Wednesday, April 24, 2002
The cover story of The American Prospect - Who Is Roger Hertog - is really very good. Thanks to kausfiles for pointing it out. I don't usually read the rag. The article is about Hertog and Steinhart's new support for the New York Sun and the New Republic, and what this means about the confluence of a certain kind of neo-liberalism and a certain kind of neo-conservatism.
My initial opinions of the Sun are below. Since then, I think it's getting better, bit by bit, but still has a long way to go to fulfill its potential. The New Republic I have read for fifteen years, nearly half my life. It has never been better than it is now. Beinart is unequivocally the best editor the magazine has had since I started reading it - and there've been more than a few editors in that time. I often don't agree with his politics, but when I don't he makes the smartest case for the other side. He's a class act. And his politics aren't simply pigeonholed as conventional liberal or, for that matter, neo-liberal (or neo-conservative). I think the reason is that he's really, really young. He represents the best of what the next generation of liberals will be - that is to say, folks who find it natural to see Adam Michnik and Nelson Mandela equally as heroes, something 1980s-era liberals (to say nothing of 1970s-era liberals) were unlikely to do. And he is that rare thing, a liberal who takes conservatives and their ideas seriously.
All that is by way of saying: I don't find it weird that Hertog would back Beinart's TNR, nor that Beinart would welcome that backing. I don't think this portends a burgeoning marriage of "Reform Republicans" and "Conservative Democrats" - as Bill Kristol suggests in the article - because I'm not sure what these terms mean. Conservative Democrats include Joe Lieberman and Mary Landrieu, and while I'm basically fans of both I'm not sure they are coming from the same place, or really share a philosophy at all. "Reform Republicans" meanwhile is mostly a McCain-Moose catchphrase. I'm not sure it refers to anything other than Republicans willing to embrace speech regulation in the form of campaign finance laws.
I think the right way to describe what Hertog and Steinhart are groping towards is National Liberalism. That's probably a political orientation that McCain would find attractive, but I don't think he's really articulated it because he's such an emotional politician. I think it is a pretty good expression of where Bill Kristol is coming from, except for his considerable sympathy for the religious right, which is largely illiberal. It's a better expression of where the rest of the Weekly Standard types are coming from, except in their hands it's mostly an expression of cultural conservatism and an aggressive foreign policy.
The organ that best typifies the kind of political orientation I'm talking about is probably City Journal, which is put out by the Manhattan Institute. Why City Journal? Because unlike a lot of libertarians, theo-cons and populists in the GOP tent, they are urbanists. They care about cities, and making them work. And that means caring about how to make government work, how to live together with people you don't like and disagree with, how to inculcate the civic virtues in a body politic. City Journal is definitely a conservative magazine, but it is also definitely a liberal one in that it believes in human potential and individual liberty. That is to say, it's a modern conservative voice, not the voice of a pre-War conservatism or a Catholic ultra-montanist conservatism.
The Sun is probably going to come out in a similar place ideologically. And friendly opponents, like The New Republic, are opponents mostly of the GOP allies of these National Liberals - the libertarians, the populists, the theo-cons - and not of the National Liberals themselves. After all, TNR has said positive things about welfare reform, tort reform, "broken windows" policing and school vouchers. Their environment guy is Gregg Easterbrook. They are skeptical of a patient's bill of rights and of a Medicare drug benefit. These are not paleo-liberal guys with a muscular foreign policy. And they are distingued from many Conservative Democrats because many of the latter - the Zell Millers of the Democratic Party - are at least as comfortable with the populists and theocons as they are with the National Liberals.
As for McCain, frankly, he has shown little evidence of having a domestic agenda of his own other than campaign finance reform. I mean, how much energy has he spent fighting for tort reform, or school vouchers, or Social Security privatization relative to the energy he's put into supporting a patient's bill of rights? I liked him, voted for him, campaigned for him and donated money to him in the last election. I had high hopes. But there's a reason he's being talked about as a potential Democratic nominee now: he's wandered way, way off the reservation, for reasons that are frankly unclear. Mickey Kaus thinks he'd be the natural candidate of a Hertog-Steinhart-oid constituency, and that may be true, but not because of what he has fought for but because of what enemies he has made. His enemies in the GOP are the elements that National Liberals are least comfortable with. But they are also the elements that conventional Liberal Republicans are least comfortable with, and there's the rub. Because Jim Jeffords is not what Seth Lipsky is interested in promoting, and that's precisely the constituency that John McCain has become a vehicle for. Not people who believe in a coherent National Liberal ideology that stands largely within the big tent of modern conservatism, fighting for supremacy against the libertarians, theo-cons and rural populists, but people who long for a past of genteel, liberal, noblesse-oblige, we're-all-Keynesians-now Rockerfeller Republicanism that has no future at all.
Long ramble off the topic. But a good article, and Mickey Kaus's digest thereof is also worth a look.