Monday, November 24, 2008

Libertarians or Libertines?

David Boaz of the Cato Institute takes on folks questioning whether there can be a political alignment when self-professed conservatives so outnumber liberals in the electorate, calling the liberal/moderate/conservative spectrum a "crude and one-dimensional view of the political spectrum". Libertarians, you see, don't fit within any one of those categories; in the Cato Institute's preferred formulation libertarians are "fiscally conservative and socially liberal". Wait a second, David. Didn't you just tell us that the liberal/conservative distinction was crude and one-dimensional? How does it suddenly become more sophisticated when it is applied to the whole grand tableau of social policy? The fact is that principled libertarians do not find themselves wholly on either side of the social liberal/conservative divide. Yes, on abortion and drugs libertarians find themselves aligned against conservatives. But as Matt Barnum notes:
On the other hand, conservatives and libertarians find themselves aligned on matters such as gun control, affirmative action, political speech (i.e. campaign finance reform), environmental regulations, education policy (generally), health regulations (i.e. smoking and fatty food bans), and freedom of association.
Randall Hoven offers a libertarian's defence of social conservatism The American Thinker. Seems he's not afraid of social conservatives when he looks at the agenda of the true liberty killers, the social liberals, and their massive planned expansions of government power.

Now it's up to libertarians to decide how they're going to describe themselves. But this sally from Boaz is just another salvo in the war for the soul of the Republican Party. It's quite understandable that libertarians want to pull the GOP in their direction. And reasonable and practical libertarians are an essential part of any conservative coalition, although the true believers are too ornery to become a permanent part of anything. But why is Boaz hyping the "social liberal" tag for libertarians? Boaz blew the gaff right after the election, when he described the ideal candidate for the future as "a candidate in either party who presented himself as a product of the social freedom of the Sixties and the economic freedom of the Eighties"

Say what? Boaz is expecting the GOP not only to move in the direction of limited government, but to buy into the Zeitgeist of the Sixties. In the culture wars this is a demand not just for surrender, but surrender and betrayal. Libertarians should ask themselves if they want to hitch their wagon to leaders who want to saddle them with an attachment to a culture that is distasteful if not repugnant to people with a conservative bent, when libertarianism as such need not take any position on whether America should be more like 60s San Francisco or 50s TV sitcoms.

Libertarians absolutely have to be respected by fusionists and others as the Republicans pull themselves together and reorganize, all in the midst of what will be a bloody fight to stave off at least the worst elements of Obama's radical agenda. But there is an element of the movement that is libertine, not libertarian, and they will be sabotaging the effort to fuse the various components of the conservative coalition. Innocent flower children as they may look in their bellbottoms and granny glasses, they need to be watched.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bennett New Deal -- Take Two

For some reason I found myself looking at the paraphernalia surrounding the ceremonies associated with the Speech from the Throne very differently than I usually do. Ordinarily, by default, I revere the elaborate playacting, the odd rituals performed by sinecure holders with archaic titles, the recitation of formulas dating from century-old conflicts between Commons and the monarch. But not today. Just for a day I experienced the anarchistic stirrings that must be felt by people I usually disdain as just being ignorant of our national heritage because they consider this mummery and mumbo-jumbo as a waste of time. Why? I think it's because I think that we're entering a period like the '30s, where economic dislocation and downward social mobility will lead to middle class discontent with the existing order that will find political expression in wild and unpredictable ways.

Why? The Conservative Party of Canada is facing what may be a critical juncture in its history. The Tories have just enjoyed the rare experience of surviving an apparent economic meltdown occurring right in the midst of an election campaign and living to tell about it. The contours of politics for decades could be shaped by the conventional-wisdom answer to this question: who was responsible for our second Great Depression, and who did something about it? Now this could go either way. If the government is perceived as having bungled its way into a modern readaptation of the Great Depression, Stephen Harper could end up being remembered as a new R. B. Bennett, a cold-hearted miser fixated with adjusting his green eyeshades while the life and hopes of the "ordinary Canadian" life swirl down the drain and we could go through another period in which the Conservatives get to form the government once every half-century or so. If the government is perceived as fighting for the ordinary Jean the Plumber and trying something, however pathetic, to alleviate his plight, it could be rewarded by a grateful electorate like F.D.R. was, no matter that the New Deal not only did not end the Depression but may have lengthened it. Maybe the present situation is too uncertain and fluid to know right now what the government can actually do to look like it's dealing with the crisis with the right mixture of competence, innovation and empathy, but we can't wait too long either.

As for the speech itself, it was pure vanilla all the way. The bland bureaucratese of the language emphasized the sham formality atmosphere of the occasion, a non-event closer to a pre-season exhibition game than a season opener. It would help that when they did come up with a decent metaphor ("As one of our greatest hockey legends has observed, we need "to skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been." ), the G-G didn't botch the delivery.

The government is getting off to the right start by throwing the balanced budget under the bus. The booster shot of a deficit, whether actually being helpful or not, is what the mediacracy, the information classes, expect, and it would be prudent to give it to them.

Was the emphasis on northern development an attempt at channelling John Diefenbaker, reprising his "Northern Vision" of 1958? I guess it's better to copy the Chief than R. B. Bennett.

Regarding empathy and concern for the ordinary Canadian, the words were there:

"Many working-age Canadians are faced with the dual pressure of holding down a job and caring for their family. Increasing numbers of Canadians are taking care of elderly parents while also raising young children. Our Government is committed to supporting working families and helping make ends meet."
But we have yet to hear the music.

Mad Jack Layton is blasting the speech as "timid". That's a charge that could stick, not yet, but eventually....Mansbridge is painting this as presenting a very bleak picture of the future, something that did not really come through as I listened. That's the right approach, though, so long as it's combined with action and optimism. The phrase to be expunged from the glossary is "the fundamentals are strong"....Dion is acceding to the inevitable and will not oppose the speech.

Next act is the economic statement next week. That's when the bell will ring and the prizefight will really begin.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Where's the Rest of Me?

So said Ronald Reagan as Drake McHugh in Kings Row, the 1942 flick that Reagan thought to be his best performance. That's what GOP leaders will be saying tomorrow morning as they awake to the biggest Democratic win since 1964. The polls all converged yesterday at McCain-Palin behind 7 points or so (or more) and his chances of winning can be estimated at 2%.

For those watching at home, Indiana closes early; with most of the state closing at 6 PM E.T. and the Democrat northwest corner at 7 P.M. If Indiana goes Democrat the race can be called for Obama-Biden right then and there; if Virginia, also closing at 7, goes Dem by more than a point or two the race will likwise be over. If these states are for McCain or close, attention will shift to the 7:30 closers, North Carolina and Ohio; McCain needs both. This race should be over by 8 P.M.

The real race tonight will be the Democrats' fight for a ‘supermajority', the 60 votes needed to break Republican filibuters. 60 isn't as much a magic number as some make out; there's no guarantee that Republicans like Arlin Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins will support GOP filibusters, nor that Democrats like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson will vote to break them. But it's an important symbol of Democrat ascendency. To get to 60 the Democrats will need to beat Coleman in Minnesota, a toss-up, and upset one of Mitch McConnell in Kentucky or Saxby Chambliss in Georgia, both early closing states.

To the crystal ball:


Obama-Biden 353, McCain-Palin 185

Obama-Biden 52%, McCain-Palin 46%, Oth 2%


Democrat +7

Close Races -- Dems NH (defeating Sununu), NC (defeating Dole), Oregon (defeating Smith), LA (Landrieu hold)
Reps MN (Coleman), KY (McConnell), GA (Chambliss, after runoff)


Dem +23

I've been on a roll on American predictions; in 2006 I had the House exactly right and missed only Virginia in the Senate; in 2004 I got every state right except Iowa, the closest in the nation. I'd say I hope I am wrong this year, except that if I am, it is more likely an Obama sweep, possibly approaching 400 electoral votes than a McCain win, and Dem Senate gains of 10 or so and 30 and more than what I have predicted.

Folks can take one day, Wednesday, to digest the results and mourn; Thursday starts the battle for the soul of American conservatism, likely to be both heart- wrenching and dirty.

"Alright. I know. I'm always wrong. I always have been, ever since I can remember." --as Drake McHugh in KINGS ROW (1942).