Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Religion and the Democrats yet again

This transcript confirms my view of Bill Galston’s intelligence and political savvy. (I will, however, make an exception for his apparent tilt in the direction of one John B. Anderson many years ago.) There are all sorts of interesting nuggets here, of which this is only one:

Has the Democratic Party learned nothing from the political debacle that followed the military debacle in Vietnam? Have we not learned the difference between questioning a policy and questioning the legitimacy of institutions, or even questioning the country? The Michael Moore Democrats certainly haven’t learned those distinctions.

Is there energy there? Yes. But I have a prediction that national politics is a game for very high stakes, and powerlessness, like power, corrupts. Absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely. But it also is a formula for sobriety. After a very bitter defeat — it’s hard to know whether it was defeat or victory — I think that the center of gravity of the Democratic Party in 2008 will be in a mode of high political seriousness and not inclined to throw away a chance for victory in order to exorcise some ideological demons. I can’t prove that. In the worst possible case — and this goes back to a portion of my answer to Adrian’s questions — if the context for the debate exacerbates the extremes, if we have not begun to move beyond the issue that is so roiling American politics right now, then inside the Democratic Party it’s not inconceivable that it could be 1972 all over again. It isn’t. I doubt it.

Read the whole thing.

Discussions - 15 Comments

These Pew Forums on religion and politics are always interesting, and this is best yet, IMO. Lots of interesting numbers, a wonderfully snarky question from A. Woolridge of the Economist, but most of all, the vision of a moderate and religion-friendly Democratic party offered by Galston. He castigates Clinton for vetoing the Partial Birth Abortion ban, and whitheringly criticizes his fellow Dems for their treatment of Bush’s judicial nominees and more generally for their reliance on a courts/litigation-based grand stragtegy. On the main religion/politics issues, Galston eloquently speaks the obvious truths that his party so needs to hear.

And yet, I can’t help be struck by this statement of his: "I will report doing a focus group with an N of one, namely myself, that there have been portions of time in recent years where I personally have been angrier than I have ever been in my entire adult lifetime — politically angry. And if I’ve felt that way, I can only imagine how people two clicks to my left have been feeling." This is the sort of Bush-inspired-ire, that unlike Jonathan Chait’s or that of the addled Chomsky-ites, one feels a need to take seriously. And I frankly confess I don’t understand it. I have been scandalized by Bush’s bland lack of stature and intellect from the beginning, which helped ease my conscience enough in my last benighted "pro-life Democrat" days to vote for Gore, but outside the extra passion that any war provokes, I do not understand what there is to be so angry about with this run-of-the-mill Republican Prez, and this run-of-the-mill congressional sleaziness.

If any angry moderate Dems of Galston’s stripe are reading in this supposedly "No-Left" zone, perhaps they could help me understand.

I think that the attack on Social Security, the quasi-attack on flag burning, the war (as you mentioned, but that certainly keeps him from being any "run-of-the-mill Republican Prez"), the reforms on education (which are absolutely ridiculous . . . thanks Ted), and, on a more personal note, the increase in student loan interest rates and decrease in loans overall. I think that many leftists are also angry about the unsanctioned wire-tapping and Gitmo.

I’m not sure I’m much of a "moderate Dem", but I’m not crazy-liberal. I am frustrated, however, with the President’s personality. I like charismatic leaders. I like leaders that speak eloquently and attempt to convince their listeners that they are doing the right thing, not just relying on their position as President and their "resolve".

To more directly answer your question, though, I really think that Gitmo, Social Security, education, privacy, and the war (as you noted) are probably the issues that have made the moderate Democrats, like Galston, frustrated.

Carl, a while back, JR (a Carey McWilliams Democrat) told me that his single greatest beef with the current Republican Administration and Party is that he believes that they do not believe that he is a bona fide member of the country. That’s a great underlying thought/sentiment/pathology of otherwise very sensible Dems. This may link - a bit - with an earlier thread about Ann Colter et al.

Well, Matt, thanks for the list of key issues for you, even if I still don’t get it, and a hearty "amen" to your second paragraph.

Paul, I’m not clear about the sentiment you’re trying to describe. Exactly what sort of "marginalization from the current Republican consciousness" does this JR have in mind? That of a pro-life Dem? That of a racial minority?

Carl, JR’s a white, pro-life Demcocrat; he believes that the Administration and Republicans generally (but not wholly) believe that Democrats are second-class citizens, only to be defeated, not included, argued with, listened to; not real integral members of the polity. He thinks this is pretty much true of the Administration. It’s partisanship become friend-enemy (from the other’s point of view).

Okay, I get where JR’s coming from--sounds like a good guy, and there’s something to his point. That Perlstein TNR article a few weeks back made one good point: that with Repubs in control of the two houses and the Presidency, it gets odd hearing all this talk amoung Repubs about how they’re "marginalized," talk which usually centers (rightly) on the media, the arts, the universities. In the 50-50 nation, everyone feels marginalized in some way or another, I guess.

I was amazed this Galston fellow was able to sustain a discussion with liberals for so long, without it absolutely descending into typical senseless GOP bashing. On the other hand, I thought the reporterette from the Washington Post show just how silly these people can be:

The same week that Hillary Clinton was talking about the immigration bill and saying it would criminalize Jesus and being criticized everywhere for bringing religion into this, Katherine Harris made the announcement that she would be putting a large amount of her personal fortune into her campaign. In the course of talking about this, she described herself as the widow in the Widow’s Mite story, which I think was a very gross mischaracterization of that biblical story. (Laughter.) And yet there was not a word written critically about that. It was just reported because she’s a Republican and she says she’s religious and therefore she must know what she’s doing. I think if she was a Democrat she would have gotten, again, rightly criticized.

This little example of supposed press bias was quickly amen’d by a fellow panelist, No one took her seriously. Followed, of course, by more (Laughter.)

Earth to Democrats: comparing Hillary to Harris is not all that bright an idea. From Jeb and Dubya to her own GOP voters in Florida, Harris is being ignored by everybody, except Democrats who still haven’t gotten over 2000. To them Harris remains as sinister as Hillary does to some Republicans. But let’s get serious, at least Republicans can recognise that Harris ought to be happy in the House she’s already in. Such is not the winning insifght of Democrat leaders. (Laughter.)

Is JR the guy who lives at South Fork?
As far as I can tell Bill Galston has the freedom of speech that comes with having little to no real influence. Both he and Carey McWilliams describe Democratic parties that don’t exist.

The more I think about it (and continue to work with a bunch of factory workers angry at Bush, but socially conservative), I find that:

- High gas prices piss people off (NEWS FLASH!). A lot of them blame it on the war (and Bush’s personal interests in oil . . . be them valid or not)

- Many of the most socially conservative people I know (those who are pro-life and anti-gay marriage) are still big separationists at heart. They’re immediately turned off by the possibility of their tax dollars being used for social programs that include Christianity or any other religious doctrine.

- Lots of them just darn don’t like big business. When they see that Halliburton gets a ton of no-bid contracts, oil companies are still making a fortune off of gas prices, and Republican rhetoric continuously preaching less restrictions on major companies, they get a little frustrated. These are the kind of guys who would really get screwed if their workplace wasn’t required to only work them 40 hours a week at regular pay, or give them 10 minutes of break time every 2 hours.

- Their parents are getting old (or they are getting old) and they have to pay outrageous prices for medication. The new Medicare reform just frustrated them. They also all recognize that the plan was written by insurance companies. They’re pissed at BigPharma and the money it keeps sucking out of them.

That’s all I’ve really gotten from work so far . . . it’s a new perspective, though.

Whether or not they’re fair, Matt’s list of complaints seems pretty accurate, to which it’s easy to add immigration, the deficit, the flat stock market and salaries etc. You might object that Bush is be blamed for everything, including the weather, but that’s the nature of executive responsibility in America. Again, my opinion is that the Democrats at this point need no agenda and would be hurt if they tried to come up with one. We’re about to have a NEGATIVE LANDSLIDE or two.

If I read the transcript correctly, Galston is angry at Bush.

A truly moderate Democrat would have little reason to be angry at Bush, who actually fits that description pretty well himself.

I suspect Professor Galston is more accurately described not as a moderate, but as an old-fashioned liberal, who, unlike many old-fashioned liberals, is genuinely upset by (and genuinely rejects) the hard left.

David -

Big government spending aside, I’m curious to know what other actions and policies lead you to believe Bush could be seen as a modern moderate Democrat. Could you elaborate on that a bit?

Big government spending is pretty big stuff, is it not? It’s of great importance to Democrats, and they should be grateful to Bush for it. With real leadership, a Republican Congress might have been gotten to control spending. The biggest mistake was the creation of a huge new entitlement -- prescription drugs -- which will end up being a blank check and an uncontrollable drain on the treasury.

Other issues -- Bush is a liberal, although a moderate one, on reverse discrimination. Ditto in regard to immigration. He gives lip service to the gay-marriage amendment, but doesn’t seriously support it. He has never seriously campaigned for a ban on human cloning, which is a huge, largely ignored issue. He gave the Democrats more money for "education" without insisting on vouchers, or even talking about it. On foreign policy, he is still mired in pointless diplomacy -- treating the Chinese and the Russians like friends, "sending Condi" to the Middle East so Hezbollah can be protected by cease-fires and peacekeepers, treating (as Newt said so well the other day) Iran and other such regimes as equals. On homeland security, politically correct searches at airports, no profiling, insufficient action and rhetoric against Islamo-fascists in our country.

Matt, how about Bush’s "Faith Based Initiative"? It was one of his earliest and most controversial policies. It was also borrowed almost entirely from the Clinton Administration, was supported by Democrats when it Clinton’s, but was attacked by them when Bush moved forward with it. How about Bush’s huge increases in spending for education?

Many Democrats dislike Bush solely because he has an "R" next to his name. If he were a "D" instead, and governed the same way, the same liberal pundits would praise him every week.

Hmmm . . .

David -

I’m not sure any of those things make him a modern moderate Democrat. Maybe he’s a really big disappointment to the hardcore right Republicans, but I’m not quite convinced that he’s very center-of-the-road. His support for the war in Iraq, for drilling for oil in Alaska and off the coast of Florida, for raising interest rates and cutting back loans for college students, his judicial nominees, his love of big business and Big Pharma . . . but I definitely understand why he would not be a conservative much to your liking. I wonder if there are any conservatives here who feel differently about Bush than you. I’d be interested to hear a defense of Bush’s policies from another conservative . . .

Harlan -

Many Democrats dislike Bush solely because he has an "R" next to his name. If he were a "D" instead, and governed the same way, the same liberal pundits would praise him every week.

I think there’s a lot to be said for this. You’re probably right, to an extent, but I’d argue that if he had that "D" next to his name and had the same policies, the conservative pundits would criticize him every week. I think that you and I would both agree that that is ridiculous (however realistic that may be). I have been disappointed before by liberal pundits who criticize Republicans just because they’re Republicans . . . even if they do something that many liberals (real liberals) would consider progress in the right direction.

Hopefully, over time, more and more people will stick to their ideals. As for me and my house, we will always hate "faith-based initiatives", regardless of who authorizes them. Heh.

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