Posts Tagged ‘Jonah Goldberg’

“I predict we’re going to hear a growing conversation on the right about whether it’s better for America, conservatism, etc to have a president who feels he has to placate the conservative base versus having a president who claims to be a member of it,” writes Jonah Goldberg in a National Review TheCorner Blogburst titled One of Us Vs. One Who Owes Us

Goldberg issues a safe prediction.

Every candidate proposes a theory of representation whether explicitly or otherwise, i.e. an account of not just how the candidate as an elected official will advance the issues of his or her constituencies, but an explanation of why he or she would want to do so consonant with the candidate’s values, biography etc.—e.g. I am one of you, I believe as you believe etc.

Romney’s theory of representation is a unique one in our experience. Romney proposes to represent you by becoming you. See:

WSJ: “Plenty of politicians attune their positions to new constituencies—The larger danger is that Mr. Romney’s conversions are not motivated by expediency or mere pandering but may represent his real governing philosophy”

Back to Goldberg

President Bush won enormous good faith — no pun intended — from evangelicals and other social conservatives by saying, in effect, “I’m one of you.” A case could be made that some of Bush’s problems stem from the fact that the White House was internally confused about whether conservatives were simply another constituency or if they were more like a loyal army. I don’t think the distinctions are clean and neat, since there isn’t a monolithic conservative base and the Bush White House has been itself divided between Nixonians (i.e. the Poppa Bush crowd) and Reaganites. But I think we’ll see the conversation emerge as candidates like Giuliani and McCain make “transactional” overtures to the conservative base, saying something like “Support me and I’ll support what you care about” rather than “support me because I am one of you.”

National Review had a similar conversation over Richard Nixon. That didn’t turn out great.

The National Review also endorsed Willard Milton Romney. That hasn’t turned out so great either. See:

NRO organizes conference call to defend questionable decision to endorse Romney—eyeon08.com reports that they received not one supportive question, and no one spoke in favor of the endorsement

In other news from the frantic flunkies of the GOP establishment, Hugh Hewitt announces a talk-radio counter-strike against Sen John McCain as he attempts to consolidate his gains.

[...] Expect the talkers, led by Rush but seconded by Ingraham, Bennett, Prager, Beck, Hannity, Levin and me to spend the next few days putting down a marker: McCain is a very weak general election candidate, and if he was to win, would not govern as a conservative in any significant way. Our audiences are not, as MSMers like to imply, not only shrinking but mindless. They are growing, but they are incredibly independent of thought. They also take in and respond to good information, and now the information will be focused on John McCain and the choice before them.

MSM will of course be sending a very different set of talking points into the general population, one that obscures McCain’s record and which refuses to remind voters of the immigration fiasco etc. MSM will focus on Rudy and Arnold and leave the impression of a coalescing around McCain. Romney will battle to keep the issues out front, McCain the process.

But the new media is at work. We’ll see how it plays out [...]

So far this hasn’t played out well either. See:

Our question: What possible theory of representation justifies Limbaugh, Ingraham, Bennett, Prager, Beck, Hannity, Levin, and Hewitt himself, denouncing Sen. John McCain and advocating for Willard Milton Romney? Also: what is Hewitt’s object? It is this: To persuade Gov. Mike Huckabee voters to vote for Romney.

[...] If the Huckabee supporters are conservatives, they will recognize the peril to their party’s core beliefs and abandon their favorite who has no chance of winning in favor of Mitt Romney who does [...]

Based on analysis by Patrick Ruffini, we discuss why this will not be a simple proposition here:

Romney’s viciously negative attacks on Gov. Huckabee in Iowa still returning rich dividends for the hapless candidate from Bain Capital

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

Recall the theme of Romney’s caricatured, unreconstructed, ingenue conservatism compared to the emerging conservatism:

Brooks: “Romney represents what’s left of Republicanism 1.0. Huckabee and McCain represent half-formed iterations of Republicanism 2.0″

Now, point and counterpoint.

Point: [...] “Much of this chaos [of the primary contests] is attributable to the fact that this is a very flawed field, or at least one ill-suited for the times we’re in,” writes Jonah Goldberg in a WaPo editorial titled Cloudy fortunes for conservatism

If a camel is a horse designed by committee, then this year’s Republican field looks downright dromedarian. This slate of candidates has everything a conservative designer could want — foreign policy oomph, business acumen, Southern charm, Big Apple chutzpah, religious conviction, outsider zeal, even libertarian ardor — but all so poorly distributed. As National Review put it in its editorial endorsement of Romney (I am undecided, for the record): “Each of the men running for the Republican nomination has strengths, and none has everything — all the traits, all the positions — we are looking for.”

But conservatives should contemplate the possibility that the fault lies less in the stars — or the candidates — than in ourselves. Conservatism, quite simply, is a mess these days. Conservative attitudes are changing. Or, more accurately, the attitudes of people who call themselves conservatives are changing.

The most cited data to prove this point come from the Pew Political Typology survey. By 2005, it had found that so many self-described conservatives were in favor of government activism that they had to come up with a name for them. “Running-dog liberals” apparently seemed too pejorative, so the survey went with “pro-government conservatives,” a term that might have caused Ronald Reagan to spontaneously combust. This group makes up just under 10 percent of registered voters and something like a third of the Republican coalition. Ninety-four percent of pro-government conservatives favored raising the minimum wage, as did 79 percent of self-described social conservatives. Eight out of 10 pro-government conservatives believe that the government should do more to help the poor and slightly more than that distrust big corporations.

There’s more evidence elsewhere. As former Bush speechwriter David Frum documents in his new book, “Comeback,” income taxes are no longer a terribly serious concern among conservative voters. Young Christian conservatives and others are increasingly eager to bring a faith-based activism to government. As the conservative commentator Ramesh Ponnuru recently noted in Time, younger evangelicals are more likely to oppose abortion than their parents were, but they are also more likely to look kindly on government-run anti-poverty programs and environmental protection. Even President Bush (in)famously proclaimed in 2003 that “when somebody hurts, government has got to move.”

This is a far cry from the days when Reagan proclaimed in his first inaugural address that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” and vowed to “curb the size and influence of the federal establishment.”

Today the American public seems deeply schizophrenic: It hates the government — Washington, Congress and public institutions are more unpopular than at any time since Watergate — but it wants more of it. Conservative arguments about limited government have little purchase among independents and swing voters. This is a keen problem for a candidate like Romney, because it forces him to vacillate between his credible competence message — “I can make government work” — and his strategic need to fill the “Reaganite” space left vacant by former senator George Allen’s failure to seize it and Thompson’s inability to get anyone to notice that he occupies it. Worse, the conservatives who want activist government want it to have a populist-Christian tinge, and that’s a pitch that neither McCain nor Giuliani nor Thompson nor Romney can sell.

Many of the younger conservative policy mavens and intellectuals have also become steadily less enamored of free markets and limited government. Post columnist Michael Gerson, formerly Bush’s chief speechwriter, has crafted a whole doctrine of “heroic conservatism” intended to beat back the right’s supposed death-embrace with small government and laissez-faire economics. He relentlessly calls for moral crusade to become the animating spirit of the right. But he’s hardly alone. “Crunchy conservatism,” the brainchild of Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher, is also a cri de coeur against mainstream conservatism. And both of these derive from the kind of thinking that led George W. Bush to insist in 2000 that he was a “different kind of Republican” because he was a “compassionate conservative” — a political program that apparently measures compassion by how much money the government spends on education, marriage counseling and the like [...]

Remarks:

1. The emerging conservatism—or at least the new center-right—is an emerging conservatism of the state. Only—as is always the case—the political has developed in advance of the theoretical or intellectual. The concepts, and rationales have yet to be worked out; the arguments await clarification.

The issues, the stakes, the decisions—all of it awaits specification at the point of application in law, policy, or legal review—it even awaits clarification by candidates on the ground attempting to connect with the lived experience of voters. But this is as it should be as the emerging conservatism has yet to have confronted any real test on the ground.

2. To a Reagan coalition actor like Goldberg—and to the institutions of the center-right, e.g. talk radio, think-tanks, foundations—the notion is simply incoherent, borderline unintelligible. Hence: They greet it with hostility. And rightly so. New criticisms always begin in precedent and presumption, which flows from what exists. What exists is the Reagan coalition, although it exists in tatters. The new conservatism has yet to prove that it can provide the basis for a governing coalition.

3. Our conservatism—i.e. our meaning me, Gilad D.—discovers its premises in more ancient sources than Pres. Reagan, Speaker Gingrich, or Pastor Falwell. But we have problems of our own with the new regime. Regard:

(a) How would center-right of Sen. McCain or Gov. Huckabee would be functionally distinct from e.g. the center-right governments of the European peninsula. We need someone to explain this to us.]

(b) How is using the instruments of national power to pursue conservative policy functionally different from using the instruments of national power to pursue left or center-left policy? How would this not result in a race to the bottom where those in elected office use the power of the state to enrich their friends and secure their rule? How is this distinct from our criticism of Democratic Party rule?

(c) Part of what it means to be a conservative—or so we have always held—is to insist on the objective and empirical limits of political agency.

We are limited beings. We can agree on rules (that try to specify outcomes in advance) or standards (that are more open ended), and we can attempt to adjudicate among rival claims in our legislatures and our courts, but we can no more plan an economy than we can plan the weather. Nor can we fairly or equitably decide who gets what or on substantive grounds or e.g. decide on a definition of poverty—there are simply too many factors, too many bases of comparison to ever yield consensus. Hence: conservatives favor individual or free-association agency operating in blind systems like the marketplace or a civil society—the primary unit of which being the family—that is distinct from the state. We favor emergent systems constrained by rules, standards, and precedents, as opposed to the arbitrary wills or whims of human agents.

This suggests the question: How is e.g. Gov. Huckabee’s “right-wing populism” anything other than a declaration of faith in the efficacy of political agency, or an extension of the franchise of what may count as a political question?

Answer: We don’t know yet.

Questions. So many questions.

In other words, we have our own issues with conservatism 2.0. But we are not willing to dismiss it out of hand. Besides, in politics, demography is destiny, and the Republican party is skewing younger and lower in income. So: We await clarification as it emerges from the facts on the ground.Here would be the counterpoint to Goldberg:

[...] “FOR THE FIRST time in decades, the GOP has fielded a strong roster of candidates, at least four of them with a real chance to win the nomination,” writes Lawrence Henry from North Andover, Massachusetts, in a Spectator.org article titled Creative Destruction in the GOP

The party hasn’t shrugged up somebody like Bob Dole. The nominee hasn’t been settled early. No party machine has anointed anyone.

The party has dealt out a thorough mix of issues and people, with issues and people matching up in entirely new ways. And no one has any idea yet who — or what — will predominate.

To make the picture more complicated, emotional perceptions enter in. I once heard someone say, back in the nineties, “I like Bill Clinton because he really cares about me.” And he meant it! Like this man, many voters are very stupid, and many voters cast stupid votes. They all count.

So not only are Republicans choosing a candidate based on what that candidate really believes and really can and will do, they’re choosing a candidate based on what that candidate is perceived to be. For an extra layer of complication, add media bias in portraying those candidates.

On top of all that, we live in a media-hyped age where only the quickest and most effective of perceptual tags seems to get through: Holy Mike Huckabeee, roguish Rudy Giuliani, lazy Fred Thompson, manic John McCain, perfect Mitt Romney. See what I mean?

Mixed up though it is, this campaign is a good thing, not a bad one. It has just gotten interesting. It is going to stay interesting for a long time and, if we’re lucky, we’ll emerge from it with a newly defined and newly invigorated Republican Party. If we’re unlucky, the country will nominate some image monger with nothing real to say [...]

An image monger with nothing real to say?

That would be Romney.

The larger question: Creative destruction, or just destruction? For us the answer hinges on the person and character of Romney.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

The formerly conservative NRO—apparently a subsidiary of Bain Capital and another proud Blog for Mitt—overreached when to curry favor with their imperious master, Romney, they savaged Gov. Huckabee. Perversely, the super-geniuses at NRO  slimed Gov. Huckabee on grounds of his religion, after arguing strenuously that Romney’s confession was somehow out of bounds.

Evidence?

Jonah Goldberg, Rich Lowry, Jonathan Adler, and Victor Davis Hanson—each issued their alibis, rationales and lame excuses for sliming Gov. Huckabee on grounds of his faith.

Yet the backlash continues apace.

“Thus far in the 2008 presidential campaign cycle, ‘religion’ has played a far bigger role than in any recent elections,” writes the estimable Christopher Adamo in a Reality Check post titled Conservative Elites to Christians: Remember Your Place

This does not necessarily translate to actual issues of importance to one religious constituency or another, but rather that the religion of individual candidates themselves is a major topic. And as this pattern continues, a glaring hypocrisy is emerging. In short, all religions are to be beyond criticism or question, with the sole exception of Biblical Christianity.

At the slightest suggestion that a candidate’s religion might call his or her judgment or fitness for office into question, the instant and universal response from across the political spectrum is a chorus of accusations of “religious bigotry” and intolerance. No less an icon of punditry than Robert Novak made essentially that case in his October 4, 2007 column. Unless, of course, the religion in question is Southern Baptist and the principal involved is Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, at which point the preacher becomes fair game … etc.

“Gee, lets think about this,” writes Paul Seale in an Arena of Ideas post titled Dear Rich Lowry … So ya think the Romney advertisements are having an effect, eh?

Romney’s campaign which already spent millions of dollars already in Iowa, dumps a few more million and blitzes the airwaves with negative advertisements against someone with next to no cash flow.

Compound the advertisements with the two plus weeks of intensely negative news in which even a simply Christmas advertisement is labeled as “using religion as a political weapon“ and what do you think the results will be?

Just be forewarned that there will be a backlash.

While I do not agree with much of Huckabee’s substance (looks to me as another “big government” conservative), the constant attacks on someone presenting a positive message a vision by Washington elites will be remembered.

I think Byron York today best put his finger on what is driving Huckabee. I dont mind writing that I agree fundamentally with darned near everything Mike Huckabee is saying with regards to what we should do as individuals to solve problems. The difference for me is that Christ asks for those things to be done on the personal level – not through the government.

Similarly I dont mind telling you that a lot of what Huckabee is saying with regards to how those in the media and Republican establishment ring true with me. I’ve seen the same treatmeant with Fred Thompson.

What do both of these men have in common? They refuse to kiss the rings of you guys in the Beltway. The continued implied labling of someone who is otherwise a good man as lazy or some sort of religious fruit loop by those in Washington and the Romney campaign has burned a mark in me so deep that I will remember it for a very long time.

I know you guys in Washington think that many of us can be brought back on board with just a hot button words, but I promise you that is not the case. We want someone authentic – not some synthetic poll driven individual. Remember, we rejected that in 2004. Or do you think we really are that stupid?

While you might be scorching earth on your way to a win in the primaries, remember those burns are going to last long afterward and leave a bad taste in many mouths come November … etc.

The emphases are ours, all ours.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

“This is admittedly subjective, but Jonah Goldberg aptly summarized the way Romney often comes off in public by describing [Romney's] demeanor as, ‘What Do I Have to Do To Put You In This BMW Today?’” writes the estimable Dan McLaughlin in a not-to-be-missed Redstate post titled The Trouble With Mitt Romney (Part 1 of 5)

I’ll discuss the specifics in more detail later, but the broader issue is that Romney seems unconvincing as the conservative he is running as; his calculations seem too close to the surface.

When the race kicked off, with Rudy and McCain as the frontrunners and the second tier filled with unknowns and/or candidates with their own issues with the base (e.g., Huckabee on taxes, Brownback to some extent on immigration), there was an opportunity for a candidate to build a market niche as the sane, electable conservative. Romney, to the credit of his business instincts, jumped on that opportunity like a starving man on a sandwich. The problem is that that posture is just not consistent with Romney’s history of campaigning and governing as a moderate, pragmatic, non-ideological Northeastern Republican, and specifically with numerous stands he has taken in the very recent past. Now, a good businessman, or even a candidate running principally as a competent technocrat, can get away with running on what the public wants today rather than on principles. But Romney is running a fundamentally ideological campaign, and he is doing so all too transparently as a businessman pursuing an underserved market rather than as a true believer.

Romney’s air of slickness and phoniness manifests itself in a number of specific ways I will get into later in this series, but the overall effect is an even more pronounced than usual (for a politician) tendency to leave people feeling like he will say anything to get elected. Democrats have, justly, suffered for that perception in the last two presidential elections, and they are almost certainly nominating a candidate who is legendarily calculating (Bill Clinton, by contrast, was a master at faking sincerity; but Romney, like so many others in politics, lacks Clinton’s talents in this regard and would do well not to try to imitate him). Republicans, having successfully and appropriately attacked Gore and Kerry and most likely Hillary as well on this basis, cannot afford to run a candidate who comes off as a phonymore [Emphasis ours]

Question: Does anyone like phonies?

Excellent metaphor: Romney as a “businessman pursuing an underserved market.”

yours &c.
dr. g.d.





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