Friday, November 7, 2008

One Ring To Bring Them All and in the Darkness Bind Them

Via John and Mona.

The last few days - and really months - have brought much hand-wringing amongst the political Right as to how to rebuild the coalition of the Right. Part of that of course involves figuring out where, exactly, Republicans went wrong. Participating in this debate have primarily been the more intellectually-honest Righty bloggers such as Ross Douthat, highly regarded economist Greg Mankiw, and Patrick Ruffini, amongst several others. Because none of these figures are about to leave the Republican coalition anytime soon, their thoughts give a pretty good picture of where that coalition is likely to head. Some blame social conservatism, some blame insufficient social conservatism, while others blame Bush-style big-government conservatism and still others blame too much small-government conservatism. The thing is - there is one thing none of them are willing to blame or are at least willing to dispense with. It's safe to assume that one thing will therefore act as the "glue" for the future Republican coalition... the One Ring, if you will. And what is that one thing?

No one seems to have described it quite better than Brad at the lefty blog Sadly, No!:

Here’s something none of them mentioned: our current foreign policy of starting wars for no reason. I’ll put it to you like this: in the aftermath of 9/11, I had a few friends join the army out of what they felt was their patriotic duty. Now, if a commie from Massachusetts like me had friends join the army after 9/11, I’ll wager that lots and lots of politically neutral people my age from across the country had friends who did the same thing. What’s more, I’ll bet a lot of these people were sent off to Iraq in 2003.

After it was revealed that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, a lot of people who saw that their friends and loved ones had been put in danger over a non-existent threat were pissed. What pissed them off even more were apologists within the conservative movement who said that it was no big deal if we never found a single weapon of mass destruction anywhere in the country.

I don’t think you guys can begin to understand the sheer amount of damage [the Iraq war] did to conservatism’s reputation. Sending people to war for bogus or fictitious reasons is one of the most heinous things any government can do — after all, why should anyone agree to make the ultimate sacrifice if they can’t be sure that their government is telling them the truth? If an entire generation of voters holds this against the Republican Party for the foreseeable future, I can’t say I’ll blame them.

And therein lies the crux of the matter. As much as anything else, the Republican foreign policy of the last eight years has destroyed the GOP's appeal to wide swathes of people, particularly in the younger generations. It is also, however, the one thing that still unites both the remaining Republican intellectual establishment and the socially conservative Republican "base." And so it is the one thing with which the Republican Party cannot dispense if it wishes to remain viable in the short-to-intermediate term. On the other hand - it is something around which a new, electorally viable coalition may be formed in the long-term if Obama governs in a more dovish fashion than Bush. Indeed, the demographics in which McCain did comparatively well included essentially pro-war constituencies that ordinarily would vote for the Democrat (to wit: older voters, which McCain won, and union voters, with whom McCain made some inroads).

So the point is, I guess, that the fundamental unifying factor of the Republican Party is going to be its view on the use of American power. While folks like Mankiw may wish that it move in a less socially conservative direction, this is unlikely to happen or to do much electoral good given the socially conservative nature of the Republican "base." The party may continue to pay lip service to fiscal conservatism....but so long as it remains the party of American Power, with all the spending that entails, it will practice a form of big government conservatism. It may (or may not) be that in the short term its electoral survival will hinge on adopting something akin to Douthat and Reihan Salam's "Grand New Party" vision. This would give the Party some appeal on economic issues that could draw in some of the remaining foreign policy conservatives who are economic statists. Their vision is also comparatively inoffensive to the nominally small-government sensibilities of intellectual conservatives.

And while I agree with John that Douthat and Salam's vision is economically superior to the vision of most Dems, I disagree that it will be enough to bring libertarians back into the GOP fold. As long as the expansive use of military force is part of the GOP platform - and for the foreseeable future, it must be - the spending this will entail (not to mention the other problems it poses to libertarians) will far exceed the comparative superiority of "Grand New Party"-style economic proposals, at least to libertarians.