Towards A Good Samaritan World

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Ryan Sager and Peggy Noonan articulate the rising conservative anger with Bush. Then there's Mark Steyn, who hits the mark best as usual: Bush is "Tony Blair with a ranch." By the way, Hugh Hewitt once scoffed at CBS because most of their staff didn't know of Mark Steyn; Hewitt said that that's like a physicist not having heard of Einstein. It's no exaggeration. Steyn is beyond astute; genius is the only word that does him justice. That he is hilarious is almost misleading; it makes you think he's a joker, but the humor is the cloak of a dazzling intellect. His campy, corny phrases are secretly packed with insight.

Tony Blair with a ranch.

Tony Blair drove Laborites crazy. Most of the British disapproved of him, but he still won a third term. That's the position Bush is putting himself in, even if it's not clear what he could gain by it now: he's driving his own party crazy, and the other party hates him too. But the Democrats, like the Tories, are trapped into hating Bush only for partisan reasons, because his policies-- failing to reform Social Security, spending a lot on hurricane relief and this, that and the other, nation-building in Iraq, appointing seemingly moderate judges-- are more or less the same as those that any electable Democratic administration would pursue. Meanwhile, he's alienated most of his base, as Blair alienated Labor, and yet however much they wanted to sack him, they couldn't, because they'd hurt themselves in the process.

To me, this is the story of Bush's low approval rating right now. A lot of people on the left hate Bush, and now a lot of people on the right disapprove of him. That leaves less than 40% who approve of him-- about the proportion of Brits who voted Labor last time. But you couldn't form a majority anti-Bush coalition, because the left-wingers and the right-wingers are angry at Bush for opposite reasons.

But then, Blair's politics were an ingenious method of being a conviction politician on a few issues of key importance-- a centrist otherwise-- amidst the peculiarities of British politics. It's less clear what Bush has to gain by being despised for ideological betrayal, yet at the same time needed, by his base, while being hated by the other side which, however, can only oppose him by backing into suicidal corners. If Republicans had the option of sacking Bush, they wouldn't do it, because they would know they would alienate just enough centrist and/or Bushies to lose power as a result. But they can't sack him anyway, given our constitution. And he can't be re-elected. So it's harder to explain what motivates Bush not to nominate Edith Jones or Michael McConnell to the Supreme Court. If he wants to expand the Republican coalition by holding the center ground, it can no longer be for his benefit; he must have some love of Republican power that goes beyond its usefulness as a vehicle either for himself or for certain ideas of government-- which is interesting.

Or is Bush a conviction politician, like Blair, compromising on everything except a few issues, angering his base in order to thwart resistance to his conviction issues-- like Iraq and immigration?

Well, I don't know, and it might be a waste of time to speculate, but one good thing does occur to me in all this: GRIDLOCK.

Let me explain. Libertarians and conservatives who supported Kerry last year wanted gridlock. They hoped that a Democrat president and a Republican Congress would be so busy battling each other that they wouldn't have time to spend much money. I thought the analysis was fatally flawed. I figured that Congress was selling out small-government principles less efficiently because there was no obvious person to sell out to; put Kerry in power, and he'd bribe Republicans to support them with pork and bring back disastrous Great Society-style big government. If Bush were elected, on the other hand, I was hoping the victory would spark an intra-Republican civil war over the meaning of conservatism.

Gridlock is good, I agree. A certain kind of gridlock, anyway, where the political class is so busy brawling they don't have time to do much damage by legislating and spending and regulating and all that. I thought, counter-intuitively perhaps, that we had better chances of getting the good kind of gridlock with a Republican Congress facing off against a Republican president.

At the moment, I'm anticipating vindication. Hurricane Katrina and Harriet Miers have shattered the Republican coalition. The political scene is all about scandal and rage rather than heroism or populism. The conservative Right, after a turbulent and frustrating period of support for Bush, is shifting into backlash mode again, like in the 1990s. Meanwhile, the economy is growing strongly. The only disadvantage vis-a-vis the 1990s is that gas and commodity prices are high so there's a threat of inflation-- and of course the deficit... but high commodity prices are the result of everyone else growing. In the late 1990s the rest of the world was racked by financial crises, so they couldn't afford to buy commidites are gas, which made things easier on us in some ways, but any humane person should agree that it's better to have strong world economic growth, as now, rather than pay less for our gas. Anyway, we've got nasty backlash politics blasting from the right, a second-term president weakened by scandal, and a growing economy. Back-to-the-future isn't quite here yet, but it's on its way.


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