Monday, June 04, 2007

Divorcing Your Political Base

Wall Street Journal editorial writer Peggy Noonan, who was once on Ronald Reagan’s speechwriting staff, minces no words when it comes to her estimation of George W. Bush. Comparing him with his father, George H.W. Bush, Noonan says, [T]he Bushes, father and son, though different in many ways, are great wasters of political inheritance."

Noonan notes that the elder Bush misunderstood that he had been elected to Ronald Reagan’s third term. He acted as if he could do anything he pleased with that political inheritance. After he "sundered a hard-won coalition, [he] found himself shocked to lose his party the presidency …."

The younger Bush styled himself as a new type of conservative and was able to eek out a victory for the GOP. The party "bonded to him" after the trauma of 9/11. But like his father before him, writes Noonan, "in time he sundered the party that rallied to him, and broke his coalition into pieces. He threw away his inheritance."

Bushies in the administration, Noonan claims, now openly disdain the GOP base, which from the administration perspective now serves little purpose in the waning months of the Bush presidency. "Leading Democrats often think their base is slightly mad but at least their heart is in the right place. This White House thinks its base is stupid and that its heart is in the wrong place."

Noonan seems to view the conservative coalition as remaining mostly intact, but alienated from the GOP leadership. She argues that the current immigration bill debate is essentially the White House’s divorce decree from its conservative base. Kevin at y-intercept has often argued that the factions of the conservative coalition came together at the time of the Reagan presidency, but that the partnership has been uneasy since then because these factions have subsequently continued on their separate paths.

Kevin asserts that the two main factions are classical liberals and traditional conservatives. Classical liberals favor limited government as well as individual and economic freedom. Traditional conservatives are more about maintaining the status quo and preserving the culture. Although there are significant points of agreement, these two schools of thought are naturally at odds on many points, so they naturally tend to part from each other.

In this view, both Presidents Bush are simply catalysts for allowing the natural separation of interests to occur. It has taken longer for the split to occur under the younger Bush because the 9/11 trauma forced a temporary unification due to overarching concerns. The immigration bill may be less a case of the White House divorcing its base than of a disagreement between the two main conservative factions.

Maintaining a coalition of parties with disparate interests is hard work. It can be done if the parties are continually focused on a common concern rather than on their differences. Like his father, the current President Bush has done much to pit the two main GOP factions against each other. Or perhaps he has simply done too little to keep the factions focused on a common issue. But arguably, it may require the convergence of the right kind of leader and the right kind of situation to consistently maintain this coalition.

Still, I’m not at all sure that Noonan’s view is incorrect. She and Kevin may simply have two ways of saying the same thing. Either way, I would suggest that there are cogent reasons that the factions of the conservative movement are ill at ease with each other and with the Bush White House.


Jesse Harris said...

The infighting is what keeps me a registered independent. Even small parties fall victim to competing interests. When I belonged to the Constitution Party, there was a big fight in early 2006 over abortion that smelled too much like the power struggles the Republicans always dealt with. I ended up leaving because I was on the wrong side of the issue and couldn't get a guarantee that I wouldn't be forcibly removed from any leadership position.

I don't have much faith in party politics anymore. It sometimes seems like a parliamentary system of alliances and coalitions would bear more fruit than having a pair of 800-pound gorillas slugging it out.

Scott Hinrichs said...

I'm not so sure. It seems that the multi-party parliamentary system rarely produces an executive mandate unless one or two very strong parties evolve.

Our system is designed to produce an executive branch with competing and different responsibilities than the legislative branch. As I look at the nations that mix these two branches, I am less convinced that the multi-party parliamentary system is better than the two-party system we have.

Both systems have their problems, to be sure. But I'm not sure that exchanging our current problems for the problems of the other system would be ultimately beneficial.

Frank Staheli said...

We just need to stop taking the media's word for it which of the candidates are best in the presidential election. I'm too young to remember what they said about Reagan during his first run (I voted for him--I'm sure they didn't like him), but since then the media have picked the wrong group of people. Bush and Bush and Clinton should never have been president, and I am proud to say that I have voted against both of them in every presidential election.

BTW-Imagine the ignominy at some point in our future if would be forced to look back and admit that we as a nation had elected Bush, then Clinton, then Bush, then Clinton.

Scott Hinrichs said...

The media excoriated candidate Reagan during the 1980 election. He was too old. He was nothing more than a pretending actor (despite having been an effective governor of one of the largest and most populous states). He couldn't be trusted with 'the football' (the code name for the briefcase that allowed the President to initiate a nuclear attack). He was a warmonger. And on and on.

The biased MSM was blindsided by Reagan's landslide victory over Carter, although, many politicos on both sides of the aisle could see it coming. Although the MSM continued the anti-Reagan attack stance during his presidency, they were less surprised and simply jaded by Reagan's 1984 victory over Mondale.

I'm not sure where you are coming from in suggesting that the media annointed Bush I and Bush II. Are you talking about the primaries? Bush I had no real opposition there. I suppose an argument could be made that the media may have favored Bush in the 2000 GOP primaries, but I think that's not a given. And please note that when Clinton first got involved in the 1992 Democratic primary campaign, the media was anything but friendly. He seemed unsophisticated and he was upsetting the mainline Democratic Party structure's apple cart.

If you're talking about the general elections, I think you're only partially correct. The media cooperated in Dukakis' demise simply because there was little alternative. Dukakis provided so much material that it could ultimately not be ignored. But they were not friendly toward Bush I and did not anoint him.

Once Clinton had cinched the 1992 Democratic nomination, the media did a lot to support him over Bush I. The media did support Clinton over Dole in 1996, but let's face it, the Dole candidacy was a stupid move on the part of the GOP.

The media strongly supported Gore over Bush II in 2000. And the media went head over heels for Kerry in 2004.

So, I'm not sure what you mean when you suggest that the media has essentially selected our past few presidents. Some they have pushed for have won while others have lost. Besides, I think the power of the MSM to impact elections is waning, thanks to other information sources.

Charles D said...

It's interesting that Bush is now accused of disdaining the GOP base and Noonan sees that as a problem. The entire Democratic Party "leadership" disdains their party's base and the pundit class seems to think that's the way it should be.

Makes you wonder...