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December 2008

November 2008

The problem is more character and manners than ideology -- Paul Greenberg's 2-page masterpiece

One of my all-time favorite political texts, as timely now as when it appeared in 1999, is Paul Greenberg's short column, "The Problem With the Right." And likewise, his "The Problem With the Left."

Many of our current problems arise not so much from being too conservative or insufficiently conservative, or too socially versus economically conservative or vice-versa, as from the bad habits that Greenberg identified, and which Obama provides such a glaring contrast to.

I often feel like the Transcendentalist who lamented of the Whigs and the Jacksonian Democrats, “One party has all the good men, the other has all the good principles.” Our party nominates sneering bullies who value their own power over principles; longtime election losers who believe that it’s “their turn”; and easily corruptible guys with no principles whatsoever; and in 2006 we really started getting punished for it. But that's not all the Greenberg has to say. Read it and weep for your country.

Dissident Republicans Discussion Forum • View topic - The article that started all this

Obama Republican Chuck Lasker posted a vigorous article right before the election on Huffington Post and, a Martin Luther's-95-Theses sort of thing declaring the GOP "Dead" and calling for a new party of progressive republicans. His critique is incisive and entertaining, and he has a great list of the once-and-future principles of the Party versus its actual  "2008 Principles". And yet the commenters on the article, who've continued their discussion on his Dissident Republicans Discussion Forum,  are so hateful towards anyone religious or socially conservative, that it makes you wonder how they could run a party and build a coalition, and whether they would actually stick to ANY kind of conservative principles.

The Whigging Out Has Begun

I did not know about this until today, but apparently thousands of people dissatisfied with the major parties have recently formed The Modern Whig Party. I can't tell for sure if I mostly agree with them -- their issues page has a bewildering level of detail on some things but is vague on some more basic questions. They are for "fiscal responsibility" but in practice, does that mean generally smaller government, or generally higher taxes? But they aren't vague on everything; their positions on defense, gun control, energy, drugs, church/state and abortion show a creative regard for liberty, practicality, and the national interest.

On strategy and tactics, they seem incredibly sharp. And it looks like you don't have to abandon your present party and all its candidates to support the Whig Party.

I look forward to dialogue with this organization.

Social Conservatives: Loyal, Indispensable, Semi-Undeserving Scapegoats

The American Spectator : Social Conservatives as Scapegoats.By G. Tracy Mehan, III

This article brings up several tough truths that weigh on the social conservative side of this controversy, and gives vivid reminders that the GOP suffers terribly from many defects that have nothing to do with social conservatism -- " two wars gone sour, over-spending at a level to embarrass Lyndon Johnson, the largest expansion of entitlement spending since the Great Society, numerous cases of GOP corruption and betrayal of the public trust ..."

It reminds us that "Political success is about addition, not subtraction. Clearly, the GOP cannot win with only the social conservatives. That is why coalitions are a necessary part of political life. This is equally true for economic and national defense conservatives." And that "social conservatives" generally support economic and  national security conservatism, too. And as many commenters to the article point out, many of social conservatives' issues are libertarian and much of social liberalism is anti-liberty, anti-privacy.

And yet, this otherwise salutary column ignores, and offers no prescription for working with, another tough and terrible truth:  Social conservatives, especially with the issues they have chosen to emphasise and, of course, the ways the media portray them, scare and alienate more and more people whose votes and opinions matter.

Apt quotations for the day

I will punish those who rest complacently on their dregs … Their wealth shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. … a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness …
-- From yesterday’s lectionary reading at church. Zephaniah 1:12-18

Sunny optimism & know-nothing anti-intellectualism are the twin handmaidens of pathological behavior.
-- Today’s Zippy the Pinhead strip (11/17/08)

"How did you go bankrupt?"
"Two Ways. Gradually, and then suddenly."
- Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Any given generation gives the next generation advice that the given generation should have been given by the previous generation but now it’s too late.
-- Roy Blount Jr. in his fun new book,  Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, ... With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory.

Targets for Republicans - Maggie's Farm

Bruce Kesler, blogging on "Maggie's Farm", makes a great and essential point about strategy -- to pick issues that unite and expand the coalition -- although I'm not sure how well his actual picks of issues will work out.

"The argument devolves into whether the Party should be with libertarians or traditionalists, economic or social conservatives, Hispanics or Southerners, and so forth.  In other words, the arguments are for further splitting asunder the Reagan coalition.  Insane.

"Instead, the discussion should be on how to not only rebuild the Reagan coalition but how to enlarge it.

"There were five primary slippages in Republican votes during this election.  [He lists them, including the Boomers' children, the working middle class, business interests, and "the aspiring poor", to whom McCain offered no vision to aspire to.]

"New leadership ... must be willing to confront entrenched interests, including within the Republican Party who have gone along to get along. Rank and file conservatives, whether libertarian, national security, or social traditionalists can come together and join with these now Democrat-leaning voters by focusing on an issue that negatively affects them all.

Young Conservatives Debate, And Fret, About The Future - Marc Ambinder

Young Conservatives Debate, And Fret, About The Future - Marc Ambinder .
This year-old but timely article from the Atlantic draws a useful distinction between social and cultural conservatism. It's subtitled, "Is conservatism in a death spiral? Three of the smartest young conservatives I know, Patrick Hynes, Patrick Ruffini and Soren Dayton, have different diagnosis and different cures."
I remember having a link to Patrick Ruffini on my site way back around '96.

Introduction is a place to discuss the future of the Republican party, conservatism, libertarianism (a.k.a. classical liberalism), traditionalism, and the other important values that the party has furthered in the past, such as competent, effective government.

As a culturally traditional, pragmatic libertarian, I want a government that does less but does it well. "Energetic" government, as Hamilton used to say. I think that the major legitimate purpose of government is collective self-defense: against foreign attackers, violent criminals, and even infectious diseases and natural disasters. (And in law school, in first-year torts and second-year criminal law, you learn that there are already well-developed common-law standards for how and when it's OK to act in "substituted self-defense", i.e., defending someone else. You can only do things the person you're defending would be allowed to do in the situation.)  

Another vital purpose, but not the fundamental justification, of government is to maintain the legal system, to maintain the common law and amend it by statute or case law as circumstances change, so that people interacting with one another will have a stable, comprehensible understanding of their rights and duties; to provide for the enforcement of contracts and remedies for the injuries people sometimes inflict on each other. But there are other roles that government has assumed, and some of them cannot be abandoned overnight without civil society setting up something to take their place.

The response to Hurricane Katrina, the failure to plan for what we used to think was the aftermath of the Iraq war, and other missteps, made me wonder whether the Bush Administration or indeed any Republican administration could govern effectively and lead the country. Maybe the Clinton administration had been even more incompetent, but at least they knew how to look like they cared about what was most important to the American people, and they had the media to help them give that impression.

All this makes me wonder whether people like me should try to make the Libertarians or some other middle-way party (like Israel’s Kadima party or the Modern Whig Party) viable, go back to trying to be a centrist Democrat, or stay Republican, and if so, what kind of fundamental changes to seek in that party.

I understand the practical challenges and dismal history of attempts to launch a third party or replace the second party in a two-party system.  Replacing the Federalists with the National Republicans and Whigs involved an eight-year “Era of Good Feeling”, an uncontested presidential election in 1820, one between four factions of Democrats in 1824, and the Democrats winning the popular vote every time from 1800 to 1836. Replacing the Whigs with the Republicans only happened because both major parties fractured over the slavery question, and the Democrats lost because they fractured more evenly than the former Whigs.

I hope this blog will include many and diverse voices. I look forward to seeing your comments.

- John Crouch (November, 2008)

Advice from the "Moderate" Republican Left

These have many good points and the Whitman piece, particularly, calls on us to face some tough mathematical/geopolitical truths about the party's future. However, a long-standing problem with leading GOP moderates is that most of them don't seem to be conservative, or even any different from liberals, on ANYTHING -- at least not on any issue the left and the media really care about and want to play hardball about. Oh, maybe on old-timey conservative issues like crime and national security, but those are issues where the Democrats have said "me too" since around 1990. I think most of my positions are moderate, but the problem is that the liberal establishment can pick any issue and force you to choose between abandoning your position or getting labeled an extremist. Like with the ca. 1995 sudden invention of  "economic extremists."

Blueprint for a comeback -- Chrysovalantis Kefalas.

Free the GOP: The Party Won't Win Back the Middle as Long As It's Hostage to Social Fundamentalists, By Christine Todd Whitman and Robert M. Bostock

Boston Globe op-ed calls for "a complete makeover - including, perhaps, a new name"

Republicans Rebranded: How New England's Republicans can hit 'restart' -- and why we should hope they do - The Boston Globe. By James A. Peyser.

This guy thinks a lot like me. He calls for a center-right party -- not a Rockefeller center-left one -- with the emphasis on "center." But he warns --

" A worldview that is defined merely by moderation - the space that lies between left and right - is no worldview at all. In the post-Reagan GOP, any viable governing philosophy has to be grounded in the basic tenets of conservatism: limited and accountable government, individual liberty and responsibility, and free markets.

"But small government doesn't have to mean a weak government."

He opposes many religious right positions, distinguishing conservation of our heritage from "rigid traditionalism", but favors school choice and social-entrepreneurial, civil-society solutions to pressing social problems. He says we need "reverse wedge issues" --pragmatic libertarian policies that appeal to left, right and center.

Republican Governors Meet, Glumly -

Republican Governors Meet, Glumly -
Great article quoting a lot of very promising governors.

"The Republican Party is ill situated to serve a changing America, they said. Members make excuses for corruption. The Bush administration and congressional leaders are fiscally irresponsible and have ceded the tax issue -- of all issues -- to the Democrats. Large swaths of the country are off limits to GOP candidates. Republicans have lost the technology advantage, and if they were part of a corporation, "heads would roll." It's going to be worse in 2010."

How parties gain generations of dominance.

Historian and blogger Steve Casburn, writing before the election, gives an overview of the last four major party realignments and eras of dominance. All driven by "widespread visceral fear or disgust; a widely held sense that the party in power has failed beyond redemption." ... "A generation of new voters associates the GOP with recklessness, stupidity and deadly incompetence, and will vote Democratic by a wide margin for the rest of their lives. As soon as that generation begins voting in large enough numbers to outweigh the dying generation shaped by the 1960s, the realignment will happen. Heckuva job, Karl Rove."

The rest, which is great reading, is at Will the cycle be unbroken? 

Eugene Robinson - A GOP Bridge to Nowhere -

Of all the articles about where conservatives went wrong and what they can do about it, this one -- by someone who is our resolute adversary -- is one of the best I've seen.  It  blasts away the usual sugarcoating about how  we just need  to  get  the  "base"  more excited  or  anyhow we are at least "a center-right country." We may be a center-right country but apparently most of the center fears the "right" more than they do the left.

Eugene Robinson - A GOP Bridge to Nowhere -

"Do Libertarians Fit in a Liberal World?": And if they do, are they still libertarians? - Reason Magazine

Part of the conversation this blog hopes to start was addressed in a conference at Princeton described by Todd Seavey in:

"Do Libertarians Fit in a Liberal World?": And if they do, are they still libertarians? - Reason Magazine. My favorite part:

Brink Lindsey ... from the Cato Institute, ... said he can no longer stomach the pretense by the two near-identical major political parties that, as he put it, "a 35% top marginal tax rate is Social Darwinism but a 39% rate is socialism."