Realignment on Issues of Liberty Versus Authoritarianism

The previous post on the column by David Brooks leads back to a topic I’ve discussed many times here–the realignment of the political parties. As discussed earlier, the Republicans have abandoned previous ideas of freedom and small government. In recent years, especially as traditionally leftist economic policies have been abandoned, the left has increasingly been redefined as those who oppose the policies of the Bush administration including the war, suppression civil liberties, pandering to the religious right, and erosions of check and balances on government. Howard Dean is considered far left for his opposition to the war while his fiscal conservativism is no longer considered a defining characteristic. (See related post on Dean below the fold). The major predictor of one’s political party affiliation has become how frequently one attends church, with those attending multiple times a week being more likely to be Republicans and supporters of the agenda of the religious right.

Glenn Greenwald makes an argument similar to the argument I have been making on the realignment of the political parties. It comes as little surprise that he sees the party divisions similar as to how I do concerning his stress on civil liberties as well as the checks and balances in government. Greenwald also discusses David Brooks’ column and writes:

I have argued several times before that the radicalism of the Bush presidency and the neoconservatism on which it is based has resulted in a fundamental political re-alignment. As Brooks points out, the issues that shape our political spectrum and determine one’s political orientation have changed fundamentally — Brooks contrasts today’s predominant issues with those of the 1970s in order to demonstrate this shift, but the shift is just as drastic even when one compares today’s predominant political issues to those that drove the key political dispustes as recently as the 1990s.

There is one principal reason for this shift — the Bush presidency and the political movement that supports it is not driven by any of the abstract political principles traditionally associated with “liberalism” or “conservatism.” Whatever else one wants to say about the Bush presidency, it has nothing to do with limiting the size, scope and reach of the federal government. The exact opposite is true.

On every front, the Bush administration has ushered in vast expansions of federal power — often in the form of radical and new executive powers, unprecedented surveillance of American citizens, and increased intervention in every aspect of Americans’ private lives. To say that the Bush movement is hostile to the limited-government ends traditionally associated (accurately or not) with the storied Goldwater/Reagan ideology is a gross understatement…

As a result, to be considered “liberal” or “leftist” now means, more than anything else, to oppose that agenda. All of the people now deemed to be on the “left” — including many who have quite disparate views about the defining political disputes of the 1990s — have been able to work together with great unity because all energies of those “on the left” have been devoted not to any affirmative policy-making (because they have had, and still have, no power to do that), but merely towards teh goal of exposing the corruption and radicalism at the heart of this extremist right-wing movement and to push back — impose some modest limits — on what has been this radical movement’s virtually unlimited ability to install a political framework that one does not even recognize as “American.”

Related Posts:
Libertarian Democrats or Liberalism Reborn
Rangel Moves Democrats in Wrong Direction

Conservative Bloggers and the GOP Candidates

The Delusion of Republican Libertarians

Plus some related posts I wrote for Light Up The Darkness in 2005 are under the fold.

David Brooks Abandons Goldwater and Reagan

David Brooks makes a couple of fundamental errors his current column in believing Republican rhetoric and in lumping all government actions together. Brooks may not understand the right course for the country, but at least he is coming around to realizing that Republicans are out of touch with the voters. He realizes that all the talk from conservatives of moving back to the Goldwater-Reagan days is folly:

There is an argument floating around Republican circles that in order to win again, the G.O.P. has to reconnect with the truths of its Goldwater-Reagan glory days. It has to once again be the minimal-government party, the maximal-freedom party, the party of rugged individualism and states’ rights.

This is folly. It’s the wrong diagnosis of current realities and so the wrong prescription for the future.

Back in the 1970s, when Reaganism became popular, top tax rates were in the 70s, growth was stagnant and inflation was high. Federal regulation stifled competition. Government welfare policies enabled a culture of dependency. Socialism was still a coherent creed, and many believed the capitalist world was headed toward a Swedish welfare model.

In short, in the 1970s, normal, nonideological people were right to think that their future prospects might be dimmed by a stultifying state. People were right to believe that government was undermining personal responsibility. People were right to have what Tyler Cowen, in a brilliant essay in Cato Unbound, calls the “liberty vs. power” paradigm burned into their minds — the idea that big government means less personal liberty.

But today, many of those old problems have receded or been addressed. Today the big threats to people’s future prospects come from complex, decentralized phenomena: Islamic extremism, failed states, global competition, global warming, nuclear proliferation, a skills-based economy, economic and social segmentation.

Normal, nonideological people are less concerned about the threat to their freedom from an overweening state than from the threats posed by these amorphous yet pervasive phenomena. The “liberty vs. power” paradigm is less germane. It’s been replaced in the public consciousness with a “security leads to freedom” paradigm. People with a secure base are more free to take risks and explore the possibilities of their world.

People with secure health care can switch jobs more easily. People who feel free from terror can live their lives more loosely. People who come from stable homes and pass through engaged schools are free to choose from a wider range of opportunities.

Brooks realizes that conservative rhetoric is not of interest to independents:

The Republican Party, which still talks as if government were the biggest threat to choice, has lost touch with independent voters. Offered a choice between stale Democrats and stale Republicans, voters now choose Democrats, who at least talk about economic and domestic security.

The Democrats have a 15 point advantage in voter identification. Voters prefer Democratic economic policies by 14 points, Democratic tax policies by 15 points, Democratic health care policies by 24 points and Democratic energy policies by 20 points. If this is a country that wants to return to Barry Goldwater, it is showing it by supporting the policies of Dick Durbin…

Goldwater and Reagan were important leaders, but they’re not models for the future.


Bush Accused of Long History of Politicizing Justice Department

Joseph D. Rich, former chief of the voting section in the Justice Department’s civil right division from 1999 to 2005, writes in the Los Angeles Times that Bush has a long history of tilting justice:

THE SCANDAL unfolding around the firing of eight U.S. attorneys compels the conclusion that the Bush administration has rewarded loyalty over all else. A destructive pattern of partisan political actions at the Justice Department started long before this incident, however, as those of us who worked in its civil rights division can attest.

I spent more than 35 years in the department enforcing federal civil rights laws — particularly voting rights. Before leaving in 2005, I worked for attorneys general with dramatically different political philosophies — from John Mitchell to Ed Meese to Janet Reno. Regardless of the administration, the political appointees had respect for the experience and judgment of longtime civil servants.

Under the Bush administration, however, all that changed. Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.

It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.

At least two of the recently fired U.S. attorneys, John McKay in Seattle and David C. Iglesias in New Mexico, were targeted largely because they refused to prosecute voting fraud cases that implicated Democrats or voters likely to vote for Democrats.

This pattern also extended to hiring. In March 2006, Bradley Schlozman was appointed interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo. Two weeks earlier, the administration was granted the authority to make such indefinite appointments without Senate confirmation. That was too bad: A Senate hearing might have uncovered Schlozman’s central role in politicizing the civil rights division during his three-year tenure.

Rich procedes to provide additional examples of the Bush administration politicizing the Justice Department. He concludes:

This administration is also politicizing the career staff of the Justice Department. Outright hostility to career employees who disagreed with the political appointees was evident early on. Seven career managers were removed in the civil rights division. I personally was ordered to change performance evaluations of several attorneys under my supervision. I was told to include critical comments about those whose recommendations ran counter to the political will of the administration and to improve evaluations of those who were politically favored.

Morale plummeted, resulting in an alarming exodus of career attorneys. In the last two years, 55% to 60% of attorneys in the voting section have transferred to other departments or left the Justice Department entirely.

At the same time, career staff were nearly cut out of the process of hiring lawyers. Control of hiring went to political appointees, so an applicant’s fidelity to GOP interests replaced civil rights experience as the most important factor in hiring decisions.

For decades prior to this administration, the Justice Department had successfully kept politics out of its law enforcement decisions. Hopefully, the spotlight on this misconduct will begin the process of restoring dignity and nonpartisanship to federal law enforcement. As the 2008 elections approach, it is critical to have a Justice Department that approaches its responsibility to all eligible voters without favor.

Maryland Passes Plan to Dodge Electoral College

Maryland appears to be the first state to pass a scheme to effectively eliminate the electoral college by getting enough states to agree to give all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote. The measure only takes effect if enough states pass the plan to provide a majority of electoral votes. The plan was passed in California but vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. It has passed in one house in Arkansas, Hawaii, and Colorado.

While there are valid arguments for eliminating the electoral college, such a change in how elections are conducted should be done by Constitutional amendment. There is already enough controversy surrounding close elections, and a back door change in a manner such as this will inevitably lead to court battles should the change affect the outcome.

My previous post on the system, posted at The Democratic Daily after the California legislature passed this plan, is reprinted under the fold. (more…)