In which, oh no, some Liberals know a dirty word


”We have to move forward,” said Hockey. ”Clearly this issue has done us incredible damage and I hope the Australian people forgive us for having this very public display. But I say to the Australian people: we are a progressive party.

With all the turmoil and intrigue of the Coalition’s civil war, it’s been easy to miss some of the little details. Far more interesting than theorizing over a Liberal Party disintegration that isn’t going to happen is this important piece of rhetoric from the man who might be their leader as soon as next week.

Australian politics, though not to the extent of its American counterpart, has shied away from overt expressions of left wing ideology in recent decade. Even Keating, with his heartfelt embrace of reconciliation, the republic, an improved relationship with Asia, and other such small-l liberal causes, he was still an economic rationalist who had little time for old Labor socialism. John Howard proudly proclaimed his conservatism, as did his fellow party-members. Such was the benefit of being associated with the right wing that Kevin Rudd, as a new Opposition Leader, invented a reputation for himself as “an economic conservative.” The last thing any self respecting member of mainstream Australian politics wished to claim was an affiliation with the greenie, latte-sipping, chardonnay-swilling, inner-city left. In fact, the only time in recent years that being seen to be a conservative was a problem was for the NSW Liberals in 2007, and that’s because no one in the state could quite believe anyone could be to the right of NSW Labor. (Barry O’Farrell won’t make the mistake Peter Debnam did; that’s why he’s clamping down on the hardline conservatives in his party causing troubles with Hitler parodies.)

But all of a sudden, thanks to the 2007 election, the unpleasant aftertaste of 11 years of John Howard, and issues that resonate within the electorate like climate change, being a leftie ain’t that bad anymore. Look at Uncle Joe up there!

Excuse his blatant falsehood; whatever stance the Liberals should form on climate change, they are not a progressive party. Not even Petro Georgiou is anything more than a moderate conservative who knows how to act like a human being around refugees. The Liberals have long liked to call themselves a, well, liberal party, but after a half-century of conservative policies, it’s hard to believe them.

This, though, is different[1]. Hockey is adopting a tag usually associated with students, Greens voters and other assorted ratbags: progressive. Liberals are never progressive. They can be “wet,” or “moderate” or “centrist,” but never “progressive”; unlike the Labor party with its right wing, their centrists aren’t described as lefties. But here Hockey sees a political benefit for his party in the public perceiving them as more left-wing than they actually are. It’s the same mechanism Rudd used with his social-conservative schtick; the public didn’t trust his party to be economically responsible, so he claimed the opposing ideology for it.

And you can see why Hockey’s doing it, even though a big chunk of his party is determined to convince the country they’re anything but progressive. The Australian political center is definitely to the left of the Coalition on this issue. They don’t support an ETS as strongly as they used to, but they still greatly approve of doing something about climate change. The Coalition is simply not progressive enough on this issue, and in the words of Ian Macfarlane, “Malcolm Turnbull is modernising the parliamentary Liberal Party … He is bringing the party into the 21st century and there are some people who want to keep the party in the ’60s.”

On this issue, being progressive is, for once, not a dirty word. In fact doing what the Liberal Party is doing, as Turnbull says, is ”irresponsible from an environmental point of view and it is completely and utterly self-destructive from a political point of view.”

[1] I think adopting “progressive” and “liberal” are different things, because liberal is not only the name of their party, it has suggestions of classical liberalism about it. Progressive is just calling yourself a pot-smoking vegetarian friend-of-the-ABC.


In which Republicans are the kings of wishful thinking

I sure hope, for the sake of the G.O.P., that the New York Times is engaging in liberal mischievousness today, with its report that Republicans are so confident of gains big enough in the 2010 midterm elections that they may even take back the House:

“I have no doubt that we will,” said Representative Tom Price, the Georgia Republican who leads the conservative Republican Study Committee. “TheAmerican people want checks and balances, and the way to do that is to put Republicans back in charge.”

Publicly and privately, Republicans have been upbeat about the midterm outlook, saying voter unrest demonstrated at meetings this summer coupled with strong candidate recruitment have them highly optimistic about capturing 40 or more Democratic seats and resuming command of the House.

I would tell you all the many, compelling reasons this is utter fantasy –whether you agree that the 2008 election marked a once-in-a-generation political realignment leftward or not — except the Times has been good enough to do it itself:

At the moment, Democrats have not experienced a wave of retirements, sparing them from having to protect numerous open seats in competitive House districts — typically the best opportunity for a takeover by the opposition.

While Democratic fund-raising is down, the House committee has still outraised its Republican counterpart. Republican standing remains low in public opinion polls, and the party continues to struggle to resolve the gulf between its conservative wing, which is ascendant, and the remaining moderates.

Further, it is impossible to predict what the public mood will be a year from now or what the response will be if Democrats are able to pass a health care overhaul or the economy improves and unemployment decreases.

Things have got a bit better for the right since the nadir of the 2008 Presidential election. They’ve found, in Obama’s economic stimulus and health care reforms, a rallying point that has boosted their morale, and they’ve received a fair amount of media coverage over both. The bad news for them is that they’ve appeared to confuse the coverage of the Republican base with genuine voter sentiment.

It’s true that the American public has its doubts about health care reform. They’re nervous. But they also remain behind the goals of the reform — expanding coverage and reducing costs — and remain happy to increase taxes to see this done. Democrats are unpopular in Congress, but Republicans are even more unpopular, and voter identification continues to side with the Democrats. This suggests the midterms are unlikely to swing toward a Republican party offering itself up as a mere alternative to an unpopular government. That worked in 2006, when the governing party really was on the nose. Today, voters are frustrated with the government, but they’re still listening. The Republicans have wandered into a hall of mirrors and, staring at their own reflection, are convinced they’re in the midst of a revolution.

It is true that governments most often fail not when they offer bad solutions to their constituents concerns, but when they don’t recognize those concerns as problems at all. This is what happened in Australia in 1996 and 2007, and in the United States in 2008 and 1968. The Democrats should pay heed to American voters’ worries about high deficits and expanding government, lest someone else come along and pay heed for them. But right now the Republicans are offering very little in the way of solutions, and it is difficult to see them turning the current situation to their advantage.

Steven F. Hayward in the Washington Post expands on some of the background to this problem:

During the glory days of the conservative movement, from its ascent in the 1960s and ’70s to its success in Ronald Reagan’s era, there was a balance between the intellectuals, such as Buckley and Milton Friedman, and the activists, such as Phyllis Schlafly and Paul Weyrich, the leader of the New Right. The conservative political movement, for all its infighting, has always drawn deeply from the conservative intellectual movement, and this mix of populism and elitism troubled neither side.

Today, however, the conservative movement has been thrown off balance, with the populists dominating and the intellectuals retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas. The leading conservative figures of our time are now drawn from mass media, from talk radio and cable news. We’ve traded in Buckley for Beck, Kristol for Coulter, and conservatism has been reduced to sound bites.

President Obama has done conservatives a great favor, delivering CPR to the movement with his program of government gigantism, but this resuscitation should not be confused with a return to political or intellectual health. The brain waves of the American right continue to be erratic, when they are not flat-lining.

Basically, the right has a lot in the way of gas-bags willing to complain, but no one coming up with new ideas to turn those complaints into policies, and subsequently, votes. Right now, voters concerns are still centered on solidly Democratic issues: health, employment, the environment even. Republicans can’t afford to get cocky.

Yet right now in the cycle is the time for parties to get cocky. They do need to get the base excited and donating time and money. Closer to the election will come the time for management of expectations, and this should prove very interesting indeed. The Democrats likely will lose seats in the House, since they’re picked up numbers the past couple elections and many of these are in districts that naturally lean Republican. Not to mention that it’s tough being the party of any President half way through a cycle.

But this will not be 1994. Republicans have no Contract with America, and they’re not about to come up with one. The battle for the Republicans will be to make the gains they do make look substantive enough to seem like a victory; for the Democrats it will be to make their losses look mild and inevitable rather than a rebuke of their policies. The Democrats understand this game. If the Republicans keep talking about taking back the House, they will find the victories they do gain will look insufficient after their big talk.

In which Texas stands athwart history and yells, “Huh? What?”

You should be feeling pity for Texas conservatives right now. See, conservatism is meant to be easy; that’s one of its greatest appeals. It rejects the mushy moral relativism of liberalism for simple, straightforward dicta. Like: if it’s Middle Eastern, invade it; if it’s a tax, cut it; if it’s a gay marriage, oppose it.

Except right wing Texans down[1] in the Lone Star State have found themselves in the uncomfortable position of supporting gay marriage. Or, one specific gay marriage anyway. Reports the New York Times:

HOUSTON — A judge in Texas paved the way for a court battle over the state’s ban on same-sex marriage when she ruled this week that two men married in another state can get divorced in Dallas.

The state attorney general said Friday that he would appeal the decision, even as gay rights advocates applauded the judge, Tena Callahan of Family District Court, for declaring that the state’s four-year-old ban on same-sex marriages and civil unions violated the right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

Turns out these two dudes Texas’s Family District Court is calling H.B. and J.B.[2]  got gay-married back in Massachusetts (where folks can do such things), moved to Texas, then realized they weren’t living gay-happily in gay-harmony, and wanted to get gay-divorced. Gaily.

Texas law does not permit gay marriages — indeed, it’s only permitted sodomy since the United States Supreme Court said it had to, six years ago — so it seemed J.B. and H.B.’s decision to divorce would have been recognized as an admirable effort to conform with the laws of the great state they now called home. The problem was, though, that since Texas refuses to admit the couple was ever married, it couldn’t exactly allow them to get divorced. Which meant they had to stay married. Except, according to Texas, they weren’t married. Except in Massachusetts. But they couldn’t get divorced in Massachusetts, where they were married, because now they lived in Texas.

You’d think, then, that it would have been a relief to everyone involved, gay, straight or Texan, when a judge stepped in and said that the two men were perfectly entitled to a divorce, just like every other resident of Texas. Indeed, she based her decision on the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution which says governments can’t deny citizens equal protection under the law. That is, if the government says two people who happen to be a man and a woman can get divorced, then two people who happen to be a man and a man are entitled to the same option.

The judge, Tena Callahan[3], was doing something pretty radical and pretty straightforward here. She looked at a constitution that said, basically, “folks need to be treated the same,” saw a situation where J.B. and H.B. were not being treated the same as other folks (i.e. were not permitted to get a divorce) and told the government in breach of that that this was not on.

Of course, this has implications for more than gay divorces. If Texas law must allow gay couples married in Massachusetts to be divorced, it must recognize that they were married in the first place. And since Texas must do so because, according to the U.S. constitution, it is discriminatory not to, then it probably is discriminatory for Texas not to permit gay marriages within its own borders. And since this is the American Constitution being discussed, rather than the Texan one, the ruling should apply to the entirety of the United States. Judge Callahan’s decision might as well declare gay marriage legal throughout the fifty states.

Texas Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott, both Republicans, vigorously oppose Callahan’s decision. If Texas doesn’t reverse this decision, there’s a chance the case could go all the way to the United States Supreme Court, a prospect I’m sure the minimalist-inclined Roberts Court is dreading.

I guess we should all be pleased even Texan conservatives have finally expanded their defense of the sanctity of marriage to include gays, even if they don’t actually recognize the marriages of which they’re defending the sanctity. But it’s useful to hear from one of the parties involved, J.B., who Fort Worth’s Star Telegram quotes as saying in a statement from his attorney:

“Some have called for this to be a day of victory or a cause for celebration … It is actually a day of great personal sadness as a chapter to my life ends.”

Divorces aren’t fun occasions for anyone, and I’m sure they’re even worse when your state’s Governor is arguing about whether you can even have one. This is one gay marriage of which no one should be in favor.

[1] Well, since we’re in Australia, technically up.

[2] Guys, it’s not me.

[3] Us Australians may be a little discombobulated to find she’s campaigning for re-election next year.

In which I get my Bush on…

...lay down the competition, take their cash crops, and get my push on.

Over at Slate, Reihan Salam and Sam Tenenhaus have been discussing the latter’s The Death of Conservatism. Says Salam:

As he plotted the rise of George W. Bush, Rove pressed for a kind of market populism, to use Thomas Frank’s derisive turn of phrase, that would unite Sunbelt conservatives with aspirational voters of all classes and ethnicities. It was the housing bubble and the failed push to revamp Social Security, the two pillars of the ownership society, that were at the heart of the Bush-Rove domestic vision, not the fight against abortion or gay rights. And though it is painfully clear that Bush’s brand of ownerism was dangerously half-baked, it really was an ambitious project of social reform designed to cultivate the bourgeois virtues and to chip away at entrenched poverty.

I sort of agree with Salam, though Tenenhaus goes on to offer a well-argued rebuttal. But while we shouldn’t underestimate the significant harm Bush did with his support for social conservatism, I doubt he was the true believer his base thought he was, or the left feared he was. The same goes for his neo-Conservatism, though his embrace of that philosophy had disastrous consequences.

Bush campaigned in 2000 as a “compassionate conservative” who desired an America that had a lesser involvement with the problems of the rest of the world (in fact, he seemed quite disinterested in foreign policy overall); a moderate and a businessman who spoke Spanish; a low risk worth taking in the peaceful prosperous nineties.

(Which is not to say that he is or was a fundamentally a good guy; his mocking of death row inmate Karla Faye Tucker’s plea to him for clemency was, for instance, a hint at his unreflective moral surety, his self-righteousness and his vindictiveness.)

But social conservatism seemed a means only to an end — getting elected — and neo-conservatism was a solution his advisors offered up to the foreign policy problem presented by 9/11. Bush campaigned on a new American isolationism, and when Osama Bin Laden made that an impossibility, the President gladly allowed his team to implement their solution of forcibly democratizing the Islamic world.

And social conservatism? What did social conservatives gain from the Bush presidency. They held back the tide a bit on stem cells and gay marriage, but as early as two months into Bush’s second term, the country had begun its repudiation of the movement with its clear disdain for Republican attempts to politicize the end-of-life arrangements of Terri Schiavo. Court decisions against the teaching of the supposed creationist silver bullet, Intelligent Design, followed, as did legal gay marriages in a steadily expanding set of states. And Bush didn’t support a constitutional amendment preserving marriage as a heterosexual-exclusive domain. He didn’t create a Supreme Court that would reject Roe. He just soaked up the support of religious conservatives to… well, to what?

To do exactly what he came into office to do. Bush was a businessman, albeit one with shamefully successful business ventures to his name, and he wanted to make things better for businessmen like him. He reduced federal regulation until it was barely effective, he cut taxes, he paid-lip service in the form of a silly, pointless fence, to his party’s urgings to combat illegal immigration — why would he, a businessman, want to oppose a source of cheap, compliant labor? He refused to regulate the financial sector, and his signature reform for his second term was his failed attempt to privatize Social Security.

And Bush got what was coming to a businessman who thought government could be destroyed to tame it. He created a federal bureaucracy unable to rescue the city of New Orleans from a natural disaster, he created a budget deficit that ballooned impossibly out of control, he created an economic boom that did not raise the earnings of the average American, and he set the economy up on the precarious perch from which it fell, in a neat piece of bookending, in the closing year of his presidency.

Bush is neither hero, nor monster, though he did monstrous things, and he pursued the tenets of Reganomics heroically. He was not a fundamentalist crusader nor a ideologically warped warmonger. He was the scion of a scion, who was born into wealth and wanted to do right by the moneyed men he grew up alongside. That Salam, a conservative, seems to recognize this presages well for any revival of American conservatism. That the rest of the right — and the right alone — seems convinced that the all-light-no-heat ravings of a hysterical minority of Palinites and Tea Partiers are their future does not.

(Cross-posted at my Tumblr.)