Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why Alan Wolfe Can't Write About Conservatives Part 1

Alan Wolfe is out to tell us Why Conservatives Can't Govern. OK. Bring it on, Alan.

> **************
> Why Conservatives Can't Govern
> By Alan Wolfe, Washington Monthly. Posted July 6, 2006.

I hope Alan manages to handle conservatives better than he did Catholics (Wolfe suggested Catholics worship the statutes of saints).

FYI, for a good take down of Wolfe and his attacks on conservatism you can see this Goldberg column circa 1999 (yes, Mr. Wolfe hasn't exactly come new to the 'conservatism bad' crowd)

> Bush's presidency and Congress are imploding, not despite
> their conservatism, but because of it.
> Search hard enough and you might find a pundit who believes
> what George W.
> Bush believes, which is that history will redeem his
> administration. But from just about everyone else, on the
> right as vehemently as on the left, the verdict has been
> rolling in: This administration, if not the worst in American
> history, will soon find itself in the final four.

Argumentum ad populum. Worse, it is completely unsubstantiated. Even worse, it isn't even particularly plausible. There are a lot of folks on the Left and on the Right who would agree this has been a bad administration, but the above hyperbole is too much to take. We might skip over it if we could agree that most on both sides think the administration is bad (note that the above would still be hyperbole even if). But it isn't true. Most on the Right think the Bush administration has been a success. It is a vocal minority on the Right who argue otherwise. And even on the Left there isn't unanimity this has been one of the worst American presidencies.

And even more, they all DISAGREE on what the problem with the administration is. There is general agreement on the Right that the Bush administration has been too spend-happy and too quick to employ government programs on the domestic side of politics. The Right, for the most part, supports the War against Terror. There are critics on the Right who think that the Bush administration has been so spend-happy it isn't conservative. There are those on the Right who think he is spend-happy and a nutty neocon (or the lap dog of nutty neocons) for involving us in the War in Iraq. For the Left, it is all Iraq, all the time. To the extent the Left believes the Bush administration has been a 'failure' on the domestic side is because of *conservative* domestic policy. The Left isn't mad at Bush because he's overfunding education and prescription drugs. That's what the Right is mad at him for. So, yes, there are alot of folks on both sides of the political spectrum that have problems with Bush. But that's a far cry from the united opposition and *agreement* in opposition that Wolfe portrays.

So, try again, Mr. Wolfe.

> Even those
> who appeal to history's ultimate judgment halfheartedly
> acknowledge as much. One seeks tomorrow's vindication only in
> the context of today's dismal performance.

Mr. Wolfe has been spending too much time in the faculty lounge.

> About the only failure more pronounced than the president's
> has been the graft-filled plunder of GOP lawmakers -- at
> least according to opinion polls,

Wolfe knows better than this. Tsk. Tsk. To see a sociologist misusing opinion polling thusly. Sad. He is imposing his own criticism of GOP lawmakers on an opinion poll that doesn't even ask about that criticism. It is a mere approval/disapproval number. We don't know why folks disapprove (hello gas prices!). And Wolfe provides no polling to substantiate his view.

> which in May gave the
> GOP-controlled Congress favorability ratings in the low 20s,

As Mr. Wolfe should well know, congressional favorability ratings are always low. And are mostly irrelevant.

> about 10 points lower than the president's. This does not
> necessarily translate into electoral Armageddon;

It never has. Not even when Democrats controlled Congress.

> redistricting and other incumbency-protection devices help
> protect against that.

This is a decidedly overblown factor. As I argue here.

Open seats do tend to be more vulnerable, but safe seats for Republican incumbents would be safe seats for any Republican...and likewise for Democrats. And, again, note the conflation of 'gerrymandering' and 'more safe seats' inherent to Wolfe's reference to redistricting. You can't gerrymander more seats and make seats safer. You can gerrymander more seats and make those seats more vulnerable (ask Tom Delay regarding this factor)...or you can do the opposite (less seats...safer). The effect of a gerrymander to create more seats (i.e. a majority) is to put MORE not less seats in play. In which case the gerrymander most certainly would *not* protect Congress from negative public opinion. It would make it more vulnerable to exactly that.

The truth is that the opinion poll (a generic approval rating for the institution of Congress) has almost nothing to do with voting in a district for a particular candidate for Congress. Nor is there any good reason to expect it to.

> But even if many commentators think
> that Republicans may retain control over Congress, very few
> think they should.

Again with the false argumentum ad populum.

> Eager to salvage conservatism from the wreckage of
> conservative rule, right-wing pundits are furiously blaming
> right-wing politicians for failing to adhere to right-wing
> convictions. Libertarians such as Bruce Bartlett fret that
> under Republican control, government has not shrunk, as
> conservatives prescribe, but has grown.

Note here the conflation of "conservative" and "Republican." Despite the conceit of the black-and-white Left, this is hardly the case. And, note, according to Wolfe, he didn't even cite a conservative in his example! He cited a libertarian (though I'm not sure he's got that right, either).

> Insiders like Peggy Noonan complain that Republicans have
> become -- well, insiders; they are too focused on retaining
> power and too disconnected from the base whose anger pushed
> them into power. Idealistic younger conservatives bewail the
> care and feeding of the K Street beast. Paleocons Pat
> Buchanan and Robert Novak blame neocons William Kristol and
> Charles Krauthammer for the debacle that is Iraq.

Yes, there's a lot of navel gazing going on on the Right side of the political spectrum. This happens all the time. It happens on the Left as well. It is worst when in power (having policy to wrangle over)...but it is omnipresent. Noting that conservatives disagree with each other on a variety of issues does not IN ANY WAY substantiate Wolfe's claim about conservatism. We're supposed to be hearing how everyone is down on Bush as the worst president ever (funny, he hasn't cited anyone who has said that). We're supposed to be hearing about how this is the fault of conservatism itself. Still waiting.

>Through all these laments there pulsates a sense of desperation: A conservative >president and an even more conservative Congress must be repudiated to enable >genuine conservatism to survive. Sure, the Bush administration has failed, all >these voices proclaim. But that is because Bush and his Republican allies in >Congress borrowed big government and foreign-policy idealism from the left. The >ideas of Woodrow Wilson and John Maynard Keynes, from their point of view, have >always been flawed. George W. Bush and Tom DeLay just prove it one more time.

The above is absolutely false. Conservatives such as Bartlett, Buchanan, Sam Francis, and others argued that Bush ISN'T conservative. It isn't a conservative president they are repudiating. It isn't a conservative Congress they are repudiating. Again, Wolfe conflates the Republican party identifier with 'conservative.' As Goldberg and other conservatives have noted, it is *Republicans* who have the White House and have a majority in Congress. Not conservatives.

And I should also note again that conservatives such as Fred Barnes, John Podhertz, and William Kristol most decidedly are not arguing that Bush has a failed presidency, they are not arguing that conservatives should repudiate Bush because his failed presidency shouldn't sully conservatism.

More Wolfe:

>Conservative dissidents seem to have done an admirable job of persuading each other >of the truth of their claims. Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the >president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls.

Note, this is little more than an ad hominem attack on conservative pundits. You sly conservative pundits you: you lauded Bush as a great conservative when he was popular...but now you're dumping him since his poll numbers have tanked. You unprincipled heathens!

But, further note, this is false ALL THE WAY AROUND. Pat Buchanan didn't wait until Bush's poll numbers tanked to come out against the Iraq war. And Bill Kristol continues to laudit Bush for the same policies he lauded Bush for when his poll numbers were high. Where are these hypocritical and shallow conservative pundits that Wolfe is talking about? Other than in his fevered imagination, of course...

To be continued... D.GOOCH