Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Like most E.J. Dionne columns, "Conservative Identity Crisis" is half astute analysis, half spin. He points out:

All successful political coalitions have disparate elements. But the lesson of 2006 is that the last five years have aggravated every contradiction on the right to the breaking point: the religious conservatives against the libertarians; the neoconservatives against the foreign policy realists; the pro-immigration conservatives against immigration critics; the forces of big business against working class conservatives; compassionate conservatives against ... hmmm, how do you describe the other side on that one?

This astute point undermines another of Dionne's claims:

At the beginning of the 2006 campaign, the most popular charge in punditry was that Democrats were going to the voters with "no ideas." As the election closes, it's clear that the Republicans won the "no ideas" contest.

That's silly. Republicans don't suffer from no ideas, they suffer from too many ideas. There's some truth in the charge that Republicans no longer have a coherent governing philosophy, though. How do you forge an ideology, a rhetoric that can win the assent of such a diverse coalition?-- that's the challenge.

(My solution: purge the paleocons. Libertarians-- except I suppose those who want to impose gay marriage by anti-democratic Big Government fiat-- and theocons, social conservatives, neocons, and advocates free-market supply-sider economics should be able to fit in a Big Tent.)

The Democrats are, yes, the party of no ideas. Their platform, as Michael Kinsley notes, consists of a lot of handouts via tax credits. On the left, not the Democrats, not even the Kossack netroots but the actual ideological left, there are plenty of ideas, bestowed by generations of intellectuals-- Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, Marx, John Kenneth Galbraith, etc. But while intellectual rightism is a resource, intellectual leftism is a liability. Democrats have put it behind them; what's left is mostly partisan chauvinism, anything-but-ism, and opportunism.

And yet... the Democrats do still have some principles left; they understand that scapegoating illegal immigrants and building border walls is wrong. That alone is enough for me to root for them this time around.


  • Don't conflate ideas and ideology. I understand that you're just adopting poorly defined terms from an external discussion, but I think it cripples the discussion. I think you want to talk about "plans" with connotation of systems of steps and measures taken to achieve a substantial goal. Unified ideologies and philosophies frequently lend themselves to plan development, but it doesn't seem to me that they're necessary. The founding fathers had plenty of different ideologies and philosophies but compromised their way to an excellent plan*. Does either party have a coherent plan? Not that I can tell, but to some extent I fully expect it to be difficult to get such a diverse set of people to agree on a course, party planks notwithstanding. That said, I would expect those in power to wrangle some kind of common project together, since they're the ones who can have a reasonable expectation of comprehensive control. The Democrats can't even expect to get major elements of any prospective plan out onto the floor, so a plan would exist primarily as a punching-bag for their enemies**.

    So, if the Dems take Congress, especially if they achieve decisive majorities, then I expect them to come up with something comprehensive fairly quickly. If they do not, and continue behaving like an opposition party, then they'll get crushed in '08 and deserve it.

    The GOP's current aimlessness, on the other hand, is the result of the large-scale repudiation of its highly decisive party leader. I have no idea where they'll go from here. Hopefully not back to following said leader, because he's a fool, but I don't know where else they can go. Perhaps they'll just start being opposition party to whatever the Dems come up with.

    *One can object that the Constitution is a different sort of plan - that of a blueprint rather than a sequence of actions - and further it embodies a philosophy of its own. I believe the first point is ultimately irrelevant, but the second is more interesting. My asseveration is that its "philosophy" is an abstemious metaphilosophy that merely disqualifies certain kinds of ideological moves rather than advancing any normative agenda.

    **1994's Contract With America is a very notable exception, and shows that one can create plans while out of power that fight back. Critically different is the source of the "60%" issues on which a modern Gingrich would have to insist: they're largely foreign policy based, and are thus the domain in which Congress has the least say. Maybe they can pass non-binding resolutions calling on the President to do this or that, and perhaps they can make it clear to him what they'll fund and what they won't, but the only thing they could force would be withdrawal, and that's not much of a plan.

    By Blogger Nato, at 12:50 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home