January 26, 2005

Latest Vox Blogoli Response

Vox Blogoli 2005, No. 1

Hugh Hewitt, who has done great things to encourage bloggers and to encourage debate among them, periodically sets topics for discussion in the blogosphere and then links to them.

These exercises not only encourage debate, but also attract readers to blogs such as this one, lower on the food chain than the Instapundits and Powerlines of the world.

Hugh's latest challenge has to do with a piece by Jonathan Rauch.

Rauch makes two points:

  • It's a good thing that the Christian right on the one hand and the left represented by Michael Moore on the other have been brought into the two major political parties.

  • Were this not so, we would have more violence such as clinic bombings by anti-abortionists, and street battles such as those that broke out in the Vietnam era.

Hugh's assignment: True or false? Discuss.

We do have a political system, based upon winner-take-all constituency voting, that tends to make all but the major political parties irrelevant. The extreme counter-example is perhaps Israel, where the parties are proportionally represented in Parliament (the Knesset), proliferate like weeds, and engage in the most shameless bargaining for subsidies and other things the vast majority would reject.

If the US had something more like the Israeli system, we would have parties representing everything from Naderites and Trotskyites on the left hand to the Posse Comitatus and David Duke on the right.

Where our system has recently fallen short is that techniques of demographic analysis and gerrymandering have taken the competition out of most elections, protecting incumbents from challenge and reducing the prospects for voter-induced change in the system. Gov. Arnold in California is challenging this system and we wish him success.

We have always had radicals in America, whose bonnets have contained bees devoted to everything from anarcho-syndicalism to organic food to teetotaling. They make our political life more interesting than it would be otherwise, and they say things otherwise unsayable that sometimes become reality. Consider the abolition of slavery and woman suffrage.

Rauch's piece raises two questions: what are the merits and consequences of having radicals inside the major party tent or outside, and is Rauch's parallelism between the anti-abortion Christian "right" on the one hand and the Michael-Moore-socialist left on the other, fair and accurate?

On the first point, provided they are open about their politics, in a democracy it is preferable to have most constituencies participate in the system, including the major parties. They are either going to have to both persuade and compromise, or become irrelevant, like the LaRouche faction who have claimed for years to be Democrats and gotten exactly nowhere in that party. Radicals must also suspend, in the major parties, their tendencies to violence and silliness, because these are counterproductive in the electoral system.

And with rare exceptions, outside the major parties, radicals have come a cropper, because of the winner-take-all system. If on the other hand, radicals become not competitors of election, but advocates and single-interest civic organizations, they can also have an impact, in a different way. As questionable as their views were, the 9/11 widows are a significant recent example.

So far, it's hard to quarrel with Rauch, but in equating Moore and the far left with the anti-abortion right, Rauch makes a fundamental error. Because these groups are neither political nor moral equivalents, it is neither accurate nor fair to equate them.

The great majority of traditional Christians have long been opposed to abortion. Although a more permissive approach to abortion was making some political headway, that process was cut short by the Roe v. Wade decision. Opposition to abortion, along with opposition to judge-made law on the subject, although perhaps not a majority position in its absolutist form, is not an extreme position, and has led to violence only on a radical fringe that almost all pro-lifers have denounced vigorously. As the potential viability of the fetus at earlier stages of pregnancy has been established, and the demographic boogeyman of uncontrolled population growth has been replaced by the prospect of population stagnation or decline, the case for a constitutional right to abortion enforced by judicial fiat has weakened. The upshot is that, agree or disagree, opposition to abortion, even to all abortion, is not a radical position.

On the other hand, Michael Moore and the anti-American left are fundamentally different. There are at least three views on which opposition to the war in Iraq ae based:

  • One is the isolationist (Buchanan, Gore Vidal) view that communism no longer being a threat, we should return to the historic pattern of protecting our own shores and immediate interests, and leave the rest or the world to its anarchy. Intervention only brings death, misery, and centralized and overweening government in its wake.

  • Another is the internationalist, pragmatist view (Howard Dean's, for example) that we should fight the perpetrators of 9/11, but Iraq as a tactically and strategically unwise diversion from the main task, that sows dragon's teeth of new enemies in its wake.

  • The third view (Michael Moore's, many pacifists and Leninists) is that America as the hegemonic power is the universal aggressor, those who fight it are "minutemen," our defeats are to be applauded and our victories deplored.

The isolationist and pragmatist antiwar positions, right or wrong, are consistent with a love of our country and a will to protect its interests. They thus have a place in mainstream discourse. The third view is different, because it is not merely an alternative vision of what a country we all love should be doing, but a rejection of love of country itself. It thus has no place in a major party that pretends to leadership of a great nation. There is a risk that the far left may dabble in violence like the Weathermen, but when it has taken that road, it is quickly brought about its own near-destruction.

Rauch, then, is no fool, but he unduly demonizes the Christian right, even as he misunderstands the radical left.

No comments: