Monday, November 24, 2008

Politico Might Have Jumped the Shark seemed like an interesting concept when it launched in January 2007 - it was an attempt to break the stranglehold on the news from established newspapers and news channels. In recent months, however, I've become less impressed. On the surface, they spent much of the last three months finding every possible negative in everything Sarah Palin did during the campaign - a feature they've continued even after the election. They've also had a new story up just about every day since the election reporting the same story of how the Republican Party is "in turmoil" or "searching for itself," or something along those lines. Then they admitted that their reporting was biased, but explained it away as the result of Obama having such a great campaign.

Of course, this doesn't make them much different from the rest of the press, much of which has admitted that their reporting was tremendously biased towards Obama. On a more substantive level, Politico simply doesn't seem to offer anything to make it more than a gossip tabloid. They take to a whole new level this silly habit of calling political happenings a "conversation." Their blogs say they're "advancing the conversation or Joe the Plumber was "driving the conversation" the day after the third debate. Despite these claims, however, you'll be hard pressed to find any treatment of the issues on the website. No analysis of Obama's tax proposals, comparison of the health care plans of the two candidates or in depth look at the proposals for winning in Afghanistan. It was all focused on the process - where candidates bought ads, fundraising totals, latest polls, etc. This is all well and good for an election, but what do you do after?

Well, Politico has launched Politico44 as an answer to that question. Right now its mostly gossip about Cabinet selections and where the Obama girls will go to school, which is fine for the two months or so of the transition. But not all of a president's four year term is as newsmaking as the election and transition. If they have to keep reinventing what they offer, they might find they get fewer and fewer readers, especially if each new idea is as ridiculous as their previous new idea. Take for example their latest new idea: a calendar of Obama's whereabouts during the transition. The only problem, however, is that each day consists of Obama going to the gym, going home, going to his office, and going home. Every day. Occasionally he'll go to a restaurant, but not often. When there is any additional information, it includes the exact number of minutes he spent at the gym and details on how his motorcade took a wrong turn through Hyde Park. You can scroll through three weeks of this.

I can't decide yet if this consists of Politico jumping the shark. For their entire existence, there's been an election to cover. If this is how they adjust to new demands, I'm sure their future offerings will be as ridiculously entertaining as this.

Captain Obvious Award

As far back as this summer, when gas prices were at record highs, has been doing these front page stories about how awful high gas prices are. Before the economic crisis really hit in mid-September with the fall of Lehman, every day there'd be a story about record high gas prices and some story about someone who couldn't go as far away for Fourth of July vacation. These stories were relentless, hitting what seemed like every day. At the time, this was supposed to be the proxy story for how awful the economy was.

In the months since Lehman fell, and the Dow crashed along with it, they've been able to put stories on the front page about each successive drop, along with pictures of brokers with their hands on their faces that looked like that had been taken in 1994. At the same time, however, gas prices dropped sharply as well. Oil is currently under $50/barrel and average gas prices are currently under $2.00.

Well, the good news is, they've since found a story on gas prices worth accompanying the stories of the falling market on the front page. With a headline in large font that says "End of Gas Price Crash is 'Either Here or Near,'" they have a story that quotes Trilby Lundberg, the editor of a survey of gas prices nationwide.
Lundberg attributed the price reductions to a drop in crude oil prices and demand, and also because of low refining margins.

"Crude oil remains [the] main driver," for the decline, she said, noting that crude oil futures settled on Friday below $50.

Demand is always low in November, she said, but the weakening economy is reducing it further.

However, Lundberg said that if crude oil prices do not fall further, "then the end of this [gasoline] price crash is either here or near."
You got that? No one actually knows that the end of low gas prices is "either here or near." Trilby is just stating the obvious that gas prices depend in large part on the price of crude. Neither Trilby nor CNN know what's going to happen to the price of crude which, of course, closed at a three year low on Friday, after closing at the previous three year low on Thursday. Furthermore, the declining price of oil is largely due to the weakening economy. In fact the only thing likely to increase prices by any significant amount in the immediate term is a cut in output by OPEC.

This is what passes for reporting these days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fissures in the Party

A number of mainstream media organizations have spent the last 2 weeks since the election beating the drum about how this is the end of the Republican Party. As you can see, Politico has led the way with this theme (as it did throughout the campaign), but today the New York Times has a story about the alleged end of intellectualism at the National Review. The reasoning behind this claim: Christopher Buckley, Kathleen Parker and David Frum. Which brings us to the second theme of the media these past weeks: the conservative movement has come to an end because a lot of conservatives liked Sarah Palin.

Parker and Buckley are allowed to support whatever political candidate they want (Frum continued to support McCain, and even laid out a cogent argument for supporting McCain). The circumstances surrounding Buckley's departure from National Review strike me as slightly embellished on his part. As for Parker, she wrote a column after the Couric interview suggesting Palin was not prepared for the job. I disagreed with her, but fine - that's her prerogative. She got a fair amount of vicious email for the column. I'm sorry that happened to her, but that's life. Just because someone is a conservative doesn't mean they are nice or a good person. Unfortunately, she felt the need to be just as childish by writing in a subsequent column that McCain picked Palin because, well:
But there can be no denying that McCain's selection of her over others far more qualified — and his mind-boggling lack of attention to details that matter — suggests other factors at work. His judgment may have been clouded by ... what?
What indeed. If I can say so, the departure of Buckley does not mark the end of intellectualism at National Review (he only wrote the column for a matter of months), and, should National Review stop running Parker's column, it certainly would not mark the end of intellectualism at the magazine. The departure of David Frum is a bit more disappointing. I often disagreed with him, but enjoyed his writing. I can't seem to figure out his reasoning, though.
Mr. Frum said deciding to leave was amicable, but distancing himself from the magazine founded by his idol, Mr. Buckley, was not a hard decision. He said the controversy over Governor Palin’s nomination for vice president was “symbolic of a lot of differences” between his views and those of National Review’s.
To be honest, the Palin pick was one of the first times I've seen Frum in broad disagreement with the rest of the folks at National Review's blogs. Given Frum's post-election analysis that the Republicans need to drop social conservatives, perhaps this is what he has in mind. It's true, of the major conservative magazines (NR, Weekly Standard, Commentary, American Spectator), National Review is probably the most socially conservative (and I'm referring to the part of NR I am most familiar with: their blogs). Most of the comments on social conservatism, however, are usually posted by a handful of individuals (Kathryn Jean Lopez, Ramesh Ponnuru), and are often countered by (I believe) atheists such as John Derbyshire and Heather Mac Donald. In fact, National Review's blogs are the most active, and contain more robust debate among varying conservative viewpoints, than any of the other conservative magazine blogs.

The Times article claims that the National Review has become the mouthpiece for the Bush administration, and has "run out of ideas." This claim is patently absurd. National Review has broken with the Bush administration on any number of topics, the most notable one being immigration reform. In fact, this is where I differ from the magazine, as I think, during the immigration debate last summer, the content on National Review's blogs was particularly unhelpful. I think they made a mistake giving the platform on immigration to commentators like Mark Krikorian, Mac Donald, Derbyshire and others, who are not just against illegal immigration, but against most kinds of legal immigration as well, a position that I suspect will not find much support on the right, let alone in the rest of the country.

Throughout this debate, Frum was in complete agreement with his colleagues at the magazine. I thought his contributions to this debate were some of his less impressive posts, for example, arguing that open borders was actually protectionism. At one point he defied all logic and tried to blame the coming loss of the Hispanic vote on those pushing for immigration reform:
The deal will worsen Republican prospects among Hispanic voters. Over the years, the Republicans have done not too badly with Hispanics, typically winning about 35%-40% of the Hispanic vote as compared to under 10% of the black vote.

Republicans have done so well because until now, the highly diverse Hispanic population has not voted as an ethnic bloc. Now we ourselves are forcing that to change. It's as if this Republican president and these Republican senators have said, "Hmm. Can we invent an issue that will teach Cuban-American doctors, Honduran day laborers, and Mexican-American army officers to think of themselves as a unified ethnic group? Can we then provoke a fight that all of them (whatever their diverging practical interests) will treat as a symbol of acceptance in American society? And can we then stage-manage this fight to ensure that two-thirds of our party will have no choice but to fall on the wrong side of it?"

I find it hard to buy the argument that the "shamnesty" crowd forced stalwart opponents of immigration reform to scream "amnesty" every time the issue came up, come out against all forms of immigration (legal and illegal), and alienate Hispanic voters. To argue such would suggest the opponents of immigration reform had no self-control.

The other recent point of disagreement between Frum and his colleagues came regarding a column written by Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post, in which, despite professing long-held admiration for John McCain, she endorsed...anyone but McCain. The reason, of course, being Palin. Certainly, this was somewhat better than those on the right who said they'd vote for Obama in the hopes that he'd run away from his far left record, despite any evidence at the time to give reason for hoping such. Nevertheless, Applebaum's column consisted of a less than cogent argument. Two individuals at National Review responded as such. On the media blog, Kevin Williamson:
There are all sorts of good reasons to not vote for McCain — e.g., if you prefer Obama's policies — but this bit from Applebaum is shabby nonsense. And I find it difficult to believe for a moment that this was some sort of wrenching, soul-searching exercise for the one DC-born/Sidwell Friends-and-Yale-alumnus/Europe-dwelling member of the Washington Post editorial board who was seriously thinking about going Republican this year. Spare us the opera; you're an Obama voter. Big deal.
Williamson later apologized for his tone, while sticking to his claim that Applebaum's argument was silly. The other criticism came from Ponnuru:
Max Boot writes, “There have been a number of absurd reasons given recently by self-described conservatives who are endorsing the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate in his bid for the presidency, but none are quite as unconvincing as Anne Applebaum’s.” Her effort did seem oddly perfunctory—Mickey Kaus makes sound criticisms of it—but I think Boot is overstating the case. I can think of a few Obamacons who edge out Applebaum in the most-unconvincing category. My sense is that Francis Fukuyama has been the most honorable and serious of the Obamacons (although it would probably be more precise to call him an Obama-neocon).
Ponnuru was probably a little harsh with the "honorable" charge, but again, he's right, it was a silly argument from Applebaum. In any case, Frum, a friend of Applebaum's, took exception to this talk, and got upset that Ponnuru and Williamson failed to mention Applebaum's Pulitzer Prize winning book, Gulag. To some degree, I get his point, he's as annoyed as I am with conservatives who react quite so harshly to other conservatives with whom they disagree, even if their argument for supporting Obama is full of logical holes. Nevertheless, this seems like a silly incident to get worked up over, especially coming five days before the election.

But look, just as Frum is wrong to advocate dropping social conservatives, or to get worked up over disagreements on Palin, Applebaum, or whatever the issue may be, so are other conservatives wrong to run around afixing the "RINO" label to anyone who doesn't have all the boxes ticked on the "True Conservative Checklist." I think Frum is wrong about the way forward for the party, in part because of his antipathy towards social conservatives, even if they had nothing to do with losing this year's election, but also because of his mixed-up views on the role immigration played in losing the Hispanic vote. A post-mortem he recently posted from a Democratic friend mentions the significant drop in the Republican share of the Hispanic vote, even with "Amnesty John" (as he was once called on a NR cover) at the top of the ticket. I'm glad he recognizes this as a major problem for the Republican future, but I'm not sure his positions on immigration reform, as well as what seems to be support for for severely constricting legal immigration is the solution we need.

That said, I think our party is stronger for having Frum and Buckley as members (assuming Buckley still considers himself as such). Frum's book on the War on Terror, for example, was excellent. I hear his previous books on the conservative movement are just as good, though I have not read them. At the same time, I'm not going to leave the Party or stop reading NR or other magazines simply because I disagree with them on some issues, such as immigration. If the departure of Frum and Buckley really comes down to the Palin pick, or the presence of social conservatives, or the Applebaum tiff, or whatever the area of disagreement, then they hold as much responsibility for fissures in the conservative movement as the people following Ted Nugent around on "RINO hunts."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cats and Dogs Living Together

We're a week past the election, and some corners of the Republican Party are already set to write prescriptions for improving its electoral fortunes. David Frum writes:
College-educated Americans have come to believe that their money is safe with Democrats – but that their values are under threat from Republicans. And there are more and more of these college-educated Americans all the time.

So the question for the GOP is: Will it pursue them? To do so will involve painful change, on issues ranging from the environment to abortion. And it will involve potentially even more painful changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarizing on social issues. That’s a future that leaves little room for Sarah Palin – but the only hope for a Republican recovery.
Likewise, Max Boot writes:
One area where I do see some room for adjustment is on the issue of abortion. I am by no means suggesting that Republicans jettison their anti-abortion ideology, which would alienate the party’s base even if it might make the GOP more attractive on the coasts. What I am suggesting is that Republicans should not fear to nominate an otherwise attractive candidate who happens to be pro-choice. The insistence on abortion purity has cost the GOP during the past year. It was a major contributing factor to Rudy Giuliani’s crash and burn, since he has always been a pro-choicer, and a major factor, indirectly, in Mitt Romney’s downfall too, since he had to flip to the “pro-life” side before seeking the nomination, thus making him appear insincere. This issue also made it impossible for John McCain to pick either Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge as his vice presidential candidate–both men who were better qualified for the job than Sarah Palin and likely would have proven to be bigger draws for the independent voters McCain needed to win.
I should pause here to mention that both Frum and Boot are very smart guys - and the Republican Party is lucky to have them. The first thing the Republicans should do is throw out the use of the term "RINO" (Republican In Name Only). There is no checklist that has to be completed before someone can be approved as a conservative or Republican. Republicans from New York City aren't always going to agree with Republicans from Nebraska. Instead of fighting to see who can cast the other side out of the party first, we should be looking towards ways to coexist together under the same label of Republican.

That said, I also think they are both wrong on this. Frum argues that we're losing the youth vote because of social issues. A 2007 New York Times/CBS/MTV poll of youth ages 17-29, 62% believe abortion should either not be permitted, or should be made available under much stricter conditions. This is compared to 58% among all adults. Likewise, 54% of youth are against gay marriage (30% saying no legal recogntiion and 24% saying civil unions, but not legal marriage). This is by no means a harbinger of a new generation of fundamentalist Christians, but it does suggest that Republicans are losing the youth vote on other issues rather than social issues.

As for Boot's comments, it is not a surprise that he would have preferred Giuliani or Lieberman as a president or vice president. They are both very strong on foreign policy, Iraq, Afghanistan and other aspects of the war on terrorism - Boot's area of expertise and passion. It is hard to argue, however, that absence from the ticket was the fault of social conservatives. Giuliani lost in the primaries because he ran a terrible campaign - to the point where no one (right, left or center) was able to figure out why he adopted the strategy he did of putting so few resources into Iowa and, particularly, New Hampshire, and instead gambling everything on Florida. By the time the Florida primary came around, Giuliani was entirely out of the news.

As for Lieberman, I suspect a lot of Republicans, social conservatives included, would have been happy to see him as Secretary of Defense in a McCain administration. Likewise, they will likely hope Connecticut will continue sending him back to the Senate instead of a Ned Lamont-type, and should also welcome him with open arms to the Republican caucus if the Democrats punish him for not falling in line in support of The One. All of that, however, does not mean that he should be our vice presidential nominee, a "heartbeat away" (as they like to say) from being president and (ostensibly) leader of a party with which he agrees on very little else besides foreign policy.

Besides, a McCain-Lieberman ticket would have had an average age of 69, and would have attracted Max Boot, myself and probably 10 other people to each of their rallies. Finally, it remains unclear that independents would have voted for McCain-Lieberman while the other ticket continued to promise them unicorns and rainbows. It's false assumption that independent voters aren't necessarily any smarter, savvier or more analytical than partisan voters. When a candidate promises them the world, they are just as likely as any other voter to get suckered into voting for that candidate.

James Antle has a good piece at The American Spectator on what seems to be a somewhat recurring tradition in the Republican Party: blaming any and all electoral misfortune on social conservatives.
This illustrates the folly of divining lasting political trends on the basis of a single election result, as well as the perils of declaring the death -- or dominance -- of social conservatism. Looking back at the postmortems of the 1992 election, it is easy to find political writers arguing that it was time to abort the pro-life movement and look toward socially liberal Northeastern governors like Christine Todd Whitman and Bill Weld (remember him?) for the Republican future. Coming just before the GOP congressional takeover of 1994, such analysis -- written not just by smart liberals like the New Republic's John Judis but also center-right commentators like Charles Krauthammer -- seems as overwrought as the social-conservative triumphalism just two years before the 2006 elections restored the Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill.

In truth, there is very little evidence that the country has moved left on social issues since 2004, when values voters were said to decide the presidential election. Polls have been shifting somewhat more pro-life since the mid-1990s. Even leftward movement on same-sex marriage, which has gone from being unthinkable in the early '90s to a live issue today, seems to have stalled around late 2003. Republicans emphasized their social conservatism much more in 2004, when they won, than during their losing campaigns of 2006 and 2008.

Antle raises a good point at the end there. At what point in the election this year did social conservatism play anywhere near as much of a role as the 2004 election? Sarah Palin was just a sop to the right wing crazies, right, we know. As I mentioned earlier, even Palin rarely brought up the social issues during the campaign - it was the left and the media that depicted her as an abortion-banning, book-burning, contraception-outlawing, anti-gay fire breathing radical. Thanks to a general lack of pushback from the campaign over the first weekend after the announcement of her as the nominee, this caricature stuck. What is particularly noteworthy is that abortion played such a small role in the campaign despite the Democratic nominee being one of the most pro-abortion nominees ever on a major ticket.

That's not just a clever use of words. Obama isn't just pro-choice - when you want to cut funding to teen crisis pregnancy centers but use taxpayer money to fund abortions abroad, abortions at home, remove the restrictions of partial birth abortion and born alive infant protection, you are pro-abortion. Yet it never came up as an issue outside a couple 527 ads with sporadic coverage across the country. The closest Palin came throughout the rest of the campaign to any kind of social conservatism was one speech on abortion and the small-town boosterism. Small town populism is not the same thing as social conservative red-meat issues - take a look at the soaring attendance at megachurches in cities and suburbs. I live in a major metropolitan area that also happens to be one of the most conservative Catholic dioceses in the country, and there are about eight Catholic churches within five miles of me.

There is nothing, therefore, to show that social conservatism cost the Republicans this election. The fact that moral values was low on the list of the most important issue driving voters is also not a sign that the American people don't care about that issue anymore, or that it didn't still play a role in how they voted. With the economy tanking, the bottom falling out in the market, 401(k)s disappearing, home foreclosures skyrocketing, unemployment rising and prices increasing, very few people are going to tell an exit pollster that anything weighed on their minds more than the economy, be it Iraq, terrorism or moral values. That does not mean, however, that people consider moral values to be unimportant. For evidence of this, look at the gay marriage bans in Florida and Arizona, which passed by 12% in Arizona, 24% in Florida and even 3% in California. The measure passed in Arizona after a similar one failed there in 2006. It's difficult to contend that the people of Arizona are becoming less socially conservative.

The problem with the Republican Party and its various factions is not that foreign policy conservatives, social conservatives and fiscal conservatives can't co-exist. (If that were the case, I'd be in the middle of a very existential crisis right now, because I consider myself all three.) There is the impression among some, particularly fiscal conservatives that social conservatives are big spending, moral crusading nanny-staters, particularly on social programs and "wars on..." such as poverty, obesity, etc. To be fair, significant parts of "compassionate conservatism" gave them reason to think that, and some social conservatives like Mike Huckabee, though he has plenty of good attributes, also embodies some of this approach. In actuality, much of the social conservative wing doesn't think like this at all. Sure, they feel compelled by their faith to help the less fortunate, but not necessarily through the state. Huckabee did fairly well in the primaries, but that had as much to do with the lack of any other consistently pro-life candidate than it did agreement among social conservatives with the nanny-state aspects of Huckabees platform.

There is plenty of evidence disproving a general preference for big government among social conservatives. For those fiscal conservatives who like to talk about things like incentives, I would recommend one study, in which Daniel Chen, a law student at Harvard and formerly a fellow at the University of Chicago, finds that social conservatives are more likely to oppose a big spending welfare state. There is one twist: this is particularly the case in countries with strong separation of church and state, such as the United States.

Fiscal and social conservatives...tend to come hand in hand. Religious groups with greater within-group charitabe giving are more against the welfare state

[...]If church-state separation does not exist or the government were to become fundamentalist, the alliance would revere: social conservatives would become fiscal liberals

[...]As credit markets develop, elites gain access to alternative forms of social insurance and prefer less religious and government insurance. They legislate or judiciate increasing church-state separation in order to create a constituency for lower taxes, if religious voters exceed non-religious voters

In other words, in a country with church-state separation, churches have to look to their congregations for support. As such, a small state means marginal individuals look to the church for support. This provides the incentive for churches to support a small government. If you were to remove the church-state barrier, there would be less of an incentive for a church to oppose small government as the funding came pouring in from the state. Chen argues that this explains much of church history - as church-state separation became popular, emphasis on the social gospel (funded by the state, of course) went the way of the dinosaurs.

Now, the arguments that economics explains all human behavior always strike me as a bit cold and impersonal. Of course, church pastors are not all this cold and calculating. I suspect the social conservatives, more interested in human stories than talk of incentives, have nevertheless noticed that some of the most robust and effective charities are run by religious organizations, both at the individual parish level and on a national and international level. When the government tries to do the same things, their organizations eventually turn into bloated bureaucracies with multiple people performing the same job, large amounts of overhead, and billions of dollars go to waste.

It is true government has the resources and logistics required to deliver aid around the country and around the world, but local and nationalprivate charities (including religious ones) are often more streamlined, quicker to act and more efficient than local, state or federal government. Continued cooperation between government and private charity, particularly local organizations, would likely yield the more efficient outcomeon the ground. To the extent that government involves itself in social programs, disaster relief an d other activities, the federal government should devolve as much control over resources and decision-making authority to the state and local governments.

From a purely anecdotal standpoint, it's worth noting that the most socially conservative members of Congress are also the most fiscally conservative, according to the Club for Growth rankings. Below are the top 10 most fiscally conservative senators from the 2007 rankings, with their rankings from National Right to Life to the right of the Club for Growth rankings.

SC R DeMint, James 100% 100%
OK R Coburn, Tom 97% 100%
NC R Burr, Richard 97% 85%
AZ R Kyl, Jon 92% 100%
OK R Inhofe, James 91% 100%
NV R Ensign, John 90% 100%
TX R Cornyn, John 88% 100%
CO R Allard, Wayne 88% 100%
WY R Enzi, Michael 85% 100%
KY R McConnell, Mitch 84% 100%

It's also worth noting that social and fiscal conservatives have been shouting past each other in recent debates as well. Social conservatives feel like the people for whom they've played a major role in sending them to Washington have let them down. They argue that their national politicians have used them, playing on the abortion and gay marriae debates simply to get their votes. Meanwhile, the fiscal conservatives argue that social conservatives are a major drag on the ticket, beating the drum on abortion and gay marriage when there are far more important issues that the American people care about at stake.

What the social conservatives need to realize is that Bush and Republicans in Congress have actually done a great deal for them, from banning federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, to the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, to the ban on partial birth abortion, to the Bush administration's support for faith based initiatives, to the emphasis on abstinence education in the Africa AIDS initiatives, to Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, just to name a few. Many social conservatives (at least from my very unscientific and anecdotal survey) have also come to realize the futility of hoping for a repeal of Roe v. Wade, particularly in the short term, and are looking for more pragmatic ways of meeting their political goals. Likewise, I think most social conservatives will come to realize just how much progress the Bush administration made in enacting the social conservative agenda, even if in increments, if Obama (as has been reported) plans to repeal the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, repeal the Mexico City law against using taxpayer money to fund abortions abroad and all the other tenets of the Freedom of Choice Act that Obama has said he would sign .

For their part, fiscal conservatives need to realize that social conservatism is not nearly the drag on the ticket as they like to think. As I mentioned, social issues played a negligible role in this election, and played a major role in electing Bush in 2004. Likewise, they need to realize that America is fundamentally closer to social conservatism than they are to social liberalism. They also need to realize that just because voters do not list moral values as the most important issue driving their vote, does not mean that moral issues do not play a role in their voting behavior. It also suggests that social conservatives are much more pragmatic than they are often given credit for. No matter how strong their positions may be on moral issues, they obviously recognized this year that the economy was the most important issue. That does not mean, however, that voters have to choose between the two - to say otherwise simply presents a false choice. There are a plethora of candidates out there who are both socially and fiscally conservative. Fortunately, they also happen to be more prevalent in the younger generations of leadership: Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawelenty, Paul Ryan, Mark Sanford, Mike Pence, John Shadegg, Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, and so forth.

I should also add, I am not opposed to pro-choice Republicans running in their districts, particularly if that is the only way to get a Republican from that district. When we elect a president, however, we should look more towards the candidates that unite the various factions of conservatism.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Misdiagnosing the Problem

David Brooks has a column in today's New York Times on the split in the conservative movement following last week's election.
In one camp, there are the Traditionalists, the people who believe that conservatives have lost elections because they have strayed from the true creed.

[...] To regain power, the Traditionalists argue, the G.O.P. should return to its core ideas: Cut government, cut taxes, restrict immigration. Rally behind Sarah Palin.

[...] The other camp, the Reformers, argue that the old G.O.P. priorities were fine for the 1970s but need to be modernized for new conditions. The reformers tend to believe that American voters will not support a party whose main idea is slashing government. The Reformers propose new policies to address inequality and middle-class economic anxiety. They tend to take global warming seriously. They tend to be intrigued by the way David Cameron has modernized the British Conservative Party.

Moreover, the Reformers say, conservatives need to pay attention to the way the country has changed. Conservatives have to appeal more to Hispanics, independents and younger voters. They cannot continue to insult the sensibilities of the educated class and the entire East and West Coasts.

The Reformist view is articulated most fully by books, such as “Comeback” by David Frum and “Grand New Party” by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, as well as the various writings of people like Ramesh Ponnuru, Yuval Levin, Jim Manzi, Rod Dreher, Peggy Noonan and, at the moderate edge, me.
Brooks' list of "reformers" isn't really a list of people agreed on anything - including the fundamental direction in which to take the Republican Party. Rod Drehers condemns wars like the one in Iraq and opposes society's consumer mentality. In that sense, he's a bit more paleocon than most. David Frum argues that the party should moderate its social conservatism,
College-educated Americans have come to believe that their money is safe with Democrats – but that their values are under threat from Republicans. And there are more and more of these college-educated Americans all the time.

So the question for the GOP is: Will it pursue them? To do so will involve painful change, on issues ranging from the environment to abortion. And it will involve potentially even more painful changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarizing on social issues.
Dreher, no fundamentalist to be sure, would nevertheless object to such a proposal. In fact, he does.
Let me make a point that's going to be overlooked among secular conservatives of Reformist impulse: no conservative movement that hopes to be successful can do so without religious conservatives. It will be very easy for secular Reform conservatives to sell op-ed pieces to newspapers, in which they argue that the GOP will not be revived until and unless it cuts itself free from the Religious Right. It'll be easy for them to sell that point because it suits the prejudices of the kind of secular liberals who run the media. But it's quite wrong.
Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan's break with the party is as follows, in a column on her opposition to Sarah Palin
For seven weeks I've listened to her, trying to understand if she is Bushian or Reaganite—a spender, to speak briefly, whose political decisions seem untethered to a political philosophy, and whose foreign policy is shaped by a certain emotionalism, or a conservative whose principles are rooted in philosophy, and whose foreign policy leans more toward what might be called romantic realism, and that is speak truth, know America, be America, move diplomatically, respect public opinion, and move within an awareness and appreciation of reality.
In other words, Noonan's prescription? More Reagan. Seems like a traditionalist to me.

In other words, Brooks' column sets up a false dichotomy. His "reformers" do, however, have one thing in common: they all opposed Sarah Palin as the VP nominee. So, either you're with Hannity and Limbaugh (and thereby discredited) or you're with the really smart people in the party - the anti-Palin crowd. If you think the solution should be to make sure government does the things it needs to do more efficiently, you've got blinders on. If you think government needs to start doing a lot more, even if it remains as inefficient as it is today, you're enlightened and a "reformer." If you happen to think smaller, more efficient government is the way to go, you also hate Hispanics. If you think bigger, less efficient government is the future, you're also enlightened enough to know that the Hispanic vote is important for the future of the Party. Here's what Yuval Levin, one of Brooks' "reformers" has to say:
[T]he David Brooks column...gets the basic picture wrong. I don’t think the notion of reform conservatism should be contrasted with or opposed to the views of the people Brooks calls the “traditionalists.”

As I see it, the basic idea is to apply conservative principles and ingenuity to a broader range of problems than we have been used to thinking about—to think in concrete policy terms about the worries of American families, and offer concrete conservative proposals for reforming our governing institutions. These need to be extensions of conservative successes in the past, like tax and welfare reform: applications of our basic view of the world to the problems of the day.

This kind of reformism is the conservative tradition, not a substitute for it. And its aim is not to move conservatives to the center, but to move the country to the right. It is not, to my mind at least, opposed to what Brooks’s “traditionalists” are trying to do, let alone is it trying to exclude social conservatives—as you might imagine, that’s not something Ramesh, or Ross Douthat, or I would want to see.
In other words, if Brooks can't accurately assess the problem, whatever his solution is is bound to fail.

Monday, November 10, 2008


On Obama:
Barack Obama figured out early on that he had better limit his media consumption before it consumed him.

After three months of campaigning, he stopped reading blogs. After six months, he stopped watching cable news shows. After nine months, he stopped reading the clips, relying instead on his staff to flag important stories.
On Bush:
He walks into the Oval Office in the morning, Bush said, and asks Card: "what's in the newspapers worth worrying about? I glance at the headlines just to kind of (get) a flavor of what's moving," Bush said. "I rarely read the stories," he said.

[...] Instead, Bush is spoon-fed the relevant news from his staff. Top aides usually know the buttons not to push when it comes to bad news. More often they will tell the president what he wants to hear -- the good news if there is any. Or they may just sugar coat the news that is tougher to swallow.
The reaction to the revelation that one of these men doesn't read the news, but instead relies on aides, was outrage. The reaction to the other man was runderstanding and empathy. I'll let you figure out which was which.

About That Civilian National Security Force

There has been a lot of buzz lately on Obama's plan to create a Civilian National Security Force:
We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.
Now, this comment has evoked images in some corners of brownshirts, Gestapo and the SS. I think its something much more mundane than that. There is a debate in the field of counterinsurgency on the role of the military and the role of civilian agencies like State Department and USAID. Most counterinsurgency professionals agree, and Secretary Gates has echoed these thoughts, that civilian capabilities are not where they should be, leaving the military overworked as they try to create security, as well as the state-building activities normally undertaken by civilian agencies. Secretary Gates has called for increased funding for our civilian agencies, and has even mentioned that if he legally could (in other words, he doesn't want to, he's just making a point), he would give the State Department some DoD money.

The military's role in counterinsurgency is to create security so that civilian agencies can go to work rebuilding a country and consolidating gains made. Recently, State created a new division - the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, also known as S/CRS - to coordinate civilian response in counterinsurgency, stability operations and other state-building activities. It is woefully underfunded and undermanned. I suspect this is what Obama was speaking to - however clumsily. If this is what he meant, I can guarantee you it will get strong support from the Pentagon, as it would take much of the excess burden off the military to let it get back to doing what it does best - killing terrorists.

As for that mandatory national community service that the Obama had up - and then subsequently altered - on its transition page, that's concerning. I suspect these are two separate initiatives though.

UPDATE: No sooner do I write this that someone goes and gives a perfect example of the criticism.  Of course, it would be helpful if Obama clarified what this it would be helpful if he clarified his position on, um, everything.