Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Illusion of Republican Diversity

Both John Harwood and David Brooks have written in the past week about varied opinions among the Republicans, but have looked at this in different ways. Harwood appears surprised by poll results which show Republicans opposing Bush on major policy issues. This should hardly come as a surprise considering that polls even at the time of the election showed little agreement with most GOP positions, even among those who voted for Bush.

This might be explained by David Brooks' discussion of the Republicans being stronger due to the diversity of opinion among conservatives. His column is interesting in making one major observation, but also in being wrong over so much else. Brooks argues that "Conservatives have thrived because they are split into feuding factions that squabble incessantly. As these factions have multiplied, more people have come to call themselves conservatives because they've found one faction to agree with." He does make an important point here. The Republicans do offer something for virtually everyone. If you support capitalism, the Republicans use plenty of pro-capitalist rhetoric. If you support government economic intervention for the promotion of big business, the Republicans have even delivered (assuming you are in rooting for a business in favor with Republicans.) If you are a libertarian, again their is plenty of favorable rhetoric. If you want to impose social conservativism on your neighbor, the Republicans have even begun to deliver on these promises after years of going after the religious right without really delivering much. Similarly, Republicans still have some old fashioned isolationists, while the more interventionist neoconservatives are now more dominant.

Yes, Brooks is right here. No matter what you believe, there are Republican factions which you will likely agree with. Unfortunately for those suckered in, few of these factions have any real influence over ultimate Republican policy. In many cases, we have groups which have been oonned into supporting Republicans but who have no chance of influencing their policies.

While Brooks is right that the diversity of conservativism factions has helped gain supporters, he really misses the point elsewhere in his column. He is wrong when he argues that it is this diversity of opinion which has made the conservatives successful but argues that "Conservatives have not triumphed because they have built a disciplined and efficient message machine." It is actually the Republican noise machine which has allowed the Republicans to succeed at this scam. Their "efficient message machine" has allowed the Republicans to attract people of many viewpoints, even when the viewpoints they promote differ from the actual policies they deliver.

We have noted several times how Republicans claim to offer smaller government while actually supporting the opposite (such as here and here). They have strung along libertarians for years by promising to get government off people's backs, even though in recent years Democrats have supported policies which have been closer to libertarianism on both social issues and support for capitalism (tempered by regulations on those who abuse the system). Therefore we see the situation discussed by John Harwood in which "After winning re-election on the strength of support from nine in 10 Republican voters, the president is seeing significant chunks of that base balk at major initiatives."

Besides being wrong about the importance of the Republican noise machine in providing this illusion of diversity among the Republicans, Brooks was wrong on many other points. He is mistaken in seeing a single philosophy of liberalism in contrast to the diversity of conservativism. He believes "Liberals are less conscious of public philosophy because modern liberalism was formed in government, not away from it." In reality, there are a variety of beliefs among those who are now lumped together as liberals. While there are some remnants of the more traditional "big government" liberals, many modern liberals are fearful of the power of big government, having seen the abuses in recent years. The real difference between liberals and conservatives here is that most liberals will also concede that there have been areas of government successes, such as with Social Security and Medicare.

Brooks is again wrong when he implies that the difference between conservatives and liberals on foreign policy is that conservatives "believe the U.S. should try to change dictatorships into democracies when it can." This is just a repetition of the latest in a string of Bush's publicly stated reasons for going into Iraq. If democracy should fail in Iraq, Bush will abandon this argument as quickly as he abandoned every previous reason for invading. In the meantime, conservatives will continue to attempt to claim undeserved credit for every movement towards democracy anywhere in the world, when there is no real connection to Bush's foreign policy actions. They will also ignore the tremendous increase in support for al Qaeda which really did result from Bush's actions.

Just as it is wrong to define Republican foreign policy as the spread of democracy, it is inaccurate to characterize Democratic opposition to the war in Iraq as opposition to spreading democracy. What the Democrats oppose is lying to the American people about the reasons for going to war, going to war in Iraq at a time when it was more important to finish the job in Afghanistan and to find Bin Laden, going to war without a plan to win the peace, and going to war with a "back door draft," depleting the National Guard and reservists at a time when they were needed at home. Under the right situation, such as in the Balkins, a Democratic President was able to win support for a war which essentially was to spread Democracy.


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