Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Monday, June 26, 2006
I really want to hear Steve Sailer's comment on David Frum's dvar torah on parshat shelach. If you get at least halfway down, you'll figure out why.

Monday, June 19, 2006
Well, that was a very enjoyable Father's Day. Brunch with an old friend (actually the fellow who introduced me to my wife, who was also Best Man at our wedding). Then went to a street fair in the neighborhood and watched our son get tossed about on the various silly street fair rides. Then a visit to the Intrepid, which Moses loved (though it is a bit complicated trying to explain World War II to someone not yet four years old). Then back to Brooklyn to my favorite neighborhood sushi restaurant for dinner. All in all, a very good day, marred only by the absence of my own father, who had a wedding to go to.

How did you spend your Father's Day? John Derbyshire and Jonah Goldberg apear to have spent a chunk of theirs arguing over whether fathers matter. To follow the argument, click here, then here, then here, then here.

Rather than take time out of my Father's Day, I prefer to steal time from work. So here's my 2c:

To Derb:

1. Many of the points you raise have to do with *personality.* Do you see a distinction between personality and *character*? I do, and I think the distinction speaks very much to where parents matter. We all have to learn how to make the best use of our (largely genetically-determined) personalities. That means learning how to maximize the value of our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses. It seems to me obvious that parents have some influence over this process, if only in that they provide us with closely-observed models to emulate.

2. Specifically, there is lots of data about how divorce negatively impacts both male and female children, even when you control for things like social status, race, and, most important, how happy the couple seems to be. Except in situations of real abuse, it seems to be the case that staying in an unhappy marriage is better for the kids than divorcing. That result strongly suggests that parenting matters in *some* fashion, even if 90% of how it matters is simply by *existing*.

3. Relatedly, there is lots of evidence from both humans and other mammals (e.g. apes, elephants) that the absence of strong male figures - such as fathers - leads to all sorts of problems with male adolescents. Again: the *presence* of a father who behaves like a father seems to matter a lot to successfully socializing the male adolescent. It may not matter much (other than to the quality of the *relationship* you have with your father) whether your father is a very hands-on parents or a more distant figure, but *the fact that he is there* seems to matter a lot.

4. Further relatedly: it's a commonplace that we replicate in our own married lives some of the patterns we observed in our parents' marriages. Have you seen research debunking this commonplace? I've seen research suggesting that one's capacity for happiness in marriage, or even happiness in general, is largely genetic. But I would be very surprised if our ability to adapt effectively to periods of *unhappiness* is entirely - or even largely - genetically determined, or unrelated to parenting. Again, this speaks to the difference between personality and character.

In sum: I think the research you're referring to is a valuable corrective to the cult of parent-ing, but you're overclaiming its significance when you use it to deny the importance of parent-hood.

To Jonah:

1. Take Derb's first point more seriously than you do. Extremism in commitment to the reality principle is no vice, and prudential deference to an illusion is no virtue. The original neo-conservatives stopped being liberals because they were mugged by reality - that is to say: the data contradicted their political pre-conceptions, and they changed their politics. You can reasonably demand that Derb's politics intelligently reflect his views about reality. Maybe he *is* sympathetic to the Progressives. (I don't think so, because I don't think he's a meliorist - unlike the Progressives, Derb isn't really interested in making the world better. Calling him a latter-day Mencken might fit the bill, though.) But demanding the converse - that he tailor his views about reality to suit his politics - is not reasonable.

2. To that end, I don't think it's adequate to simply say, "I don't care" when confronted with unfriendly scientific evidence. If one really wants to defend a particular proposition, one has to actually defend it, and grapple with what the science says that appears to undermine it. If economics seems to say that socialism is the best system for maximizing economic growth, it is not sufficient - politically, to say nothing of intellectually - to say, in effect, "this land is my land/it is not your land/you'd better get off/or I'll blow your head off." Obviously, based on my comments above, I'm with you on the question of whether Derb has over-claimed what the research means, particularly on your point about *measurement*. But the research does mean *something* and figuring out what that something is would seem to be an equal duty to figuring out what it is not, at least for anyone who cares about reality.

3. I don't think the analogy to Derb's review of P.O.D. holds. The RTL position is rooted in specific premises and chains of reasoning from those premises. Derb is skeptical of the non-scientific premises AND of the kinds of chains of moral reasoning. I don't recall Derb questioning the *science* that Ramesh uses. As for the "cold and pitiless dogma" business, the key word, I think, is the last. Derb cheerfully accepts the cold and pitiless nature of *reality.* Indeed, for that very reason he doesn't think we should make things tougher on ourselves by adopting intellectual dogmas of similar stringency. Derb might well say that the cult of parenting, and its attendant anxiety, is another one of these pitiless dogmas, albeit not so cold, to which he objects.

4. I am curious to understand how you ground your "right" to be the "author" of your daughter's "being" - that's pretty strong patriarchal language. (Not that there's anything wrong with that - I just want to understand where it's coming from.) I don't think either Hayek or Locke would go so far. Indeed, Locke's theory has a bit of a hole in it when it comes to justifying the natural family, and he winds up deconstructing it to a considerable degree when he finally gets into it. Are you a closet Filmerite?

Friday, June 16, 2006
So, a fellow blogger asked me a few weeks ago, apropos of the various ways in which we are mutually unhappy with today's Republican Party: why are you (that is to say, me) still a Republican?

Which set me to thinking: why indeed? Why should I affiliate in any way with a political party or organization? Why not support candidates I like and oppose those I dislike, with my vote and/or my contributions? On the big-picture things, the things that matter most to the life and health of a nation, can one say that there actually is any identity to the two parties, or are they both mere collections of more narrowly-focused constituency groups? And if the latter, why not limit my affiliation to single-issue constituency lobbies with whom I have more or less affinity?

Well, it so happens that I do think the parties have an identity on the big-picture issues, an identity that goes all the way back to the origins of the parties and that has survived the two parties' (and the country's) massive demographic transformations over time.

Moreover, each party's identity can be represented by three simple words, words that, when connected, form an Iron Triangle that defines that party's identity for all time.

I should stress that these identities are not absolute or exclusive. The things that each party stands for are good things; there is no party of light nor a party of darkness (nor, some might say, a party of life and a party of death). The differences between the parties are one way of framing an argument about the meaning of America, an argument that will never be concluded because both sides have a point, but that needs to be continued *as an argument* if our civilization is to remain vital. To the end of continuing the argument "for the sake of heaven" it is not a waste of time to investigate what, in the deepest sense, the parties stand for.

Here are the two Iron Triangles of terms that define America's two major parties:


Nation === Liberty === Virtue


People === Equality === Merit

When Republicans speak, they address the Nation. Nationhood posits a kind of organic unity based on a shared culture, territory, language, history. Because blood-and-soil nationalism doesn't make much sense in the American context (the land being ours *before* we were the land's) the nature of American nationalism and the American nation has always been subject to debate. Republicans, because they speak to the nation, are the ones who find this debate most significant and most worrisome. By the same token, because they are *nationalists* from their very beginning (whether you date that beginning to Lincoln or Hamilton, it doesn't matter), the absorption of the Southern conservative tradition of regionalism and localism into the Republican Party has been and will remain incomplete. One risk in speaking to the nation is that you begin to think that those who do not harken are not part of the nation; in that regard, it is notable that the Republicans, when they speak of "America" increasingly seem to identify it with Dixie, to make a regionalism into a nationalism. Among the other problems with doing this, it won't work.

When Democrats speak, the address the People. The people are an abstraction no less than the nation, but a different kind of abstraction. Both the nation and the people are conceived of as unities, but that doesn't make either an undifferentiated mass. The difference is that the nation, though unified, may have a vertically-articulted structure, whereas the people, though unified, may have a horizontally-articulated structure. The people can be composed of many peoples, but it is conceived as a single *class* and therefore can speak with a single voice. The Democrats, from their origin (whether you date that from Jefferson or Jackson, it doesn't matter) understood themselves to be the party of the people, and they have retained this identity even as, in many ways, they have lost the people. Just as the idea of the nation is predicate to the ideology of nationalism, so the idea of the people is predicate to the ideology of democracy, or at least democracy as Rousseau understood it, as an expression of the people's will. Again, this is an abstraction and a construct no less than the nation is - indeed, more so; people feel they are part of a nation because of their allegiances, whereas feeling yourself to be part of a general will is the kind of thing we associate with fascism, not democracy. Nonetheless, it is a democratic myth, and fundamental to the Democratic party.

Above all other values, Republicans stand for liberty. Liberty is what our republic was founded to secure, after all. In good old undergraduate fashion, we can identify a degree of opposition between liberty and equality, and sure enough I've assigned equality to the Democrats as their top value. Both liberty and equality can be conceived of as negative values - that is to say: valuing liberty may simply mean not interfering in someone's exercise of his liberties, and equality may simply mean not treating people differentially in any formal sense, as equality before the law and an absence of formal class distinctions. But each can also be construed more robustly. If liberty is the highest value then we should value more the person who makes the most of that liberty, structure our society so that it favors those who thrive on independence. The cult of the entrepreneur certainly partakes of such an attitude. By the same token, valuing equality above all may mean placing a high degree of concern on whether there is actual equality in society, regardless of whether a formal equality exists. Even if one doesn't go so far as to assess the justness of society based on whether classes exist at all, one may demand that a just society truly give everyone the opportunity to achieve their potential, which may require substantial interference with individual liberty (progressive taxation, forced busing, etc.) to achieve. I think it's safe to say that particularly in this more robust sense of each value system, there is a real difference between the parties.

The third word in the Iron Triangle defining each party relates to the conception of who properly leads society. We are not a direct democracy nor, properly, could we be (nor, pace the most extreme proponents of the General Will, should we be). We are a republic or, if you prefer, a representative democracy. Who, then, is fit to rule, to be the governing elite? For the Republicans, the most important determinant of fitness to rule is virtue - or, if you prefer the contemporary term of choice, character. For all that Republicans have been afflicted over and over with scandal, particularly financial scandals, they have from the beginning (again, going back as far as you like - Henry Clay had a lifetime of trouble from Whig bluenoses because he was a drinker and a gambler) conceived of themselves as the party of virtue, and their opponents as the party of rum, Romanism and rebellion. Indeed, the Republicans not only have historically understood virtue to be the key factor in whether someone is fit to govern, but have also historically been more inclined than the Democrats to schemes for the promotion of virtue in the general population (e.g., Prohibition). When they treat the question of who is fit to govern, the Democrats, by contrast, emphasize merit, or, if you prefer, ability. Go back to Jefferson and the natural aristocracy (today we would say, "meritocracy") and trace the idea down through the Progressive era to our present day: the Democrats believe that those most capable of governing, whatever class they may come from, should govern. Moreover, they believe that such natural leaders can be identified and groomed for their predestined station. It is neither surprising nor accidental that as the ideal of meritocracy has spread through the American professional class, that class has trended more and more towards the Democratic party.

Again, I want to stress that while these are Iron Triangles, that is not to suggest that the individual members of the parties - or, indeed, the parties themselves - are quite so radically dichotomous. The metaphor is, rather, intended to suggest how enduring the distinctions are, and how in each case the three concepts are mutually supporting. It is, somehow, natural for a party that emphasizes equality to be more receptive to a meritocratic elite than to other kinds of elites, and to conceive of the population being governed as a people; the Republican triangle seems to me to be equally natural, though more complimentary than mutually-reinforcing in its parts.

In any event, because I do think these identities are profound and enduring, I think that your party affiliation should ultimately come down to which set of concepts speaks most deeply to you. Individual elections are a matter of choosing the best candidate; affiliation is a matter of identity. For myself, I can say that the Republican triad - Nation, Liberty, Virtue - speaks to me more profoundly than the Democratic triad, which is why, fundamentally, I am a Republican. I don't think that makes me *right* or that the Democratic triad is *evil* - it just means the Republican way of approaching things accords better with my own way of thinking.

I want to make two more points in closing:

First, it is not clear to me that either of the parties is necessarily "conservative" or "progressive" in orientation. Specifically, as alluded to earlier, I think the Southern conservative tradition makes a very odd fit with the Republican legacy, given that it is localist and the Republican tradition is nationalist and it is fundamentally communitarian and traditionalist while the Republican tradition is more libertarian or, better, dynamist. "Liberal Republican" has come to be understood to mean "Republican who doesn't care about the whole 'virtue' thing" just as "conservative Democrat" once was understood to mean, "Democrat who defends segregation or is otherwise retrograde on racial matters." Both terms should mean something more; there should be a liberal wing of the GOP that is distinct in character from liberal Democrats, just as there should be a conservative wing of the Democratic party that is distinct in character from what conservative Republicans are all about. The fact that the parties are increasingly sorting into a European style party of the left and party of the right is a profound loss for America, and is not true to the history of either party.

Second, there is a clear interaction between religion and the triads above and between ethnicity and the triads above. It would be interesting to see how the demographics of each party changed, to what extent this reflected changes in the relative economic position of different ethnic groups, and to what extent this change in politics was also reflected in a change in religion, either actual change in denomination or change in the character of the denomination. I suspect some interesting patterns would emerge.

Thursday, June 15, 2006
I've got to beg to differ with Peggy Noonan on whether James Webb represents something new or not in the Democratic Party. He emphatically does represent something new: the first serious attempt by the Democrats to make a play for a variety of overlapping segments of voters - older veterans, people of Scots-Irish ancestry, "paleo-cons," working-class white men - who they've done a lousy job of winning in recent times, who may very well be up for grabs in 2008, and who could well be seduced by an intelligent Democratic pitch.

True, Webb's positions on education and health care amount to little more than standard-issue Democratic talking points. I don't suspect he has any real opinions here; there are not his issues. His call for more spending on Virginia's infrastructure sounds like traditional pork-barrel politics to me; nothing especially partisan about that. His positions on abortion and gay rights are, as Noonan admits, surely sincere, and happen to dovetail with the Democratic Party's positions on the issues. His position on gun rights is likewise sincere and (like Paul Hackett, a less impressive vet candidate who didn't make the playoffs) opposed to the Democratic Party's positions, albeit, again as Noonan admits, the Democrats have pretty much abandoned the cause of disarming America.

But none of this is what Webb is *running on.* On the issues he actually seems to care about, he's carving out a platform that could appeal to a significant and substantial constituency.

- He's running against the Iraq War not as a dove but as a realist. That is *not* where Nancy Pelosi is coming from.

- He's an advocate of "fair trade" - in this he's returning to an old Dick Gephardt Democratic religion that mostly fell by the wayside in the Clinton years.

- He favors the House approach to immigration: first get control of the border and enforce the law internally, *then* we can talk about what to do about both those aliens who are still here illegally and about what other reforms we should make in our immigration laws (levels of legal immigration, how immigrants are selected, what kind of guestworker program if any, etc.).

- He has, in the past, opposed race-based affirmative action; he backed off this a bit recently to say that he understood that there were good reasons for African Americans to receive preferences, but he reiterated his opposition to broader racial preferences, something that immediately drew fire from professional Hispanic organizations.

This does not sound to me like the traditional issue mix of the Democratic Party. It's *compatible* with the traditional issue mix in most ways, but it's not *identical* to it, and it contradicts it in some interesting ways (specifically on immigration and race). That's what makes him something new and interesting. When Noonan postulates that a really *interesting* Democrat would favor tax cuts, I wonder whether by "interesting" she means "Republican."

I should spend more time, though, on the most false claim in her piece: that Webb's critique of the Iraq war is somehow the same as the critique we've been hearing since the days of George McGovern. It emphatically is not, and Noonan should know better.

Because I find it endlessly useful, I'll make use of Mead's division of American foreign policy ideas into four types: Jeffersonian, Jacksonian, Hamiltonian and Wilsonian. I've long felt that the best way to understand this typology is as the four quadrants of a plane where one axis runs from "realist" to "idealist" and the other axis runs from "introverted" to "extroverted". Thus:

Jeffersonian: introverted idealist
Jacksonian: introverted realist
Hamiltonian: extroverted realist
Wilsonian: extroverted idealist

Classic liberal internationalism such as dominated Democratic Party thinking from Roosevelt through Johnson was a blend of Hamiltonian and Wilsonian ideas: a combination of self-interest and idealism but firmly committed to engagement with the wider world. The old pre-WWII Republican Party was divided between Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian wings (think TR and Taft): those who understood that American interests required sophisticated engagement with the wider world and isolationists who wanted to insulate the American republic from the corruption that such entanglements would entail. WWII having discredited isolationism, the post-WWII GOP was pulled between a dominant Hamiltonian framework (think Eisenhower) and populist Jacksonian impulses (think Goldwater).

The Vietnam War left the Democratic Party unable to think seriously about foreign policy at all for quite some time, and by the Reagan Presidency Hamiltonian, Jacksonian and Wilsonian foreign policy ideas all found their home in the GOP. When they finally recaptured the Presidency in the Clinton years, the Democrats had to come up with an approach to foreign policy; what they came up with is basically a hollowed-out version of their old liberal internationalism, a liberal internationalism that wasn't especially serious about advancing either our interests or our ideals, but that traded in a lot of high-flown rhetoric about being the "indispensible nation" and whatnot. Jeffersonianism, meanwhile, made a modest comeback in the GOP, but the dominant foreign policy strain in the GOP in the 1990s was Jacksonian.

Enter the Bush Administration, whose foreign policy could probably be best described as a blend of Wilsonian and Jacksonian impulses, or as Jacksonian impulses disguised with Wilsonian rhetoric. This has proved a profoundly ineffective combination; the Wilsonian rhetoric causes internal confusion about our objectives and sets us up for a variety of different kinds of failure, while it fails to persuade most international observers who see the Jacksonian impulses underneath.

The Democrats have had a hard time responding with a foreign policy of their own, partly because they have not thought seriously about foreign policy for some time and partly because they think the Wilsonian rhetoric belongs to them, so they can't bring themselves to critique the Bush Administration from a realist direction. There is a temptation in some quarters of the Democratic Party to take a Jeffersonian turn and call for a pulling back from the world, but coming from the Democrats this would surely be understood by the electorate not as a principled position but as a sign of weakness in the face of the enemy. Others - mostly people affiliated with The New Republic - have called for a return to the muscular Wilsonian traditions of the golden age of Democratic dominance. But one-upping the Bush Administration (or, say, a John McCain, current frontrunner for the 2008 nomination) on their commitment to use force to spread democracy sounds like an absolutely terrible strategy when our current "hard Wilsonian" adventure in Iraq is going so poorly.

Moreover, it is quite apparent which foreign policy tradition is currently orphaned between our two parties: the hard-headed internationalism of the Hamiltonians. Advocating a retreat from the world is both bad politics and bad policy. But if the Democrats are to convince anyone that they can be trusted in crafting a real foreign policy, one that truly does "entangle" us in the wider world, they need to convince people that they understand the concept of the national interest.

Enter James Webb. He doesn't need to prove his Jacksonian bona-fides; his biography does that for him. But this is where Democrats have usually stopped: they find some hard-bitten Jeffersonian old soldier who's got enough scars and doesn't want our boys fighting in any more of them furrin' wars and think that biography will substitute for policy. Webb, by contrast, actually has foreign policy *ideas*. He is emphatically not another war hero who's tired of war. He's got a very cogent and articulate understanding of the national interest and what we need to do to protect it. It's Pacific-centric, focused on the diplomatic and military threat from a rising China; in consequence, it's rather navy-centric (he resigned from his Sec'y of the Navy job way back when over proposed cuts in the fleet). Webb thinks we should be more aggressive in dealing with North Korea - and he means it; he's not just using Korea as a way to avoid dealing with the Middle East. He is deeply engaged in the world, particularly the world of the Pacific; his pre-war critique of the planned war with Iraq was a realist critique not a Vietnam-haunted anti-war rant of the kind that Ted Kennedy might pen.

Webb is exactly the kind of guy the Democrats need to bolster their foreign policy bonifides - not because he makes them look more Jacksonian, but because he makes them more credibly Hamiltonian - more credibly the kind of party Americans would trust with the complexity of America's international situation and the variety of our interests around the world.

And Webb's critique of Iraq is precisely the one Democrats need to make if they are going to make any headway in 2008. "Bring the boys home" will read to most Americans like weakness. "I would have run the war better" will read to most Americans like arrogance. A hard-headed realist critique is what's needed. And a guy like Webb not only has the intellectual chops to come up with that critique but has just the right biography to make people listen to it with respect.

Finally, I should note that demographically Webb is a "new" kind of Democrat as well, because he's an old kind of Democrat: a Scots-Irish uplander, the group of people that produced President Andrew Jackson, the man who put the finishing touches on the Democratic Party's identity. Americans of Scots-Irish descent have moved en masse from the Democrats to the GOP, and the Democrats probably can't win a national election without winning a significant contingent of these folks back. Webb speaks their language - heck, he wrote a book about them.

Let me be clear here: I'm not endorsing Webb. Frankly, I know enough about Allen to be inclined against him for President, but not enough about Webb to know whether he'd be preferable in the Senate (and, you know, I am a New York Republican not a Virginian Democrat). But I am endorsing running guys like Webb as a winning strategy for Democrats. And to me personally he's a very intriguing candidate.

Some questions:

- Will Webb be a single-issue candidate, or will be broaden his message beyond foreign policy? And if the latter, what will he emphasize - trade? (Likely.) Immigration? (Unlikely - Webb and Allen agree, and Webb and the national Democrats disagree.) Health Care? (Likely - I don't think you can run a Democratic campaign without talking up their most potent issue.)
- How vehement will Webb be in his criticism of the Bush Administration's foreign policy? Will he say, in effect, that Iraq was a noble idea but a stupid one - and foreseeably stupid - or will he veer off into the more paranoid direction that some Democratic (and paleo) critics have unfortunately (for them) trended? I'm betting the former, but we'll just have to see.
- Will the Democratic Party tie itself in knots over racial shibboleths (e.g., Webb's opposition to race-based affirmative action for immigrants, his speeches praising the courage of his Confederate ancestors) and therefore be unable to give Webb the support he'll need to win?
- Will Allen go toe-to-toe on foreign policy, try to dodge and change the subject to taxes or abortion or what-have-you, or try to shut down the debate with jingoistic appeals to support the President in wartime? Which tack *should* he take, politically?
- Will any prominent current or former GOP figure endorse Webb over Allen? Who? When?
- Will John McCain campaign for his potential 2008 rival if the race looks close?

If Webb gets the money he needs to be genuinely competitive, this could be a very interesting race indeed. And for Allen, an interesting race is exactly what he does not need, given that he wants to spend his time mobilizing for 2008. Yes, if he has a big tough fight with Webb and trounces him in November then Allen is even better positioned for 2008 than he is now. But if it's close, and he's bloodied, then that's not the case. And if - longshot but possible - he loses . . .

Thursday, June 01, 2006
You know, I don't know anything. Particularly, I never know what's going to actually attract interest to the blog. Apparently, these tossed-off reflections on the politics of the Senate immigration bill vote were pretty interesting to some people who read a lot more blogs than I do. Anyhow, thanks Steve, Ross, Jonah, Mickey, and anyone else I haven't figured out linked to it yet.