JL Wall (possible rap pseudonym alert!) flags this highly-entertaining New Yorker profile of Bob Barr. I can’t say I’ve followed Barr’s campaign with anything approaching real interest or enthusiasm, but I will say this: I’ve never understood the argument that his candidacy is the work of a cynical opportunist. Toiling away on the campaign trail doesn’t seem like particularly rewarding work, and it must be incredibly frustrating for a candidate to get stuck at the margins of mainstream acceptability. Barr’s run has been something of a comedy of errors, but I don’t doubt the man’s sincerity.
Monthly Archives: October 2008
I’m sure the McCain camp will interpret this as further vindication of their “occupation ’til Doomsday” strategy, but declining US casualties in Iraq is heartening news nonetheless.
I share this author’s scorn for the Ken Adelmans of the world, but isn’t blaming the Iraq War on a few rogue intellectuals a bit much? I mean, the Republican base – the same people who supposedly embody all that is good and right about America – were pretty enthusiastic about invading Iraq in 2003. Come to think of it, they’re still pretty jazzed.
If anyone could convince me to pull the trigger for a Republican presidential candidate, it would have to be Reihan Salam. It’s odd, then, that his case for John McCain is one of the least persuasive things I’ve read in recent weeks. The substantive points he recites in favor of McCain are remarkably thin – aside from asserting his competence to solve the financial crisis, climate change, and terrorism, Salam barely mentions his actual policy proposals – but I found his political rationale even less compelling. Here’s Salam:
The past seven years have been a time of extraordinary tumult in international affairs, and the world badly needs a period of consolidation and sweeping reform. Our diplomatic and economic institutions are ill suited to tackling the diffuse threats posed by climate change, financial contagion, mass epidemics and catastrophic terrorism. Only Nixon could go to China, and only McCain can reconcile conservatives to some of the hard steps the US will have to take.
When John McCain first ran for president in 2000, he promised to remake the Republican party in his own idiosyncratic image. Just as Ronald Reagan expanded the party to embrace southern evangelicals and western libertarians, McCain appealed to suburban independents who rejected ideological cliches in favour of pragmatic problem-solving. Republican governors and mayors had worked for years with Clinton’s White House to reform and revamp failing public institutions.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume – like Salam – that conservatism must reorient itself towards the center. From the way he’s run his campaign, McCain has proven to be a remarkably inept messenger for any sort of reformist program. For all his tactical brilliance, McCain’s political strategy has been almost entirely substance-free. He can barely articulate a coherent domestic vision without stumbling over the teleprompter. His latest approach pillories “socialism” and “redistribution,” which isn’t very suggestive of a willingness to embrace the welfare state.
Now I’m sure that hardened McCainiacs will reply that this isn’t the “real” McCain, but even if you think the man’s candidacy is an elaborate political ruse, his electoral coalition imposes certain constraints on any future policy-making. After getting elected on the strength of not being a socialist, anti-semitic, afro-centric elitist, I doubt McCain will have enough political credibility to remake conservatism from the ground up.
Of course, if you don’t share Salam’s premises and think that McCain’s approach to terrorism and the financial crisis are absolutely disastrous, there’s even less reason to vote for the guy. But voters who remain enamored with McCain’s persona circa 2000 should also give the man a second look.
UPDATE: Daniel Larison does a fine job of rendering my entire post obsolete. Go read him instead.
I enjoyed Peter Suderman’s review of his latest Apatow-infused effort. But I can’t enjoy Kevin Smith. A friend’s comment ruined it for me a few years back: “When you’re listening to Kevin Smith’s dialog, think of a fat guy hunched over a keyboard, desperately trying to think of some clever bit of wordplay. He just tries way too hard.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Guns ‘n’ Roses’ bloated rendition of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”:
The track record of parties finding their ideological compass in the wilderness is undoubtedly mixed, but this argument is just stupid (emphasis mine):
It’s amazing that some smart conservatives still cling to the “winning-by-losing” strategy, refusing to surrender the lunatic idea that you can build a party’s strength by reducing its numbers. No movement in U.S. political history has ever benefited from a purification process; purges always weaken or destroy a party’s vitality and viability, as even 1930’s Communists could attest. Nothing is more obvious in the American political process than the proposition that you win elections by attracting wafflers, moderates, dissenters, and independent spirits to your side; you lose elections by driving away such uncertain souls.
Moreover, history shows conclusively that a bitter defeat never pushes a conservative party farther right, or pushes a liberal party further left. Instead, political organizations that experience harsh rejection from the electorate move instinctively, inevitably toward the center in quest of precisely those middle-of-the-road voters who abandoned them in the previous contest. After outspoken conservative Barry Goldwater led the GOP to an overwhelming defeat in 1964, the nominees that followed (Nixon twice and then Gerald Ford) clearly represented the more moderate wing of the party. When unapologetic liberal George McGovern brought the Democrats a ruinous 49-state drubbing in 1972, they followed with a long series of relatively centrist, purportedly non-ideological candidates (Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore), reliably shunning the strong leftist contingent within their coalition.
This is simply untrue. The Democratic Party just nominated its most unabashedly progressive presidential candidate in years after a rash of high-profile defeats. Have movement conservatives suddenly forgotten their fear of Obama’s “militant” leftism?
I imagine that most out-of-power parties respond to circumstance rather than any ironclad rule of ideological moderation. In the 1990s, for example, the Democrats nominated a Southern centrist to woo a conservative electorate. The interesting thing about this election is that Republicans lack a clear ideological scapegoat. Moderates and reformists insist that McCain’s substance-free campaign proves the need for better conservative wonkery. The Republican base, on the other hand, remains enamored with that old time conservative religion. The ensuing struggle for the party’s soul will undoubtedly be bloody, but I see no reason why Republicans will inevitably drift towards the center. In fact, the conservative civil war’s opening skirmishes suggest that the base is winning the argument.