Friday, June 6, 2008

Richard Viguerie's "Obama Is Not the Problem"

Richard Viguerie has posted an interesting article criticizing John McCain's lack of ideological focus. He notes that:

"The problem is that McCain doesn’t have a coherent set of ideas with which he can simultaneously fire up the conservative base and attract independents. He’s a part-time liberal in conservative clothing. Conservatives aren’t fooled by that, and liberals aren’t going to vote for a part-time liberal when they have a very persuasive full-time liberal to vote for."

He adds:

"'The lesser of two evils' is not a governing philosophy. Yet Republicans repeatedly try to seduce conservatives with it. That strategy didn’t work in 1948, 1960, 1974, 1976, 1992 or 2006 — and it won’t work in 2008."

Perhaps Mr. Viguerie is right. America should move to a four-party as opposed to a two-party system. Two parties worked fine in an age of congruence, in the 19th century when the Republicans and Democrats mostly disagreed about who should get the spoils and whether tariffs should be reduced. The congruence continued through the first twenty years of the twentieth century, when Progressivism was adopted by both parties. By 1920 the public had tired of political change, and some of the Republicans became known as conservatives, which really just meant that they were a wee bit less radical than they had been a decade earlier under Republican Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the most left-wing president of the twentieth century. In the 1930s Franklin D. Roosevelt identified the Democratic Party with social democracy. Although they fought social democracy, the Republicans never aimed to repudiate their earlier Progressivism nor did they aim to repudiate the New Deal. Rather, they became the "lesser of two evils" or the "wee bit less social democracy" party. The Republicans have never questioned the elements of Democratic Party social democracy. Rather, they have been content to argue for "a wee bit less". When elected, they have never attempted to repeal the most extreme Democratic policies. Warren G. Harding did not aim to repeal the Hepburn Act and Dwight Eisenhower did not aim to repeal the New Deal, even a bit of it.

Because there are two parties, there is a strong incentive for both candidates to locate as close to the center as possible. Those to the "right" of the Republican, i.e., those who are more libertarian on economics or conservative on social issues are forced to vote for the Republican unless the Republican goes so far to the left that the Democrat becomes more attractive. The Republicans go as far to the center as possible to attract the undecided voters. The conservatives and libertarians are forced to vote Republican even though the Republican's views are closer to social democratic than they would like. The reverse is true for the Democrat. The Democratic candidates are pushed as close to the "right", to the least radical position, as possible to attract the undecided. Thus, the Democratic candidate cannot seem as left wing or as social democratic as activist members would like.

This results in not, in my opinion, a move to the center. America has not arrived at a "centrist" solution. Rather, it has arrived at a liberal/free market conservative solution that has been radically modified by progressive/social democratic programs. This results in stability and much less change than would result in a four party system, but it also results in much less experimentation and competition. The result is a system that does not reward new ideas and that has foreclosed (a) the possibility of reductions in the extent of government as well as (b) the possibility of socialism. I am happy about (b), unhappy about (a), but the reverse is true for most Democrats. They would like to see a world where the crank ideas of the New York Times, William Ayers and Jimmy Carter are applied without restraint.

I do not think that Mr. Viguerie is right about the 2008 election. I do not think that Mr. Obama will win because he is too far to the left to attract centrists. His associations with Chicago radicals make clear Mr. Obama's left wing orientation. As a result, centrist voters will prefer McCain and McCain will win. McCain does not need to convince conservatives to vote for him. Rather, he needs to convince "centrists" to vote for him. Unless conservatives want Bill Ayers's and Reverend Wright's associate to run the country, they will have to support McCain. If they stay home or vote for Bob Barr, then we can welcome a new emphasis on extending centralized planning, intellectuals' planning projects and attacks on personal freedom.

While the Republicans' performance has been dismal, the way to change this is at the local level. The president is in many ways a symbol. An Obama victory will create a national mindset that America is turning to the left. A McCain victory will say that the nation has rejected left-wing ideology even if the Bush administration's and Republican Congress's performance has been dismal.

I live in Congressman Maurice Hinchey's political district. Mr. Hinchey made national news last week because he advocated price controls on gasoline. Mr. Hinchey has run unopposed for a number of elections. Tonight, I met a young man, a teacher from Binghamton, NY, who may run for Congress against Mr. Hinchey. The young man, George K. Phillips, is a conservative who has many good ideas. He is a political novice. I invite Mr. Viguerie to assist Mr. Phillips in his Congressional run. Rather than complain about McCain, let's think about how to assist Mr. Phillips and other conservatives like him at the local level.

As far as big ideas, perhaps it is time to think about a four-party system. But much ground work would need to be done before this idea has any practical political importance. A four-party system would better represent the ideological diversity that exists in America. It would lead to less stability but more experimentation.

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