Monday, November 11, 2002
I'm sorry, I'm still on the same damned hobby horse. I just can't seem to get off.
Mickey Kaus has another, very strong blog, about why it's not enough for Democrats to have "new ideas." Specifically: (a) ideas don't just come out of think-tanks; they have to have something to do with what the party believes, and if the Dems don't know what they believe they are in deep doo-doo; (b) it's not enough to reject dirigiste methods and embrace competitive market-oriented means to traditional Democrat ends, since some of those ends have been rejected; (c) in many cases, Republicans have proposed ideas that are the right ones (welfare reform, Giuliani-Bratton-style policing reforms, and perhaps - though he doesn't mention them - Bush's faith-based initiative and school choice. Mickey Kaus also says he's not worried too much about conservative judicial activism. And he concludes by saying that there may be "convergence" between the parties on all the major domestic issues.
Earth to Mickey: what you are really saying, though you are loathe to admit it, is that you agree with the GOP much more than with the Democrats. There is NO convergence between the parties, because the Democrats don't actually believe in any of the stuff that you want them to. And they don't believe in welfare reform above all, which is your absolute top domestic priority. But let's be magnanimous and assume you are right that there is domestic convergence between the parties. Why then support the Democrats on the basis of the neo-liberal agenda that you espouse if both parties agree on it? Which party do you trust more on foreign policy? And which party do you think has a better shot at actually implementing the domestic agenda you say they both agree on? This doesn't seem like a tough call at all. Why are you a Democrat?
Kaus identifies 3 broad Democrat issues that could distinguish them from the Republicans:
(1) A focus on "social equality" rather than economic equality. This is a Kaus staple, and I'm with him on it. I'm all for things like public parks, quality public education, universal jury service, stuff that brings the classes and races together into one people. Good stuff. Thing is, this is the Republican urban agenda in cities like New York. It is not the Democrat agenda, which is focused on a defending the prerogatives of the social-service bureaucracy and implementing politically-correct cultural policies. And the Democrats, a party whose funding base is centered in Hollywood and Manhattan, is in a poor position to be a party of social equality. This is a reason for Mickey to be a Republican.
(2) Kaus specifically identifies universal health-care as something that would promote "social equality." I don't quite see how that is; this sounds like a matter of income inequality to me. Moreover, as noted previously, the one thing that unites people in most industrialized countries is unhappiness with the state of health-care delivery. Is Mickey Kaus so sure this is an issue on which he won't ultimately conclude that the Republicans have a point, much as they do on Social Security? If universal, top-quality care is ruinously expensive, which party does Kaus want to support - the one that proposes to fill the cracks in the safety net for the poor with a moderate expansion of government coverage, or the one that proposes a massive new entitlement for all the elderly, including the ones who don't need it? This is a shaky pillar on which to build a case for the Democrats, and so far it's Kaus's only one.
(3) World government. You read that right. Kaus thinks the Dems should forthrightly propose such a thing, lose massively at the polls but come back strong in 20 years to implement a one-world agenda. I'm sorry, Mickey, but you've been drinking the Kool-ade on this one. Now, what you might mean is that the Democrats need to make a case for rebuilding the American-led international institutions created after WWII and making them more effective at promoting American interests (understood in an enlightened fashion, of course). But that would be something rather different. And it would require a hard-headedness we haven't seen from anyone on the Democrat side of the aisle with only one exception I can think of, and that's Dick Holbrooke. By contrast, what Dems are much more inclined to do is to use a kind of fake internationalism as a balm for their guilt about American power. That kind of thinking and policy-making leads nowhere but to the doghouse, and Kaus should know it, even if he doesn't have much interest in foreign affairs. Kaus's instincts on this matter are absolutely terrible; remember, this is the man who thought that September 11 would be off the front pages by Thanksgiving of 2001. I'd say this pillar is down flat.
Let's face it: the Democrats are a collection of interests groups underwritten financially by a slice of wealthy cultural liberals. It is a party that does not represent a set of alternative ideas competing with Republicans for the center of American politics. Rather, it is a party without fundamental ideas that might appeal to the American center that can only win elections when Republicans over-reach and Democrats can act as a moderating influence.
The Democrat economic and social agenda dominated from the 1930s to the mid-1970s. The coalition cracked in the mid-1960s, but the Democrat agenda continued to dominate the Nixon administration, and an alternative GOP agenda didn't really rise until Ronald Reagan's nearly successful challenge to Gerald Ford in 1976. That new Republican agenda has been dominant in American politics since 1980, and in spite of the closeness of recent elections it is still dominant today because the debate is about that agenda; there is no alternative. You can compare Reagan to Lincoln or FDR, and compare Bush to McKinley or Kennedy. Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan established their parties and their parties' ideas as the dominant ones for a generation. McKinley and Kennedy were (and I suspect, Bush will be) the key agents to cement and extend the dominance of their respective parties for about another generation. (On this analogy, Clinton would be the equivalent of Grover Cleveland or Dwight Eisenhower: centrist, consensus Presidents who adopted many of the ideas of the opposition party, but who did little to advance their respective parties to challenge their opponents for dominance.)
The fact of Republican agenda-dominance does not mean that the Democrats cannot compete strongly and successfully for office. Dominance leads to over-reaching, which gives opportunities for the opposition. There will always be a role for an opposition party to moderate, restrain and meliorate the aggressive agenda of the dominant party. But there is only one dominant party at any time in American politics, and in spite of the closeness of recent elections, I remain convinced that the GOP is that party in our present age. And that means that for folks like Mickey Kaus, who for one reason or another (and I discussed the potential reasons last week) continue to think of themselves as Democrats even though they disagree with their party on many of the issues they deem most important, the question is: stay with the party of opposition and try to push it towards the dominant party's position on key issues, or forsake your old roots and join the party you agree with more.
(I want to stress, by the way, that this is not a question of strategic voting such as a pro-gun Democrat or pro-abortion Republican might face of whether to vote for friendly candidates in an unfriendly party or for the more friendly party even if you disagree with them on other issues. That's an interesting narrow question, but not germane, because when we talk about policy-wonks like Kaus we are not talking about single-issue voters. Narrow, single-issue constituencies are one thing. Broad agendas are another. I believe that folks like Mickey Kaus actually agree with the GOP more than the Democrats on the broad agenda, not just on a couple of narrow issues. So the question for him is not, how will I advance my pet cause best but where will I feel more intellectually useful. In that regard, Kaus is probably right that he is more useful trying to change the Dems than joining the GOP cheering squad. That said, he might advance change within the Dems best by actually voting Republican. And he can do this without compromising his principles because he actually agrees with the GOP!)