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  • A New Politics?

    Posted by Jay Manifold on February 6th, 2004 (All posts by )

    Via InstaPundit, a typically excellent Fred Turner piece (2,800 words; reading time 7-14 minutes) that views American politics through, as it were, a polarizing filter rotated by 90° relative to the usual liberal/conservative one.
    While this model is familiar to libertarians, it is not without its difficulties:



    1. In my experience, neither committed conservatives nor committed liberals are receptive to it; indeed, they often object vociferously. I have friends to this day who think that I must be either extremely conservative or extremely liberal. They identify with a single set of somewhat arbitrary stances and label any departure from it their opposite. Needless to say, someone who would 1) sunset all prescriptive economic regulation, 2) remove all restrictions on radio and TV broadcast content, 3) privatize all education, from pre-school through graduate school and 4) decriminalize all narcotics … well, I’d say it keeps them guessing, but these aren’t the kind of people who guess; they’re the kind of people who know, exactly, what’s good for everybody, all the time.

    2. Not to overlook the obvious, the general population can’t so much as spell “libertarian” or “communitarian,” much less define them or put them in context as Turner has. This may or may not matter — it’s surprising how often people don’t have to know what they’re doing — but we ignore it at our peril.

    3. Note also some high-profile topics that are, at best, orthogonal to libertarianism (and therefore not mentioned by Turner) — a gold standard, an isolationist foreign policy — but that are devoutly held and loudly proclaimed as essential by many libertarians, notwithstanding their destructiveness (catastrophic deflation, unstopped terrorism) and the availability of perfectly good alternatives (in these instances: a gradual transition to free banking; and voluntary financing of, as well as voluntary membership in, the military). As a Libertarian, I am among the first to admit that as a belief system, it could use some cleaning up.

    4. Notwithstanding Turner’s hopes for an explicit as well as implicit realignment, I would be astonished if either major party actually disappeared. As a veteran of numerous campaigns and ballot initiatives in the 80s and 90s, I acquired considerable experience with state election law in several different jurisdictions. American political parties as such are already weak organizations, with almost no budget and headcount, especially relative to candidates’ campaign organizations and elected officials’ staffs. They exist mainly because of 50 sets of state regulations requiring them to exist and 50 state legislatures’ (plus Congress) systems of apportioning committee memberships. Were they to be deregulated — eg by allowing them to select candidates in any manner they see fit, rather than through state-run primary elections — they would become much more fluid.
      Meanwhile, most legislative districts have been gerrymandered into uncompetitiveness; these would have to be redrawn, perhaps with a simulated annealing algorithm, to equalize population while preserving — or regaining — compactness and convexity.
      But both of these steps (and of course any abandonment of legislators’ perks arising from seniority) would be opposed by powerful constituencies, mainly the legislatures themselves. So the high turnover and facilitated coalition-building that would undoubtedly accelerate the realignment Turner discusses appears, to me, to be blocked.

    Don’t miss Turner’s all-too-prescient prediction of the decline of IT. A major reason I’ve migrated from IT into more general project management is the temporary and unique character of individual projects. Career advice: stay away from anything that can be routinized too easily.

     

    7 Responses to “A New Politics?”

    1. Lex Says:

      All of these realignments will occur, if they occur, within the two “big tents” of the existing two parties. There is too much institutional inertia in place for anything else to happen, your point 4. The two parties have morphed repeatedly over the last 150 years and will continue to do so, to accomodate new interests and deal with (or take political advantage of) new problems.

    2. covington Says:

      Unfortunately, our federal structures are set up to let the two major parties have a monopoly on congressional power, so these awkward and often counterintuitive coalitions within them are here to stay, though the individual blocks migrate from one party to the other (the most obvious example being move of the south from Dem to GOP.) I think proportional representation and the abolition of the committee seniority system in Congress (I have no suggestion for how to allocate committee assignments) would help allow a broader spread of influential interest groups to work without so many faustian alliances, but “it ain’t gonna happen” since the rules are written by the incumbents.

      As for prescriptive economic regulation, a true free market can be short-circuited by some experiments in deregulation in at least two ways – by allowing the externality of “hidden” costs and by the lack of transparency in accounting leading to irrational stock valuations. Both problems create golden opportunities for the unethical.

    3. milk Says:

      i’m quite confused. i’ve always understood left to equal communitarian (or the wide definition of socialism, something where there is some form of communal agreement) and right to equal libertarian (in the modern, Objectivist stylŽ lassiez-faire capitalist sence). am i wrong?

      anyway, can a country not have parties from all four corners of the political compass? bring on proportional representation.

    4. Covington Says:

      The idea of the left as socialist is a straw man stereotype, like the idea of the right being racist. There are marxists on the far left, but they are an inconsequential minority, just as the hard-core white-power movement on the right is an inconsequential minority.

      There is more emphasis among the real left on equality of opportunity and measured remedial intervention and safety nets by the state that are intended to keep churning the bottom of society up… some work, some don’t.

      I think most people vote along the lines of deal-breaker issues. Several of mine that ensure I cannot vote for Bush are:

      1) Transparent government – everybody tries to cover their asses, but there is no argument that this isn’t the most secretive administration in my lifetime, and I believe what Nixon said:

      “When information which properly belongs to the public is systematically withheld by those in power, the people soon become ignorant of their own affairs, distrustful of those who manage them, and, eventually, incapable of determining their own destiny.” – Richard M. Nixon

      2) Respect for and adoption of the results of the scientific process as public policy. A government hostile to accepting mainstream science is not one I will support.

      3) Separation of church and State. I am an atheist. I’m perfectly happy to lay off people who believe in magic of all sorts. But this administration campaigns to make religiosity has become a litmus-test for patriotism. No one loves this country more than I, and an attempt to besmirch my patriotism because I don’t believe in Santa Claus isn’t going to get my vote.

      4) Long-term deficit spending.

    5. Lex Says:

      Interesting comment from Covington. His contempt for people who practice a religion demonstrates a problem with the core of the Democrat left, and certain doctrinaire libertarians. A very large number of people, probably a sizeable absolute majority of Americans are anywhere from somewhat to very religious. It is impossible to win national elections if have these views. Even if you don’t articulate them, it comes through.

      And, of course, I believe in Santa Claus, myself. St. Nicholas, pray for us.

    6. Jonathan Says:

      Lex, a quibble: I don’t think atheism has anything to do with libertarian doctrine. Indeed libertarian theory, which holds that large regions of human decisionmaking should be private and outside of the reach of government, is as hospitable to religious belief as it is to the other voluntary associations of civil society. Whatever the idiosyncratic beliefs of individual libertarians, libertarianism is no more necessarily atheistic than it is necessarily isolationist.

    7. covington Says:

      Lex, I’m happy for you. I sometimes envy those who are religious because it would be comforting to have fewer responsibilities and fewer questions.

      My point was that it is orthogonal to patriotism.