Movement Conservatism Is A Compromise

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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    As a liberal Democratic type, I find the idea of Ted Cruz being the middle ground as very scary. He is rather extremist to me and not willing to deal with the opposition at all.

    That is all.Report

    • I think this misunderstands the point – I’m saying that this type of “compromise” is incredibly dangerous and ill-conceived, hamstringing policymakers with incoherent policy options whilst only placing a temporary band aid over very real and meaningful intra-party divisions. In this case, he’s saying that his “middle ground” on foreign policy is between that of Rand Paul and that of John McCain, whose foreign policy views represent two very different and irreconcilable extremes.

      In the foreign policy arena, this means he’s trying to reconcile Rand Paul’s America-First non-interventionism with John McCain’s hyper-internationalism and interventionism. This is not possible nowadays, and even in the recent past, the only way to do it would have been through trying to mix and match elements of each, refusing to allow for any approach other than the resulting Frankenstein’s monster. Depending on your worldview, this would mean trying to combine either the best of both or the worst of both (the latter from my perspective – *cough*John Bolton*cough*).

      Regardless, the result is not an actual functional foreign policy; instead, the result is a set of foreign policy beliefs that lacks any ability to thoughtfully respond to different circumstances. In this case, the compromise amounts to something akin to: “we’re going to honor non-interventionism by turning our backs on international institutions, we’ll honor interventionism by spending like crazy on defense, and we’ll invade countries whenever they annoy us, but we won’t give a hoot about international opinion and we won’t intervene to stop human rights violations no matter what our allies think.”Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    McCain was never a survey stake for Conservatism, that old zig-zag wanderer. Rand Paul is little more than a Bolshevik. If Ted Cruz is between these two, he’s nowhere.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I think I know what you’re saying, and I agree, but I wouldn’t call adopting many conflicting extreme views all at the same time “compromise”. “Schizophrenia”, sure.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy says:

    “…an attempt to hold on to core constituencies who have come to have little or nothing in common.”

    So this would be how they justify (or just don’t even try to) championing both small government/individual liberty AND anti-sodomy laws?Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I really misunderstood your first post. This post makes things a lot clearer.Report

  6. Avatar Dale Forguson says:

    I think the death of the Republican party is so much wishful thinking. Yes, it is in the throes of re-inventing itself and is currently exhibiting schizophrenic, destructive behavior. It may take several election cycles for it to emerge as a different party, but I see no reason to believe that it will self-destruct. Political parties are a reflection of the larger society. They are not so much agents of change as they are reactions to change. The Democratic party of 1968 had riots at the convention in Chicago. Bobby Kennedy and George Wallace each represented segments of the party but the party survived much more turmoil than we see now in the Republican party. I haven’t just read about it, I remember it. BTW Mark I was also impressed by your insightful commentary in your previous post.Report

  7. I think continuing to reward more generally orthodox conservatives who try to keep cobbled together the traditional three-legged coalition (possibly with anti-immigrationism as a substitute third leg for defense conservatism, but with the latter continuing to have some degree of salience) is going to be a hard habit to break for the party. So much so that we’re likely to see the exponents of the more well-defined philosophies pandering to these preferences during the course of campaigns, blunting their ability to distinguish themselves from more traditional, less-defined conservatives. That’s my prediction, in any case.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Michael Drew says:

      The GOP is hard-pressed to reward anyone these days. Santa’s bag of goodies in the form of earmarks and riders was commandeered by the Tea Partiers and nobody’s getting much of anything — unless the beneficiaries have enough financial clout in the form of political donations.

      The GOP has lost its focus. Romney’s drubbing shows how ineffective the Reince Priebus types have become. It’s not so much that the GOP is pandering: one man’s pander is another man’s acceptance of political realities — the GOP leadership has taken its hand off the rudder wheel and the Tea Partiers are now fighting in the wheelhouse over who’s going to steer the boat. The old mainline conservatives are now in their dotage, still feebly wielding their canes, trying to get the GOP back in line but they’ve lost all credibility with the Tea Partiers, whose populist xenophobia has become Novus Ordo Seclorum.

      Revolutions are not particularly liberal in nature. They’re profoundly conservative if you listen to the propaganda. It’s always some return to basic principles, mighty harangues about the effete overlords, the perversion of government, tyranny and wickedness in high places, etc. ad nauseam sic transit gloria mundi — and the Revolution will put all to rights again, which is where these self-described “Conservatives” show their true colours. Reality is never so simple and Rand Paul is not a Conservative. A genuine Conservative understands the intricacies of government. He warns against revolution, against intemperate change for change’s sake alone.

      I’ve said Rand Paul is little more than a Bolshevik. Like Lenin, Rand Paul is attempting to form a cadre of shock troops to implement his revolution. To the extent that Rand Paul succeeds, like Lenin, he will use scoundrels precisely because they are scoundrels. The masses will be led by someone, not by some committee of wise men. And like Lenin, Rand Paul faces considerable opposition from among the Tea Party scoundrels for who can tell the biggest lies and recruit the most powerful scoundrels.Report

  8. Avatar Art Deco says:

    A critic of Morton Kondracke once said “he states yesterday’s cliches as if he’d made them up today”. You have given a fine example of that.Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        You expect more from someone that interprets Sarah Palin as an expert on First Amendment law?Report

      • Whether you roll your eyes or not and whatever you expect of me or not (and if you are going to conduct yourself like an arrogant prick, you might just attempt to comprehend the point I was making re Gov. Palin), the notion that people trading in starboard ideas have different sources of concern and different emphases is not novel and has been a commonplace since about 1955. A historian named George Nash published a history of the post-war opinion journalism of Buckley and others in 1976 and the variant origins and strands of thought was the organizing principle of the book.

        Presumably there are working politicians who are systematizers, but I suspect if you questioned most, they are driven by various and sundry vectors, most particularly the interests and mindsets of the people around them (which include their constituents). With regard to opinion journalists, it dawned on the circle around Buckley ca. 1962 that much of what they disputed between them lacked programmatic implications.

        While we are at it, this does not much take into account anyone who sees and experiences no conflict between these distinct sets of concerns. Maggie Gallagher calls herself a ‘full-spectrum conservative’; she is known primarily as a publicist in defense of social conservatism, but she subscribes to other strands of starboard thought as well. Any ‘compromise’ she might apprehend would be of the tactical variety.

        There is something you neglect. What is traded in by the Reason Foundation or the editors of The American Conservative has only the most circumscribed popular constituency. Ron Paul’s liberty caucus in Congress had all of seven members. The Iraq War is a non-negotiable item for soi-disant palaeos and for some libertarians as well and discussion of it comprehends a certain amount of fanaticism and generally obnoxious remarks. IIRC, you had about seven Republicans in Congress who cast a ‘no’ vote on the crucial resolutions authorizing the Iraq War. Three were derived from that component of the Republican Party with the greatest affinity for the Democratic Party (one left the Republican Party, one accepted a patronage slot in the Obama Administration, and one did both and made an ass of himself in the process). A fourth no vote came from Amory Houghton, a loyal Republican but a man with a nexus of attitudes that likely is not broadly salable (as he makes Christine Todd Whitman look plebian). That leaves Dr. Paul and two chaps from Tennessee. Somehow I do not think the prosperity of the Republican Party as an institution will be crucially dependent on this caucus of three, but you guys can always hope.

        You might just ask yourself why dispositions on economics and business, national security, and social policy are so commonly associated – in the public at large, in working politicians, and in opinion journalists. It might tell you something about the deep structures of political conflict in this country. For some of you, making adolescent remarks about Sarah Palin is more fun.Report

      • I do hope you see the difference between your first comment, which induced my eyeroll, and your second, which warrants a substantive response.

        I do not pretend that the notion that both parties are best understood as agglomerations of interests is a unique or novel view. Indeed, in my view it is or should be a matter of common sense, and in the case of the coalition of the American Right, it is a view for which the notion of that coalition as a “three-legged stool” provides a fairly useful simplification. It is, however, a view that is quite counter to the notion that the supposedly sacred and inviolable “principles” for which conservatism stands are anything other than compromises between various constituencies of the Right.

        What I have been seeking to draw out is that many of those constituencies have ceased to have much in common that may be used to build intraparty consensus, with the result being that the compromises that must now be reached are narrow and inflexible, providing little benefit to one or more of the groups the compromises exist to appease. Other than perhaps abortion, I struggle to think of a single issue of current relevance on which Chris Christie and Rand Paul would find much agreement.

        There is something you neglect. What is traded in by the Reason Foundation or the editors of The American Conservative has only the most circumscribed popular constituency. Ron Paul’s liberty caucus in Congress had all of seven members. The Iraq War is a non-negotiable item for soi-disant palaeos and for some libertarians as well and discussion of it comprehends a certain amount of fanaticism and generally obnoxious remarks. IIRC, you had about seven Republicans in Congress who cast a ‘no’ vote on the crucial resolutions authorizing the Iraq War. Three were derived from that component of the Republican Party with the greatest affinity for the Democratic Party (one left the Republican Party, one accepted a patronage slot in the Obama Administration, and one did both and made an ass of himself in the process). A fourth no vote came from Amory Houghton, a loyal Republican but a man with a nexus of attitudes that likely is not broadly salable (as he makes Christine Todd Whitman look plebian). That leaves Dr. Paul and two chaps from Tennessee. Somehow I do not think the prosperity of the Republican Party as an institution will be crucially dependent on this caucus of three, but you guys can always hope.

        This is a fair point. However, an underlying theme of my argument, which was not discussed much in my previous post, but which I have alluded to elsewhere in the past, is that in the process of building coalitions, the coalition’s interests influence the views of constituent groups as much or more as those constituent groups influence the coalition, particularly on areas of secondary concern; in some ways, this is conceptually just a form of subconscious logrolling; in other ways, it is a function of outsourcing views on issues you little understand to people you trust .

        As these areas become of greater concern, views may start to revert, particularly as constituent groups start to explore them more on their own, but in the interim the views of the constituent group with the greatest interest in the issue will tend to predominate.

        In the case of those sympathetic to the paleoconservative narrative, stopping American militarism would have been a fairly low priority issue for all but the most passionate ideologues on the right in the years immediately after 9/11. No shortage of low-information voters even thought Iraq had something to do with 9/11, a view immortalized in the shockingly popular (and overall gawdwaful) pro-Iraq War country song “Have You Forgotten?” With a GOP President, it would only be natural for even most of those on the Right with paleo leanings to defer to the expertise and interests of their party’s leadership, and obviously no one in that leadership was offering any kind of opposition to undermine that deference. Besides, that leadership was simultaneously throwing them a bone on things like the International Criminal Court and the like.

        But things are different now- there’s no longer a Republican in the White House, Ron Paul found a way of getting a loud platform for his opposing views, and the failures in Iraq, as well as the growing distance from 9/11, have allowed the issue to become one of greater concern. Now Rand has emerged and learned from some of his father’s political mistakes. As a result, the Paul faction of the party has now become substantial, with Rand earning as much or more support as other potential candidates in early polling.

        With the GOP’s coalition no longer capable of landslide victories, the party cannot afford to turn its back on a sizable faction like Paul’s. The problem is that they also cannot afford to turn their back on an almost equally sizable faction like Christie’s, and the implicit compromises between these and other factions made over the years are no longer helping either faction. Something has to give; someone’s going to have to leave en masse so that the party can start looking for new blood.Report

      • The “GOP coalition” had not produced anything resembling a ‘landslide’ victory in federal elections since 1928, so I am not precisely sure how the current situation is novel. They won some presidential contests with thumping margins. The main body of the Republican congressional caucus conjoined to Dixiecrats might have had a programmatic majority about 40% of the time during the period running from 1953 to 1987, but the parliamentary rules of those bodies had many unsympathetic Democratic legislators in crucial gatekeeper positions. The general dispositions of Gen. Eisenhower and Mr. Nixon were also a constraint. The Nixon Administration managed to persuade Congress to dismantle some of the more misbegotten Great Society programs and the Reagan Administration managed to get some cuts in means-tested welfare programs and some amendments to the income tax code. That’s about it. By the time the Republicans had the presidency and the Congressional committee chairmanships, the former was occupied by a man who wanted no part of confrontation over domestic policy questions (he wanted amnesty for illegal aliens and goodies for geezers). Ineffectuality on the part of the Republican leadership is nothing new, and it is largely baked in the cake given the institutional set up.

        The only time you are going to have complete agreement on contentious policy question is when your organization has only one member (a factor which would also contain intramural personality conflicts). I would not take the exchange of brickbats between Christie and Rand Paul all that seriously.

        The biggest dilemma the Republican Party faces is best understood as concerning conflicts between age cohorts and cross cutting conflicts between the ‘regime class’ and the ‘country class’. These do not map all that well to venerable distinctions between those concerned with business, foreign affairs, and social relations. That these are the ‘biggest’ dilemmas does not render then necessarily ‘large’ dilemmas. It depends on how comparatively prevalent and how motivating various points of dispute are.Report

      • I think this sells the coalition’s many successes woefully short. It is hard to deny that the GOP coalition, with the assistance of some conservative Democrats, was, if far from the sole factor, a major factor in winning the Cold War. It is also hard to deny that coalition’s influence in obtaining widespread, and deeply necessary, deregulation in the 70s and 80s. It is certainly impossible to deny that coalition’s role in passing major tax reforms and tax cuts in the 80s. And welfare reform was forced on Clinton by that coalition.

        Importantly, these are all things that also helped unite the GOP coalition – they are all things that were major priorities for one or more major factions of the party and on which other factions were either generally supportive or, if not supportive, sufficiently disinterested to support.

        While the GOP never got control of all three elected branches of government until the Bush administration, that does not mean it never won any landslides nationally, particularly when you account for the effects of incumbency and gerrymandering, which make simultaneous control of all three branches extraordinarily difficult. Another reason the House in particular is not a very good measure of the strength of a coalition is of course because the House is particularly susceptible to the notion that “all politics are local.”

        Regardless, in 1980, for example, the GOP not only won the Presidency in a landslide, it picked up a massive 34 seats in the House and an almost incomprehensible 12 seats in the Senate.

        It lost a good chunk of the gains in the House in 1982 (midterms are always a bear for whoever has the Presidency), but gained most of that back in 1984, after which the margins in the House stayed fairly stable until 1994, when they won back control of both houses. Regardless, the GOP’s structural advantage in the Electoral College between 1968 and 1988 was clear and decisive. That advantage has been flipped since 1992, though not to the same extent.

        The only time you are going to have complete agreement on contentious policy question is when your organization has only one member (a factor which would also contain intramural personality conflicts).

        While this is correct, it is also part of my point. A successful coalition doesn’t need to unite on every issue. It just needs to be capable of uniting on the highest priority issues of its constituent member groups. If you’re in a coalition with a group for whom support of policy A is a top priority and you’d otherwise be inclined to oppose that policy, but your interest in that policy is low, then you’ll probably support the policy in order to get your top priorities through.

        But priorities change over time as successes are made or the world changes. Problems for coalitions’ ability to govern effectively arise when significant constituencies consistently have high priority issues on which they disagree with other constituencies’ high priority issues.

        You might be able to cobble something together to smooth these problems over temporarily to get a brief spurt of gas back into the coalition, but you won’t be able to do much with it once you’re in power.Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Not to interrupt an otherwise productive conversation…

        and if you are going to conduct yourself like an arrogant prick you might just attempt to comprehend the point I was making re Gov. Palin

        As Mark addressed, the second part of her quote is typical Palin-ranting about how she can’t get a fair shake in the mainstream media as if she has a right not to be called out for the idiot that she is when she is in fact behaving like one. As far as taking your side:

        She is referring here to how the 1st Amendment would be understood given a particular set of cultural norms

        No. She is talking about political speech and her comment is an unsubstantiated “well, gee, I don’t know what’s going to happen”. It’s rhetorical garbage. She wouldn’t know Brandenburg v Ohio if it hit her in the face,and I doubt someone like that cares so long as her jibberish scores cheap political points.

        When you “convince enough voters”, public resistance to asinine behavior by officialdom dissipates.

        The correct term is not when, it’s IF, and in this case, it’s not happening. Simple as that.

        If you don’t like my arrogance, mind your tone with others and I’ll leave you alone. Simple as that, buddy.Report

      • think this sells the coalition’s many successes woefully short. It is hard to deny that the GOP coalition, with the assistance of some conservative Democrats, was, if far from the sole factor, a major factor in winning the Cold War. It is also hard to deny that coalition’s influence in obtaining widespread, and deeply necessary, deregulation in the 70s and 80s. It is certainly impossible to deny that coalition’s role in passing major tax reforms and tax cuts in the 80s. And welfare reform was forced on Clinton by that coalition.

        1. Deregulation was largely accomplished with administrative agency rulings during the Carter, Reagan, and 1st Bush Administration. The one area in which statutory legislation was of importance was in the financial sector. That was also a co-operative venture of both parties. Like the wags say, ‘bipartisanship’ is when the parties combine to do something stupid and evil.

        2. Prior to 1968, the Cold War was prosecuted with similar enthusiasm by all factions of both parties bar some residual isolationists. Those residual isolationists were predominantly Republican and nearly all remaining were sent packing by the electorate in 1958. A sort of functional pacifism (typified by Robert Pastor and Richard Clark) was modal after 1968 among Democratic officeholders and this included admiration for foreign reds among a certain corps of opinion journalists (e.g. Victor Navasky and Penny Lernoux). This applied, however, to conflicts in the 3d world. The far more massive investment in our military presence in western Europe and Japan encountered criticism only from a few oddballs like David Calleo.

        3. There were scarcely any Dixiecrats left in Congress by 1996. The shellacking the Democratic Party received in 1994 pretty much cleared them out.Report

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