Moderate Republicans Reject Social Conservativism, Call For Restoration of Checks and Balances

Groups of moderate Republicans have issued a statement of principles which I have found via Central Sanity and Michael P.F. van der Galiën. This return to rule of law and move away from the authoritarianism of the current Republican leadership is what is necessary if the Republicans are to hope to be anything more than a southern regional party in the future. All in all, it isn’t even terribly inconsistent with the views I recently expressed in The Meaning of Liberalism. A Republican Party governed by these principles would help end the gridlock, allowing liberals and moderate conservatives to work together for the improvement of the country without being distracted by the wedge issues pushed by the current Republican leadership.

The authors acknowledge that “narrow-minded strategies of certain social conservatives have made our Party a shadow of its former self.” They “reject these social conservatives’ alienating approach and prefer what former U.S. Senator John Danforth has labeled a politics of ‘reconciliation.”

Besides rejecting the extremes of social conservatives, they call for a restoration of the checks and balances on government which have been eroded in recent years. While I welcome this view, I wish they had also included restoration of the separation of church and state when turning to the vision of the founding fathers:

We believe in the U.S. Constitution, its checks and balances, and importantly, the protections it affords our states and citizens. We further believe those protections should be consistently applied, both in times of war and of peace. The war on terror should not be a war on habeas corpus

Their support for personal liberty goes much further than the rhetoric of the far right:

We believe in maximizing personal liberty and minimizing government interference in our private lives, including the lives of pregnant women, terminally ill patients, gays, lesbians, and all other categories of responsible, law-abiding adults.

Just as the above appears to support abortion rights without using the word, they also support stem cell research without use of the term:

We further believe that the truest pro-life position is one which allows and encourages the ethical pursuit of all scientific research that holds promise for mitigating diseases that afflict our families and friends.

The full text of their letter is below the fold: (more…)

John Kerry on Misconceptions in Fighting Terrorism

The Boston Globe reports that John Kerry has blasted Republican foreign policy in a speech at a speech at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. As is common for the news media covering complex ideas, the report hardly does Kerry’s ideas justice. These ideas aren’t really new as Kerry had issued similar warnings even before the war. Kerry had also written about the dangers of terrorism well before 9/11, when most Republicans were in denial regarding the problem and blocking Democratic efforts to take action.

Perhaps with a growing number of Americans realizing that George Bush’s foreign policy has made us less safe and has made al Qaeda and other foreign enemies stronger, more will finally pay attention to Kerry’s views on foreign policy. As the news report fail to really convey the ideas presented, I have posted a portion of Kerry’s speech under the fold. This portion begins with Kerry discussing four misconceptions on fighting terrorism. (more…)

The Ron Paul Phenomenon

The Washington Post is the latest to play up the success of Ron Paul. Like Howard Dean, Paul has built up a tremendous following on line, but unlike Dean trails badly in the polls.

While there are obvious similarities, from the on line support to their shared opposition to the war, the situations are actually very different. Even though his support was never as great as reported by the pundits, Dean was a credible candidate even if he ultimately received less support than John Kerry once Democrats had to actually vote as opposed to talk to pollsters. Dean was far closer to the Democratic mainstream than Paul is to the Republican, and if things had turned out a little different in Iowa Dean could have conceivably won.

In contrast, Ron Paul does not fit in with the Republican Party and has very little chance of winning. Paul’s on line support comes not from a mass movement which could help him win the nomination, but from being appealing to a unique group of people.

For mainstream Democrats and Republicans there are many choices and most of us still have no friggin idea as to who to support. While some Democrats and Republicans do affiliate with a candidate on MySpace or Facebook, many more of us are spending the time watching all the candidates. Those who have committed are divided among several candidates in each party.

In contrast, there is only one Ron Paul. Obviously he has the interest of most Libertarians. In addition, those who seek out a Republican who both opposes the war and big government have no other alternatives. For them, the choice is clear. While this is a relatively small group in terms of the nation as a whole, their numbers are greater than the number committed to any specific Democrat or Republican.

The buzz on Technorati and YouTube is more a function of interest and curiosity than actual support. Many Democrats have even had favorable things to say about Paul, but that is also largely aided by the realization that he has no chance to win. Democrats can defend Paul against Rudy Giuliani’s absurd and uninformed attacks when Paul is right without having any thoughts of actually supporting him. There aren’t even any qualms about helping a possible general election opponent as most believe Paul will not win the nomination.

For Democrats, Ron Paul is preferable to the other Republican candidates for additional reasons, such as his support for civil liberties and fiscal responsibility. Brian Doherty, as a libertarian writer, offers a more realistic view of Democrats than we hear from partisan Republicans. Doherty writes:

Now, some Democratic intellectuals of the Jonathan Chait variety seem to think raising taxes is a primary political imperative, but I’m sure even most Democratic voters aren’t going to actually mind too much that he’s against raising taxes. So Paul has in many senses the best of the supposed appeal of Reaganite conservatism (small government, keeping the feds out of our lives), and is for many rights and against many abrogations of rights that progressives support.

It is t is a shame that such a simple statement which is contrary to the memes spread by Republicans will probably be seen by very few readers. In their bashing of all government, even when in control of all three branches, Republicans mischaracterize Democrats as desiring higher taxes and bigger government. While Doherty is right that some hold for this position, for many more Democrats government and taxes are necessary but not necessarily loved.

Update: I’ve often written about the fusion of liberal and small-l libertarian beliefs. We’ve seen this in Kos’s writings on liberal/libertarian fusionism, and today Libby provides another example of this view in the liberal blogosphere in her discussion of Ron Paul:

I’ve held back my endorsement because even with all his positives, he wants to shrink the government too far, which besides shredding the social safety net, would lead to further empowering corporate influence over our private lives. What I’m looking for is a progressive small L libertarian. But to tell the truth, if the tsunami of public discontent that I’m expecting in 08 unexpectedly sweeps him into office, I think we could we do much worse.

Social Liberalism, Economic Conservativism, and Political Parties

Ezra Klein (here and here) and Matthew Yglesias are going back and forth discussing ideology and political parties, raising the question of whether the situation in the United States is typical of other places and times. Is it inevitable that one party would be conservative on social and economic issues while the other party would be liberal on both? Matthew argues that this is the trend internationally, while European blogger Michael P.F. van der Galiën provides evidence that perhaps this is not always the case. While not proving that this is universal, George Lakoff has provided a possible explanation for the association of economic and social issues in his division between the strict father and nurturing parent views.

Ezra and Matthew are largely looking at the possibility of a political party being socially conservative and liberal on economic matters–which could be the worst of all possible worlds as far as I’m concerned assuming they are using liberal in a big-government or populist manner. Kevin Drum rejects the opposite view finding that libertarianism “has never attracted a huge following.”

In coming to this conclusion, Kevin is confusing the most radical viewpoint for all possible viewpoints which might be characterized by being socially liberal and economically conservative. Extreme libertarianism will find a small following, but so would the other extreme of total government control over both economic and social issues.

The problem with extreme libertarianism comes from the placement of ideology over reality. Libertarian publications and think tanks produce a tremendous amount of work analyzing every possible problem, and every time they find that the free market will provide a better solution than government. Amazing how that works! In contrast, while I might prefer avoiding government where possible, and place the burden of proof on those who seek increased government activity, I, and presumably many others who are socially liberal and more economically conservative, would concede the need for government action in some areas rejected by hard core libertarians.

Talk of economic conservativism can also be confusing as this term is used in many ways. Among those who have described themselves as socially liberal and economically conservative are Jimmy Carter, Paul Tsongas, John Kerry and Howard Dean, while others who use this label are more conservative economically than these Democrats. Their economic conservativism is hardly the same as that advocated by current Republicans. We simply do not have good labels for the variety of political views which exist. In terms of purely economics, Republican views would be much better described as fascist than capitalist, but there are far too many negative associations with fascism for it to make a useful descriptive term in political discussion. This does, however, raise the point that many conservative pundits have no qualms about calling most Democrats socialists, regardless of the fact that Republicans are far closer to fascism as opposed to capitalism than many Democrats are to socialism.

I also wonder to what degree the limited combinations of views coming from the two American political parties is responsible for the low turn out in elections and poor approval ratings for both in many polls. This may also be driving the interest in third parties, as many wonder if a Ross Perot without the personal quirks would be preferable to the choices offered by the major parties. Shamanic recently addressed this at Newshoggers arguing that most of the platform of a hypothetical third party, including fiscal conservativism, is basically a Democratic platform.

It is actually not clear what the Democrats will represent as they move from the opposition party to governing party, and even less clear as to how they are perceived. There is still the inertia of the old New Deal coalition and special interest groups influencing the Democratic Party. There’s been a tremendous realignment as social issues, as well as views on the Iraq war, have replaced economic issues as the major differences between the parties. If the Democrats are seen primarily as the party of the poor and the welfare state which is hostile to business interests they risk returning to minority status, and a third party could be victorious if the Republicans remain controlled by those on the extreme right.

If Democrats are to become a majority party they will need to recognize the changing economic realities of an affluent society, and develop a platform which is inviting to the “Starbucks Republicans” and “South Park Republicans” who now reject the social conservativism of the Republicans. This tendency is seen more among bloggers, making Shamanic’s arguments more understandable even if others do not perceive the Democratic Party as she does. It remains to be seen whether the net roots will have a lasting effect on the Democratic Party, or if older interest groups will retain control.

It was much easier for Democrats to appear united when in the minority and in agreement in opposing Republican policies. Until recently, many current Democrats were actually former independents and moderate Republicans who can no longer support the extremism of the Republican leadership. Assuming predictions are correct that the Democrats will be the governing party as of 2008, there may be more division as to which course to take. We may see a return to the traditional conservative versus liberal divisions, or we may see a continuation of the realignment which has been occurring during the Bush years demonstrating to Ezra and Matthew that the old political divisions are not engraved in stone.

Democrats and the Secular Vote

Ross Douthat has an article in The Atlantic Monthly in which he sees the United States and Europe as becoming more like the other with regards to secularism versus religion. The United States has become more secular, and Douthat’s analysis provides a reason for Democrats to run on principle rather than pandering for the religious vote:

America’s secular turn actually began in the 1990s, though it wasn’t until 2002 that two Berkeley sociologists first noticed it. In a paper in the American Sociological Review, Michael Hout and Claude S. Fischer announced the startling fact that the percentage of Americans who said they had “no religious preference” had doubled in less than 10 years, rising from 7 percent to 14 percent of the population. This unexpected spike wasn’t the result of growing atheism, Hout and Fischer argued; rather, more Americans were distancing themselves from organized religion as “a symbolic statement” against the religious right. If the association of religiosity with political conservatism continued to gain strength, the sociologists suggested, “then liberals’ alienation from organized religion [might] become, as it has in many other nations, institutionalized.”

Five years later, that institutionalization seems to be proceeding. It’s showing up in an increasingly secularized younger generation: A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 20 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds reported no religious affiliation, up from just 11 percent in the late 1980s. It’s visible on the best-seller lists, where books such as Kevin Phillips’s American Theocracy make their pitches to liberal readers, and in the public comments of scientists who now seem eager to attack religion as a threat rather than dismiss it as a nuisance. And it’s found a home in the expanding world of the liberal blogosphere, which has provided a virtual parish for Americans united by their disdain for “godbags” and “fundies.” (A Pew study of Howard Dean activists, one of the first mass constituencies mobilized by “netroots” activism, found that 38 percent described themselves as “secular.”)

It’s even making a difference at the ballot box. Liberals have spent much of the past six years straining to cut into the GOP’s advantage among religious voters. But when the Democrats finally shattered the Republican majority in the 2006 midterms, it was their consolidation of the secular vote that helped put them over the top. Despite all their efforts to close the God gap, the Democrats managed barely any gains among frequent churchgoers last November—but their share of the vote among Americans who never attend church at all leaped to 67 percent, from 55 percent in 2002.

In other words, the Democratic Party might do better by standing for something as opposed to trying to fight a losing battle to get the votes of natural Republicans. When the Democrats try to pretend to be Republicans, it looks to many people that they stand for nothing at all. If the Democrats are winning by consolidating the secular vote, as opposed to picking up the religious conservative vote, they might as well stick to principles. The appearance of sticking to his principles is one factor which made Ronald Reagan so popular, even among many Democrats. Promoting secular ideas even carries the possibilities of winning some people over to their beliefs, and encouraging those who do not feel either party represents them when Democrats sound like Republicans to come out to vote.

Douthat also finds that Europe is becoming a little more like the United States:

Yet the Europe of tomorrow may look more like … the United States, with a politics that’s increasingly shaped by clashes between believers, or between belief and unbelief. Already, the Continent is experiencing a low-grade culture war, created by the collision between the religious zeal of Muslim immigrants and the secular culture that surrounds them. In flash points that range from the murder of the anti-Islamic filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in Holland, to the controversy over the supposedly blasphemous Danish cartoons, to the question of whether to admit Turkey to the EU, secular Europe has found itself in unfamiliar, God-haunted, almost American territory. Such disputes may subside as Islamic immigrants assimilate to European norms, but for now, at least, resistance to assimilation by Muslims suggests that they may succeed in changing those norms as much as they are changed by them.

While these trends are present, Douthat recognizes the nature or both the United States and Europe:

These trends shouldn’t be exaggerated. America remains a deeply religious nation and its secularists an embattled minority, while Europeans remain strongly invested in preventing faith from intruding into politics. But both continents may be drifting into a zone where religious belief is likely to be a persistent source of tension, rather than a commonplace or a curiosity.