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June 01, 2006

Peggy Noonan Thinks We Need A Third Party

She's wrong. Has she forgotten the man she once worked for?

First, her take:



The problem is not that the two parties are polarized. In many ways they're closer than ever. The problem is that the parties in Washington, and the people on the ground in America, are polarized. There is an increasing and profound distance between the rulers of both parties and the people--between the elites and the grunts, between those in power and those who put them there.

On the ground in America, people worry terribly--really, there are people who actually worry about it every day--about endless, weird, gushing government spending. But in Washington, those in power--Republicans and Democrats--stand arm in arm as they spend and spend....

On the ground in America, regular people worry about the changes wrought by the biggest wave of immigration in our history, much of it illegal and therefore wholly connected to the needs of the immigrant and wholly unconnected to the agreed-upon needs of our nation. Americans worry about the myriad implications of the collapse of the American border. But Washington doesn't. Democrat Ted Kennedy and Republican George W. Bush see things pretty much eye to eye. They are going to educate the American people out of their low concerns.

There is a widespread sense in America--a conviction, actually--that we are not safe in the age of terror. That the port, the local power plant, even the local school, are not protected. Is Washington worried about this? Not so you'd notice. They're only worried about seeming unconcerned.
...

Right now the Republicans and Democrats in Washington seem, from the outside, to be an elite colluding against the voter. They're in agreement: immigration should not be controlled but increased, spending will increase, etc.
Are there some dramatic differences? Yes. But both parties act as if they see them not as important questions (gay marriage, for instance) but as wedge issues. Which is, actually, abusive of people on both sides of the question. If it's a serious issue, face it. Don't play with it.

I don't see any potential party, or potential candidate, on the scene right now who can harness the disaffection of growing portions of the electorate. But a new group or entity that could define the problem correctly--that sees the big divide not as something between the parties but between America's ruling elite and its people--would be making long strides in putting third party ideas in play in America again.

The problem is one we face periodically: an unresponsive politics. For whatever reason, it occasionally occurs that the parties become united in the belief that the way things are is the way things must be, and there is no way to change it, and so we must continue doing business as usual. Despite the fact that the public is demanding a sharp break.

The situation arises every ten or twenty years. It persists for a time. But it is inherently an unstable situation. And it is, ultimately, self-correcting. I wrote, a long time ago, about this. I'm speaking mostly of "liberals" here, but what I mean is the agreement among the political-media class -- whether Republican or Democrat -- that a certain position must prevail, despite the public's strong disagreement with that position. In almost all cases this bipartisan agreement on a position the public disagrees with can be categorized as the liberal one, for whatever reason.

But eventually the public gets what it wants, because someone eventually comes along who realizes they can win an election by -- get this -- doing what the public would prefer him to do.


Europeans have a terrific system for managing politically-sensitive disputes: They ignore them. And, better still, they ignore the desires of those on one side of the issue entirely.

When it comes to tough political decisions that emotionally animate a sizable minority -- or even majority -- of voters, Europeans have "evolved" a system whereby they simply deem those who are on the "wrong," meaning "right," side of an issue as "politically extreme," "racist," etc.

This system has the great advantage of suppressing all politics on sensitive issues. Those who want to restrict immigration from Muslim countries are "racist;" therefore, there's no need to consider them. Even though such persons constitute a majority in many European countries.

Branding such persons "racist" and "extreme" helps to suppress actual serious advocacy for certain positions. A large number of people might actually support such measures, but if their politicians are too cowed by, say, the BBC's branding of them as "rightwing extremists," they will soft-sell their program and meekly acquiesce in the status quo.

The system works great-- except, of course, for the small problem that it results in an unresponsive politics which ignores the actual wishes of many people. It's a great way to solve the difficulties of democracy, if you don't mind abandoning actua democracy along the way.

As has been frequently noted, the death penalty is actually politically popular in the UK and much of Europe; but European politicians and their support institutions (i.e., the media) have deemed the death penalty beyond the pale.

And thus, we have the odd situation of nominal democracies existing under a regime of laws they actually don't like, and would change, if given the chance. The laws aren't ever changed because, well, because it's just something that's not done, Old Man.

Europeans are continually "shocked" that rightwing parties -- even parties that are, by our lights at least, genuinely racist or extremist, or at least race-ish or extreme-ish -- frequently draw "surprising" levels of support from the people.

At some point, one would think, they'd stop being "surprised" by such frequently-occurring and perfectly predictable results.

Policiticians can ignore the will of the people in favor of the will of a numerically small, but influentially large, left-leaning elite. But only for a time. Periodically the frustration and anger at the unresponsive politicians will result in political support for fringe parties.

The British people might not generally support the BNP. The French might not really support Le Pen. But when the conventional politicians ignore their wishes for long enough, people will ultimately be driven to support somewhat extremist parties.

If only to send a message to the left-leaning elites.

The current European situation mirrors, as usual, American politics of the 1970's. (As we've noted, Europe is always 20-30 years behind America in most categories, including politics.) In the 1970's, most politicians were liberal-- even the Republicans. The American people disagreed strongly with the liberal program, but they found no outlet for their dissent; even Nixon was a liberal.

This resulted in a "surprising" change: Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, and then re-elected by a historic landslide in 1984. And then, in 1994, the liberals' 50 year old strangehold on the House was ended.

Which, of course, was famously summed up by leftist Peter Jennings: The nation had a temper-tantrum today. This is the perfect encapsulation of the leftist elite's view of politics.

The liberal program does not advance, usually, by actually persuading a majority of the public to consent to its agenda. Certainly liberalism does succeed, on occasion, in drawing actual majority support.

But the more common way liberals advance their cause is not by actually increasing support, but by cowing their opposition with words like "extremist" and "racist." The opposition becomes meek and muttering; liberalism advances by default. Not because people have actually consented to the liberal program, but because they have been name-called to the point where they simply accept that the liberal program is not to be challenged at all.

This is not "consent of the governed." At best, this is what Chomsky would term a "manufactured consent." Manufactured, but not real. It's an artificial and false consent, obtained by convincing a majority not that one's agenda is correct, but by convincing a majority that to oppose the liberal agenda would constitute "racism" or "political extremism" or "anti-Americanism."

In Europe, new parties are created at the drop of a hat. In the American system, however -- which is a winner-take-all system, and a loser cannot gain marginal influence by joining with other parties -- third parties are generally unsuccessful and almost always marginal.

In America, a "third party" is created when someone has the balls to challenge the anti-voter consensus in one party and take over that party, installing a new pro-voter consensus.

That's exactly what Noonan's old boss, Ronald Reagan did. For those of you who are too young to remember, Reagan was despised and considered borderline lunatic for championing heretical, and supposedly dangerous, positions. Seeking not detente but victory in the Cold War? Insane! Punishing criminals with long jail sentences and even the death penalty, rather than coddling them and making excuses? Troglodytic! Neanderthalic!

Cutting taxes? Beefing up the military? Bombing terrorist states like Libya?

The man was widely considered a mental patient. And, of course, a moron.

Including by the establishment figures of his own party. John Anderson ran as a third-party candidate to prevent the maniac Reagan from getting his crazy fingers on the nuclear button.

There was really only one small, insignificant base of support Reagan could rely upon: an often-overlooked special interest group called "the majority of the American public."

It's not so much that we need a third party. It's that we need, as we needed in 1980, what is, for all practical purposes, a third-party movement to take over power in one of the two major parties.

Any Republican who promises -- and who seems to mean it -- to radically cut the fat out of the budget, veto all bloated spending bills, and stop illegal immigration (and, frankly, slow legal immigration as well) will win the Republican primary, and will also win the general election.

A Democratic maverick could do the same in theory, but not in practice. The Democratic Party is too committed to higher spending and higher immigration, both of the legal and illegal kinds. A Democratic candidate who vowed to lower spending and seal the borders could win the general election in a cakewalk; but he could never, ever win the Democratic nomination.

Not so in the Republican Party. Those who endorse the current state of things are sharply at odds with the typical Republican primary voter. For a Republican primary voter, a "radical" who proposes controlling government spending and building a border wall is not "radical" or "scary" at all, but perfectly mainstream.

John McCain can't win the Republican nomination because he's too committed to supporting his like-minded colleage Ted Kennedy on immigration. (He also can't win as a third-party candidate. What's his platform going to be? "John McCain: Pro Illegal Immigration, Anti Free Speech.")

But a lot of potential candidates haven't strongly committed themselves to any particular position (like, say, a former mayor of New York that many swear they will never vote for).

And some of them might just be smart enough to realize that the key to winning the presidency is pleasing 50 million or so American voters, and not pleasing a couple of thousand journalists and pundits.

Someone we may not have heard of may just capture the Republican nomination because he actually has the guts, if you want to call it that, to do what the majority of the American people want him to do.

Noonan seems to forget that, while the party establishment has great influence, it's the party voters who actually get to choose a presidential candidate. Congressmen and Bush can ignore the will of the Republican voters in 2006 if they like; they may lose control of Congress, but most of them will get to keep their seats, which is what really matters to them. There's not really much of a choice offered in these races -- you can either vote for the incumbent, or vote for the guy who will lose.

But in 2008, we get a big choice. We get to pick from a half-dozen or more serious candidates. And one of them is going to figure out, as Reagan did, that the smartest politics also happens to be the smartest policy.


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posted by Ace at 03:09 PM

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