Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barry Goldwater

The Conservative Temperament

Is there such a thing as a conservative disposition?

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Is there such a thing as a conservative disposition?

For some on the right the answer is not really. They (rightly) view the purpose of conservatism as a means to limit government in order to further liberty. But they tend to think of conservatism almost strictly in terms of issues: the size of the modern welfare state, taxes, regulations, immigration, welfare, education, and so forth.

For others on the right, conservatism does have a dispositional element. This group includes people who can be fairly characterized, I think, as confrontational and opposed to compromise, rhetorically aggressive, impatient, and often angry (for justifiable reasons, they would insist). These individuals are suspicious of those in their ranks they consider to be unprincipled (“RINOs”). Populist in outlook, they disdain the “establishment” and the “ruling class,” whom they view as cowardly and compromised. Their operating assumption is that we’re witnessing the downfall of America; some even argue we’re moving toward tyranny. This of course shapes their cast of mind and rhetoric. The type of individuals I’m describing, when they listen to Barry Goldwater’s line in his 1964 convention speech “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” are likely to cheer.

There are others of us who believe in a conservative temperament, but it’s very much different than the one I just described. This dispositional bent is beautifully articulated in an essay in National Affairs titled, appropriately, “The Conservative Disposition in Politics.” Written by Philip Wallach and Justus Myers, the essay explores the conservative intellectual tradition, which they identify with figures like Burke, Hume, Madison, Hamilton, Oakeshott, Hayek, de Tocqueville, and Nisbet.

The essay includes important caveats, including this one: Temperamental conservatism is not a good match for every problem, and conserving institutional structures that are incompatible with liberty or justice would be illiberal and unjust. Different moments require different approaches. Still, generally speaking, the key features of conservatism include being consciously anti-ideological and anti-utopian, wary of abstractions and disruptive change, and somewhat humble in its approach given the complexity of human society and the limitations of knowledge.

When possible, conservatism prefers incremental changes to radical ones. It places a premium on experience and prudence. It is adaptive and situational, taking into account the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It accepts that governing can be messy, frustrating, and painfully slow (which is precisely what Madison intended with his system of checks and balances and separation of powers). Conservatism properly understood isn’t in principle opposed to compromise–particularly, it needs to be said, since the Constitution would never have been ratified but for repeated compromises. Compromise was in fact thought to be a positive good within the system of government created by the founders (see here for more). While certainly willing to fight for principles, a true conservative disposition seeks to temper and constructively channel passions rather than inflame them.

This difference in temperament is, I think, the major divide that exists within conservatism today. While there is some variance in terms of policies they are, by historical standards, somewhat narrow. The Republican Party is an almost uniformly conservative party these days. This is not a Rockefeller v. Goldwater moment.

Which disposition is most appropriate for this particular time is for each individual to decide. (Most of us will defend the disposition that comes most naturally to us.) My point, though, is that those who identify with the intellectual tradition described by Wallach and Myers should not cede the mantle of conservatism to those who don’t.

It’s one thing to believe, as I do, that we need substantial reforms of our governing institutions. But conservative reforms can be achieved–in fact, they are more likely to be achieved–by those with moderate temperaments: men and women who can persuade and not simply exhort, who are seen as equable and bold rather than zealous and reckless, and who carefully select the ground on which they’ll fight. (Ronald Reagan succeeded where Goldwater failed in part because his temperament reassured voters whereas Goldwater’s alarmed many of them.)

There is also something “inherently sunny about conservatism,” Wallach and Myers write. It tends to, in the words of Oakeshott, “delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be.” Conservatives correctly judge our situation not against perfection, but against life in this fallen world. And even in this fallen world they’re still able to find joy in the journey.

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Extremism in the Defense of Liberty Is No Virtue

One of the most famous political quotes of the last half-century comes to us courtesy of Barry Goldwater, who in his 1964 GOP acceptance speech said, “Let me remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

This quote has been on my mind of late, having been cited in a recent New York Times book review, in a National Affairs essay by Jonathan Rauch, and by my colleague Yuval Levin during a recent Heritage Foundation panel discussion he and I participated in. Levin said that many times in practical politics extremism in defense of liberty “is a vice. It is a very great vice. It is our vice.” That strikes me as quite right, and it’s important for conservatives to understand why it is right.

Before making my case, it’s important to acknowledge that we can all envision circumstances in which extreme measures can be justified. But they are rare, particularly in a republic like ours, where methods of persuasion are the usual (and much preferred) recourse. Nor would I deny that at certain points in our history extremists (like the abolitionists) made useful contributions to an important cause.

That said, my concern about those who endorse extremism is that it is by its very nature militant, a break with the kind of moderation that is essential for a free society. Extremism, of course, characterized the French Revolution, which (unlike the American Revolution) so unnerved Edmund Burke. It leads to dogmatism and distorted thinking, to viewing politics in apocalyptic terms.

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One of the most famous political quotes of the last half-century comes to us courtesy of Barry Goldwater, who in his 1964 GOP acceptance speech said, “Let me remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

This quote has been on my mind of late, having been cited in a recent New York Times book review, in a National Affairs essay by Jonathan Rauch, and by my colleague Yuval Levin during a recent Heritage Foundation panel discussion he and I participated in. Levin said that many times in practical politics extremism in defense of liberty “is a vice. It is a very great vice. It is our vice.” That strikes me as quite right, and it’s important for conservatives to understand why it is right.

Before making my case, it’s important to acknowledge that we can all envision circumstances in which extreme measures can be justified. But they are rare, particularly in a republic like ours, where methods of persuasion are the usual (and much preferred) recourse. Nor would I deny that at certain points in our history extremists (like the abolitionists) made useful contributions to an important cause.

That said, my concern about those who endorse extremism is that it is by its very nature militant, a break with the kind of moderation that is essential for a free society. Extremism, of course, characterized the French Revolution, which (unlike the American Revolution) so unnerved Edmund Burke. It leads to dogmatism and distorted thinking, to viewing politics in apocalyptic terms.

Those who hold extreme views tend to favor immoderate, uncompromising, and even fanatical methods. It’s no wonder, then, that one of the antonyms of extremism is “conservative.” Extremism, therefore, cannot reliably serve the ends of conservatism–and using extremist measures to advance social stability and ordered liberty borders on being oxymoronic. Self-command, composure, and temperateness in the pursuit of justice can, in fact, be a virtue. And extremism in the defense of liberty can easily backfire.

All of which explains why I am a good deal more sympathetic to what Leo Strauss wrote in his essay Liberal Education and Responsibility (which can be found in this volume): “Moderation will protect us against the twin dangers of visionary expectations from politics and unmanly contempt for politics.”

To be sure, moderation itself is not enough to make politics meaningful. There is an indispensable role for those who are deeply committed to a cause, for passionate activists and polemicists. (For my part, no one could reasonably claim that I have not been critical, and at times harshly critical, of the current occupant of the Oval Office.) But Goldwater’s endorsement of extremism is, I think, a dangerous temptation for precisely the people who are most inclined to be active in politics. I would add that in America, as Goldwater himself found out, there has never been much of an appetite for extremism. Americans seem to have an instinctive aversion to it. Indeed, on the evidence of the American Revolution, they preferred that even their revolutionary leaders be, in the main, prudent, percipient, and judicious. James Madison was hardly anyone’s idea of a fanatic, nor are the Federalist Papers fierce and bellicose in either tone or substance.    

So at a time when more radical impulses seem to be making inroads in our politics, it seems to me to be important to reclaim conservatism, which recoils from extremism of any sort and from any side.

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Did Nancy Reagan Really Say “Ronnie’s Torch Was Passed to Newt”?

Newt Gingrich is striking back at a column by Elliott Abrams today, which revealed the former speaker had repeatedly criticized President Ronald Reagan during the late 1980s. The publicized comments – which headlined the Drudge Report for hours today – were especially embarrassing for Gingrich because he’s been leveraging his allegedly close relationship with Reagan to rally conservative support. (See Pete Wehner’s earlier column here:)

According to Politico, Gingrich pushed back on the column this afternoon, claiming Nancy Reagan said, “Ronnie’s torch has been passed to Newt” at an event in 1995 [emphasis added]:

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Newt Gingrich is striking back at a column by Elliott Abrams today, which revealed the former speaker had repeatedly criticized President Ronald Reagan during the late 1980s. The publicized comments – which headlined the Drudge Report for hours today – were especially embarrassing for Gingrich because he’s been leveraging his allegedly close relationship with Reagan to rally conservative support. (See Pete Wehner’s earlier column here:)

According to Politico, Gingrich pushed back on the column this afternoon, claiming Nancy Reagan said, “Ronnie’s torch has been passed to Newt” at an event in 1995 [emphasis added]:

Newt Gingrich, speaking with reporters after his impassioned performance in Mount Dora, Fla., defended his Reagan-praising credentials by noting that Nancy Reagan said her husband’s “torch has been passed to Newt.”

“You want to understand why I finally decided to just go and be this blunt? In 1995, Nancy Reagan at the Goldwater Institute says, ‘Ronnie’s torch has been passed to Newt. OK?” he said, via Politico’s Ginger Gibson. “Now to have somebody who is an independent in the 80s, who gave money to the Democrats in ’92 and voted in the Democratic Party for [Paul] Tsongas, to have his campaign take on a lifetime of work and lie about it, frankly I do find it infuriating.”

Gingrich is right that Nancy Reagan did say this at a 1995 Goldwater Institute ceremony honoring Reagan and Barry Goldwater, which both Newt and the former first lady spoke at. But he leaves out a few of her words in a way that slightly alters the meaning of her statement. Here’s Nancy Reagan’s comment in context, via YouTube:

“Just take a look at the extraordinary men and women who make up the 104th Congress, and, of course, this distinguished Speaker Newt Gingrich [gestures to Gingrich]. The dramatic movement of 1995 is an outgrowth of a much earlier crusade that goes back half a century. Barry Goldwater handed the torch to Ronnie. And in turn, Ronnie turned that torch over to Newt and the Republican members of Congress to keep that dream alive. I know that Ronnie believes it will succeed, and that the American people support their efforts.”

So yes, Nancy Reagan did say President Reagan handed the torch down to Newt – and the rest of the 230 Republican members of Congress that year. She doesn’t appear to be deeming Newt Gingrich the primary heir to the Reagan legacy, as he makes it sound to Politico. It was a gracious comment, but Gingrich seems to either have misunderstood or mischaracterized it.

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Newt Gingrich, Rockefeller Republican?

People can decide for themselves whether it matters or not, but for the record, Newt Gingrich was (based on his own words in 1988) a Rockefeller Republican. I point that out only because these days Gingrich likes to present himself as a “Goldwater Republican.” Ronald Reagan was a Goldwater Republican; Newt Gingrich was not.

The difference between Rockefeller and Goldwater is substantial. For the unaware, a Rockefeller Republican in the early 1960s is roughly what a Massachusetts Moderate would be five decades later.

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People can decide for themselves whether it matters or not, but for the record, Newt Gingrich was (based on his own words in 1988) a Rockefeller Republican. I point that out only because these days Gingrich likes to present himself as a “Goldwater Republican.” Ronald Reagan was a Goldwater Republican; Newt Gingrich was not.

The difference between Rockefeller and Goldwater is substantial. For the unaware, a Rockefeller Republican in the early 1960s is roughly what a Massachusetts Moderate would be five decades later.

If Gingrich has changed his mind, that’s fine and good. His achievements in the conservative movement are impressive enough; he really doesn’t need to pretend he was something he wasn’t.

 

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A Devastating and Depressing Portrait of Obama

The Washington Post’s story on Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Obama’s Wars, includes these passages:

Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.” … At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military’s open-ended approach.

So we finally found the one institution where Barack Obama is frugal and interested in cost-savings: the military during time of war.

It is quite revealing that this most profligate of presidents — whose spending is nearly limitless when it comes to health care, stimulus packages, bailouts, and non-defense discretionary program — has found his inner Barry Goldwater when it comes to spending on defense matters.

There are two problems for Obama. The first centers on Article II, Section II, of the Constitution, which states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States.” The president’s primary responsibility, as envisioned by the Founders, is to serve as commander in chief, not as the tax collector for the welfare state. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 3, “is that of providing for their safety seems to be first.”

Mr. Obama seems to have his priorities upside down — largely indifferent to those areas he’s responsible for and hyper-active in areas he’s not.

Second, the military, more than any other branch of the federal government, is showing remarkable results for its work. It has reformed and modernized itself in important respects, advanced the cause of liberty, delivered lethal blows to our enemies, and protected us from harm. Yet with America engaged in a hot war in Afghanistan, where the consequences of failure would be catastrophic, President Obama has decided to be hyper-thrifty with his spending. He repeatedly limits what his generals, including General Petraeus, believe they need to successfully prosecute the war.

Quite apart from being reckless, Obama is reinforcing almost every bad impression of his party: keen on raising taxes, spending record amounts on domestic programs, centralizing power, and expanding the size and reach of the federal government. When it comes to war, though, Obama is conflicted and uncertain, in search of an exit ramp more than victory, and even willing to subordinate security needs to partisan concerns (most especially by insisting on an arbitrary drawdown date of July 2011 in order to please his political advisers). As Politico reports,

the president’s timetable to begin a real drawdown … is considerably more concrete than once thought. The book … has Obama warning the Pentagon that he won’t tolerate a 10-year war that sacrifices American troops, bleeds the treasury or drains his own popularity with the Democratic base.

By most accounts (see here and here), the White House is pleased with how the president is portrayed in Obama’s Wars. It shouldn’t be. The president comes across, at least in the stories released so far, as a man deeply uncomfortable in his role as commander in chief.

It is a devastating, and depressing, portrait.

The Washington Post’s story on Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Obama’s Wars, includes these passages:

Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.” … At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military’s open-ended approach.

So we finally found the one institution where Barack Obama is frugal and interested in cost-savings: the military during time of war.

It is quite revealing that this most profligate of presidents — whose spending is nearly limitless when it comes to health care, stimulus packages, bailouts, and non-defense discretionary program — has found his inner Barry Goldwater when it comes to spending on defense matters.

There are two problems for Obama. The first centers on Article II, Section II, of the Constitution, which states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States.” The president’s primary responsibility, as envisioned by the Founders, is to serve as commander in chief, not as the tax collector for the welfare state. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 3, “is that of providing for their safety seems to be first.”

Mr. Obama seems to have his priorities upside down — largely indifferent to those areas he’s responsible for and hyper-active in areas he’s not.

Second, the military, more than any other branch of the federal government, is showing remarkable results for its work. It has reformed and modernized itself in important respects, advanced the cause of liberty, delivered lethal blows to our enemies, and protected us from harm. Yet with America engaged in a hot war in Afghanistan, where the consequences of failure would be catastrophic, President Obama has decided to be hyper-thrifty with his spending. He repeatedly limits what his generals, including General Petraeus, believe they need to successfully prosecute the war.

Quite apart from being reckless, Obama is reinforcing almost every bad impression of his party: keen on raising taxes, spending record amounts on domestic programs, centralizing power, and expanding the size and reach of the federal government. When it comes to war, though, Obama is conflicted and uncertain, in search of an exit ramp more than victory, and even willing to subordinate security needs to partisan concerns (most especially by insisting on an arbitrary drawdown date of July 2011 in order to please his political advisers). As Politico reports,

the president’s timetable to begin a real drawdown … is considerably more concrete than once thought. The book … has Obama warning the Pentagon that he won’t tolerate a 10-year war that sacrifices American troops, bleeds the treasury or drains his own popularity with the Democratic base.

By most accounts (see here and here), the White House is pleased with how the president is portrayed in Obama’s Wars. It shouldn’t be. The president comes across, at least in the stories released so far, as a man deeply uncomfortable in his role as commander in chief.

It is a devastating, and depressing, portrait.

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In Defense of Karl Rove

Over at Hotair.com, Ed Morrissey and Allahpundit provide some balance and reason to those conservatives who are savaging Karl Rove, in response to his critical comments on Tuesday night about Christine O’Donnell. Morrissey links to Rove’s appearance on Fox this morning, where Karl rightly reminds people of his support for Tea Party candidates like Sharon Angle, Marco Rubio, Kelly Ayotte, and others.

It’s worth recalling that, just a few weeks ago, Rove the Conservative Heretic and Establishment Republican was sitting in for Rush Limbaugh on Rush’s radio program — and several weeks before that he attended Rush’s wedding. In a recent interview with Jonathan Rauch, Rove named Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative as one of his five most important books and testifies to the importance it played in his life. So the notion that Rove has suddenly become an “establishment Republican” and a traitor to the conservative cause simply isn’t plausible. It is, in fact, risible.

Karl has one take on O’Donnell; other people have another interpretation. Rove thinks she hasn’t adequately responded to charges about her finances; others think they are non-issues or unfair attacks. The differences are real enough and they’re worth debating. But to use those differences to go after Rove with hammer and tongs, with fury and venom, doesn’t reflect well at all on those hurling the charges.

Of course, I have an advantage over some of Rove’s harshest critics. I know him and worked with him and for him in the Bush White House. He is a person of deep conservative convictions, a brilliant political and policy mind, and a wonderful human being. He’s also tough as nails, as I saw firsthand when he was the target of Patrick Fitzgerald’s criminal investigation into the Valerie Plame matter (the investigation turned out to be a colossal waste of money and deeply unjust). In circumstances when most other people, including me, would have curled up in a fetal position under their desks, Karl continued to work as if he didn’t have a concern in the world. So he’ll handle this latest dust-up just fine.

Those who have read his book Courage and Consequence — subtitled, it’s worth noting, “My Life as a Conservative in the Fight” (full disclosure: I assisted him with the book) — know Rove is a person who has faced and overcome enormous challenges over the years. He has also devoted his life to the Republican Party and the conservative cause. For some conservatives who disagree with Rove over Christine O’Donnell to now demand an auto-de-fé is terribly unfortunate, unwise, and unmerited.

Over at Hotair.com, Ed Morrissey and Allahpundit provide some balance and reason to those conservatives who are savaging Karl Rove, in response to his critical comments on Tuesday night about Christine O’Donnell. Morrissey links to Rove’s appearance on Fox this morning, where Karl rightly reminds people of his support for Tea Party candidates like Sharon Angle, Marco Rubio, Kelly Ayotte, and others.

It’s worth recalling that, just a few weeks ago, Rove the Conservative Heretic and Establishment Republican was sitting in for Rush Limbaugh on Rush’s radio program — and several weeks before that he attended Rush’s wedding. In a recent interview with Jonathan Rauch, Rove named Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative as one of his five most important books and testifies to the importance it played in his life. So the notion that Rove has suddenly become an “establishment Republican” and a traitor to the conservative cause simply isn’t plausible. It is, in fact, risible.

Karl has one take on O’Donnell; other people have another interpretation. Rove thinks she hasn’t adequately responded to charges about her finances; others think they are non-issues or unfair attacks. The differences are real enough and they’re worth debating. But to use those differences to go after Rove with hammer and tongs, with fury and venom, doesn’t reflect well at all on those hurling the charges.

Of course, I have an advantage over some of Rove’s harshest critics. I know him and worked with him and for him in the Bush White House. He is a person of deep conservative convictions, a brilliant political and policy mind, and a wonderful human being. He’s also tough as nails, as I saw firsthand when he was the target of Patrick Fitzgerald’s criminal investigation into the Valerie Plame matter (the investigation turned out to be a colossal waste of money and deeply unjust). In circumstances when most other people, including me, would have curled up in a fetal position under their desks, Karl continued to work as if he didn’t have a concern in the world. So he’ll handle this latest dust-up just fine.

Those who have read his book Courage and Consequence — subtitled, it’s worth noting, “My Life as a Conservative in the Fight” (full disclosure: I assisted him with the book) — know Rove is a person who has faced and overcome enormous challenges over the years. He has also devoted his life to the Republican Party and the conservative cause. For some conservatives who disagree with Rove over Christine O’Donnell to now demand an auto-de-fé is terribly unfortunate, unwise, and unmerited.

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What If He’s Not All That New?

Barack Obama makes two claims, aside from his post-racial appeal, which form the basis of his “change” message. The first is that he is will bring political unity and rescue “good ideas” which he claims “die” under mysterious circumstances in Washington. The second is that he will be a new type of politician, less divisive and more willing to rise above the endemic personal attacks which turn off so many voters. So far, it doesn’t appear there is much to either of Obama’s claims.

His repeated mantra that good ideas are savaged by special interests in Washington, of course, belies the real differences separating the parties. Republicans don’t have to be the prisoners of special interests to conclude that raising taxes is bad policy. Obama and the Democrats don’t have to be prisoners of their special interests to conclude the opposite. Moreover, by refusing to concede that he is even “liberal” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he leaves open the real question as to how a far-Left President would bridge very substantial policy differences with the Congress and the public. At least Bill Clinton had an approach (“the third way“) by which he attempted to lessen partisan differences.

Even more central to Obama’s appeal is the notion that, bluntly, he’s better than all the politicians who came before. He won’t deceive, he won’t lie, he won’t belittle his opponents, and he won’t stoop to strong arm tactics. I think it is only because his Democratic opponent is practically the archetype of a “partisan politician” (and because the media largely allows Obama to get away with it) that he has been able to disguise his utter failure, even at this early stage in his campaign and career, to live up to this billing.

It’s not “new politics” to strong-arm Michigan Democrats into dropping a plan for a re-vote (and to offer a cynical “compromise” to split the delegates 50-50). That’s good old-fashioned Chicago muscle. It’s not “new politics” to, day after day, repeat the lie, as he did again on Friday and through his hapless surrogate John Kerry today, that John McCain wants “to continue this war in Iraq for maybe 100 years.” (When Frank Rich calls that refrain “flat-out wrong,” maybe it’s time to try something else.) And it’s not “new politics” to fence for a day and refuse to condemn his warm-up act for labeling McCain a “warmonger.” (Recall that McCain did precisely this when the shoe was on the other foot.)

None of this is hugely out of bounds for partisan politics. But it just isn’t new. If that’s what he offers, how will electing him amount to “turning the page”?

Again, Clinton is in the worst position possible to make this argument. But at some point in the general election McCain will make the argument that he (who lauds Barry Goldwater and Mo Udall’s bipartisanship and shuts down the use of racial epithets in his own party) is the less conventional politician of the two. Or maybe, without the hubris of laying claim to have discovered bipartisanship, he already is making that argument

Barack Obama makes two claims, aside from his post-racial appeal, which form the basis of his “change” message. The first is that he is will bring political unity and rescue “good ideas” which he claims “die” under mysterious circumstances in Washington. The second is that he will be a new type of politician, less divisive and more willing to rise above the endemic personal attacks which turn off so many voters. So far, it doesn’t appear there is much to either of Obama’s claims.

His repeated mantra that good ideas are savaged by special interests in Washington, of course, belies the real differences separating the parties. Republicans don’t have to be the prisoners of special interests to conclude that raising taxes is bad policy. Obama and the Democrats don’t have to be prisoners of their special interests to conclude the opposite. Moreover, by refusing to concede that he is even “liberal” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he leaves open the real question as to how a far-Left President would bridge very substantial policy differences with the Congress and the public. At least Bill Clinton had an approach (“the third way“) by which he attempted to lessen partisan differences.

Even more central to Obama’s appeal is the notion that, bluntly, he’s better than all the politicians who came before. He won’t deceive, he won’t lie, he won’t belittle his opponents, and he won’t stoop to strong arm tactics. I think it is only because his Democratic opponent is practically the archetype of a “partisan politician” (and because the media largely allows Obama to get away with it) that he has been able to disguise his utter failure, even at this early stage in his campaign and career, to live up to this billing.

It’s not “new politics” to strong-arm Michigan Democrats into dropping a plan for a re-vote (and to offer a cynical “compromise” to split the delegates 50-50). That’s good old-fashioned Chicago muscle. It’s not “new politics” to, day after day, repeat the lie, as he did again on Friday and through his hapless surrogate John Kerry today, that John McCain wants “to continue this war in Iraq for maybe 100 years.” (When Frank Rich calls that refrain “flat-out wrong,” maybe it’s time to try something else.) And it’s not “new politics” to fence for a day and refuse to condemn his warm-up act for labeling McCain a “warmonger.” (Recall that McCain did precisely this when the shoe was on the other foot.)

None of this is hugely out of bounds for partisan politics. But it just isn’t new. If that’s what he offers, how will electing him amount to “turning the page”?

Again, Clinton is in the worst position possible to make this argument. But at some point in the general election McCain will make the argument that he (who lauds Barry Goldwater and Mo Udall’s bipartisanship and shuts down the use of racial epithets in his own party) is the less conventional politician of the two. Or maybe, without the hubris of laying claim to have discovered bipartisanship, he already is making that argument

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Twilight of the Radio Gods?

In case you haven’t heard, conservative talk radio has this wee problem with John McCain. Actually, it’s been hard to hear – or read – about anything else in recent weeks, with Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, et al, subjecting McCain to a level of opprobrium that’s had liberal reporters scrambling to record every word while trying their damndest to feign concern over a much hoped-for GOP crackup.

The relentless pounding of McCain, while certainly popular with some conservatives, has elicited a growing backlash among others, with a number of conservative bloggers expressing disdain for the tactics of Limbaugh and company — some of them saying they can no longer bring themselves to listen to the very voices that for so long had constituted a focal point of their day.

I know exactly what they’re going through. My own personal moratorium on Limbaugh and Hannity (I’d listened only sporadically, and never enthusiastically, to the various other hosts who’ve taken to treating McCain as though he were a Trotskyite trying to crash a conservative ball) began in stages. Old habits and loyalties die hard.

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In case you haven’t heard, conservative talk radio has this wee problem with John McCain. Actually, it’s been hard to hear – or read – about anything else in recent weeks, with Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, et al, subjecting McCain to a level of opprobrium that’s had liberal reporters scrambling to record every word while trying their damndest to feign concern over a much hoped-for GOP crackup.

The relentless pounding of McCain, while certainly popular with some conservatives, has elicited a growing backlash among others, with a number of conservative bloggers expressing disdain for the tactics of Limbaugh and company — some of them saying they can no longer bring themselves to listen to the very voices that for so long had constituted a focal point of their day.

I know exactly what they’re going through. My own personal moratorium on Limbaugh and Hannity (I’d listened only sporadically, and never enthusiastically, to the various other hosts who’ve taken to treating McCain as though he were a Trotskyite trying to crash a conservative ball) began in stages. Old habits and loyalties die hard.

I’d start each day thinking that maybe — especially as it grew ever more apparent that McCain would be the Republican nominee — the attacks on the senator would at long last begin to diminish, in number if not intensity. But within minutes of either host opening his show I’d be disabused of that notion; the sliming would pick up right where it had left off the day before, with little or no regard for nuance or perspective. I’d switch to sports talk for an hour or so before returning to Limbaugh or Hannity, only to once again find myself muttering at the radio and reaching for the dial.

Though talk radio has, with rare exceptions, always been the thinnest of intellectual gruel, the rise of conservative talkers – which took place in the years just before the Internet changed everything about the way we consume news – was a galvanizing event for those of us who always saw through the neutral posturing of the Walter Cronkites, the John Chancellors, the Roger Mudds of that era. At last we had a slice of mass media we could call our own and by which we could help sway policy and elections and stay connected to fellow conservatives across the country.

But talk radio is already something of a dinosaur, a rusted hulk lying on the side of the information superhighway. How could it be otherwise, in an age when we can log on and directly link to thousands of conservative websites and blogs — when we can communicate, unfiltered and instantaneously, with like-minded people not just across the country but around the world?

Sean Hannity can insist all he wants that John McCain is a liberal, but simply by Googling McCain’s lifetime voting record we can see for ourselves that if he’s a liberal, words have no meaning. Rush Limbaugh can loudly champion Mitt Romney as the second coming of Barry Goldwater, but a quick Internet search is enough to confirm that Romney is anything but.

And when the anti-McCain talkers imply that the “conservative base” disdains McCain and will have a hard time accepting him as the Republican nominee, a few minutes online is all it takes to understand that the “base” is a far more fractious thing than the talkers would have us believe.
If anyone needs to worry about a base, it would seem to be the McCain-obsessed radio hosts themselves, who, as the writer Noemie Emery recently observed on The Weekly Standard’s Campaign Standard blog, “are fracturing the base of their listening audience.”

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Looking Ahead To Tuesday And Beyond

As goes Nevada, so goes Maine. Yes, the delegates are non-binding, but it does show that Mitt Romney’s problem was not lack of organization, money or effort.

Elsewhere, there is good polling news for John McCain. A batch of Sunday McClatchy-MSNBC polls shows him ahead in California, Missouri, Georgia and New Jersey by comfortable margins. He holds a 2 to 1 advantage over Romney in the latest national polls. He collected endorsements in Georgia and Massachusetts (a number of names were on Rudy’s list previously) on Saturday. Romney has been trying to suggest that the race will not end on Tuesday, but the delegate math and Romney’s chosen campaign locales may suggest otherwise.

If this plays out as expected on Tuesday, there will be plenty still for McCain to do. Fred Barnes ends his thoughtful column on what McCain might do after Tuesday by quoting Barry Goldwater’s advice (“Let’s grow up, conservatives”), but not everyone has finished with their temper tantrums. (Sometimes it is wise to put up one’s hand and, in effect, say “count me out” of the ranting.)

McCain took a nice step in the right direction this morning on Fox News Sunday with a sunny, poised performance. He evinced every intention of reaching out to conservatives and committed to vetoing any Democratic tax hike and to appointing judges like Justices Alito and Roberts, even though they might strike down the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. (He had an amusing interchange with Hillary Clinton as well, as they both momentarily dispensed with their primary rivals and agreed they would have a spirited campaign. I’m sure Ann Coulter would be disappointed to see both agree what stark differences they would present.)

On the Democratic side, the proportional voting system in all states will lead to less decisive results on Tuesday. There are some signs that Barack Obama is making progress. He is within two points in California. He has narrowed the gap in national polls. Clinton, as the polls indicate, has an advantage in several states with large blocks of delegates. However, if Obama can win (or come close) in California and win in Illinois(where he leads comfortably), he will stay in the hunt and move on to friendlier territory in the following week’s contests in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

As goes Nevada, so goes Maine. Yes, the delegates are non-binding, but it does show that Mitt Romney’s problem was not lack of organization, money or effort.

Elsewhere, there is good polling news for John McCain. A batch of Sunday McClatchy-MSNBC polls shows him ahead in California, Missouri, Georgia and New Jersey by comfortable margins. He holds a 2 to 1 advantage over Romney in the latest national polls. He collected endorsements in Georgia and Massachusetts (a number of names were on Rudy’s list previously) on Saturday. Romney has been trying to suggest that the race will not end on Tuesday, but the delegate math and Romney’s chosen campaign locales may suggest otherwise.

If this plays out as expected on Tuesday, there will be plenty still for McCain to do. Fred Barnes ends his thoughtful column on what McCain might do after Tuesday by quoting Barry Goldwater’s advice (“Let’s grow up, conservatives”), but not everyone has finished with their temper tantrums. (Sometimes it is wise to put up one’s hand and, in effect, say “count me out” of the ranting.)

McCain took a nice step in the right direction this morning on Fox News Sunday with a sunny, poised performance. He evinced every intention of reaching out to conservatives and committed to vetoing any Democratic tax hike and to appointing judges like Justices Alito and Roberts, even though they might strike down the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. (He had an amusing interchange with Hillary Clinton as well, as they both momentarily dispensed with their primary rivals and agreed they would have a spirited campaign. I’m sure Ann Coulter would be disappointed to see both agree what stark differences they would present.)

On the Democratic side, the proportional voting system in all states will lead to less decisive results on Tuesday. There are some signs that Barack Obama is making progress. He is within two points in California. He has narrowed the gap in national polls. Clinton, as the polls indicate, has an advantage in several states with large blocks of delegates. However, if Obama can win (or come close) in California and win in Illinois(where he leads comfortably), he will stay in the hunt and move on to friendlier territory in the following week’s contests in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

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Destroying Missiles

On Sunday, Russia and the United States jointly urged all countries to destroy medium-range nuclear-capable missiles. The call came in a joint declaration published by Moscow’s foreign ministry.

At present, Russia and the United States are parties to the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987. In February of this year, the Kremlin called for the termination of the INF agreement, as the pact is called. Sergei Ivanov, then defense minister, said: “Today, North Korea, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Israel all have short-range or intermediate-range missiles.” Ivanov continued, “Only two countries do not have the right to have them, the United States and Russia. This cannot go on forever.”

Ivanov was right, but that was not the Kremlin’s reason for threatening to pull out. A few days after Ivanov spoke in February, General Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian general staff, made the point that Russia’s decision whether to terminate the INF pact would depend on Washington’s missile defense plans. Sunday’s joint declaration indicates that the Bush administration was able to get Moscow to step back from maintaining its extreme position.

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On Sunday, Russia and the United States jointly urged all countries to destroy medium-range nuclear-capable missiles. The call came in a joint declaration published by Moscow’s foreign ministry.

At present, Russia and the United States are parties to the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987. In February of this year, the Kremlin called for the termination of the INF agreement, as the pact is called. Sergei Ivanov, then defense minister, said: “Today, North Korea, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Israel all have short-range or intermediate-range missiles.” Ivanov continued, “Only two countries do not have the right to have them, the United States and Russia. This cannot go on forever.”

Ivanov was right, but that was not the Kremlin’s reason for threatening to pull out. A few days after Ivanov spoke in February, General Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian general staff, made the point that Russia’s decision whether to terminate the INF pact would depend on Washington’s missile defense plans. Sunday’s joint declaration indicates that the Bush administration was able to get Moscow to step back from maintaining its extreme position.

It’s one thing for Washington to influence the Kremlin to moderate its tone. It’s another to persuade a whole range of nations to give up the delivery systems for their most destructive weapons when some of them have little stake in the current international system—and when others even talk about upending it. Moreover, none of the new missile countries will give up intermediate range missiles while both Russia and the United States maintain arsenals of longer-range ones. A missile-destruction agreement will, as a practical matter, have to include all missile nations and virtually all ground- and sea-based missiles.

Should the United States and Russia even try to abolish missiles? We thought the stakes were high during the cold war, but at least the Soviets were deterrable. They did not use their thousands of warheads against America because, in addition to other reasons, they knew America could make good on Barry Goldwater’s threat to lob a nuke into the men’s room in the Kremlin—and a big one into just about every other lavatory and latrine in the USSR. Perhaps the new missile nations will be afraid of our weapons—but with rogue states added to the cast, perhaps not. So now is not a bad time to think anew about deterrence, missile defense, and even abolition.

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We’re All Neocons Now

Last Friday, RealClearPolitics ran in its lead feature spot an essay by Gregory Scoblete, a free-lance writer in New Jersey. The essay had the headline “The GOP, Ron Paul & Non-Interventionism,” and was subsequently commented upon by, among others, guest-blogger Stephen Bainbridge on Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

Scoblete’s premise is that, just as Barry Goldwater’s failed campaign for president led the Republican party to embrace a limited-government philosophy, so too Ron Paul’s presidential campaign today, doomed though it is, will cause the GOP to embrace his philosophy of “non-interventionism.” Scoblete goes on at great lengths to “distinguish non-interventionism from isolationism.” He writes, for example, “The former seeks a more rigorous and delimited definition of America’s interests, while the latter a walled garden that completely cuts America off from the world. Non-interventionists are not pacifists, but they do reserve war fighting for moments of actual national peril.”

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Last Friday, RealClearPolitics ran in its lead feature spot an essay by Gregory Scoblete, a free-lance writer in New Jersey. The essay had the headline “The GOP, Ron Paul & Non-Interventionism,” and was subsequently commented upon by, among others, guest-blogger Stephen Bainbridge on Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

Scoblete’s premise is that, just as Barry Goldwater’s failed campaign for president led the Republican party to embrace a limited-government philosophy, so too Ron Paul’s presidential campaign today, doomed though it is, will cause the GOP to embrace his philosophy of “non-interventionism.” Scoblete goes on at great lengths to “distinguish non-interventionism from isolationism.” He writes, for example, “The former seeks a more rigorous and delimited definition of America’s interests, while the latter a walled garden that completely cuts America off from the world. Non-interventionists are not pacifists, but they do reserve war fighting for moments of actual national peril.”

That’s a distinction without a difference. How many self-proclaimed isolationists exist who proudly proclaim that their goal is a policy that “completely cuts America off from the world”? In fact, throughout our history, those who have advocated a de facto policy of isolationism have always claimed that they were in favor of a “rigorous and limited definition of America’s interests.” After the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor, even the America Firsters were ready to embrace war; unfortunately, they weren’t willing, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, to take the kinds of actions that might have staved off a world war.

Ron Paul, a self-proclaimed “libertarian,” fits squarely into this isolationist tradition. As noted by Christopher Caldwell in the New York Times Magazine:

Alone among Republican candidates for the presidency, Paul has always opposed the Iraq war. He blames “a dozen or two neocons who got control of our foreign policy,” chief among them Vice President Dick Cheney and the former Bush advisers Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, for the debacle. On the assumption that a bad situation could get worse if the war spreads into Iran, he has a simple plan. It is: “Just leave.” During a May debate in South Carolina, he suggested the 9/11 attacks could be attributed to United States policy. “Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us?” he asked, referring to one of Osama bin Laden’s communiqués. “They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years.” Rudolph Giuliani reacted by demanding a retraction, drawing gales of applause from the audience. But the incident helped Paul too. Overnight, he became the country’s most conspicuous antiwar Republican.

Paul’s opposition to the war in Iraq did not come out of nowhere. He was against the first gulf war, the war in Kosovo and the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which he called a “declaration of virtual war.” Although he voted after Sept. 11 to approve the use of force in Afghanistan and spend $40 billion in emergency appropriations, he has sounded less thrilled with those votes as time has passed. “I voted for the authority and the money,” he now says. “I thought it was misused.”

Is this a foreign policy philosophy likely to gain much adherence in the Republican Party? Not on the evidence so far. True, Paul has been doing a bit better than expected in the presidential race, but that’s not saying much. He still barely registers in the polls. And all of the mainstream Republican (as well as Democratic) candidates firmly reject his brand of isolationism. Even many libertarians dissent from Paul’s crabbed view of America’s role abroad: see, for instance, this Wall Street Journal article.

One of the most interesting things about this year’s Republican field is that there is not a single major candidate who is running on a foreign policy platform markedly at odds with President Bush’s. Chuck Hagel could have run as an antiwar candidate, but so far he’s stayed out of the race, presumably because he knows he has no chance of winning. The debate among Giuliani, Thompson, Romney, and McCain hasn’t been over whether Bush’s foreign policy objectives are sound; it has been over who would do a better job of carrying out those policies. Even the Democratic candidates offer a foreign policy vision that differs more in rhetoric and details than in substance from Bush’s stated goals of spreading democracy, defeating terrorists, and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, even as the Democrats profess a desire to pull out of Iraq, they are talking up other military interventions from Darfur to Pakistan. It’s enough to make you think we’re all neocons now.

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Wall Street Populism

Can Democrats be the party of both economic populism and Wall Street? Can they recreate the kind of big tent that allowed Lyndon Johnson to trounce Barry Goldwater in 1964? The answer appears, at the moment, to be yes. The Democrats, more and more, are being funded by those in the financial sector who have benefited the most from globalization, without losing the support of blue-collar workers fearful of globalization’s effects. If the Democrats can hold this broad coalition together, they may be in a position to win a 1964-like victory in 2008.

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Can Democrats be the party of both economic populism and Wall Street? Can they recreate the kind of big tent that allowed Lyndon Johnson to trounce Barry Goldwater in 1964? The answer appears, at the moment, to be yes. The Democrats, more and more, are being funded by those in the financial sector who have benefited the most from globalization, without losing the support of blue-collar workers fearful of globalization’s effects. If the Democrats can hold this broad coalition together, they may be in a position to win a 1964-like victory in 2008.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for higher taxes on the wealthy and tougher tax treatment for private equity firms, like the Blackstone Group, which have become the symbol of growing economic inequality. But this hasn’t hurt the party at all when it comes to fundraising. Perhaps because social issues, not social class, have come increasingly to define what it means to be a Democrat or Republican.

This shift from economic to cultural issues over the last 40 years has scrambled the political landscape. In the 1980′s, 70 percent of the upper quintile of American income earners voted for the GOP. But in the 2006 Congressional elections, the Democrats ran nearly even with Republicans among voters who earned more than $100,000 per year. And among the very wealthy, notes the Financial Times, the “balance of power” has shifted in favor of the Democrats. Young hedge fund tyros and other well-to-do professionals have given the Democrats a substantial fund-raising lead over the Republicans. Barack Obama, who has become increasingly critical of free trade and demands higher taxes on the wealthy, has widespread support in the world of finance, including the hedge fund managers George Soros, Eric Mindich, Paul Tudor Jones, and Daniel Loeb. In the second quarter of 2007, Democratic presidential candidates raised $80 million to their GOP counterparts’ $50 million. Obama alone raised almost $33 million, nearly twice the amount raised by Rudy Giuliani, the leading Republican.

Can a party with such close ties to Wall Street effectively court blue-collar workers? It can, if those workers are fearful of free trade. The unprecedented growth of international trade in recent years has been a boon for the overall economy. But it has also constrained wage growth and induced considerable working-class anxiety. In Ohio’s 2006 mid-term Senate election, Sherrod Brown, running largely on the trade issue, unseated Senator Mike DeWine. Democrats see that race as a potential model for 2008.

The other large arrows in the Democrat’s populist quiver are the public’s hostility to both the energy and pharmaceutical industries, as well as growing worries about the cost of health care. And while there may be tension between those in the risk-loving financial sector and increasingly risk-averse workers, in the short run it can be eased with the promise of higher taxes on the wealthy, to fund (among other things) more health care coverage for the middle class.

Taken together with trade fears, these arrows form a formidable arsenal, one that might well allow Democrats to create a version of their 1964 coalition, in which big business and New Deal liberals marched side-by-side. There are sizable fault lines inherent in such a coalition: just imagine the potential conflicts between green CEO’s driving hybrid limos and workers displaced by environmental over-regulation. But it’s unlikely that a conventional Republican campaign can exploit those weaknesses. As it now stands, on these issues the GOP is marching toward a precipice. (Perhaps it can take solace in the fact that the grand coalition of ’64 quickly fell apart.)

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