ~Steve Malanga, City Journal
Looking at it in terms of the election, this issue was the reason why Tancredo was the lone Republican at the NAACP gathering last year. It’s also notable that the only candidates who mentioned the Newark killings mentioned in Malanga’s article were Republicans. The strong opposition between the two groups is also one of the causes of the resistance to Obama’s candidacy among Hispanic voters, even though he has adopted the same pro-immigration line that every other black Democratic politician takes.
This is meaningless, but I am glad to find that my favourite novel, Crime and Punishment, is towards the high end of this list. It doesn’t surprise me that it ranks higher than Anna Karenina, but then I have had an instinctive aversion to Tolstoy’s novels for some time. Offhand, I would guess that there are more references in a typical Dostoevsky work to Fourier and to problems of theodicy, which might make them more interesting to a certain set than a story about a woman’s love affair.
The strange whisper at Thursday night’s debate when Romney was being asked about Social Security continues to puzzle all of us who bother to worry about strange whispers at presidential primary debates. The easy shot would be to say that Romney needs constant reminders of what his positions are and are not, since he has changed so many of them. My more cynical guess is that there was some malfunction of whatever device was being used to feed Romney his answers or to clue him in to how he should respond to Russert’s “gotcha” question. That would give new meaning to the “empty suit” criticism, if he needs to be prompted on his debate answers by campaign staff. There seems to have been a second incident of this that many have missed.
I know conservatives weren’t great admirers of Bill Clinton’s AG choices either, but the prospect of Attorney General John Edwards is exactly the sort of thing that ought to make right-wing Obamaphiles think twice.
One would hope that “right-wing Obamaphiles” would do a lot more than that, but I think we should put this Edwards-as-AG talk in perspective. This is the sort of thing Obama’s campaign would have to say to bolster its support among union members as well as among downscale Democratic voters who have tended to vote for Clinton in larger numbers. Whether or not this represents the beginnings of an Obama-Edwards pact, it reveals the present limitations of Obama’s appeal. That Obama and his campaign feel compelled to start spreading information of this kind is a sign of Obama’s electoral weakness within the Democratic Party, to say nothing of his electoral liabilities with the broader electorate, so we would all be getting ahead of ourselves if we are worrying about Obama’s supposed Reagan-like potential and the damage that could be done by his first Cabinet appointments. As I’ve noted before, conservative fear of Obama’s candidacy, much less his Presidency, seems to be driven by false assumptions.
As implausible as it seems to me, let’s speculate on Obama’s chances. If 2008 really is an election that will focus on competence, is that an election Obama can win? It is doubtful. Behind the gauzy talk of hope, Obama is actually quite ideological. After two terms of a highly ideological administration, will a majority support someone almost as ideological as the current President? Even if Obama somehow won because of the deep unpopularity of the other party, he would find himself in the odd position of having constantly to prove himself to progressives who think that he is all together too accommodating while not allowing himself to be isolated and portrayed as a “radical.” Any early overreaching could leave him hobbled after the first midterm elections, and if there is one thing that proponents of grandiose visions of “change” are most susceptible to it is going too far too quickly. In one sense, he would be like Reagan, in that he has declared himself an enemy of the status quo–and not just the Bushian status quo–and would find Washington to be very hostile.
When the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis went crashing into the Mississippi River, everyone was suddenly paying a great deal of attention to our old, overburdened infrastructure, which is still, as it was last summer when this happened, old and overburdened. Now, as it turned out, that particular collapse did not result from a lack of maintenance but from a structural flaw, but this hardly makes the overburdening of the rest of our highways and bridges any less real. When Huckabee talked about doubling I-95 along its entire length, a frequent reaction on debate night was to laugh or make cracks about Huckabee’s Keynesian economics, but there were some who saw something of value there. One of the common themes that can be found among a number of different advocates for a genuinely middle-class-oriented conservatism is a recognition of the incredible amount of time and energy put into commuting, as well as the huge opportunity cost of this commuting.
Though all of the advocates in question might not agree with this entirely, mass commuting over long distances is a function of the unsettled and highly dependent nature of American life that creates the vast spaces between home and work and obliges people to rely increasingly on automobiles to go anywhere or do anything. While the “whirlwind of creative destruction” makes mobility from city to city commonplace, sprawl daily compels frequent long-distance mobility. In such an arrangement, people are settled neither in place nor really even in state of mind.
The trouble with Huckabee’s proposal is that it seems to be a kind of ad hoc alternative to even more dubious “stimulus” packages on offer and does seem to reflect the logic of government work programs, but it also shows him as someone who appears to understand the strains commuting–and the traffic jams those commutes create–puts on families, on energy resources and on the environment, to say nothing of the additional transportation costs that are passed on to consumers. Ross spoke about addressing the length of commutes in his bloggingheads appearance with Ruy Texeira here. The larger problem with Huckabee’s proposal is that it is really almost nothing more than a Band-Aid, the sort of temporary fix to structural problems of our (sub)urban life and zoning regulations, and it is ultimately no different from paving over more rural and suburban landscape to provide larger roads for ever-growing settlements, except that this proposes to do the same on a semi-national scale. As people live farther and farther away from their places of work, highway expansions are either going to become increasingly necessary to accommodate the increasing numbers of cars driving ever-longer routes or the divisions among residential, commercial and industrial zones will have to be reduced or eliminated. Ideally, the less dependent on the highway system communities could become the better, and the less need for mass commuting the better. Until then, highway expansions are probably the best make-shift solution.
The objection to Huckabee’s I-95 proposal reminds me a lot of the complaints against Huckabee’s fiscal record in Arkansas. Some significant part of the tax hikes for which he is now being demonised went to rebuilding Arkansas’ main highways. This is what the Huckabee campaign says, but it also happens to be true. Anyone who drove through Arkansas on I-40 during the very beginning of his tenure and then drove on it a few years later (as I did for four years going to and from college four times a year) knows how much Arkansas’ main highways improved in just a few years. While I can think of some traditional arguments against internal improvements that would make highway spending undesirable, I don’t believe for a second that most of Huckabee’s critics think that highway maintenance is not an acceptable function of government. Infrastructure is costly to build and maintain, and it is reasonable that it is a public expenditure that pays for it, since these roads serve a public purpose and, at least in theory, benefit the entire commonwealth.
Rasmussen has new polls from Missouri and Alabama, showing statistical ties between Huckabee and McCain with Romney about ten points behind in both states. Not surprisingly, Giuliani is not a factor in these states. Together with the strong lead Huckabee seems to have in Georgia, it seems unlikely that Romney is going get much traction at all anywhere in the South.
What happened in 2006, what were the two big factors? George Bush and Iraq. Iraq’s going better, and George Bush isn’t on the ticket. ~Sen. John Ensign
Ensign heads the NRSC, which means that he is supposed to be one of the main Republican strategists for the upcoming elections. He seems entirely too confident that the war won’t be a significant net negative for the Republicans this year, but at least he understands it was a large part of what harmed them in ‘06. This is one of the relatively few times I have heard a leading Republican figure acknowledge that Iraq was a major factor in the defeat in 2006 in the last year. However, it appears that Ensign hasn’t really absorbed what this means:
It [Iraq] just becomes more of a non-issue [bold mine-DL], I think is what it does. You see it keeps dropping farther and farther down on people’s radars, they may be opposed to the war but it’s not as important. But national security is still important to people, and who can handle national security.
The latest Pew survey shows that 27% say that Iraq is the “most important problem facing the nation”–this view is most frequent among Democrats, but 25% of independents (and 21% of Republicans) say the same. The economy does take first place, and the GOP is not faring well in public opinion there, either. Even if you say that Iraq is only the second-most important issue, that is almost as far from a “non-issue” as it gets. It’s hard not to conclude that Republican leaders remain as oblivious to the majority’s view of the war as they have ever been in the last two years.
Ensign is probably right when he says:
This election is going to be about independent voters. You know, our base is fine, their base is fine. It’s going to be about independents. Who attracts independents on issues, whether it’s the economy, whether it’s health care, whether it’s education, those kinds of issues that are core issues anymore, I think whichever candidates communicate the best, who has the best solutions.
If that’s right (and he may again be too optimistic about Republican voters), the GOP is pretty well sunk. Independents have been trending towards the Democrats for the last year and show no signs of coming back anytime soon.
Then there was this bit about the New Mexico race:
He’s an ultra-liberal Udall. Udalls are pretty left-wing, but you know it’ll be a good contrast down there, but you know, it’s certainly a swing state, a tougher state, kind of a purple state.
They have a little advantage because we have a primary and they don’t. At the same time, that doesn’t mean you can’t win. We saw that in Virginia. Virginia had a primary, George Allen didn’t. He lost. So it still depends on who runs the good races.
So the NM GOP is in good shape, provided that Tom Udall runs the worst Senate campaign in American history. The Republicans are going to be tearing each other down for the next four months, while Udall has every advantage. Whichever one emerges to compete with him, he is going to win by a pretty sizeable margin. Talk of “purple states” is misleading this year. New Mexico is essentially a Democratic state that occasionally votes for Republican executives on state and federal levels for a change of pace. New Mexico is quite uncanny in matching the results of presidential races and the national mood, and I don’t see a lot of New Mexicans voting for the Republican candidates this year.
Meanwhile, someone check Ensign’s office for hallucinogens:
I think we can actually sneak back into the majority on our best case scenario. I think we could get to 51. I think worst case scenario — 45, 46. That would be a real bad night, if we have a real bad night, we’re 45. A good night for us staying 48, 49, that’s a real good night. A great night is 51.
James writes on Romney’s re-creation of himself, which may actually be who Romney would remain if he stopped trying to be all things to whichever group he is addressing at the moment, and he sees something worthwhile:
I can handle that, because, finally, I think Romney would make a much better President than candidate. When he runs — and when he’s run — in the mode he was in tonight, he does great. When he runs as he did during the late Iowa-early NH phase, he’s a magnet for calumny, mockery, and contempt. Such a wild swing is rather alarming to see in a candidate, but let’s not forget this is a heavily contested and very confused primary campaign for the nomination of a party whose President seriously damaged its brand, tradition, trust, and track record. Romney’s great advantage from the beginning was as a sober, alert, sharp fellow capable of turning around a party that had lost its way. When trying to run for the base that still loves Bush just cuz, he’s a disaster, ineffective and unconvincing. But how could he avoid posturing in that way given the early dynamics of the primary season? Let’s all hope those days are over: neither Romney nor his party has any use for the contorted Mitt, and Republicans all have something to appreciate in what seems so obviously to be the Real Romney.
I understand James’ point, and he’s right that there is something more agreeable about a candidate who sticks to what he knows and stops pretending to be the authority on matters where he has no credibility. On his “superpower” remark, I will add this: he did say “in the region,” which seems to me to be an even more bizarre comment. Superpowers are powers that can project power to different continents and regions of the world. A regional power is just that–a regional power. Superpowers can be and obviously are also regional powers, but they would additionally have to be powers that could meaningfully project power almost anywhere in the world beyond their own region. Jihadis, despite their transnational character, do not possess that kind of power and, I suspect, never will.
One thing that comes to mind about Romney’s new persona is this: has he stopped pretending in time for it to make a difference? After all, just as Mr. Bush has trashed the Republican “brand,” Romney has harmed the value of his campaign’s brand with his issue acrobatics and chameleon-like shifts. The value of a “brand” is significantly tied to its reliability and stability. Does Romney have enough time in the next week and a half to reassure voters in Florida and elsewhere that he will not resume his contortionist act when he starts campaigning in the rest of the country? Probably not. Like Thompson’s last-minute discovery of enthusiasm, Romney’s new persona comes too late to do him much good.
On the larger Republican dilemma: they seem to be headed towards a McCain nomination, assuming Romney cannot somehow eke out a victory in Florida, which means a general election candidate taking the unpopular (and also wrong) positions on two of the major policy questions of the day. On one side, his nomination will depress conservative turnout somewhat, whether or not the establishment comes to terms with his candidacy, and on the other his fabled ability to attract independents will ultimately be undone by his position on the war. The Republicans have waited too long to throw up the barricades to stop this and they wasted their energy on other targets, as I have noted before in my remarks on the anti-Huckabee campaign. If they do succeed in stopping McCain, the alternative will be someone who personifies globalisation just as McCain personifies militarism, which will not, contrary to the developing conventional wisdom, be a boon for the GOP in a year in which a recession may well have been going for months by Election Day.
At the risk of repeating myself, I will say that the party and movement leaders have trapped themselves in this bind by ruling out absolutely the idea of a Huckabee nomination and aiming so much of their criticism at him in the last six weeks. Arguably, he is the one leading candidate who could poach on Democratic territory with rhetoric about economic anxiety while nonetheless pushing an agenda broadly favourable to economic conservatives, and the one who could also maintain the GOP line on the war while moving away rhetorically and to some extent substantively (at least apparently on Iran) from the administration on foreign policy. Selecting Romney as the VP could have then united the party and possibly alleviate residual fears about his economic heterodoxies, both real and imagined, and given the Republicans a reasonably good chance to compete. A Romney-led ticket wouldn’t generate enough turnout for a number of reasons and it could be easily put on the defensive in an election that turns on the economy. Even if Romney somehow prevails against McCain, I don’t see how he becomes the President even with his original problem-solver persona.
Via Sullivan, this Focus on the Family candidate guide is something to behold. How far out do your views on the Iraq war have to be for you to believe that Mike Huckabee is somehow insufficiently supportive of it? Responding to a statement that Huckabee made that “we broke it, we have to fix it,” one man on the candidate guide video declares in disbelief, “We didn’t break Iraq. Saddam Hussein broke it!…To say that we broke it, we have to fix it, rings a bit hollow.” This is crazy stuff. No wonder Huckabee can’t gain any traction on foreign policy, even when he repeats the party line on the war, “Islamofascism” and takes a position on the Palestinians far more extreme than Likud’s.
The Romney video states, quite inaccurately, that Romney has acknowledged that Mormonism is “not a Christian faith.” He has done no such thing, and every informed observer knows that he hasn’t. Viewed one way, this is a transparently pro-Romney deception aimed at putting the religion question to the side. Then again, considering the target audience, the Romney campaign could reasonably complain that Focus on the Family has injected anti-Mormonism into its campaign video in a direct attempt to undermine his candidacy. Whatever the intent was, the effect of this video will be to remind the audience that Romney is not a Christian, which is probably exactly the opposite of what his campaign wants to see from such organisations. Huckabee’s people are trying to spin this as an endorsement of Romney, but if it is it is one of the most poorly-worded endorsements ever.
In the latest bloggingheads between Rod and Reza Aslan, Aslan suggested that the “Republicans fear Obama” idea that I commented on before is actually a ploy to trick Democrats into backing the weaker candidate. That might be true for a handful of people, but I think the Republicans genuinely fear a progressive Democrat whose public image has not pigeonholed him as the left-wing politician that he obviously is, because the key to Republican electoral strategy every four years is to label the Democratic nomine as being “too far to the left” and therefore unrepresentative. I think there is an idea that Obama’s unity talk makes his progressivism seem non-threatening; the conciliatory approach he uses, which so annoys many hard-core progressives, sets his opponents at ease and, so I assume, Republicans fear that this then sets them up for a fall. I think this is completely wrong, but Republican fear of Obama is unavoidably tied to Republican admiration for Obama; since I have no particular admiration for him, and I don’t put much credit in the “atmospherics” that he tries to generate, I don’t see him as a general election threat. Indeed, in any other cycle where the Democrats do not possess so many inherent advantages, Obama would probably never have been able to reach this point. It is actually rather bizarre to fear the less nationally competitive, more progressive candidate in the general election, while assuming that the “centrist,” albeit widely disliked, is the one who will be easy to defeat. Likewise, it is bizarre for Democrats to fear the one candidate closely tied to the two policies that have so badly discredited the GOP with the country and with its own voters, but I think they do truly fear McCain, even though running against McCain would almost guarantee them victory.
Despite this, Mandell Ganchrow, a former Orthodox Union president and longtime leader of a major pro-Israel political action committee, recently posted an item on his Web site suggesting Obama’s early exposure to Islam could make him a danger to Israel.
“In the Jewish religion when someone is far away from observance, however at a certain time he has a spark of Jewishness, we call it a ‘pintele Yid’ — a smattering, or a deep-seated unconscious attachment to one’s roots,” Ganchrow wrote. “With a Muslim father, and being surrounded in his early youth in a Muslim environment, is there such a thing as a ‘pintele Muslim,’ with deep-seated feelings which could color decisions re: terrorism and the Middle East?” ~The Jewish Week
This wouldn’t be quite so ludicrous if Obama had ever shown the slighest hint of disagreeing with most U.S. policies in the Near East and had ever gone beyond beyond standard left-liberal criticisms of the treatment of Palestinians. Of course, except for Iraq (which a rather large number of non-Muslims who actually knew something about the Near East also opposed), he hasn’t. I have argued before that this perception of an affinity for Muslims or attachment to the Islamic world would hurt him politically, and that it was crazy for him and his supporters to keep emphasising his foreign roots and attachments. Whatever else you want to say about this, it really isn’t a vote-getter.
I would like to use some of my personal history to explore just how ridiculous this line of criticism of Obama is. First, as any long-time readers know, I am not a fan of Obama and I think he would make a terrible President. The problem with his foreign policy views is not that they are too passive or “friendly” (or whatever counts as a grave sin in the eyes of such people) to Near Eastern and Islamic countries, but that he is essentially indistinguishable from the foreign policy consensus views of Washington, except when he overcompensates out of fear of looking “weak” by proposing sending American forces into Pakistan whether or not Islamabad agrees. In other words, when he isn’t being merely conventional, he may be more dangerous than the people we have in power now. This is not the result of his family background or upbringing, but a result of his inexperience and his misguided ideas about the U.S. role in the world that many of his colleagues share.
As has been brought up elsewhere, for a very short time (about six months) I professed Islam (albeit pretty idiosyncratically–I doubt if my “conversion” would have ever been recognised as a proper one), mostly out of an attraction at the time to a somewhat coherent monotheism that was neither Jewish nor Christian, since I had been raised with no real religious education and had been conditioned by my multiculti private schools to an aversion to Christianity about whose teachings I knew relatively little and which I understood even less. After a few years of syncretistic dabbling in various religious literatures, I came to Islam, mostly through the English translations of Rumi and the like, but rather like the dabbling before it this was not, on reflection, a serious conversion and it was one I could never enter into fully. (Incidentally, anyone who would like to make more out of this than that is wasting his time.) In a way slightly similar to Obama’s conversion to Christianity, I approached Orthodoxy at first intellectually that then became more firmly grounded in a practicing Orthodox parish. So while I have no sympathy with Obama’s politics, I have found the persistent effort to label him falsely as a Muslim or crypto-Muslim, when he very definitely decided, as I did, to become a Christian (however liberal a denomination he may have joined), and the credulity of stupid voters to believe this falsehood, to be obnoxious. There are dozens of reasons not to support Obama. But the problem is not that he was raised for a few years in Indonesia with an Indonesian step-father or that his grandfather was a Muslim, but that he actually claims that living for a few years in Indonesia in his youth and having a Kenyan grandmother still living in a village in Kenya give him relevant foreign policy experience. The problem is not where he grew up, but that he is substituting a kind of symbolic capital for expertise.
As for the effect of my brief time as a self-described Muslim on my policy views, my attitude towards the world overseas had been poisoned much more by reading The Economist and The Wall Street Journal than by reading the Qur’an. I had far more sympathy for Bosnian Muslims and Chechens as an ignorant American teenager than as a putative Muslim thanks to interventionist agitation on their behalf. By the time of this brief Islamic phase, I had stopped thinking of foreign policy as a morality play in which other countries could be simplistically portrayed as incarnate evil. Indeed, perhaps this kind of thinking only really works for thoroughly secular people who must find their great moral struggles in politics rather than in asceticism and worship. Who knows? In any case, Western media reported incessantly that the perpetually evil Slavs were the villains of the story, and that it was as simple as that, and, young, foolish kid that I was, I believed them. Mujahideen in the Balkans? Why worry? Truthfully, as a result of reading Chronicles more regularly, becoming better educated in European and Near Eastern history and becoming more familiar with Christianity, I began to move away from the pro-jihadist positions of the WSJ, Weekly Standard and the like, while the war against Yugoslavia and its aftermath finally brought me around to the non-interventionist views that I have held ever since. I base my current views on what is in the American interest and how justice obliges us to act towards other nations.
If there were anything to this idea that Obama’s experience of growing up around and among Muslims (for a relatively shot period of his life in his earliest youth) would have an effect on his policy views, he would have to have policy views that were not virtually identical with every other conventional Democratic hawk.
P.S. Ross, Yglesias and Ambinder talk about Obama and the Muslim charge.
On the other hand, James, Chuck Norris has the good sense to stop making sequels of his old movies when he’s in his 60s, for which we can all be grateful. He has voluntarily relegated himself to the infomercial and WorldNetDaily set, where we wish Sly would go. Doesn’t that translate into some sort of political advantage for his favoured candidate?
Mike Huckabee recites from the warmonger hymnal, plus weird references to Jordan! Why hawks have a problem with Huckabee, I will never understand. Opponents of the war are the ones who should find Huckabee to be unacceptable.
We Americans laugh at the people of India and Pakistan who choose party leaders on the strength of their last names, and then a significant number of us run out to vote for George W. Bush or Hilary Clinton. Benazir Bhutto may be as crooked as Hilary Clinton, but she spoke far better English and was a fine-looking woman, which makes her superior to every female I know in American politics. And, while on this low topic, what man would not follow a pretty air hostess like Sonia Gandhi? Good looks, charm, and an impressive demeanor have always played a part in human affairs, but here in America even our screen idols are monkey-faced women and epicene males. To restore the republic, we should have to undertake a massive program of disenfranchisement, beginning with people who work for or receive benefits from government, moving on to unmarried women, and finishing off with anyone who has seen three films starring Heath Ledger or Brad Pitt. ~Thomas Fleming
Ron Paul concludes the debate with an answer that might be rephrased as, “Come home, GOP!”
The New York Times has managed to help Giuliani more than anything he could have said in this debate.
Romney is in denial about anti-Mormonism. He has Article VI memorised! He gets into the Europe-bashing act again. Will he mention France before it’s all over?
McCain said that he received a majority of Republicans in New Hampshire. This seems to be inaccurate.
Did Giuliani just refer to Ron Paul as a “terrific candidate”? He must be getting desperate.
Ron Paul asks McCain a fairly arcane question on a presidential financial advisory board. This allows McCain to dissemble and ramble.
Giuliani refers to Bill Clinton’s “peace divided,” neglecting to mention that much of the “peace dividend” through reductions in defense spending was sought by then SecDef Dick Cheney and President George H.W. Bush. This made sense, since we no longer needed a military that large. It still makes sense.
Huckabee seems to have no idea that there would have to be a federal bureaucracy just like the IRS to calculate and provide the “prebates.”
I have been following the Jim Antle method of debate-watching, except that instead of an hour of watching the debate without drinking I kept it to about fifteen minutes. I find this approach to be excellent.
The Republican field (save Ron Paul) marches in support of the war to their eventual political doom.
Huckabee likens WMDs to easter eggs–Pinkerton, call your office!
“A superpower, if you will,” Romney says of jihadis. It makes Huckabee’s easter egg remark seem informed.
By the way, whatever you think of Paul’s monetary views, his statement that wars produce inflation is absolutely right and pretty much irrefutable. At some point, you have to be either pro-dollar or you can be pro-war.
Watch Romney and McCain go after those Thompson votes with their newfound enthusiasm for entitlement reform!
Does Huckabee enjoy people ridiculing him?
As the GOP field gears up for another snoozer of a debate in Florida tonight, here are some interesting Rasmussen polling numbers from Georgia: Huckabee 34, McCain 19, Romney 16, Paul 12, Giuliani 11. Huckabee seems not to have been hurt by his second-place finish in South Carolina, and he has probably been helped by his active campaigning in Georgia earlier this week. Assuming this lead holds up, it may be that his decision to stop contending in Florida and focus on the states he has a much better chance of winning on Feb. 5 will turn out to be very smart. Oklahoma, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri, together with Georgia, offer Huckabee a possible 308 delegates, and he has definitely shown strength in Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia. Arkansas is presumably an easy win, and he should benefit in Missouri and Tennessee by coming from a neighbouring state. (The inevitable “he’s a Republican Jesse Jackson” jokes will follow soon thereafter.) The remarkable thing about this scenario is that come February 6th Huckabee could be in a competitive second place behind McCain, leaving Romney eating their dust.
It’s conceivable that a McCain win in Florida eats into Huckabee’s lead in Georgia, but I don’t see Romney turning around an 18 point deficit in a week and a half even if he prevails next Tuesday. Once again, Giuliani trails Ron Paul, even though Paul’s fav rating is almost forty points lower than Giuliani’s (an appalling piece of information, but there it is). It will quite strange if New Hampshire turns out to be one of a very few states where Giuliani received more votes than Paul, while Paul bests him almost everywhere else.
Aides to Mr. Huckabee say he did not get to know Mr. Romney very well as a governor, finding him distant at meetings. The aides said they were also irritated that Mr. Romney did not call after Mr. Huckabee’s victory in Iowa. ~The New York Times
He has no convictions and he has no class? Is it any wonder so many people dislike him?
Dennis Kucinich has dropped out of the race, and so departs the last consistent antiwar Democratic candidate for President. It has puzzled and dismayed me that so many Republican antiwar voters have backed McCain in defiance of all logic, but at least there is a core of voters in the Republican primaries that has rallied to the real antiwar candidate on the right. Meanwhile, Democratic antiwar voters mostly divide among those candidates who would bomb Iran and those who would invade Pakistan, all of whom endorsed the war against Lebanon in 2006. By all rights, Kucinich ought to have been able to pull together 10% of the vote in every vote, but instead was usually drawing less than half the support given to Ron Paul on the other side. However bad you think the GOP is, and I think it is pretty bad, don’t ever let anyone tell you that the Democratic Party is a party opposed to needless and illegal wars.
Rod suggested Huckabee might start building up his connections and ideas in a reformist direction in the wake of an ‘08 failure in the primaries, I doubted the prospects for the success of such a move, and Ross noted the lack of institutional infrastructure for such “reform conservatism,” but I now realise that there is an additional problem with this beyond the fact that Huckabee is apparently also not terribly interested in ideas (something I think we assumed all along). Building on this conversation, Ross observes in a new bloggingheads, I think mostly correctly, that if Huckabee were to do what Edwards has done in his network-building, policy work and philanthropy he would end up building up support with the “Republican Party’s left.” This would be the same part of the party that is, I think it’s fair to say, in utter disrepute with a substantial number of Republicans after the debacles of the last seven years, but even that isn’t the most significant difficulty here.
Building support with the Republican left is, of course, exactly the opposite of the direction he’s been going in this year’s campaign, but it is also exactly what he needs not to do if he wants to be taken seriously by the mainstream movement figures as an acceptable candidate for the Presidency, since he has already been tagged by virtually everyone on the right variously as a Gersonist/Christian leftist, a not-very-closeted liberal or, in a memorable phrase, an “open borders drag queen.” Perhaps Huckabee’s “vertical politics” will save him. Otherwise, he will probably be tagged by the movement leaders as RINO and consigned to that political netherworld inhabited by the Republican Leadership Council, Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel.
Incidentally, the hilarity of the reaction to the Huckabee campaign is that the shouts about his nice-guy liberalism have grown louder in direct proportion to the increasing number of his hard-right poses (and at the moment I still assume they are just poses) on issues.
With his second place finish in Saturday’s Nevada caucus, where Paul defeated Giuliani in every county in the state, the Texas congressman has now received 106,414 votes to 60,220 for Giuliani. ~The Politico
The Politico claim that neither Paul nor Giuliani has collected any “actual delegates” appears to be inaccurate, at least for Paul. According to CNN, Paul has received four pledged delegates from Nevada and two from Iowa. From the same source, it appears that Giuliani has received one pledged delegate from Nevada.
Here’s a passing thought on the politics of global warming. David Brooks, in a column that I otherwise found reasonably persuasive in its main argument, proposed a rather odd claim:
An oppositional mentality set in: if the liberals worried about global warming, it was necessary to regard it as a hoax.
The problem with this, besides treating reasonable skepticism as reflexive opposition, is that the debate on global warming, or “climate change” as it is more irenically called these days, has focused on the reality of the phenomenon mostly as an arguing tactic to undermine support for the proposed solutions. From there the debate shifted away from the reality of climate change, which I think most informed conservatives accept to one degree or another, to the question of causes. Obviously, if the phenomenon isn’t real, there’s no reason to do anything, and if it is real but humans are not a significant cause we are no position to prevent it by changing behaviour. Certainly, if climate change is happening (and I think it is), it will have real effects on weather and temperature patterns, just as past changes in the climate have done, and these are things for which we should be preparing. But talk of hoaxes misses the main point, as does much of the argument over whether the phenomenon is anthropogenic, which is that conservatives have and will continue to oppose the “solutions” to global warming whether or not they acknowledge its reality, because they do not see climate change as the cause of impending cataclysms, much less on the scale portrayed by alarmists. Barack Obama, ever the conciliatory figure, routinely refers to “the planet in peril,” which is roughly the liberal fearmongering equivalent of Republicans who go on and on about the “existential threat” from jihadism.
The reaction against this kind of fearmongering, which has unfortunately been one of the main ways most Americans have become familiar with the question, is a natural skepticism about and hostility to granting regulatory agencies the kind of power needed to enforce the reduction in emissions that is being demanded. The use of emergency to promote state power is not unique to this question or to one party, and again it finds a parallel in the alarmism about the jihadi threat. Both alarmisms stem from a loss of perspective, a conviction that a major issue on which one party believes itself to have a significant advantage is one of the most, if not the most, important issues of the age and a sense of urgency that unless citizens surrender to the government whatever it demands in the emergency the world, or civilisation, or our way of life, will be irreparably damaged if not destroyed. The Kyoto skeptics occupy the same ground vis-a-vis their opponents that civil libertarians and antiwar folks occupy vis-a-vis the “existential threat” alarmists in that they can recognise the reality of a problem, even a serious problem, and believe that it needs to be addressed, but they refuse to adopt absolutist and fanatical stances on the question when these make no sense and when they may actually do nothing to address the problem at hand.
The more obvious move is to find a Sister Souljah–after Saturday–to stiff arm. The most promising candidate is not a person, but an idea: race-based affirmative action. [bold original] Obama has already made noises about shifting to a class-based, race-blind system of preferences. What if he made that explicit? Wouldn’t that shock hostile white voters into taking a second look at his candidacy? He’d renew his image as trans-race leader (and healer). The howls of criticism from the conventional civil-rights establishment–they’d flood the cable shows–would provide him with an army of Souljahs to hold off. If anyone noticed Hillary in the ensuing fuss, it would be to put her on the spot–she’d be the one defending mend-it-don’t-end-it civil rights orthodoxy. ~Mickey Kaus
This would certainly be a bold move, but this is a cure that is worse than the illness from the perspective of keeping Obama’s campaign afloat. In the wake of Obama’s speech in Atlanta (in which he rails against the “profound structural and institutional barriers” to opportunity and the “insidious role that race still plays”), can you really see him taking this position? I’m also just trying to imagine the progressive reaction to this. Many on the left had a conniption because the man referred to Reagan in a mildly positive way. Just think of what would happen if Obama took a position that would actually be to the right of the Bush administration on such a policy–it wouldn’t just be the civil rights leaders who would react strongly. How better to demonstrate his alleged lack of progressivism to the left than to take what is, in effect, the Republican position on race-based preferences? Then, from the other side, his support for a “class-based preference system” would lead to predictable attacks from the right that he is stirring up “class warfare.”
“Giuliani for all intents and purposes has virtually no chance to win,’’ said pollster Rob Schroth, noting the difficulty of overtaking two other candidates comfortably ahead. ~The Buzz (St. Petersburg Times blog)
Duncan Hunter, who actually opposes free trade and illegal immigration, has endorsed Mike Huckabee, who wants you to think that he does. My one-time, quite ludicrous prediction that Duncan Hunter would be the Republican nominee (based once again on the implausibility of all of the alternatives) was informed partly by the idea that Hunter’s protectionist and border security credentials would help the GOP this cycle with those states that they must win. One of the crucial flaws with this is that I assumed voters would want the experienced legislator who knew what he was talking about, rather than the artful showman who does not. Nonetheless, the Huckabee phenomenon shows that there is some response among Republicans to the themes Hunter has articulated–they just needed someone a bit smoother and more glib to gesture towards them very generally before they would get excited.
P.S. Hunter’s endorsement statement is here. It clearly helps Huckabee’s reputation on border security and national security that one of the leading restrictionists and former Chairman of the Armed Forces Committee has endorsed him. It’s an interesting split of the two also-rans: Tancredo went for Romney, which was frankly more bizarre than this, and Hunter has backed Huckabee. As recent and cynical as Huckabee’s shift on immigration has been, the Hunter endorsement doesn’t strike me as being nearly as odd as Tancredo’s support for Romney. The latter is just wrong on so many levels.
That’s part of the reason why you don’t have as rich a set of religious institutions and faith life in Europe. Part of that has to do with the fact that, traditionally, it was an extension of the state. ~Barack Obama
As I said last month, most European churches had been disestablished by the 1920s, and many had been disestablished long before then, and there are numerous other, far more significant factors that explain the secularisation of Europe. These were my main points then:
Here is a list, by no means exhaustive, of some of what were significant causes of the process of secularisation in Europe: scientific advances, materialist philosophies, the uprooting and deracinating effects of industrialisation and urbanisation, the introduction of ideological politics and mass political mobilisation, the material and moral ravages of the two wars, followed by the effects of two essentially materialist worldviews that claimed to “deliver the goods” more effectively or justly than the other. Where the experience of Europe clearly differs from our own, and one of the reasons why Europe has gone further in its secularisation, is in their experience of the wars. I have to wonder whether Americans would have been church-going and believing in the numbers that we are today if we had experienced the full horror of these conflicts and had endured the same losses. There is a basic problem with the thesis that “faith thrives in a free market,” which is that there are now “free markets” all across Europe where there are no established churches or, where there are technically established churches they have no real authority over all citizens of that country who are not members, and yet faith isn’t exactly thriving and has been largely going into decline in the free, western European part since the war. There has been some religious revival since the Cold War, but it is sporadic. If “faith thrives in a free market,” Spain should not have undergone the rapid secularisation that it has experienced since the end of the Franco regime. Italy disestablished the Catholic Church in 1984, which must be why religions of all kinds have been flourishing in Italy. The Republic of Ireland hasn’t ever had an established church, yet it is experiencing the same secularisation that overtook Spain before it. It has been the last twenty years of economic and social changes that have sapped the strength of religion in Ireland. Clearly there is something much more complicated going on that cannot be explained with easy reference to establishment/disestablishment of religion.
What strikes me about Obama’s comments is that they are perfectly conventional and could have come from the most anti-European neoconservative. If Obama casts this in terms of the separation of church and state rather than describing religious pluralism in terms of “market forces,” he is nonetheless coming to the same liberal consensus answer that most Americans maddeningly endorse without thinking about whether there is any truth to it. If our civilisation were devastated in two gigantic conflagrations and much of our territory subjected to the depredations of totalitarian governments for decades on end, we might find our religious life rather less “rich” as well.
Instead, lacking even the excuse of ignorance, he chose to sling the term “fascism” around as casually as the most vulgar leftist. It does not speak well of Goldberg that, by his own admission, he wrote his first book not to enlighten but to exact revenge.
People love Obama down here. The scene a moment ago was a bit like that anecdote from Gregory the Theologian about the people in the marketplace holding forth on the Trinity, albeit concerning a much less elevated and important matter. Out of nowhere people offer you their opinions on the presidential contest. Down the street came a black man asking for some help to get to a shelter (tonight it is miserable out in Chicago, must be in single digits), and so we got to talking. I explained that I lived in the neighbourhood and studied history, which prompted the man, out of the blue, to complain about Hillary Clinton’s use of MLK to attack Barack Obama. Granted, this is Obama’s turf and he will probably carry this part of Illinois about 98 to 2, but the genuine disgust the man felt for Hillary Clinton was something to behold. Obama may lose this contest, but I don’t think I appreciated how much the Clintons had alienated black voters until tonight. Come November, she may find a lot of very unmotivated Democrats here and around the country.
With his departure from the race, it’s time to look back on selections from Eunomia’s Fred Thompson coverage, starting right from the beginning. After recognising the absurdity of his candidacy, I was forced to acknowledge that Thompson had far more support than I could have ever imagined. I then embraced that absurdity and claimed that he would win the nomination (mainly for lack of any viable alternatives), whereupon his campaign imploded with the same kind of dullness with which it began in September. Only then, after the implosion of his campaign, did the NRLC endorse him, which pretty much everyone thought to be a mistake. It turns out I was just a little too impatient–the lack of any rationale for his candidacy soon overtook his most earnest efforts. Now, here we are at the end.
Jim Antle concludes:
If Mitt Romney can’t prosper with Thompson out of the race, there are no conditions under which he could win the nomination.
Let me be the first, then, to affirm that there are no conditions under which he could win the nomination.
You’ve waited for it, and now here it is: First Principles, ISI’s web journal, is online.
Here’s something that keeps puzzling me. Some people say that Democrats are afraid of McCain as the GOP nominee, and some people say that Republicans are afraid of Obama as the Dem nominee. No doubt, this is an accurate portrayal of attitudes within both parties. One party or the other may be right to be afraid, but I’m pretty sure that both sides can’t be right in their assessment of the danger. The more I think about it, though, the less it makes sense to me that Democrats fear McCain and Republicans fear Obama. It seems to me that there are at least two things that explain this fear: admiration for the opposing party’s candidate and contempt for that candidate’s rivals. Contempt blinds both sides to the political strengths of the other candidates, while their admiration exaggerates the abilities and appeal of the one candidate, whose exaggerated abilities and appeal then make them fear for their party’s success in the fall. Another factor seems to be that the candidate whom each side fears the most seems to represent something, whether in style or substance, that exposes what each party sees as a glaring weakness in itself. Republicans have built up an entire mythology about the importance of optimism as central to the appeal of Reagan, and if there is one thing Obama has in spades it is optimism, while the modern GOP traffics in the most blatant fearmongering and doomsaying, so perhaps Republicans fear that Obama’s comparison of himself to Reagan isn’t merely self-important bluster. Meanwhile, Democrats fear McCain because he represents unvarnished militarism and appears to Democrats, conditioned for decades to be constantly on the defensive on military and national security matters, to have an insurmountable advantage on foreign affairs and national security. What neither side seems to grasp is how completely wrong its assessment is: one of the last things Americans want after seven years of Bush is more starry-eyed optimism, and probably the last thing they want is more of the same confrontational, aggressive meddling overseas. What each side fears about the other’s possible nominee is actually the candidate’s weakness, and what each party believes to be its weakness is actually one of its best electoral assets in the current cycle.
It would probably be best for John [McCain] if there were still three potentially viable opponents splitting up the Florida pie. ~John Weaver
But even if that vote were split just two ways, Thompson wasn’t drawing that much support in Florida anyway, so the gain for either candidate would be minimal. If Thompson supporters in Florida are anything like his supporters in South Carolina, more will break for McCain and Huckabee than for Romney. Working even more to McCain’s advantage, Huckabee is reducing his presence in Florida, which may not bode ill for his campaign if he can hang on for two more weeks to those strong leads in Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma and the like. But whatever happens to Huckabee later, some of his supporters in Florida will probably drift to McCain, while only a few will go to Romney. Romney seems to have a marginal advantage among Thompson supporters, and no advantage among Huckabee supporters. McCain stands to expand his lead over the field during the next week, and there is every reason to assume that weak Giuliani supporters will decide to back a similar candidate who already has won a couple of primaries. Romney will gain strength, but he won’t be able to gain as much as quickly as McCain. The remarkable thing about all of this is that reporters and pundits have assumed, as have I, that Thompson’s supporters were obvious Romney voters, but nearly two-thirds (at least in South Carolina) were apparently more interested in other candidates. That doesn’t just reflect Romney’s last-minute retreat from the state, but hints at a deeper resistance to Romney’s candidacy.
Of course, based on my track record of making predictions about this race, you can almost certainly ignore all of that.
P.S. Nationally, if I’m reading this right, Thompson supporters seem most likely to favour McCain and Giuliani, but they have the profile of a Huckabee voter. (Don’t ask me to explain it!)
Fred Thompson has withdrawn from the presidential race. I have had my criticisms of his views and his campaign, and I never understood the movement to draft him into the race in the first place, but he always inspired more feelings of pity than indignation, which is more than I could say for any of the other one-time leading candidates.
His [Brooks’] position doesn’t stray much from the neo-conservative position, in which foreign policy rules supreme, and limited government is of little concern. ~Mark Levin
As opposed to all the great constitutionalist champions who fill the movement to overflowing these days, for whom limited government is a top priority and foreign policy is an afterthought? This criticism would be much more telling against Brooks if it weren’t also applicable to a huge number of conservative columnists. If mainstream conservatives want to complain about the rise of McCain, they probably ought to consider how they have empowered or acquiesced to ”the neo-conservative position, in which foreign policy rules supreme, and limited government is of little concern” over the past ten years and more. If you allow your movement and your party to be made over in the image of Bush, don’t be terribly surprised when his natural ideological heirs receive a lot of votes from those who call themselves conservative.
Now no one can possibly confuse me with a David Brooks fan or with someone friendly to the policy agenda of neoconservatives or their preferred candidates, and obviously I don’t endorse Brooks’ meliorism or “reform” agenda, but there is something distinctly odd about the degree of hostility shown to these two candidates relative to that shown to Giuliani or Romney. Besides their capacity to send talk radio hosts into seizures, Huckabee and McCain have something else in common: they come from those parts of the country where the core constituencies of the party actually live and work, while Romney and Giuliani come from places where conservative Republicans are something of a rare, exotic species and Republicans of any kind are a dying breed. I can’t help but think that this has something to do with the antipathy towards the former and the leniency shown to the latter.
If anyone represents the tradition of the “Nixon-Ford domestic agenda — i.e., a muck of compromises and government expansion that surrenders the ideological playing field to the Left or, if you will, an incremental socialism which Brooks sets forth as a new way,” it would probably have to be the man who gave you MassCare, just promised a boatload of subsidies to the auto industry and has been pro-life for less time than I have been in graduate school. Romney grew up in a Rockefeller Republican family and belonged to that tradition until it became convenient for him to discover the virtues of Reaganism. By the standards that these people condemn McCain, they would have to throw Romney overboard as well, but they simply don’t spend the time or energy doing this. Their general indifference to the obvious frauds Romney perpetrates against the public in his campaign shows the hollowness of their complaints against the other two. McCain is, of course, well to the left of me, he is deeply, amazingly wrong on immigration and foreign policy, and I will oppose his candidacy as much as I possibly can, but he has actually been to the right of Giuliani and Romney (which isn’t saying that much, but there it is) for decades. The mind that can accept the turnaround artist who has turned himself 180 degrees on virtually everything as acceptable, but regards flawed but consistent candidates as beyond the pale, is a very confused one. There was simply nothing like the intense attacks against McCain when Giuliani was the putative frontrunner, and by comparison Romney has been given a very easy time of it from conservative media, all of which points to the cynicism of at least some of those who protest against McCain and Huckabee’s deviations.
P.S. Just on an empirical point, Brooks’ claim that conservative voters have not followed conservative leaders is basically accurate. In total votes, Huckabee/McCain have received 849,956 votes (per TownHall’s count, which apparently doesn’t include Wyoming) and Romney/Thompson have received 633,715 votes. If you add in Ron Paul’s numbers to the total of voters not following conservative leaders, the margin obviously grows. Even when you acknowledge that McCain has led among conservative voters only once this year (South Carolina) and independents have been an important source of support for McCain, Huckabee and Paul, it remains the case that most conservatives chose candidates other than Romney and Thompson in every contested race. Given the choice between the vilified deviants and the approved candidates, most people voting in the Republican primaries and caucuses opted for the former. That is significant, and these results are also generally in line with national surveys that ask Republicans which candidate “shares their values.”
Yet a funny thing has happened this primary season. Conservative voters have not followed their conservative leaders. Conservative voters are much more diverse than the image you’d get from conservative officialdom.
The intense reaction against Huckabee in particular seems to show an inability among movement leaders to accommodate the diversity of the political coalition with which they have allied themselves. Dissident conservatives from the right have long complained of the tendency to over-identify the conservative movement and the GOP, and in this election cycle we have seen a continuation of this, albeit somewhat in reverse. The identification between the party and the movement institutions has become so complete that the institutional movement leaders react against candidates in the GOP primaries as if the eventual Republican nominee were the de facto leader of the movement as well. A fairly strict, meaningful definition of conservatism would not be a problem if it were not considered an absolute requirement that every major elected Republican describe himself as a conservative. Currently the GOP voting coalition is arguably much less conservative, by the standards of what that term meant in 1980, than it was just ten years ago, and yet far more Republicans describe themselves with this term than was the case just a decade ago. This does not represent the triumph of conservative principles so much as it represents the dilution of the term’s meaning. The name has become a marker and proof of your right to belong, but it has consequently become much less significant. We are currently experiencing the confusion that inevitably follows the overuse of a term that empties it of all meaning.
Movement leaders have some significant, legitimate objections to the records of Huckabee and McCain, many of which I happen to share, but they have opted to treat them as they have treated rightist dissident conservatives in the past: they do not simply reject this or that policy position for certain reasons, but take the departure from an official line as proof that a person is not just possibly mistaken on policy but must also be excluded from the realm of conservatism all together for raising the question in the first place. At the very least, this response makes a mockery of the pretensions that Republicans and establishment conservatives entertain and value intellectual diversity. Very little creative or valuable thinking can be done if conservatives are constantly made to feel as if any unconventional proposal threatens to dynamite the entire movement and endangers the proposal’s author with exclusion. If the conservative movement is not going to be an appendage of the GOP in the future, its leaders will need to recognise that the outcome of the Republican nomination contest does not have to define the future of the movement, and that the movement’s support for a given Republican administration is not foreordained or guaranteed. That, in turn, may yield some better results on policu, since it makes it harder for the party to take movement support or acquiescence for granted.
If conservatives allow their priorities to be dictated by transient political needs of the GOP, they will find themselves increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of their movement and will also find themselves incapable of having an independent voice that will have credibility when it speaks out against Republican follies and failures. Without that independence, they will find themselves, as they do today, complicit in the errors of the party and unable to do much about them. This independence from the party cannot simply be rhetorical or a scapegoating tactic when things go wrong, but must be a consistent strategy of keeping a healthy distance from a party organisation that may have common goals in certain cases but which has its own interests that do not always align with those of conservatives. If conservatives took that path, there would be much less anxiety every four years about the dangers of “redefining conservatism” for political ends. An important step in the direction of independence would be the decentralisation of conservative movement institutions away from Washington and the East Coast. As with every kind of decentralist approach, this would make conservative institutions better aware of different conditions around the country, it would reintroduce them to local and regional perspectives and would remove them to some degree from the proximity to and influence from party leadership. Perhaps most importantly, instead of developing think tanks and institutes focused on national policy there would be a greater focus on local and regional concerns, which would of necessity eschew the sort of homogenised, uniform responses on matters of policy, and it would allow the kind of flexibility and ability to challenge assumptions. This decentralisation of the movement would then also give the movement greater incentives to pursue and defend actual political and economic decentralisation, so that they would have a practical reason to advocate devolution of power back to states and localities. When movement institutions have no concrete interest in devolution and localism, they will tend towards acquiescing in centralist policies that are ostensibly pursued for “conservative ends,” but which everything we know about consolidated power tells us will not achieve those ends and will actively subvert the natural affinities and remaining local institutions that are actually much more fundamental to realising those “conservative ends.”
I guess I’m sorry that I missed this debate. As a matter of informing voters, it seems to have been the same waste of time that debates always are, but as political theater it will be remembered for a long time to come. Clinton stated (correctly, as it happens) that Obama’s claim of continuous, unbroken opposition to the war was false. Obama insisted, as some of us argued earlier, that his remarks about Reagan were not meant as an endorsement of Reagan’s policies, which should have been obvious to everyone. Then there was loose talk of corporate lawyering and slumlords. Then Edwards hit Obama on his numerous “present” votes. Despite the much more conventional one-on-one nomination fight that is developing on their side, the Democrats seem poised to commit self-immolation than the GOP if they keep doing what they’ve been doing the last few weeks.
Okay, he isn’t saying that exactly, but he does seem to be one of the few columnists or radio hosts who recognises that there is something awry with the persistent demonisation of Huckabee and McCain when compared to the much more friendly treatment meted out to Romney and Giuliani, who are, by any fair standard judging by their records, far less conservative than the two receving the third degree from pundits, activists and talk radio hosts. If the phrase “pro-war liberal” applies to anyone in the race, it is Giuliani, yet he typically gets a pass from the people who would try to persuade you that Huckabee wants something like “socialism in one nation under God.” There is no doubt, as I have noted before, that the majority view of Huckabee in particular is that of someone who is seriously conservative, and Republicans likewise identify with Huckabee and McCain as people who “share their values” far more than Romney or Giuliani. That Huckabee has not been noticeably more conservative than the President over the years and yet receives the highest rating as a conservative by Republicans should tell you something about cognitive dissonance among GOP voters, who claim in poll after poll around the country that they want someone like Reagan and not like Bush and are, according to national and Feb. 5 state polling, nonetheless happily embracing the two candidates who seem like natural heirs to a Bush-dominated GOP.
Now by the standards of what I would recognise as conservatism, all of the four are badly wanting, none can really be trusted and all are deeply in the wrong on foreign policy to different degrees, but I am keenly aware that the standards I use are definitely not the prevailing ones in the GOP today and haven’t been for some time. It was simply impossible for the GOP and the movement to tie themselves so closely to Bush, to rally core constituencies to his side time after time and to identify many of his worst policies (e.g., “the freedom agenda”) as their guiding principles and then suddenly reverse the effects of the last seven years on the attitudes of the voters who had been stampeded into the Bush corral. The Republicans who say they want a Reagan-like leader and don’t think Bush is cut from the same cloth nonetheless approve of the President’s performance in approximately the same percentages as embrace Huckabee and McCain. There may not be complete identification between Bush supporters and Huckabee/McCain supporters (McCain seems to have the backing of a remarkable number of anti-Bush voters), but if two-thirds of the GOP still back Bush how is it so remarkable that two-thirds would also back Huckabee and/or McCain?
It seems more certain than ever that Ross was right when he wrote:
If you consider how the nation’s most ambitious Republicans are positioning themselves for 2008, Bushism looks like it could have surprising staying power.
Now that the idea of an anti-Romney McCain-Huckabee alliance is fast becoming conventional wisdom, it is worth noting that many of the institutional movement conservatives and party leaders shot themselves in the foot with their intense hostility to Huckabee and everything he represented. When the GOP establishment needed to rally evangelicals and social conservatives to stop McCain, they could not throw their weight behind Huckabee, whom they had already denounced in the harshest terms, and they could not expect the favourite candidate of many movement conservatives to peel off supporters from Huckabee after he had tried to discredit Huckabee. Incredibly, the same movement that just six months ago was powerfully opposed to McCain because of the immigration bill has, as I said earlier, spent much of its time for the past month vilifying the one candidate who could have checked McCain’s ambitions. Now that they need to rebuild an alliance between the Republican center and right to replicate the success of Bush in 2000 to thwart McCain, they find that they have instead surprisingly driven many voters on the right into a tactical alliance with McCain and his “moderates.” The (mostly baseless) antipathy to Huckabee on trade and economics–the opposition to his insubstantial ”populism”–and the exaggerated complaints about his fiscal liberalism when compared to the largely kid-glove treatment of Romney’s equally undesirable interventionist record helped to drive a wedge between large parts of the social and economic conservative factions that made it unlikely that Romney voters would vote tactically for Huckabee. Furthermore, because the GOP has wedded itself so fully and blindly to the war in Iraq and McCain is on the side of a majority of Republicans on this question, a McCain candidacy protected by a tacit alliance with Huckabee becomes very hard to stop.
Prof. Bainbridge preaches ashes and sackcloth:
Coupled with losing Congress in 2006, losing the presidency in 2008 will provide a pair of defeats that surely will prompt “attentiveness” on the part of the GOP leadership and the intellectual base of think tanks and academics who helped lay the foundation for the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions.
But attentiveness to what? There is something frustratingly vague about Bainbridge’s complaint, just as there was always something frustratingly vague about Thompson’s campaign message. Going back to first principles is a fine idea (assuming that you have sound first principles), but Thompson never made clear how he would differ from the current administration in those areas where it was most ruinous for the reputation of the party and the name of conservatism. There is reason to think, given what he has said and who is advising him, that Thompson would have been worse and more prone to the same mistakes of this administration on foreign policy than would Romney or Huckabee. In other words, in the one area where a return to first principles seems most necessary, Thompson plainly failed to deliver.
2006 should have been a deafening wake-up call to the GOP that most of the country was not with them on Iraq, but that wasn’t the lesson they learned at all. They decided to hang it all on corruption and overspending, as if Indiana ousted three Republican incumbents and New Hampshire turned into a Democratic state because of Abramoff and earmarks. Depending on the nominee, the aftermath of an ‘08 defeat will result in slightly different conclusions, but whatever explanation “the intellectual base” gives to account for the defeat they will remain oblivious to the party’s blind spots on the war and foreign policy, and so will be unable to fix what is wrong. Remarkably, many of the same people who have winked and nodded at executive usurpation and infringement on civil liberties, the ones who mock Paul’s constitutionalism as hopelessly antiquated, are all the more rigidly, inflexibly adhering to the memory of “the Reagan coalition,” as if conservatism existed for the sake of the coalition rather than the other way around.
I am endorsing Ron Paul for the Republican nomination for President because of his commitment to less government, greater liberty, and lasting prosperity for America. We are at a point in this country where we need to reduce our dependency on government and regain control of our future. To this end, Ron Paul will bring back troops, end the War in Iraq, and will strengthen the U.S. dollar and the economy. For these reasons and more, Ron Paul has my support, respect, and vote. ~Fmr. New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson
Mr. McCain was the target of Mr. Norris’s apparent frustration over Mr. Huckabee’s loss and he went for a McCain sore spot, his age. Mr. McCain is 71, the oldest candidate in the field.
“I really don’t believe he’ll have the stamina to run the country for four years,” Mr. Norris said at a news conference. Mr. Norris is 67. ~The Caucus
Well, this may be the beginning of the end of this anti-Romney pact idea. Perhaps Huckabee still has the odd idea that he can win the whole thing. That would certainly liven things up a bit.
Last week I wrote about McCain as the candidate who had replaced Giuliani, and this seems to be holding true. This will have an effect on Florida voting, since there is little incentive to take a chance on a broke, untested Giuliani campaign when you can back McCain, and you can get pretty much the same combination of crazy foreign policy and immigration liberalism but with none of the weird and creepy baggage that goes with supporting Giuliani. What occurred to me tonight as I thought about the South Carolina result is how much McCain’s campaign has matched up in practice with Giuliani’s alleged “strategy” of exploiting a divided field on the right to propel himself to the frontrunner position. The assumption of the Giuliani “plan” was that multiple winners in the early contest prevented consolidation around any one candidate, which then allowed Giuliani to sneak in through the back door. The only problem with this was that he was supposed to retain a prohibitive advantage in February 5 big states where his New York Republicanism would not offend nearly so many. In the event, his support in almost all the big states has started to collapse, even in New York and New Jersey, because he failed to consider that his candidacy was redundant and irrelevant the moment McCain’s campaign revived.
Giuliani hoped, and probably still hopes, that the divided field would work to his advantage, but with his failed under-the-radar direct mail Iowa campaigning following his pre-Ames retreat, his on-again, off-again New Hampshire effort (which was, as Michael correctly said at the time, mostly an anti-Romney effort based on the reasonable assumption that Romney was his principal rival), his belated abandonment of Michigan and his simply miserable organisation in Nevada he ensured that the natural home for his voters would be with McCain. McCain has shown that you can either exploit a divided field from the beginning or you cede the ground to someone else who can. You do not get to wait for the others to tear each other apart and expect to sweep in like a conquering hero. McCain’s implosion last summer will now be seen as a blessing in disguise, since it made him hone his message, trim his operating costs and husband his resources carefully, while Giuliani took his reasonably successful fundraising and started throwing money around with little concern for long-term funding, when his supposed “strategy” relied on precisely the kind of close control over funds that McCain’s campaign had to practice out of necessity.
The flaw with Giuliani’s campaign was also the central flaw with Fred Thompson’s campaign, which the Fred Hysteria exacerbated severely: anointing a candidate as the “obvious” or “necessary” candidate to fill a void or assume a leadership role removes all incentive for the candidate to exert himself and do the necessary persuading that he is the best candidate, when has already received that title by acclamation before he got started. When you treat a politician as if he is the answer to some woe, he becomes very pleased with himself, a little too pleased, in fact, and then he becomes resentful when you do not immediately provide him with the laurel crown. Having no business in the race, but propelled there because of the official narrative that 9/11 qualified him for a completely different job with utterly different responsibilities from those he had in New York, Giuliani went with the official narrative and played it for all it was worth. When that didn’t work, he had little else to offer. Likewise, having no business in the race, but propelled there by the idea that he was the “consistent conservative” alternative to a field of squishes and heretics, Fred Thompson stuck to that “consistent conservative” message, as if to say, “Okay, Reaganites, I have arrived–now flock to me!” When voters did not respond to this fairly weak appeal, Fred became rather surly and kept reiterating how very serious he was, and he wasn’t in the campaign to act like some game show contestant who had to buzz in with an answer in the form of a queston. He had policy papers! He even called them “white papers”! Haven’t you read them all? As with Fred, Giuliani’s was a celebrity candidacy, but one also premised on having the charisma and command to unify a disillusioned, confused party. In the end, the candidates reputed to have charisma and command possessed neither, and their absence from the early contests (with the exception of Fred’s very belated Iowa push) reminded voters that the two candidates who were supposed to drive all before them had fled several of those states out of a very reasonable fear of defeat.
P.S. Earlier, I argued that, while satisfying to antiwar conservatives, the demise of Giuliani was a victory for hegemonists, whose goals will not be burdened any longer by Giuliani’s personal history and social liberalism. No longer will social conservatives have to hold their noses to keep the perpetual war going. In a strange way, Giuliani’s failure is a very good thing for the War Party.
He is the stiff technocrat chastised by the media for his awkward style and for his many changes of public persona. He is the son of a politician, born to privilege and capable of tremendously detailed policy wonkery that bores most other people silly. He is frequently compared to a robot or some other passionless humanoid, for which he then overcompensates with public displays of emotion. This was the media image of Al Gore, but it is now the image of Mitt Romney. Presumably someone has drawn this comparison before (it seems so obvious to me today that I wonder why I’d never thought of it before), but I think it is helpful in explaining why Romney has been such a weak candidate. Both have switched positions on abortion in their ambitions for national office in their respective parties, in which they are hardly alone, but Romney has shown an even more plastic flexibility with his positions on a range of issues. Most strikingly, like Gore’s later crusade against the evils of tobacco, Romney’s changed view on immigration has been startling…and also thoroughly unconvincing to many restrictionist voters. Huckabee’s flip-flop on immigration has been even more dramatic, obvious and opportunistic, but he has somehow pulled it off with a lot of restrictionist voters because I suspect they are more willing to trust the avuncular preacher than the blow-dried robot.
As with Gore, Romney’s personal associates insist that he is nothing like the public persona most of us have encountered through the media, and it’s fair to say that journalists have been even less forgiving to Romney than they were to Gore, but the public’s perception of both men was that they “did not know who they were” and were also fond of telling easily disproved whoppers about things from their past. In fairness, Gore seems to have had a few more of these, but whether it’s his claim about his father marching with MLK or his lifelong love of the hunt Romney seems to have the same propensity to tell stories that lend him a certain authority or distinction out of the keen awareness of a political vulnerability. Where Huckabee, like Clinton, responds to the awareness of his own weaknesses with jokes, Romney covers up for his liabilities with stories that don’t pass the laugh test, whether it is varmint-related or whether it concerns one of his serious policy shifts of recent years. Not only has this chameleon act been transparent and insulting to the intelligence of informed voters, but it reflects a basic contempt for the public and reflects a belief that is probably widely shared in the business and political worlds that people can be made to buy anything if it is repackaged and promoted with the properly-tested marketing. Considering our recent political history, this belief may be well-founded, but when the promotion of a candidate reeks of focus groups and consultants a great many voters will look elsewhere (I know this is hardly a novel or remarkable insight), and if there’s one thing that Romney’s chameleon approach tells voters it is that he is afraid to speak his own mind.
Also, taking that Hayes piece into account, it’s easy to see why voters, especially late-deciding voters, frequently go against Romney and go for his rivals: these voters apparently do not decide their votes based on issues in any sense of the word, but emphasise character and those always slippery “values.” Romney’s entire campaign has been, at least until recently, focused almost exclusively on issues and his “three-legged stool” of conservatisms, which satisfies pundits, activists and various other list-checking gnomes, and so keeps falling flat with these sorts of voters. Until, that is, he made an appeal in Michigan that was much more politically savvy and consequently full of dubious policy promises. For a change, he put away Mitt the Consultant to some extent (though at the same time actually emphasising his business credentials more than in previous contests), and he related to Michiganders in terms of sentiment, nostalgia and a sense of solidarity with them (as well as through his extensive campaign network and wodges of advertising cash). The promise of federal research funding was beside the point–what mattered was that he said that he would “bring Michigan back,” a phrase as popular as it was almost certainly disingenuous. The tagline from his ads in Michigan was “Michigan is personal for me,” which implied that he somehow intuitively understood Michigan’s problems in a way that someone with no direct connection to the state could. When he cannot summon this combination of personal and emotional appeals, he wins a certain segment of the electorate that focuses and votes on issues, and this has usually not been enough in genuinely contested races. Against him are ranged the master of bathos and the alleged “straight talker,” who win over voters in spite of their policy views and even, in Huckabee’s case, in the absence of them. No wonder Romney keeps losing to them.
P.S. For the pedants, let me add that I am not literally arguing that Romney = Gore in all respects. They are very comparable in the ways I have described.
It will be the obvious headline of many columns and posts for the next two weeks, so let me be one of the first to remark on the obvious: a Patriots-Giants rematch in the Super Bowl to determine whether the Pats go undefeated this year, after the Giants nearly stopped the winning streak at the end of the regular season, presents one of the most intriguing match-ups of the last twenty years.
One of the more remarkable results of South Carolina exit polling is the support Huckabee received from conservatives, especially from “very conservative” voters who made up 34% of the electorate. Overall, he led among conservatives generally (35%) and among the “very conservative” he did better (41%). In the eyes of a large number of these voters, he was the logical “conservative” alternative to McCain, just as Bush became that alternative eight years ago as he discovered that he needed to come at McCain from the right and played up to S.C. conservatives. (In the same bizarre way that conservatives bonded with Bush after this, the grateful anti-McCain forces might have started to see some virtue in the New Huckabee.) For those now fretting about the Return of McCain, I would note simply that it was the conservative establishment that managed to subvert Huckabee with their relentless campaign against him over the past six to eight weeks, and and it was the vanity campaign of Fred Thompson, which must now come to an end, that paved the way for McCain to win in South Carolina and so propel him towards the nomination.
The Great Conservative Hope, as Thompson has been treated and as he portrayed himself, facilitated the success of McCain, whom some sizeable proportion of the party and a huge part of the elite regard as unacceptable and more than a few see as not conservative. Well, in their rejection of Huckabee they repudiated the person who, like Bush, could have halted McCain’s advance and possibly crippled his campaign. Rather than rallying around someone who just pledged to be against amnesty, the Republicans of South Carolina (apparently half of whom favour deportation) who accepted the criticisms of Huckabee from Thompson and others have just empowered the one man most ardently committed to amnesty. Either this was the goal of tearing down Huckabee all along, or the vendetta against the Arkansan has just come back to bite the people who have regarded him as little more than a “pro-life Democrat.” Unwilling to tolerate the one who was probably the least objectionable, the GOP may have saddled itself with someone large numbers of Republicans will not be able to stand and who still supports amnesty in spite of everything. The Bob Dole campaign mark II is getting ready for launch.
Remarkably, those who voted for Romney in South Carolina have probably just ensured that their candidate loses sooner than if they had voted tactically for Thompson (or, somewhat more improbably, for Huckabee). Romney’s ”delegate strategy” relies on the same divided field coming out of South Carolina that went into it. Rapid consolidation of the race around one or two main rivals makes that strategy less likely to succeed. Having recognised their failure to gain ground in South Carolina, the Romney campaign nonetheless did not foresee the danger that would come from their remaining supporters there splitting the opposition to the other two.
I agree with Ross when he writes:
But with his “three golds and two silvers” and his delegate lead, Romney still looks sufficiently viable that he, not Rudy, is shaping up to be the natural “stop McCain” candidate in Florida for movement conservatives who can’t stand the Arizona Senator.
As I said long ago in the pre-Michigan era (Tuesday afternoon):
Meanwhile, if Romney manages to win [Michigan], he becomes the default anti-McCain, leaving no room for Giuliani anywhere. Even if Romney loses, he still has money to continue competing if he wants, while Giuliani cannot draw upon such a large personal reserve.
Because Huckabee has decided to lay off of McCain, and prior to tonight still had strong polling in a number of Feb. 5 states, Romney faces the daunting prospect of an anti-Romney pact between the two of them, effectively shutting him out of the South on Feb. 5 and then having Huckabee drop out and endorse McCain soon thereafter. As McCain and Huckabee divide up the spoils of February 5 and work in concert to keep Romney down, Huckabee’s withdrawal and endorsement then throw his supporters and the race to McCain. McCain-Huckabee follows? That might be too much for the party to swallow, but that could be Huckabee’s reward for helping to break Romney.
P.S. Since Romney is still the delegate leader, he was always going to be the logical opponent of whichever candidate emerged victorious out of South Carolina.
If exit polling is correct, it seems very likely that McCain has won South Carolina, and Huckabee has placed a respectable, but still disappointing, second. Romney appears to have done a little bit better than Thompson, who seems to have fallen badly short of what he needed to get, and Ron Paul has edged out Giuliani again.
Just look at those numbers on immigration policy. Huckapandering works like a charm.
P.S. Early returns are currently showing Romney running weaker than exit polls suggested he would, and Huckabee is running stronger. Here’s hoping for 7% or better for Ron Paul and fourth place for Romney.
Update: Romney ended up in fourth, but Paul managed just 4%. That’s a bit of a let-down after a second-place, double-digit result in Nevada, but not out of line with most of the polling.
Everything in the exit polling breaks down much as you might expect, but one thing that continues to puzzle me is Romney’s strong performance among Catholic voters, which is not limited to South Carolina. As I mentioned earlier today, 38% of Catholics in the Nevada caucus supported him, and the same pattern has emerged in the earlier contests and in Florida polling. Among all Catholics in South Carolina’s primary, he got 24%, and 28% of weekly church-going Catholics backed him. Despite finishing a distant fourth overall, he placed second among weekly church-going Catholics. If there are numbers breaking down Romney’s Catholic support before his religion speech and after I would be very interested to see what they are, because I would wager a nice steak dinner that his support among Catholics increased significantly after that speech and remained strong ever since. My guess is that the themes he outlined in that speech did nothing to assuage the doubts and concerns of evangelicals, but it may very well have won over a substantial bloc of Catholic voters. In a strange way, the anti-Mormon problem for his candidacy may have started to boomerang and work to his advantage. Perhaps it benefits him by providing a kind of sympathy specifically from Catholics.
So Romney has easily won Nevada, which virtually no one else was actively contesting, except for the presence of some Ron Paul staffers. With 78% reporting, Ron Paul is slightly ahead of McCain in state delegates, and they are both at 13%. Once again, Romney leads all other candidates among virtually all demographic groups. Granted, this was a caucus and necessarily had a make-up skewed towards activists and certain groups more than others. According to entrance polls, Mormons turned out at a disproportionately higher rate than almost any other group (7.5% of the population, but 27% of caucus-goers), and supported Romney almost unanimously (Ron Paul was in an extremely distant second among Mormons with 3%). Some find this troubling, but I can’t say that I do. It is perfectly appropriate if Mormons want to vote for a Mormon candidate based on nothing more than their shared religion (and it would be perfectly appropriate, if they were so inclined, for them to refuse to vote for a non-Mormon candidate on the same grounds). Presumably, these caucus-goers also liked what they heard from the candidate, but even if it were a purely identity-driven result I wouldn’t necessarily find it at all troubling. It may not be the best way to make a voting decision, and it may not result in the best choice, but it is a normal and inescapable part of democratic politics. (I could add that this is one of the reasons why a democratic system produces such poor government, but I think I’ve made that point already.)
It appears that Romney would have won handily had he received the same level of support from Mormons that he did among Protestants or Catholics (43 and 38% respectively). The strong Mormon backing turned a convincing win into a rout. Huckabee locked down his quota of about a fifth of evangelicals, but as usual has not expanded much beyond that. Ron Paul ran quite well among voters 18-59. It was the voters older than that who made up a plurality of the total who gave a boost to McCain. Interestingly, Romney led McCain among Latinos 41-25, which will become a bit of fodder for the immigration debate. Giuliani once again is bringing up the rear in sixth place with just 5%–this in a state where he was polling in double digits just a month ago.
On the Democratic side, it seems that my Obama pick doomed him to a second-place finish. Clinton has been projected as the winner, and Edwards suffered a humiliating blowout, which is all the more severe given his reputation of having supposedly strong union backing.
Update: Counting only pledged delegates, Clinton and Obama are tied. At this rate, unless Obama can win a lot more endorsements and gain many more superdelegates, he will lose the contest. Update: Apparently, the Democratic caucus in Nevada is even screwier than we thought. It seems that Obama may be awarded more delegates in the end because of
counties with odd numbers of delegates congressional districts that he won, which would give him a lead among pledged delegates, while Clinton continues to have a massive lead thanks to her superdelegates.
On the Republican side, there are not nearly so many unpledged delegates to obscure the results from actual voting. Romney has a significant lead in the pledged delegate count: 64 to Huckabee’s 21 and McCain’s 15. The problem is that Romney has gained a large part of this lead from winning two basically uncontested caucuses. Without the 26 he received from Wyoming and Nevada, his lead is nowhere near as impressive. It remains the case that he stands to come out of the four major January contests as of tonight with one victory despite extensive investment of time and money, and even that victory, as impressive as it undoubtedly was, was in his old home state. When he can organise large numbers of supporters, spend great sums to turn out his people and skew the results in his favour, as he has successfully done in two caucuses now, he wins. When he has to win voters in broader-based, less-controlled contests, he tends not to do very well. Is that really the candidate that Republicans want for a general election?
Let me see if my cursed predictions can doom another pair of candidates to defeat. In Nevada, Obama and Romney win. In South Carolina, it will be McCain and Obama (next Saturday).
This recent tussle among the Democrats over invoking Reagan–even to make an obviously pro-progressive, pro-Democratic point–reflects the character of the Democratic race and the nature of some of the lukewarm progressive response to Obama that you see expressed in the netroots. Obama cited Reagan as an example of someone who “changed the trajectory of America.” Now, as I understand modern progressive demonology regarding the 1980s, most Democrats agree with this, but often view the change in question negatively. Obama’s use of Reagan here, his rivals’ responses to it, and the criticisms from Democratic pundits and activists all capture quite nicely the main tensions on the Democratic side this election year. Obama talks endlessly, constantly, incessantly, about change–his is allegedly the “change we can believe in,” while Edwards’ change is that for which you fight, and Clinton’s is the change that is no change at all (but for which you have to work really hard). So Obama invoked Reagan as an example of someone who could build a large political coalition and bring “change,” while Clinton belittled this as she belittles everything Obama says, because her public persona and her record, such as it is, epitomise the Democrats’ response to the Reagan years from the “defensive crouch” on foreign policy to her overall mostly “centrist” positions and she and her husband memorably demonised the Reagan years as the “decade of greed,” etc. Meanwhile Edwards is, as ever, in adversarial, fight ‘em-to-the-death mode and wants to make clear that he has no truck with any of those lousy Republicans. Yeah, John, we get it–you’re a tough guy! The typically flabbergasted netroots and progressive pundit responses were all along the lines uttered by Edwards: how dare you mention the name of the ancient enemy! For progressives, this is just the kind of seemingly conciliatory language that makes them wary of Obama, whom they regard as lacking in the necessary zeal.
At one level, I can sympathise with this response. My family and I cringed when we heard Newt Gingrich give a much more fulsome paean to FDR in January 1995 when the new Republican majority took over the House. But this is actually different–Gingrich actually admired FDR and what he did, and was making peace with FDR’s legacy, while Obama was not accepting, much less endorsing, what Reagan did. He was acknowledging that Reagan had been a significant political player who had turned the country in a different direction. In other words, he was acknowledging that Reagan was successful at implementing his agenda (or at least some of it) and thereby saying that the same opportunity might be available for Democrats in this election (with the none-too-subtle and none-too-modest implication that it would be a missed opportunity unless the Democrats nominated him). This is a clever move, in the same way that Tony Blair paying respect to Thatcher’s legacy was clever, but it entails none of the ideological baggage that usually goes with these sorts of statements. Unfortunately, because of the Democratic response to his remarks, the implicit comparison between himself and Reagan, who was vastly more qualified for the job in either 1976 or 1980, is not seen as evidence of the man’s delusions of grandeur, but is instead taken as another example of his transcendent power to unify America. Well, I’m not buying. I have generally dismissed or viewed very skeptically claims for Obama’s “transformational” potential, whether in foreign affairs or domestic politics. These theories attribute too much importance to symbolism and vague rhetoric, and they take Obama’s views too little into account. However, I might be willing to see how Obama represents the possibility of the Democrats’ reconciling themselves to Reagan and the Reagan-Bush years, in part because there may be good reason to think that the political era that began in 1980 is coming to a close.
Cross-posted at The Americann Scene
As America marks the first anniversary of the troop escalation in Iraq, at least one thing has become clear. Although the “surge” is failing as policy, it seems to be succeeding as propaganda. Even as George W. Bush continues to bump and scrape along the bottom of public approval, significantly more people now believe we are “winning” the war.
What winning really means and whether that vague impression can be sustained are questions that the war’s proponents would prefer not to answer for the moment. Their objective during this election year is simply to reduce public pressure for withdrawal, which is still the choice of an overwhelming majority of voters. ~Joe Conason
This is pretty much in line with what I argued in one of my TAC columns last month (sorry, not online). As others have noted, the real political goal of the “surge” seems not to have been to stabilise a viable Iraqi government, but to shore up collapsing support for the war here. Even so, the domestic political effects have mostly been limited to Washington. Public opinion remains as resolutely against the war as it was a year ago. Three quarters of Americans do not want a “large number” of troops in Iraq two years from now, and half the country wants most of our forces out in less than a year.
Rod looks to the future:
For us Huckaboosters, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for our man to drop out, and spend the next four years doing some hard thinking and networking, getting ready for 2012.
I don’t intend the title to be as insulting as it sounds. What I mean is that a failed Huckabee run would put him in much the same position that Edwards’ failed ‘04 campaign put him these last several years (and Edwards had the advantage, so to speak, of being the VP nominee, which I doubt Huckabee will receive given the intense hostility to him wthin the party leadership.) Huckabee may spend the next several years doing hard thinking and networking if he drops out, but I doubt he will be preparing for another presidential run. If the example of John Edwards tells us something, it is that repeat candidates for the nomination tend to perform less well in the second attempt (Reagan being a big exception that leaps to mind). Despite his policy and philanthropy work in the last four years, and despite his intensive cultivation of supporters in the netroots and in Iowa, John Edwards has become a has-been and also-ran who does not yet realise that he is either one. Given the incandescent loathing of Huckabee in elite conservative circles and among big-money donors, I don’t know exactly what kind of networking he could build that would make him more successful in four years. Rod’s talk of Huckabee ‘12 was premised on the speculation that the GOP loses this year and loses badly, which I think is quite likely at the rate they’re going, but then if that is what happens the incumbent Democratic President Huckabee would be running against would probably be, barring epic incompetence or disaster, able to resist any Republican challenger.
There has been a lot of speculation in recent weeks about the possibility of a brokered convention. Yglesias even proposes that it would be good for the GOP to have the high drama of a nomination contest that came down to the end. He’s right that it would draw a lot of media attention, and it would give endless material for political reporters and pundits to talk about, but while there would be a lot of media exposure it’s not clear to me that this works to the benefit of the eventual nominee and the party. In some respects, a hard-fought nomination contest improves all of the candidates running and prepares them for the general election, but as with any long, drawn-out internal contest the winner at the end comes away muddied and bloodied and vulnerable. In open elections, a party doesn’t really want an automatic coronation, which then allows the nominee to become lazy and rusty in his campaigning, but it doesn’t want the kind of free-for-all in which all of the participants are made to look vulnerable and small. While the media would be paying more attention to a four- or five-way grudge match, the image that this sends to the country is that the party is in disarray, rudderless and imploding before their eyes. While it’s true that a third candidate typically benefits from a fight between two leading rivals, no one really benefits from a four- or five-way scrum, since the very existence of the contest reminds the public that any one of these candidates was unable to weld together a political coalition within his own party. If, as David Brooks has said, the Republicans are beginning to talk like the 1970s Tories on economics, they are behaving like the late 1990s Tories in their leadership contest, and it will have similar general election results. Also, a contest that goes all the way to the convention makes it that much harder for any eventual nominee to unify the obviously fragmented party around himself, and in the course of the next six months until the convention the divisions wiithin the party would become wider and more damaging as each faction would be jockeying for position. The Democrats in 1952 had a brokered convention and then lost badly that fall, but then they, like today’s GOP, were on the wrong side of public opinion regarding an unpopular war. If the Republicans cannot unite around someone before April, this year could be even worse for them than it was already likely to be.
Considering how little of any real worth he contributes, I’ve never understood why Jamie Kirchick has been part of respectable conversation, but I haven’t made much of an issue out of it. If he would like to continue embarrassing himself with this pathetic obsession, that’s his business.
I might even go further than this, though, and suggest that even when these sort of efforts turn out to be ineffective at fostering the sort of order we ought to be concerned with, their effectivness as public diplomacy shouldn’t be underestimated.
Ross is right about the effect on foreign public opinion of even limited assistance, especially in cases of disaster relief, whether it is the Kashmir earthquake he refers to or the assistance for the Southeast Asian tsunami over three years ago. In this respect, foreign aid to Africa has made Africa into an unexpected success story, if you measure success by how favourably many African nations view the U.S. relative to the rest of the world. Then again, there also seems to be a general correlation between how much Washington generally ignores a part of the world, except to give aid packages, and how much the people in that region view America favourably.
However, unless these programs really do help to foster some order and unless the goverments of the countries receiving aid are capable of maintaining some basic order on their own, I don’t think I have to tell you that American public opinion will sour on giving money to these governments over time. There was a strong and understandable reaction here to the chaos in Pakistan after Bhutto’s assassination, which was actually much less pronounced and grave than the civil strife going on in Kenya, and to the extent that the American public thinks about aid to Pakistan I would guess a large plurality, if not a majority, was asking itself, “Why are we giving them all this aid? What’s the point?” In the case of Pakistan, there are good answers to that question, but the damage done by civil disorder to American support for this kind of aid, even when it may be strategically justified (as I doubt it is in many parts of Africa), should not be underestimated.
Rod commented on Huckabee’s recent “pandering” on the battle flag:
Similarly with Huck’s pandering on the Confederate flag. If he really believed that stuff, that’d be one thing. But I don’t think he really believes it.
Here’s the thing that puzzles me a bit about the reaction to Huckabee and his comments on the flag, which Ross has dubbed “unsavory”: this was the position that helped Bush in South Carolina eight years ago and helped sink McCain. So you can put this in the “Huckabee is running like Bush in 2000″ file, since this was exactly Bush’s position in 2000. That is, leave it to South Carolinians to decide. From what I’ve seen, Huckabee didn’t give a stirring ode to the importance of the battle flag, or the sacrifices of Southern soldiers who fought under it, but said simply that non-South Carolinians should generally keep their noses out of South Carolinian business on this question. This has the virtue of being what I think is probably a widely-held view in South Carolina and also the correct one. (Though how he reconciles his hostility to “outsiders” meddling in South Carolinian affairs with his disparaging remarks about federalism in other matters is another story!) The effect of this pander is mitigated or complicated somewhat by the fact that he is campaigning alongside a former governor of South Carolina, David Beasley, who pressed successfully to have the flag removed from the state capitol’s dome. This sends the message: “I am with Beasley, but it’s not up to me to decide what you do with your flag.” That’s about as close to threading this particular needle as it gets. Huckabee’s problem might be that people who value the battle flag will view him poorly because of the Beasley connection, while he will get no “credit” from others for being associated with Beasley. That’s the problem with living off free media–you become in the public’s perception what they say you are.
I don’t dispute that his flag remarks are a kind of pandering, but it isn’t the head-spinning, neck-snapping kind of radical change in a policy view that Huckabee’s signing of the “No Amnesty” pledge is, but even this isn’t purely pandering just for South Carolina. It was direct pandering when he adopted an anti-amnesty position in Iowa after having had a quite liberal record on immigration, and now he is simply confirming or reinforcing his earlier about-face. Viewed in a favourable way, he has locked himself in with a public pledge to oppose something that he had previously rejected only in rhetoric. Viewed skeptically, as I would view it, he has simply repeated his earlier opportunism. In case you’ve forgotten, his earlier opportunism worked out pretty well for him, so he probably thinks he can succeed with it again.
Thank goodness it’s Friday–there must be another insipid Michael Gerson column to read! And indeed there is. This week, he’s complaining about mean, ol’ Fred’s remarks on government funding for AIDS in Africa:
While he is not an isolationist, he clearly is playing to isolationist sentiments.
It is now “isolationist” to oppose foreign aid for disease prevention on a continent where the United States has negligible interests, because apparently our resources are as infinite as the ever-multiplying “interests” that the Gersons of the world discover for us in every problem around the world. More than that, Gerson tells us, Fred has revealed his lack of “moral seriousness.” For Gerson, governing isn’t a matter of making choices and setting priorities in the American interest, but of unburdening his conscience about suffering on the other side of the world with someone else’s money. I can understand why Gerson is annoyed–this kind of foreign aid was one of his favourite administration policies–but the reasoning here is beyond laughable:
America is engaged in a high-stakes ideological struggle in Africa, where radicals and terrorists seek to fill the vacuum of failed and hopeless societies. Fighting disease and promoting development are important foreign policy tools in this struggle, which Thompson apparently does not appreciate or even understand.
Now the overwhelming bulk of the foreign aid in question goes to sub-Saharan and East African countries, where there are not actually very many of these “radicals and terrorists.” That doesn’t mean that there aren’t violent, brutal militias and governments, and it doesn’t mean that there isn’t political instability in some of these countries, but it does mean that the political woes of these countries do not figure in to any larger, much less “high-stakes,” ideological struggle. Uganda, one of the recipients of our current aid, suffers from a long-running insurgency in the north, but this is not connected to a broader “ideological struggle,” unless you assume that the “ideological struggle” is being waged everywhere on the planet and can be used to retroactively justify any do-gooding overseas that comes under reasonable scrutiny. If health-related foreign aid is a weapon in this “ideological struggle,” shouldn’t we at the very least be targeting it at countries that are more strategically significant? But no, Thompson must be engaged in some kind of “isolationism” because he doesn’t favour frittering away resources on what are frankly, from the perpsective of the American interest, low-priority issues.
Reading Gerson’s moral hectoring, you have to conclude that there is no logical limit to the outpouring of state-funded compassion that he would support, since to limit it would be to declare someone, somewhere, less of a priority for the U.S. government than someone else, and that would be evidence of a hardness of heart rather than responsible government. In trying to lay a guilt trip on Thompson for expressing what I have to assume is the view of a substantial number, if not a majority, of Republicans, Gerson reminds us why so many of us on the right are instinctively averse to foreign aid proposals: the arguments used to advance them are usually loaded down with this self-important moral preening that says Americans must be concerned with the problems of people on the other side of the planet and that they are necessarily shameful and despicable people if they prefer primarily to help their own. This is not simply an insulting way to make the argument, but it suggests a frankly deranged set of priorities in the one making the argument. Gerson, like Mrs. Jellyby of Bleak House, seems to be able to see nothing closer than Africa.
The requirements of charity do call us to help the sick and the poor (which Thompson never denied, but rather took for granted), but what Gerson is talking about is almost the opposite and negation of charity. Invoking the tradition in Christendom of public authorities providing for the poor, Gerson implicitly takes for granted that the United States government has the same obligation to provide for the poor of other continents that it may have for its own citizens, which suggests that he thinks that our government is the public authority for all the world. Abandoning persuasion, the redistributionist resorts to coercion to send money to whatever cause he believes is most deserving, and here Gerson is no different. This is his “heroic conservatism,” which does not conserve much of anything but fancies itself very heroic for wasting things that belong to other people. As sure as public money always tends to drive out private money, foreign aid spending, when it is not misappropriated by the receiving government, will tend to reduce and limit the extent of private philanthropy dedicated to a particular country or problem. It might just be that the public policy Gerson supports will ultimately hamper the development of private institutional and charitable support and so perpetuate dependency on this aid indefinitely. As with so many proposals of state support, the helping hand of government, even when offered in good faith and with the best of intentions, can have a long-term crippling effect on the recipients who are “benefiting” from the aid.
Update: James makes the much more cogent case for ths kind of aid on the grounds of promoting or preserving stability and social order in these countries. It still seems debatable to me that doing this is the U.S. government’s responsibility or that the stability of Uganda or other such African nations should be a priority of our government, but this is the only kind of argument for this aid that will persuade and it is the just about the only kind of argument for it that can be defended coherently. That said, Peter makes the good pragmatic case against the actual aid program that the government has. Before throwing money to corrupt governments, it would be wise to know whether the money will ever assist the people for whom it is being donated. Americans generally and conservatives in particular would have far fewer objections to foreign aid if there was much confidence that the money would not be wasted or stolen, and that it would accomplish the things that the government says that it will. In principle, containing the spread of disease strikes me as a far more useful and humane use of our resources than invading and occupying other countries that pose no threat to us, but there need to be cogent arguments as to why we should focus on one region rather than another and why our government is the one that should be doing this. Given the current state of the federal government’s finances, I’m not sure that we can afford to keep throwing good money after mostly bad on programs that are being minimally effective.
This Chris Hayes report of the mind of the undecided voter (via Peter Suderman’s bloggingheads with Ezra Klein) is amazing to me. Voter irrationality I understand, even when it infuriates me, and voter ignorance is frequently a given, but the completely apolitical thinking of undecided voters just baffles me. Here’s Hayes:
These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn’t the word “issue”; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the “political.” The undecideds I spoke to didn’t seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief–not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.
To the extent that many voters are like these undecided voters, this could explain many things. It could help to explain why largely issue-driven protest candidacies always fail: the people to whom the protest candidate should be the most attractive ((i.e., the embodiment of the anti-establishment, the opponent of the failed system, etc.) are the very kinds of people who don’t even think in terms of “issues.” It helps explain how McCain succeeds with voters, while those informed on and actually concerned about his policy views rule him out as unacceptable. He talks about himself as he does in this ad and bases his candidacy on his biography.
This reminds of some of the basic insights of Applebee’s America, according to which, “People are desperate to connect with one another and be part of a cause greater than themselves.” That last part of the sentence is virtually McCain’s campaign slogan. He talks about a “cause greater than ourselves” all the time, and evidently people love it. If voters crave authenticity, it does make you wonder what Michiganders were doing electing Mitt Romney, but nationally it seems to be the case that many voters are responding to McCain and Huckabee with the baffling irrationality of the undecided voter’s mentality.
Cross-posted at The American Scene
Let’s assume for a moment that Huckabee finishes strongly in South Carolina, thwarts the Thompson comeback and overtakes McCain. Among February 5 states with polls available, he’s still running in first in Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia and might still win in these states regardless of what happens on Saturday, and a South Carolina win might propel him on to a surprise success in Florida. Assuming that he can then wend his way to the nomination, which is by no means certain, and perhaps hones a winning Pinkertonian-style message, is it so far-fetched to think that he would be competitive in the general election? I know that he does poorly among Catholic voters, and he seems to be stuck in the evangelical ghetto that is partly of his own making (and partly the media’s fabrication), but in head-to-head polls among likely voters he tends to do much better against Clinton and even beats her in a couple of match-ups. Given that Clinton is a machine when it comes to reciting policy wonk details and Huckabee would prefer to tell an amusing story than give a straight answer, this may all be very misleading, but there is nothing obviously implausible about a Huckabee nomination or even a Huckabee victory…except that every conservative activist and pundit (except for Jim Pinkerton) wants him to go jump in a lake.
P.S. There is the additional problem that Huckabee has lately started to take on the traits of a factional leader rather than someone who is trying to lead the entire party. He is vying for influence, rather than trying to consolidate all factions behind him. Am I the only one who is reminded of the desultory Tory leadership battles of the pre-Cameron years? It seems as if we are still in our William Hague phase–who will be the GOP’s ineffectual Iain Duncan-Smith?
Update: This Pew poll shows that Huckabee runs a decent second to McCain in all of the states from Jan. 29 onwards (see page 8). If McCain falters and Giuliani does not recover, doesn’t he benefit the most among voters?
Ironically, given the intense dissatisfaction of conservative elites with Huckabee, the same poll shows that GOP voters place Huckabee furthest to the right of any of the leading candidates, and they place him just to the left of Bush, while all of the others are perceived as being to Bush’s left (which may be true in a couple of cases). Among all voters, Huckabee is seen as being furthest to the right. Only 34% of GOP voters see Huckabee as moderate or liberal, yet this is the overwhelming consensus of conservative elites. Arguably, this is because they are better-informed, but it also means they are entirely out of step with a majority of Republicans.
In 2004, the University of Michigan’s American National Election Studies (ANES) survey asked about 1,200 American adults to give their thermometer scores of various groups. People in this survey who called themselves “conservative” or “very conservative” did have a fairly low opinion of liberals — they gave them an average thermometer score of 39. The score that liberals give conservatives: 38. Looking only at people who said they are “extremely conservative” or “extremely liberal,” the right gave the left a score of 27; the left gives the right an icy 23. So much for the liberal tolerance edge.
The bottom line is that there is simply no comparison between the current hatred the extreme left has for Messrs. Bush and Cheney, and the hostility the extreme right had for Messrs. Clinton and Gore in the late 1990s. ~Arthur Brooks
This seems like a lousy way to measure tolerance of differences. I may be unrepresentative (no, in fact, I am unrepresentative), but take this for whatever it’s worth. I grew up with Clinton hatred. If you were young and exposed to a lot of conservative media in the ’90s, it just came naturally to distrust and loathe these people. I certainly still strongly dislike both him and his wife, but I guarantee that my “thermometer” score for Bush and Cheney would drop below whatever it would be for the Clintons. It does seem to be true that more progressives are furious with Bush and Cheney than conservatives were furious with Clinton and Gore, but then that might have something to do with the respective policies of the two administrations.
There are plenty of things in the last administration to find fault with, trust me, and whatever I say about the Clinton administration is just in comparison with the current administration, but it is difficult, even as a conservative, to view Clinton and Gore more negatively when they objectively presided over a relatively more conservative government overall. Some of this was imposed on them by the voters in the 1994 election, but comparatively the last seven years have simply been worse in most important respects. If that’s how I see it, how much much more true would that be for progressives who regard Bush (incorrectly) as a crazed right-winger? Brooks is prepared for this, but gives a response that isn’t entirely persuasive:
Yes, Mr. Clinton may have been imperfect, but Mr. Bush — whom people on the far left routinely compare to Hitler — is evil. This of course destroys the liberal stereotype even more eloquently than the data. The very essence of intolerance is to dehumanize the people with whom you disagree by asserting that they are not just wrong, but wicked.
But how many people on the left actually compare him to Hitler? This is a favourite of some in the netroots and the crazed world of ANSWER and MoveOn, but how representative are they really? There were more than a few (not always inapt) Nazi references in conservative circles when Clinton was pushing his gun control legislation or after Waco. It may be that there is simply vastly more vilification of Bush, but if you were trying to make a case for relatively greater liberal irrationality and intolerance I can scarcely think of a worse way to show it.
Probably a much more relevant measure of tolerance of different ideas would be to look at how left and right respond to dissenters in their ranks. You could try to make an argument that progressives are more intolerant of war supporters than conservatives are of war opponents and cite the example of the netroots’ campaign against Joe Lieberman (the Purge of Joe Lieberman!), but that would end up being pretty unpersuasive, since the lone antiwar candidate on the right is widely loathed and shunned by a majority of conservatives and the actual antiwar candidates on the left are trailing behind a woman who voted for the authorisation resolution. Even granting that Clinton has now adopted an antiwar pose, she is most reluctant war opponent you’ll ever see.
Looking beyond foreign policy, you could find more ideological rigidity on the left, and these days you could argue that the right is overflowing with dissenting views on all kinds of things (or you could see this simply as evidence of chaos and confusion), but it seems to me that it is in policy debates and arguments over ideas (or the lack thereof) that you’re going to find the real proof of tolerance or intolerance. In the end, it will probably depend on the issue or policy. On abortion, pro-lifers on the left keep a lower profile than pro-choicers on the right, and on trade free traders try to stamp out any hint of opposition on the right. Tolerance of differences tends to decline as you approach core beliefs, or positions that are considered untouchable or inviolable. It is human nature to be more tolerant in those areas that are less important to you, and perfectly normal to be less compromising and accommodating over things you believe are fundamental. In this sense, evidence of greater “intolerance” of this sort is also possibly evidence for firmer conviction.
Roger Cohen repeats a meme that has been getting on my nerves, especially since McCain did better among antiwar voters than among supporters of the war, who voted for Romney in both New Hampshire and Michigan:
McCain was politically dead six months ago, his campaign undone by his backing of President Bush’s Iraq policy. His remarkable resurgence, which has put him in the lead among Republican candidates, according to recent polls, is one measure of the Iraq shift.
This first sentence is a complete media fantasy. His campaign was undone by his support for the immigration bill last summer. Opponents of the war in the mainstream press don’t like McCain’s position on the war and so conclude that this must be what has brought him down, but they are judging the war’s popularity by the entire population, continually neglecting to note that most Republicans still support it. It wasn’t as if he was terribly popular with conservatives before the immigration bill, but that pushed a lot of people away from him and destroyed his status as the “next-in-line” nominee. Also, his “remarkable resurgence” was tied to his victory in New Hampshire, which had to do with his personal popularity in New Hampshire that has endured since 2000 and his ability to attract independent voters. Public opinion about the success of the “surge” hasn’t changed very much, so it is difficult to trace McCain’s resurgence to anything Iraq-related. If his resurgence were a result of getting credit for his position on Iraq, he ought to be winning most of the war supporters rather than a plurality of the opponents, wouldn’t you say?
Related to the question of self-reliance are the paired concepts of self-restraint and self-indulgence. You may remember that there was a lively debate about Crunchy Cons in the spring of 2006, and much of the argument was over patterns and types of consumption (or overconsumption, as we on the crunchy side saw it). On one level, we were talking about an overconsumption of things, but this could be applied more narrowly to an overconsumption of food and of the unhealthiest–but frequently most convenient–kinds of food. The debate was regularly sidetracked as we were chided for being snobbish foodies who were trying to impose our love of manchego on the masses. We were pushing the ideal of enkrateia (I don’t think any of us used the word at the time, but this is broadly what we were talking about), and we were told that we were hypocritical busybodies, socialists-in-waiting and the like. Overconsumption comes from disordered desire, or rather an excess of desire, and what the “crunchies” or neo-traditionalists were arguing for was moderation. We were calling for cultivating self-restraint and constraining impulses towards gluttony. (This in turn would tie into matters of land usage, such as how much land and how many resources are being devoted to raising livestock, and to questions of the treatment of animals in factory farming to provide the mass production of meat demanded by an overconsuming public–the kinds of questions that my green friends were putting to me years ago and which I, still in a rather unreflective libertarian phase, laughed off as unimportant.) Accustomed to thinking of such arguments in terms of calls for government action, which we were not making, the critics presumably saw us as little better than pro-life Michael Bloombergs on a quest to eliminate transfats by edict. They were, are, wrong.
When Mike Huckabee started running for President (and was busily running, training for a marathon as part of his health kick), the prospect of having a weight-loss guru in the race was dispiriting for some of us, and his vague answers to health care questions indicated that he thought there was nothing wrong with the health care system that a good diet wouldn’t cure. It has been easy to make light of Huckabee’s talk about preventive care and a national ”health crisis,” since he is usually heavy on quips and light on details, but I may be starting to see some value in what he’s talking about here. Not as a matter of policy, but as a matter of pushing for changes in habits and making arguments that the good life entails moderation and that this must affect how we consume food. This is not to move away from joie de vivre and festivity, which I believe are complements to a certain asceticism that a conservatism of virtue has to try to instill, but to encourage a return to proportion and limits and, above all, restraint. The return of restraint would be a boon to conservatives in virtually all areas, whether we are talking about spending, foreign policy or conservation, but it can be applied more immediately in daily life.
As Americans, our cultural responses to indulgence and restraint tend to veer towards extremes, and you find a generally humourless, puritanical lot crusading for various public health causes on one side and those who insist on their God-given right to kill themselves with smoke and fat if they so choose. One area where cultural conservatives might make a valuable contribution is trying to bring these two views more into balance. Promoting a sense of proportion, limits and restraint and encouraging the healthy enjoyment of food, and furthermore making the case that how and what a people eats is actually significant and not an irrelevant choice, could be one way that conservatives could attack a significant cause of health care expense by working to transform the culture and instill habits more in keeping with the virtues. This is a classic example of the need to have checks imposed from within if they are not going to be imposed from without.
Self-reliance is an excellent thing to instill and to follow, and that is and should be the ultimate answer, but almost everything about the current regime works against self-reliance and creates disincentives for practicing self-reliance.
By that I mean that we have a dependency problem that has been fostered to a significant degree by what some people like to call “economic dynamism” or “creative destruction.” Knocking out the old mechanisms of social support, scattering communities with the draw of “better opportunities” elsewhere (and thereby helping to kill whichever small towns weren’t already ravaged by the highway system) and encouraging consumption and the mandate of “growht” with cheap credit all work to make Americans less economically independent and make sure that they have few, if any, private institutions they can fall back on that are capable of bearing the load. Having creatively destroyed support networks that were fulfilling the functions that must be assumed more and more by the state, the “greatest force for change” is the greatest force for facilitating the growth of intrusive government to clean up the wreckage of all that destructive creativity. Further, having become so dependent on either government or employer (or both), Americans are at the mercy of policy decisions over which they routinely have little influence, except at election time when the people who have fashioned the system that puts them in the present predicament of dependency promise them…more government assistance! This reminds me of Caleb Stegall’s op-ed from 2006:
One of the primary conditions of freedom is a widespread distribution of capital, both economic and cultural. This accounts for conservatives’ long-standing skepticism and mistrust of centralized and concentrated enclaves of money and power with their tendencies toward societal management at every level. The oppressive effect of the management elites is essentially the same whether those elites sit in the board room, the judicial chamber, the legislative halls or the Oval Office.
Or as I said during the debates over Wal-Mart and similar corporations back in 2006:
I don’t know if it is “counterfeit Americanism” to find troubling or objectionable the considerable dependence of the well-being of a town on the unaccountable decisions of one corporation that has no stake and no real attachment to the place, but I would suggest that there is nothing terribly consistent with the listed American “core values” in this development. We do well to be wary of the road to state serfdom and advocate going in the other direction, but we make a great error if we think that road to corporate serfdom does not lead in the same direction and does not eventually meet up with the other road. The masters of both use fear of the other to aggrandise their power. The state tells you, “I will protect you from exploitation, give me power (and money)!” And so you do. Then the corporation says, “I provide you services and represent your freedom from government interference, so give me money (and power)!” And so you do. At no point are you concerned that the corporation generally supports what the state is doing and vice versa, or that some of the money you give to each one goes towards empowering and influencing the other.
Fundamentally, all of this comes back to the question of whether dependent people can be the governors of those upon whom they depend, and the answer is no. Without that, there can be no real self-government, and as Caleb said no real freedom. To the extent that he has no intent on breaking this chain of dependency, Huckabee is not any kind of populist that Caleb or I would recognise. He uses the opposition between “Main Street” and “Wall Street” rhetorically, but one has to wonder if he thinks that their interests are really all that divergent, or if he thinks that there has just been some misunderstanding in allocating the benefits. He acknowledges that something is awry, but he apparently thinks the answer is to elect him so that working Americans will feel better about their President (he will remind them of their co-workers!), as if that will alleviate their real ills.
This ties into the debate that has been going on over Romney’s “I’ll fight for every job” routine that he is now reprising in South Carolina. I sympathise with calls to self-reliance generally, but these are being made as much in a vacuum as Romney’s false promises. How do I know Romney’s promises are false? It isn’t just that I think he’s untrustworthy (though if his recent display in Michigan hasn’t persuaded you of that, nothing I say here will), but that he is not going to make the auto industry in Michigan competitive with production facilities in other countries simply through deregulation and research subsidies. For one thing, Washington only has so much control over the cost of doing business in Michigan, and the one area where Washington does have control over relevant policy (i.e., trade) is the area where Romney isn’t going to do anything to shore up domestic manufacturing. Not only is he not going to do anything, but he has all but vowed to make sure thhat the same process that has been hollowing out Michigan factory towns will keep happening elsewhere–that is what his “Reagan Zone” offers American manufacturing.
Since last May, Eunomia has added another 1,300 posts. Since the blog began over three years ago, I have been averaging about 1,600 per year. I hope you continue to find Eunomia worthwhile and interesting reading in the future, and I will strive to keep producing commentary worthy of your attention. Thanks to everyone who has helped make Eunomia a success, especially the regular readers and commenters.
It’s not hard for us irreligious types to see the point of something like fundamentalist Islam (or fundamentalist anything, I guess) — a faith that insists it is the only true faith, and regards doubters with hatred, scorn, or pity. It’s much harder to see the point of this mushy it’s-all-the-same-thing-really ecumenism. Why bother to master a lot of complicated rituals, and affirm a lot of complicated doctrines, if some other set of rituals and doctrines is just as good? ~John Derbyshire
I tend to have the same problem understanding this sort of ecumenism, but then I assume that it really matters what theological doctrines you hold, which I have to remind myself repeatedly is not how a great many people approach religious life at all. Indeed, I would guess that religions that are focused most heavily on ritual are religions that do not seem to put, at least from the perspective of the everyday experience of the average believer, great emphasis on doctrine. Converts to Orthodoxy, in my experience, tend be rather fixated on doctrine (as some might say that I am) and have a much harder time with all the details of orthopraxy. You should understand that the distinction between the doctrine and praxis is essentially theoretical, in the same way that theology properly understood is first and foremost prayer. Of course, these religions may have teaching authorities or scriptures that are held to be authoritative and doctrinal definitions that are binding, but it is through the rites and customary practices that most believers would experience their religion. The question of superiority of one cultic practice to another would be almost beside the point: these are the rites of your family or your village or your people, and these are the rites you are obliged to keep. This logic can work one of two ways, depending on the circumstances: it can cause extreme hostility to conversion and proselytes (the anti-Christian violence in Orissa recently stems partly from opposition to Christian missionary work among Dalits) because it is upsetting the existing order, or it can mean that there is no particular rationale or argument for doing things a certain way or believing a certain doctrine. Which response you get will probably depend heavily on the surrounding society. In the case in question, Bobby Jindal’s conversion to Catholicism was less likely to cause tremendous problems with his community in Catholic Louisiana and would not be a cause for many problems in some parts of India, while it might very well have been a cause of tension where Christians are in the minority or are perceived, as they are in Orissa, of challenging or interfering in the caste system.
In Hinduism, from what I do understand, it is not usually a question of finding the optimal teaching or the best rite, but of fulfilling your duty. Hinduism, which is outsider’s shorthand for a bewildering array of religious groups and practices, has everything from the philosophical discourses of Vedanta to the ban on harming monkeys because they are sacred to Hanuman (which has combined with deforestation to create a massive influx of monkeys into major metropolitan areas, much to the frustration of the inhabitants). Some Vaishnavites have gone to far as to recognise Gautama Buddha and Christ as other incarnations of Vishnu, which at first seems like an ecumenical move and then you see that it is an appropriating and competitive one. It is because of the great variety of cults and sects within what we call Hinduism that henotheism and panentheism become very attractive explanations, which can then be extended to other world religions. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t fierce sectarians and fanatics within this mix, as there are obviously are (Hindutva doesn’t come from nowhere), but even with a phenomenon such as Hindutva you see ”Hinduness” being defined in opposition to non-Hindus, which tends to minimise or efface the differences among Hindus to a certain extent.
I don’t want to cause Ron Paul any extra grief, but I would note that Ron Paul stated his opposition to Lincoln and the War on national television just a few weeks ago and gave a reasonable answer when he was asked about this. Among other things, he said:
How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war.
Those who would like to defend the Unionist cause should ask themselves: “Is there any other conflict where I would view the invading, aggressive party driven by ideology and, among a few, religious fanaticism as the obviously right side?” The story of the War is that it was tragic, in that it was between two flawed peoples (as all peoples are more or less flawed) who warred against one another to the ultimate detriment of both. Moreover, unlike in classical tragedies where the hero is destined to suffer, that conflict was avoidable.
Nowadays, it is possible for some modern historians to see the massacres in the Vendee as a French-on-French ideological “genocide” of sorts, but it seems that we are still a surprisingly long way from coming to terms with our destructive revolutionary experience in the mid-19th century.
To stave off recession, the Fed appears anxious to slash interest rates another half-point, if not more. That will further weaken the dollar and raise the costs of the imports to which we have become addicted. While all this is bad news for the Republicans, it is worse news for the republic. As we save nothing, we must borrow both to pay for the imported oil and foreign manufactures upon which we have become dependent.
We are thus in the position of having to borrow from Europe to defend Europe, of having to borrow from China and Japan to defend Chinese and Japanese access to Gulf oil, and of having to borrow from Arab emirs, sultans and monarchs to make Iraq safe for democracy.
We borrow from the nations we defend so that we may continue to defend them. To question this is an unpardonable heresy called “isolationism.” ~Pat Buchanan
Jim Antle makes an important point:
It’s worth clearing something up about the strategy that led to the Paul newsletters. Paleolibertarianism began as a way to get libertarian politics back in touch with the normal customs, habits, and mores of most people while keeping the focus on antistatism. The idea was that libertarian hostility to religion and to the nation-state was hurting the cause of more freedom and less government. Most people are to some extent religious. They don’t reject all forms of social authority. When they hear that a country is just a bunch of people who happen live in the same geopraphic location, and that there is no reason to feel more loyalty to an American than someone else, it doesn’t quite ring true to them.
Unfortunately, as evidenced by the types of people these newsletters were marketed to, some prominent paleolibertarians took these insights and then veered off into rather ugly directions with them. Ironically, by doing so they have probably strengthened the very tendencies in libertarianism they once sought to mitigate.
The paleolibertarian turn was and remains basically the right one in principle for libertarians to take. That is, a libertarianism that is not antithetical to religion and patriotism will fare much better politically, and it will also be more in agreement with human nature. A libertarianism that pretends that there is something unnatural or even immoral about preserving national sovereignty will never appeal to more than a handful of people, and that’s as it should be.
By destroying the states’ right to secession, Abraham Lincoln opened the door to the kind of unconstrained, despotic, arrogant government we have today, something the framers of the Constitution could not have possibly imagined. States should again challenge Washington’s unconstitutional acts through nullification. ~Walter Williams, c. 1998
Via J.H. Huebert
Have I forgotten to mention that I have an article on the crazed primary schedule in this month’s Chronicles? If I have, I apologise. The current issue has some excellent contributions. I particularly recommend Dr. Fleming’s article on a politics driven by interests.
Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, Tom Coburn is one the most ardent opponents of Kyoto and any federal legislation relating to global warming. So, naturally, given the insane nature of the GOP race, he has endorsed John McCain, one of the leading Republican proponents of cap-and-trade and raising the alarm about global warming. Apparently it is McCain’s promised pork-busting that has won his support.
This is rather amusing. Apparently I have become worthy of being denounced by Jamie Kirchick at Commentary for my sympathy for the Confederacy. Kirchick’s “discovery” that I have belonged to the League of the South for many years will come, I expect, as no surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog for very long. On my sidebar are links to the League of the South’s webpage and its blog, I have written several times for Chronicles, which also links to the League’s site, and I have repeatedly defended the principles of secession, decentralism and constitutionalism that I regard as being an inseparable part of the political tradition of the Antifederalists, Jeffersonians and the Confederacy. I still belong to the League, but I am not active in the group. My statements about Lincoln over the years should have left no one in any confusion about my views of the War or its negative effects on the Republic. In essence, Kirchick believes that it is somehow disqualifying or unacceptable to reject the acts and legacy of an executive usurper and that it is wrong to sympathise with the people who fought for their constitutional rights against this usurper.
I don’t consider my membership or my views on the War to be shameful or requiring any apology. I don’t defend the legacy of the man who ushered in a destructive, illegal war that killed hundreds of thousands. It does take a certain fanatical mindset to see mass destruction and violence as the correct solutions to morally repugnant institutions, and let me be clear that I believe slavery was such a morally repugnant institution. I reject the mentality that says that the ends justify the means, and that the slaughter of other people is acceptable for the sake of ideology and centralising power. I will gladly compare my views on this with anyone who defends illegal and aggressive wars and the intrusive reach of the central state.
I should say that some of the things I said in the post to which Kirchick refers were intemperate and at least one was wrong. The shot at Boot was excessive, and I shouldn’t have said that. In that I was being hot-tempered and wrong. However, the rest of my views are so “repellent and noxious” that they are shared by such conventional pundits as Walter Williams and even to some degree by no less than Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, who once said about the cause for which two of his ancestors fought:
I am not here to apologize for why they fought, although modern historians might contemplate that there truly were different perceptions in the North and South about those reasons, and that most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery. In 1860 fewer than five percent of the people in the South owned slaves, and fewer than twenty percent were involved with slavery in any capacity. Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war — just as overt patriotism is today — but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution, and that it had never been surrendered. Nor had Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in Kentucky and Missouri when those border states did not secede. Perhaps all of us might reread the writings of Alexander Stephens, a brilliant attorney who opposed secession but then became Vice President of the Confederacy, making a convincing legal argument that the constitutional compact was terminable. And who wryly commented at the outset of the war that “the North today presents the spectacle of a free people having gone to war to make freemen of slaves, while all they have as yet attained is to make slaves of themselves.”
All of that states the matter very well. I remain convinced that the vast majority of Confederate soldiers were fighting for constitutional liberty, including one of my own ancestors, and I think that was, is, something worth defending. If that repels the Jamie Kirchicks of the world, I have to conclude that I am on the right track.
I’m a little late to this, but I wanted to add a few remarks to what Rod said about Huckabee’s allegedly horrifying remarks about God and the Constitution. But first, Lisa “Go Pack To Dogpatch” Schiffren:
What do you think God’s standard is on anchor babies and birthright citizenship? (Manger!) Does Huckabee’s God believe in borders? What is God’s monetary policy? Is Jesus a capitalist? How much economic disparity will he tolerate? Wouldn’t God want us all to have health care? Nice shoes?
What about rendering unto Ceaser that which is Ceaser’s [sic], and unto God that which is God’s? Mike Huckabee is going to force those of us who have wanted more religion in the town square to reexamine the merits of strict separation of church and state. He is the best advertisement ever for the ACLU. Even if you share his ultimate views on the definition of marriage, or the desirability of abortion on demand.
Is this “Ceaser” the one who ceases and desists from something? Tell us more about “Ceaser,” please.
These comments, and others like them in recent days, are revealing about what some movement conservatives really think about religion in the public square, “values,” and eternal verities. Religion in the public square is all very nice so long as we’re talking about nothing more than prayers at high school football games and maybe a creche here and there, but just watch these people who allegedly “have wanted more religion in the town square” run screaming the moment a religious conservative proposes to do something and to do it for religious reasons. Suddenly the great friends of religiosity cannot get away fast enough, which suggests that their earlier interest in more religion was very weak or it was simply a pose for the benefit of their audience.
What is most remarkable about all of this is that these reactions are coming from people who mostly support the exact same constitutional amendments on marriage and life that Huckabee does. Most of them, I assume, have supported the life amendment plank in the GOP platform, and I assume virtually all of them have voted for candidates running on that platform in the past. If they don’t agree with these amendments, it is also probably not because they think that these amendments represent some horrible intrusion of religion into the public square, but because they think they are politically misguided. There is a good federalist, decentralist argument against both of these amendments, and that is the real issue with what Huckabee is proposing. He is trying to set up candidates who still have some nominal respect for federalism as relativists, as he has done before. The reaction against what Huckabee said seems to be driven entirely by the way that he said it and the fact that he dared to suggest that the laws of men should be in line with the law of God. In this, he is making a standard Christian conservative argument. By their reaction, they have shown how much contempt they have for that kind of argument and the people who make it. That isn’t news to some of us, but it is a little surprising that they would express it with so much vehemence.
Why Michigan’s evangelicals abandoned Huck is the inetersting question. The most likely explanation is that the reality of Huck’s policies caught up with his funny, winsome style. ~Hugh Hewitt
Here Hewitt is repeating the sort of line we frequently hear about Huckabee, whether it is coming from a friendly or hostile source. Going into the primary yesterday, quite a few observers assumed that Huckabee’s “populism” would help him, and it is this same “populism” that makes Huckabee persona non grata to the institutional movement types, and there are these references to Huckabee’s “policies” that I have never been able to understand. Aside from the FairTax and his cut-and-paste immigration plan, Huckabee doesn’t have any domestic policies. That is a legitimate reason to question his preparedness and oppose his candidacy, but it does not explain how his “policies” could have caught up to him in Michigan. Here’s the thing: Huckabee is a “compassionate conservative,” which by my lights means that he’s pretty far to the left of me such that I have no problem regarding him as someone as liberal as Bush, but based on his current campaign and even based on his record in Arkansas he’s still not quite a “pro-life Democrat.” More to the point, if Huckabee is a “pro-life Democrat,” Romney would have to be declared a Democrat as well based on his recent display in Michigan.
Voters did not suddenly discover Huckabee’s great scheme to nationalise health care (or whatever it is that people think Huckabee stands for) and turn away from him. Huckabee’s great health care insight is that we should eat smaller portions of healthier food, and maybe stop smoking. Not necessarily bad ideas, but they are not policy proposals. Outside of a narrow range of supporters tied into the church and homeschooling networks, plus a few others, Huckabee got little support because he had little money with which to advertise and spent little time advertising there. He went on the air in Michigan less than a week before the vote, so he mainly retained those voters who had heard about him through other means. What his Michigan ads said was: “I’m a tax-cutter, and I remind you of a working man and not a CEO.” What Huckabee was offering was a symbolic repudiation of corporate managers and…tax cuts. Romney promised a huge infusion of government spending. The two who actually proposed interventionist policies of various kinds (whether they included deregulation or more regulation) won the race and finished second, while the one running as the relatively more laissez-faire candidate came in third. So, in a sense, Huckabee’s limited number of policies may have caught up with him, but that would imply that Michigan voters rewarded the two most statist candidates in the race and punished the more simple anti-tax candidate. Of course Hewitt will keep perpetuating the myth of Huckabee the “pro-life Democrat” because he is a Romney shill, but what is remarkable is how much currency this notion has gained in just a couple months.
Many of Romney’s policy specifics involved removing Washington-imposed burdens on the industry, such as the prospect of new regulations. You can think he exaggerated their impact—I do—but that’s not left-wing. Convening industry reps and government officials to gab about the industry’s problems doesn’t strike me as all that alarming, either: It’s what comes out of the meeting that matters, and Romney didn’t commit to anything statist. Romney’s plan to quintuple research spending was pretty bad, in my view—but plenty of free-market folks are okay with such subsidies. The reason Romney got a “slap on the wrist” is that it’s all he deserved.
Plenty of free-market folks may be okay with such subsidies, but then that makes the definition of “free-market folks” rather flexible. If you look at what Romney said, he made the subsidies an essential part of his proposal:
But taking off all these burdens is only half the solution [bold mine-DL]. If we are going to be the world’s greatest economic power, we must invest in our future. It’s time to be bold. First, I will make a five-fold increase – from $4 billion dollars to $20 billion dollars – in our national investment in energy research, fuel technology, materials science, and automotive technology. Research spins out new ideas for new products for both small and large businesses. That is exactly what has happened in health care, in defense, and in space. Look how industries in other states have thrived from the spin out of technologies from our investment in these areas. So if we can invest in health care, in defense, and in space, why not also invest in energy and fuel technology here in Michigan?
In other words, state capitalism is already the way we do things in other sectors, so why not link yet another industry to massive government spending in unhealthy and distorting ways?
Noting a double standard in the treatment of Romney on the one hand and Huckabee and McCain on the other on fiscal and economic policy, Ross says:
It’s “sustained and detailed,” all right, just as Frum says - a sustained and detailed infringement on free-market principle, and one that appeals to voters in places like Michigan precisely because it goes much further to the left than Mike Huckabee’s substance-free talk about how the current period of economic growth isn’t doing all that well by the working class, or John McCain’s straight talk about how Michiganders can’t expect the federal government to bring back the glory days of Chrysler and GM. But because conservatives spend way, way more time worrying about the spectre of “class warfare” than they do about than the nexus between big business and the Republican Party, Romney gets off with a mild slap on the wrist, while McCain and Huckabee get tarred as liberals.
This is what I was talking about when I said:
My larger point was that Huckabee actually presents much less of a threat to economic conservatives than they suppose. It seems to me that, in their indignation that one of the non-anointed candidates has started succeeding where the chosen ones have failed, establishment Republicans have started applying a kind of rigour to litmus tests on fiscal records that they would not apply in other cases. If Huckabee’s Cato grade was a D, Romney’s was a C, yet we are gamely told by those who endorse Romney that he is much better as an economic conservative than Huckabee, when the truth is that, by the high standards of Cato and CfG, both are woefully lacking. The difference is that Romney is a corporate Republican and will be quite glad to work in the interests of corporations, while Huckabee manifestly is not. That makes Romney more reliable [bold mine-DL], even if it does not make him any more conservative on economics and fiscal policy…
This point would also apply to McCain. Beyond the substantive differences (i.e., Romney seems to be calling for massive state intervention to revive the auto industry and gets little criticism, while the same magazine that endorsed Romney would shriek about creeping socialism if Huckabee mocks candidates who went to boarding school), there is also a difference in the style of how Romney delivers his pandering nonsense: he is “optimistic” while the others are “pessimistic.” If you dress up even worse policies in optimistic language, optimists will view whatever you say more favourably than if you cast it in “pessimistic” (i.e., realistic) terms.
Those who don’t support Romney have certainly noticed the glaring problems with what Romney said. Doesn’t it seem odd that the “full-spectrum conservative” is the first candidate to elicit multiple comparisons between his plans and Soviet economic policy? Of course, you can’t believe a word he says, so there’s probably no danger that his actual policies would be quite so interventionist, and he is a team player, while McCain and Huckabee are idiosyncratic, temperamental politicians who enjoy bucking the establishment, if only a little. In an odd way, Romney’s complete lack of credibility means that any promises he has made to Michigan are almost certainly empty and therefore non-threatening, while Huckabee’s mildest gestures in the direction of the middle class are proof of his unacceptable “populism.” What also seems to worry people about McCain and Huckabee is that they have convictions and might act on them in a consistent manner. Romney gives them nothing to fear on that count.
Update: Or, as David Brooks says:
His campaign was a reminder of how far corporate Republicans are from free market Republicans.
Of course, it helps to be reminded of this, since many free market conservatives often take criticisms of corporations as criticisms of the free market and some of them seem to conflate the two.
Instead, what we are seeing is yet more evidence that the Republican Party is not in the grip of the Religious Right. That has been a myth organized political evangelicals have been eager to promote and Democratic and Republican elites have, in gullibility, accepted. ~Daniel Casse
True enough, the GOP is not in the grip of the Religious Right, but the rest of this has things entirely backwards. Yes, certain evangelical leaders have wanted to boast of their great influence (overcompensating for their lack of actual power) and some have enjoyed holding court and having presidential candidates seek their blessing, and some social conservatives took satisfaction in the apparently significant role of the famous “values voters” in swinging the election to Bush in 2004, but by and large the myth of the Religious Right’s stranglehold on the GOP has been promoted most of all by two groups of people in recent years: hysterical secularists on the left who would probably see ”floating crosses” in every Republican political advertisement and…secular conservatives on the right looking for scapegoats for the GOP’s recent electoral woes. It couldn’t be Iraq, dithering on immigration for six years or massive incompetence in government that has hurt Republicans–no, it must have been that Terri Schiavo business! Or so say the Ryan Sagers of the world.
Liberals have mistaken the importance of “values voters” to the GOP coalition for evidence of religious conservative clout in policymaking; some secular conservatives disturbed by the politics of the “values voters” and the GOP’s exploitation of wedge issues for GOTV efforts have developed elaborate theories about the religious radicalisation of the GOP, mistaking the deep cynicism of the GOP establishment for zealotry. The one group that hasn’t been pushing the narrative of a Religious Right-dominated GOP in recent years has been…religious conservatives, who know full well that they don’t really dominate much of anything in the party. Support for Huckabee’s candidacy is partly an outburst of frustration and dissatisfaction with this state of affairs, and he has lately started making that sense of frustration an explicit part of his campaign. However, while a major part of the voting coalition, evangelicals specifically and religious conservatives generally wield much less clout at elite movement and party levels than you would expect given the outsized electoral importance of their issues to the coalition. The current election has highlighted the lack of unity and organisation of religious conservatives. It was significant that Giuliani’s campaign weakened on its own–it was not stopped by religious conservative leaders, some of whom even entertained or made accommodations with the mayor. It was also significant that religious conservative leaders adopted an “every man for himself” approach to candidate endorsements, rather than uniting around any one consensus figure, and still more significant that many, though by no means all, evangelical and social conservative voters rushed to rally around the candidate many of the leaders distrusted or opposed outright.
Did you notice Romney’s lame rip-off of Clinton’s “comeback for America” New Hampshire victory speech? Bruce Reed did and noticed a few other things as well:
Romney didn’t stop there. He focused like a laser beam on the economy. He welled up on the trail. He set out to beat McCain among women. In his victory speech, he claimed his comeback was part of a comeback for America. Don’t look now, Republicans, but after Romney spent all that time searching and searching, in Michigan the New Mitt tried to transform himself into Hillary Clinton. At this rate, he might even endorse his own Massachusetts health care plan.
Sullivan drew the same parallel:
Of course, it’s just the latest poll-tested cynical ploy. But it’s working for Clinton! And she and Romney have one thing in common: two focus-grouped cynical dynastic holograms.
This sums up well much of the reason why I am so powerfully opposed to Romney. Think of how much many progressives distrust and dislike Hillary Clinton, and then apply the same view to the Republican side.
Reed’s phrase “Transformer Romney” also reminded me of an old favourite post of mine.
I would like to be able to say that Romney’s victory was something other than impressive, but he has simply cleaned up in virtually every demographic. He won among Republicans by double digits, reinforcing the old conventional wisdom that McCain is simply not very popular with most Republicans, but he also did reasonably well with independents. Whether you divide the electorate by region, religion, age, education, Romney wins (except apparently among less observant Catholics). According to exit polls, he even defeated Huckabee among evangelicals. That’s a significant part of his success, since evangelicals made up about 40% of the electorate. But this isn’t just Romney making inroads with evangelicals–he expanded beyond his natural constituencies of the well-educated, upper-income and more secular-minded voters.
Once again, as in New Hampshire, a plurality of antiwar voters has opted for McCain. Basically, the angrier you are at Bush and the more disapproving you are of the war, the more likely you were to cast a vote for McCain. On the superficial level of ”McCain was Bush’s rival eight years ago,” I suppose I understand why this is happening, but I can’t say that I really comprehend the thought process that leads to the decision to vote for the man. At least Giuliani suffered an embarrassing showing of about 3%, staying just ahead of Uncommitted.
Huckabee did all right with his core voters, and won among the quarter of the electorate that places great importance on religious beliefs (naturally), but for all the talk of his alleged populism his message didn’t register particularly well with those who see the national economy as either “not good” or “poor.” Curiously, Paul overperforms among those who view the economy as “poor.” All that talk about the inflation tax must be interesting to someone.
Update: Looking at the results county by county, Ron Paul has a very large level of support in Hillsdale County (17%)–Ron Paul must be a big hit with Hillsdale College students.
So Romney has won, and it appears as if his margin of victory is larger than expected (currently nine points with 23% reporting). I need a drink.
“I take my inspiration from Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush.” ~Romney, during his acceptance speech
Notice how he is always inserting Bush the Elder’s middle names these days to make sure that no one will ever mistake this for an endorsement of the sitting President. I can’t blame him for not wanting to mention Mr. Bush by name, but it’s pretty remarkable for someone who demands apologies from other candidates when they make accurate assessments of administration flaws.
To that you might say, “Well, of course he still loses. He’s polling around 3% up there!” But that’s not entirely what I mean. Obviously, yet another miserable election result, in this case one in which Giuliani may be bringing up the very back of the pack, will confirm the narrative that “Giuliani is finished” and scare off the donors he needs to keep going, but it is worse than that. After tonight, Giuliani is no longer simply weakening, but he becomes basically irrelevant. His numbers in Florida (and now California) began dropping after New Hampshire, and after tonight they will all start to migrate to McCain. His campaign will likely stumble on for a few more weeks and then bid us farewell. (It is likely that he will endorse McCain, if he endorses anyone, since those two have rarely come to blows during the campaign.)
With McCain’s momentary success, we are seeing Giuliani being replaced completely as the ostensible national security/”leadership” candidate (with the added bonus that the replacement actually knows something about national security!). Most people now seem to see Giuliani’s candidacy for the irrelevancy and absurdity that it was. In all of American history, former mayors have never gone directly to being presidential nominees (even Grover Cleveland stopped over in Albany for a couple years before his election), and it was the ultimate arrogant display by an extremely arrogant man to make the attempt in the first place. Meanwhile, if Romney manages to win, he becomes the default anti-McCain, leaving no room for Giuliani anywhere. Even if Romney loses, he still has money to continue competing if he wants, while Giuliani cannot draw upon such a large personal reserve.
Now Romney is disliked by enough people already, and he keeps alienating enough people once they do learn about him, that McCain assumes his Dole/Kerry role of the inevitable frontrunner who may yet prove, in the end, to be inevitable. Huckabee will put up a decent fight through the Southern primaries, but he seems to have been successfully pigeonholed as the evangelical populist (despite his pretty thin populist credentials) and he has decided to embrace that role completely. On paper, Huckabee ought to be the right GOP nominee for this cycle, but it doesn’t seem to be happening as I thought it could.
Despite my absolutely atrocious record at predictions in the last couple of weeks, I shall offer up another batch, if only for your amusement. In this presidential campaign, making predictions for any reason seems to be a guaranteed path to failure and ridicule, but that’s never stopped me before. So, here it is: McCain wins tonight despite any poor weather that might be depressing turnout, but he wins only very narrowly. Romney finishes respectably close, but still finishes second, and his campaign starts to unravel, despite the best efforts of Hugh Hewitt to portray another embarrassing repudiation as a moral victory. Nevada and South Carolina then probably confirm the strange new world where McCain is winning more races than he is losing, and Florida then likewise goes to McCain. Huckabee wins in a few Southern states besides Arkansas, but then bows out before too much longer. The McCain-Huckabee ticket, which I foolishly regarded as improbable some weeks ago, now seems only too possible. In the end, if he were to be the nominee, McCain would probably not poke his finger in the establishment’s eye yet again with his veep selection by choosing someone so deeply disliked by much of that establishment. Then again, it might be just the kind of assertion of authority over the party that McCain would love to make.
All of that is subject to change in a few hours, when the terrible curse of a positive Larison prediction causes McCain to lose badly.
Meanwhile, even 24, ostensibly the most right-wing hour on television, features what Martha Bayles, writing in this season’s Claremont Review of Books, terms a “timid selection of villains,” including “vengeful Serbs, a bitchy German, red-handed Mexican drug lords, a turncoat British spy, a greedy oil executive, power-mad government officials (including one president), and—once in a blue moon, when the Council on American-Islamic Relations is looking the other way—violent jihadists.”
Once in a blue moon? Really? They happen to be among the main players in no less than three of the six seasons. Even if you take the view that they were phoning it in during the sixth season and simply recycling old plotlines from earlier seasons (e.g., Arabs with nukes, the Vice President trying to force the President out via the 25th Amendment, terrorist youths in our suburbs!, etc.), 24 has assembled a small army of Middle Eastern actors and extras over the years. Perhaps the only thing more annoying than general hysteria about “Islamofascists” is the rather bizarre obsession with pretending that American pop culture has not endorsed this hysteria with gusto.
Even those who mentioned immigration — or “the illegal aliens,” as Wolfis put it — seemed unaware that McCain was an outspoken Republican advocate for providing illegal immigrants with a pathway to citizenship last spring. ~The Politico
Can’t man the do anything that isn’t fake?
Suppose that the Kossacks succeed in pushing a large number of Democrats to vote for Romney in the primary tomorrow. Wouldn’t this taint any Romney victory and allow his opponents to turn his criticism of McCain’s New Hampshire victory back on him (i.e., that he won because of non-Republican votes)? Wouldn’t it reinforce every criticism of Romney as insufficiently or unreliably conservative? Given the necessarily Michigan-centric, dare I say populist, campaign he is running at the moment, won’t any victory in Michigan be a pyrrhic one, in which he discredits the claim that he is a “full-spectrum conservative”? Doesn’t his policy record already discredit him?
Feel the enthusiasm!
As I was looking at Casting Stones, I came across this post that had some interesting information on an important Michigan endorsement for Romney. Apparently, Marlene Elwell, an old Christian Coalition hand and one-time Pat Robertson backer, has been working hard to stop Huckabee, and here is one of her reasons:
Though she says the Huckabee camp repeatedly tried to sign her during 2007, Elwell calls the former Arkansas governor a liberal on non-hot button social issues like education.
What this means in the real world is that one of the few candidates actively supported by a large network of homeschooling families and one of the strongest defenders of homeschooling in the race is “liberal” on education because he doesn’t support school vouchers. This takes crazy litmus-test politics to a new level, or a new low, depending on how you want to look at it. The principled reason to support vouchers is that you support the right of parents to choose where their children can go to school, so it is preposterous to say that a leading defender of homeschooling is simply a “liberal” on education without any qualification. If you don’t like his position on vouchers, fine, but let’s be honest about what the real objection is. Vouchers are a debatable policy, and they are unusually unpopular with the actual suburban middle-class voters whose schools would be affected by these policies (or who fear that these policies might affect their schools). How vouchers went from being a slightly oddball, Jack Kemp-esque initiative proposal in the ’90s to the end-all, be-all of education reform on the right is one of those mysteries that someone else will have to solve.
During a speech delivered in the heart of the financial district, where compensation packages routinely reach into the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, Mr. Bush announced that he would ask corporations to curb excessive executive pay.
When it comes from Bush, Republicans may not be happy with it, but they aren’t exactly declaring him the second coming of Huey Long. What shocking socialist rhetoric has been pouring forth from Huckabee’s mouth? One news story reported late last year:
He calls himself the candidate who isn’t a “wholly owned subsidiary” of investment banks, decries large executive-pay packages and says the party needs to shift its focus from Wall Street to Main Street.
The logic of the backlash against Huckabee seems to be this: if you have a net worth of $20 million-plus, you can call for curbing executive pay packages, and if you don’t have that much your similar calls to do this are proof that you are a wild-eyed left-winger. Or something like that. It does make sense that an establishment embarrrassed by or tired of Bush would be unwilling to rally around Huckabee, but that would confirm the point that they see the two men as being markedly similar and it would likely mean that they are quite similar.
Let us all cast our minds back to those early days of the 2000 campaign when Bush unveiled the “compassion” agenda (in 1999) and see what he said:
The purpose of prosperity is to make sure the American dream touches every willing heart. The purpose of prosperity is to leave no one out–to leave no one behind.
In Michigan the other day, Huckabee said:
My goal is not to make rich people poor, it’s to give poor people a shot at the American dream.
Now I don’t like Huckabee or Bush, but can someone explain to me what the substantive differences are between the two of them?
George W. Bush is a preppy blueblood whose candidacy had the blessing of both movement conservatives and the Republican Old Guard; Mike Huckabee is a working-class Arkansan whose primary-season insurgency has exactly zero institutional support. George W. Bush had Dick Cheney and Karl Rove whispering in his ear; Huckabee has, well … Ed Rollins and Jim Pinkerton. It’s next-to-impossible to imagine Bush saying the sort of things Huckabee has said about Wall Street Republicans and the Club for Growth; it’s next-to-impossible to imagine him delivering the speech that Huckabee delivered at the Values Voter Summit. And it’s absolutely impossible, to take a pair of issues near to Larison’s heart, to imagine Bush adopting the Krikorian Plan as his immigration policy, or delivering the following remarks on foreign policy…
I would grant the point about immigration more readily were I persuaded that Huckabee’s sudden 180-degree turn on immigration was anything other than the most cynical opportunism. The people who are going to be disappointed are the restrictionists who buy into his rhetoric on border security (even Bush found himself forced to sign a border fence bill, albeit one he had no intention of implementing) and the foreign policy realists are probably going to be disappointed by someone who thinks we should send troops into Pakistan and who thinks all Palestinians should be sent to Egypt. He eschews democracy promotion, which is all very well, but he is entirely supportive of the war in Iraq and, as I just mentioned, he is actually vastly more hard-line against the Palestinians than Bush (who once dubbed Ariel Sharon “a man of peace”) has been. Giuliani is also skeptical of democracy promotion, probably thanks in part to the influence of Martin Kramer, but with respect to everything else Bush has done abroad he is entirely in agreement.
When Bush was a candidate, you heard nary a word about democracy promotion, and foreign policy realists fell for it, because they concluded, reasonably enough, that realists were going to be in charge. If Bush were running as a candidate for the first time in 2008, you would probably see someone taking a much firmer line on border security and enforcement. Based on his record, Huckabee was every bit as liberal on immigration at the start of last year as Bush was in 1999. His foreign policy remarks are actually eerily similar to Bush’s in some ways (his attacks on the “arrogant bunker mentality” are just the flip side of Bush’s call for a “humble” foreign policy, and remember when then-Gov. Bush derided Clinton for his presumptuous forcing of a peace deal on the Israelis?). It is hard to conclude that he is not a much more glib version of the exact same kind of Republican. The thing that worries me about Huckabee is that his restrictionist pose and his nods towards foreign policy realism will dupe anti-Bush conservatives into thinking that he is the antithesis of Bush and what Bush represents, when he is, in fact, just an updated version of the same and he is someone who is running campaign similar to the one Bush did in 2000. Huckabee’s humbler origins are a much better fit for the role Bush was trying to play. The “different kind of Republican” who comes from political aristocracy and the business world never really worked, which is why Bush had to turn up the folksiness to 11 and talk about his ”favourite philosopher,” who was, as you’ll recall, Jesus Christ. In 2000 conservative pundits were praising Bush’s everyman appeal and they were mocking the complaints that he was unintellectual, and now many of the same people are complaining that…Huckabee is appealing to the everyman and isn’t very intellectual. Huckabee is a higher-octane version of Bush, perhaps so much so that the people who indulged or suffered Bush despite his flaws will not stand for someone who has most of those flaws in greater abundance. Plus, the lack of institutional support seems based as much on movement institutional support for the candidates whom Huckabee has displaced or defeated (i.e., Thompson, Giuliani and Romney) as it is on substantive disagreements with Huckabee. I don’t deny that establishment elites are almost as uniformly against Huckabee as they were for Bush, but I would stress that this is evidence of the inconsistency of the former in their preferences rather than proof of great differences between Bush and Huckabee.
Clark Stooksbury correctly objects to Jonah Goldberg’s recent (mis)characterisation of Crunchy Cons and Rod Dreher. Goldberg had lumped Rod in together with Michael Gerson and saying that “both of these derive from the kind of thinking that led George W. Bush to insist in 2000 that he was a “different kind of Republican” because he was a “compassionate conservative” — a political program that apparently measures compassion by how much money the government spends on education, marriage counseling and the like.” This is just badly wrong. There’s no other way to say it.
Rod responds here. I had noticed the same thing, but at first it was such a minor part of Goldberg’s column that I didn’t want to rehash the same old arguments over what was almost a throwaway line. I really didn’t feel compelled at the time to point out (yet again) that Goldberg misunderstands what Rod has been talking about, but it occurs to me that this excerpt illustrates what seems to be a recurring pattern in Goldberg’s writing. On more than one occasion, he has conflated very different ideas on the right and claimed that they are very closely related, when their only point of contact is that they both represent something other than current establishment conservatism. Thus the proponents of Sam’s Club Republicanism can be bizarrely identified with the politics of Sam Francis, and now the ideas of Gerson and Dreher can be traced back to the same source. This might not be terribly interesting to most people, except that this also appears to be what Goldberg has done in his book Liberal Fascism with the two non-conservative ideologies mentioned in the title. There may be substantive similarities between liberalism and fascism in certain respects, and it is correct to identify fascism as a leftist ideology, but at a certain point specific differences matter and fine distinctions become important for understanding how two sets of ideas that may share a few assumptions lead people to significantly different conclusions and actions. Those distinctions become important for understanding why Dollfuss and Schuschnigg or Metaxas, for example, may have been conservative authoritarians, but they were definitely not fascists despite some superficial similarities or a shared interest in corporatist economics, and they remain just as important for understanding what FDR and Wilson were and were not. Conflating or identifying two significantly different things, as it seems Goldberg tends to do, ultimately makes for very unedifying intellectual analysis. These conflations suggest either some misunderstanding of the matters at hand or a polemical goal of lumping together various political adversaries in order to associate all opponents with the errors of those assumed to be the worst.
An agreement spanning hard-line Shia Muslims, secularists and Sunni representatives set the outlines for a broad-based alliance capable of mounting a parliamentary challenge to the ruling coalition led by the prime minister Nouri al-Malaki.
A shared platform welded together the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the moderate former prime minister Ayad Allawi and even a Sunni leader, Salah al-Mutlak.
A statement said the parties would resist proposals to grant regional governments control over oil resources and push for the abandonment of a referendum on the disputed city of Kirkuk. ~The Daily Telegraph
When the administration has pressed for Iraqi political reconciliation, I do not think this is what they had in mind. Now, in addition to the fractiousness within the government and the reluctance of Maliki to press very hard on these measures, there is an organised bloc dedicated to thwarting the legislative agenda that the “surge” was supposed to make possible.
As I was looking over the CBS/NYT poll and I came upon the remarkable results from the “shares your values” questions (questions 44 and following), I began to wonder how the respondents are making their judgements. On McCain, 62% say he ”shares their values,” 24% say no; 63% say the same of Huckabee, while just 13% say no (24% don’t know). Meanwhile, Romney’s results are 48/24 (with 29% saying they didn’t know). There almost has to be some kind of circular reasoning going on here. I think it goes something like this: McCain and Huckabee have both won early state contests for the nomination, which apparently means that the voters must have recognised that these candidates “shared their values” and therefore supported them, while Romney kept losing to both, implying that he doesn’t “share your values” as much as the others. Giuliani fares poorly as well, perhaps reflecting his lack of electoral success. How else do you explain the sudden increase from 47 to 62% of Republicans who believe McCain “shares their values” in the last month? Literally nothing has changed about McCain in the last month, except that he has perhaps become more obnoxious. For that matter, how could more than a fifth of Republicans not know the answer to this question just a month ago?
If this doesn’t explain it, the gap between Republican voters and conservative activists is even greater than I imagined–how else do we explain this phenomenon of strong voter affinity for the two candidates most loathed by party and movement activists? However, we must be careful and not commit the Giuliani Fallacy. That is, we should not conclude some radical transformation of a political coalition based on nothing more than transitory poll numbers.
On MTP Clinton reasonably questioned Obama’s self-serving story about his allegedly bold and consistent opposition to the war, noting that he has built his reputation in foreign policy on opposition to the war when his opposition has been, at least since he entered the Senate, largely rhetorical and bereft of leadership before he started running for President. This is true, even though Hillary Clinton has said it. If you want a real antiwar Democratic leader, you might look to someone like Russ Feingold, who has actually consistently opposed the war by, well, voting against it and voting to end funding for it.
It is all very well that Obama spoke against the war when he was at no political risk as a state senator in one of the most liberal districts in a Democratic state. He then subsequently distanced himself from that opposition when the war was initially popular and it seemed that being antiwar was a political loser for an ambitious politician and embarrassing to someone chosen to give the keynote address at a convention that was nominating two war supporters, only to rediscover his previous ”superior judgement” once the country had turned against the war and he was gearing up to run for President. Because Hillary Clinton is so deeply unpopular with so many political observers, many do not want to credit these criticisms, but they are pretty accurate. On this specific point, it is, dare I say it, Obama and his campaign that have played the part of the Clintons and the Clintons who have (for entirely self-serving reasons, of course) opted to tell the truth.
Michigan Catholic Voter Alert:
What Michigan Catholics MUST Know About Mike Huckabee
FACT: Mike Huckabee has exhibited a willful blindness in associating with anti-Catholicism when it has benefited him politically.
FACT: Instead of supporting a healthy expression of religion in the public square, Mike Huckabee has used his evangelical protestant faith as a wedge to divide the Republican Party and gain support from fellow evangelicals.
FACT: While claiming to believe Catholics are fellow Christians, Mike Huckabee has kept close acquitance with evangelical leaders who have:
o Compared Catholicism to a disease requiring ‘recovery’ and rehabilitation;
o Said the Catholic Church collaborated with the Nazis to exterminate Jews;
o Accused the Catholic Church of pulling mankind into the ‘dark ages’.
FACT: Mike Huckabee has been endorsed by anti-Catholic author Tim Lahaye , who called Catholicism a “false religion” Lahaye’s Church also funded “Mission to Catholics”, a virulently anti-Catholic ministry.
And on it goes. As near as I can tell, there is nothing in the email in question that is untrue. The item also draws attention to Huckabee’s half-hearted response to an apparent anti-Catholic campaign aimed at undermining Brownback in Iowa, which soured relations between the two campaigns and marked the real kickoff of the religious dimension of the GOP nomination contest. Frankly, besides Hagee’s anti-Catholicism, what worries me almost as much as about Hagee is the man’s role in founding CUFI and his insane cheerleading for the bombardment of Lebanon (which he called a “miracle from God”). Unfortunately, that’s just the sort of association that should stand him in good stead with “national security” conservatives.
Query: why aren’t Catholic voters similarly put out by Romney’s acceptance of an endorsement from Bob Jones III?
Bearing in mind that head-to-head matchups ten months before Election Day are awfully unreliable guides to actual performance and also keeping in mind that electability arguments are fraught with danger, I nonetheless agree with this conclusion (via Sullivan):
With key primaries coming up in Michigan and South Carolina, support for Romney would seem to indicate a powerful and problematic Republican death wish.
This seems right to me, but not necessarily because Romney performs poorly in head-to-head general election scenarios. Those sorts of polls have been coming out for months, and the lesser known candidates are always doing worse against the better-known celebrity candidates. (Fred Thompson has the unfortunate distinction of being a celebrity candidate who is nonetheless surprisingly little known by name.) It has been tempting to use them to bash Romney, but these polls actually show a lack of name recognition and familiarity with the weaker candidates. Those of us who have been following this election for the past year may find it incredible that there is still someone who doesn’t know who Mitt Romney is (some of us envy those who have remained so blissfully ignorant), but we must remember that most people are not so foolish as to have wasted their time on election coverage throughout 2007. If Mitt Romney is getting blown out by Barack Obama in a national poll, any number of factors might explain this that have nothing to do with how Romney would perform in a general election. Media exposure, and positive media exposure at that, has to play a major role. What the weak poll showing by Romney reflects is the bare minimum percentage of the population that can be counted to vote for the Republican candidate virtually no matter what. Add a well-known quantity or a celebrity candidate, and you will get additional support on top of that–that does not necessarily reflect how well a candidate would do in the actual election. The percentage of undecided voters in these match-ups is usually quite large, because most people haven’t the foggiest who Romney or Huckabee are. Those who are choosing Romney or Huckabee in spite of knowing little or nothing about them are reliably Republican voters. The undecided voters who still need more information represent the part of the electorate that is less committed to either party.
Electability arguments are treacherous. Let’s remember, if we can, those long-ago days when people were very proudly declaring that Giuliani was going to redraw the electoral map (New Jersey and Connecticut would be in play once more!) and be a very electable general election candidate. He was supposed to be the Clinton-slayer, and you were supposed to bow before him because he was going to save you from Hillary. He has been so electable that he currently has zero delegates, and is on pace to acquire none on Tuesday and perhaps a handful on Saturday. Duncan Hunter has managed to acquire more delegates than Giuliani at this point. One problem with electability arguments is that it assumes that the candidate can get to a point where such a trait matters.
I would be wary of putting too much emphasis on general election polls that show McCain to be very competitive with named Democrats, since Giuliani performed well in similar polls, but I would also note that those who have pushed McCain’s electability have also assumed that he had a very difficult road to the nomination after the immigration fight last summer. I am beginning to think that the latter assumption is the one that has been unexpectedly wrong, and it is instead McCain’s electability that we should question. All things being equal, McCain ought to have a hard time getting the nomination. Many conservative activists loathe the man almost as much as they loathe Huckabee. Yet we seem to be seeing a divergence between what most activists have been saying and what at least a plurality of Republican voters actually prefer. As of late last summer, the divided field was supposed to deliver the nomination to Giuliani. In his place now stands McCain (his national polling and Giuliani’s have switched places almost exactly and, one assumes, exchanged many supporters), who stands to benefit from the Romney-Huckabee war and the desultory sniping of Fred Thompson. As for electability, these poll results reflect the very vague associations people have with well-known politicians, especially media darlings such as McCain, so it is hard to credit McCain’s apparent competitiveness to his own virtues as a candidate.
P.S. The new CBS/NYT poll confirms that large numbers of Republicans (approximately one third) don’t know anything about Romney. Romney has another problem: more of those who do know something about him view him unfavourably than favourably. No big surprise there.
That same poll reveals how perilous and ultimately absurd claims about electability are. Since electability really comes down to a question of perception, evidence of your electability disappears as soon as something better seems to come along. Thus Giuliani was seen as the best candidate to win the general election by 43% last month (now at 12%, behind Huckabee), and this month 41% think this of McCain (while 7% thought so a month ago). Should McCain lose in Michigan and South Carolina, these numbers will swing dramatically yet again.
Huckabee calls for a changing of the guard:
Many of us who have been Republicans out of conviction . . . the social conservatives were welcomed in the party as long as we sort of kept our place, but Lord help us if we ever stood forward and said we would actually like to lead the party.
While this is right as far as it goes, Huckabee really must want to go down in a blaze of glory if he insists on saying it out loud in front of everyone.
It’s too late to make a prediction for the Seahawks-Packers game, which has understandably turned into a rout of Seattle, but I will go out on a limb and say that the Jaguars are going to surprise some people (though probably not those who have been following Jacksonville closely) and defeat the Patriots with their running game 35-24. Tomorrow, the Colts and Cowboys win by at least a touchdown.
Jaguars lead 7-0 after first drive. Never mind. My prediction also cursed the Colts and the Cowboys in their games.
MI State Rep. Fulton Sheen (R) announced at a rally today that he’s officially withdrawing his endorsement of Mitt Romney in order to back Mike Huckabee. Sheen, who said he’d served as a MI state chair for Romney (trying to confirm), pointed to the FairTax and his support of the MI FairTax ballot proposal, which Huckabee backs, as the main motivator for his decision.
Detroit Free Press confirms the switch, adding another reason for Sheen’s change of heart: because Huckabee stands for “for the Biblical, Judeo-Christian values on which this country was founded.”
Contrary to what you read here yesterday, Romney is apparently not in such bad shape in Michigan. Rasmussen has him leading 26-25 over McCain with Huckabee in third at 17%. The breakdown of evangelical and Catholic votes is exactly what you would expect. Huckabee gets a healthy 32% of evangelicals, but just 4% of Catholics, which is low even for him. Among Catholics, he is in sixth place behind Fred Thompson and Ron Paul. Romney leads among every non-evangelical religious group. The good news for Huckabee is that he was never expected to be able to win a state like Michigan, at least not at this stage, so a respectable third behind Romney, the “native son,” and McCain would not be such a bad outcome. The only one who must win is Romney, and he seems to be in a good position to do it. However, Romney’s position is once again deceptively strong: 58% of his supporters say they might change their mind or are unsure about supporting him, which is higher than for any other candidate. McCain and Huckabee have pretty well locked down over half of their current supporters, which still leaves many impossible to pin down for certain. Things could shift pretty quickly in the next couple of days.
Curiously, Romney wins among both conservatives and liberals, but loses big to McCain among “moderates.” As you would also expect, Huckabee also does best among the <$20K earners. He also does well among the $65-75K earners, but he is actually leading among the lowest income group. In every other income group, he trails Romney and McCain, each of whom gets about a quarter to a third of each income group except for the lowest one. To give you a sense of how strange a mix Ron Paul supporters are, his best support (12%) comes from $20-40K earners and the $100K earners. McCain’s support generally increases as you go into the higher income groups, while Romney’s fluctuates back and forth.
Some marginally good news for Paul supporters: Paul shows some added strength in Michigan, now at 8%, ahead of Giuliani and almost tied with Thompson. It is a dubious distinction to be ahead of someone who has abandoned the state and almost tied with the guy who isn’t trying very hard up north, but it is better than previous polls I have seen. The problem is that most of his support comes from non-GOP voters (he is second only to McCain in non-GOP support), which obviously doesn’t help in later closed primaries.
Those days are over. In about eight weeks Giuliani has gone from frontrunner to second-tier candidate. ~Matthew Continetti
Giuliani says he isn’t worried. Conceding New Hampshire, he said, “Maybe we’ve lulled our opponents into a false sense of confidence now.”
Yeah, and maybe I’m a Chinese jet pilot.
No, I don’t mean the amusingly cynical movie of the same name. Coming back to that Florida poll, I should note the obvious: the vast majority of Floridians live in the center and south of the state, and these are the regions where McCain and Giuliani do best, where Romney is only moderately strong and where Huckabee is weakest. Huckabee has to hope for high turnout in the less-populated northwest where he has overwhelming support, and obviously needs weak turnout in the big urban centers and the I-95 corridor where all three of his rivals have more support than he does. The three or four-way split field is allowing Huckabee to live off the land and free media, relying on this regional backing from core supporters, but if he cannot start gaining ground among urban voters he may prove to be as limited a candidate as his critics originally claimed. This would be somewhat surprising to me in some ways, but in another sense it isn’t at all surprising: Huckabee is doing best in that part of Florida that is still culturally most like the rest of the South, and he is weakest in the most multiethnic and polyglot part of the state. Of course, a strong showing in Michigan and/or South Carolina could jumble the race in Florida yet again, so we’ll have to see.
Noted by several others, the results in Iowa show that Huckabee does not do very well with Catholic voters. Crosstabs from this old Rasmussen Florida poll from last month suggest that there may be something to this. In a poll where Huckabee registered 27% support, 17% of Catholics backed him, while receiving a whopping 46% from evangelicals. Meanwhile, Giuliani received the second-largest share of Catholic support (26%), while Romney was backed by the same percentage of Catholics and non-evangelical Protestants (29%). This has been the pattern in other states as well.
Rod, who endorsed Huckabee yesterday, said something in an earlier post that came to mind as I was thinking about this question:
For me, the Huck-as-change-agent theme comes down to this: an America led by a President Huckabee, and a conservative movement whose leader he is, might be an America and a conservatism where more people will read Wendell Berry — and for that matter, Catholic social thought.
If this pattern of limited Catholic support for Huckabee keeps up, barring the unlikely elevation of Michael Gerson in a future Huckabee Administration (there’s a scary thought), there may not be many who are supporting Huckabee who will be promoting Catholic social thought in any form. More to the point, if this pattern continues, Huckabee probably cannot win a general election.
On one level, it makes perfect sense that Catholic voters would not respond well to Huckabee. As a conservative Southern Baptist, he might appear to be no different from the Baptists who insist that Catholics are not Christians. Catholic voters might conclude that the people who are voting against Romney and for Huckabee on account of religion may very well also view their church as a “cult,” so they are withholding their support from Huckabee for that reason? To the extent that the media have explained his political success, for the most part correctly, in terms of evangelical support, and to the extent that the media have, less accurately, talked up the anti-Mormon factor in discussing his campaign, it would not be hard for voters who know relatively little about Huckabee to assume that he is simply the evangelical candidate with all of the possible anti-Catholic baggage that might entail. On the other hand, why Catholic voters should respond so much more strongly to Romney is a puzzle. He cannot claim any nominal or cultural connection to Catholicism, as Giuliani can, and his pro-life views are such a recent development that I find it hard to believe that he is winning over Catholic voters on this alone. Is there some boomerang pro-Romney sympathy vote that has emerged in reaction against anti-Mormonism? Perhaps Catholic voters are drawn to support the candidate who appears to be facing a “religious issue,” who currently hails from Massachusetts and who has invoked JFK’s speech on religion ad nauseam?
P.S. The latest SurveyUSA Florida poll, while not giving any figures according to religious affiliation, confirms the pattern from the earlier poll. Just look at the geographic distribution of Huckabee’s support: 40% in the northwest (the heavily evangelical Panhandle, including Pensacola) and 8% in the southeast (Miami-Dade and its surroundings). Huckabee receives decent, but hardly overwhelming, support in the other regions of Florida (17-18%). Conversely, Giuliani fares best in the southeast (25%) and does horribly in the northwest (2%). Romney runs strongest in northeast Florida (23%), receives 15% in SE Florida and receives only 8% in the northwest. Since Florida has something like 2.25 million Catholics living there, this could be a major hurdle for Huckabee (assuming that he does well enough in the rest of January that Florida still matters to his chances). Huckabee’s other, unrelated Florida problem? The elderly. Voters 65+ are the core of McCain’s strength down there, while Huckabee leads among the youngest cohort and runs competitively in every other group. Among the 65+ he is getting slaughtered by McCain 38-11, and he runs fourth overall among the eldest voters. Somebody doesn’t like all that talk about the greatest generation being the one yet to be born.
Shat mart kose yis earimen hasrat’ im Many men say I am yearning for my beloved.
Leyli-Mejloom el che es halov Even Medjloom of Leyla was never in such a state.
Mart piti hamasha beranet tndghe One must always be careful with your mouth.
Khosk’ is asum arakavor-masalov You are speaking with fables and hints.
Lezoot kaghtsr’ unis shakar or shartin You have a sweet tongue, sugar and honey.
Mazirt’ rehan e patetats’ vardin, Your hair is basil, wrapping around the rose.
Ki zardarats’ tesnim hit tsaghkazardin Let me look at you decorated at the flower festival,
Hagil elis zar-zarbaben khas alov Youwear silk with red satin.
Ea indzi kortsrek’, ea me ban arek’, Either leave me or do something
Khpetsek’, me tighes me nshan arek’, Beat me, put a mark on me somewhere
Tekooz estoo hama karaspan arek’ If only for this, stone me to death.
Chim kshtanum gozali hit khosalov I am not satisfied with speaking with the beautiful one.
Ajab vonts’ dimanam yis eschap darin, How can I take so much pain?
Achkemes artasunk’ doos goooka arin, From my eyes come tears of blood.
Orn ir shabatov karot im earin, Daily I am yearning for my beloved.
Vontsor gharib blbool vardin tisalov. Like the wandering nightingale looking at the rose.
Khlkis tarav jadookarin chim tesi. Whoever took my mind, I did not see the magician.
Bemurvatin, beighrarin chim tesi. I didn’t see the ruthless and unfaithful one.
Sayat-Noven asats’ earin chim tesi. Sayat Nova says, I didn’t see the beloved.
Man im gali artasunk’s husalov. I am walking, pouring forth my tears.
Translated by Larison
Jennifer Stec, a member of the Northside Family and Friends Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, says she has stopped writing checks to national evangelical groups such as Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. Instead, her donations go to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee [bold mine-DL].
Stec said she is backing the ordained Baptist minister in her state’s Jan. 19 Republican presidential primary because television evangelist Robertson “sacrificed Christian principles'’ by endorsing the candidacy of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion and gay rights. ~Bloomberg
The CNN national poll showing McCain with a big lead has some other interesting numbers. Either this poll is badly wrong, or the reason why McCain and Huckabee are doing so well is that…most Republicans approve of them and many are excited about them relative to their competitors. To this you will say, “Yeah, obviously, Larison. That’s redundant!” Yet to listen to conservative pundits, talk show hosts and self-anointed pulse-takers of “the base,” you would think that McCain and Huckabee are radioactive. They are coalition-killers! I would have assumed the same thing myself given the virtual unanimity of activists on this point, but the effect of the nomination of either one is actually better than would be the case if Giuliani or Romney were nominated.
When asked how they would feel after the nomination of each candidate, 31% said they would be enthusiastic about McCain, 46% would be satisfied, 18% would be dissatisfied and only 5% would be upset. It seems as if that 5% is overwhelmingly concentrated in conservative media outlets and activists in their audiences. For Huckabee, the numbers are revealing: 20/52/20/7. Only 7% would be upset with the huckster, whom we have been assured would rend the coalition to bits. For Giuliani the numbers are similar: 21/49/21/8. Romney understandably generates the least enthusiasm and satisfaction put together (14/50) and the highest dissatisfied + upset number (27/6). The choice of many movement conservatives, the champion of the three-legged stool, Romney apparently rallies the GOP less effectively than any of the others. These numbers have obviously changed since November and could always change back (Romney and Giuliani have lost ground in generating an enthusiastic response), but if you were designing the GOP ticket with party unity and enthusiasm as your only criteria you would, bizarrely, be pushed towards selecting McCain or Huckabee. The last one of the four you would select would be Romney. This intuitively makes sense to me, since I think Romney is awful, but it really calls into question the judgement that he is the most “viable” in the field. They did not poll for Thompson, of course, since he is drawing 6% in this national poll, so we don’t if Thompson would generate more or less enthusiasm than Romney as a would-be nominee.
P.S. The Iowa and New Hampshire outcomes seem to have decisively helped the winners in changing attitudes towards them. Not only has McCain seen a big jump in enthusiasm, but far fewer would be dissatisfied/upset with his nomination today than was the case in November. For Huckabee, as he has become better-known, enthusiasm and satisfaction have increased, and the negatives have decreased. That suggests that the concerted anti-Huckabee campaign has failed to damage him and may have generated sympathy for him.
It’s not a good sign that Giuliani’s senior staff have decided to work without paychecks, and there is no way to spin it otherwise. The amount of money that’s involved is miniscule: about $50,000 per month.
So the campaign must really have a cash on hand problem. Breaking News: Giuliani’s national finance chair, Roy Bailey, no longer has that position with the campaign. Bailey was not only Giuliani’s finance chair, he was one of the founding partners of Giuliani’s consulting firm. ~Marc Ambinder
There is some hubbub about Huckabee fading in Michigan, according to one source, but yesterday Strategic Vision released a Michigan poll showing Huckabee effectively tied with Romney and both trailing McCain. The race is still very fluid, since less than a third has definitely chosen a candidate. Strategic Vision also showed strong Huckabee support in Georgia long before the latest AJC poll came out. This new poll shows that Huckabee has expanded the lead he already had last month. Presumably, his win in Iowa was responsible for the increase.
Other interesting numbers from that Michigan poll: 39% of Republicans want out of Iraq within the next six months. More remarkably, two new polls from Florida and New York show Giuliani’s lead in Florida has vanished. He is effectively tied with Huckabee for second there right now. His position in New York has weakened considerably. He and McCain are now statistically tied for the lead in his home state.
As long-time bloggingheads viewers and readers of his columns know, Jim Pinkerton has been pushing for Mike Huckabee for months, and now comes the claim that he is apparently formally joining the Huckabee team. Given how strong Mr. Pinkerton’s views on immigration and border security are, I have always been a bit perplexed by his enthusiasm for Huckabee, but with Huckabee’s recent pivot on immigration it seems as if more restrictionist and enforcement-first conservatives are openly supporting him. Elsewhere, Rod Dreher has declared for Huckabee.
In case any of you were worried, let me assure my readers that this is something that I will never do. As the natural “new fusionist” candidate, the second coming of Bush, the apostle of Gersonism, Huckabee represents everything wrong with the politics of the GOP in the last seven years. I say this not because he is a social conservative, religious or Southern–those are the least of Republicans’ problems, if they could but see clearly. If you were disaffected and alienated by Bush, you will be driven out of your mind by Huckabee. This is all the more serious because Huckabee really does have the best chance of winning on the Republican side. Perversely, one almost needs to hope for a Romney or McCain nomination, since that may be the only thing now that will save us from Huckabee. Thompson has all but eliminated himself, and Giuliani is all but finished.
Obviously, I have also taken an interest in trying to understand and, when possible, explain the rise of Huckabee, because I have found it startling and more than a little odd. Unlike with the other three leading candidates, I do not feel the same kind of immediate revulsion and distaste with Huckabee. Each time I am inclined to cheer him on as an anti-establishment candidate, I have to remind myself that he really isn’t any such thing. Despite my willingness to give his statements the benefit of the doubt, I have tried to do this in the interests of accuracy and fairness to what he has actually said, but on no account do I want this man to be President. No doubt, some of his supporters read Crunchy Cons and like what they find, some of them could be part of those Middle American Radicals Sam Francis described long ago, and many of them are probably the people Ross and Reihan are describing in their forthcoming book, but this is exactly what is wrong with Huckabee’s candidacy. He draws in these people from these three very different parts of the population and relies on them for his political success, but I have no confidence that he would govern in their interests or according to their views. It’s the same con that Bush used against evangelicals and social conservatives. Because he could claim plausibly enough that he was “one of them,” he felt that he owed them nothing and could take them for granted, and by and large they allowed this to happen and happily re-elected him anyway. Now there is the hope that Huckabee is really “one of them” and will really govern in their interests, because he once said some mean things about Wall Street, but he won’t. In order for politicians to dupe you, you must be willing to be duped. This is what Huckabee is doing, just as Bush did before, and I’m afraid people are falling for it all over again.
By all rights, everyone who cannot bring himself, for whatever reason, to endorse Ron Paul ought to come to the same conclusion as Human Events’ editors did. If you rule out Paul, Thompson is the only one that makes sense. It doesn’t matter that his campaign is hopeless and his stump appearances cure insomnia. It doesn’t matter that his face reminds you of Anakin Skywalker at the climax of Return of the Jedi. Even then he is better than these other people. Thompson can give you plenty of phony populism, but his policy views aren’t for the most part incoherent or crazy. His foreign policy views trouble me, naturally, but given the futility of his campaign there are no risks that he will be in any position to do much damage. Liz Cheney will certainly never be on the National Security Council, because Thompson isn’t going to get past Florida.
Having said that, I remain, as always, a Ron Paul supporter. Those who prefer the ethically challenged pardoner of murderers, the serially deceitful, the associate of mobbed-up indicted crooks, the Cheney crony or the warmonger are, of course, free to support whomever they like. Let’s just not pretend that it’s because they are somehow morally superior to the lone constitutionalist and opponent of the war.
This is not directly relevant to Michael’s post (which you should go read anyway), but it does have to do with Mitt Romney. Daniel Gross has an interesting article on why Romney may not do all that well in Michigan, reminding us that people who voted for his father must be at least in their early sixties. This puts Romney in something of a double bind: the people who fondly remember George Romney make up a small part of the electorate, and Mitt Romney today represents the repudiation of much of what his father represented in his moderate-to-liberal business Republicanism and his later turn against Vietnam. In a state ravaged by outsourcing, plant closures and layoffs (and, yes, a heavily taxed and regulated business climate), Romney comes actually boasting of his experience as a corporate “turnaround” man and friend of globalisation. It’s even worse than it might at first seem:
But these days, private equity is a dirty word for many Michigan voters—even the Republican members of the managerial class. Private equity doesn’t signify profits and fortunes. It signifies Cerberus, the new owner of Chrysler, which is presiding over huge job cuts.
Gross points to the natural aversion the state’s Arab-American population will have to Mitt “It’s About Shia and Sunni” Romney. Not only did Romney blow off the AAI conference last year, which may be relevant to some of these voters, but the man who wants to “double Guantanamo” is hardly going to win the sympathies of voters who believe the government is already too intrusive and abusive in its anti-terrorist activities. That may provide an opening for Huckabee, though he has lamentably also gone in for talking idiotically about “Islamofascism,” and most of the Christian Arab-Americans in the state belong to churches (Catholic, Orthodox, etc.) that Huckabee backers are specifically not targeting for GOTV efforts.
Maybe there will be a big, unexpected surge of Arab-American votes from both parties to support Ron Paul, considering that the Democratic primary is essentially meaningless and will make it possible for antiwar and civil libertarian voters from the other party to influence the outcome? Polling doesn’t support any realistic hopes for a Paul resurgence, but he did best in New Hampshire among secular and rural voters, and he did well among those for whom the economy was the top issue, so if he can make himself known to those voters he could do better than the current 5% he has in polls. If Ron Paul did exceed expectations in Michigan, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising.
P.S. I neglected to make this point explicitly, but the really damaging thing about Romney’s disconnect with Michigan voters is that pundits and journalists expect him to do well in his “home state” and have already discounted the value of any victory accordingly, and meanwhile he is reinforcing the must-win narrative every time he says “Michigan is personal for me.” He has set himself up as the favourite in a state where he could very easily finish third; had Giuliani not effectively abandoned Michigan for lack of funds, it could have been worse than that. There is a difference between projecting confidence and setting unreachable goals–I wonder if Romney knows what that difference is.
My Huckabee-supporting friends keep complaining about East Coast neoconservative elites who are against Huckabee. I think we should institute a rule: Any generalization about East Coast neoconservative elites that has to make exceptions for David Brooks and William Kristol is invalid. ~Ramesh Ponnuru
This is a fair point. In fact, it is neoconservatives who have generally expressed the fewest objections with Huckabee’s domestic policy views (or rather gestures, since he doesn’t have many things well-formed enough to be called views), perhaps because they have been open to meliorist and big-government policies in the past. They do not have quite the reflexive opposition to Huckabee’s fiscal record that others do, though some of them do seem to find the prominence of his religiosity irritating. He has made protectionist-sounding noises, but lauds NAFTA, so he is not nearly so “heterodox” on trade as some have feared or hoped. It is his foreign policy, or alleged lack of it, and the possibility that he could split the coalition that have caused the greatest concern for Krauthammer, Barnes, Continetti and others, but again his ideas are so unformed that he could go either towards more realism (as his essay’s Iran remarks suggest) or towards a more aggressive, activist policy (as some of his comments on Pakistan hint). In the anti-Huckabee backlash you mainly see traditional, nationalist and economic conservatives making the most disparaging remarks about him. Restrictionists in particular find him simply unacceptable–hence the otherwise very odd Tancredo-Romney embrace. Then there are paleoconservatives such as myself who see Huckabee as a natural fit for a “new fusionist” alliance between social conservatives and neocons, and therefore potentially very dangerous. Whether for substantive or tactical reasons, the preferred candidates of many neoconservatives, McCain and Giuliani, have laid off Huckabee for the most part. To the extent that Huckabee would essentially be a modified George W. Bush, another iteration of the war-supporting “compassionate conservative,” as I think he would be, I think neoconservatives might see him as the most malleable and their best fallback candidate if both McCain and Giuliani fail to advance. It is Thompson and Romney who have been going after him hammer and tong, because they see him as a more direct competitor and because they are seeking to position themselves as guardians of the old-time Reagan coalition, which Huckabee’s camaign chairman has famously declared dead. There are many East Coast conservative elites attacking Huckabee (and many conservative elites in general, wherever they may live), but they are not neoconservative ones.
Human Events has endorsed Fred Thompson. Unhindered by any standard that requires a candidate to be viable, Human Events has made the logical choice, given that they obviously weren’t going to associate themselves with Ron Paul and the rest clearly fall short of their standards. It was interesting that they bothered to explain why they ruled out Paul. That’s more than most would do, I suppose. I do want to applaud Human Events for refusing to endorse any of the competitive candidates, and I don’t mean that sarcastically. There is an idea when it comes to such endorsements that you trivialise your influence on the process if you endorse a candidate who cannot realistically win the nomination, and they clearly reject that kind of thinking. (Having once predicted that Thompson would win the nod, mostly on the grounds that I could not see how the Republicans would nominate any of these others, I don’t think it is likely to happen now.) By endorsing Thompson, Human Events has at least helped to remind conservative voters how flawed the leading four really are.
Indeed, many believe Republicans lost the 2006 congressional elections, not because of Iraq but because of Bush’s betrayal of domestic conservative principles — other than his tax policy. ~David Limbaugh
Then apparently “many” are a bunch of fools. Compassionate conservatism is awful, but it isn’t primarily what cost the GOP the House and Senate.
Huckabee is, however, very good under fire - affable, not very flappable, and humane. His response to the Ephesians question was disingenuous, however. The Scripture does not tell husbands to submit to wives. It tells them to love their wives in return for their wives’ obedience. ~Andrew Sullivan
More than that, it calls on husbands to sacrifice for their wives as Christ sacrificed Himself for the Church. If that isn’t a call to devotion, I don’t know what is. From what little I heard, Huckabee’s answer to this truly irrelevant question was the most impressive one of the night.
I just heard Fred Thompson berate Huckabee for his complaint that the Pakistanis misappropriate our aid money to their military for purposes other than combating Al Qaeda. Of course, what Huckabee was actually referring to, unless I am very much mistaken, was the problem that Pakistan has been using military aid funding to bolster their military strength on the border with India. Contra Quin Hillyer, Thompson came off sounding like a buffoon. Remind me again why we’re supposed to think Huckabee is weak on foreign policy and Thompson is not? Because he’s advised by the Vice President’s daughter? Not much of a recommendation.
P.S. I think I have been a bit too hard on Huckabee’s foreign policy views because of his NIE blunder. He has been improving in this area over the last couple of months. As I said before, his Foreign Affairs essay did show some decent understanding of Pakistan, and tonight’s performance confirms that. As for Fred, anyone advised by Liz Cheney is going to make foolish statements.
Update: Thompson really is desperate to go after Huckabee tonight. He knows that he has to tear the man down to survive in South Carolina, but it’s just not working.
Second Update: Via Ambinder, Joe Scarborough makes it clear that he doesn’t like Fred Thompson’s debate performance. I think that invite to Chuck Norris’ ranch won him over to Huck’s side.
No, really. It would serve the Democrats’ interest to have the GOP race be prolonged as much as possible. Romney should show that he’s not going to play into their hands and drop out tomorrow.
No female — young, old, black or white — could ever play the knight-on-charger with meager experience. If she presented herself as the human embodiment of national unity and world peace, everyone would have fallen down laughing. ~Froma Harrop
This is quite right. The question that keeps puzzling me is why there aren’t more people laughing at Obama. His is an absurd and pretentious pose. It seems unlikely that people will continue to indulge this fantasy for another ten months.
Update: A Clinton adviser has an amusing, if self-serving, summary of the difference between Clinton and Obama voters: “If you have a social need, you’re with Hillary. If you want Obama to be your imaginary hip black friend and you’re young and you have no social needs, then he’s cool.”
In the wake of New Hampshire, I know we’re all supposed to ignore polls and pretend that they tell us little, but it seems useful to look at the most recent Iraq war polling again in response to this Jennifer Rubin piece. Rubin wrote:
To look ahead to the general election, the surge may also have changed the landscape for the Republicans as a whole. If progress continues, the GOP will not face searing headlines and escalating body counts. The traditional image of the GOP as the more responsible and less skittish party in national security may be restored somewhat and the Democrats’ willingness to “cut and run” again becomes a viable campaign issue.
So the lessons of the surge are familiar ones, but ones repeatedly forgotten by politicians anxious to seek safer ground in any controversy. Short-term political gain does not always translate into long-term electoral success [bold mine-DL]. The public in the end will reward political courage — in part because it is so rare.
With all the usual caveats that the election is still ten months away and many things may change, I confess that I don’t see where Rubin is getting this impression that the “surge” stands to benefit the GOP. Obviously, “surge” supporters hope that it does, and anything is possible, but there is little reason to think that it has had any meaningful impact on public opinion about the war. On the surface, yes, McCain is doing better (because he won in a state he had won eight years ago, though with almost 30,000 fewer voters this time), while bizarrely losing to Romney among strong supporters of the war 44-23%. Huckabee has probably temporarily benefited in the GOP primaries from being unequivocally for the “surge” while Romney was more skeptical about its success, but this may, in fact, prove to be a liability should he win the nomination. It is worth noting that Romney’s very modest skepticism and caution actually put him closer to the majority of the country than does McCain’s mantra “we are winning.” McCain’s best electoral asset seems to be that he wins the votes of Republican war opponents, as he did in New Hampshire, in spite of his close identification with the war–this is probably a function of the weakness of Republican war opponents’ opposition rather than McCain’s ability to appeal to those on the other side of the debate. It seems implausible that non-Republican war opponents will be as willing to support him.
In the NBC/WSJ poll from Dec. 14-17, opposition to the war remained as strong as ever. 63% disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war. That would have to include, as of last month, the “surge” as well as everything that came before. 56% believe victory is not still possible. 44% believe the “surge” has made no difference, and 14% believe that it has made things worse. These numbers are virtually unchanged from earlier months. 57% want to remove most troops by 2009. In a Dec. 16-19 ABC News poll, 62% say they believe was not worth fighting. More recent polling by Rasmussen from Jan. 2-3 tells us that 51% believe the war will be judged a failure in the long-term, and only 34% believe that things will improve over the next six months (this group includes 61% of Republicans, but only a fifth of Democrats and a quarter of “other”). Barring fairly major shifts in public opinion in coming months, the relative military gains of the “surge” seem to have had no effect whatever on opinions about the war. Since several polls last month showed that the public had more confidence in the Democrats on the Iraq war, it is not at all clear where anyone would get the idea that the “surge” is helping the GOP electorally.
At the moment, though, there’s a big difference between the two parties’ divisions: The Democrats’ fault lines are primarily demographic (upscale vs. downscale, professional vs. working class, women vs. men), whereas the GOP’s fault lines are demographic and ideological.
This is right, but it’s also important to note that the fault lines within the Democratic Party seem to be mostly persistent and enduring ones. The same divide seems to keep replaying over and over in every cycle, and as we all know Democrats have usually ended up choosing the constituency-oriented incumbent or machine politician rather than the upscale candidate of “new ideas” or reform. I would add that there was a combination of demographic and ideological fault lines in the 2004 Democratic race, to the extent that there was a relatively more progressive, netroots-backed antiwar candidate of a sort running against a relatively more hawkish liberal and the then-”centrist” Edwards. The ideological divide was really more between the supporters of the candidates than between the candidates themselves, and the election exaggerated the extent of this divide, but it was there.
The main contenders and the eventual nominees on the ticket in ‘04 arguably represented the last hurrah of neoliberalism on the Democratic side, and the last three years have seen the gradual strengthening of progressives within the party to the point where all three leading Democrats are running on a platform as progressive as any there has been in my lifetime and probably more so. Ross is also right to point out that the prospect of victory and the desire to capture the White House are uniting the Demmocrats. Just as the hunger to win and eight years out of executive power pushed Republicans to unite around Bush in 2000, the Democrats are suppressing whatever real ideological arguments they might have over foreign policy, trade or anything else for the sake of winning. In the ideological fragmentation on the GOP side, we are seeing something like the Republicans’ 1968 moment, but to the general convulsions within the party there is the added problem that there is also no incumbent to lead the party, which exaggerates the effect of the disagreements. It makes the nomination fight a contest over the future direction of the party in a way that 2004 did not affect the Democrats.
And then on the issue of, on social conservative issues, you point to me one time John McCain every took the floor of the United States Senate to talk about a social conservative issue. It never happened. I mean, this is a guy who says he believes in these things, but I can tell you, inside the room, when we were in these meetings, there was nobody who fought harder not to have these votes before the United States Senate on some of the most important social conservative issues, whether it’s marriage or abortion or the like. He always fought against us to even bring them up, because he was uncomfortable voting for them. So I mean, this is just not a guy I think in the end that washes with the mainstream of the Republican Party.
That sums it up pretty well. Meanwhile, you supposedly three other leading candidates, one of whom has no real credibility on social issues, one of whom is effectively on the other side of the debate and the third who is evidently entirely reliable. Social and cultural conservatives make up a much larger part of the party than do economic conservatives, and three of the four leading candidates are essentially unacceptable to large numbers of them for different reasons. All other things being equal, if you wanted to choose the candidate who had the best chance of turning these voters out in November and keeping as much of the coalition together as possible, wouldn’t you choose the one who can most reliably motivate your largest voting bloc? Are economic and “national security” conservatives really going to sit out a Huckabee-Clinton or Huckabee-Obama election? It’s not as if they are likely to vote for the other party! (Bush Hawks for Obama does have an amusing ring to it, but I don’t think we’re going to see it this year.) As they have said to social conservatives so many times before: where are you going to go?
Rod responds to John Savage’s critique of what Savage sees as Rod’s undue enthusiasm for Huckabee and excessive willingness to engage or reconcile with the Left. Inasmuch as this second point repeats canards about crunchy conservatism generally and Rod personally, I don’t agree. I agree with Mark of Protestant Pontifications that crunchy conservatism is the real version of Brooks’ “conservatism that pays attention to people making less than $50,000 a year,” and I also grant that Huckabee doesn’t have the right answers for these folks and usually isn’t even asking the right questions. What he does seem to do, and this is where I think many of us find ourselves mildly sympathetic to Huckabee in spite of ourselves, is to gesture in the right direction.
But the way that most crunchy cons look to him [Dreher] alone to define crunchy conservatism is unhealthy, especially when he’s the type who’s easily made to feel apologetic about taking conservative positions, and has an excessive need to just get along and ingratiate himself with the Left.
As someone who has written a good deal about crunchy conservatism, I grant that crunchy cons and their sympathisers have acknowledged Rod’s role in drawing attention to this kind of conservatism and we have defended him against the more ridiculous and unfair attacks that have been leveled at him, but I question whether the “crunchy cons” have generally looked only to him. To the extent that they are what he says they are, they were already looking to Kirk, Berry and others before Rod came along to document what they were doing, or they were practicing the kind of conservatism of place, virtue and proportion that Rod was describing in his book without articulating what they were doing. Were they relying entirely on Rod, or on any single figure, I think that would be unhealthy, but I don’t think that this is what has been happening. I doubt that Rod has an ”excessive need to just get along and ingratiate himself with the Left.” If he had, he would not have made such a point of challenging Dallas-area Muslims over the dangers of Islamism, nor would he remain as staunchly pro-life as he has always been. Those who wish to “get along and ingratiate” themseves with the Left do not typically rail against local Muslims and condemn the iniquity of abortion.
Dreher is mostly a single-issue “conservative” whose single issue is traditional morality, narrowly construed as being pro-life, anti-promiscuous-sex, and anti-homosexual-unions.
Rod can speak for himself on this point, and he has, but I would add that this is a strange argument to make against the author of Crunchy Cons, whose most controversial and contested claims involved matters of conservation, consumption and economics. If he were simply the “single-issue” social conservative described here, Rod and crunchy conservatism would have created little resistance.
The least persuasive part of Savage’s post was this:
I resent that I can hardly defend crunchy conservatism in good conscience from people I meet on non-crunchy blogs, who assume on the basis of the name that crunchy conservatism is just another form of left-wing hippie-ism.
Most of us who have defended crunchy conservatism against its critics have lamented the name, which doesn’t really capture what it is. Most of us prefer simply to apply the name traditionalist or even neo-traditionalist conservative to what Rod was talking about. We should not allow such assumptions to be a cause of discouragement. Who knows what people assume what the name paleoconservatism means? It is up to paleos, if we insist on using the name, to explain what we are to those who do not yet know. The same goes for those attracted to the best elements of crunchy conservatism.
I have a new post on New Hampshire and Romney at Taki’s Top Drawer. Also take a look at Richard Spencer’s posts on Ron Paul and the Kirchick attack piece. Richard makes the right points. I agree that this newsletter business reveals that Ron Paul showed poor judgement in allowing his name to be used, especially if he is being entirely forthright (and I have no reason to doubt his word on this) on his lack of involvement in the writing and oversight of the newsletters. It is, of course, ludicrous to claim that Ron Paul holds the views that have been highlighted in this article, as anyone who knows the first thing about the man already understands.
Still, even among those who respect Mormons personally, it is still common to hear Mormonism’s tenets dismissed as ridiculous. This attitude is logically indefensible insofar as Mormonism is being compared with other world religions. There is nothing inherently less plausible about God’s revealing himself to an upstate New York farmer in the early years of the Republic than to the pharaoh’s changeling grandson in ancient Egypt.
Put that way, Feldman might have a point, except that the claim of new revelation is actually the least “ridiculous” part of the story. It is, and always has been, the content of that revelation that has drawn the most criticism, and so for the most part the majority dutifully ignores or downplays how the content of this or that religion is theologically untenable. To do otherwise would begin us down the road to taking one set of theological claims more seriously than another, which might even (gasp!) lead us to assign different significance and measures of truth to different sets of claims. The problem with this argument is that, for the sake of promoting toleration for minority religions, it essentially grants that every religion is just as inherently plausible as any other, which not only makes discussion of doctrine pointless, but actually impedes the possibility of religious dialogue and persuasion. Granting this equality of religions paves the way for exactly the kind of arational sectarianism that skeptics believe is unavoidable with religion in public life.
There is this very strange attitude about religion out there, and it is held by more than a few observant Christians as well as secular skeptics, that says that no revelation is more plausible than any other, which implies that revelation is entirely outside the realm of rational discouse and demonstration. This is essentially fideism or a kind of neo-Barlaamism, which holds that believers should hold to their traditional faiths primarily because they are ancient–there is nothing that we can actually say rationally about a doctrine of God. One of the reasons why this bizarre idea can gain such currency is the lack of respect people have for theology and dogma. In our culture, if you want to dismiss someone’s position, you say that he is being dogmatic, and if you want to discredit an argument you refer to his worldview as a “theology,” preferably preceded by adjectives such as arcane.
Such is the depth of our divorce from Christian intellectual tradition that many people do not recognise the substantive difference between an elaborately reasoned theological view and the ramblings of a science-fiction author. Simply put, we lack discernment. Militant atheists are at least consistent in the implications of holding such a disparaging view of revelation–for them, it is all made-up and undeserving of any respect. Out of some misplaced sense of solidarity with other religious people against the Christopher Hitchenses and Dawkinses of the world, Christians seem to feel obliged to make general defenses of generic theism or the even more amorphous category of Religion, and woe betide the bishop who attempts, as Pope Benedict did, to illustrate the implications of radically different doctrines of God. This then forces these Christians to argue that all these things are purely a matter of faith, where faith is defined not only as something inspired and the result of God’s grace (which it is), but also as something arational, rather than understanding that it is faith rightly understood that is the highest form of rationality. Having conceded the high ground and having bought into a functionally extreme apophaticism, the Christian finds himself at a loss to make any argument from revelation, because he has already effectively granted that speaking kataphatically is impossible. Trying to include everyone in a big tent of ecumenical anti-secularism eventually leads to being unable to say something about God and maintain that it is actually true, when there is nothing more fundamental to preaching and evangelising than speaking the truth about God in prayer and homilies.
This brings me, oddly enough, to the question of evolution. Fideistic understandings of religion and materialistic philosophies that seek to exploit evolutionary biology to their advantage enjoy a symbiotic relationship, since they both thrive on promoting mutual antagonism between reason and faith. Tell the Christian that he must either endorse evolutionary theory or accept the Bible, and he will typically take the Bible, especially if he is not grounded in an authoritative teaching tradition that tells him that this choice is a false one. Tell the average educated secular person that revealed religion is incompatible with scientific theory, and he may very well conclude that those who continue to adhere to revealed religion must be either ignorant, insane or up to no good. Huckabee is someone who falls into the former category, of course, and declares himself agnostic on ”how” God works in creation, which is actually a far more honest view–and one that a majority of Americans would share–than affirming evolutionary theory because you know that it is socially unacceptable in certain circles to admit that you don’t understand or accept the theory. As Rod has said before, evolution serves as a “cultural marker,” and it is deployed as a litmus test to see whether you belong to a certain kind of educated elite. Ironically, the cultural bias against dogmatism and theology in religion has come around and struck science by making it permissible, even admirable, to doubt statements made with certainty. Were it not for the tendency of many religious and secular Americans to oppose reason and faith, there would be no difficulty in affirming the truth of revelation and recognising the reasonable, albeit always provisional, nature of scientific inquiry. Obviously, approaches to faith that prize doubt and uncertainty simply reinforce the tendency towards extreme apophaticism and fideism that make it impossible for believers and non-believers to speak intelligibly to one another (to the extent that people working in two significantly different traditions can speak to one another).
Some home truths: a tough, long primary battle will take the sting out of the powerful backlash that he [Obama] is the function of a fad of euphoria, marketing hype, or gas-baggery. It will take the edge off the criticism that he is untested. It will help him prove his mettle and endurance. ~Andrew Sullivan
Alternatively, the next five weeks will vindicate all of these assumptions and drive home just how media-driven and imaginary the entire phenomenon has been.
I also just think that Obama is a pragmatic liberal. His judgments in the past have been largely practical and reasonable. He is not an ideologue. Nor is he an excessive partisan. Those qualities are admirable from a conservative point of view. As for Burkeanism, I agree it can be an amorphous concept. Because it allows for a great deal of lee-way for prudence to determine particular judgments in history, it allows for minimal change and maximal change within its boundaries. I don’t think this makes it meaningless as a concept. It is the way a society changes that Burke was interested in. He backed the huge change of the American revolution, for example. And all we’re talking about with Obama is a prudent response to an ill-begotten war, some measures to tackle a failing healthcare system and an attempt to tackle the emergent problem of climate change. And all in a spirit of national reconciliation. This is no Robespierre, Ross. ~Andrew Sullivan
After a fashion, he is very pragmatic. He found it pragmatic to vote present numerous times in the Illinois legislature. For instance, he voted present several times because he would not vote for a measure requiring protection for children that survived abortion procedures. For the purposes of passing legislation, a present vote has the same effect as a nay. He said he opposed such measures because he feared it might undermine Roe v. Wade, but didn’t want to go on record clearly voting against it. That’s pragmatic all right, and not very impressive. As Nathan Gonzales explains:
In 2001, Obama voted “present” on two parental notification abortion bills (HB 1900 and SB 562), and he voted “present” on a series of bills (SB 1093, 1094, 1095) that sought to protect a child if it survived a failed abortion. In his book, the Audacity of Hope, on page 132, Obama explained his problems with the “born alive” bills, specifically arguing that they would overturn Roe v. Wade. But he failed to mention that he only felt strongly enough to vote “present” on the bills instead of “no.”
That’s leadership right there. But fortunately he’s no ideologue. He’s just so committed to maintaining legal abortion that he will adopt the ne plus ultra position on the issue.
Since some seem inexplicably ready to anoint McCain the frontrunner, a dubious honour at this point that I’m sure Huckabee is pleased to let someone else have, it occurred to me that these same people are usually working on the assumption that McCain would be a competitive general election candidate. Think about that for a moment. As soon as you do, I think you will find yourself imagining an election campaign like Bob Dole’s, except that the candidate will not just seem ancient, out of touch and at odds with significant numbers of Republicans, but he will also be associated with reflexive militarism and a war that remains deeply unpopular. He has the liability of being seen as too independent and unreliable by many conservatives while appearing as an angry warmonger to independents. He’s not the sort of President conservatives would want to keep at arm’s length, as Jim recommends we do with anyone from this field, but rather someone from whom conservatives will want to flee. In the event that he somehow became the nominee, he would not fare well in ten months’ time. Almost as soon as he would give his acceptance speech, conservatives would start to feel buyer’s remorse, realising that even if he wins they will have to contend with some version of his awful immigration bill year after year.
Some paleoconservatives prefer to work within the mainstream movement, hoping to take it back from those they view as squatters. Others believe that movement is either too far gone, or was fatally flawed from the beginning, and instead seek to forge a “real Right” that will supplant mainstream conservatism. A third group believes that changing American foreign policy should take precedence over all other ideological concerns and therefore favors the creation of a Left-Right anti-neoconservative coalition.
Ron Paul is the obvious candidate for paleos, and, as Jim notes, in Paul’s campaign ”there are elements of all three approaches—each of which has obvious flaws.” It remains an open question whether Paul’s campaign is the beginning of a new effort to “recapture” the movement from within, or marks the last attempt to work within the party and the movement before paleos completely reject this first approach. I have some thoughts on this question, but I am saving them for my next column. I am personally most inclined to the second approach, even as I am acutely aware of the limitations and problems of that route. I can see some ad hoc value in the third, but the third approach has a number of even more serious problems.
Depending on the degree of one’s disaffection, the Bush Era has either transformed the movement into something awful or it has simply revealed internal flaws that have been there for a long time. Certainly, I think the administration has done grave, probably irreparable, damage to the movement and to the reputation of conservatism in this country. As I think Sullivan said recently, Bush has managed to betray and discredit conservatism at the same time, which is far worse than his father’s indifference to the movement’s priorities and his moderate Republican proclivity to make deals with the left. Unlike his father, Bush effectively redefined conservatism in the eyes of most Americans as center-left meliorism at home and Wilsonian interventionism abroad. Depressingly, it has mostly been the first part of this redefinition that has generated the most movement opposition, while it is the latter that has probably done more damage to our country and more harm to the credibility of conservatives on vital policy questions. However, I also think that Bush could never have done what he did had the movement and party not been so acquiescent and willing to yield.
If foreign policy is the area in which the most damaging changes have occurred, it would seem reasonable that an alliance to counteract neoconservative influence on foreign policy would be most urgent and desirable, at least in the short term. That is the rationale for the third approach mentioned above, and it is initially an attractive one. But the third approach has two problems beyond the one that Jim mentioned (”all organizations that are not explicitly right-wing become left-wing over time”). The first is that it has very little chance of succeeding. Divorced from some significant power base and/or voting bloc, a coalition organised around a foreign policy agenda would be extremely unstable and would would not be able to draw much support beyond the relatively small numbers of progressives and conservatives who have found some way to cooperate in opposition to this particular war. If it grew it numbers, it would become increasingly fissiparous because of the limited number of goals holding the coalition together. As a generically anti-neoconservative coalition, it would have a broader appeal and could conceivably include realists and internationalists of various stripes, but within that coalition you would continually have friction between those internationalists and the non-interventionists. The latter would not see many sharp distinctions between the “multilateralists” who supported Kosovo but opposed Iraq and the neocons (perhaps because there are not many real distinctions), while the former would continually be frustrated by right non-interventionists’ opposition to the U.N. and any international treaty that was seen as a threat to national sovereignty. The candidacy of Obama is a good case in point illustrating this divide: many progressives who are against the Iraq war are nonetheless not terribly concerned about the insane, overreaching, hubristic nature of Obama’s overall foreign policy or his support for Israel’s war in Lebanon, while the antiwar Right sees very little about Obama to admire. Where some starry-eyed antiwar progressives (and perhaps even a few conservatives) see Obama representing a dramatic change in how the world will see America, we see someone who believes the U.S. has the right and indeed obligation, justified by our limitless security interests that are “inextricably” linked to everyone else’s security interests, to intervene anywhere and everywhere, guaranteeing more of the same disastrously arrogant treatment of other states.
The second and perhaps more significant problem is that it subordinates all domestic policy priorities and disputes to the goal of agreeing on changing U.S. foreign policy, which most of the constituent parts of this coalition would find deeply dissatisfying in many ways. It seems improbable that people who aready dislike the compromises required by the current Democratic and Republican coalitions would be likely to ally with others even farther from them in domestic politics. Personally, I see some substantial common ground between paleos and greens, but the number of paleos and greens who see this same common ground is even smaller than the already rather small numbers of both groups. While most right non-interventionists see their foreign policy views as the logical extension of their general anti-statism and constitutionalism, which puts them at odds with the welfare state, many of the progressives in this coalition would want to pursue expansions of the state in the name of social justice. Those on the right who chafed at the conservative movement’s acquiescence to a massive federal bureaucracy during the Cold War and in the decades since 1991 are unlikely to want to tolerate a similar bargain with progressives in the name of thwarting hegemonism. One of the reasons that most of us will ultimately not be able to go along with such an alliance is that we assume that there is something fundamentally progressive and left-wing about the neoconservative project (and further that this is one of the reasons why it so pernicious), and that it is because of its progressive, leftist origins that neoconservatism misunderstands human nature, society and politics so badly. We also assume, I think correctly, that as soon as the Iraq war is over neoconservatives will regain, or perhaps will never have lost, their reputation on the left as the “reasonable” and “respectable” Right, the sorts of people that “decent liberals” can work with and not feel guilty. Once the Iraq war is over, progressives will resume (not that they have ever really stopped) their denunciations of the “nativists” and “isolationists” on the right whom they will always make a point of loathing more than the mainstream Republicans whose policies we all oppose (albeit obviously for different reasons in most cases).
But won’t Huckabee shatter the conservative coalition? That would be a little more persuasive if those saying this hadn’t shattered it themselves. The relative success of Ron Paul and Huckabee is not a cause of the coalition’s collapse but a reflection of it. An excessively Wilsonian foreign policy has divided defense conservatives; years of big spending has divided economic conservatives; and a tepid, stalling social conservatism has alienated moral ones.
Perhaps Huckabee can’t rebuild this coalition. But he isn’t likely to weaken it any more than have his critics, and he may even bring some long-disenchanted middle Americans into it.
The double standards for Huckabee and the other leading contenders are noticeable, especially when they are being applied by people who made excuses or at least looked the other way during one of the most liberal administrations of the last thirty years. As I said earlier this week:
The new story about Huckabee is that he is so un-conservative that he isn’t even as conservative as Bush, whom they now reject as non-conservative. What seems to be troubling these establishment critics of Huckabee is that he is no less conservative than Bush, and may be more so in some respects, but all of a sudden they have discovered a deep wellspring of uncompromising principle that does not allow them to tolerate Huckabee, even as they have cheered on Bush for seven years. This is an almost Romneyesque discovery of first principles in its novelty, and it is a bit hard to take seriously if you have been opposed to Bush from the beginning.
With a little under a third of the vote counted and reported, McCain has won New Hampshire by a large margin, and Romney has already conceded. Clinton currently leads, but her lead has been shrinking over the last half an hour. Paul is close to catching Giuliani, but frankly Giuliani should have been doing worse than he is. A fourth place finish for Giuliani is not very good, but losing to Ron Paul again would have a certain symbolic significance. For Paul, picking up fourth place is important.
When asked about a Palestinian state, Gov. Huckabee stated that he supports creating a Palestinian state, but believes that it should be formed outside of Israel. He named Egypt and Saudi Arabia as possible alternatives, noting that the Arabs have far more land than the Israelis and that it would only be fair for other Arab nations to give the Palestinians land for a state, rather than carving it out of the tiny Israeli state.
Huckabee’s frequent references to “Islamofascism” and now his adoption of an ultra position on the Palestinians are meant to placate the critics who believe that his foreign policy agenda is either too thin, too naive, too weak or too liberal (or some combination of these). “Transferring” (a.k.a. forcibly expelling) Palestinians to various Arab countries is a curious way to have U.S. foreign policy ”change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out.” Who would have guessed that this meant adopting a harsher tone and attitude towards Arabs? Perhaps that will be Huckabee’s new mantra: Reach out and strike someone. Huckabee has taken this rather dreadful position of his own accord–just imagine what he would be willing to embrace once “national security” conservatives started supporting and advising him. Not only would a position like this make him a natural fit for the “new fusionist” alliance of social conservatives and neocons, but in its injustice and hubris it is actually even worse than the current administration.
And yet, Romney, the candidate with the most executive experience, is fated to wake up one morning and realize that he just ran the worst campaign since Phil Gramm’s. Romney will have spent $100 million or more wrecking his reputation! That takes work. It is all worthy of a Harvard Business Review analysis someday. ~Rich Karlgaard
Karlgaard also makes the right point about Huckabee and the Fair Tax, and the same one I was making earlier:
His Fair Tax would devastate lots of small businesses, such as retail stores, restaurants and realties.
This is frankly why I don’t understand how Karlgaard can also say that Huckabee has “boxed himself in with his populism.” If anything, he has boxed himself in with his advocacy for a crazy tax plan that hurts small business and middle-class households, but he seems to be persuading middle and lower-middle class voters that he is “one of them,” even when his policies do not benefit them. It is Thompsonesque phony populism at its best, and it seems to be working. Granted, he makes a lot of noise about being against Wall Street, but where is the evidence is that he is? It seems to me that if corporate Republicans could get someone who promised to get rid of corporate and capital gains taxes in exchange for calling them names once in a while, they would take him. The crucial flaw in Karlgaard’s analysis is the assumption that most voters will understand that his tax plan harms small businesses.
This doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly odd claim, and Huckabee’s rhetoric has essentially admitted it. He’s railed against the Club for Growth, talked up his Main Street/Wall Street dichotomy, and has campaign manager Ed Rollins going around feeding reporters string about the demise of the Reagan coalition. He’s been openly pushing religious conservatives to view business-minded economic conservatives as antagonists.
I think Peter has misunderstood what I meant. Huckabee’s campaign chairman has declared the Reagan coalition dead, but in this he is simply observing that the death has already occurred, and it does not mean that the existing GOP coalition must be destroyed for Huckabee to win the nomination. That is, the current GOP coalition is no longer really the Reagan coalition. It isn’t even entirely the coalition that voted for the GOP in 1994. My point, which may have been lost in the mix, was that Armey conflates “the Reagan coalition” and the current Republican coalition, when they are not the same thing. Were it not for the totemic significance attached to the name of Reagan, nothing would be very controversial about the observation that a voting coalition of two decades ago was no longer relevant to the debate. Romney’s candidacy has been based on the nostalgic hope that the two are the same and that he can twist himself into the right shape to satisfy the old coalition, so it is perhaps natural that those who continue to perpetuate the idea that the modern GOP is the embodiment of Reaganism are among those least offended by his contortions. While our friends in the Beltway have continued to ride the old horse of “fusionism,” fusionism has long since ceased to describe how most Republicans and self-styled conservatives see things (to the extent that it ever did earlier). Much as I have derided it for its flaws, what Joseph Bottum called the “new fusionism” serves as the umbrella term that covers the current structure of the movement and the current makeup of the GOP coalition. Bottum wrote:
The angry isolationist paleoconservatives are probably right–this isn’t conservatism, in several older senses of the word. But so what? Call it the new moralism, if you like. Call it a masked liberalism or a kind of radicalism that has bizarrely seized the American scene [bold mine-DL]. Mutter darkly, if you want, about the shotgun marriage of ex-socialists and modern puritans, the cynical political joining of imperial adventurers with reactionary Catholics and backwoods Evangelicals.
Now Huckabee has emerged as the masked liberal (perhaps we can call him El Burro), and suddenly this has become a very bad thing for people who have supported the current administration. As one of those “angry isolationist paleoconservatives,” I find it amusing that it is now the GOP establishment that “mutters darkly” against just these things when they attack Huckabee, who in most respects is the ideal new fusionist candidate. That is also, of course, why he should give all serious conservatives a feeling of dread. These kinds of fusionism always work out poorly for the religious conservatives who join in them. Such fusionism is, as I have said before, ”a corrupt bargain that entails that the traditionalist and Christian members of the alliance give up 95% of what they want to their secular, globalist and interventionist fellows in exchange for the latter suffering to grant them a place at the table and an occasional appointment or rhetorical tip of the hat to keep them quiescent.”
Bottum said almost a year and a half ago:
In the new fusionism of the pro-life social conservatives and the foreign-policy neoconservatives, a number of traditional issues seem, if not to have disappeared, then at least to have gotten muted along the way. Where exactly is tax reform and social security and the balanced budget in all this? Where is much concern for economics, which once defined the root of American conservatism?
I questioned back then whether “concern for economics” ever defined the root of American conservatism (I still seriously doubt this), but clearly the problem economic conservatives have with Huckabee is that they perceive him as someone who does not pay much attention to their issues and, when he does, they don’t like what they hear. One of my points about the FairTax is that Huckabee’s support for it should demonstrate that Huckabee is not actually hostile to economic conservatives. And while not all economic conservatives are Club for Growth and WSJ types, I grant you, these are the ones who are making the loudest noises about Huckabee, and they certainly are very often (if not 100% of the time) “in sync with the short-term interests of big business.” I think they would not consider it undesirable to be described in that way. I might have added that the sheer incoherence of his ideas and lack of policy expertise make him the perfect candidate for economic conservatives to mould in directions they like, just as national security conservatives should be unfazed by his inclinations towards realism and sanity. It is because his economic and foreign policy ideas are so incoherent and unformed that he is someone who can be brought over to your views. Consider how readily he has become a supporter of restrictionist ideas out of utter opportunism.
My larger point was that Huckabee actually presents much less of a threat to economic conservatives than they suppose. It seems to me that, in their indignation that one of the non-anointed candidates has started succeeding where the chosen ones have failed, establishment Republicans have started applying a kind of rigour to litmus tests on fiscal records that they would not apply in other cases. If Huckabee’s Cato grade was a D, Romney’s was a C, yet we are gamely told by those who endorse Romney that he is much better as an economic conservative than Huckabee, when the truth is that, by the high standards of Cato and CfG, both are woefully lacking. The difference is that Romney is a corporate Republican and will be quite glad to work in the interests of corporations, while Huckabee manifestly is not. That makes Romney more reliable, even if it does not make him any more conservative on economics and fiscal policy (and could conceivably make him less so if he pushes something akin to the Medicare Part D boondoggle on the country). It is a strange world where the governor who signed off on universal government-mandated health care is considerd by some to be the best “full-spectrum conservative,” while Huckabee is supposedly so deeply flawed that he would split the coalition beyond repair.
As usual, Hewitt is annoyed that people are not giving enough respect to his dear Mitt:
I heard one bit of punditry passed from microphone to microphone yesterday: If Romney doesn’t win in New Hampshire, he’s finished.
This assessment isn’t asserted about Hillary, who also planned to win early. It isn’t asserted about Mike Huckabee, Thompson or Rudy. It wasn’t asserted about Hillary, McCain, Rudy or Thompson after Iowa.
If no one is saying anything about Fred Thompson’s chances after New Hampshire (where he stands to get somewhere between 2 and 3%), that’s because everyone has already stopped paying much attention to the poor man. After all, why keep kicking a man when he’s down? Giuliani and Clinton, who could well be finished after tonight, don’t receive the same treatment because they still have significant leads in February 5 states and until recently had decent leads in national polling (the latter have since evaporated). Romney’s strategy was explicitly a traditional early-state strategy that required him to do well in the initial contests. Only after Iowa did his minions begin talking about his “national strategy.” The media narrative that Huckabee won because “it was the evangelicals wot did it” also frees him of any obligation to perform very well in a much more secular, left-leaning and culturally libertarian state. Every time someone has pointed out that Romney performs better in non-evangelical electorates than Huckabee, they were setting up the fraud for a fall–the implication then becomes that Romney really needs to win in a state with relatively few evangelicals while he can and his failure to do so is very bad news for him.
This claim is made about Romney because he was the presumptive frontrunner in both Iowa and New Hampshire just two months ago, and retained his New Hampshire lead until last month. People make this assessment because Massachusetts politicians almost always win the New Hampshire primary, and because Romney has spent an embarrassingly large amount of money building up his campaign in the state. If he is upended by McCain, he will have been defeated by a candidate written off by everyone just a couple months ago as doomed–losing to the guy that appears doomed doesn’t help one’s reputation for electability. People make this claim because Romney and his people have been making Muskie-esque guarantees of performance in New Hampshire in particular, essentially guaranteeing victory. (They have been running away from these predictions, but just today Romney expressed confidence in winning.) The same logic would have applied to Huckabee had he lost Iowa: people would have said that if he can’t win there, he can’t win anywhere. If Romney can’t win in New Hampshire, it is hard to see how he prevails elsewhere. This is what he has said about McCain, but it applies just as well to him.
Tim Lee agrees that Huckabee is a competitive general election candidate, and he makes an excellent point about Huckabee’s religiosity:
I think a lot of members of the liberal (and libertarian) secular elite have a weird blind spot when it comes to religion and religious rhetoric in politics. They tend to find sincere religious sentiments so alien that anyone who is conversant with the language of faith sounds nutty to them. But like it or not, this is still a predominantly religious country, and lots of voters respond well to religious rhetoric of the non-angry variety. I personally find it every bit as off-putting as Matt does, but we’re in the minority.
It’s not such a weird blind spot when you think about it. When religion seems to you to have little or no relevant or meaningful application to public life, you almost have to assume that anyone employing such rhetoric or actually pursuing policies on account of religious teachings is either totally cynical or a crazed theocrat (or perhaps, in the view of some secular observers, both at the same time). The idea that religious politics need not be either utterly vacuous or profoundly threatening to society contradicts a raft of assumptions that secular people have about the intersection of religion and politics. These people have also become so accustomed to the anodyne generic theism of our Presidents that it is jarring to them to hear someone cite Scripture with fluency and some modicum of understanding.
Ross says of the possible Romney combeack:
If he seems viable, he’ll have Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, and the rest of talk radio in his corner.
This is mostly right, with one notable exception. For some reason, Michael Medved has been going out of his way to take Huckabee’s side over the past few months, and he was an early proponent of the idea that Huckabee could unify the party better than others. In the wake of Ames, many people saw Huckabee’s second place finish as a kind of amusing curiosity, but Medved managed to see something early on that the rest of us ignored.
Five months ago, Medved saw something different about Huckabee:
First, his distinctly blue-collar, proudly working class background will help to destroy the notion that Republicans are the party of Wall Street and the country club.
But the Republicans, at least at the level of leadership and policymaking, really are that party, and what they seem to fear is that Huckabee will not just destroy this perception but also threaten to change the priorities of the party in ways disadvantageous to “Wall Street and the country club” (i.e., corporate interests). The more I think about it, the more wrong I think they are about Huckabee, which makes his “populism” just so much sympathising with American workers while doing nothing at all for them. Call it Potemkin Sam’s Club Republicanism.
Medved saw Huckabee’s background as an electoral asset:
The old Democratic class warfare tactics simply won’t work against Huckabee—his personal style and background make it impossible to associate him with some privileged elite.
Yet to listen to The Wall Street Journal, you’d think that Huckabee was using class warfare tactics. The problem that the GOP higher-ups seem to be having with the man is that he isn’t associated with their privileged elite, at least not directly. What makes Huckabee a valuable general election candidate are the very things that make him hateful to large parts of the GOP and movement leadership, but these general election assets are the things that ought to recommend him to them.
More remarkably, Medved saw Huckabee as the perfect candidate to shore up the right against a disaffected protest candidate:
With a Huckabee candidacy, on the other hand, a self-righteous anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-globalism fringe campaign becomes less powerful (and less necessary, for that matter). Those who worry that international conspirators are subverting American sovereignty as part of some CFR or Neo-Con conspiracy will feel far less fearful of Huckabee than of any other major candidate.
So the candidate who has praised NAFTA, called opponents of his pro-immigration bills racists and un-Christian, and claims to take foreign policy cues from Richard Haass and Frank Gaffney (when he isn’t declaring his love for Charles Krauthammer) is the one who will tamp down an anti-immigration and anti-globalist third party candidate who dislikes the influence of the CFR and neocons? If I had read this before the anti-Huckabee reaction, I would have laughed (it’s still pretty bizarre), but when I see Huckabee embracing Gilchrist and a hard anti-amnesty line and when I see him being painted as some protectionist proponent of national autarchy this statement is no longer quite so bizarre.
One thing that Medved didn’t foresee was the tremendous backlash against the candidate that was coming:
And it’s tough for anyone, from any faction in the party, to feel mad at Mike Huckabee.
David Brooks made a similar claim later, at which I duly scoffed, but there had to be some reason why both of them saw Huckabee as a unifying figure in the GOP where everyone else saw a radioactive, coalition-destroying candidate. As it turns out, both of them were simply wrong about the Republican reaction to Huckabee, but what is more difficult is trying to understand why the reaction is as ferocious as it has been. I’ve floated the “Huckabee is the social conservatives’ revenge” idea, as well as the “economic populist” angle and the “he embarrassingly reminds the GOP of the Bush administration that they have propped up” view, and more recently suggested that Huckabee is just too Southern and low-class for the GOP establishment to accept, and there is something to all of these explanations. But any one by itself or all of them together still fail to explain fully the hostility.
Medved also had this amusing prediction:
The big negatives the press will no doubt begin to attach to the surging Huckabee campaign involve the notion that he’s just too religious (and doesn’t believe in undirected, random Darwinism) and that he’s got no experience in foreign policy.
Yet the main parts of ”the press” making these sorts of arguments are conservative outlets and pundits. It is Republican leaders who are extremely worried about his alleged excessive religiosity, his creationism and his lack of foreign policy experience. For their own reasons, mainstream media outlets continue mostly to lavish praise on Huckabee. Yes, they have begun digging into his ethics record and decisions as governor, but by and large it is not the mainstream media that want to annihilate him (at least not yet)–that is one of the conservative media’s obsessions at present.
As I’ve said before, I know the reasons why I, as a paleo, don’t like Huckabee and wouldn’t want him as President, but these are all the reasons why Bush voters should like him. If you liked NCLB, you’ll love a candidate who receives the endorsement of the New Hampshire NEA. The common complaint against Huckabee is that he isn’t really conservative, or not conservative enough, and I would agree that he isn’t by my standards, but by this standard now being applied to Huckabee Bush should never have passed muster, either. The self-exculpatory explanation from conservatives who supported Bush in both elections was that they either “always” knew that Bush wasn’t really conservative but were being pragmatic (lesser of two evils, yadda yadda yadda) or they realised too late that Bush wasn’t really governing as a conservative. The new story about Huckabee is that he is so un-conservative that he isn’t even as conservative as Bush, whom they now reject as non-conservative. What seems to be troubling these establishment critics of Huckabee is that he is no less conservative than Bush, and may be more so in some respects, but all of a sudden they have discovered a deep wellspring of uncompromising principle that does not allow them to tolerate Huckabee, even as they have cheered on Bush for seven years. This is an almost Romneyesque discovery of first principles in its novelty, and it is a bit hard to take seriously if you have been opposed to Bush from the beginning.
His innocence (or ignorance) on foreign policy, penchant for borrowing liberal economic attack lines, and even his rejection of Darwin’s theory of evolution deserve to be understood by voters before they make him their standard bearer.
Rod points out that much the same could have been said, and was said, about Bush in 1999-2000, but this didn’t stop the WSJ from backing him. The perceived difference on economics is supposed to be what drives the hostility to Huckabee, and originally I was persuaded that Huckabee was sincere in espousing a kind of economic populism and protectionism until I paid more attention to what he actually believed. It still seems correct to assume that his identity as a primarily socially conservative candidate, and one who does not hide his religion in the closet, has deeply troubled secular and ”libertarian” Republicans, and that the reaction against him is a reaction of so-called “money-cons” (the sort that Rod described as “mainstream conservatives” in Crunchy Cons) against conservatives who think that social issues remain central and who are tired of being taken for granted.
Having been an early adopter of this economic policy explanation for the anti-Huckabee campaign, I now think this emphasis on Huckabee’s economics is to exaggerate the differences between Candidate Bush and Huckabee considerably. President Bush has indeed been tied closely to corporate Republicans and has been one all along, but if we can think back to the original Bush campaign in 2000 we will remember a candidate who stressed many of the same themes and tried to identify Republicans with a ”reform” agenda in policy areas not traditionally assoociated with the GOP. If Bush launched his campaign with an attack on the Congressional GOP for “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor” (even then, Gerson’s rhetoric was annoying), Huckabee has engaged in much the same “I feel your pain” hand-waving that Bush did. If Huckabee is not so daft as to say things like, “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande,” he has plenty of statements on the record that make him sound every bit as sentimental and sappy on immigration, while also having said plenty of things that insult conservative restrictionists in the worst ways. The charge that Huckabee is “borrowing liberal economic attack lines” is mostly baseless, unless it is a “liberal economic attack line” to acknowledge that there is economic anxiety and uncertainty abroad in the land, which the new jobless numbers and purchasing reports are beginning to drive home. If he is borrowing them, perhaps it is because they have been succeeding electorally. In any case, we don’t know whether a “compassionate conservative” would have sounded more like a populist in 2000, because economic conditions were relatively better and there was much less anxiety. Huckabee is showing us what “compassionate conservatism” looks like in an election year where economic conditions are relatively worse.
The key differences between Bush and Huckabee and perhaps a better explanation for why so many Bush voters are balking at supporting Huckabee are that Huckabee is a real Southerner, in that he was born and raised there, while Bush was a transplanted Texan, and Huckabee came from a lower-middle class family and Bush came from wealthy American political aristocracy. To the extent that Huckabee represents anything threatening or different, it is in his biography and geography, if you will. Republicans have never given the reins to a real, born-and-bred Southerner. If Northeasterners are already freaking out about the risk of the GOP becoming a regional, Southern party, you can just imagine the terrible thoughts that run through their head when they consider the consequences of a Huckabee nomination. Bush was a transplant to west Texas, but had strong family and political ties back East, while Huckabee could represent a real shift of the political center of gravity of the GOP towards the region where a huge number of the party’s voters live. In this sense, it may not be so much what Huckabee is saying or not saying as where he comes from that worries the party elites who are from quite different places.
However, I think Rod has missed the larger point, as we all have, myself included, in thinking about anti-Huckabee sentiment. In WSJ ideology, as with so many other organs of putatively conservative opinion, national security and foreign policy are now supposed to be absolutely paramount, and the establishment’s preferred candidates on this score are McCain and Giuliani–always have been and always will be so long as they are in the race. Neoconservative publications were major McCain boosters eight years ago, in no small part because they were concerned that Bush’s promise of a “humble” foreign policy and his consorting with all manner of realists and people who initially seemed reasonable. The attacks on Huckabee’s foreign policy statements have usually derived from this same fear of creeping realism and an abandonment of the more militant and aggressive policies of the last seven years–he has therefore dutifully starting chattering about Islamofascism whenever he can to show that he is not some weak, diplomacy-loving friend of the State Department. Only grudgingly did neoconservatives initially accept Bush’s victory over McCain, and some of them were among his most ferocious critics in the early months of his first term, especially during the April incident with the Chinese. It seems to me that there are two kinds of responses to Huckabee emerging among leading Republicans: McCain supporters who could live with Huckabee if they had to (e.g., Brooks and possibly Kristol) and McCain and Giuliani supporters who have continued to see Huckabee as the blunt instrument with which their preferred candidate demolishes Mitt Romney and clears the path to the nomination. The establishment types who have already declared for Romney now find themselves fighting against a two or three-front assault, as everyone believes his candidate has the most to gain from Romney’s complete defeat. Honestly, I think the Giuliani and McCain supporters who think they will be able to banish Huckabee once he has become strong enough to knock Romney out are delusional, and they will find themselves confronted with a candidate they cannot easily stop and will also find a lot of bitter Romney supporters who will be in no mood to work very hard for candidates who helped beat their man.
Yet if Clinton’s answers come off as well-intended lectures, Obama is offering soaring sermons and generational opportunity. In 1960, the articulate Adlai Stevenson compared his own oratory unfavorably with John F. Kennedy’s. ”Do you remember,” Stevenson said, “that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, ‘How well he spoke,’ but when Demosthenes had finished speaking, the people said, ‘Let us march.’ ” At this hour, Obama is the Democrats’ Demosthenes.
Demosthenes was certainly a persuasive speaker and has been remembered as one of the greatest orators, so on this level the comparison does Obama great honour (one might say far too great). Demosthenes was demagogos in an age where that label did not necessarily carry quite the same pejorative meaning that it does for us, whereas Obama is simply a demagogue in the conventional sense who has never actually led much of anything. Demosthenes was also the late classical equivalent of a jingoist and his avowed policy of confrontation with the Macedonians brought disaster to his city. In short, to be a group’s Demosthenes is to be an extremely eloquent and unwise man who brings ruin to his country, as well as meeting an unhappy end personally. Perhaps in a future column praising Hillary Clinton Dionne could liken her to Helen of Troy. With praise like this, Obama doesn’t need criticism.
The new Marist poll confirms the movement that we have been seeing elsewhere: McCain gaining considerably, Giuliani imploding and Romney faltering. It also confirms the order of the New Hampshire Republican field that I assume will hold true later today: McCain, Romney, Huckabee, Paul and only then Giuliani. Giuliani has effectively given up on New Hampshire in every respect, pulling his television ads last month, but he now runs the real risk of coming in even with Fred Thompson, whose non-campaigning in New Hampshire has made him one of the least-liked candidates in the Granite State. In any case, two single-digit results in a row hardly bodes well for the alleged “national frontrunner” of yesterday.
Meanwhile, the traditional first New Hampshire voters in the small hamlet of Dixville Notch have cast their votes, and they seem to be a mirror of the general mood of the state, except that they are much less enthusiastic about Clinton than the larger electorate. However, as you might expect from an extremely small sample of voters who are unrepresentative of much of New Hampshire, Dixville Notch has a terrible record when it comes to voting for the eventual winners. This year may prove to be the exception to that rule, since Obama and McCain prevailed handily with seven and four votes respectively and have been expanding their leads in polls over the last week.
Huckabee has every incentive to distance himself from the GOP coalition; his nomination rests on its demise. ~Dick Armey
If that doesn’t seem to make any sense, that’s because it doesn’t. Arguably, Huckabee’s election as President would lead to the splintering and demise of “the GOP coalition,” but for Huckabee to win the nomination he does have to alleviate the doubts of other members of the coalition who are not yet convinced that he is tolerable. Now Armey is a primarily economic conservative with some libertarian inclinations, and he has long been engaged in a running battle with prominent religious conservatives over domestic policy priorities, so we understand why Armey is hardly thrilled to see Huckabee succeeding. Even so, what Rollins said about the disappearing Reagan coalition is not all that remarkable. It is a statement of recognition that the current GOP coalition is not what it was fifteen years ago, much less almost thirty years ago. The makeup of the GOP has changed over just the past ten years, as many noted last year with the release of the latest Fabrizio polling. Trying to organise an electoral strategy that rallies a coalition that no longer exists would seem misguided and a classic example of fighting the political equivalent of the last war. Listening to Romney rail against the welfare state, as if it were 1980 all over again, you get the impression that he is trying to run for Reagan’s fourth term. There are significant elements of the GOP opposed to Huckabee, even though they may be relatively few in numbers, but the same might fairly be said of every major contender. When it comes to talking about all of the others, even Giuliani, most establishment Republicans do not make overblown claims that this or that nomination would entail the “demise” of the GOP coalition.
With respect to Huckabee, this accusation has become a bit of conventional wisdom so commonplace that people assert it without even going through the motions of demonstrating whether it is true or not. Whatever else you can say about Huckabee’s fiscal record, it is extremely odd for economic conservatives to attack him when he proposes to do more tax-cutting than every other Republican candidate save Ron Paul. Never mind for a moment that his plan is poorly conceived, would probably be impossible to pass and induces laughter in most conservative economists–he claims that he wants to wipe out corporate, capital gains, income and payroll taxes and yet the corporate wing of the party is actually angry at him? What more does the man have to promise these people? A consumption tax would actually function as a burden on small businesses, making every small firm and store around the nation into the middlemen for revenue collection–a task that would still be handled by some part of the federal bureaucracy. Forget for the moment that it would hit middle and lower-middle households more directly, since they spend a larger percentage of their income on consumption, and consider how unfriendly the program is to small business and how actually very pro-corporate it is. While a consumption tax would have a certain kind of benefit, in that it would, like all taxes, discourage the activity being taxed, the impact this would have on consumer spending would be fairly severe. Americans might become less consumerist, at least temporarily, and might be less inclined to go into ever-greater debt to buy trifles that will have become simply too expensive, but that probably means the service economy would suffer. Once again, this would hit small firms hardest and would have deleterious effects on the general economy. The biggest joke of the Huckabacklash is that he claims to represent Main Street Republican interests and somehow corporate Republicans believe it, even though his main domestic proposal is far more to their advantage than it is to Main Street. There is nothing especially desirable about reorganising how Leviathan is fed if we continue to insist on feeding it ever-increasing amounts.
Bill Kristol and I agree that Huckabee is electable and would be competitive in a general election. Very worrisome. That pits both of us against Stuart Rothenburg, who has a reputation for knowing what he’s talking about. Yet it seems obvious to me that Huckabee counteracts everything Obama has to offer, such as it is, while outmatching him in a number of ways. While Obama is the professorial “arugula” candidate, Huckabee is the candidate of the average American. While Obama is inexperienced liberal, Huckabee is the two-term governor who relates to Middle Americans. Whereas Obama wants to invade Pakistan…Huckabee wants to invade Pakistan. Okay, call that one a draw. Rothenburg reads this matchup exactly backwards. It isn’t Obama who cancels out Huckabee’s advantages, but Huckabee who cancels out Obama’s.
Update: In case the title caused any confusion, what I found terrifying was agreeing with Bill Kristol. A Huckabee nomination would be merely disturbing.
Apparently the cover of the latest TAC has annoyed some Giuliani supporters. That is distressing. How will we get on without the approval of David Frum and Martin Kramer? We’ll probably manage somehow.
There has been an excessive deployment of the term fascist in our political discourse over the last ten years or so, almost all of it coming from neoconservatives and their allies, especially in the context of foreign policy arguments. I argued late last year against the nonsensical nature of the term Islamofascism, which neoconservative writers use on a regular basis, which belongs to the subtitle of Podhoretz’s latest volume and which forms a central part of neoconservative “analysis” of the threat to this country. Podhoretz, as you will recall, is an advisor to the Giuliani campaign, so there is something more than a little rich about other Giuliani advisors complaining about the reckless and inappropriate use of references to fascism. Their entire foreign policy view is little more than an elaborate version of shouting, “The new Hitler is coming!” Yet they have the temerity to complain when we portray an aggressive, authoritarian, jingoistic nationalist as somehow akin to aggressive jingoistic nationalists? Remarkable.
In America and Europe in the last fifty years or so, the term fascist has normally been used against traditional conservatives and rightists who value national sovereignty and who want to avoid foreign wars whenever possible. Apparently unaware of the irony, Republican admirers of FDR, architect of American state capitalism, have been glad to fling the f-word at the heirs to his Old Right enemies, because we respect the non-interventionist principles of America Firsters. The depiction of Giuliani in brownshirt seems more apt than not in that he has publicly stated his willingness to leave open the first-strike use of tactical nukes against another country, he has made a joke out of torturing detainees and he is on record (along with most conservative pundits) endorsing the aggressive invasion of another country. Giuliani is nothing if he is not a nationalist who believes in exerting strength through war and using the power of the state. According to a proper, specific definition of fascism, Giuliani is not a fascist, because fascism died in 1945 and as a phenomenon it has ceased to exist, but then Giuliani and his supporters long ago abandoned any such proper definitions of the term.
Meanwhile, on a related note, Michael has been a blogging up a storm during my absence from the old tubes.
Barack Obama has won the Iowa caucuses. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel moved by this. An African-American man wins a closely fought campaign in a pivotal state. He beats two strong opponents, including the mighty Clinton machine. He does it in a system that favors rural voters. He does it by getting young voters to come out to the caucuses. ~David Brooks
On this first point that Brooks makes about Obama, I have to disagree. It is not moving, though it is perhaps unsettling, that a politician of no particular accomplishment and vacuous, sunny rhetoric can win an important election through that same vacuity and the enthusiasm of those who wish to show that they can support a black candidate’s meaningless banter just as well as they can support anyone’s. As Pat Buchanan put it a bit bluntly, but astutely, on caucus night, Obama would not be where he is today were it not for his race. Simply put, a Midwestern Senator of limited experience and a conventionally liberal voting record would not be considered remotely viable as a presidential nominee and would have received little or no support–consider whether Russ Feingold or even the much more centrist Evan Bayh would have stood a chance, and you have your answer. It is somewhat ironic that many analysts have focused on the “overwhelmingly” white makeup of Iowa’s population, all the while failing to mention that it was mostly the activists of the Democratic left who participate in the Democratic caucuses, since it is these activists who would be most receptive to Obama’s appeal and indifferent to or even excited by his background. This is not surprising or scandalous or all that newsworthy. What is strange is the idea that a very personable, charismatic candidate from Illinois with tens of millions of dollars in fundraising and considerable support from the main political machine in the Midwest, that of the Chicago Daleys, should have achieved any less in neighbouring Iowa over a Southern has-been and Hillary Clinton. With no incumbent President or Vice President to challenge in the general, the Democratic caucus-goers no doubt felt free to take a chance on Obama, reassured by the utterly lackluster and chaotic nature of the GOP field. I raised a glass to Obama for defeating Hillary in Iowa, but it is time for everyone to sober up and stop pretending that drippy and meaningless optimism constitutes the path to good government.
When an African-American man is leading a juggernaut to the White House, do you want to be the one to stand up and say No?
When that man has terrible ideas, yes, I do. Elizabeth Edwards had an interesting, though completely self-serving, remark on Friday when she remarked that the civil rights and women’s rights activists on the left had fought to make race and gender irrelevant–this was her response to a loaded Matthews question about her husband running against a woman and a black man. I don’t pretend that either is entirely irrelevant, but both are certainly far down the list of my considerations. Call it the result of my liberal upbringing at a very P.C. private school, if you want. One question to ask yourself about Obama is this: if he were white, would I ever support him? Presumably many of his current supporters would, since they are also on board with his very progressive politics, but how broad a base of support do you suppose he would have? Would it actually be good for the country and for black candidates in the future if the first black candidate to contest for national office were so far removed from Middle America as Obama certainly is?
Reihan loves the Brooks column, and Hewitt hates it (as he hates all things that demean his beloved Romney), which is generally a pretty good recommendation, but there is more to say. Matt Welch delves into the archives and finds that Brooks was saying much the same thing about McCain and the establishment eight years ago that he is saying about Huckabee and the establishment today. It was a media-driven myth that McCain was a great anti-establishment figure in 1999-2000, and I am beginning to think that the same is true of Huckabee. He may have different priorities, as McCain does, but he does not represent the break with the current establishment that some Republicans fear and some conservatives hope to find. On the contrary, he represents continuity with the present administration in many respects. All of us who have problems with Mr. Bush and what he has done, to put it mildly, would like to see the current GOP leadership and the conservative elites who have supported them get their comeuppance. To the extent that Huckabee throws a wrench in their plans and generally aggravates them, we are very pleased, but this is not because he actually represents anything different from the very administration we oppose. For others, such as Brooks, I think Huckabee’s candidacy serves as a cipher for frustrations with the current direction of the GOP, just as Obama’s has served as an outlet for progressive frustrations with the Democratic Party. The candidates have been almost secondary for supporters and opponents alike–they see the candidates representing what supporters and opponents want the candidates to represent, and it doesn’t matter whether the descriptions they give are complete caricatures. They are serving as empty vessels for others’ hopes, so it is appropriate that they are framing their campaigns around empty promises of hope.
All of us have been buying into the idea that Huckabee is actually an anti-establishment candidate, and I am particularly guilty of advancing this argument. Huckabee has been milking this for all it’s worth, but he really isn’t any such thing. In any oligarchic arrangement, you will have some who portray themselves as friends of “the people” and who will use the crowd as leverage against their rival oligarchs, but at no point do any of the rivals intend to change the fundamental mechanisms of power or overthrow or dismantle the establishment. They will use and take advantage of citizens who may very well want to do just that, and their support for this or that oligarch is then used by the oligarch’s enemies as proof of the threat he poses to them, but the oligarch is simply using those people as a springboard for his ambition. The oligarch’s enemies have mistaken the use of their own methods of manipulation for an actual revolt, or more accurately they are trying to protect their own fiefdoms within the establishment against a rival claimant and so portray the interloper as a radical departure from everything that has come before. Huckabee wants to throw out certain members of the GOP establishment, but does not actually propose to do much of anything very differently on key policies. Huckabee represents, in fact, a continuation and endorsement of the Bushian status quo. Fleeing from the sinking ship of the current administration, conservative elites are not thrilled at the prospect of boarding another of similar design.
Indeed, it’s almost funny to listen to some conservatives on the topic of Huckabee. Sitting in with Greta and Shep on their caucus night coverage, no one was more negative about the former Arkansas governor than Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham. Tom Tancredo was a close third. Republicans are distancing themselves from their Iowa winner, Huckabee, and their very likely New Hampshire winner, John McCain, more than even the most loyal Hillary-ites are doing with their other choices, Obama and Edwards. ~Susan Estrich
It is funny, since most of these people were the ones who rallied about the inevitability of Bush and, when confronted with the alternnative of McCain, embraced Bush and pretended that he was one of them. Now that they have a chance to back another Bush, they are balking and find the idea so obnoxious that it drives them into fits. I never supported Bush and saw through him from the beginning, so it’s hardly surprising that I find Huckabee equally undesirable, but what excuse do two-time Bush voters have? Oh, wait, let me guess–now they care about the size of government!
I’ve got Ioway in my hair!
I’ve got Ioway in my ears and eyes and nose!
Oh, I know all I owe I owe Ioway,
I owe Ioway all I owe and I know why. ~
Mike HuckabeeMarty, State Fair
In defense of Iowa, I would note that the record of the Iowa caucuses in selecting a Democratic nominee who goes on to become President is hard to judge. It’s true that Iowa winners who have become the Democratic nominee (which would include every Democratic nominee since Carter) have won the Presidency only once, but then the period when there have been Iowa caucuses has been almost completely coterminous with the Reagan-Bush era. During this era, every Democratic nominee except Clinton lost, and he’s the only nominee since 1976 who didn’t participate in the caucuses, which rigs the entire analysis against the Iowans pretty thoroughly. (Given the overall record of Democratic nominees over the last thirty years, one might as well say that Democratic winners of the California primary are doomed to failure.) It may be telling that the two occasions when an Iowa winner did become President have come at opposite ends of the era, as Carter unwittingly paved the way for its inauguration and Bush cluelessly presided over its end. A Huckabee victory would provide a fitting epitaph for the era and anything good that it might have represented. I think this must be why Huckabee gives so many establishment conservatives hives–he is the living reminder and embodiment of what Republicanism became on their watch and with their consent, and they don’t want to be reminded that they cheered on the people who brought this era to a thudding halt through misrule, ideology and corruption. They would prefer to wish it away in a fit of Reagan nostalgia and jingoism, which are just about all the GOP has left at this point.
Besides, there can hardly be an “Iowa curse” if an Iowa winner was elected President in two of the five open election years (1976, 2000). A 40% success rate isn’t overwhelming, but it’s hardly proof of anything meaningful one way or the other. Had Gary Hart gone on to become the nominee in 1984, does anyone really believe that the final outcome would have been any different? If Obama and Huckabee do become the nominees, one of them will end up winning. Frightening as that may be, it would probably put an end to these regular complaints about the irrelevance of Iowa.
As for Tancredo and his supporters shellacking Huckabee, I suppose I would look a bit more kindly on all of it had they not gone over to Romney and transformed themselves overnight into some of his biggest fans. Watching Tancredo’s former campaign manager praising Mitt Romney was such a surreal experience the other day that I thought that I must have been hallucinating. Speaking of conversions on the road to Des Moines, Tancredo and his staffers seem to have experienced one. Having once persecuted him, they have become Romneyites.
Not surprisingly, Bill Bradley and Gary Hart have endorsed Obama. The “priests” of former cycles have now publicly embraced another to carry the torch. By “priests,” I am referring to this:
Democratic professionals often describe this sorting as a competition between upscale “wine track” candidates and blue-collar “beer track” contenders. Another way to express the difference is to borrow from historian John Milton Cooper Jr.’s telling comparison of the pugnacious Theodore Roosevelt and the idealistic Woodrow Wilson. Cooper described the long rivalry between Republican Roosevelt and Democrat Wilson as a contest between a warrior and a priest. In modern times, the Democratic presidential race has usually pitted a warrior against a priest.
Some may object that 2000 does not really fit this mould, but if Gore is not really a warrior the demographics of Bradley voters support characterising him as part of the Hart-Tsongas-Dean tradition. Those who have been following the ‘08 campaign for longer than any of us care to remember will recall that all this came to us by way of a Ron Brownstein piece referring to the divide between the bases of support for Obama and Clinton:
Obama’s early support is following a pattern familiar from the campaigns of other brainy liberals with cool, detached personas and messages of political reform, from Eugene McCarthy in 1968 to Gary Hart in 1984 to Bill Bradley in 2000. Like those predecessors, Obama is running strong with well-educated voters but demonstrating much less support among those without college degrees.
That trend may be exaggerated at the moment by the fact that Obama, a relative newcomer, is better known among better-educated voters, and it could be mitigated in the future by his potential appeal to African Americans. But it is not a pattern Obama can allow to harden. All of the candidates whose support fit that profile ultimately lost the nomination to rivals whose support was rooted in the blue-collar and minority communities where Clinton is strongest in early surveys.
Obama may be expanding his support, but he has a more fundamental problem: Democratic constituency groups expect their nominee to propose policies that do things in their interest, or at least their perceived interest, and they expect a certain degree of partisanship and brass-knuckles politicking on their behalf, while Obama’s public persona seems to reject all of that and the man seems to regard it with some distaste.
Listening to the descriptions of supporters for Huckabee and Romney, I noted on Thursday that this same dividing line appeared on the Republican side, as Romney tended to do best with higher-income and more educated voters. This is probably the first time since ‘96 we have seen this kind of divide between Republican candidates.
That’s why all year long I have warned people to watch Huckabee — because I knew he was a threat to win the nomination. But if he does, Susan Estrich is right: The Democrats will be dancing on inauguration night, because they will make mincemeat of this unethical, insubstantial, unconservative rube from Hope, Arkansas.
I share Mr. Hillyer’s distaste for Huckabee (though perhaps for some different reasons), but one of the reasons why Huckabee has surprised so many is that I think many of us who are observing the presidential campaign keep expecting substance, policy and reason to enter into the process. This seems more and more to be a terrible mistake, and it seems clear now that it was always foolish to expect that. Also, it is far from clear that an “unethical, insubstantial, unconservative rube from Hope, Arkansas” is such an obvious general election loser. The Republicans may lose this year if they nominate Huckabee, but they are likely to lose in any case. It is the very ephemeral and superficial quality of Huckabee’s campaign on the one hand, combined with the strong attachment different groups of activists have with him, that makes it more competitive and threatening to Democrats, who otherwise will have a monopoly on this kind of rhetoric in a year when voters are responding to it. Criticisms of his economics have tended to take his rhetoric about class and Wall Street seriously, when closer observation reveals that, yet again, there is nothing to what he is saying. His great “populist” appeal is, in the end, as real as Fred Thompson’s populism of driving around in a pickup truck–it is a series of symbolic cues whereby the candidate claims that he is “one of us” who intuitively “gets” what “we are going through.” His latest along these lines is to keep saying that he thinks Americans want a President who reminds them of the guy they work with, rather than the guy who laid them off. That’s a good line, especially if you’re running against a corporate CEO who was in the business of turning around failing companies partly by laying off employees, but it is also utterly ridiculous. If Americans do want that, Americans are fools, but then hardly anyone was ever defeated in an election underestimating the wisdom of the Amercan public.
Where George Bush employed his religion to create a feeling of solidarity with evangelical and conservative voters, Huckabee throws in tales of his hardscrabble youth to show that he comes “from the people” and people seem to believe it. (The more I think about this, the more the entire Huckabee campaign reminds me of Gaius Baltar’s little manifesto against the “new aristocracy” in the third season of Battlestar Galactica, except that Huckabee’s rhetoric is far more vague.) Huckabee refers to “fair trade” in one breath and then praises NAFTA in the next, and laments the woes of the working man as he prepares to make said working man pay a 30% consumption tax on everything he buys. The man’s sheer lack of scruples and his ability to disarm Democratic critics by paying lip service to things they care about are, in fact, electoral gold. Everything that makes him so undesirable and objectionable to principled conservatives is the sort of thing that probably strengthens his standing with the general public.
Lack of substance has determined the leaders of the Republican field for the last twelve months. Fred Thompson may be a serious, thoughtful, well-informed, albeit languid, man, but herein lies his problem: when he was little more than a celebrity candidate who made amusing YouTube videos about Michael Moore, he was king of the world among conservatives who were desperate, in their utter sentimentalism, to find “a new Reagan,” and as soon as he became a proper candidate with policy proposals he ceased to inspire much enthusiasm. (Part of this was a result of his awful campaign style, but the pro-Thompson hysteria ended as all emotionally-driven fads must–in deep disappointment and the discovery of a new, more intriguing fad.) Rudy Giuliani is a deadly serious maniac whose foreign policy ideas would spell disaster for our country, but his preeminence in the field stemmed entirely from vague good feelings about him as a “strong leader” derived from memories of him on 9/11. Romney probably is the best qualified executive and manger in the field, but whatever substance the man has is so Protean in nature that no one knows what form he will take next. He lacks substance, but in a very different way from the rest–he pretends to have deeply held principles and ideas, yet has only had these profound convictions for the duration of his presidential campaign. The GOP field has been dominated by celebrity candidates all along, while the real candidates of substance, such as Duncan Hunter and, yes, Tommy Thompson (who was probably the best qualified of them all and therefore, naturally, among the first to drop out), have languished in total obscurity. The truly odd phenomenon of this election is the creation of a kind of celebrity out of Ron Paul, who has achieved star status primarily on account of his policy views. The same thing has prevailed on the Democratic side, where novelty (Obama) and familiarity/fame have determined the shape of their field since the beginning. The vastly more qualified and prepared candidates on their side (e.g., Biden, Dodd and, I suppose, even Richardson) have gone down to humiliating and ignominious defeat. We may very well complain about the current faddish leaders, but we need to understand that the election campaign has been driven by the media, both liberal and conservative, and focused on irrelevancies and absurdities since the beginning over a year ago.
A good rule of thumb: if you are an informed, educated and serious person, whatever is most hateful to you is probably what the general public will prefer. This is especially true in electoral politics, where being informed, educated and serious often blinds you to what drives and motivates 90% of the electorate. To the extent that these folks become aware of these things at all, it is usually to dismissively declare them evidence of the irrational in politics. But irrationality has always existed and will always exist in any human political order, and expecting anything else, as I often have done, is a great error. Limiting the role of irrationality in politics, while desirable, is hardly possible in a mass democratic regime with an historically illiterate and media-saturated majority. The main flaw in most of the critiques aimed specifically at Huckabee, populists, restrictionists, etc. in recent months and years is the assumption by those making these critiques that they represent the more rational position, rather than one that is equally or more irrational.
I didn’t do any post-Iowa blogging on Thursday night, since I didn’t think there was much to say at the time, but all the people going on about Obama’s speech reminded me that I wanted to say a few things about it. It was not one of the great speeches of all time or even of the last thirty years. Ross makes some of the necessary points. It was a decent, even a good, speech, but it was ultimately just so much of a rehash of his Jefferson-Jackson dinner speech that still explained very little about what Obama would do. These speeches do not, as Klein says, “elevate,” unless this is a polite way of saying that they are so hot and gaseous that they have the same effect as helium in a balloon. Like certain gases, his words also seem to inspire feelings of giddiness in some listeners. Klein went on:
He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair.
This seems to be a very grand way of saying that he is all talk and no action. What is remarkable about this statement, apart from the contrast that (grudgingly) concedes that Obama is not, in fact, the Logos incarnate, is that Klein thinks that this disembodied verbiage is a desirable trait in someone’s speeches. According to this, Obama practices a sort of rhetorical docetism, epitomising the very professorial, condescending air that leaves most people cold, and this is why he inspires? Very odd.
Catching up with the weekend commentary, I noticed that Romney recently denied that he called McCain a supporter of amnesty and then pretended not to know that one of his ads (via Ross) described McCain in just these terms. Besides demonstrating Romney’s sheer incapacity to maintain a single view without hedging and qualifying it into oblivion, this exchange typified the dishonesty of Romney, last seen when he was lecturing people on the dictionary definition of the word “saw” rather than simply acknowledging that he had simply misspoken. If Romney were charming and witty, he could pull off this kind of duplicity, but he isn’t and he can’t.
Finally, I’m back in Chicago after another cross-country drive, just in time for Nativity tomorrow. Time for some accountability for my predictions. My Iowa predictions were partly right, but I didn’t take seriously the polling showing Obama’s support increasing and I didn’t believe that so many people would actually show up for Thompson. I put too much confidence in reports of Edwards’ organisational strength, even as I was sure that Romney’s organisation would not save him. The second-tier Democratic candidates’ support for Obama as the preferred second-choice was also probably important in expanding Obama’s lead. I remain convinced that Thompson is finished and McCain will not go very far beyond Michigan, but should Thompson (who has always been a kind of McCain Lite anyway) drop out and endorse McCain that might keep the latter in the running a bit longer. Should Romney collapse entirely, McCain will become the candidate who serves as the fallback for movement institutional conservatives, while Huckabee will probably continue to surprise these same institutional conservatives with the levels of support he receives in larger states.
I watched the debates last night in short bursts, since the Jaguars-Steelers game was far more interesting and hearing Mike Huckabee spouting off about “Islamofascism” made me want to scream. Having seen the debates in brief, interrupted bits, I cannot gauge who performed the best overall. My impression from what little I did see was that Romney is getting desperate, McCain is acting like the snide bully he usually is when he’s in a position of strength (which will ultimately backfire on him), Huckabee will probably do better than most of the chatterers and bloggers believe he will and Giuliani will do worse than expected (assuming that you expect Giuliani to finish third and ahead of Huckabee). Ron Paul did well enough in Iowa that he should manage to get at least 10-12% in New Hampshire, which will be a decent showing but far less than many supporters wanted to see. Rasmussen’s latest N.H. poll seems to confirm this and matches what I was saying last week pretty closely.
The crosstabs in the N.H. poll do suggest that the anti-Huckabee campaign has had a damaging effect on the candidate’s chances at the nomination, as 33% of respondents (and 27% of Republicans) said they are ”not very likely” or “not at all likely” to vote for Huckabee if he were the nominee, which is three times as many as said the same about Giuliani or Romney. Among just Republicans, Giuliani and Romney fare a little worse (18 and 19% respectively are unlikely to vote for the candidate if nominated), but Huckabee remains the least attractive potential nominee for N.H. Republicans of what I suppose must be considered the top four. (Thompson and Paul would receive even less support as the nominee from New Hampshire Republicans–among Republicans, 32% said they would be unlikely to vote for Thompson, and 44% said the same about Paul.) For his sake, Huckabee has to hope that New Hampshire really is unrepresentative of Republican attitudes (the relative popularity of McCain seems to prove that it is). Even so, these numbers can and probably will be used to build up an electability argument against Huckabee and in favour of McCain. Romney’s support remains soft, as does McCain’s, with at least a third of both candidates’ supporters saying they might change their mind, but there is so little time remaining to peel away voters from either one that this may not matter.
Rasmussen has a very different Democratic race from the polling I have been seeing this weekend and hearing on the radio, showing Obama with a commanding lead over Clinton (39-27) and a boost for Edwards (now at 18%). If that’s right, I can see Edwards finishing very close in third place, almost validating his conceit that the race has become an Obama v. Edwards grudge match. In reality, he will remain a nuisance until February 5 and will persist after that on the basis of decent showings in some Southern primaries, but will not be able to keep going indefinitely. Conceivably, Clinton need not give up until after the early and mid-March primaries. It still seems impossible to me that the Democrats will nominate Obama and proceed to march off a cliff, which is what they would be doing. It’s true that the numbers on electability in the Rasmussen poll support the idea that Clinton is the least electable potential nominee among non-Democrats (with 30% saying they’d be unlikely to vote for her), but it is preposterous to think that the most left-wing of the three leading Democrats will, in fact, win a general election while the most “centrist” of the three is going to be a liability to her party. The people who are so adamantly opposed to Clinton are not going to vote for the Democratic nominee in any case. Whether or not she alienates these people is almost beside the point, and it is a strange thing for Democrats to worry about in any case. It is as if Republicans fretted over which of their candidates most upset the Kossacks and then voted for the one that offended them the least.
What we are seeing in intra-Democratic debates about whether Clinton is “too polarising” for the general election is really an argument about something else, and I think it mimics the fight between Goldwaterites and Rockefeller Republicans in 1964. Inasmuch as Rockefeller represented the epitome of Me-Tooism and Goldwater represented an uncompromising, principled conservatism, Obama is playing the progressive version of Goldwater and Clinton that of Rockefeller. Obama is a somewhat better campaigner than Goldwater, but he’s not so much better than he will overcome the resistance to his candidacy that will come from concerns about his experience, voting record, policies and, yes, his identity and race.
Obama’s campaign represents a rebellion against the Clintons’ and the New Democrats’ power in the party establishment, and he might just succeed in taking the nomination. It isn’t a perfect comparison, of course, but an Obama nomination would bring about a progressive electoral self-immolation somewhat like the landslide loss of 1964 (the margin of defeat would be narrower than ‘64, because of the overall pro-Democratic trends in the country, but it would still be a defeat). That might lead to a takeover of the party by Obama-ites, much as the McGovernites captured much of their party during the ’70s, or it might have a similar galvanising effect on progressives that Goldwater’s campaign had for conservatives. More likely, ‘08 will end as every previous cycle has ended for the progressive, “new ideas” candidate running against the more established pol–in defeat during the primaries.
While some late polls suggest that my Iowa predictions may be wrong, I will repeat that Edwards and Huckabee are going to win in Iowa. Obama takes second in Iowa, while Romney, McCain and Paul trail Huckabee in that order. McCain will win New Hampshire, and Giuliani will finish fifth behind Paul, who will be in fourth with 10-12%. Michigan becomes a three-way contest that Romney ultimately loses. Beyond that, I am not yet ready to make any predictions for the rest of the month.
Several things happened during my break that still merit some comment. I was reminded of one of them by Brooks’ latest column when he wrote:
For immigration skeptics, he [Romney] swung so far right he earned the endorsement of Tom Tancredo.
Viewed as a purely tactical anti-Huckabee and anti-McCain move, I can understand why Tancredo did this, but when I first heard about it I was amazed. Even though I understand why he endorsed Romney, it still strikes me as a bizarre move. Tancredo is obviously identified with opposition to mass immigration, and more than any of the “second tier” candidates made a point of criticising leading candidates for their opportunism on immigration and their conversions ”on the road to Des Moines.” No one better embodies the “conversion on the road to Des Moines” than Romney, and no one is less credible in his criticisms of other candidates for their weaknesses on immigration policy. The most ardent opponent of amnesty has now shown his approval of a candidate who represents everything about the marriage of Republicanism and corporate interests that Tancredo rejects. It is a strange and inexplicable endorsement, perhaps even more so than Gilchrist’s endorsement of Huckabee, and could conceivably mean the difference between victory for the huckster or triumph for the fraud on Thursday. Endorsing either Thompson or Paul would have made sense, and could have given Paul a needed boost in early contests. Instead, Romney the venture capitalist gets the backing of the foremost elected restrictionist in the country in yet another bad bargain with the candidate of the GOP establishment. Short of endorsing McCain or Giuliani, nothing could have put Tancredo more out of step with restrictionist voters.
P.S. Incidentally, I also agree with Brooks that Romney’s by-the-book approach to the nomination will, if successful, lead to general election defeat for the Republicans. Weighed down by the war and deeply unpopular across the board, the GOP also has to be able to compete with the Democrats in states where voters view globalisation and free trade with skepticism at best, and Romney adopting the role of a cardboard-cutout “full-spectrum conservative,” when he has no real credibility on at least two of the three “legs” of the “stool” he frequently mentions, is not going to do the trick. The GOP might very well lose no matter which candidate they select, but they will definitely lose with Romney.
Happy New Year! As of last week, Eunomia entered its third year. There are many people who made this past year a success in blogging and writing, and there are more than I can name, but I would like to thank everyone at The American Conservative, Chronicles, Antiwar, Taki’s Top Drawer and ISI in particular for their great support and encouragement, especially my long-suffering editors. Thanks also to Reihan and the large assembly of talented writers at The American Scene, as well as my excellent colleagues at Cliopatria and What’s Wrong With the World for putting up with me.