Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Real Conservative is Whoever Agrees With Me

Pray tell Greg, what exactly makes Bruce Fein a real conservative and say, Larry Thompson a closet socialist in sheep's clothing?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Hope Over Experience II

Newt Gingrich recently spoke at a breakfast sponsored by the American Spectator. He's a smart guy, and do better a lot of jobs than the guy who is doing it now. But President of the United States is not one of them, if for no other reason than he would self-destruct at least five times before taking the Oath of Office. As Geraghty writes, it's reasonably likely that he will run for President in '08, but the idea that he will succeed is again the triumph of hope over experience. On the other hand, it might help the rest of the GOP crowd if they have to battle against somebody with some game.

The Republican party is in bad shape, but it has the opportunity to right its ship quickly. The Democrats haven't sold the body politic on anything except for the fact that they're not the Republicans. But the most important thing the GOP will accomplish this election cycle has nothing to do with the D's. That is, as Newt says, the GOP will continue to be the major vehicle for center or right-wing political organization in the United States, and that it will escape the shadow of George W. Bush. Right now, restoring confidence in the GOP brand is more important than the Presidency or control of Congress. But if the Democrats going to return to the Greatest Hits of the 70s, they may get them too.

Hope Over Experience

Samuel Johnson famously suggested that second marriages were the triumph of hope over experience, and that's more or less my thought on William Kristol's glass-half-full appraisal of the Bush administration. That's not entirely meant to be facetious either. It is very important for the Right to keep hope in its political future, so as not to allow the appearance of misfortune to become reality.

Nonetheless, Kristol is ultimately not persuasive. First of all, the grand judgment of history is not going to care if W is succeeded by a Republican or a Democrat. If W's reputation is going to be better in posterity than it is now then his model will be Harry Truman, who was succeeded by Ike, not a Democrat.

More importantly, Kristol fails to appreciate that the failure of the Bush Administration is a function of character at least as much as policy. It's not so much that Bush has bad character, as that he has the wrong character.
Bush is viewed, with substantial justification, of being clannish, insular, stubborn, complacent, and not too bright besides. He has bottomed out all the reserves of character that he had and it doesn't look like he has access to any more.

Under these circumstances, it is just about impossible for anyone to have a successful Presidency, not matter what policies the Administration pursues or what events intervene.
Nobody feels that Bush is representing them in the world at large. Anything that succeeds has nothing to do with the President (or works in spite of him), whereas all failures are directly his. Bush could personally defeat the insurgency in Iraq bare-handed and then walk on water for an encore and he would still command our attention about as much as the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons. It's not even so much that he has been rejected by America, he has just been tuned out instead.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bush's Brain

Mark Shea has more or less gone cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs over the Bush Administration, so it's a pleasure to link to something more measured, and perhaps not coincidentally that I agree with.

Centrism and the War

Ok, most of the GOP Congresscritters still support the Prez with respect to the Iraq war, at least to the extent that they will vote for the appropriations that fund the troops. A significant minority of them, are looking to cut our losses, both the loss of American lives and treasure and the political support of the country at large for the Republican party.

These fence-straddlers aren't going to make anybody happy. It's not sufficient to pacify either Daniel Larison or Rod Dreher, as should be pretty clear if you read the links above. More importantly, it's not going to satisfy the GOP base either. The typcial Republican from Paducah is not particularly enamored of George W. Bush, but he also believes the point of the Iraq War is to win it. Not just to militarily defeat Saddam Hussein, but to leave the place in such a way that the overall US interest in the region is furthered rather than hurt. And this goes not just for the Republican base, but also for a fair number of independents and Democrats as well.

More importantly, these Senators and Congressmen are making a calculation that doesn't work. We as Republicans have, fairly, taken the blame for the failures of the Iraq War so far and we'll continue to suffer loss of support if things do not turn for the better. The idea that we can change course now is just not credible. The American public knows very well that GOP were, politically speaking, the enthusiastic energy behind the war and the D's were dragged along. This helped the Republicans in the past but it hurts them now. In any case, it's fixed star in the politcal constellation. If any GOP Senator wants to flip on the war, he has to be able to sell his case on principle, because the political expediency isn't really there, it's just an optical illusion.

Btw, this whole business of the ISG recommendations are part of the problem instead of the solution. Whenever official Washington wants to resolve a contentious issue, they try to farm the whole thing out to a "bipartisan" group of (supposedly) worthies. The Iraq Study Group is just about the Platonic archetype of such things. If someone, such as Senator Richard Lugar, wants to speak in his own voice against the surge or any other element of the War on Terror, great. The saber-rattling against such people by Hugh Hewitt and the likes strikes me as mostly empty threats. But he's an exception. The American people won't accept the attempt to defer responsibility away from Congress because there's nobody else that's big enough to take it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

So far, so good

A few days ago, I wrote that just defeating the immigration bill isn't good enough. The Republican's Lazarus act starts when we see some retribution for that bill having got as far as it did.

These staffers might be missed, but Sen McCain won't be (when the inevitable happens).

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Lenin makes the hajj

One of the most interesting below-radar phenomena of our day is the slow rotting of the secular hard Left and its assimilation into Islam. Wretchard from the Belmont Club made a couple of posts about this a few years ago, mostly in connection with the 1993 European Social Forum in Paris, a huge Leftist conference.

Wretchard is mostly interested in the political and cultural consequences. He writes what purports to be a funeral oration for the secular Left. Because they lack the discipline and self-denial to see themselves through the hard times, they will never be an existential threat to Western Civilization instead, and will function only as adjunct to the struggle between the West and Islam.

I am more intested in the spiritual causes of this phenomenon, in the hearts and minds of the typical Leftist who makes this transition. The main premise is that the Left is essentially a rejection of bourgeois society and an expression of hatred against it. But, over the passage of time, all the Communist revolutions, the Howard Dean primal screams, all the enthusiasm for Fidel Castro and Che Guevara just fade away. They take a big bite out of the bourgeois of their time, of course, but they never establish the societies that justify all the energy and effort spent on their behalf.

Therefore, the aging Leftist is despondent and heartbroken. He hatred in his heart burns as strong as it ever did, but the optimism that he could build something different is gone. Therefore, he makes a religious turn. He allies himself with Islam, which from his perspective is the rejection of bourgeois society turned into a religion. He spiritually feeds himself with the solace of any religious believer, while at the same time nurturing his grudges against the world.

Of course, the original Leftist critique of bourgeois society is that it is too stifling, it insists on meaningless convention at the expense of individual autonomy. The Muslim critique of society is just the opposite. It is all license for perversion and blasphemy. But when push comes to shove, that can be papered over. With the turn to Islam the leftist can still keep his hatred of his neighbors, and that is what matters most.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Who was that masked man anyway?

The Lone Reformer, that is.

A few months ago Reihan Salam formulated the idea of upper-middle (and lower-middle) reformism, something that was originally
opaque for me. Now, I think I get his point a little better, but in substantial ways I just don't buy it. First, let's restrict ourselves to the GOP side for a moment, and consider this:

Why do Senators like Hagel, McCain, and Graham tend to end up on the same side of issues that seemingly don't have anything to do with each other, and that inevitably put them at odds with the prevailing thoughts of their party. I can think of at least four fairly prominent examples of this offhand: campaign finance reform, torture (us torturing the terrorists, that is), the judicial nomination filibuster deal, and immigration.

Reihan and Ross are correct to suppose that all of these things are related to each other, but I disagree with them to extent that it has anything to do with reform. They are just opinions which are largely shared by the members of the media, so they presented to the public in the most favorable light possible. But even after that, the public is still indifferent, or in the case of immigration reform, hostile.

They are closer when they claim that these "reforms" are intended to appeal to the upper-middle class. To borrow some medieval terms, it is true that these issues are intended to appeal to the squires and gentry against the base impulses of the serfs. But even that is more hope than reality: how many real estate developers, tax attorneys, or investment bankers really care about the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or the senatorial privilege to filibuster a judge? And in the case of campaign finance reform this theory is even less persuasive, because these are exactly the sorts of people whose influence was supposed to be taken down a notch or two by curtailing their ability to control the money flow into the political arena.

No, the primary driving force behind upper-middle reformism is the psychological profile of the Senators themselves. In particular, these Senators reject the idea of accountability to their constituents, and more importantly, to the Republican base. This is clearest in the case of McCain, but the motivation is substantially the same in several others as well (though probably not quite as strong), so let's recap.

Senator McCain is held prisoner by the North Vietnamese for several years, then returns to the US and gets elected Senator. He meets people like a nurse from Flagstaff, and he is a little surprised to learn that she has a list of positions he is expected to hold and is perfectly capable of granting or witholding her support depending on them. Then he gets in trouble for his association with the Keating Five (though he was regarded as the least culpable of the bunch), because he needed money to air television commercials, essentially for the sake of appeasing the likes of this nurse.

Enough is enough, he thinks, who is she to tell me what to do? This is especially topical in the case of McCain, because he regards (probably with some justification) that it is his sense of honor and ability to do the right thing even when it hurts is what allowed him to survive the Hanoi Hilton.

In the end it is a mistake, of course, to suppose that accountability to the body politic is a corruption instead of a duty. Mark Steyn once wrote of the McCain campaign that he hadn't seen more contempt for the common man since Pierre Trudeau. Well, that's why.