Thursday, October 20, 2005

Conservatives are on Crack

Here are two conservative pundits talking about Harriet Miers:

The most useful way of discovering a nominee's views is through "litmus tests." One question would yield the maximum information about a nominee's judicial philosophy (without requiring a commitment as to any future ruling): "What do you think of Roe vs. Wade"? The answer could explain her theory of constitutional interpretation, her views on the judicial invention of rights not set forth in the Constitution, her views on when courts should follow precedent, and her views about the judiciary's role in our constitutional system.

I know it isn't anything new to the readers of this blog that the "right" feels this way about our Constitutional rights and it isn't anything new to this blog's readers that there's this little thing in the Constitution known as the Ninth Amendment which reads:

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

This Amendment sounds to me, as it has sounded to many observers, that the Framers didn't want a specific Bill of Rights to result in those rights not being specified being subjected to government infringement. This was in fact one of James Madison's stated reservations about inserting a Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

But as if you didn't require any further confirmation, carefully consider this statement by our conservative bretheran once again:

"...the judicial invention of rights not set forth in the Constitution..."

Conservatives are again making plain their antipathy towards freedom, individuality and human rights. They don't like "rights". Rights from whom? Themselves, the government, the ruling powers. They don't believe the individual is sovereign over her or himself. That is the thrust of their ideology and "movement". And I would submit that this issue, more than any other, including wars, budgets, corruption and cronyism, is the most important matter facing the electorate in 2006 and beyond.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

With Friends Like These, part 56

From MyDD:

"...what I would like to discuss in this post is not conservative code, but instead Democratic hawk code. This is a code that is starting to rise to the surface more and more as the country turns in favor of withdrawal, against the Iraq war, and all the dreams of Democratic hawks are crashing down around them.

For example, look at this code-laden excerpt from Amy Sullivan (emphasis mine):"

'The conclusion in many liberal circles seems to be: We just need to talk about those issues more. Voters don't seem to realize what our positions are. No, voters know damn well what you stand for. They simply aren't listening to you because you haven't satisfied their initial conditions: credibility on national security and on culture. It doesn't matter that you'd prefer to talk about domestic issues. If you can't pass the threshold of convincing them that you can be trusted on those other two fronts, they're not going to listen to a word you say about the other stuff.

This doesn't mean Democrats have to make their campaigns all about national security and culture. Far from it. But they do need to suck it up and accept something Republicans realized a long time ago: You can't tell Americans they must care about what you want to discuss; you must discuss what they care about.'

"This is an amazing excerpt. It contains what strikes me as the ultimate piece of Democratic hawk code in the first quoted paragraph: "credibility on national security." If you don't believe that this is Democratic hawk code, just plug "credibility on national security" into Google and here is what you get, in order:

1. Evan Bayh on Fox stating that Democrats lack "credibility on national security.
2. The "Progressive" Policy Institute (aka the DLC) arguing that Democrats need to re-establish "credibility on national security."
3. Democracy Corps arguing that Democrats must cross the threshold of "credibility on national security."
4. A post from the Left Coaster about a New Yorker piece that quotes Democrats with the most "credibility on national security," but actually only seems to be about Kerry and Lieberman railing against "blogger types."
5. A Washington Monthly blog post about Howard Dean lacking "credibility on national security."
6. An article from the National Review discussing how the Bush campaign successfully raised questions about Kerry's "credibility on national security."
7. A piece from Mathew Yglesias about how Democrats have never had "credibility on national security" since he Vietnam era.

And on and on and on. The pattern here is obvious. The vast majority of uses of the term "credibility on national security" come from people who fit all of the following characteristics:

-They are self-identified Democrats.
-They have strong ties to center-right Democratic organizations.
-They were openly in favor of invading Iraq.
-They are vehemently opposed to withdrawal from Iraq.

"Credibility on national security" is actually DLC-type code for "continue neo-con military policies, especially in Iraq." The majority of people who seem to be trumpeting that Democrats are lacking "credibility on national security" are Democrats. They are, without fail, Iraq hawks. "

As Chris Bowers accurately notes, public opinion is on the side of us lefties here. So we don't need no damn national security credibility. But even if public opinion wasn't on our side, or was more muddled, the "Democrats lack credibility on national security" rhyme being put out by the DLC and other pseudo-Democratic neocons would still be nonsense. With the administration finally on the ropes after enduring four post-911 years of being labeled traitors, Democrats and the left have an opportunity to reassert ourselves, change the debate, and ultimately change policy. Instead, the DLC is chirping in with their favorite past-time activity--bashing other Democrats.

Lest we think maybe the DLC is just engaging in some much deserved tough love and forget the DLC's lack of committment to the Democratic Party's cause, consider these statements from Rick Perlstein:

"After the 1994 elections Joel Kotkin, a senior fellow of the DLC's Progressive Policy Institute, called for New Democrats to cut Clinton loose in favor of a primary challenger in 1996 or even think about leaving the Democratic Party alltogether. The DLC's Progressive Foundation put out feelers to begin a third-party movement--'a new approach' according to the PPI board chairman, Michael Steinhardt, 'to separate ourselves from the Democratic Party'.

taken from The Stock Ticker and the SuperJumbo by Rick Perlstein, page 111.

As Iraq continues to crumble into anarchy, and the administration that propagated the rational for becomes bogged down in the corruption of its own making, let's not let the DLC force the Democratic Party to carry the baggage of this botched invasion around in 2006 or 2008 because the DLC doesn't have our best interests at heart.


From TPM Cafe:

Secretary Rice traveled to Capitol Hill today to testify, for the first time ever, on the biggest foreign policy issue confronting our nation: Iraq. In her opening statement, Rice said this about our objectives:

We know our objectives. We and the Iraqi Government will succeed if together we can:

-- Break the back of the insurgency so that Iraqis can finish it off without large-scale military help from the United States.
-- Keep Iraq from becoming a safe haven from which Islamic extremists can terrorize the region or the world.
-- Demonstrate positive potential for democratic change and free expression in the Arab and Muslim worlds, even under the most difficult conditions.
-- And turn the corner financially and economically, so there is a sense of hope and a visible path toward self-reliance.

Now, read that again, and tell me if this is serious.

Let's remember, there was no insurgency in Iraq before we invaded the country and then totally bungled the aftermath. And there was little chance of Iraq becoming a safe haven for terrorists before we invaded the country and then totally bungled the aftermath. In other words, our first two objectives in Iraq are to undo the disaster our own actions and inactions created!

As for the remaining objectives, demonstrating the "positive potential for democratic change and free expression" is a very long cry from establishing a viable democracy in the heart of the Arab world, which a couple of years ago was declared the official aim of our continued involvement in Iraq. And "turning the corner financially and economically," though difficult, doesn't strike me as setting the bar terribly high.

Which leaves me with this thought: the limited nature of these objectives suggests that the administration may finally be realizing the extraordinary disaster we're in and is trying, desperately, to find a way to declare victory so we can get out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Liberals and Conservatives

Paul Waldman:

There was a time when a "liberal" was something most people -- even some conservatives -- wanted to be. On the stump in 1952, Dwight Eisenhower said "we need in Washington liberal and experienced members of Congress." Eight years later, Richard Nixon quoted FDR's definition of a liberal as "a man who wants to build bridges over the chasms that separate humanity from a better life," and said, "It is a wonderful definition, and I agree with him."

But when Republicans began to go after liberalism, Democrats cowered in fear, not only trying to distance themselves from the term but embracing the idea that a "conservative" is a great thing to be. Few Republicans would claim to be "social liberals" -- even if they are -- but Democrats are always claiming to be "fiscal conservatives," saying they have "conservative values" or chiding Republicans for not holding to the principles of conservatism on issues like the deficit. The message this sends to Americans who don't know much about politics is that, regardless of the details of policy, it's good to be conservative and bad to be liberal.

Which brings us to what may be the most important feature of ideological competition in America today: Unlike liberals, conservatives don't simply criticize specific candidates or pieces of legislation, they attack their opponents' entire ideological worldview. Tune into Rush Limbaugh or any of his imitators, and what you'll hear is little more than an extended discourse on the evils of liberalism, in which specific events are merely evidence that the real problem is liberal ideology. Liberals may write best-selling books about why George W. Bush is a terrible president, but conservatives write best-selling books about why liberalism is a pox on our nation (talk radio hate-monger Michael Savage, for instance, titled his latest book Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder).

Indeed, large portions of the conservative movement can be understood as an effort to crush liberalism in all its manifestations. Conservatives understand that their main enemy is not a law, government program, or social condition they don't like. Their main enemy is a competing ideology, and that is what they spend their time fighting.

In contrast, liberals spend very little time talking about conservatism. They talk about their opposition to President Bush or the policies proposed by the Republican Congress, but they don't offer a critique of conservatism itself. When was the last time you saw a book-length polemic against conservatism? Liberals have failed to understand that a sustained critique of the other side's ideology not only defines your opponents, it helps to define you by what you are against.

As a consequence, while there are "movement conservatives," there are no "movement liberals" for the simple reason that there is no coherent entity we could call the "liberal movement." Instead, there are a dozen liberal movements -- a pro-choice movement, an environmental movement, a labor movement, and so on. Whether cause or consequence, the conservative campaign against liberalism has been accompanied by a sharpening of conservative identity, not only in the public mind but in the hearts of conservatives themselves.

There is no doubt that the difference between the number of people who tell pollsters they are conservatives and those who say they are liberals should be a matter of concern for Democrats. But if they respond to that concern by "moving" to an imagined "center" -- in other words, by making their positions on issues more conservative -- they will find themselves in an even worse hole than they are now. The Democrats' "liberal" problem isn't about issues, it's about identity.

As part of a solution, many on the left have decided to start with a clean slate, ditching "liberal" in favor of "progressive."
As a strategic move, this has much to commend it. Recent American political history has made it hard to argue that the root of "liberal" -- liberty -- belongs more to the left than to the right. In contrast, liberals can legitimately claim that they and not conservatives are the advocates of progress. They can argue that with their desire to conserve, conservatives are stuck in the past, while progressives want to achieve social and economic progress. Any number of different issues can be understood through this prism.

But the rebranding of the left through the substitution of "progressive" for "liberal" can only succeed if all on the left agree that they are in fact progressives, and proclaim it loudly. If they accompany that proclamation with a critique not just of conservative policies and politicians but of conservatism itself, they'll find more and more moderates calling themselves progressive. Otherwise, they'll be right back where they started.

I think this is exactly right, and suggests the idea that rather than running from the liberal label, Democrats would do better, over the long run, of resuscitating the word liberal (or progressive if you prefer) and begin the process of competing for voters on the basis of ideology, rather than personality or even specific issues.

Thanks to Atrios for the link.

Democrats: Show Us The Voters

I found this over at MyDD:

Growing the Democratic Party is perhaps the most crucial task we can commit ourselves to over the next year. If we're successful, we have a very serious chance to win back control of Congress. Two stories in particular have brought the issue to my attention today. Mathew Gross, commenting on the latest polling and strategy memo from Democracy Corps highlights Carville and Greenberg's suggestion that "Democrats should revisit the Perot voters and their concerns" if they want to "become the party of change" in 2006. Meanwhile, at CQ Weekly (subscription only), the cover story "New Heaven, New Earth" examines the political branching out of evangelical Christians into areas outside of anti-abortion activism.


Here's how Carville and Greenberg define Ross Perot's natural base, which they view as up for grabs in 2006.

His voters were the most anti-political and anti-elitist, anti-big government and big corporations, anti-free trade and anti-immigration. They were pro-military but anti-foreign entanglements. They were libertarian and secular, pro-gun and pro-choice. The Perot voters were younger, more blue collar and rural, and economically pressed and uneasy in the new economy. They were also angry with the political and economic elites that failed to represent them.

They argue that this was the group that helped shift the House to the Republicans in 1994 as well as breaking for Bush in 2000. Examining this list point-by-point, it's easy to see how this group could be swayed to the Democrats in next year's midterms.

...Democrats created a near majority with their coalition of suburban and more secular voters, the best educated and more cosmopolitan, union households, and the growing number of minority voters, particularly African Americans and Hispanics. But that has been more than offset by their dramatic decline among white rural and blue collar voters - the consequence of the values issues but also of Democrats not figuring out how to incorporate the dislodged Perot voters.

Hey, I like Carville. And as far as 2006 goes, maybe he's even onto something. But this form of "strategery" concerns me. It sounds like pretty much what the party's been trying for the last twenty years in some form or another. And it just sounds very lacking of anything like consistency, principles, or values. It's a strategy that just wants to know how this year's voters can be appealed to. But it doesn't clarify what the party stands for, and it doesn't seem interested in responding to the very real crisis that I think modern conservatism presents us with.

Scott Shields seems to be wary of this himself as he says:

My fear is that many of the Perot voters are simply anti-government and therefore anti-incumbent. Though they very well could vote for Democrats in 2006, can we really count on them to stick with the party over the long haul?

My answer to that is, probably not. And that's the problem.

Meanwhile, even as we Democrats are getting a kick out of the conservatives' infighting amongst themselves over the Mier's nomination, I can't help but be bothered by the fact that at the root of their in-house bickering, lies an ideological dispute about their movement and what they want government to do and society to look like. Democrats don't seem to have arguments like this.

The Washington Post today has another article of how conservative ideologues and interest groups are reacting to the Mier's nomination and what the import is for the conservative movement.

In the Godfather II, Michael Corleone is in Cuba prior to the revolution on a business trip and witnesses the capture of a number of Castro rebels, one of whom blows himself up rather than be captured. This intrigues Corleone who reasons with Hyman Roth, an associate who wants Michael to put up 2 million dollars in cash in a hotel deal. Corleone notes that the soldiers of the Cuban government are paid to fight but the rebels are not. What does that tell you, Roth asks? Corleone responds by saying that It Tells Me They Can Win.

The conservative movement, complete with its inflexible, dogmatic interest group bosses, reminds me of this movie's scene and the drive of the rebels. They don't much care whether a majority of people agree with them or like them. They're going to do what they want anyway. Or die trying.

Democrats, on the other hand, show too many signs of trying to align themselves with voters rather than giving voters a reason to align themselves with us. In the case of the Carville-Greenberg memo, it's the elusive Perot-voter, which is another way of saying "the center". But this group is either non-existent, or isn't going to buy into what Democrats are selling because they are not selling something consistent.

Now, obviously, parties need to reach beyond a base of voters to win, and winning elections is what parties are all about. But the problem has become that the strategy of reaching beyond the base is the entire Democratic strategy, and there is very little base upon which to expand into the world of a governing majority.

As Robert Reich has noted:

We failed because we failed to build a political movement behind us. Americas newly ascendant radical conservatives do have such a movement, which explains a large part of their success. They have developed dedicated sources of money and legions of ground troops who not only get out the vote but also spend the time between elections persuading others to join their ranks. They have devised frames of reference that are used repeatedly in policy debates (among them: its your money, tax and spend, political correctness, class warfare). They have a system for recruiting and electing officials nationwide who share the same world view and who will vote accordingly. And they have a coherent ideology uniting evangelical Christians, blue-collar whites in the South and West, and big business, an ideology in which foreign enemies, domestic poverty and crime, and homosexuality all must be met with strict punishment and religious orthodoxy.

Democrats have built no analogous movement. Instead, every four years party loyalists throw themselves behind a presidential candidate who they believe will deliver them from the rising tide of conservatism. After the election, they go back to whatever they were doing before. Other Democrats have involved themselves in single issue politics, the environment, campaign finance, the war in Iraq, and so on, but these battles have failed to build a political movement. Issues rise and fall depending on which interests are threatened and when. They can even divide Democrats, as each advocacy group scrambles after the same set of liberal donors and competes for the limited attention of the news media.

This isn't to say that among most Democrats there aren't a core group of principles and issues we support. Abortion rights, the social welfare safety net, and opposition to the war in Iraq constitutes a pretty sizable section of the Democratic electorate. But many among the Democratic leadership have been backpedaling on their support for abortion rights, and most of the Democratic leadership supported the war in Iraq, as well as the president's series of tax cuts that have made the financing of social security and health care precarious.

So, yes, let's appeal to today's version of the Perot voters where we can. But let's not get sidetracked by trying to appeal to a whole new group of voters every two years. Let's articulate the agenda that we believe to be important, and work on selling the American people on it over the long haul.