Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Might Giuliani's Nomination Mean?

In the (current) December 2007 issue of First Things, Hadley Arkes offers a compelling essay on what the cost of nominating and electing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as President by the Republican Party would be. I won't pretend to know how American Whigs would have stood regarding today's "life issues." This was, after all, a party that failed to survive the slavery debate. But neither were the Whigs afraid to play the "personal morality card" at election time.

It is fair to be clear about my perspective as I introduce Prof. Arkes' essay. Just before going to bed on the eve of the 2004 election, I wrote the following on LutherLink's Table Talk on my decision on for whom I was going to vote. I began with some thoughts on the Democratic candidate's record regarding the war in Iraq, then continued:
[Sen. Kerry] is a Catholic who is able to make a difference in our culture of death, and not only does he choose not to do so, he tries to make support of that culture sound morally virtuous. Whether the ones to be killed are pre-born infants or the enemies of our nation, it doesn't seem to matter.

My phrasing of the above comments, plus others I've made on TABLE TALK the last couple of years, make plain that I am not enamored of President Bush, either. His expansion of federal power over that of state and local governments (plus schools), his administration's obsession for secrecy, and his unwillingness to exercise any control over federal spending (the massive expansion of Medicare entitlements when the program is already plunging into bankruptcy is merely the icing, granted, a thick gob of icing, on cakes of pork) had me gagging over his presidency from the beginning. The pretexts for war with Iraq -- WMD, if anyone cares to recall, was actually only one of them, and one for which there was no dispute except where to find them until our boys were already surrounding Iraq and poised to invade -- were the most obscene since the US invaded to start the Mexican War. Alas, unlike 1846-47 there were no Whigs 2 years ago to challenge the President and even NPR was as anti-war as Hearst's papers had been in 1898.

As an expatriate Californian resident in Illinois, it's pretty clear that "my" electoral votes will be cast for the Democrat. And until last week, I fully intended to vote for Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian.

But in the morning, while I may hold my nose doing it, I'm going to vote for President Bush's re-election. With him in office the mass sacrifice of human embryos to blood-thirsty gods of "science" will be (at least for a time) averted and the world will know that the United States of America, for all her faults, will not be afraid to act boldly in her defense.
I vote pro-life. And with that, here's the beginning of Hadley Arkes' essay:
Abortion Politics 2008
by Hadley Arkes

For reasons quite plausible, even to people on the pro-life side, Rudolph Giuliani persists in standing well ahead of the pack of the Republican candidates for president. He has sounded the traditional Republican themes: preserving the Bush tax cuts, seeking free-market solutions to problems such as medical care, and standing firm on the war in Iraq.

But there is in his campaign a sobering truth that cannot be evaded: The nomination and election of Rudy Giuliani would mark the end of the Republican party as the pro-life party in our politics. And that would be the case regardless of whether pro-lifers respond to his nomination by refusing to vote for Giuliani, forming a third party, or folding themselves into a coalition that succeeds in electing Giuliani.

I often meet, here in the East, conservatives of an old stripe: eager to vote for a Republican but repelled by what they have seen as a party in which the religious and the pro-lifers have a marked leverage. Are there enough of these voters to convert, say, New Jersey and Connecticut into Red States? There might be if the old-line conservatives see a massive defection from the party on the part of the pro-lifers. For that will be a sign that the party is becoming habitable again for people like themselves, who may come to define again its character.

What is engaged here is a truth about the nature of political parties that has gone remarkably unappreciated: Parties have the means of changing their own constituencies or their composition. By altering their appeals, they drive some groups out and bring others in. If a Republican party, reconstituted in this way, manages to win, the Republican establishment will readily draw the lesson that they can win convincingly without pro-lifers and their bundle of causes: the destruction of embryos in research, assisted suicide, the resistance to same-sex marriage. Indeed, a Republican party shorn of those people and their baggage may seem to offer a stronger, more durable majority than the party that eked out victories by narrow margins in 2000 and 2004.

Pro-life voters may subordinate their concerns and join the new coalition, but the lesson extracted will be the same: “The Republican party can win when the pro-life issue is thrust from the center to the periphery of the party’s concerns. Even the pro-lifers do not see themselves as one-issue voters; they will give primacy to other concerns as the crises before us make other issues indeed more urgent. They will content themselves with symbolic gestures or modest measures rationed out to them. For they know that, when their interest collides with others, the party will have to subordinate their concerns to nearly anything that seems more pressing.” And, for all practical purposes, nearly any interest will trump the interests of the pro-life community.

For those concerned about the life issues, the choices offered by a Giuliani nomination are bleak. This melancholy state of things is deepened by the awareness that there are powerful considerations moving the pro-lifers toward accommodation. Since the days of Ronald Reagan, the Republican party has become, ever more clearly, the pro-life party in our politics. And, just as clearly, the “right to abortion,” with its theme of sexual liberation, has become the central peg on which the interests of the Democratic party have been arranged. Under these conditions, the pro-life movement has become bound up inescapably with the fate of the Republican party.

But the White House cannot be preserved for the Republicans—and the pro-life movement—without solving the problem of the war in Iraq. To this task Giuliani brings no military credentials, but he seems to have the tenacity to see the war through to victory and to bring the Republicans through as a party that need not apologize for a war that was undertaken for good reasons. Even the pro-lifers may recognize then that the war claims a certain precedence or preeminence in the issues now pressing. The pro-life issue may have to be submerged at this moment as a matter of high strategy, for the interests of the country and for the survival of the Republican party as the pro-life party.

For years now, the pro-life movement has followed a strategy of moving in incremental steps, unfolding a plan of principle with, to borrow a phrase from Lincoln, the object being to put abortion “in the course of ultimate extinction.” But a successful candidacy by Giuliani would subtly put in place a scheme whose tendency and object would be to put the pro-life movement itself on the course of ultimate extinction.
For the rest, read here -- but you will need to be a registered subscriber to First Things (which I recommend highly) to read. Or read a copy in the library or (go ahead, buy it!) at your newsstand now.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Making the Least of a Good Situation

It seems to be a time for conservative soul searching. Last Wednesday OpinionJournal - Federation reprinted an essay by William Voegeli in the Fall 2007 Claremont Review of Books, where he describes the accomplishments (or the lack therof) of US conservatives since the Reagan Revolution. My title comes from this line from late in the essay: "Between 1981 and 2006, conservatives made the least of a good situation. If the more difficult years ahead are not going to be a debacle, conservatives need to wrestle with some important strategic questions." But let's let Mr. Voegeli first set the context.
The Trouble With Limited Government
Why even Reagan couldn't stop spending from skyrocketing--and what to do about it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

A quarter century ago president Ronald Reagan declared in his first inaugural address: "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. . . . It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the federal government and those reserved to the states or to the people." In 1981, the year of that speech, the federal government spent $678 billion; in 2006, it spent $2,655 billion. Adjust that 292% increase for inflation, and the federal government is still spending 84% more than it did when Reagan became president--in a country whose population has grown by only 30%.

To put the point another way, if per capita spending after 1980 had grown at the rate of inflation, federal outlays would have been $1,883 billion in 2006 instead of $2,655 billion. The 41% increase from 1981 to 2006 is considerably lower than the 94% increase in real per capita spending in the previous 25 years, from 1956 to 1981. In the past two decades, the federal establishment grew steadily, rather than dramatically. Nonetheless, Reagan's pledge to curb the government's size and influence has hardly been fulfilled. Inflation-adjusted federal spending increased in every year but two over the past 26 years.

Military spending is a minor factor in the overall growth of government. It was 23.2% of federal spending and 5.2% of gross domestic product in 1981. Those percentages peaked in 1987 at 28.1% and 6.1%, respectively. Defense spending fell steadily thereafter, and was just over 16% of the federal budget and 3% of GDP from 1999 through 2001. Since September 11, defense spending has climbed to 20% of the federal budget and 4% of GDP. Despite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both figures are lower than they were at any point during Jimmy Carter's presidency.

The engine driving the growth of government has been "human resources"--the Office of Management and Budget's category that includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, along with other programs for health, education, veterans and income security. Spending on human resources in 1981 was $362 billion, slightly more than half (53.4%) of all federal outlays. That proportion declined to slightly less than half (49.7%) by the time Reagan left office in 1989. But it turns out there was a peace dividend after the fall of the Berlin Wall: National defense spending dropped from 26.5% of federal outlays in 1989 to 16.1% in 1999. That savings--a tenth of the budget--migrated to human resources, where spending climbed to 60% of outlays by 1995. The category has stayed above that level ever since, reaching almost two-thirds of federal spending (65.6%) and 13.1% of GDP in 2003.

The numbers confirm what every despondent conservative already knows. Since Reagan's stunning victory in 1980, conservative journals have annihilated forests to print articles about excessive government spending. Conservative think tanks have produced sweeping plans for reducing the welfare state. Republicans occupied the White House for 18 of the 26 years after 1980, and held a Senate majority for 16 1/2 years and a House majority for 12 years. Yet the result is a federal establishment bigger and more influential today than in 1980.
Read it all here or in the original.

That's actually the "good news" part of the essay. The rest outlines the bad news: ways in which conservatives blew a quarter-century of governing (or, as has been said in other situations, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory), and even lost (or did they just throw in the towel?) the debate while they were ruling. And then asks, having lost the debate, is it nonetheless possible to emerge once again with a positive message? Do read it.

Tip o' the hat to Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor Mail (you do read that, don't you?).