US To Sign Gay Rights Declaration Which Bush Refused To Back

The Obama administration is continuing to rejoin the rest of the Western world, this time on a resolutoin to decriminalize homosexuality. AP reports:

The Associated Press has learned that the Obama administration will sign a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that President George W. Bush had refused to endorse.

U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the French sponsors of the declaration that the administration wants to be added as a supporter of the declaration. The Bush administration was criticized in December when it was the only Western government that refused to sign.

The officials said the administration had decided to sign the declaration to demonstrate that the United States supports human rights for all around the world.

Projecting The Future Of The Left and Right

Matthew Yglesias and James Joyner come to general agreement on one point in an exchange between the two. Yglesias concedes that the center-right will dominate in the future:

I would go stronger than that, actually, and posit that American politics in the future will mostly be dominated by a center-right political coalition just as it always has. This is just how things work. A political coalition grounded in the social mores of the ethno-sectarian majority and the ideas of the business class has overwhelming intrinsic advantages against contrary movements grounded in the complaints of minority groups and the economic claims of the lower orders. It’s a little bit hard to even know what a permanent progressive governing majority would mean, and harder to know how you would sustain it. When you think about how different countries wind up where they are, it’s never because the political left secures some kind of decisive victory over the political right. Instead, things the left puts in place during moments of victory manage to secure mainstream acceptance and survive periods of center-right electoral victory. That’s the National Health Service under Thatcher, Social Security under Eisenhower, the Civil Rights Act under Nixon, or Medicare under Reagan. The dominant position of the Democratic Party for much of the 20th Century was achieved through the strange method of the Democratic Party containing a lot of very very very very conservative politicians. The actual periods of major progressive legislation were brief—but they had lasting impact.

If we succeed in achieving major progressive reforms in 2009 and 2010, we’re going to create a situation in which the existence of a workable national health care system deprives the Democrats of a winning electoral issue. A certain number of voters who have conservative views on some other topics but who liked progressive ideas on health care will vote for more Republicans. If progressives succeed in increasing economic mobility and decreasing inequality, that will probably increase the number of middle- and upper-class Hispanics who decide they want tax cuts. The goal, however, is to achieve the goal of a more just society, not to win a bunch of elections.

Yglesias is responding to an earlier post in which Joyner looked at changing views among the young and concluded:

…the country’s social mores will have evolved in four or eight years.  Further, American politics will naturally evolve along with the American public, just as it always has.  Presumably, the Republican Party will eventually do so as well — just as it always has.

We’ll always have a strong “conservative” movement.  It’s just that Ronald Reagan and Alex P. Keaton wouldn’t quite recognize it.

In response to Yglesias, Joyner now writes:

But, yes, to the extent that middle-of-the-road Americans are demanding just a little more government involvement in health care, that issue will go away until such time as a groundswell builds up for another surge.

Similarly, the Andrew Sullivans of the world may give the GOP another look down the road once, inevitably, gay marriage becomes normalized.

For “progressives” to win, they need to constantly come up with ways to change the status quo that a plurality of voters want.  More importantly, they have to do it without creating a cultural backlash. “Conservatives,” by contrast, can win either by appealing to the extant culture or charging that the “progressives” are moving too fast.

Both of these writers are making assumptions about the direction their respective party will move in, and most likely are seeing their party move in the direction they would prefer. Both the policies of political parties and the meaning of political labels change over time and their predictions may or may not come about.

The recent success of the Democratic Party has come about due to common ground between two groups which are both labeled liberal which I discussed here. Some of us are primarily concerned with civil liberties issues, opposing the social issues of the religious right, and opposition to the Iraq war. Yglesias is looking more at progressive, big-government economic policies. Both groups now share a considerable amount of common ground, but this is primarily due to which issues have dominated recently.

Joyner leans much more libertarian than the current Republican mainstream and envisions a Republican Party which could be a more acceptable choice in the future. It is possible that in the future we will have a Democratic Party which is seeking big government programs beyond what I believe is necessary, especially if the current health care crisis is resolved. Hypothetically we could also have a Republican Party controlled by people who accept gay marriage along with rejecting the rest of the baggage of the religious right, which shows stronger support for civil liberties, and which realizes that the Iraq war along with the current approach to the “war on terror” is a tremendous error.  Under these hypothetical situation it is very possible I could wind up supporting such a center-right party and voting Republican.

The problem with this hypothetical situation is that we do not know which direction either party will move in. While some have claimed there was no difference between Obama and Clinton, I saw the primary race as a battle over two different directions for the Democratic Party. There is no guarantee it will turn out this way, but I saw the victory for Obama, aided by independents and social liberals who have not always voted Democratic, as helping to move the Democratic Party more towards the form of liberalism I prefer.

At present there are few signs that the Republican Party will turn out the way Joyner suggests. During the Bush years, rather than preserving the status quo, we have seen the Republicans move further to the right on social issues. Traditionally the Republicans would pander to the religious right for votes and attempt to ignore them as much as possible in office. George W. Bush never read that memo (which possibly was mixed in with that intelligence briefing with warnings of a terrorist attack).

Abortion is one issue which demonstrates that it is not necessarily true that conservatives act primarily to preserve the status quo, accepting both the changes under liberal governments and respecting what a plurality want. If this was really the case, abortion would have been taken off the table following Row v. Wade, but instead conservatives remain aggressive in opposing abortion rights along with supporting increased restrictions on contraception.

If conservatives accepted the status quo we might also expect them to accept established science. Instead many conservatives push for the teaching of evolution in the schools even though evolution has become well established as the foundation of modern biology. Similarly many oppose scientific fings which contradict their religious beliefs in other areas such as in cosmology and geology. Conservatives certainly do not support the status quo on climate science as represented by the scientific consensus.

With these trends in the conservative movement it is difficult to determine which direction the Republican Party will move over the long run. Perhaps they need to run Sarah Palin in 2012 and suffer a blow out to convince them to change their direction. Changes in both beliefs and voting patterns among the young might force the Republican Party to change more along the lines which Joyner suggests, but the disdain shown by young voters for the GOP could become permanent. The views of the young will only influence the Republican Party if they actually get involved in the party.

At present many Republicans believe they lost because they weren’t conservative enough. If this philosophy continues to hold, which may or may not be the case, the Republicans will increasingly become a regional party of the deep south and Mormon belt. They risk going the way of the Whigs if they do not modernize their views. While third parties have had little success in the past, considering both the changes in politics in the internet era and the differences in types of people now voting Democratic, I also would not be surprised if ultimately the Democrats divide into two factions to restore a two party system should the Republicans continue drive out everyone outside of the extreme rightwing.

A Historian Looks At Republican Support For Big Government

Julian E. Zelizer, professor of history at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, has reviewed how the GOP’s rhetoric about small government is hollow. I’ve often pointed this out, including in this data comparing spending under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Zelizer made the easy case with regards to spending under George Bush but didn’t stop there as he also reviewed spending under prior Republican presidents.

I’ve often argued that support for limited government is more important than the question of big versus small government. With all the functions it performs, the federal government will remain large regardless of whether the Democrats or Republicans are in office. What is more important than concern for the size of government is limiting the power of government. Republicans fail badly here as Zelizer wrote:

Bush and Cheney also embraced a vision of presidential power that revolved around a largely unregulated and centralized executive branch with massive authority over the citizenry. This was a far cry from the days of Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, a Republican who constantly warned about the dangers of presidential power to America’s liberties.

After the 2008 election, Cheney was not apologetic. He explained that “the president believes, I believe very deeply, in a strong executive, and I think that’s essential in this day and age. And I think the Obama administration is not likely to cede that authority back to the Congress. I think they’ll find that given a challenge they face, they’ll need all the authority they can muster.”

Importantly, the marriage between conservatism and a robust federal government was not unique to the Bush presidency. The roots of Bush’s comfort with government can be traced to the Republican Right in the 1950s, members of Congress who called for an aggressive response to domestic and international communism.

Both the Democrats and Republicans haves supported a large federal government. Where we hope to see a difference is in the amount of presidential power and the break down in checks and balances during the Bush years. There is the danger that any president will be reluctant to reduce their own power. While Dick Cheney could turn out to be right on this, I would not put much stock in predictions from the man who predicted that Iraqis would greet Americans with flowers.

Republicans also supported bigger government with regards to the areas in which they allowed the government to act, especially as they embraced the agenda of the religious right. Republicans have supported bigger government with their intervention into end of life decisions in the Terri Schiavo case, as they attempt to restrict abortion rights and sales of contraceptives, and in their ballot proposals to ban gay marriage. The Obama administration has also supported less federal government intrusion in the lives of individuals, as well as the actions of state governments, in pledging to respect state laws legalizing medicinal use of marijuana.

Obama Keeps Health Care Reform Alive

Jonathan Cohen looks at how health care reform has stayed alive in the Obama administration despite all the other problems they have faced since taking office. Cohen primarily attributes this to one person in the administration–Barack Obama himself.

A Closer Look at Guantanamo Bay

Lawrence Wilkerson, guest blogging at The Washington Note, has a must read article on Guantanamo Bay. The entire article is well worth reading. Here are just his first two points:

The first of these is the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there. Simply stated, no meaningful attempt at discrimination was made in-country by competent officials, civilian or military, as to who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.

This was a factor of having too few troops in the combat zone, of the troops and civilians who were there having too few people trained and skilled in such vetting, and of the incredible pressure coming down from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others to “just get the bastards to the interrogators”.

It did not help that poor U.S. policies such as bounty-hunting, a weak understanding of cultural tendencies, and an utter disregard for the fundamentals of jurisprudence prevailed as well (no blame in the latter realm should accrue to combat soldiers as this it not their bailiwick anyway).

The second dimension that is largely unreported is that several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.

But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers. They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released. I am very sorry to say that I believe there were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at the highest levels of our armed forces.

In addition to discussing what was wrong about Guantanamo Bay, Wilkerson also addresses many of the objections to closing the prison. This includes debunking objections raised by Dick Cheney.

Poll Shows Blow Out For Obama Over Palin

As a supporter in principle of the benefiits of checks and balances in a two party system I have been distressed by the direction the Republican Party is heading. Their authoritarian ideas and denial of science along with any objective facts which contradict their ideology is rapidly turning them into a regional party of the deep south and Mormon belt. Sarah Palin is one of the worst examples of the anti-intellectualism which is increasingly dominating the conservative movements yet many Republicans think she would make a plausible 2012 presidential candidate. It is far too early for polls to be predictive with regards to the 2012 election, but data from Public Policy Polling does show that Palin has a tremendous amount of ground to make up.

The poll shows that in a hypothetical match up between Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, Obama would have the largest blow out since Richard Nixon’s victory over George McGovern. Obama wins by 55 percent to 35 percent in the match up. He does trail Palin by 66 percent to 17 percent among Republicans, but Obama only received the votes of 9 percent of Republicans in 2008. (This would not include the votes of many former Republicans who stopped identifying with the Republicans before the 2008 election).

The poll also shows that only 3 percent of Democrats are undecided in supporting Obama while 18 percent of Republicans are, showing further doubt about Palin among Republicans. Overall only 41 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Palin. The pollsters conclude:

“It’s impossible to say what twists and turns the American political landscape will see between now and 2012,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “What is clear is that four months ago John McCain lost to Barack Obama by seven points nationally, and at this point in time Sarah Palin trails Obama by a much greater 20 point margin. Obama would easily win more than 400 electoral votes in a contest against Palin at this point in time.”

Jon Stewart’s Defense of Capitalism

Conservatives often misrepresent liberal views on economics as being opposed to the free market. This includes false claims of support for socialism, along with a general lack of understanding of liberal beliefs. Support for the free market has historically been a fundamental component of liberalism. At various times in history the stress on this has varied. At present the liberal versus conservative divide is primarily over social issues and foreign policy with liberals often being stronger supporters of the free market than Republicans. Libertarian Will Wilkinson, who is no fan of either Democratic or Republican economic policies, has pointed out that, “the great success of the GOP over the last eight years has been to destroy the reputation of free markets and limited government by deploying its rhetoric and then doing the opposite.”

The economic crisis which Barack Obama inherited from the Bush administration has led him, right or wrong, to engage in far more government action in the economy than he would have normally preferred. This has increased the false claims from the right that Obama, along with other liberals, are anti-market. They miss the point that the goal is to prevent what they see as a danger of the collapse of the free market system, not to replace it with socialism. At least socialists, if not many conservatives, understand this, even if they object to the pro-market policies of the Obama administration.

This point was also made by Wired to Care (via Andrew Sullivan) in response to the recent exchange between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer:

Some have called Jon Stewart’s argument “anti-capitalist.” We disagree. If anything, he makes an impassioned plea for an economy that functions the way we’re told capitalism ought to: a producer makes something worth purchasing, and a consumer decides to buy it. You get ahead by hard work and keen insight. If anything, Cramer’s defense of 30 percent returns that have evaporated for everyone who didn’t cash out in 2006 demonstrates that he and the financial experts he came on the show to represent have lost touch with real capitalism. They came to believe that just moving the money around for eight years and hoping the bottom wouldn’t fall out could replace the laws of supply and demand.