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A Fascinating Analysis of the Nuclear Deal from Redstate.org

I've been reading too many opinions on the nuclear deal, when I should be getting some work done, and all of them fall into the same four categories: liberals who are marginally happy, liberals who are disappointed, conservatives who are outraged, and -- the tiniest faction of all -- conservatives who see a bright side.

And then I came across something truly insightful, on the RedState.org group site, which is the closest thing to a DailyKos of the right. (And by far the most interesting of all the conservative blogs, because it has comments and because the perspectives expressed in the comments and diaries are varied and thoughtful. There is none of that suffocating sense of The-Party-Line that makes so many right-wing blogs feel like reading the Daily Worker in the 1940s.)

This morning, "Trevino" wrote that the deal is

about the best possible outcome for the Republicans at this point. Of course, the best possible outcome would have been for this to never have been made an issue at all: the President was having a fair number of his nominees pushed through, and there was not, to my mind, any particularly unusual Democratic obstructionism underway.

This, remember, is from the perspective of someone who identifies himself as a pro-life religious conservative. He goes on:

Historians will look back with no small amount of wonder at this bizarre episode, wherein a majority seized with a maximalist vision of its own power and mission, and facilitated by the personal ambitions of one man, decided to sweep away the institutional checks upon which it itself so recently relied to stymie its opposition's plans. ... Add in the immensely distasteful and unwise mobilization of persons of faith (a demographic in which I count myself) on what was, despite the hype, a tactical rather than a moral matter, and you have all the elements of a profoundly stupid war of choice.

Then, a fascinating insight into the way that religious voters have been manipulated here:

We ought to turn for a moment to these people of faith, the "values voters" of November past, who presumably engage in politics because they want to defend traditional families, fight abortion, and establish a more just and humane social order by their lights. The foolishness of a Democratic party intent on alienating them notwithstanding, these people are not inherently Republican, nor are they all inherently conservative as conservative is commonly conceived. They are aligned with the GOP in this generation by reason of the American left's shortsightedness, canny GOP strategizing, and circumstances of history: but that alignment is, I think, less solid than is usually assumed. Recall, for example, Karl Rove's thesis that these persons stayed home in 2000, thus denying the President his popular vote victory. Having mobilized them in favor of eliminating the "judicial filibuster" -- in reality, the filibuster itself -- what were the possible outcomes? The problem here is that there would have been no good outcome from the party's point of view. Assuming a victory, they, and more accurately, their leadership, would have felt temporarily empowered. But in time, the win would turn to ashes in their mouth: having pushed through, say, Owens, Saad, et al., abortion would not have been outlawed, and the President would not suddenly have become more than the fair-weather defender of life and families that he presently is.

This relates to Ed Kilgore's insight, drawing on Alan Wolfe, about the danger of religious right leaders taking "the prophetic stance" on purely political issues, or as Trevino put it, "tactical rather than moral matters." I also remain amazed by the casualness by which the Republicans manipulated Dobson and others to cloak judicial nominees who were quite obviously just secular economic reactionaries -- especially Brown, with her effusive quotes from the atheist Ayn Rand -- as pawns in a "war against people of faith."

The other [possible] outcome, we see now: having set themselves toward the maximalist position, anything less than it is conceived as a defeat. And so the end result is the same: they feel alienated and used. And betrayed. But this sense of betrayal on procedural grounds is, I think, better for the party in the long run given that it's a sight more palatable than the alternative, which is a sense of betrayal on moral grounds.

I won't quote the whole thing, but Trevino has some reasons that the outcome is good for the party, including the defeat of "maximalism" and that religious voters will not be so easily led, as well as that "Frist is finished." He concludes:

What's bad? What's bad is easy enough to see: the party and the Administration have lost their way in the second term. The pressing issues of the day -- the war, the deficit, the dollar -- have all been ignored in favor of bizarre voluntary fights on Social Security, the filibuster, and the rearguard actions to defend Tom DeLay. It is a stupefying squandering of political capital that speaks ill of the party leadership from the White House to the RNC to the Office of Senator Frist to the offices of activists from Main Street to K Street.

From a very different perspective than my own, very true. I recommend reading the whole post.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on May 24, 2005 | Permalink


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Having not read the complete Trevino post, the problem for him is that he thinks maximalism is "defeated." He doesn't seem to realize that the hard relig. right is completely unwilling to compromise -- in fact, I don't think they're even capable of it. And the hard right is absolutely necessary to the GOP's chances - the national margins are so thin, and not getting thicker, despite Ken Mehlman et. al.'s "outreach" to Latinos. Well, maybe another 9-11 and another round of effective fear-mongering would work as it did in 02 and 04.

Even though he ackowledges that it's not as strong as some presume, Trevino is desparately trying to be hopeful that the R coalition is not as weak as all the signs show it to be. For the real unstated disturbing news to them is this: with all the advantages the GOP has, after this tremendous multi-decade movement build, their deep pockets, and the disarray of their opposition....they've still only got the tiniest of national margins.

Posted by: Crab Nebula | May 24, 2005 2:05:11 PM

That's an excellent point, Crab Nebula (interesting name). The dominance of the Republican Party isn't nearly as one-sided as its partisans make it out to be. Given the inevitable political cycle, the fact that a Republican majority means such a narrow margin at the federal level indicates that Democrats needn't bemoan the current state of affairs nearly as desperately as they do. But it also means they need to stand firm (and united) while the cracks in the Republican coalition grow ever wider. On this, Andrew Sullivan is likely right.

Posted by: Michael J.W. Stickings | May 24, 2005 3:24:14 PM

Maybe it just rubs me the wrong way to see you praising the insights of a smart, well-spoken, well-read, well-informed bigot, but I don't see anything genuinely new in there. This is just an acknowledgment of something people have been talking about for years...

I feel like I'm being told that rural "red state" Republicans (aka "values voters") are manipulated by a steady diet of post-modern victimism fed to them by the GOP, in the guise of of Murdoch, Limbaugh, Rove et al. No duh. That the GOP, in a quest for electoral power, has used the racism and anti-intellectualism that is the American legacy to persuade these people to think of regressivism as conservatism. Wow, what a shocker. That the GOP has for many years quietly been whispering into these peoples' ears that the blame for any difficulties they suffered could be laid at the feet of the Democrats, liberals, and secular humanists. That's not a fresh insight, and how you voted in the last election doesn't affect it any on merits.

Frankly, the GOP's entire post-Watergate recovery, starting with Saint Ronald, has been dependent on "mobilizing persons of faith" (note please the conflation of faith with evengelical Christianity, as though there were no other) by leading them to believe that tactical and lockstep discipline was the road to moral victory. By presenting as moral and binary even issues that were essentially practical and political, the talk-radio arm of the GOP successfully crowded out everything except the identity politics we're left with today.

This is the very same identity politics that makes it hard for me to give credit, even where some might be due, to someone I view as cooperating with fascists in pursuit of theocracy. This can't be the first time you're hearing this logic -- most of the kossacks who advocated letting Frist drop da bomb were arguing the same thing that Tac is arguing here -- that it would hurt everyone but at least it would serve to peel away the mask of GOP reasonableness. Tac is simply arguing from the perspective of not wanting the mask of reasonableness peeled away until it gets him what he wants. Tac's not the first to point out that in the larger scheme of things the GOP's "Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement" sucked rocks, and as somebody over at dkos said, "now it's double or nothing." Isn't that just a shorter version of the following?

Many of the "values voters" are outraged. Also good: the more engaged they are, the more likely they might affect policy in a way that forces the Administration to do more than make token gestures.

The only thing slightly new here is the source, and I agree with Crab Nebula that it's being put on the table mostly because the cracks in the coalition are widening and Tac is one of those values voters who feels betrayed. Tac is, by his own account, "more pro-life than Republican at bottom," and I think his exchange with Krempasky tells far more about what's going on than the post itself. BTW lest you think that Tac is reasonable simply because he's a realist, I would draw your attention to the following:

(And, I should note, the "extraordinary circumstances" proviso does leave open the one situation in which I might support a bulldozing of the filibuster: the installation of a Supreme Court justice certain to overturn Roe v. Wade.)

The ends do justify the means, notwithstanding that most actual citizens disagree with those ends, and the thing that was really wrong with this particular Bay of Pigs was not that rules would be broken but that the stakes weren't high enough.

Posted by: radish | May 24, 2005 4:30:52 PM

Um. Okay.

While I probably ought not engage those who label me a "bigot," I should note that there's certainly nothing wrong with holding that the legitimacy of means may vary according to the end in question. The Republican Senatorial leadership was unwise in what it sought given the context in which it sought it; but it was not an immoral thing in itself.

And this....

"....the racism and anti-intellectualism that is the American legacy...."

Okay, "radish."

Posted by: Tacitus / Trevino | May 24, 2005 9:16:26 PM

Empires of history and empires of the mind share a common destiny. All fall for overreaching.

This high tide of horrors may now recede. Or we may see the tide crest again higher in a later political storm.

On another plane, you can't blame somebody for being right.

Posted by: The Heretik | May 24, 2005 10:10:42 PM

To Radish: I'm sorry I didn't catch this before Tacitus (who is the same person as Trevino, by the way) did. There's a lot of interesting stuff in your post, and I don't generally delete posts anyway. (I did it for the second time ever just this week.) But if you intend to call someone a "bigot," please provide some evidence of what you're referring to, not just the fact that the person has different political views than you. If you think it's appropriate to edit your post, let me know how you want to change it and I'll do it for you.

Posted by: Mark Schmitt | May 24, 2005 11:49:30 PM

Tac, I meant the particular means of ignoring Senate rules in order to overturn Roe v Wade. Sorry if that was unclear, and yes, the legitimacy of means certainly vary according to the end in question. That's how I wound up a Democratic partisan (a means which actually irritates me a lot more than I usually let on) and how we can disagree about Iraq without disagreeing about operation Torch.

Mark, I'm not enthused about spending the time it would take to explain my position because I would have to spend hours chasing down relevant comments, placing them side by side, and annotating them. I reached my conclusion over a pretty extended period of time when I was reading tacitus.org regularly and carefully, and noticing which arguments were consistent with each other and which were not. It has nothing to do with political views per se.

I will defer to you on the question of propriety on account of you being the proprietor hereabouts. If you consider my assertion unacceptably impolite, please feel free to delete that first paragraph or the whole comment.

Posted by: radish | May 25, 2005 1:10:26 AM

Mark, this likely refers to a long-standing dispute in the Tacitus-influenced and -visited blogs regarding the nature of his views of Islam: see e.g. this post or this thread in which Tacitus got (temporarily) banned from Obsidian Wings. FWIW, while I've had plenty of angry exchanges (unique in my experience of blogging) with him, I think he's infuriatingly wrong on this issue but not a bigot.

Posted by: rilkefan | May 25, 2005 1:13:08 AM

Well, it's another person's opinion, and we don't censor opinion here, so as long as the commentor believes that word is appropriate and didn't just use it casually just to express disagreement with his views, I guess I'll leave it to Radish's own judgment of "extraordinary circumstances."

This opened up a whole world I didn't know anything about.

Posted by: Mark Schmitt | May 25, 2005 1:41:47 AM

"This opened up a whole world I didn't know anything about."

Orientational aside - tacitus.org was, until the stress of post-9/11-comity politics fractured it, perhaps the best place in the blogosphere for intelligent full-spectrum discussions. In the meantime Obsidian Wings, founded by tacitus.org regulars, filled that niche, though (because?) it has tended to be a less confrontational and politicized place. (Lately it too has been having trouble maintaining a good balance of left-right voices as commenters' positions moved apart and hardened. Perhaps post-Bush the environment will be friendly to such attempts.) If you happen to go to ObWi, read a few of hilzoy's posts, which speak I think to people of diverse viewpoints.

Posted by: rilkefan | May 25, 2005 2:11:02 AM

"there's certainly nothing wrong with holding that the legitimacy of means may vary according to the end in question. "

Yet there's certainly something wrong with holding that certain means are legitimate for certain ends--and in particular with your assertion that nuking a judicial filibuster to achieve a ruling you desire by the Supreme Court.

Posted by: murky | May 25, 2005 9:14:05 AM

I should note that there's certainly nothing wrong with holding that the legitimacy of means may vary according to the end in question. The Republican Senatorial leadership was unwise in what it sought given the context in which it sought it; but it was not an immoral thing in itself.

Shorter Tacitus: IOKIYAR

Posted by: paperwight | May 25, 2005 1:02:42 PM

For the record, because I do respect Tac's views on various issues, I should probably mention that I very much intended the literal sense rather than the pejorative one. The whole point of the disclaimer was that I hoped that I was bringing up the "prior art" strictly on merits but was aware I might not be.

I can generate plenty of blue bile about aggressive war as an instrument of policy, state sanctioned torture, and a whole range of issues, but I'm not so small minded as to regard a belief in the innate superiority of ones own culture as a moral lapse. In fact I don't even really consider it an extraordinary circumstance.

Posted by: radish | May 25, 2005 2:25:35 PM

I'm not sure murky and paperwight are thinking things through. The morality (or acceptability, as you prefer) of a means certainly does vary according to the end in question. For example, let's say the United States wants to force Germany to do something. Let's further say that one of the means at the United States' disposal is a strategic bombing campaign against Germany. Is this moral or appropriate? Obviously it depends upon the end in question: it's quite appropriate if the United States wishes to force Germany to give up Nazism; it's entirely immoral and inappropriate if it wishes to force Germany to support the war in Iraq.

While there are means that are immoral and inappropriate under any circumstance -- genocide, for example -- this is a rather small subset and does not, to my mind, encompass the elimination of the filibuster. This much, I would assume, is not debatable in the minds of people of ordinary sense.

Oh, and thanks, Mark.

Posted by: Trevino / Tacitus | May 25, 2005 2:27:47 PM

Tacitus, you continue to elude the issue by addressing generalities. What I think we are all challenging you to address, or that is to defend, is your contention that the nuking of a judicial filibuster would be legitimate to achieve the end of overturning of Roe v Wade.

Posted by: murky | May 25, 2005 7:30:49 PM

Correction: "would be legitimate to achieve the end of APPOINTING A JUSTICE YOU WERE SURE WOULD overturn Roe v Wade."

Posted by: murky | May 25, 2005 7:32:10 PM

Two things it doesn't take a rocket scientist, nor even a minor blogger, to figure: first, that if you believe abortion is murder, as I do, then the value of the filibuster pales beside the value of criminalizing it; second, that Mark Schmitt's comments aren't the place to have it out on this subject.

You have your own website. I have two, both of which allow users to post public Diaries. So, three more appropriate fora for you to gripe about this.

Posted by: Trevino / Tacitus | May 25, 2005 9:17:42 PM

Well, speaking as a former Republican (RNC staffer to boot), I have to say that the reason Bush & Co. are making these strategic mistakes in regards to Social Security is simply because, well, they believe in this course of action. I really illustrates who controls the Republican Party.

I myself left the party because of the growing religious element. I myself come from a very religious family. My father's a Minister. Tried to get me to go into the ministry. Personally, I find religious people unpleasant, due to their constant attempts to convert me. Tactuis/Trevino, I would just urge you guys to stick to trying to convert people that come into the churches, and quit trying to influence the lives of those of us who simply want no part of it. AT ALL.

Posted by: Tony Shifflett | May 25, 2005 11:47:01 PM

Ah, the World at War strawman. There's an entire discipline devoted just to the questions of what constitutes moral action in war. If Tacitus is seriously making that analogy, then he must consider himself at war with those of us who believe differently, and we, by extension must consider ourselves at war with him. Now, if you ask, me, that supports the "lesser lie serving the greater truth" model of modern Republicanism, but that is exactly the kind of thing that all of the structures in the Republic are designed to prevent.

if you believe abortion is murder, as I do

The problem here is that Tacitus has staked out the absolutist, purely faith-based position that blastocysts are human beings as the sole moral position, which it is almost impossible to go far enough to make real. The problem of course, is that the filibuster, and every other procedure in the Republic, was designed to stop faith-based absolutists. Because, as Tacitus says, there is a very small subset of possible actions that he would not consider beyond the pale in order to see his belief set enforced. The question, of course, is exactly which beliefs are so privileged that their holders are allowed to do almost anything they want in order to see those beliefs made flesh. If I believe that fundamentalist religion is a mental illness, am I allowed to jail those who profess it? Tacitus would of course say no.

My original analysis still stands, with one modification. Shorter Tacitus: IOKIYAR Fundamentalist.

Posted by: paperwight | May 26, 2005 1:35:45 AM

....I would just urge you guys to stick to trying to convert people that come into the churches....

I can only assume you endorse the selling of refrigerators to Eskimos as well, Tony. Please accept my sympathies for a life made so profoundly unbearable by the religious.

As for paperwight, if he truly believes that "the filibuster, and every other procedure in the Republic, was designed to stop faith-based absolutists," then his grasp of American history and politics is about as firm as his grasp of written argument: which is to say, not at all.

Posted by: Trevino / Tacitus | May 26, 2005 4:54:59 AM

"If you believe abortion is murder, as I do, then the value of the filibuster pales beside the value of criminalizing it."

Pales? How many murders are we talking about on either side? I agree with paperwight that your position sounds fundamentalist.

Posted by: murky | May 26, 2005 8:05:54 AM

What about the murder of human beings on death row? If murder is the crux, it seems to me that these executions of both guilty and innocent people belong in the calculation. You factored those in, Tacitus?

Posted by: murky | May 26, 2005 8:14:25 AM

It's irrelevant whether you think I "sound fundamentalist," which appears to be your synonym for "sounds like something I don't like." Suffice it to say that, in theological terms, I'm not a fundamentalist in the slightest.

As for the death penalty, I am resolutely against it and have been for years -- to the point of attending a Greenwich Village rally with Helen Prejean at which I'm fairly sure I was the only conservative present. Still, your raising the issue is a rather silly red herring -- it's completely possible to support the death penalty and be pro-life in an intellectually consistent manner.

Posted by: Tacitus / Trevino | May 26, 2005 9:05:47 AM

Ah, and Tacitus reverts to form, arguing that people really don't understand history as well as he does and insulting them instead of dealing with them. I remember this from when I used to read his blog.

Posted by: paperwight | May 26, 2005 11:30:40 AM

Please accept my sympathies for a life made so profoundly unbearable by the religious.

Thanks. It has. It really has. My Father and his fundie friends actually confronted me after my graduation from college, and attempted to try and get me to go to seminary.

I told them that was not in my game plan, particularly since I'm agnostic. This of course, freaked them out, since they're completely unable to accept and understand any other point of view. I can tell you I DID NOT appreciate them attempting to pressure me.

I can assure you that I raise the flag of what I believe to be common sense by refusing to pray with my family during Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. I view this as being a good witness for the truth. The truth must always be fought for, no matter the pain that it might cause them.

My own view is that you have to admit that some of the myths in the Bible are simply that -- myths.

Jonah swallowed by a whale?

Noah and his Ark containing two of every animal?

Joshua blowing trumpets to bring down the walls of Jericho?

There's also geographical errors in the Bible. We won't go into in the fact the "Bible" really has been rewritten/added to since some of the books were written.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. religious belief in this day and age ignores the facts, ignores the evidence of evolution, and, finally, keeps human beings from attaining their full potential by shutting down the mind.

Posted by: Tony Shifflett | May 26, 2005 11:44:12 AM