There is no shortage of windbags in the Senate. Nor is there ever likely to be one. But among his colleagues, Joseph Lieberman has stood out in out in recent years for his particularly grating blend of pomposity and hubris, prattle and sanctimony. Seldom has a Senator who has been wrong so often on foreign affairs trumpeted his alleged superiority more loudly. Whether it is Iraq or Syria or Georgia, the orgulous Lieberman seems never to have met a war he wouldn't like to fight. He is a champion about whining that his extreme views don't meet with greater approbation in the Democratic party.
Now Lieberman is heading to the American Enterprise Institute to co-chair a group with former Senator Jon Kyl called the American Internationalism Project. It is supposed to be bipartisan and set a new agenda for foreign policy. Lieberman and Kyl should spare themselves the work of assembling their little group. The conclusions are already preordained. Far from being bipartisan, it would require super-resolution microscopy to discover any real distinctions between Lieberman's and Kyl's views, not to mention AEI's. Lieberman, a preeminent neocon, should feel right at home there. There is nothing remotely bipartisan about his views. They are those of an unreconstructed neocon. His tenure at AEI will allow him to continue pontificate to a sympathetic audience about why he regards even mild opposition to his intransigent bellicosity as benighted obstructionism.
Lieberman's most egregious mistake, of course, has been not only to endorse the Iraq War, but also never, ever to acknowledge that it was a calamitous mistake, one that has stoked anti-Americanism around the globe, tarnished America's image, and led to the senseless deaths of thousands of American soldiers, who were sent improperly equipped into battle and became mired in fighting for...what?
No, Lieberman serenely overlooks what went wrong. Instead, when it comes to explaining the war, Lieberman's stance has been pure Cheneyism. Here he is engaging in obfuscation and denial in 2011 on the "Morning Joe" program:
Saddam was threatening the stability of the entire region. He’d shown that by his actions. I believe that the evidence is very clear that he was developing weapons of mass destruction.
Obviously we don’t have evidence that he had a big program. But the most official and comprehensive report show that’s true. He was also, the evidence shows, beginning really tactically to support the terrorist movements that had attack us on 9/11 and today, to make a long story short, instead of a brutally repressive dictator in Iraq, we’ve got a government that was elected, that’s self-governing and the country is self-defending. By the end of this year, we’re going to have most of our troops out of there. I think that’s had a major effect on the entire region. Iraq is now the most democratic country in the Arab world. so, yes, I think it was the right thing to do. Terrible cost we paid in life and treasure, but ultimately I think the right decision.
Obviously? The Bush administration claimed that it was patently clear. Didn't have evidence that he had a big program? There was no evidence that he had any program. Nor was there any that he was supporting outside terrorist groupings. Far from being friendly to America, Iraq's democratic government has been cozying up to Iran. Lieberman is purveying delusions, not realism. Like many neocon proponents of the war, however, he has refused to examine it forthrightly. Instead, he is purveying self-exculpatory ideological pap. The mind reels at the notion that he would now have the temerity to instruct America on its future course in foreign affairs. His counsel should be shunned, not followed.
Still, it is unlikely that he will retain much influence. Even if he commands some lingering stature in Washington, the correlation of forces, to use the old Soviet term, is shifting inexorably against him. President Obama, compelled by mounting budget deficits and the hideous costs of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is scaling back America's commitments abroad. Meanwhile, the GOP is starting to begin a painful reassessment of its own foreign policy stances that have, again and again, led to disaster. It seems safe to conclude that Liebermanism—the pose of ostentatiously pretending to be a beleaguered moderate internationalist while endorsing the most retrograde Republican foreign policy stances—is reaching its terminus.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Sebastian Zwez. CC BY 3.0.
Senator Rand Paul is taking the kind of gutsy move that is almost never seen in today's GOP, which has routinely elevated militarism above common sense. His decision to filibuster John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA is right-on. Brennan is a slippery character who has oiled his way up both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. His answers about his knowledge of CIA torture during the Bush administration were evasive and unconvincing and his nomination should never be approved. Now Paul is calling him out on the administration's secret drone war policy in particular and its contempt for civil liberties in general.
To his credit, Paul is doing it the right way. The Senate has gotten lazy about filibusters, which is to say that Senators aren't required to talk continuously to maintain one. This is a reform that Sen. Harry Reid should have insisted on in his negotiations with the GOP. He didn't. Paul, however, says "I will speak until I can no longer speak." That Americans, he said, could be assassinated by a drone sitting in a cafe in San Francisco is an "abomination." Strong words. But they are also merited. Paul's defense of the constitutional rights of Americans is stirring and admirable.
The kinds of questions that Paul is raising about the drone program have not been aired enough on the floor of the Senate. Who is to say that the drone program won't rebound on America? Will our leaders be targeted by them? Will drones be used in American airspace to kill civilians? Isn't the cost of drones higher than the reward? Are we simply stirring up more enmity in the Muslim world by wantonly killing civilians as well as terrorists?
It's easy to see why the antiseptic drone program appeals to American officials. As Andrew J. Bacevich has argued, Americans have become enamoured of air power and the notion that warfare can be conducted like a video game. The drone program is the quintessence of that ethos. With a push of a button, officials can take out someone that they believe is plotting against America. But the easiness with which they are making these decisions is redolent of former vice Dick Cheney's contempt for democratic procedures. As Maureen Dowd points out in today's New York Times, the hideous Cheney doesn't even maintain the fiction in the new documentary about him called The World According to Dick Cheney that Bush was in charge during the first term. In the Obama White House it's clear that the president, who has constructed a national security team that he tightly controls, is in charge. But the secrecy that surrounds the drone program suggests that the Obama White House may not be all that different from the Bush one when it comes to the war on terrorism.
So far, Obama has pretty much gotten a pass. But the Brennan nomination suggests the extent to which Obama has become entangled in a secretive world that may be better at protecting its own perks and prerogatives than American security. "Where is the Barack Obama of 2007," Rand Paul pointedly asked. He is setting himself up, Paul said, to become "executioner-in-chief." Obama may be undermining the very liberties he purports to be protecting. No one person, Paul noted, should, willy-nilly, have the power to order the death of an American citizen.
Paul's protest will probably prove to be an ineffective one, at least when it comes to blocking Brennan. But he is laying down a marker as an independent-minded conservative who will not simply go along with the claustrophobic party line on national security. "If there were an ounce of courage in this body, I would be joined by many other senators. Are we going to give up our rights to politicians?" For an answer to that question perhaps he need look no further than the cover of the current National Interest, which features a cover story by his fellow Senator James Webb on congressional abdication over foreign affairs.
After World War II Austria portrayed itself as the leading victim of Nazism. It had been conscripted into the Third Reich in 1938, so the story went. Forgotten were the jubilant crowds at the Heldenplatz in Vienna where the Fuhrer addressed his adoring countrymen after the Anschluss. After 1945 Austrians hastily said goodbye to all that even as Nazis were reincorporated wholesale into postwar society. Membership in the SS was no barrier to high political office, as the socialist chancellor Bruno Kreisky demonstrated when in 1975 he contemplated a coalition with Friedrich Peter, a former member of the Waffen-SS and leader of the postwar Freedom Party. Then came the Waldheim affair in 1986, when the former Secretary-General of the United Nations decided to run for the Austrian presidency. He won, but his past as a Wehrmacht officer in Nazi war crimes focused a spotlight on Austrian complicity with Nazism that Austrians deeply resented.
Now Austria is experiencing a new bout of controversy over the role of the Vienna Philharmonic and Nazism. 47 percent of the orchestra's members belonged to the Nazi party in 1939. Jews were expelled with seven members dying in death camps or during deportation. The orchestra, the New York Times reports, is investigating its past more closely, focusing on a ring of honor that was awarded to Baldur von Schirach, who was the Gauleiter of Vienna. Schirach, who deported tens of thousands of Jews to concentration camps, escaped the noose at Nuremberg. He received twenty years of imprisonment. Upon release, it seems, a mysterious emissary from the orchestra presented him with a replacement ring. Three historians, led by the industrious University of Vienna professor Oliver Rathkolb, are probing into the archives of the orchestra at the fabled Musikverein. Until now access to them has been restricted. New records have been discovered.
The tale of the tortured relationship between art and totalitarianism is not a new one. For Hitler, who saw himself as an artistic genius, the arts were an essential part of his attempt to remake Germany into a new order. In both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, artists made their compromises. Thomas Mann, in Doctor Faustus, described the seductive temptations posed by Nazism for artists on the make. It was a bargain that not a few Germans, including the Wagner clan in Bayreuth, were eager to strike. But it was in Austria that anti-Semitism was perhaps most fervently embraced.
The Vienna Philharmonic did not remain aloof--a summary report discussed by the Times says that trumpeter Helmut Wobisch, for example, turns out to have been a member of the SS who spied on his colleagues. He became executive director of the orchestra in 1953 and, according to Wikipedia, received a high award for services to the Austrian Republic in 1967. The New Year's Concert was originally devised to celebrated the 1938 union with the Third Reich, a fact that the orchestra apparently disguises on its website. Today the orchestra remains a fairly homogenous unit with few women and fewer foreigners. It is, if you will, a politically incorrect ensemble. Proudly so. Bloomberg says that "Franz Welser-Most, music director of the State Opera and conductor of the 2013 New Year’s Day concert, voiced a widespread fear when, in a speech, he demanded: 'Are we faced with a phenomenon of ‘Asianization,’ much like the ‘Americanization’ of a century ago?'”
So far, the orchestra--indisputably one of the best--has resisted any real attempt at change in its personnel policy, which has remained largely unchanged since its founding in 1842. It is self-governing and does as it pleases. But when it comes to the history of the orchestra, it is clearly no longer able to cover up its past. That attempt to efface its history should come as no surprise. Austria has expertly avoided examining much of it as far as possible. Once in a while, though, a fresh scandal erupts. Now the country that exported Hitler to Bavaria is in for another reckoning with its tenebrous past.
Wikimedia Commons/Clemens PFEIFFER, A-1190 Wien. CC BY-SA 3.0.
It was Ronald Reagan's favorite newspaper. Now Human Events, a conservative stalwart publication for decades, has hit the skids. It will maintain an online "presence," as the saying goes, but no more print. Is it an omen of a larger conservative failure, or, to put it more precisely, the collapse, not just of moderate Republicans, but also the traditional establishment right?
The most comprehensive report has been issued by FishbowlDC. Most of the staff has been let go. Subscribers, the FishbowlDC report indicates, won't be left in the lurch: "An internal email at Eagle Publishing obtained by FishbowlDC indicated subscriptions to Human Events will be replaced by subscriptions to Forecasts & Strategies, an investment news letter published by Eagle." An interesting form of compensation, but perhaps Eagle knows its market after all. Younger, more aggressive conservative websites have captured much of the audience that might once have thronged to Human Events, which used to be a lodestar of what conservatives were thinking—a kind of tip sheet to the mind of the right. In the end, it couldn't move fast enough to keep up with the morphing of conservatism into its current incarnations. Human Events was no shrinking violet, but on a more elevated plane, the end of the Hoover Institution's Policy Review suggests some of the dilemmas of conservatism as a calming rather than a raging intellectual force.
The truth is that it is becoming more difficult to discern what the right wants, or whether it even knows what it would really like--where the movement, in other words, would like to move, other than remaining stuck in reverse gear. In a bracing analysis, the redoubtable Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University suggests that conservatives are actually winning many of the political battles in Congress, partly because of the filibuster, partly because of the existence of conservative Democrats. He argues that "the polity is not gridlocked, but instead produces the policies and insitutional changes sought by the conservative majority of voters."
There is something to this. But, as a lengthy piece in the New Yorker by Ryan Lizza on the House GOP and Eric Cantor illustrates, it is hard to avoid the sense that the movement is lurching into incoherence. Demographic changes and the emergence of younger voters who view government more favorably are conspiring to render much of the GOP's program otiose. Indeed, Lizza observes that the GOP faces a big stumbling block into trying to reinvent itself:
The House is rarely the source of renewal for a political party. In the nineteen-eighties, during a low point for the Democrats, it was Democratic governors like Bill Clinton, not the unpopular Democratic-controlled House, who pointed the way out of the wilderness for the Party. Major change almost always comes from a party’s aspiring Presidential candidates, and almost never from the House.
Though Cantor expresses the hope that he can reach a compromise with President Obama, it's a feeble one. Lizza adds, "Days after Cantor told me that he wanted to rise above the budget squabbling, he was back in the thick of the fight over the sequester—a policy that, whether he deems it a sideshow or not, will have a more immediate impact on real Americans than any of the issues he mentioned in his think-tank speech" at the American Enterprise Institute.
The refusal to invite New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is now being deemed a pseudo-conservative, to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference is another sign of the tensions roiling the GOP. He may be the most popular GOP Governor, but he is coming into bad odor on the right because of his support for a bailout for the victims of the Hurricane Sandy flood. How long the party can continue to ostracize the moderates in its ranks—and Christie is, at bottom, a conservative—without courting further electoral peril is a question that it seems reluctant to address. Perhaps the most remarkable quote in Ryan Lizza's essay comes from Congressman David Dreier, who is stepping down. Dreier calls himself a "Reagan Republican" which, he says, "makes me left of center in my party."
It can't get any stranger than that. Or can it? The Gipper, it seems safe to say, would not be pleased.
To mark the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war, Andrew J. Bacevich has adopted the epistolary mode of communication in the latest Harper's, a magazine that can always be counted on for elegantly turned essays, to implore Paul Wolfowitz to come to terms with the conflict that he played a key role in promoting and, moreover, that he really only addressed once in a lengthy interview with Sam Tanenhaus in Vanity Fair, in which he conceded that weapons of mass destruction had been fastened upon by the George W. Bush administration as the most persuasive way to sell the war to the public. Now Bacevich is urging Wolfowitz, more or less, to come clean about the war, to reflect upon what went awry in an intellectually honest fashion. Addressing Wolfowitz as "Dear Paul," a privilege he grants himself based upon the fact that Wolfowitz gave him a job when he needed one several decades ago at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Bacevich has composed a remarkably personal and penetrating missive.
As Bacevich observes, the post, however minor, offered him the chance to participate in meetings led by Zbigniew Brzezinski at SAIS where the great events of the day were discussed with various luminaries. Bacevich says it was a learning experience, not so much for what he learned about foreign affairs but about the people who professed to be expert about them. He reached the conclusion—rapidly, I suspect—that "people said to be smart...really aren't. They excel mostly in recycling bromides. When it came sustenance, the sandwiches were superior to the chitchat." Wolfowtiz, however, was an exception. He was bored with administrative work, Bacevich indicates, but when it came to discussing foreign policy, he had game—"at Zbig's luncheons, when you riffed on some policy issue..it was a treat to watch you become so animated."
The heart of Bacevich's essay, however, is about Wolfowitz's relationship with the legendary strategist Albert Wohlstetter. Bacevich suggests that Wolfowitz was never really a neocon; rather, his "approach owed more to Wohlstetter Inc.—a firm less interested in ideology than in power and its employment." Bacevich outlines what he sees as Wohlstetter's approach to international relations (though in a rare lapse he omits to mention the key role played by Wohlstetter's wife Roberta, the author of a highly regarded scholarly study of Pearl Harbor which had a decisive effect on Dick Cheney's thinking about unexpected threats—indeed, a good argument could be made that she was the more rigorous thinker of the two). As Bacevich presents it, Wohlstetter was interested in dominion abroad and believed that "transforming the very nature of war, information technology—an arena in which the United States has historically enjoyed a clear edge—brings outright supremacy within reach." He adds, "of all the products of Albert Wohlstetter's fertile brain, this one impressed you most. The potential implications were dazzling." Iraq provided the pretext to attempt to implement the Wohlstetter doctrine. A successful conflict would allow America to proclaim without fear of contradiction, "I am the greatest!" It failed.
What would Wohlstetter have made of it all?
Bacevich suggests that the ruthlessly pragmatic Wohlstetter, who died in 1997, would have taken a hard look at what went wrong—the war in Afghanistan dragging on into a second decade, Iran's influence increasing almost daily in Iraq, and U.S. and Israeli security interests "rapidly slipping out of sync." (Still, it's fair to wonder if Wohlstetter himself would have endorsed the war in the first place, which Bacevich appears to assume.) No one among George W. Bush's votaries has offered anything other than valedictory statements. But why not the most gifted of the bunch, Wolfowitz? Why doesn't he take a fresh look? It is incumbent upon him, Bacevich mordantly concludes, to "give it a shot."
My own suggestion: Bacevich and Wolfowitz should carry on a prolonged correspondence about foreign policy that could be turned into a book. Neither of these two perspicuous observers would be able to evade the other. This would surely constitute one of the more illuminating exchanges that Washington, DC has witnessed in many moons.
Martin Peretz is going to war again, or at least he thinks he is. The former owner of the New Republic began his intellectual career as a man of the left before he began drifting towards neoconservatism in the early 1970s. Now his drift appears to have been consummated. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Peretz retails many of the grievances that the neocons historically directed toward his magazine. In the Journal, which appears to be one of the few outlets that will publish him, Peretz complains that his former magazine is becoming a redoubt of leftism. Whether his account amounts to more than peevish rantings, however, is another matter.
Peretz, who most recently got into hot water for his musings about denying American Muslims their constitutional rights and then issued a mealy-mouthed apology, may not be the best judge of what constitutes the appropriate boundaries of debate about race in America. But he doesn't let that stop him. On the contrary, he assails New York Times editor Sam Tanenhaus for publishing a provocative piece that delved deeply into American political history called "Original Sin" about the Republican party and race. Merely raising the topic appears to be taboo for Peretz who declares but does not show why the essay is intellectually wanting. Nor, for that matter, does he acknowledge that Tanenhaus published a number of important pieces during Peretz's own tenure at the magazine.
Nevertheless, for all his indignation over Tanenhaus, Peretz's real aim is to depict himself as the victim of a terrible betrayal. Peretz suggests that he has been betrayed by Chris Hughes, the new owner of the magazine who is trying to revive it. According to Peretz,
What made the "Original Sin" issue unrecognizable to this former owner is that it established as fact what had only been suggested by the magazine in the early days of its new administration: The New Republic has abandoned its liberal but heterodox tradition and embraced a leftist outlook as predictable as that of Mother Jones or the Nation.
Yikes! This is quite a claim to advance since only two issues of the magazine in its fresh incarnation have appeared. Peretz, however, is undaunted. He adds, "Mr. Hughes is not from the world of Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann, the old-school liberals who founded the `journal of opinion' in the hope that it would foment in its readers `little insurrections of the mind.'" But how does Peretz know that? And is the stuffy "world of Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann," as Peretz pretentiously puts it, something that is worthy of aspiration a century later? In any case, his dismissive depiction of Hughes is redolent of the worst kind of intellectual snobbery.
The preening Peretz goes on to boast about his own record as editor, pointing to his support of the Nicaraguan contras and Israel as the kind of heteredox positions on the left that testify to his own bravery. What he does not acknowledge, however, is that his increasing intellectual rigidity and incessant fulgurations ended up running the magazine into the ground. His views were not fresh and surprising and insightful; they were utterly predictable. His revelations were only revelatory to himself. Now that he has been stripped of his blog at TNR, he can only broadcast them occasionally and is lurching ever further into cranky irrelevance. By now Peretz isn't worthy of scorn but pity.
President Obama is ending the no drama phase of his presidency. Ever since his pallid performance against Mitt Romney in the first debate, Obama has been reinventing himself. Last night he emerged as the liberal president that has always been suppressed under his careful carapace of cool and calm. Taking a leaf from George W. Bush, Obama went on the offensive. He ended his speech with a fervent plea for gun control—a moralistic rather than policy-wonk ending that allowed him to claim the moral high ground. The only thing that threatened to overshadow his speech was the spectacle of Christopher J. Dorner engaged in a shootout in a cabin in California with the police.
Despite the nuclear test in North Korea—an ominous move that could portend real trouble for the administration in its second term—Obama treated foreign affairs almost as an afterthought, which, given the tenor of the Senate hearings on Chuck Hagel's nomination, in which Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made the odious suggestion that Hagel may have received tens of millions from North Korea and is, in effect, a communist fellow traveler, Obama might be pardoned for not wanting to tackle. But problems and threats are mounting abroad. But Obama made it clear that his focus will be on domestic policy. Troops are coming home from Afghanistan. No new wars are in the offing.
Obama staked out a firmly progressive program on guns, schools, climate change, and, above all, jobs. For those who proclaimed that he took a prolonged detour in enacting health-care during his first term, Obama made it clear that he's going to focus on employment in his second. And the deficit? Not so much. "Most Americans," he said, "understand that we can't just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue." The line coming from the White House will be that economic growth commands priority over cutting entitlement benefits. The unpleasant task of trimming, or even slashing, benefits for the elderly—something that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans really want to tackle—will be a problem for Obama's successor, whoever he or she may be.
Judging by Sen. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul's responses to Obama last night, it won't be either of them. At least if they don't become more polished. Rubio made waves not for what he said, but for his lunge for a water bottle during his response. Rand Paul always looks a little unkempt. Why the GOP, which proclaimed that it was going to speak with one voice, needed two to answer Obama is somewhat mysterious. But infighting among the Republicans is what Obama will rely upon to pass as much of his program as he can squeak through a fractured Congress. The complaint that Obama is promoting "big government" is too vague; the GOP would have to enunicate a program of what it envisions as reviving an economy that remains very much on the artificial life support being supplied by the Federal Reserve. The GOP's boldest move to counter Obama seems to have been to invite the rock star Ted Nugent who once advised him to "suck on my machine gun." But such inflammatory rhetoric was nowhere in evidence as the GOP tries to mount its new charm offensive with voters. It's dropped the searing language and becoming rather goody two-shoes. Senator Mike Johanns told the New York Times: "Good people will show that we're a governing party. You win elections because people believe you can make a difference."
Which is what Obama was trying to demonstrate last night. His new persona is winning him plaudits among liberals. David Corn, for example, observed,
With this address, he didn't hold back. And if he only succeeds in placing this nation on the road to universal preschool, that in itself would be a historic accomplishment of fundamental consequence. With this address—which seemed to bore House Speaker John Boehner—the president was not trying to win over recalcitrant Republicans and nudge them toward the compromises they have by and large eschewed. He was trying to lead.
For all Obama's rhetorical skills on Tuesday night, however, he will be judged not by his efforts on gun control or expanding preschools, but on his ability to improve the economy. If the unemployment rate falls significantly and if inflation remains low and the stock market continues to rise, the rest will follow. If they don't, he could still go down as a very unpopular president.
Karl Rove's mishap on election night, when he insisted that Ohio, contrary to all factual evidence, might end up in Mitt Romney's victory column, is apprently not being held against him at Fox News, where, unlike Sarah Palin, he was recently awarded a lucrative contract extension. But since then the burgeoning civil war in the GOP is starting to raise questions about Rove's own political viability, his status, in short, as a kingmaker inside the party. The proximate cause of the discussion is Rove's avowed aim to target candidates that he views as too extreme to compete effectively in congressional races. Rove is announcing that he will use an organization called the Conservative Victory Project to ensure that Republicans emerge—what else?—victorious in the next round of national elections.
It's an audacious promise from an operative who sunk about $300 million into the 2012 election and ended up with scant results to show for it. In the business world, Rove's performance would have earned him the heave-ho. But in the political world the former wonder boy who stage managed George W. Bush's ascent—an ascension that explains much of the GOP's current woes—is moving on to his next act, which is to try and salvage something from the mess he helped create. Can he do it?
Writing at the Huffington Post, Howard Fineman flatly declares that Rove is "done." The GOP may revive, but it won't because of Rove's efforts:
Tea Partiers rightly ask what Rove and his rich-as-Croesus American Crossroads super PAC have gotten for conservatives or even the GOP. Rove is a master tactician, but not necessarily a great judge of political horseflesh. His taste tends to run to rich guys who can pay him a lot -- which worked out well only in the case of W., and then only by skin of Justice Antonin Scalia's ("get over it") teeth.
Now come the likes of senators such as Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky to challenge him: smart, angry and anti-establishment conservatives who loath the country club types and who want to remake the Republican Party in their own uncompromisingly isolationist, anti-governmental, anti-social-welfare and anti-tax image.
As Fineman sees, a battle is erupting between the establishment and Tea Party types. Fineman believes that the establishment may win in the end, harnessing the energy of the grass roots. But Rove will not be the leader of this charge. It will be younger figures in the GOP such Florida Senator Marco Rubio who, like Richard Nixon, will have to perform the act of uniting the two wings of the party.
Maybe so. But over at TalkingPointsMemo, it is possible to glean the animus that animates both wings of the GOP. This is not a fight. It is a blood feud. Here are what some of the principals are saying about each other:
“The Empire is striking back,” warned Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks.
Tea party-backed former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) told TPM he’ll start a super PAC to counter Rove’s effort, declaring, “If Rove wants a fight for the soul of the Republican Party, bring it on.”
In the Georgia Senate race, Congressman Broun vowed not to be “intimidated” by the establishment. In Iowa, Congressman King declared that “[n]obody can bully me out of running for the U.S. Senate, not even Karl Rove and his hefty war chest.”
RedState’s Erick Erickson wrote: “I dare say any candidate who gets this group’s support should be targeted for destruction by the conservative movement.”
Brent Bozell of the conservative Media Research Center slammed Rove’s group, calling it “shamelessly” named, arguing that right-wing candidates like Ted Cruz (TX), Marco Rubio (FL), and Pat Toomey (PA) have won Senate seats. In response, Rove’s spokesman Jonathan Collegio called Bozell a “hater.”
The real question is whether the verbal hand grenades that these conservatives are lobbing at each other will revive or annihilate the GOP. The midterm elections will go some ways toward settling that question. If the Tea Party continues to make inroads into the GOP, then the die will be cast. The movement conservatism that began in the 1950s will continue its capture of the GOP, but the question will be whether it is actually capturing anything other than a shell of a party. This time there is no Dwight Eisenhower lurking in the wings to capture the nomination and quash the hard right.
But another possiblity does exist. Perhaps the various factions will end up declaring a truce with Rubio moving toward the center and Tea Party darling Rand Paul running as his vice-presidential candidate. If Rove wants to prove that he isn't finished, maybe he can even preside over the reunification of the GOP. So far, it resembles two warring camps rather than a coherent political party.
Image: Flickr/Llyn Hunter, Bobcat Publishing. CC BY 2.0.
Over a decade ago Ruy Teixeira and John B. Judis published a book called The Emerging Democratic Majority. Their argument was that a new "progressive centrism" was emerging and that it was based on demographic and social trends. Then came George W. Bush and Karl Rove. By 2004 Rove was declaring that he had created a new conservative governing coalition. Then came 2006. Rove had failed.
Since the 2012 presidential election, the Teixeira-Judis thesis, once branded empty, is getting a fresh and well-deserved look. And so a new flurry of speculation has emerged about President Obama. Can the Democratic party duplicate his success in the past two presidential elections? Has Obama created a new majority? Are the Republicans doomed to obsolescence?
In an enlightening article in the latest (and final) issue of the Hoover Institution's Policy Review, the magazine's longtime editor Tod Lindberg tackles these questions. Operating at a fairly high level of abstraction—Lindberg never quite defines what or who makes up the "Left 3.0" that he identifies—Lindberg examines the evolution of the Democratic Party and the Left over the past few decades. He doesn't quite put it this way, but he appears to suggest that the Left has grown up, while the Right is in danger of splitting into multifarious factions, each vying for a shrinking slice of the electorate and condemning the other as false to the true faith, whatever it may be.
To be sure, Lindberg argues that there are continuities between the aspirations of the old Left and the new version. But what is most distinctive about his essay is the cool and impartial manner in which he dissects the changes that have taken place in the Democratic party. He echoes David Brooks in concluding that former radicals have largely been domesticated, even turned bourgeois. The radical thing about the Democratic Party, you could say, is that it doesn't believe in old-time radicalism. For example, Lindberg writes that
There are, no doubt, a few aging radicals who still dream of sweeping the whole capitalist system away and starting over. But never in the history of the Left have such views been so marginal. Once the vanguard of the Left, the radicals are now its pets.
Violence on the Left seems largely confined to scuffles during demonstrations, and indeed, the Left is now heavily vested in the proposition that the real danger of political violence comes from the extreme right. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, casts a longer shadow now than any remnant of the Weather Underground. The last thing Left 3.0 would wish to be thought is dangerous.
The Democratic Party may be in a strong position to consolidate its recent gains. For one thing, the infighting among Republicans—the latest example is Karl Rove's establishment of a division of American Crossroads to support more moderate Republican candidates in congressional races, a move that is drawing outraged cries of heresy and treachery from Tea Party circles—is helping to shore up Democratic electoral fortunes. But as Lindberg cogently points out, it is also the case that Democrats are better organized and more attuned to what the electorate actually wants—generational differences, the changes in the demographics are all ensuring that the GOP brand has passed its sell-by date, an argument underscored by a highly informative essay in the January/February issue of the American Prospect by Celinda Lake, Michael Adams, and David Mermin which contains a lengthy analysis of recent polls that show, among other things, that 75 percent of Americans under thirty agree with the statement that "I would be happy if someone in my family married someone of a different race" and 54 percent agree that "It should be primarily government, not the private sector, that is concerned with solving the country's social problems."
According to Lindberg,
A united conservative movement is unlikely any time soon to find itself at one with the Republican Party in the manner in which Left 3.0 is at one with the Democratic Party. First, one would need a united conservative movement, which is difficult to envision in its own right, leaving aside its potential for melding with the gop.
In a broader sense, though, the Left differs from the Right in knowing where it wants to go: in the direction of more equality. Conservatives mostly know where they want to stay: in conditions in which liberty can thrive and the market can work its wonders in creating prosperity. Since the push in the direction of equality will sometimes impinge on liberty and on the market in ways that people will notice and object to, conservative reform will once again have its day. But today belongs to Left 3.0.
Faced with this prospect, the conservative movement might detach itself from the Republican party. Is it possible that conservatism will flourish as a niche industry even as the GOP goes down to electoral defeats? Republicans may think they can simply rebrand their party, but it needs an entire reboot.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Soman. CC BY-SA 2.5.
One of the more lamentable traits of neoconservatism has been steadily to try and lower the bar of who—or what—is deemed anti-Semitic. Elliott Abrams, for example, recently denounced former Senator and Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel as an anti-Semite, a grave accusation that boomeranged on him as even Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass, nominally Abrams' boss, felt constrained to observe that it was a preposterous statement. Now a web site called the Washington Free Beacon, which is edited by Matthew Continetti, a son-in-law of William Kristol, who is the editor of the Weekly Standard, has descried anti-Semitism at the New Republic.
The Beacon alleges that the new owner of the magazine, Chris Hughes, is purging Jewish contributing editors from the masthead. It says,
The New Republic has quietly dropped at least five prominent Jewish writers from its masthead in a move that may signal the publication’s continued drift away from a staunchly pro-Israel standpoint.
The magazine has launched an aggressive new editorial direction under the ownership of wealthy socialite Chris Hughes, who is best known for sharing a room with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University.
The names of several prominent Jewish writers from both the left and right of the political spectrum were dropped from TNR’s masthead in the latest issue.
Now this would be rather ominous if it were true, if Hughes were really intent on making his new premises Judenrein. But to use vice-president Joe Biden's favorite term, it's malarkey. The fact is that the magazine has periodically trimmed its contributing editor masthead (to which I once belonged). It's an honorific rather than a formal post. Moreover, as Jonathan Chait points out, the Beacon itself notes by the end of its note that a number of other writers are being dropped as contributing editors as well: "the facts of the story turn out to be that a magazine has conducted some routine trimming of its unpaid, ceremonial list, and five of the writers deprived of their ceremonial title are Jewish and seven are not!" It's also the case that Peter Beinart, who has made waves with his criticisms of Israel and its American advocates, is also dropped from the masthead, an inconvenient fact that directly contradicts the already tendentious claims of the Beacon, which are attracting widespread ridicule.
Nevertheless, it does seem clear that in dropping several neocons from its masthead the magazine continues, at least symbolically, to sever its links to the movement whose foreign policy credo it once championed, particularly during the Iraq War. The era of Martin Peretz is over. A new one looms. What the future precisely holds for TNR, which is making a bold attempt to try and revivify itself, remains an open question. But it is clear that the neocons are becoming increasingly shrill as they watch a magazine they once relied on to mainstream their ideas seek out more fertile territory than the arid doctrines of yesteryear. This development has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with intellectual honesty.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Knowtex. CC BY 2.0.