Commentary Magazine


Topic: conservatives

Living in “Ideological Silos”

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades.”

Among the other findings:

“Ideological silos” are now common on both the left and right. People with down-the-line ideological positions – especially conservatives – are more likely than others to say that most of their close friends share their political views. Liberals and conservatives disagree over where they want to live, the kind of people they want to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families.

Most of us live in some version of an “ideological silo,” and it makes perfect sense that we do. The deepest friendships, after all, are based not only on common interests but on seeing common truths. Many seek out a community of like-minded individuals who can offer support and encouragement along the way.

At the same time it’s important to resist the temptation to surround ourselves almost exclusively with like-minded people, those who reinforce our preexisting views and biases. For one thing, it can insulate us from the strongest arguments that challenge, or might refine and therefore improve, our stance on certain matters. If someone with standing in your life, whose good faith is unquestioned, takes issue with you on a subject having to do with politics or theology, you’re more likely to hear them out, or at least engage with them in a serious rather than dismissive fashion, than if you’re challenged by a stranger.

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A new Pew Research Center survey finds that “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades.”

Among the other findings:

“Ideological silos” are now common on both the left and right. People with down-the-line ideological positions – especially conservatives – are more likely than others to say that most of their close friends share their political views. Liberals and conservatives disagree over where they want to live, the kind of people they want to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families.

Most of us live in some version of an “ideological silo,” and it makes perfect sense that we do. The deepest friendships, after all, are based not only on common interests but on seeing common truths. Many seek out a community of like-minded individuals who can offer support and encouragement along the way.

At the same time it’s important to resist the temptation to surround ourselves almost exclusively with like-minded people, those who reinforce our preexisting views and biases. For one thing, it can insulate us from the strongest arguments that challenge, or might refine and therefore improve, our stance on certain matters. If someone with standing in your life, whose good faith is unquestioned, takes issue with you on a subject having to do with politics or theology, you’re more likely to hear them out, or at least engage with them in a serious rather than dismissive fashion, than if you’re challenged by a stranger.

According to Professor Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, individual reasoning is not reliable because of “the confirmation bias,” the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs and hypotheses. The only cure for the confirmation bias is other people. “If you bring people together who disagree,” he argues, “and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason.”

In addition, creating “ideological silos” makes it much easier to caricature those with whom we disagree. There’s a strong temptation–stronger than most of us like to admit–to personalize political and theological differences; to assume that those who hold views at odds with mine are suffering from character flaws rather than simply intellectual ones.

One example of how things can be done the right way is the relationship between New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright. They first met in 1984, after Wright read a book by Borg that impressed him but with which he had some disagreements. A friendship grew, even as Borg became one of America’s most popular liberal voices on theology while Wright became perhaps the most prominent standard-bearer for the traditional stance. Borg was a member of the Jesus Seminar; Wright was an outspoken critic. In The Meaning of Jesus, Borg and Wright presented their very different visions of Jesus. While they didn’t reach agreement on many matters, they did eliminate misunderstandings. Neither misrepresented the other. They operated on the assumption that admirable people can have deep and honest disagreements. And in the process they helped people, in their words, “grapple with points of view they might otherwise have dismissed without serious thought.”

In our unusually ideological age, that’s a fairly impressive achievement.

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Bundy’s Teachable Moment for the Right

You may have noticed that among the many and varied topics touched upon by COMMENTARY writers in recent weeks, none of us chose to weigh in on the Bundy Ranch controversy that attracted so much notice on cable news, talk radio, and the blogosphere. The reason was that none of us considered the standoff between a Nevada tax scofflaw and the federal government over grazing rights fees to rise to the level of an issue of national interest. The government may own too much land in the West and may have acted in a heavy-handed manner in this case but anyone with sense realized that stiffing the feds is likely to end badly for those who play that game, something that even a bomb-thrower like Glenn Beck appeared to be able to understand. Moreover, there was something slightly absurd about the same people who froth at the mouth when “amnesty” for illegal immigrants is mentioned demanding that Cliven Bundy be let off the hook for what he owed Uncle Sam.

Unfortunately some other conservatives liked the imagery of a rancher and his supporters opposing the arrogant power of the federal government and Bundy became, albeit briefly, the flavor of the month in some libertarian circles. So when he was caught uttering some utterly repulsive racist sentiments by the New York Times earlier this week some of the same pundits that had embraced him were sent running for cover. As they have fled, they have found themselves being pursued by jubilant liberals who have attempted to use Bundy’s lunatic rants to brand all of conservatives and Tea Partiers as racists. This was a popular theme today taken up by left-wingers at the New York Times, Salon, and New York magazine who all claimed that Bundy exposed the dark underside of libertarianism in general and conservative media in particular. While Jonathan Chait may consider to be an Onion-like coincidence that libertarian sympathizers are all crackpot racists, that is about as cogent an observation as an attempt to argue that most liberals are unwashed socialist/anti-Semitic lawbreakers just because many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters they embraced fell into those categories.

But there is another moral to this story that should give some on the right pause. In their enthusiasm to embrace anyone who sings from the same “agin the government” hymnal, some libertarians have proved themselves willing to lionize people that were liable to besmirch the causes they cherish. As our Pete Wehner pointed out recently, that some figures identified with conservatism have embraced sympathizers with the Confederacy as well as open racists and anti-Semites is a matter of record.

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You may have noticed that among the many and varied topics touched upon by COMMENTARY writers in recent weeks, none of us chose to weigh in on the Bundy Ranch controversy that attracted so much notice on cable news, talk radio, and the blogosphere. The reason was that none of us considered the standoff between a Nevada tax scofflaw and the federal government over grazing rights fees to rise to the level of an issue of national interest. The government may own too much land in the West and may have acted in a heavy-handed manner in this case but anyone with sense realized that stiffing the feds is likely to end badly for those who play that game, something that even a bomb-thrower like Glenn Beck appeared to be able to understand. Moreover, there was something slightly absurd about the same people who froth at the mouth when “amnesty” for illegal immigrants is mentioned demanding that Cliven Bundy be let off the hook for what he owed Uncle Sam.

Unfortunately some other conservatives liked the imagery of a rancher and his supporters opposing the arrogant power of the federal government and Bundy became, albeit briefly, the flavor of the month in some libertarian circles. So when he was caught uttering some utterly repulsive racist sentiments by the New York Times earlier this week some of the same pundits that had embraced him were sent running for cover. As they have fled, they have found themselves being pursued by jubilant liberals who have attempted to use Bundy’s lunatic rants to brand all of conservatives and Tea Partiers as racists. This was a popular theme today taken up by left-wingers at the New York Times, Salon, and New York magazine who all claimed that Bundy exposed the dark underside of libertarianism in general and conservative media in particular. While Jonathan Chait may consider to be an Onion-like coincidence that libertarian sympathizers are all crackpot racists, that is about as cogent an observation as an attempt to argue that most liberals are unwashed socialist/anti-Semitic lawbreakers just because many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters they embraced fell into those categories.

But there is another moral to this story that should give some on the right pause. In their enthusiasm to embrace anyone who sings from the same “agin the government” hymnal, some libertarians have proved themselves willing to lionize people that were liable to besmirch the causes they cherish. As our Pete Wehner pointed out recently, that some figures identified with conservatism have embraced sympathizers with the Confederacy as well as open racists and anti-Semites is a matter of record.

That the liberal attempt to tar all Tea Partiers as racists is unfair is beside the point. It is one thing to believe in small government, federalism, and to fear the willingness of liberals to undermine the rule of law. It is quite another to treat the government as not just a problem but as the enemy. The U.S. government is not the enemy. When run by responsible patriots it is, as it was designed to be, the best defense of our liberty, not its foe. As Charles Krauthammer ably stated on Fox News earlier this week:

First of all, it isn’t enough to say I don’t agree with what he [Bundy] said. This is a despicable statement. It’s not the statement, you have to disassociate yourself entirely from the man. It’s not like the words exist here and the man exists here. And why conservatives, some conservatives, end up in bed with people who, you know, — he makes an anti-government statement, he takes an anti-government stand, he wears a nice big hat and he rides a horse and all of the sudden he is a champion of democracy. This is a man who said that he doesn’t recognize the authority of the United States of America. That makes him a patriot?

I love this country and I love the constitution and it’s the constitution that established a government that all of us have to recognize. And for him to reject it was the beginning of all of this. And now what he said today is just the end of this. And I think it is truly appalling that as Chuck [Lane] says, there are times when somehow simply because somebody takes an opposition, he becomes a conservative hero. You’ve you got to wait, you’ve got to watch, you have got to think about. And look, do I have the right to go graze sheep in Central Park? I think not. You have to have some respect for the federal government, some respect for our system, and to say you don’t and you don’t recognize it and that makes you a conservative hero, to me, is completely contradictory and rather appalling. And he has now proved it.

The Bundy ranch standoff is a teachable moment for libertarians and conservatives. We don’t need to waste much time debunking the claim that a belief in limited government and calls for an end to the orgy of taxing and spending in Washington are racist. These are risible, lame arguments that fail on their own. But like liberals who need to draw a distinction between their positions and those of the anti-American, anti-capitalist far left, those on the right do need to draw equally bright lines between themselves and the likes of Cliven Bundy. If they don’t, spectacles such as the one we witnessed this week are inevitable. 

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SCOTUS Roulette: Why Winning Matters

In recent years discourse between various wings of the Republican Party has descended into a fight between people who largely view each other as stereotypes rather than allies. Given the stakes involved, the antagonism between Tea Party activists on the one hand and the so-called establishment on the other is understandable and disagreements about tactics are inevitable. These disputes are rooted in part in philosophical differences that are driven in no small measure by the despair that some on the right feel about the future of the nation that seems to mandate that the normal give and take of politics should be superseded by an apocalyptic crusade in which all but true believers must be wiped out. When establishment types attempt to answer such demands with pragmatic sermons about the need to temper absolutism by remembering that the prime objective is to win general elections rather than to conduct ideological purity tests, they are dismissed as temporizing trimmers.

But yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Michigan affirmative action case should act as a reminder to even the most hard-core conservatives that not winning elections could have far more catastrophic consequences for the nation than the indignity of making common cause with the GOP establishment. While conservatives were somewhat satisfied with the failure of yet another liberal attempt to defend racial quotas, the refusal of three of the conservative majority on the court to address the core issue points out just how close liberals are to remaking America should they be able to appoint another two or three justices over the course of the next decade. Conservative commentators were united in their contempt for what several called the “Orwellian” reasoning of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in the case that was lionized in both a New York Times news article and an editorial on the case. But unless Republicans nominate someone in 2016 that can beat Hillary Clinton, Sotomayor may firmly be in the majority by the time the former first lady finishes her second term 11 years from now.

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In recent years discourse between various wings of the Republican Party has descended into a fight between people who largely view each other as stereotypes rather than allies. Given the stakes involved, the antagonism between Tea Party activists on the one hand and the so-called establishment on the other is understandable and disagreements about tactics are inevitable. These disputes are rooted in part in philosophical differences that are driven in no small measure by the despair that some on the right feel about the future of the nation that seems to mandate that the normal give and take of politics should be superseded by an apocalyptic crusade in which all but true believers must be wiped out. When establishment types attempt to answer such demands with pragmatic sermons about the need to temper absolutism by remembering that the prime objective is to win general elections rather than to conduct ideological purity tests, they are dismissed as temporizing trimmers.

But yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Michigan affirmative action case should act as a reminder to even the most hard-core conservatives that not winning elections could have far more catastrophic consequences for the nation than the indignity of making common cause with the GOP establishment. While conservatives were somewhat satisfied with the failure of yet another liberal attempt to defend racial quotas, the refusal of three of the conservative majority on the court to address the core issue points out just how close liberals are to remaking America should they be able to appoint another two or three justices over the course of the next decade. Conservative commentators were united in their contempt for what several called the “Orwellian” reasoning of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in the case that was lionized in both a New York Times news article and an editorial on the case. But unless Republicans nominate someone in 2016 that can beat Hillary Clinton, Sotomayor may firmly be in the majority by the time the former first lady finishes her second term 11 years from now.

As both our Peter Wehner wrote here and John Podhoretz also noted in the New York Post today, the result of yesterday’s decision was largely positive. The court upheld the right of Michigan’s voters to ban the use of so-called affirmative action in admissions in public universities by a 6-2 vote with Justice Elena Kagan recusing herself from the case. Both Peter and John rightly lauded the concurring opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia (joined by Justice Clarence Thomas) that would have ruled all racial quotas unconstitutional. By pointing out that the plurality opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy (and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito) did not go far enough in striking down the efforts of the federal appeals courts to deem the referendum on affirmative action an act of prejudice, Scalia went to the heart of the matter.

As National Review noted in a cogent editorial, it was more like “half a win” than something to celebrate. So long as three-fifths of the conservative members of the court are afraid to act on the logic of Chief Justice Roberts’ apt statement in an earlier case that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race” and ban such discrimination outright, such efforts will continue to undermine both the Constitution and serve to feed racial discord.

But in addition to lauding Scalia’s brilliant logic, the opinion of Sotomayor merits our attention. The willingness of Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who concurred with her dissent, to embrace a radical stance that would trash the constitutional protections of equal protection in order to enshrine what would amount to permanent racial quotas so as to redress past acts of discrimination is alarming in its own right. But conservatives who think making common cause with less ideological Republicans is counter-productive should ponder what would happen if the next president gets the chance to replace any of the five conservatives on the court with justices who might embrace Sotomayor’s opinions.

At the moment, the justice most likely to be replaced is Ginsburg who is 81 and not in the best of health. Some on the left are calling for her to resign now while President Obama can replace her with a fellow liberal rather than taking the chance that a Republican successor would be presented with the choice. But whether or not Ginsburg sticks to her guns and stays at the court until she has to be carried out, Republicans also need to consider that if a Democrat is sworn in by Roberts in January 2017, that would raise the very real possibility that it is one or more of the justices they count on to preserve an admittedly weak and inconsistent conservative majority that would be swapped out for a leftist like Sotomayor.

At the moment, three of the conservatives (Roberts, 59; Alito, 64; and Thomas, 65) seem young enough to wait out even two more terms of a Democratic president after Obama. But are even Tea Partiers willing to bet the Constitution on the health of the 78-year-old Scalia or even the weathervane 77-year-old Kennedy holding out until 2025?

Winning elections is not the only purpose of politics. Ideology matters and Republican politicians must be held accountable for behavior that undermines the basic principles of limited government. But unless they want to wake up in an America in which the Sotomayors can twist the Constitution into a pretzel to preserve every variety of liberal legal atrocity, right-wingers need to get over their hostility to more moderate Republicans and work to build an electoral majority rather than a purist schismatic faction.

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For Leftists, the Personal Is Still the Political

Here are a few brief thoughts on the controversy surrounding MSNBC’s Twitter feed, in which–in response to a Cheerios ad (!)–the following message was sent out: “Maybe the right wing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new#Cheerios ad w/ biracial family.”

1. This kind of racial slander is the coin of the realm for MSNBC. Its president, Phil Griffin, apologized for the tweet and fired the staffer responsible for it. Fine and good. But it’s not clear why he acted on this occasion and not the hundreds of outrageous libels against Republicans and conservatives that have happened prior to it.

2. This incident demonstrates how for some on the left virtually everything is reduced to politics–even a cereal ad. It reveals an obsession with politics that is distorted and unhealthy. And it’s something that frankly one doesn’t find as prevalent among conservatives, at least in my experience. The slogan popularized during the social revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, “the personal is the political,” helps explain this progressive cast of mind. For the left, politics is the primary means toward social progress and fulfillment, whereas for the right, our private lives are considered far more separate and distinct. Conservatives, I think, tend to view politics as important but not as all consuming, which is a far better way to understand life and reality.

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Here are a few brief thoughts on the controversy surrounding MSNBC’s Twitter feed, in which–in response to a Cheerios ad (!)–the following message was sent out: “Maybe the right wing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new#Cheerios ad w/ biracial family.”

1. This kind of racial slander is the coin of the realm for MSNBC. Its president, Phil Griffin, apologized for the tweet and fired the staffer responsible for it. Fine and good. But it’s not clear why he acted on this occasion and not the hundreds of outrageous libels against Republicans and conservatives that have happened prior to it.

2. This incident demonstrates how for some on the left virtually everything is reduced to politics–even a cereal ad. It reveals an obsession with politics that is distorted and unhealthy. And it’s something that frankly one doesn’t find as prevalent among conservatives, at least in my experience. The slogan popularized during the social revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, “the personal is the political,” helps explain this progressive cast of mind. For the left, politics is the primary means toward social progress and fulfillment, whereas for the right, our private lives are considered far more separate and distinct. Conservatives, I think, tend to view politics as important but not as all consuming, which is a far better way to understand life and reality.

3. There’s a cautionary tale in all of this, which is that the right shouldn’t become like the left. Leave the hateful attacks, the venom, and the name-calling to them. Conservatives don’t need it, we shouldn’t want it, and it’s not consistent with our best tradition. If the left wants to give refuge to the haters, then that’s up to them. The right, on the other hand, should be characterized by people who are principled, passionate, decent and who don’t (as Ronald Reagan used to remind his staff) consider our opponents to be our enemies. Some conservatives seem to make a rather good living on doing the opposite, on engaging in ad hominem and often childish attacks, and it’s discrediting to them and to the movement they claim to represent.

 

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Partisan Media is a Bipartisan Problem

I agree with liberal political strategist and talking head James Carville that listening and reading only to those who agree with you is a colossal bore. My reaction to such a prospect is the same as his. Rather than suffer such a fate, “just shoot me.” But Carville’s analysis of the polarization in the media illustrates the same fallacy that is at the heart of the trend he laments. Writing in The Hill yesterday, Carville says that what’s wrong is that:

Conservatives never seem to tire of one another. They love to reinforce their beliefs, day after day.

In other words, liberals are open to all points of view and read, listen and watch conservative outlets while it is only conservatives who insulate themselves from opposing points of view. Perhaps that is true on some other planet in the universe, but here on Earth, liberals are just as guilty of this fault as anyone on the right, as evidence by the loyalty to a wide array of liberal newspapers, radio and TV outlets while shunning conservative publications, Fox News and conservative radio talkers as if they had the plague. If anything, they are worse since they think those who tell them what they want to hear are objective while those who disagree are not. Nothing better illustrates the dialogue of the deaf on this issue than attitudes such as those illustrated by Carville.

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I agree with liberal political strategist and talking head James Carville that listening and reading only to those who agree with you is a colossal bore. My reaction to such a prospect is the same as his. Rather than suffer such a fate, “just shoot me.” But Carville’s analysis of the polarization in the media illustrates the same fallacy that is at the heart of the trend he laments. Writing in The Hill yesterday, Carville says that what’s wrong is that:

Conservatives never seem to tire of one another. They love to reinforce their beliefs, day after day.

In other words, liberals are open to all points of view and read, listen and watch conservative outlets while it is only conservatives who insulate themselves from opposing points of view. Perhaps that is true on some other planet in the universe, but here on Earth, liberals are just as guilty of this fault as anyone on the right, as evidence by the loyalty to a wide array of liberal newspapers, radio and TV outlets while shunning conservative publications, Fox News and conservative radio talkers as if they had the plague. If anything, they are worse since they think those who tell them what they want to hear are objective while those who disagree are not. Nothing better illustrates the dialogue of the deaf on this issue than attitudes such as those illustrated by Carville.

Carville’s motivation for writing was the same as that of David Carr, the New York Times media columnist whose column on the issue was discussed here on Sunday. Both were flabbergasted to learn that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia avoided liberal newspapers like the Times and the Washington Post as well as NPR Radio, choosing instead to read the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and to listen to talk radio with special mention to William Bennett’s morning show.

I wrote then that the problem with Carr’s article was that he failed to note his own newspaper’s well-known liberal bias or to acknowledge that prior to the advent of Fox News and conservative talk radio, liberals had a virtual monopoly on the mainstream media in terms of major daily newspapers and television networks.

But Carville’s failing here is even worse than Carr’s omissions. He seems to actually believe that liberals are willing to expose themselves to different viewpoints but that it is only conservatives that don’t.

Is he serious?

Does he think liberals check conservative publications like editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, National Review, the Weekly Standard or even Commentary to get a different perspective from that of the Times? Or those who watch MSNBC are frequently clicking over to Fox to find out what the other side is saying? That NPR listeners tune in even once in a blue moon to Rush Limbaugh or anyone with a conservative frame of reference? Not a chance.

The liberal problem with the proliferation of media outlets that has provided both sides of the political divide with a diverse set of choices that enable them to avoid opinions that upset them is primarily based in their dismay that there is a choice nowadays other than the ones they endorse.

As Carville’s piece indicates, what liberals want is to force conservatives to listen to them. Fair enough. We sometimes learn a lot more from our opponents than our friends. I know I do. But that is not matched by a liberal commitment to listen to conservatives. Media partisanship is a problem. But, contrary to Carville’s spin, it is a bipartisan problem.

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Poverty and Politics

According to a story in the Associated Press, “the ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century.” The story goes on to say that poverty, which is closely tied to joblessness, “is spreading at record levels across many groups.” (The most recent poverty rates are from 2010; Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall.)

According to demographers:

  • Poverty will remain above the pre-recession level of 12.5 percent for many more years. Several predicted that peak poverty levels — 15 percent to 16 percent — will last at least until 2014.
  • Suburban poverty, already at a record level of 11.8 percent, will increase again in 2011.
  • Part-time or underemployed workers, who saw a record 15 percent poverty in 2010, will rise to a new high.
  • Child poverty will increase from its 22 percent level in 2010.

As the election nears — it is now less than 100 days away — the issue of poverty in America will hopefully play a somewhat more central role. It’s perfectly appropriate for candidates of both parties, and at all levels, to focus on the plight of the middle class. But while the effects of the Great Recession, combined with the worst recovery on record, have taken their toll on every strata in American society, it is the poor who suffer disproportionately. (I understand that the definition of poor is subjective and that what qualifies as poor in America qualifies as extravagant wealth in, say, parts of Africa.)

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According to a story in the Associated Press, “the ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century.” The story goes on to say that poverty, which is closely tied to joblessness, “is spreading at record levels across many groups.” (The most recent poverty rates are from 2010; Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall.)

According to demographers:

  • Poverty will remain above the pre-recession level of 12.5 percent for many more years. Several predicted that peak poverty levels — 15 percent to 16 percent — will last at least until 2014.
  • Suburban poverty, already at a record level of 11.8 percent, will increase again in 2011.
  • Part-time or underemployed workers, who saw a record 15 percent poverty in 2010, will rise to a new high.
  • Child poverty will increase from its 22 percent level in 2010.

As the election nears — it is now less than 100 days away — the issue of poverty in America will hopefully play a somewhat more central role. It’s perfectly appropriate for candidates of both parties, and at all levels, to focus on the plight of the middle class. But while the effects of the Great Recession, combined with the worst recovery on record, have taken their toll on every strata in American society, it is the poor who suffer disproportionately. (I understand that the definition of poor is subjective and that what qualifies as poor in America qualifies as extravagant wealth in, say, parts of Africa.)

When he was the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, William Bennett — in pointing out that illegal drugs inflicted more harm on the underclass than any other group — used an earthquake that shook California in 1989 to make this point. Few people knew that the earthquake that hit the Bay area was more powerful than the one that hit Mexico City a few years earlier. Why? Because the casualties were much higher and the overall damage was much worse in Mexico City. The reason, Bennett said, is that when the earth shakes, the devastation often depends less on the magnitude of the quake than on the stability of the structure on which you stand.

As a general matter, the wealthy have more stable structures than the middle class, and the middle class have more stable structures than the poor. I’m not arguing that the poor ought to occupy all or even most of the attention of the political class. But those in the shadows of society should become an object of all of our attention.

A decent society, including its political leadership, should be judged in part on how well we treat the weak and the disadvantaged. That isn’t the only criterion that should be used, but it ought to matter. And so as the election draws near, the American people should judge those running for public office based in some measure on who has the best plan to assist the poor in terms of their material well-being and in helping equip them to lead lives of independence, achievement, and dignity. I’m one of those who believe that conservative policies – in economics, education, welfare, crime, and heath care, as well as in strengthening civil society and our mediating institutions — offer the greatest hope and opportunity to those who are most marginalized.

Here’s the thing, though: conservatives have to make that case. No one else will.

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GOP Unjustly Called “Party of Sodom”

Appealing to the Bible, Gershom Gorenberg earlier this week declared that the Republican Party is the “party of Sodom.” In claiming that “the GOP is rather obviously committed to the quality of Sodom,” he was not referring to a sexual sin (that is more a Christian than a Jewish interpretation of the biblical story), but rather to “economic injustice, selfishness, and refusal to redistribute wealth.” The Talmud pithily encapsulates this quality, he notes, with the phrase, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.”

These “selfish economics,” Gorenberg goes on, are espoused by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and shared by Benjamin Netanyahu. In Sodom, apparently, there would have been no problem passing the Paul Ryan budget. (Incidentally, how would the Democrats’ budget have fared? Oh right. Oops.) Read More

Appealing to the Bible, Gershom Gorenberg earlier this week declared that the Republican Party is the “party of Sodom.” In claiming that “the GOP is rather obviously committed to the quality of Sodom,” he was not referring to a sexual sin (that is more a Christian than a Jewish interpretation of the biblical story), but rather to “economic injustice, selfishness, and refusal to redistribute wealth.” The Talmud pithily encapsulates this quality, he notes, with the phrase, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.”

These “selfish economics,” Gorenberg goes on, are espoused by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and shared by Benjamin Netanyahu. In Sodom, apparently, there would have been no problem passing the Paul Ryan budget. (Incidentally, how would the Democrats’ budget have fared? Oh right. Oops.)

Unfortunately for Gorenberg, all he really achieves in his post is yet another demonstration of how liberals profoundly misunderstand conservative thought. Yet, the conservative position is so straightforward that their failure to apprehend it is quite remarkable: government should be small so that society and the individual can be large. This, conservatives believe, encourages true compassion and selflessness: one cares for one’s neighbor oneself or as a community, rather than leave the government to do it, and those receiving aid do their utmost to strive for economic self-sufficiency where possible. It is a society where “redistribution of wealth” is replaced by charity and integrity. Hardly “what’s mine is mine.”

And this isn’t theoretical. The data already shows it: conservatives give staggeringly more than liberals to charitable causes, and Mitt Romney in particular has given more (in absolute and proportional terms) than any other presidential candidate for whom we have a record. Party of Sodom, eh? Now who’s being unjust?

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Liberal Intolerance Strikes Chick-fil-A

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: The American Left and the self-described liberals who inhabit it are open-minded, inclusive and tolerant. As we’ve come to learn, however, that tolerance only extends to those who agree with their worldview.

The latest conservative in liberals’ crosshairs is Chick-fil-A’s President Dan Cathy. An interview with the Baptist Press has caused a firestorm after Cathy stated he was “guilty as charged” in his company’s support of the traditional family.

For these remarks, boycott campaigns have raged across the internet as outraged liberals call the company and its president “hate mongers,” “bigots” and other, unpublishable, epithets. Many liberals have stated they will no longer “support” Chick-fil-A, perhaps under the mistaken impression that it is a charity, not a restaurant, a business that doesn’t need supporting, but patronizing.

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If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: The American Left and the self-described liberals who inhabit it are open-minded, inclusive and tolerant. As we’ve come to learn, however, that tolerance only extends to those who agree with their worldview.

The latest conservative in liberals’ crosshairs is Chick-fil-A’s President Dan Cathy. An interview with the Baptist Press has caused a firestorm after Cathy stated he was “guilty as charged” in his company’s support of the traditional family.

For these remarks, boycott campaigns have raged across the internet as outraged liberals call the company and its president “hate mongers,” “bigots” and other, unpublishable, epithets. Many liberals have stated they will no longer “support” Chick-fil-A, perhaps under the mistaken impression that it is a charity, not a restaurant, a business that doesn’t need supporting, but patronizing.

Cathy’s remarks have been portrayed as “anti-gay” when in fact they are merely pro-traditional family. People can disagree with an action, position or lifestyle without being “anti-” something. Those who are pro-life aren’t anti-woman, those who are pro-family aren’t anti-gay, and those believe in the importance of hard work and dedication are not anti-poor.

The Left’s view on Cathy’s remarks show just how intolerant and sophomoric their ideology really is. Not only do they have no problem with Ben & Jerry‘s publicly and vocally supporting a position on gay rights, they laud their public stance. They “support” that company because its owners and founders follow the straight and narrow on what is “politically correct.” Others that deviate feel the wrath, as Chick-fil-A is now experiencing.

To my personal disappointment, the company has apparently buckled and released a statement that it will no longer become involved in partisan disputes, even though the company itself never did. It was the Left who involved the company in the dispute, and did so only because its president was “wrong,” according to their social views. Companies like Ben & Jerry’s have never, rightfully so, been terrorized by the Right for holding an opinion differing from their own. Some (like myself) have personally chosen not to buy their product, but a wholesale boycott was never issued in response to the personal views of its founders.

Many on the Right and Left continue to express disappointment about the polarization of American politics during the last several years, but it’s actions such as these that tear Americans apart. The campaign built to destroy Chick-fil-A has made patronizing what is, apparently, a very tasty chicken restaurant, into a political statement. There are enough things in our world that are controlled by political animosity. Chicken nuggets shouldn’t be one of them.

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A Challenge to Liberals

In his column, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne once again issues a “challenge for conservatives.” This time his focus is on income inequality.

According to Dionne, “It’s good that conservatives are finally taking seriously the problems of inequality and declining upward mobility. It’s unfortunate that they often evade the ways in which structural changes in the economy, combined with conservative policies, have made matters worse.” Dionne goes on to praise European nations whose policies are more “’socialist’ or (to be precise) social democratic than ours” and which also have greater social mobility than we find in America today.

Dionne cites several factors for this – guaranteed health insurance, stronger union movements, more generous welfare states, and higher taxes. He then cites William Julius Wilson’s review of Timothy Noah’s book The Great Divergence, which mentions “the increasing importance of a college degree due to the shortage of better-educated workers; trade between the United States and low-wage nations; changes in government policy in labor and finance; and the decline of the labor movement. He also considers the extreme changes in the wage structure of corporations and the financial industry, in which American CEOs typically receive three times the salaries earned by their European counterparts.”

“Most conservatives accept the importance of education,” according to Dionne, “but then choose to ignore all the other forces Noah describes.”

In fact, some of us have written about income inequality in somewhat more detail than Dionne has. This essay in National Affairs, for example, is roughly 10 times longer than Dionne’s column – and is, I think it’s fair to say, less tendentious. (In reading Dionne and some others, I’m reminded of this description: “Like a magnet among iron filings, [his mind] either concentrated acceptable facts in a tight cluster, or repelled them and kept itself clean.”)

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In his column, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne once again issues a “challenge for conservatives.” This time his focus is on income inequality.

According to Dionne, “It’s good that conservatives are finally taking seriously the problems of inequality and declining upward mobility. It’s unfortunate that they often evade the ways in which structural changes in the economy, combined with conservative policies, have made matters worse.” Dionne goes on to praise European nations whose policies are more “’socialist’ or (to be precise) social democratic than ours” and which also have greater social mobility than we find in America today.

Dionne cites several factors for this – guaranteed health insurance, stronger union movements, more generous welfare states, and higher taxes. He then cites William Julius Wilson’s review of Timothy Noah’s book The Great Divergence, which mentions “the increasing importance of a college degree due to the shortage of better-educated workers; trade between the United States and low-wage nations; changes in government policy in labor and finance; and the decline of the labor movement. He also considers the extreme changes in the wage structure of corporations and the financial industry, in which American CEOs typically receive three times the salaries earned by their European counterparts.”

“Most conservatives accept the importance of education,” according to Dionne, “but then choose to ignore all the other forces Noah describes.”

In fact, some of us have written about income inequality in somewhat more detail than Dionne has. This essay in National Affairs, for example, is roughly 10 times longer than Dionne’s column – and is, I think it’s fair to say, less tendentious. (In reading Dionne and some others, I’m reminded of this description: “Like a magnet among iron filings, [his mind] either concentrated acceptable facts in a tight cluster, or repelled them and kept itself clean.”)

The issue of income inequality is a good deal more complicated and less ideologically simplistic than Dionne acknowledges. Among the things the essay points out but Dionne ignores is that (a) income taxes in America are the most progressive among the rich nations in the world; (b) inequality is driven in part by the growing workforce participation rate of women; (c) federal old-age entitlement programs have become less progressive (which argues for means-testing Social Security and Medicare, a policy that has been fiercely rejected by liberals in the past); and (d) one of the quickest ways to increased income equality is a severe recession (because severe recessions destroy capital, which hurts top income earners more than average workers).

Still another factor has contributed to income inequality. In their book The Winner-Take-All Society, economists Robert Frank and Philip Cook argue that certain markets are defined by the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few top performers. The winner-take-all model has come to dominate not just the corporate and financial industry but a number of professional sectors, including sports, art, acting, and music. Yet Dionne never seems to be troubled by the amount someone like, say, Bruce Springsteen makes. (Springsteen is estimated to be worth around $200 million, though that matters not, as his politics are liberal and his songs are, according to Dionne, a paean to communitarianism.) The Washington Post columnist’s wrath is usually directed toward those who are successful in business. I’ll leave it to discerning readers to figure out why.

As for the issue of social mobility, the National Affairs essay I co-authored points out that “Whether one judges by intragenerational mobility (meaning movement within or between income brackets and social classes within an individual’s lifetime) or intergenerational mobility (movement within or between income brackets and social classes occurring from one generation to the next), the United States is less mobile than it should be.”

But here is one fundamental area in which I depart from Dionne, which is that the problem in America today is not wealth but rather persistent poverty. And the right way to deal with income inequality is not by punishing the rich, as the left is eager to do, but by doing more to help the poor become richer, chiefly by increasing their social capital. (Robert Beschel and I sketch out what the broad outlines of a real social-capital agenda might consist of.)

One cannot help but believe that many progressives, in the name of reducing income inequality, would be willing to see the poor get poorer so long as the rich lost ground as well. Whether or not Dionne fits in this category, it should be said that he has never adequately explained his passionate opposition to welfare reform in the 1990s, which ranks as one of the most successful social reforms in the last half-century and which decreased dependency and improved the condition of the poor. It’s curious, too, that Dionne would hold up Europe as a model for America, given the extraordinary fiscal crisis and human suffering that is now sweeping Europe.

In any event, Dionne’s column at least provides an example of the fundamentally different worldviews that are competing and clashing in our time. Dionne really does hold up the socialist/social democracies of Europe as a model. Conservatives do not. Greece is not what conservatives are hoping to replicate in America.

These are matters that really ought to be the subject of a vigorous national debate.

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Yes, Conservatives Criticized Reagan Too

What do you call a forum during which two people holding different opinions argue their respective cases in an attempt to win over the audience? Conservatives rightly call this a “debate.” But according to Dana Milbank, liberals have another term: “show trial.” That’s what Milbank called a debate this week between Norm Ornstein and Steve Hayward hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. The topic was whether Ornstein was correct about the modern Republican Party’s supposed historic intransigence.

It’s telling that the free flow of ideas makes liberals so uncomfortable. That is one aspect of the larger point Milbank was making, which is that in his opinion Jeb Bush’s recent comments on the difficulty his father and Ronald Reagan would have in today’s GOP were spot-on. But what did Jeb Bush say that Milbank found so damning? Here it is, from his column:

“Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad — they would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party . . . as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground,” Bush said Monday in a meeting at Bloomberg headquarters in New York, according to the online publication Buzzfeed.

“Back to my dad’s time and Ronald Reagan’s time — they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan support,” Bush added. Reagan today “would be criticized for doing the things that he did.”

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What do you call a forum during which two people holding different opinions argue their respective cases in an attempt to win over the audience? Conservatives rightly call this a “debate.” But according to Dana Milbank, liberals have another term: “show trial.” That’s what Milbank called a debate this week between Norm Ornstein and Steve Hayward hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. The topic was whether Ornstein was correct about the modern Republican Party’s supposed historic intransigence.

It’s telling that the free flow of ideas makes liberals so uncomfortable. That is one aspect of the larger point Milbank was making, which is that in his opinion Jeb Bush’s recent comments on the difficulty his father and Ronald Reagan would have in today’s GOP were spot-on. But what did Jeb Bush say that Milbank found so damning? Here it is, from his column:

“Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad — they would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party . . . as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground,” Bush said Monday in a meeting at Bloomberg headquarters in New York, according to the online publication Buzzfeed.

“Back to my dad’s time and Ronald Reagan’s time — they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan support,” Bush added. Reagan today “would be criticized for doing the things that he did.”

Chilling, I know. Reagan would be criticized. Talk about Stalinism! It’s fair to say, then, that liberal reaction to Bush’s comments has been disproportionate to their content. It’s hard to imagine conservatives criticizing Reagan–unless, of course, you were alive during the Reagan administration. Here’s just one of many examples, from the L.A. Times, to which Richard Viguerie ran down a list of a few things conservatives were upset with Reagan about: “abortion, pornography, busing and economic issues, but at the core of the criticism is anti-communism. Across the board he seems to be deserting his anti-communist position he has had for the last 30 years.”

The headline on the story was “Reagan Seeks to Calm His Right-Wing Critics.” Both liberals and conservatives have taken some poetic license during the years with Reagan’s legacy. But Reagan was criticized. He responded to the criticism. The right engaged in a debate. There was plenty of disagreement, yet Reagan continues to be lionized by conservatives who, unlike Milbank and the left, aren’t terrified by the clash of ideas.

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Compromise v. Prudence

In his book The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, Robert Caro – in the context of the civil rights struggle – writes this:

Johnson refused to compromise. In public, in answer to a press conference question about the possibility of one, he said, “I am in favor of passing it [the bill] in the Senate exactly in its present form.” In private, talking to legislative leaders, he had a more pungent phrase. “There will be no wheels and no deals.” There was, as always, a political calculation behind his stance. “I knew,” he was to tell Doris Goodwin, “that if I didn’t get out in front on this issue, [the liberals] would get me…. I had to produce a civil rights bill that was even stronger than the one they’d have gotten if Kennedy had lived.” And there was, as always, something more than calculation. Assuring Richard Goodwin there would be “no compromises on civil rights; I’m not going to bend an inch,” he added, “In the Senate [as Leader] I did the best I could. But I had to be careful…. But I always vowed that if I ever had the power I’d make sure every Negro had the same chance as every white man. Now I have it. And I’m going to use it.”

The issue of compromise is an important one in politics, and there is much to be said on its behalf. “In the Constitutional Convention, the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory,” Catherine Drinker Bowen wrote in Miracle at Philadelphia. “As Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder like the dove. Men rise to speak and one sees them struggle with the bias of birthright, locality, statehood…. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride and when the moment comes, admit their error.”

Some conservatives seem instinctively hostile to comprise in principle, as if it is inherently a sign of weakness, of lack of commitment and resolve, and that it inevitably leads to bad outcomes. As a “constitutional conservative,” I dissent from this attitude.

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In his book The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, Robert Caro – in the context of the civil rights struggle – writes this:

Johnson refused to compromise. In public, in answer to a press conference question about the possibility of one, he said, “I am in favor of passing it [the bill] in the Senate exactly in its present form.” In private, talking to legislative leaders, he had a more pungent phrase. “There will be no wheels and no deals.” There was, as always, a political calculation behind his stance. “I knew,” he was to tell Doris Goodwin, “that if I didn’t get out in front on this issue, [the liberals] would get me…. I had to produce a civil rights bill that was even stronger than the one they’d have gotten if Kennedy had lived.” And there was, as always, something more than calculation. Assuring Richard Goodwin there would be “no compromises on civil rights; I’m not going to bend an inch,” he added, “In the Senate [as Leader] I did the best I could. But I had to be careful…. But I always vowed that if I ever had the power I’d make sure every Negro had the same chance as every white man. Now I have it. And I’m going to use it.”

The issue of compromise is an important one in politics, and there is much to be said on its behalf. “In the Constitutional Convention, the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory,” Catherine Drinker Bowen wrote in Miracle at Philadelphia. “As Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder like the dove. Men rise to speak and one sees them struggle with the bias of birthright, locality, statehood…. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride and when the moment comes, admit their error.”

Some conservatives seem instinctively hostile to comprise in principle, as if it is inherently a sign of weakness, of lack of commitment and resolve, and that it inevitably leads to bad outcomes. As a “constitutional conservative,” I dissent from this attitude.

It’s worth noting that two of the most impressive figures in American history, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln, showed the ability to compromise at key moments. It was Lincoln, as a young man, who said, “The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it has more of evil, than of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost everything, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.” The Lincoln biographer William Lee Miller, building on this point, added, “[M]any reflective moralists, and most serious politicians, including Abraham Lincoln, perceive … that good and evil come mixed and that the moral life most of the time (not quite all of the time) consists of making discriminate judgments, judgments at the margins, discernments of less and more…”

At the same time, there are those who speak as if compromise is itself, in principle, a moral good. But that approach is also flawed and potentially dangerous. Compromise for its own sake can set back the cause of justice. In the wrong hands, in weak hands, it can produce pernicious results. The point is that compromise can’t be judged in the abstract; it can only be assessed in particular circumstances. It takes wisdom and statesmanship to discern when to hold firm (on fundamental principles) and when to give ground (on tactics and secondary issues).

Which brings me back to LBJ. Most modern-day liberals who excoriated conservatives for being “rigid” and opposing “compromise” on matters having to do with the budget and raising the debt ceiling – the pseudo-sophisticated putdown is that they are nihilists – would (rightly) celebrate President Johnson’s refusal to compromise on civil rights. Which may get us somewhat closer to the heart of the matter.

The word compromise is something of a Rorschach test. Those who hold a liberal worldview often consider conservatives who fight hard for their cause to be inflexible and unreasonable, just as those who hold a conservative worldview often consider liberals who fight hard for their cause to be inflexible and unreasonable. What determines whether we judge a politician to be a profile in courage or a profile in intransigence almost always depends on whether we’re sympathetic to the cause they are championing.

As a general matter, then, compromise is neither a moral good nor a moral evil; it’s contextual. And it’s why prudence, not compromise, is rightly considered to be among the highest of all the political virtues.

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The Media’s Apocalyptic Vision of Richard Mourdock

Conservatives often complain that when the mainstream media is forced by events to pay attention to conservative views they have long ignored, the tone of the reporting often is that of an anthropological grant application. The reporters brave the native habitat of conservatives and find that they’re practically human. But that’s actually better than what we witnessed after Richard Mourdock defeated Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP Senate primary this week.

Lugar, you may have heard, has been in the Senate a very long time, and he is a statesman and throwback to the gilded era of Republican acquiescence–sorry, bipartisanship, and statesmanship. A true mensch, a centrist Republican, Dick Lugar was, above all, a statesman, we are now told. But what about Mourdock, the man vying to replace Lugar in the Senate? Is he a statesman? Let’s find out, by reading some of the liberal write-ups of the election. The results may surprise you.

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Conservatives often complain that when the mainstream media is forced by events to pay attention to conservative views they have long ignored, the tone of the reporting often is that of an anthropological grant application. The reporters brave the native habitat of conservatives and find that they’re practically human. But that’s actually better than what we witnessed after Richard Mourdock defeated Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP Senate primary this week.

Lugar, you may have heard, has been in the Senate a very long time, and he is a statesman and throwback to the gilded era of Republican acquiescence–sorry, bipartisanship, and statesmanship. A true mensch, a centrist Republican, Dick Lugar was, above all, a statesman, we are now told. But what about Mourdock, the man vying to replace Lugar in the Senate? Is he a statesman? Let’s find out, by reading some of the liberal write-ups of the election. The results may surprise you.

Salon, for example, carries a story titled “Republican Party: Hawks-only club.” The article details how Mourdock’s victory makes the GOP uniformly hawkish on foreign policy. Most of the article is an explanation of why liberals liked Lugar so much, but finally the author gives us the damage: “In practical terms, Lugar’s loss means that U.S. foreign policy will be less civilized, less responsible and less effective.”

I noticed something was missing from this article, however: it omits any mention whatsoever of Richard Mourdock’s views on foreign policy. This is a rather glaring omission, but maybe the reporter’s instincts are right.

To find out, let’s head on over to an expert on foreign policy, Tom Ricks. Ricks maintains a blog on Foreign Policy’s website, and sure enough he weighed in on Mourdock’s victory. He, too, was horrified by the erosion of the foreign policy center. But he has a somewhat different take on what it means. Mourdock’s victory, Ricks admits, “makes me wonder if the great Midwest is turning away from internationalism and back to its pre-World War II isolationism.”

So Salon was wrong? Mourdock is the opposite of a hawkish hawk? He’s actually an isolationist? I wondered what led Ricks to this conclusion, but his post didn’t help me answer that question, because Ricks doesn’t even mention Mourdock’s name, let alone Mourdock’s views on foreign policy.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Reporters sometimes trick politicians into revealing what they think by employing an age-old tactic commonly referred to as “asking them questions.” It turns out that some reporters did. Richard Mourdock, as a supporter of cutting the Pentagon’s budget and skeptical of the mission in Afghanistan, is not a superhawk, as Salon would have it. But he also believes America plays an important role in the world, and that it must not retreat from its responsibilities around the globe. So he isn’t an isolationist either.

But if he’s starting to sound like a mainstream candidate, he’s got you fooled. Richard Mourdock is, according to the sandwich board Jonathan Chait has been wearing around town, the harbinger of doom. This is an interesting point of view coming from Chait, who is the author of the magnum opus of leftist anti-intellectualism and anthem of paranoid incivility, “Mad About You: The Case for Bush Hatred.” Some things have changed since Chait published his plea for incivility–namely, we have a Democratic president. So now it’s time to protect “social norms”–specifically, he says, court-related social norms permitting the confirmation of a president’s court picks. Mourdock cited Lugar’s support for President Obama’s Supreme Court picks in his case against the incumbent senator, mirroring a Republican approach to politics that is, in Chait’s view, bringing upon us a “crisis of American government.”

Some have pointed out that the collapse of the nomination process was brought about by Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden when they took a sledgehammer to “social norms” during the confirmation process of Robert Bork. That’s true. But I’d like to defend Chait somewhat. I, too, have been concerned about the collapse of social norms.

For example, it was once a social norm never to use the filibuster against a circuit court nominee. But then George W. Bush nominated Miguel Estrada, an undeniably qualified candidate, to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The Democrats were playing the long game, however, and were willing to buck social norms in order to prevent the Republicans from starting a process that would end with a conservative Hispanic judge on the Supreme Court. So they blocked Estrada.

In October 2003, the Associated Press reported that Democrats were preparing to expand their use of the filibuster to everything the GOP put forward. “Perhaps we ought to prepare some bumper stickers that say ‘Obstruction: It’s not just for judges anymore’,” remarked Republican John Cornyn.

More recently, Harry Reid has perfected a tactic called “filling the tree” to prevent Republicans from even being able to offer amendments on bills. Reid and the Democrats are, it turns out, innovators in the means to tear down social norms and prevent the government from functioning as it was intended. In fact, it’s now been more than three years since Reid’s Senate passed a budget.

But hey, at least he didn’t criticize a Democratic nominee who was confirmed anyway. Now that would just be uncivil.

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Is the Gender-War Rhetoric Hurting GOP?

At the National Review, Heather Mac Donald calls on the Republican Party to cease and desist with the gender-discrimination claims, because they’re starting to sound like liberals:

The chance that the Obama White House, staffed by eager products of the feminist university, is a hostile workplace for women is exactly zero — as low as the chance that the Bush I, II, or Reagan White Houses were hostile to women. Any Republican who actually believes [former White House aide Anita] Dunn’s charge has merely allowed his partisan desire for political victory to silence what should be his core knowledge about the contemporary world. …

Equally dismaying is the RNC’s embrace of the charge that the Obama White House pays female aides less than male ones. Such disparate pay claims are of course bread and butter to the discrimination bar and are virtually always based on junk social science. But the likelihood that this particular employer — the immaculately “progressive” Obama White House — is discriminating against female employees of equal merit as males is just as crazy as the charge that Walmart, say, discriminates against qualified female employees in its own pay scale. Conservative critics of extortionist feminist legal claims cannot have it both ways — rightly decrying them when directed at free-market employers but embracing them when they are directed against political opponents.

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At the National Review, Heather Mac Donald calls on the Republican Party to cease and desist with the gender-discrimination claims, because they’re starting to sound like liberals:

The chance that the Obama White House, staffed by eager products of the feminist university, is a hostile workplace for women is exactly zero — as low as the chance that the Bush I, II, or Reagan White Houses were hostile to women. Any Republican who actually believes [former White House aide Anita] Dunn’s charge has merely allowed his partisan desire for political victory to silence what should be his core knowledge about the contemporary world. …

Equally dismaying is the RNC’s embrace of the charge that the Obama White House pays female aides less than male ones. Such disparate pay claims are of course bread and butter to the discrimination bar and are virtually always based on junk social science. But the likelihood that this particular employer — the immaculately “progressive” Obama White House — is discriminating against female employees of equal merit as males is just as crazy as the charge that Walmart, say, discriminates against qualified female employees in its own pay scale. Conservative critics of extortionist feminist legal claims cannot have it both ways — rightly decrying them when directed at free-market employers but embracing them when they are directed against political opponents.

Mac Donald is right. It’s obviously tempting for Republicans to try to score political chips by playing the gender card, but the Romney campaign has to be careful not to undermine years of conservative arguments – and essentially kosherize fake gender discrimination claims – by doing so.

That said, conservatives should still raise issues like the White House pay wage gap and female unemployment claims as a way to contradict fake liberal outrage rather than try to top it. It’s a matter of hypocrisy. If the Obama campaign is going to argue Republicans are anti-women based on their criticism of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, then conservatives are right to point out that Obama’s own White House doesn’t live up to his own equal-pay standards.

Does this mean the Obama White House is anti-women? Of course not. But force the president try to explain the incongruity between his rhetoric and reality. He won’t be able to, unless he’s actually honest and admits that the gender wage gap (as far as it actually still exists) isn’t based on gender discrimination by employers, but on the fact that women and men (on average) tend to seek out different career choices and paths.

That was the point conservatives were trying to make by turning Obama’s gender pay gap into an issue. But when the RNC and the Romney campaign seize on these stories to try to play to the generic “women’s vote,” it destroys the message.

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Even Relativism is Relative

In his Weekly Standard cover story on Allan Bloom’s book “The Closing of the American Mind” 25 years later, Andrew Ferguson writes of Bloom, “As well as anyone then or now, he understood that the intellectual fashion of materialism —of explaining all life, human or animal, mental or otherwise, by means of physical processes alone— had led inescapably to a doctrinaire relativism that would prove to be a universal corrosive.”

Ferguson adds,

The crisis was–— is–—a crisis of confidence in the principle that serves as the premise of liberal education: that reason, informed by learning and experience, can arrive at truth, and that one truth may be truer than another. This loss of faith had consequences and causes far beyond higher ed. Bloom was a believer in intellectual trickle-down theory, and it is the comprehensiveness of his thesis that may have attracted readers to him and his book. The coarsening of public manners, the decline in academic achievement, the general dumbing down of America– even Jerry Springer–—had a long pedigree that Bloom was at pains to describe for a general reader.

“[College students] are united only in their relativism,” he wrote. “The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate.”

Relativism, in fact, was the only moral postulate that went unchallenged in academic life … What follows when a belief in objectivity and truth dies away in higher education? In time an educated person comes to doubt that purpose and meaning are discoverable…— he doubts, finally, that they even exist.

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In his Weekly Standard cover story on Allan Bloom’s book “The Closing of the American Mind” 25 years later, Andrew Ferguson writes of Bloom, “As well as anyone then or now, he understood that the intellectual fashion of materialism —of explaining all life, human or animal, mental or otherwise, by means of physical processes alone— had led inescapably to a doctrinaire relativism that would prove to be a universal corrosive.”

Ferguson adds,

The crisis was–— is–—a crisis of confidence in the principle that serves as the premise of liberal education: that reason, informed by learning and experience, can arrive at truth, and that one truth may be truer than another. This loss of faith had consequences and causes far beyond higher ed. Bloom was a believer in intellectual trickle-down theory, and it is the comprehensiveness of his thesis that may have attracted readers to him and his book. The coarsening of public manners, the decline in academic achievement, the general dumbing down of America– even Jerry Springer–—had a long pedigree that Bloom was at pains to describe for a general reader.

“[College students] are united only in their relativism,” he wrote. “The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate.”

Relativism, in fact, was the only moral postulate that went unchallenged in academic life … What follows when a belief in objectivity and truth dies away in higher education? In time an educated person comes to doubt that purpose and meaning are discoverable…— he doubts, finally, that they even exist.

I think Professor Bloom was only partially right. It’s quite true that an unwillingness to believe in objective moral truth is widespread in the academy and among those on the left — but only on certain issues. On other matters –gay rights and same-sex marriage, race-based affirmative action, a constitutional right to an abortion, gun control, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, Guantanamo Bay, rendition, the right to a Palestinian state, anthropological global warming, the Tea Party v. the Occupy Wall Street movement, Rush Limbaugh v. Sandra Fluke, and others — those on the left don’t believe truth is relative. They believe, in fact, that their positions are right, moral, and objectively true and better. If a social conservatives debates a social liberal on gay marriage, the odds are quite high that the latter will not say to the former, “Your values are as good as mine. Truth is relative. Who am I to judge?” If you ask liberals “whose truth?” they will gladly tell you, “my truth.”

The problem is that many modern-day liberals can’t quite tell you why their truth is superior to the one embraced by conservatives. They might invoke fairness, though without being able to anchor it in anything permanent or normative. But they are not relativistic or especially tolerant of views they consider to be unenlightened, benighted, and primative. Quite the opposite, in fact. Ask liberal New York Times columnists about Rick Santorum’s social views and you’ll get more than a shrug of the shoulders.

Their relativism, then, is selective, a moral postulate in some circumstances but not others. It turns out that even relativism is little more than an instrument to advance an ideology.

 

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Christie to NJ: Everyone Sacrificed, Everyone Benefits

Yesterday was a pretty good day for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. As the video of his put-up-or-shut-up comments about Warren Buffett made the rounds, Quinnipiac released a poll showing Christie to be the favorite of possible Republican “white knights,” beating out Jeb Bush and Sarah Palin. Then the Republican candidates debated (again)–almost always a boon for any Republican not up on that stage.

But there was more to his Buffett shaming than simple grandstanding, and it revealed something about Christie’s own political prospects. I’ve written before about how Christie’s primary challenge in New Jersey was to summon the political capital necessary to continue enacting his much-needed reform agenda and win reelection as the state’s Democrats began to pull away from him. Christie has benefited from the cooperation of Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney and the vocal support of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, but they won’t be at his side when he runs for a second term.

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Yesterday was a pretty good day for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. As the video of his put-up-or-shut-up comments about Warren Buffett made the rounds, Quinnipiac released a poll showing Christie to be the favorite of possible Republican “white knights,” beating out Jeb Bush and Sarah Palin. Then the Republican candidates debated (again)–almost always a boon for any Republican not up on that stage.

But there was more to his Buffett shaming than simple grandstanding, and it revealed something about Christie’s own political prospects. I’ve written before about how Christie’s primary challenge in New Jersey was to summon the political capital necessary to continue enacting his much-needed reform agenda and win reelection as the state’s Democrats began to pull away from him. Christie has benefited from the cooperation of Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney and the vocal support of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, but they won’t be at his side when he runs for a second term.

November, meanwhile, dashed Christie’s hopes of getting more help from Republicans, as the Democrats held steady their majority in the state Senate and gained one seat in the Assembly.

As Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, told NJ Spotlight:

“It is a very disappointing night for Gov. Christie,” said Dworkin, adding the GOP should have gained as many as six seats. “He outraised the Democrats by millions of dollars. He put his high approval rating and his personal reputation on the line by going on network television in New York and Philadelphia. And in the end, he wasn’t able to even keep the status quo in the legislature, much less win the several seats that Republicans might have expected given his efforts.”

State Republicans were no more popular and the state legislature would move no closer to giving Christie an allied chamber. What’s more, the paradox of recovery threatened to sap Christie’s momentum further: as his reform measures began to work, the electorate’s appetite for sacrifice would diminish. So Christie had to make the argument that the state was not only moving in the right direction, but that the state’s residents are already beginning to reap the benefits of the first two years of Christie’s term. So on Tuesday, he announced his budget, and said this:

In this budget: I propose that we provide tax relief to every New Jersey citizen – through the first year of an across-the-board 10 percent cut in their income taxes; and increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. The people of New Jersey have suffered for too long under the burden of high taxes, it is time for real relief.

I propose that we increase school aid, for the second year in a row, by over $200 million, to $8.8 billion, a record amount of state aid to education. There is no priority more important than educating our children, so let’s reform our schools and give them the tools to be great.

I propose that we more than double the state’s contribution to our pension system. Last year, we enacted landmark reform that showed the nation that we can come together on a bi-partisan basis to manage our long-term liabilities. In my budget, the state will make good on its obligation to fund our pension system….

So this package provides relief for every New Jerseyan, up and down the income scale. It recognizes that New Jersey’s tax situation had gotten out of control and begins to bring it back under our control. It recognizes that every New Jerseyan has shared in the sacrifice that was necessary to begin the New Jersey Comeback and that every New Jerseyan should share in the benefit we’re beginning to feel.

And that is really what his Buffett comment was about. Buffett has adopted the Democrats’ class warfare terminology, splitting the public into those who deserve government largesse and those who should pay even more to fund it. “Everyone deserves to have the government responsive to their concerns and needs,” Christie countered.

Christie is so popular among conservatives in part for this reason. He has shown conservative reform works and is the best antidote to the overspending, cronyism, and political patronage that wrecked the state’s finances in the first place.

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The Establishment, Compromise and Conservatives

Among conservatives today, there’s a phrase that has become an all-purpose term of derision: “the establishment.” The purpose of the charge is to call into question the bona fides of self-proclaimed conservatives and Republicans. The choice is supposed to be between “true” conservatives and “establishment” ones.

I wonder, though, how many conservatives who rail against the establishment these days realize they are appropriating language from the 1960s, when the New Left attacked the authority structures in society and presented themselves as “anti-establishment.” Back in those days, it was conservatism which saw its role to protect society from the radical tendencies of those on the left and defend the beneficial social effects of an establishment. Yet today, even so quintessential an establishment figure as Newt Gingrich explains opposition to his candidacy chiefly in terms of opposition by the “Washington establishment” rising up to block “bold change.”

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Among conservatives today, there’s a phrase that has become an all-purpose term of derision: “the establishment.” The purpose of the charge is to call into question the bona fides of self-proclaimed conservatives and Republicans. The choice is supposed to be between “true” conservatives and “establishment” ones.

I wonder, though, how many conservatives who rail against the establishment these days realize they are appropriating language from the 1960s, when the New Left attacked the authority structures in society and presented themselves as “anti-establishment.” Back in those days, it was conservatism which saw its role to protect society from the radical tendencies of those on the left and defend the beneficial social effects of an establishment. Yet today, even so quintessential an establishment figure as Newt Gingrich explains opposition to his candidacy chiefly in terms of opposition by the “Washington establishment” rising up to block “bold change.”

But that’s where this critique begins to break down. Many members of the conservative establishment, after all, were hoping Mitch Daniels or Paul Ryan would run for president because Daniels and Ryan are arguably the most committed and best informed when it comes to the most urgent and difficult domestic issue of our time, which is reforming the entitlement state, and Medicare in particular.

To complicate things even more: polls tell us that many members of the Tea Party, which embodies anti-establishment feelings, are lukewarm when it comes to reforming programs like Medicare. And many of the loudest voices against the establishment have spent relatively little time laying out the case for structurally reforming Medicare. In fact, some of these conservatives have criticized President Obama for cutting Medicare (albeit to pay for the Affordable Care Act rather than as part of a broader reform agenda).

I wouldn’t deny for a moment that criticisms of the current establishment and political class have some merit. I’d simply suggest that the picture is incomplete. There’s an important role for the establishment in American politics. For one thing, it’s comprised of people who have substantive mastery over issues. Think of the difference between, say, Christine O’Donnell and Herman Cain, who embodied an anti-establishment style but who were not fluent on policy, and Representative Paul Ryan, who qualifies as part of the establishment under any meaningful definition of the term. (Ryan worked at a Washington, D.C. think tank and as a staffer on Capitol Hill in the 1990s, he was elected to Congress in 1998, he’s now chairman of an important committee and is undeniably a part of the governing elite.) The establishment, at its best, provides experience and guidance, a stabilizing presence and a practical (rather than a rigidly ideological) outlook, all of which should appeal to conservatives.

As in so many areas, we can learn something from the wisdom of the founders. In her book “Miracle at Philadelphia,” Catherine Drinker Bowen wrote this:

Most members of the [1787]) Philadelphia Convention … were old hands, politicians to the bone. That some of them happened also to be men of vision, educated in law and the science of government, did not distract them from the matters impending. There was a minimum of oratory or showing off. Each time a member seemed about to soar into the empyrean of social theory — the eighteenth century called it “reason” – somebody brought him round, and shortly. “Experience must be our only guide,” said John Dickinson of Delaware. “Reason may mislead us.”

Many of the most impressive individuals in political history were “establishment” figures, including Burke and Madison. They knew a great deal about government. And very few, if any, of the founders would have would argued that less government experience would make people better fit to govern. It requires a different skill set to comment on politics than it does to govern, including (among other things) the ability to make wise compromises.

Speaking of which: among some conservatives these days “compromise” is considered an offense almost equal to being a member of The Establishment. So it’s once again worth recalling the elegant words of Bowen, who wrote, “In the Constitutional Convention, the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory. As Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder like the dove. Men rise to speak and one sees them struggle with the bias of birthright, locality, statehood…. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride and when the moment comes, admit their error.”

To be clear: members of the Washington establishment can be knaves and fools. Compromise can be just another word for capitulation. And there are reasons to be frustrated with the way things are done. At the same time, reflexive attacks on both “the establishment” and compromise are unwise. We were fortunate at the founding of America to have a political class consisting of individuals with governing experience, scholarly insights, and strong convictions. The best among them took the long view. They were conversant in both theory and practice. They were also undeniably members of the establishment of their era. And their compromises – including between those who favored adding a Bill of Rights and those who did not, between big states and small ones, and between northern and southern states – led to the greatest governing charter in history. These things are worth bearing in mind even, and maybe especially, for conservatives.

 

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Don’t Count Out Santorum in the Coming Conservative Primary

In the wake of Mitt Romney’s decisive victory in Florida, conservatives are faced with a couple of important choices. One is whether they will at some point in the foreseeable future make their peace with the former Massachusetts governor. The other is which of the remaining conservative candidates in the race will they support before they concede Romney is the nominee.

The answer to the first question is obvious. Though some right-wingers may not be able to reconcile themselves to Romney, after a few more primary wins for him, most conservatives will start getting on Mitt’s bandwagon in order to prevent Barack Obama’s re-election. The answer to the second is not so obvious. Though Newt Gingrich claimed Florida demonstrated that the GOP battle is now a two-person race, the lopsided margin in a state that only Gingrich seriously contested will not inspire much confidence in the former speaker’s standing as the leading “not Romney.” Though Rick Santorum finished far behind him in Florida, the weird and graceless manner with which Gingrich did not concede after losing combined with the wave of sympathy for Santorum due to his refusal to join the Florida mudslinging and his daughter’s illness may make the former Pennsylvania senator the more likely conservative standard bearer going forward.

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In the wake of Mitt Romney’s decisive victory in Florida, conservatives are faced with a couple of important choices. One is whether they will at some point in the foreseeable future make their peace with the former Massachusetts governor. The other is which of the remaining conservative candidates in the race will they support before they concede Romney is the nominee.

The answer to the first question is obvious. Though some right-wingers may not be able to reconcile themselves to Romney, after a few more primary wins for him, most conservatives will start getting on Mitt’s bandwagon in order to prevent Barack Obama’s re-election. The answer to the second is not so obvious. Though Newt Gingrich claimed Florida demonstrated that the GOP battle is now a two-person race, the lopsided margin in a state that only Gingrich seriously contested will not inspire much confidence in the former speaker’s standing as the leading “not Romney.” Though Rick Santorum finished far behind him in Florida, the weird and graceless manner with which Gingrich did not concede after losing combined with the wave of sympathy for Santorum due to his refusal to join the Florida mudslinging and his daughter’s illness may make the former Pennsylvania senator the more likely conservative standard bearer going forward.

The fact that Gingrich chose not to congratulate the winner in an election in which he was shellacked was actually not the most interesting aspect of his post-Florida speech on national television. Gingrich not only did not acknowledge Romney’s victory other than to note he had been outspent, he also spoke as if he had been the winner, giving a laundry list of actions he would take on his first day in the White House. This disconnect from reality illustrated the dogged determination that has kept him in the race when many believed him dead and buried. But it also reflected the palpable anger and bitterness at the core of Gingrich’s approach.

Gingrich’s sour grapes about losing (which he and his supporters blamed solely on the winner’s negative ads) was, of course, the height of hypocrisy given the nasty ads the former speaker used to win in South Carolina. He also adopted a bizarre class warfare theme as the “people’s candidate” which speaks to his personal resentment more than conservative dissatisfaction. He concluded by comparing himself to the signers of the Declaration of Independence in his typical grandiose self-admiring style. While Gingrich is hoping to channel the anger of Tea Party activists and social conservatives who don’t trust Romney, this sort of display isn’t likely to win many hearts.

By contrast, Santorum can argue, as he did on Tuesday night, Florida was Gingrich’s chance and instead of winning, he allowed himself to become the issue, and the result was disaster. While Gingrich’s performance as a candidate has been variable, Santorum has been consistently positive in the last month. Although he lacks the big donors who have kept the former speaker going, if he can continue to raise money on the Internet from the grass roots, he can continue running while hoping Gingrich will implode.

Instead of trying to besmirch Romney’s personal reputation as Gingrich has done, Santorum has concentrated on health care, the frontrunner’s Achilles’ heel. While the odds of Santorum being able to beat Romney are minimal, they aren’t much smaller than those of Gingrich. In the coming weeks, Santorum has a shot of finishing ahead of Gingrich in several states. This might be the moment when he slips ahead of Gingrich in what will be for all intents and purposes the conservative primary.

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The Real Reasons Conservatives Oppose Gingrich

In an intense primary battle, a lot of silly things are said. (Many of them, it turns out, are said by Sarah Palin, who seems intent on confirming every negative thing her critics have said about her.) Among them is the charge, repeated like rounds fired from a machine gun, that opposition to Newt Gingrich is based on those in the “establishment” who fear the scale of change he would bring to Washington. If you’re for Gingrich, so goes this story line, you’re for “genuine” and “fundamental” change. If you oppose Gingrich, on the other hand, you’re for “managing the decay” of America.

Except for this. The single most important idea, when it comes to fundamentally changing Washington, is the budget plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan last April. When most massive-scale-of-change conservatives were defending Ryan’s plan against scorching criticisms from the left, Gingrich described the plan as an example of “right-wing social engineering.” It was Gingrich, not the rest of us, who was counseling caution, timidity, and an unwillingness to shape (rather than follow) public opinion. (The Medicare reform plan Gingrich eventually put out wasn’t nearly as bold and far-reaching as the one put out by Governor Romney.)

So much for Mr. Fundamental Change.

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In an intense primary battle, a lot of silly things are said. (Many of them, it turns out, are said by Sarah Palin, who seems intent on confirming every negative thing her critics have said about her.) Among them is the charge, repeated like rounds fired from a machine gun, that opposition to Newt Gingrich is based on those in the “establishment” who fear the scale of change he would bring to Washington. If you’re for Gingrich, so goes this story line, you’re for “genuine” and “fundamental” change. If you oppose Gingrich, on the other hand, you’re for “managing the decay” of America.

Except for this. The single most important idea, when it comes to fundamentally changing Washington, is the budget plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan last April. When most massive-scale-of-change conservatives were defending Ryan’s plan against scorching criticisms from the left, Gingrich described the plan as an example of “right-wing social engineering.” It was Gingrich, not the rest of us, who was counseling caution, timidity, and an unwillingness to shape (rather than follow) public opinion. (The Medicare reform plan Gingrich eventually put out wasn’t nearly as bold and far-reaching as the one put out by Governor Romney.)

So much for Mr. Fundamental Change.

The reality is that conservative/”establishment” opposition to Gingrich generally falls into three categories. One is that if he won the nomination, he would not only lose to Barack Obama, but he would sink the rest of the GOP fleet in the process. A second area of concern is that Gingrich is temperamentally unfit to be president –he’s too erratic, undisciplined, and rhetorically self-destructive. A third area of concern is the suspicion that the former House speaker is not, in fact, a terribly reliable conservative, that he is not philosophically well-grounded (see his attachment to Alvin Toffler for more).

Some of these criticisms may be appropriate and some of them may be overstated or miss the mark. But to pretend the criticisms of Gingrich — expressed in varying degrees by commentators like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Charles Murray, Michael Gerson, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Bob Tyrrell, Pat Buchanan, Mona Charen, Mark Steyn, Michael Medved, Hugh Hewitt, Bill Bennett, Karl Rove, Ramesh Ponnuru, Rich Lowry, Elliott Abrams, John Podhoretz, John Hinderaker, Jennifer Rubin, Ross Douthat, David Brooks, Yuval Levin, and the editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Examiner, to say nothing of a slew of conservative members/former members of Congress who worked with Gingrich in the 1990s –are rooted in their fear of “genuine change” is simply not credible.

I understand campaigns need to create narratives that reflect well on their candidate. But the job of the rest of us is to point out, when necessary, just how ludicrous some of those narratives can be.

 

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South Carolina Proves Conservatives Are Far From Finished

For the past few months we’ve been hearing a lot in the mainstream media about the demise of the Tea Party and conservative Republicans in general. After their triumph in 2010 the Tea Party’s influence was supposed to have peaked last summer during the debt ceiling crisis. The failure of presidential candidates who openly identified with the movement such as Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry was seen as evidence of their not being able to even influence the GOP. But yesterday’s big victory in the South Carolina primary by Newt Gingrich is a clear indication that conservatives are still calling the tune in the Republican Party and anyone who thinks their concerns can be ignored or swept to the side is mistaken.

Gingrich won because, unlike Mitt Romney, he was able to tap into the genuine anger that conservatives in this country feel for President Obama and his cheerleaders in the liberal media echo chamber. While Gingrich’s claim to be the true conservative in the race is highly questionable, there is no question that he was the best at articulating the same fervor that helped galvanize Tea Party sentiment and sweep the last midterm elections. If Romney hopes to keep Gingrich’s latest comeback from gaining enough momentum to deny him the GOP nomination, he is going to have to find a way to convince conservatives that he is not merely a technocrat who understands the economy but a man who understands and can articulate their core beliefs. In other words, not only is the Tea Party’s moment not in the past, it is still very much the future of the Republican Party.

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For the past few months we’ve been hearing a lot in the mainstream media about the demise of the Tea Party and conservative Republicans in general. After their triumph in 2010 the Tea Party’s influence was supposed to have peaked last summer during the debt ceiling crisis. The failure of presidential candidates who openly identified with the movement such as Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry was seen as evidence of their not being able to even influence the GOP. But yesterday’s big victory in the South Carolina primary by Newt Gingrich is a clear indication that conservatives are still calling the tune in the Republican Party and anyone who thinks their concerns can be ignored or swept to the side is mistaken.

Gingrich won because, unlike Mitt Romney, he was able to tap into the genuine anger that conservatives in this country feel for President Obama and his cheerleaders in the liberal media echo chamber. While Gingrich’s claim to be the true conservative in the race is highly questionable, there is no question that he was the best at articulating the same fervor that helped galvanize Tea Party sentiment and sweep the last midterm elections. If Romney hopes to keep Gingrich’s latest comeback from gaining enough momentum to deny him the GOP nomination, he is going to have to find a way to convince conservatives that he is not merely a technocrat who understands the economy but a man who understands and can articulate their core beliefs. In other words, not only is the Tea Party’s moment not in the past, it is still very much the future of the Republican Party.

Needless to say, liberals are not taking this development with a good grace.

The New York Times editorial column this morning attempted to rationalize Gingrich’s win by attributing it to conservative racism. This is a liberal canard that has been repeated endlessly in the last two years without any proof to back it up. But the anger that the Times and other liberals mistake for racism is genuine. It is not, however, fueled by racism or a wish to deny minorities opportunities but a function of the frustration that many Americans feel about Obama’s reckless spending and taxing that is leading the country over the economic cliff.

Romney has a case to make to conservatives about his ideas being a better fit on the economy than those of Gingrich. But his cool demeanor and inability to create some chemistry with the electorate is a genuine obstacle to his presidential hopes. By contrast, Gingrich described himself as not a great debater but someone who can “articulate the deepest values of the American people.” It’s easy to scoff at the typical false modesty in this boast but there is something to what he’s driving at. It must be acknowledged that what happened in the last week is in large measure the product of his ability to channel conservative and Tea Party sentiment about liberal politicians and journalists.

The vast compendium of “grandiose” schemes and slogans that emanate from the former speaker are all over the ideological map. His personal flaws and abysmal leadership style make it difficult to imagine him winning the presidency. But unless Romney can figure a way to speak to the hearts as well as the minds of conservatives, he may deliver the GOP nomination to Gingrich.

In the nine days until the Florida primary and most especially the two debates in the state this week, Romney must start speaking directly to conservatives. Last night in his South Carolina concession speech, he gave us a hint of the sort of language that he might use to do that when he spoke of a campaign to defend free enterprise against the party of big government and those Republicans like Gingrich who have employed the arguments of the left to try to tear him down. We’ll need to hear a lot more of that and to hear it spoken with the sort of passion that Gingrich can so easily summon if Romney is ultimately to prevail.

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The Continuing Dominance of Conservatism

According to a new Gallup Survey, 2011 marks the third straight year that conservatives have outnumbered moderates, after more than a decade in which moderates mainly tied or outnumbered conservatives. The specific findings were these: 40 percent of Americans continue to describe their views as conservative, 35 percent as moderate, and 21 percent as liberal.

Some additional findings:

The percentage of Americans calling themselves “moderate” has gradually diminished in the U.S. since it was 43 percent in 1992.

The majority of Republicans say they are either very conservative or conservative, but the total proportion of conservatives grew 10 percentage points between 2002 and 2010, from 62 percent to 72 percent.

The percentage of Republicans who say they are moderates fell from 31 percent to 23 percent.

Relatively few Republicans say they are liberal — just 4 percent in 2011. Republicans’ ideology largely held at the 2010 levels in 2011.

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According to a new Gallup Survey, 2011 marks the third straight year that conservatives have outnumbered moderates, after more than a decade in which moderates mainly tied or outnumbered conservatives. The specific findings were these: 40 percent of Americans continue to describe their views as conservative, 35 percent as moderate, and 21 percent as liberal.

Some additional findings:

The percentage of Americans calling themselves “moderate” has gradually diminished in the U.S. since it was 43 percent in 1992.

The majority of Republicans say they are either very conservative or conservative, but the total proportion of conservatives grew 10 percentage points between 2002 and 2010, from 62 percent to 72 percent.

The percentage of Republicans who say they are moderates fell from 31 percent to 23 percent.

Relatively few Republicans say they are liberal — just 4 percent in 2011. Republicans’ ideology largely held at the 2010 levels in 2011.

 

As for Democrats, as recently as 2002, the solid plurality of Democrats were “moderate,” while smaller, but nearly equal, percentages called themselves “liberal” and “conservative.” From 2003 through 2007, however, the liberal share of the party grew to 38 percent, while the “moderate” and “conservative” percentages each diminished somewhat. As a result, from 2007 through 2011, the party has consisted of equal percentages of moderates and liberals, at about 38 percent to 40 percent, while about 20 percent have called themselves conservative. (The current figures are 39 percent liberal, 38 percent moderate, and 20 percent conservative.)

As for independents, who make up the largest political group in the country, they have been steadier ideologically than either major party group during the last decade. However, since 2008, the proportion describing themselves as moderate has declined slightly, from 46 percent to 41 percent, and the proportion who are conservative has increased slightly, from 30 percent to 35 percent.

Currently, the largest segment of independents (41 percent) describe their views as moderate, while significantly more identify as conservative than as liberal (35 percent vs. 20 percent).

The bottom line for Gallup? “In recent years, conservatives have become the single largest [ideological] group, consistently outnumbering moderates since 2009 and outnumbering liberals by 2-to-1.”

All of which underscores the fact that conservatism, during the age of Obama, remains the dominant ideology in America.

It turns out there’s nothing like a liberal president to help the standing of conservatism.

 

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