Saturday, September 18, 2010

Krauthammer's Strategy of Betrayal

Yesterday I blogged about Charles Krauthammer's out-of-date and incompetent advocacy of what he calls the Buckley rule.  The Buckley rule is this: Democrats should vote for candidates whom they support while Republicans should vote for the most conservative electable candidate. This concept was created at a time, the 1960s, when the failures of the Democratic program were not so evident as now.  In fact, polls find that the largest number of Americans, 40%, are conservative, while roughly half that, 21% consider themselves liberal (37% see themselves as moderate).  If the Buckley rule were really a tactical device, it would be called the "Humphrey" rule and be applicable to Democrats.  Under the Humphrey rule, Republicans should vote for whom they want and Democrats should vote for the most electable candidate.  Then, the trend would be toward less government and conservatism as Democrats compromise with the conservative plurality.  But in fact the post 1980 Republicans failed to reduce government and Bush increased it.  The majority has been encouraged to and has chosen to compromise with the much smaller minority not because it needs to do so to attract 11% of voters from the 37% of moderates and the 21% of liberals, but because the advocates of the "Buckley rule" are not "conservatives" as most people mean it.  The Buckley rule is one of the tactics that its advocates use to co opt conservatives who disagree with them.  But the cat is out of the bag now.  Krauthammer is revealing himself as part of the fraud that his movement has perpetrated.

There are two strands in the conservative movement, Wall Street and Main Street. I am not considering social conservatism, which can go down either street.  Wall Street conservatism is what was called Federalist, Whig and Republican in the 19th century.  It advocates central banking, expansion of government and an aggressive military policy.  Many call it "Rockefeller Republicanism." Main Street conservatism is derived from the Anti-Federalists, the Democratic-Republicans of the early 19th century (those who opposed the central bank in 1812) and the Jacksonian Democrats until 1896.  It is the belief in less government, an innovative, free economy and opposition to the wealth redistribution (to the wealthy) in which a central bank by definition engages.  Neo-conservatives and Fox announcers like Krauthammer are Wall Street conservatives. They are Federalists, not Main Street Jacksonians.

But Wall Street conservatives are a small percentage of the public.  The reason is that the Whigs never attracted a strong majority.  When they became the Republicans they were able to attract a national majority not on the basis of economics but on the basis of a social issue, slavery.  After the Civil War, the afterglow of abolition and the South's revolution continued for about three decades.  Then, the Republicans created a new social issue, big business, to replace the old.  The Democrats also groped for an issue that could win nationally, and they arrived at money.  In 1896 William Jennings Bryan adopted the Populist movement's platform, which consisted of inflation (in the form of reverting to the traditional, pre-Civil War silver standard, not the kind of pure fiat money we adopted in 1933) and a host of government programs that later became the New Deal.  Both parties were in the process of discarding the laissez faire philosophy that made America the industrial and economic center of the world. 

But the Democrats lost. Instead, Progressivism and expansion of government under the Republican banner resulted in government regulation that tended to support big business.  Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, pushed the concept of pro-business regulation further with his establishment of the Fed.  The Fed then caused an inflation associated with World War I, then a depression in 1920-1.  The depression of 1920-1 was as bad as the depression of 1929-1933.  The difference was the steps that the Democrats took in the latter depression.

To get elected in 1932 Franklin Roosevelt adopted Bryan's Populist platform.  His was the strategy of Augustus Caesar: provide bread and circus for the masses, and through conquest amass massive wealth for the privileged.  To accomplish his Roman-Populist program Roosevelt expanded the powers of the Fed and abolished the gold standard.  Thus, the Whigs became dominant in both parties. The pro-bank Democrats are Whigs who favor giving bread and circus to the poor and expanding government rapidly to produce profits for Wall Street, while the pro-bank Republicans are less inclined to provide bread and circus but less aggressive about expanding government. Of course, direct subsidies to Wall Street are fair game.

Through all this enough Americans remained Jacksonian Main Street Democrats and Republicans to continue to believe in the stated (but ignored) ideology: freedom, democracy, limited government, even as both parties chipped away at these through their programs.  The public lacked the philosophical sophistication to realize that you cannot have freedom if your taxes are half your income; you cannot have democracy if Wall Street controls the media; and you do not have limited government if there is such a thing as private use eminent domain. It took quite a few decades for the Jacksonian Americans to begin (just begin) to understand the extent to which they have been bamboozled.

To effectuate their bamboozling, the Wall Street Republicans had to convince the Main Street Republicans that they agreed on most postions. Their only difference was supposedly that the Wall Street Republicans were "moderates" and the Main Street Republicans "conservatives."  The conservatives had to compromise. Since the moderates were less extreme they did not need to compromise.  Thus, specific policies such as the income tax, the Fed, large subsidies to big business, the TARP bailout, etc. were all painted as moderate. MMA--Moderate My A--.

Krauthammer's Buckley rule is a strategy of betrayal. That may not have been the case in the 1960s, when there was supposedly a "liberal consensus" and Richard Nixon out-liberaled the liberals, but fuming about the election of Main Street conservatives has little to do with supposed electoral tactics.  Krauthammer's advice is in sum dishonest.  Strategically, the right advice that we should begin to follow is this:  the minority, liberals, should compromise with the plurality, conservatives.

The transformation since Buckley's day has become increasingly evident because of TARP.  The opposition to the bailout was strong. The American Enterprise Institute says  that 62% of the public opposed the second bailout. In other words, the public needed time to digest the meaning of the outrage that the bailout represented, and then, despite heavy, systematic media spin in favor of the bailout from all sources, including Krauthammer and Fox, only 38% of the public favored the second bailout.  This puts Fox's supposed moderate O'Reilly (clip courtsey of on the big government extreme of the political spectrum as it does Krauthammer.

Today's important issues do not revolve around whether Paul Wolfowitz gets a job, but whether America should continue to subsidize incompetently run, failed businesses that received TARP money.  Krauthammer thinks that the public should support his and Fox's sponsors, and unless that is an important goal to you, Krauthammer's opinions ought to be of little consequence.

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