Monday, November 06, 2006

Republicans: Ideology, Principles, Competence

I understand that ideology is important. But so are principles. And so, certainly, is competence. The Republican party, in its current incarnation, fails on all counts.

Start with competence. The list of disasters is as long as it is familiar. There's Iraq, of course, but also a nuclear North Korea and an ascendent Iran. That's the Axis of Evil right there, remember -- three for three.

Pause here for a moment if you're a Republican. Ask yourself how you would feel if a Democratic president and congress had executed the Iraq war as Bush and the Republican congress have. What would be your take on a Democratic president if, six years following his inauguration, Kim Jung Il tested his first atomic bomb? And if that president had accomplished nothing in those six years to slow Iran's march toward possessing nuclear weapons? Would you give him a pass -- especially if he himself had named these three countries as the greatest threats to America's security?

Katrina is usually included as a primary exhibit in the list of Republican incompetence. Rightly so, although Louisiana's Democratic governor, Kathleen Blanco, and New Orleans' Democratic mayor, Ray Nagin, can rightly take bows, too. But "the Democrats were incompetent, too," is hardly a ringing defense.

Even if, ideologically, you believe we ought to be torturing -- or rather, subjecting to alternative interrogation techniques -- terror suspects, you have to acknowledge that Abu Grahib was a public relations fiasco and a terror recruitment bonanza. Abu Grahib was many things. Competence wasn't one of them.

What are the Republican's substantive achievements since capturing all three branches of government in 2000? Arguably, the economy is doing well, although anyone can maintain a temporary facade of prosperity by living on credit cards. The American homeland hasn't been attacked since 9/11, but it's difficult to prove a correlation between Republican policies and the lack of a follow-up attack.

In fact, I believe both of these Republican "successes" have been achieved the same way: by borrowing against the future. In the case of the economy, we've financed "prosperity" by going into hock (the debt is held by China, BTW); in the case of security, we have distracted existing jihadists to Iraq at the cost of creating many more new ones. Or, as President Bush himself has said, "If we leave, they will follow us." The very definition of debt.

Now principles. The explosion in earmarks (up tenfold since the Republicans captured the house in 1994) and other pork isn't a reflection of Republican incompetence, because reckless Republican spending has been deliberate. Rather, the reckless spending, and the quarter trillion dollar deficit it has created, is the result of the divorce of the Republican party from conservative principles, indeed, from principles generally.

In fact, in many areas, what at first glance looks like Republican incompetence is evidence instead of a lack of principle. If Mark Foley had been a Democrat, would Dennis Hastert and company have dealt with him as they did upon first learning of his behavior? And what can be said of Jack Abramoff, Randy "Duke" Cuningham, Tom Delay? As Ian Fleming said: once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.

That test again: if you're a Republican and find instances of Republican corruption to be isolated and not a reflection of the party generally, ask yourself if you would be equally sanguine if the criminals and the party in question were all Democrats.

Now, if Republicans are incompetent and have few principles beyond clinging to power, what can we say of their ideology?

All that seems left of Republican ideology, or all that it's become, is what Andrew Sullivan calls Christianism (as distinct from Chistianity. I like the word for its parallel with Islamicism, and for its resonance with Stephen Colbert's notion of "truthiness"). What in the last six years has roused the federal government to swift action (aside from periodic incompetent attempts at damage control)? Terry Schiavo and the notion of giving taxpayers rebates to buy gasoline when a barrel of oil hit $75. Oh, and posturing against gay marriage. Oh and wait, I'm forgetting the Freedom Fries movement. Obviously, all of them the critical national issues of the day.

To me, conservatism has always been more about ends; liberalism, more about means. Conservatism, the forest; liberalism, the trees. Conservatism, the brain; liberalism, the heart. (Neither focus is inherently right or wrong, and I don't think you can build a healthy society without both.)

More than anything else, conservatism has always been more about results; liberalism, more about intentions. Which makes it all the more remarkable that there's still any support for today's Republican party among people who think of themselves as conservative. The results, as discussed above, are disastrous, whatever the intentions. As for ends and means, if the end is preventing abortion and saving lives, it's hard to understand means that rule out condoms and stem cell research (even if you think stem cell research involves murdering human embryos, don't you have to balance that evil against the good of lives potentially saved? Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing in Iraq? Aren't conservatives supposed to be good at making the hard moral decisions?). And "Conservative" commentators appeal to the heart in arguing the worthiness of our enterprise in Iraq, while issuing a pass to the unprecedentedly acerebral manner in which the war's aftermath was planned and conducted.

President Bush is not a conservative (Peter Beinart's arguments notwithstanding). On foreign policy, he has embarked on an unprecedented mission of nation building in the Middle East and has declared that our goal must be to "end tyranny." Fiscally, he has presided over record spending and record deficits. Socially, he tried to endrun state court decisions by turning Terry Schiavo's fate over to federal courts (a stunning double word score of anti-federalism and support for judicial activism). In every way I know, he has betrayed traditional conservative principles in favor of a radical ideology, incompetently executed.

We have to ask, then, how even nominal conservatives can stick with this manifestly unconservative crew. In the absence of conservative ideology, principled deeds, and fundamental competence, I can only conclude that some percentage of America's population (30%, with regard to congress; 40%, with regard to the president) continues to support Bush (and by extension the Republicans) because Bush seems to be their kind of guy. He's plain-spoken (that's one way of putting it); he likes Nascar; he clears brush at his ranch. And he claims Jesus is his favorite philosopher. That is, simply put, Bush's supporters sympathize with his intentions in spite of his results. Which, in a possible triple irony, makes them classic liberals who continue to support radicals masquerading as conservatives.

I'm a conservative. And I'll be voting a straight Democratic ticket on November 7. A Democratic victory in one, and hopefully both, houses of congress is the only way I can see of shocking the Republicans back to ideology, principle, and competence. If you care about the party, and about the country, this time you'll vote Democratic.


Anonymous said...

You said it. Kick the bums out. A plague on both their houses.

Anonymous said...

Allowing the Democrats a narrow majority in one or both houses of Congress will accomplish pretty much nothing. Democrats argue for a "new direction" in Iraq without specifying that direction. They have weak, indecisive Congressional leadership that will do nothing but serve as a useful foil for Bush and the right-wing. A better time to vote Democratic would be in 2008, when the Presidency (and the moral and foreign policy leadership of the country) is up for grabs.

Anonymous said...

The list of disasters is as long as it is familiar. There's Iraq, of course, but also a nuclear North Korea and an ascendent Iran. That's the Axis of Evil right there, remember -- three for three.

Just when I thought i was out, Barry pulls me back in ...

Although I voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004, I'm officially an independent. Although I've come to the same determination as many others about Iraq (that it is a lost cause), I'm sure it's for very different reasons than most feel. Basically, I believe we will never allow our military to fight a war the way it should be (or should have been) fought again—swifly and with total devastation ... so, with that in mind, we just shouldn't bother. We haven't lost our moral compass (whatever that is supposed to mean), but politics, the sickening kind I've had to watch the last few weeks on daily spin shows, is the culprit.

Going after someone's novel? How do we take ourselves serious (as a country) after something like that?

Being condemned for supporting a wartime administration? Is that the best they can do?

The above list goes on and is absurd ... but it is what our system has produced.

As regards Barry's next paragraph about "how would you feel if a Democratic President, etc." ... well, the fact of the matter is Clinton, a Democrat, signed a nuclear treaty with Korea (they didn't bother to honor) ... and you'll have to remind me what he did to offset Iran's quest for nuclear power because I don't remember him doing anything there either and suspect if he did, they didn't bother paying attention to it either. To be fair (to both parties), nobody is ever going to stop a country from arming itself with nuclear weapons when it has the ability to do so. Think about it realistically—why should they abstain? Like it or not nuclear weapons level the playing field, so to speak, and to ignore that fact is absurd. I really don't blame Clinton or Bush or anybody else for not being able to halt nuclear proliferation; it is a non issue because it can't be done. Japan didn't bother arming itself because we had her back. They probably will now (and would be foolish not to).

Katrina was hurricane, not a political conspiracy ... I blame locals more so than the Feds, but there was plenty of blame to go around.

Abu Grahib, to my mind, was much ado about little. I'm a hardliner on this subject and just don't believe the terror recruitment theory. Either we're at war or we aren't. Perhaps one of the problems with the execution of this war has been the politicalization of this war; being concerned about how we're perceived by our enemies. Who cares? It's another non-issue for me. Abu Grahib was bad and it was a mistake, but it's a wartime issue and shouldn't have become the mountain the media made it. There were war atrocities on both sides of other wars involving America that just didn't get the media hype Abu Grahib did. There's a great article in last week's Newsweek (perhaps the article that did it for me regarding Iraq) about a marine captain's emails he sent home. Very touching and very sad (the poor guy died). We just shouldn't put our people into wars and then handcuff them. The incompetence for doing so (forget the military and political strategies) is reprehensible.

The American homeland hasn't been attacked since 9/11, but it's difficult to prove a correlation between Republican policies and the lack of a follow-up attack.

Do they credit for nothing? Until something happens here, the way the Democratic God Clinton seems to have been excused for his 8 years of never finding Bin Ladin while we took hits HERE AND ABROAD. I'll give the Reps their due credit here.

There's no defending the pork issue, except the Dems seem to have been in on the raid as well and those who weren't didn't start complaining until election time.

How one can single out the Mark Foley incident and forget some of the Dems wonder children (Marion Barry (relected post crack), William Jefferson, Stubbs ...)? I can make a pretty fair sized list (including Slick Willy, but what's the point?) Who thinks any (or many) of these clowns on either side of the aisle have chosen politics to make their district, state or country a better place to live? I suspect too many are opportunists, power mongers or both. And whether they have chosen politics for some noble cause or not, they are still humans with all the foibles humans bring to the table. In my opinion, if Foley is found guilty of pedophilia he should be shot dead (please don't email me about my lack of humanity, it's how I feel), but to condemn the rest of the party for the actions of one is more than stretching the issue. As to a coverup, if Hastert covered anything up, he should be jailed (not just retired).

I find it offensive that we're still using voting machines that have been proven fugazy (fake) and that we can't agree to have two receipts issued by the machines on the spot so a final fair count can settle all issues. I find it equally offensive that the heads of gas and oil companies get bonus packages that could feed small countries ... likewise, the clown running Haliburton, but I don't see or hear Democrats protesting the same issues. In fact, let's not act like this kind of crap didn't go on under Democratic Administrations. ENRON flourished (bilked its employees) under Slick Willy's (1990's) reign ... and fell apart under Bush's (2001).

As an atheist, I could care less about some Reps quest for a God fearing country, but on the other hand, I don't (or didn't) see any of the Democratic leadership take a "real" stand on gay marriage. Who cares about the sanctity of marriage (for Christ fucking sake!) ... so why don't Democratic Presidential hopefulls pull the cork on that one already? Marriage has to be between a man and a woman? Bullshit, plain and simple, so why doesn't the Democratic leadership say so (or do you really think John Kerry (and he wasn't the ONLY Dem saying so) was giving his "principles" when he stated marriage should be between a man and a woman? Was that issue (and some others) used for political purposes to keep Iraq out of the media? Probably, but it sure didn't work. These are such common sense issues to me, I just can't take them serious ... but I don't kid myself and assume the Dems are on the right side of them. The fact they can't find a Presidential candidate who will speak his or her mind about gay marriage (sorry, I don't take them at their word) offends me to no end and is probably why I will continue not to trust them with the nations defense.

I agree with Barry's assessment that things need to swing back somewhat, but I don't agree that If you care about the party, and about the country, this time you'll vote Democratic.

I care about the country and now that I moved back to Brooklyn, I even care about the great blue state of New York ... my political roots are firmly Democratic (believe it or not, bleeding heart liberal roots), but I was disillusioned by the Dems through the years (mostly when Ted Kennedy put a knife in Jimmy Carter's back during Carter's failed Presidential run against Reagan). Then I saw it locally here in New York (the David Dinkins fiascos) and have given up on a party that seems to be afraid of its own roots (liberalism). Maybe it's the age factor (I'm 50 now) ... maybe it's 9-11 ... and I definitely know it has much to do with my personal work experiences; within the New York workforce—the Democratic effect in the NY workforce has knocked the liberal out of me.

And so I won't waste my time today voting in New York for either party. I'll wait until 2008 and hope that either Rudy Giuliani gets the nod for the Reps or that Barrack Obama gets it for the Dems (and that he is what he appears to be—smart and sensible as well as charismatic. I already know Rudy is a stubborn SOB, but he's my kind of stubborn SOB, the kind who makes decisions and gets things done. That said, I won't hold my breath for either. The one thing I know I won't do in 2008 is vote for Hillary Clinton, whether I do or don't vote.

David Terrenoire said...

I can't believe it. Charlie and I agree on this vote today.

For very different reasons, but still.

I would love to believe this election will reverse our disastrous decline, well-cataloged here, but I don't believe it.

As Stalin said, it's not who casts the votes, it's who counts the votes.

Think Diebold and their ilk. That's who's counting our votes.

Anonymous said...

I'm the sole Democrat in a family of Republicans, and I can tell you why my relatives keep on pulling the lever for the GOP: they have a lot of money, and they are convinced the Dems will raise their taxes. It's that simple. As long as the GOP keeps lowering taxes for the wealthiest, they'll vote for 'em, no matter how many wars and scandals they're responsible for.

PBI said...

Well said, Barry.

It's not about believing that the Dems are the answer to everything, it's about the fact that the GOP is clearly not; sometimes that's all you have. A record as chock full of failure like the current Republican one is thankfully rare, but unless we somehow believe that the best people to get us out of a ditch are the ones who drove us into it, there really isn't much choice but to pull the lever against the current majority party. Whether or not this election will reverse our decline is an open question, but there is no doubt that staying on the present path is untenable.

Sensen No Sen

Anonymous said...

I have to admit to having been totally disinterested in voting today. I didn't like anyone on the ticket. I did vote democrat for congress, but other than that, I just didn't like anyone. I've never felt like my vote would matter so little before. Not the result, but in the result of the result.

I can announce how I voted, because, evidently, here in Ohio, how you vote is broadcasted to the entire room, as is your name. Oh boy. I'm trying to laugh. I really am. Not to mention the archaic voting booths/processes and incompetent (bless their hearts, I know they're volunteers) election officials. Oh boy. Makes me want to move out of this darned state.

But really, it's insane! I thought complaints like this were just made by bitter voters when the election didn't go their way. Grrrr!

Anonymous said...

and that's because of superior Republican leadership

I doubt it was because of leadership. I tend to think it has more to do with the fact we responded (did something). I doubt it precludes us from a terrorist strike here and expect one sooner or later, but I do think it gave some state sponsors of terrorism something to think about when we took out Hussein (which was why I supported the war--not the fiasco we've turned it into by handcuffing our military). As I've said many times in the past, Hussein post 9-11, for publicly supporting suicide bombers was enough to take him out. Why we're still there with our military having to verify targets and essentially become targets themselves is something I find impossible to fathom. If that's how we're going to let our military hang, we should cut and run tonight (or never have gone there in the first place).

Unknown said...

... I have an absentee vote (Florida) and I voted for the Democrats. It feels good to see the news this morning - looks like they might take the Senate as well. When I lived in New York I worked for Ben Gilman. Hell, if I'd been born in the US I just might have stayed and run for President. You guys are missing out on a lot of talent - from Alexander Hamilton to Arnold Swartzenegger....

Barry Eisler said...

Thanks for all the comments everyone. Charlie, I know sometimes you need to step outside for some air... but I've missed your perspective and the door's always open here anytime you feel that (crazy) urge to come back in.

I've received a few comments that I've decided not to post. There was good stuff in all of them, but overall I didn't think the tone was right for HOTM. If you're one of these, I invite you to resubmit, this time longer on evidence, shorter on opinion, more about the argument, less about yourself. In other words, something that is insidiously crafted to persuade -- or at least to get the opposition to respect your point, and not get irritated by the way you've put it. Thanks for your understanding.


Dana Kaye said...

Very well put, too many people think that just because their conservative they should always side with the republicans. I have e-mailed this post to my die-hard republican relatives. Maybe they'll come around. Maybe it will just ben a awkward Thanksgiving.

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed the blog on most points, and find mysel squarely in the middle of most issues. I love Eisler, but his blog on conservatism left reason in the dust, which is unusual for him. I grew up in the middle east, and I can tell you that the idea that conservatives have somehow created hate for us in the middle east ignores decades of hate towards western civilization. Likewise, his frustration over a nuclear Korea is mind-boggling to leave at the feet of conservatives, and necessitates that the reader ignore completely the dismal and pathetic record of the Clinton administration in virtually all matters oriental.

JD Rhoades said...

The Republicans long ago abandoned any principle other than "Bush Good, Not-Bush TRAITORS!!!" Glenn Greenwald did a post not long ago in which he described the degeneration of the Republican Party into what he described as a "Authoritarian Cult":

It used to be the case that in order to be considered a "liberal" or someone "of the Left," one had to actually ascribe to liberal views on the important policy issues of the day – social spending, abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, immigration, "judicial activism," hate speech laws, gay rights, utopian foreign policies, etc. etc. These days, to be a "liberal," such views are no longer necessary.

Now, in order to be considered a "liberal," only one thing is required – a failure to pledge blind loyalty to George W. Bush. The minute one criticizes him is the minute that one becomes a "liberal," regardless of the ground on which the criticism is based. And the more one criticizes him, by definition, the more "liberal" one is. Whether one is a "liberal" -- or, for that matter, a "conservative" -- is now no longer a function of one’s actual political views, but is a function purely of one’s personal loyalty to George Bush.

And they clung to this Bush worship through the Katrina debacle, which was less about the hurricane than about the fact that Bush gave the FEMA as a political reward to a clearly incompetent hack who sent e-mails complaining about not getting enough time to eat dinner as an American city drowned. They clung to it as the War in Iraq got worse and worse (and since Bush had insisted War In Iraq=War on Terror, it was hard for them to believe any more in the idea of Republicans as the people that protect you from the scary dark skinned men). They clung to the idea of calling Bush "conservative" as he ran up staggering deficits and enacted an enormous prescription drug plan that served mainly as a feeding trough for Big Pharma. Pretty soon it was hard to believe that the Republican Party stood for anything at all other than maintaining power, whatever the cost and whatever sleazy tactic or slur they had to use. The conventional wisdom about George W. Bush and his party was that people thought "well, you may not agree with them but at least they stand for something." When that failed, so did they.

JD Rhoades said...

Charlie: the problem with this idea that "we won't win the war until we unleash the military and let them burn Iraq to the ground" is that one of the ever shifting rationales for the Iraq war was to "save the Iraqi people from tyranny." Once we abandon that in favor of "reduce the place to rubble and then make the rubble bounce", I doubt you'll see morale or support improve.

Anonymous said...

JD: That quote above you used isn't mine ... that said, I never bought into the rationale ... I could care less if the Iraqi people are democratized, remain religious lunatics or are true tree huggers ... whatever floats their boat is fine with me.

I wouldn't have dusted the entire country, just wherever we even "thought" Hussein was in order to keep boots from ever landing on the ground (but if it happened to be Takrit or Baghdad or wherever we thought Hussein was, I wouldn't have left a building standing). My point being: if we're going to war, then why dick around? So long as we let politicians send the military into action and then run the war we might as well stay home and wait for the next attack).

I'm late answering this one ... thank god for on the job downtime.

Anonymous said...

I've been lurking for months here - intrigued by - and appreciative of -Barry's insights, and stunning eloquence. I haven't commented thus far - but I will today.

I think we could use you in D.C. Don't laugh, okay? I'm f***ing serious. So think about this -my daughter creates and manages all of Wes Clark's volunteer sites and is heavily involved in the grassroots volunteers group - and she's close to Clark. The point of my telling you all this is - that so damn much of what Barry has been saying - is so on the money. So, Barry - when you're ready, let her know.

Do I hear a chorus?

Barry Eisler said...

Anonymous, you can address me directly, if you like -- it makes it easier for me to respond. I doubt that America (conservatives, liberals, whoever) has "created" hate in the middle east; my concern is that our current policies do us more harm than good there. Sometimes people will hate you when you do what needs to be done. I don't have a problem with that... because there wasn't, by definition, a better alternative. IOW, hate is a cost. If what we purchase at that cost wasn't worth it, at best we've wasted resources.

As for a nuclear North Korea, is it really "mind boggling" to blame Bush (I don't think I blamed "conservatives"; as I've argued, I don't think Bush is a conservative)? Even if I grant for the sake of argument that Clinton did everything wrong on North Korea, leaving Kim Jong Il poised to go nuclear, Bush still had six years to prevent it. In fact, in his Axis of Evil speech, Bush even claimed that it was his policy to prevent it (the USA "will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."). Bush said he was going to do it, he had six years to do it, he didn't do it... so it was Clinton's fault, is that what you're saying? If I'm misunderstanding you, my apologies, and please tell me what I'm missing.

Elaine, you are very kind. Maybe Clark will spend some time here at HOTM!


Anonymous said...

Not a bad idea! I'm on the case.

By the way - as much as I love your books - I wasn't kidding.

Anonymous said...

I think preventing any country from going nuclear (unless its Haiti), is pretty much impossible (which is why, Clinton hater that I am, I wouldn't blame him for his fugazy treaty that North Korea ignored). The point being: What incentive could any nation state possibly have to not protect themselves if they had the capability to do so? Acquiring nuclear weapons for pretty much any country is a win-win at some point. How does one prevent the acquisition without the military?

Anonymous said...

I love your 'fugazy' use - haven't heard that used since I left Oakland's Little Italy.

Anonymous said...

Elaine, I'm glad someone appreciates my vernacular. So many people were upset when all three of my kids' first words were "fughedaboutit" ...