Friday, August 15, 2008

'The McGovern coalition'

Over at the American Spectator blog, my friend Jim Antle examines evidence that, despite the repeated debacles of liberal Democratic presidential candidates over the years, the McGovern coalition -- that left-wing base with which George McGovern got 38 percent of the popular vote in his landslide 1972 defeat -- has grown to a near-majority.

Rather than clog up AmSpecBlog with a long back-and-forth, I'll reply here, and begin by ceding the major point: People who don't live conservative can't be expected to vote conservative.

A nation where fatherless babies account for 37 percent of births, and where another 22 percent of pregnancies end in abortion, is not a nation where individualism and personal pride in self-sufficiency -- the virtues of an autonomous yeomanry, the sentiments that underly American conservatism -- are likely to flourish.

The recognition that a majority of Americans no longer hold such views was what prompted Paul Weyrich's famous 1999 admission that conservatives had lost the Culture War. Somewhere over the past 50 years, a majority of Americans have absorbed the cultural Left's message that only saps uphold the basic bourgeois virtues (honesty, industry, sobriety, thrift) and that sturdy ancient virtues like loyalty, patriotism and martial courage are actually evil.

As for the moral ideals associated with the marriage-based family, from pre-marital chastity to marital fidelity to filial obligation, these are sneered at as mere superstitions, when they are not denounced as prejudices fomented by "the Religious Right."

Intellectuals ascendant

What happened? In his book, Drawing Life, David Gelernter places the blame on the ascendancy of intellectuals, and cites changing opinions toward crime as indicative of the revolution that intellectualism has wrought in our culture.

Gelernter recounts a Life magazine photo-spread from the '30s, showing how cops had ambushed two criminals and shot them dead. The caption referred to this ambush as a "neat trick" -- the kind of attitude toward criminals that is no longer acceptable in polite society anymore.

"What about their rights?" the intellectual demands to know, and thus deprives the Ordinary American of the sense that his own moral judgment is respectable. If we do not have contempt for the criminal -- and intellectual maundering about the "rights" of robbers suggests the criminal is not contemptible -- does this not undermine the law-abiding citizen's basis of self-esteem?

That is the tiniest tip of a very large iceberg of how intellectuals have undermined the moral basis of our society, as Gelernter sees it. If you haven't read Gelernter's book, do so. And while you're at it, you should also read Barbara Dafoe Whitehead's The Divorce Culture, Carolyn Graglia's Domestic Tranquility, Thomas Sowell's The Vision of the Anointed, Robert Bork's Slouching Toward Gomorrah, and David Horowitz and Peter Collier's Destructive Generation -- all of them, in one way or another, chronicling how intellectualism has subverted American culture.

The failure of liberalism

While this trend has seriously undermined the moral basis of a free society, it nevertheless continues to be true the the Left has been unable to consolidate power. There are reasons for this, chief among them that liberal policies don't work.

The basic program of American liberals has remained unchanged for more than 70 years: Increasingly greater government control of the economy, substituting bureaucracy for free enterprise. While this liberal Welfare State program isn't exactly socialism -- they're not advocating that government actually expropriate "the means of production" -- it suffers from the same deficiencies exposed by Ludwig von Mises in Socialism. Government bureaucrats simply don't have the informational basis necessary to run the economy as efficiently as it is run by private individuals.

Because they derive their revenue from coercion (taxes), government agencies are immune to market pressures, and thefore inevitably suffer from bureaucratic bloat, corruption and inefficiency. Thus, the liberal program of government growth diverts the nation's wealth from productive and efficient uses (the private sector) to unproductive and inefficient uses (the government sector).

The liberal does not see things in these terms, of course, nor does he see how his policies are based in a profound contempt for the "little people" to whom he promises this tax-funded largesse. One can only believe that government must provide "benefits" for the working man if one believes the working man incapable of providing for himself.

Yet the working man is not stupid. He is capable of seeing the failures of liberal policies, and you will find that if you merely begin discussing the failures of these policies, pretty soon the working man is offering examples of failed policies you hadn't even thought of.

Moreover, the working man -- the "little guy," the Ordinary American, as I think of him -- is not as blind to the contemptuous condescension of liberals as the liberals would like to think he is. And that's the real reason why no Democratic presidential candidate has gained a majority of the popular vote since 1976.

The failures of Bushism

Ultimately, liberals cannot hide their snobbery and phoniness. John Kerry was the perfect example of this, and while we ought rightly to be alarmed by the fact that Kerry got 48 percent of the vote, this is as much due to the failures of President Bush and the Republican Party as to the success of liberalism.

Who was it that pushed through the big-government boondoggle known as No Child Left Behind? Who federalized airport security under TSA? Who twisted arms to pass Medicare Part D?

Every election is a choice, and if neither party stands for limited government, then what does it matter which big-government party wins? When Republicans abandon sound conservative principles, Democrats ultimately gain.

It may be that the Republican Party's abandonment of Reaganism has now become so complete, and so obvious, that the Democrats will triumph in November. Certainly, the GOP has done nothing since 2006 to indicate it understands its basic problem, and John McCain is not a conservative.

On the other hand, I've seen this act before -- or something very much like it. The Democrats are so overconfident they can scarcely even be bothered to campaign. They sent Obama overseas for nine days, and now he's been off for a week's vacation in Hawaii. The Republicans, on the other hand, know they're between a rock and a hard place, and they've had McCain out stumping as much as his 71-year-old frailty can handle.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think McCain -- who called himself the underdog the other day when I saw in him York, Pa. -- faces any disadvantage that hard work cannot overcome. In fact, I'm so old-fashioned I don't think anyone faces any disadvantage that hard work cannot overcome. Fortune favors the hard-working, and if Obama thinks he's going to bodysurf his way to the White House, he's setting himself up for disappointment.

What the result will be on Nov. 4, I don't know. And what the long-term consequences will be of a Republican or Democratic victory, I don't know either. But trends in human affairs are not abstract eventualities that occur separate from the acts of individual men. Trends change, because men act. Or, to put it another way:
I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.
Old-fashioned, like I said. I'm also reminded that on June 6, 1944, the 4th Infantry Division landed in Normandy, only to discover that they'd landed a full mile south of their objective. They were on the wrong beach. What to do? Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. declared, "We're going to start the war from here!"

Which is to say, rather than worrying about everything that's already gone wrong to put us in the inarguably bad fix we're in, let's try to figure out how to move forward from where we are now. The election of Barack Obama is not forward movement, and the defeatist attitude among some conservatives that Obama's election cannot be prevented (or, perhaps, should not be prevented) is perhaps the Democrats' best hope for victory.

The stakes in '08

Defeating the Democrats this year might be only a limited tactical achievement, but the effect of such an outcome in terms of morale -- crushing the liberals' hopes at a time when every political indicator suggested they were destined for victory -- would be incalculable. Their ambition of consolidating their supremacy in Washington would be delayed another four years, at least, and the ultimate consequences cannot be imagined.

To resort to another military analogy, the situation of the conservative movement now can be likened to that of Washington's army in late 1776, after they were whipped out of New York and forced to retreat across New Jersey, desperate merely to escape the British onslaught. Washington's surprise counterattack across the Delaware -- the battles of Trenton and Princeton -- wasn't much, in terms of its strategic impact. Yet its morale value was priceless, and tactically, it enabled Washington to go into winter quarters without fear of another British attack.

By putting the White House beyond the Democrats' grasp for another four years, a McCain victory in November would buy the conservative movement time to gather its strength, without diverting resources to fight a desperate rear-guard battle against Obama's push for nationalized health care.

The 2010 elections are crucial, especially in the state legislatures, since the census will result in redistricting. Overall population trends favor the GOP ("red" states gaining House seats, "blue" states losing House seats) and if Republicans can control enough state legislatures, the redistricting process following the census may result in gains that will put the Democratic congressional majority at risk in 2012 and beyond.

Of course, it may be that not even this would be enough to throw the Democrats out of the congressional saddle. And it may be that, if the GOP regained a majority, it still wouldn't be able to advance a conservative agenda. But those are speculative concerns that are beyond our power to affect at present.

What is certain is that an Obama victory Nov. 4 would consolidate control of the federal government under the Democrats, and immediately confront us with the prospect of the ultimate entitlement program, nationalized health care. As Philip Klein has shown in the July/August issue of the American Spectator, this is a step that, once taken, seems impossible to undo, with political consequences that extend far beyond the field of health care.

So I think we ought to spend more time thinking about what can be done to deal the McGovern coalition yet another humiliating defeat, and stop talking as if their triumph were an inevitable "fate that will fall on us no matter what we do."

As my father liked to say, "Can't never could."

1 comment:

  1. Must take exception.

    I think it wrong to suggest that the Democratic Party is predominantly social democratic in its concerns, or that social democratic thought is its most salient distinguishing feature. It has largely abandoned the corporatist and mercantilist strains of thought that were so prominent in the years running from about 1933 to around 1988 and has been for some time uninterested in equalitarian tax reform. In this regard, one should note that neither party has a large advantage with the most affluent and the relationship of the Democratic Party with the working class in general (as opposed to communally-defined fractions thereof) has been tense for decades.

    Where the Democratic Party and its components do distinguish themselves (from the opposition and from the Democratic Party of 1948) is in the promotion of the therapeutic state and therapeutic ideology and the replacement of the uncredentialed and vernacular authority of fathers, employers, and elected officials (who achieve their positions through nature, competition in markets, and the assent of everyman) with a mandarinate composed of the bar, the educational apparat, and the helping professions. The military and the police, carrying with them a decidedly non-therapeutic ethos, are also regarded with antagonism and as unworthy of the sort of professional self-regulation that the professoriate and the bar regard as no more than their due.
    The principal loci of battle in all this are in the state and local governments, in the professional associations, and, in some measure, in the realm of cultural criticism.

    While it is arguably true that the incentive structure in public agencies renders private companies more likely to produce pareto efficient outcomes, often there are market failures or aims other than pareto efficiency. Bureaucracies, be they public or private, vary in their performance. It should be an aim of the Republican Party, as the party not in hock to public employee unions, to design and promote policies to enhance the competence of the civil service operating in its proper sphere.