Thursday, November 24, 2011

Grabbing the Center

Elections are won and lost in the center. So seems to be an increasingly vocalized mantra from some of the more sensible on the right. The argument is fairly simple: while America is generally a center-right country, a large number eschew extreme candidates, whether on the far left or right. The politician that can successfully grab the middle stands to win the election.

Some conservatives, though, have long been arguing against this perspective, claiming instead that a more "pure" (read: further right) candidate is needed. But this logic fails. The far-right will vote for a moderate conservative over the leftist Obama, and, given their intense dislike of the incumbent, will undoubtedly head to the polls for Mitt Romney rather than seeing the president re-elected.

The independents, those who voted for Obama three years ago and are now sorely disappointed, will be more hesitant to vote for what appears to be an extreme GOP candidate, than a more moderate one, like Romney. Since, these are the powerful swing voters, their apprehension could be disastrous, giving Obama yet another four years.

Karl Rove, architect of the Bush Jr. campaigns, seems to agree. He has argued that a successful candidate needs to draw votes from both the left and the right and be representative of all of America. This is the strategy that worked for the "Big-Tent" Republicanism of Ronald Reagan, who created an entire new group of Democrats - the Reagan Democrats.

In the Wall Street Journal, syndicated radio show host Michael Medved provides a powerful argument to this effect.  He concludes:
In short, the electoral experience of the last 50 years does nothing to undermine the common-sense notion that most political battles are won by seizing and holding the ideological center. In the last two presidential elections, more than 44% of voters described themselves as "moderate," and no conservative candidate could possibly prevail without coming close to winning half of them (as George W. Bush did in his re-election). 
The notion that ideologically pure conservative candidates can win by disregarding centrists and magically producing previously undiscovered legions of true-believer voters remains a fantasy. It is not a strategy. At the moment, it is easy to imagine Mitt Romney appealing to many citizens who would never consider Rick Perry or Herman Cain. It is much harder (if not impossible) to describe the sort of voter—Republican, Democrat or independent—who would refuse to support Mr. Romney (over Barack Obama!) but would somehow eagerly back Messrs. Perry, Cain or Gingrich, let alone Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul.
Conservatives, as well as their moderate and progressive neighbors, may have plenty of reasons to oppose Mitt Romney in favor of some rival candidate. Electability can't reasonably count as one of them.
Ideology certainly has its place, but those that are truly committed to correcting the misguided course this nation is on must be careful not to be blinded to their own detriment. Democracy is fundamentally about compromise, even if a compromise is worse than some alternative "pure" option. If the Republicans want a seat at the table, if they want to be able to influence the direction of the country, they must be politically smart as well.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Tyranny of Language

Republican Congresswoman, and presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann was heckled off of the stage at a recent foreign policy speech aboard the USS Yorktown, by a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters. The protesters interrupted her speech by reading in unison their own prepared words. Bachmann, who was visibly shocked and perturbed, was briefly escorted off of the stage. Upon returning she commented, "Don't you love the First Amendment?" She later went on to criticize the protesters as "ignorant" and "disrespectful."

While Bachmann is certainly right on the latter point and is justifiably annoyed at this abominable behavior, she gives the protesters far too much credit by calling what they did an exercise in free speech. Free speech is an essential right that prevents the silencing of other perspectives and ideas because one (particularly the government) disagrees with them. It primarily exists to allow opposition to freely challenge the ideas of those who have power.

However, it is not a shield behind which individuals or groups can hide to silence other's speech. This is precisely what the protesters did. They made noise to prevent Bachmann from voicing her perspectives and robbed her of the right to speak. This is the same tyranny that occurs when a speaker (or protester) is thrown in jail or punished in order to be silenced.

Free speech is not about words or sounds which emanate from one's mouth. It is about prohibiting coercive force from being used to silence one's ideas; regardless of how smart, crackpot, or weird these ideas are and certainly regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with them. The coercive use of the weapon of language to prohibit another from speaking is as tyrannous as using any other coercive method to silence different opinions.

It does not matter who one is, whether a Tea Partier shouting down a Democrat or an OWSer shouting down a Republican, these techniques are abhorrent. They are a direct affront to and violation of free speech, despite trying to hide behind the banner of this right. Free speech is needed to preserve the dialogue that underpins democracy. If we allow anyone to silence others, we will destroy the fabric of our system.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

@ FutureChallenges: An Artificial Protest: Occupy Wall Street

A discussion and analysis of Occupy Wall Street has been published at Bertelsmann Foundations, that argues that OWS has severe structural issues and is thus far from a real protest movement. Not only does it lack a coherent message (although that is slowly changing), most of its constituent members are motivated by factors that are not conducive to a successful political force. OWS is driven by an obsession with the David-and-Goliath complex, a romanticization of protest, and a large amount of cognitive dissonance. While economic grievances may be real, OWS is far from a potent political force.
The American media has been awash with jubilant exaltations of Occupy Wall Street (OWS). However, despite many claims, the movement is not a transformative revolutionary force. While indubitably there is a small core that is committed to dramatic, even revolutionary, change, they are not representative of most Americans, or even, arguably, of most protestors in the streets. Accordingly, OWS will not have the dramatic impact championed by the chattering class.

Great Friends of Israel

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Obama failed to turn off their microphones when they decided to bash Israeli ally Prime Minister Benyamin Netanayhu. Sarkozy was overheard saying that, "I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar." Obama responded with sympathy stating,"you're fed up, but I have to deal with him every day."

While the two are certainly entitled to their opinions, one would think it wise not to let such criticisms come out in such an embarrassing and public fashion. No one has doubted Obama's animosity towards the Israeli government (and, well, the French were never questionable on this front), but such statements only confirm the dismal relationship that the president has developed with an important ally. Such gaffes can only continue further deterioration in the US-Israeli relationship and hinder any ability for the US to serve as an honest mediator in the peace process. If Obama has not done enough to thwart a just peace in the Middle East through his foolish foreign policy, this vocal outburst certainly helping the cause.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is the Mainstream Losing Interest in OWS?

Here's an excerpt from a poignant critique of OWS from the Washington Post's Michael Gerson. The whole article is worth a read.
At what point does a protest movement become an excuse for camping? At what point is utopianism discredited by the seedy, dangerous, derelict fun fair it creates? At what point do the excesses of a movement become so prevalent that they can reasonably be called its essence? At what point do Democratic politicians need to repudiate a form of idealism that makes use of Molotov cocktails?

The emergence of Occupy Wall Street raised Democratic hopes for the emergence of a leftist equivalent to the Tea Party movement. The comparison is now laughable. Set aside, for a moment, the reports of sexual assault in Zuccotti Park and the penchant for public urination. Tea Party activists may hate politicians, but they venerate American political institutions. Veneration does not always involve understanding. But the Tea Party’s goal is democratic influence.
And we are beginning to see what direct action means. Occupy DC protesters recently assaulted a conservative gathering, then took over a public intersection to prevent the passage of luxury cars. Blocking the path of one driver and his 2-year-old son, an activist shouted, “Sorry, but you have no power right now.” That is the opposite of participatory democracy — the use of power to intimidate a fellow citizen on a public street. It is the method of British soccer thugs.
Defenders of OWS dismiss this as the work of a few bad apples. But the transgressors would call themselves the vanguard. And they express, not betray, a significant ideological strain within the movement. Since the 1960s, some on the political left have sought liberal reform through the democratic process and nonviolent protest. Others have sought to hasten the crisis and collapse of fundamentally illegitimate social and economic systems. Both groups can be found within OWS, but the latter is ascendant.
As ANR has argued before and has been written elsewhere, Occupy Wall Street is fundamentally a flawed, if simply a "fake," protest movement. While there are certainly real grievances throughout America, OWS is not a viable movement that can address them. This isn't an argument about OWS's ideology (if it has one), which is certainly open to criticism on its face, but a structural criticism. It seems that the mainstream is starting to recognize this too.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Economic Harm of OWS

For a movement that professes to be protesting the dismissal state of the economy, including the lack of jobs, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) appears to believe that hampering the mechanisms of capitalism is a smart move. Yesterday, members of Occupy Portland shut down the Port of Portland, preventing any trade from proceeding. The Port of Portland is the fifth largest port (by tonnage) in the United States and is thus responsible for an enormous amount of trade and jobs, both at the port and in markets that rely upon the trade.

Why the Occupy movement thinks that stopping economic flows is an intelligent tactic is beyond comprehension. Not only would it seemingly undermine any potential support they could garner from those who do not sit on the far-left of American politics, but such strategies undermine attempts to improve the economy. It is nonsensical to prevent people from working and interrupt economic activity in this economic climate.

OWS has had pernicious effects on small businesses, particularly those located in the vicinity of the protests. Shops, for instance, have been forced to close as protesters have driven away paying customers. Other businesses have had to lay-off employees in order to stay afloat. And many banks have been forced to close their doors for fears of potential violence. None of this helps the economy or the newly minted unemployed.

But the follies of OWS do end there. There have been reports, admittedly isolated for the time being, of Occupy protesters attacking banks, stores, and other institutions of "capitalism." While not yet the mainstream of the movement, which has largely been peaceful, such violent trends are worrisome. The last thing this country needs is to descend into further turmoil.