Federalist, Libertarian, Conservative, Republican, or Insensate?

Make America Grate

Make America Grate

Paul David Miller wants to resurrect the Federalist Party:

[T]he new movement should take the name of The Federalists. The Democrats and Republicans have both taken as their name political principles important to the American system of government—and we all believe in both of them. But there is another principle that was equally vital at the founding and has been gradually discarded over the past century: federalism.

A federal system is one in which power is divided between levels of government. This was an important part of the American experiment because the Founders intended the checks and balances to operate not only among the branches of government, but between the levels of government, as well. The states were to check the federal government and vice versa. In the multitude of centers of power, there was freedom.

At least the new party would have its own ready-made party organ – that is, the on-line magazine in which Miller’s article appears. However, there remains something of a conceptual problem here, one that appears within the body of the piece as well as within its precis, which latter reads as follows: “We need a new political party that restrains the federal government in favor of more local solutions. Call it the Federalist Party.”

In short, the Federalists would adopt in their name the very thing they hope to restrain or reduce: the “federal” government, aka “the feds.” The historical root of the problem is that those very “architects” of the republic whose names Miller goes on to invoke, Washington and Hamilton, were seeking greater centralization of state power than were their main adversaries, first the Anti-Federalists, later the Democratic-Republicans of Jefferson and Madison. That in recent decades small-government and “constitutional” conservatives have adopted the term that once stood for greater concentration of power, but now stands or is meant to stand for de-centralization and devolution of power, also created the possibility of a magazine that embraces the spirit of the Anti-Federalists and Democratic-Republicans adopting the name of their shared nemesis.

Or maybe no one who matters cares about such lexical niceties. If anyone actually does, then another, possibly more practical as well as more historically and logically consistent alternative is also examined in the Federalist today by Ben Domenech: Takeover of the Libertarian Party:

If the #NeverTrump people want a protest vote, their best path is a Libertarian takeover, with someone who is Libertarianish on some issues – pot, prostitution, marriage – and yet pro-life and pro-religion enough to win over the votes of the holdouts to the Trump machine: churchgoing evangelicals, avowed social and fiscal conservatives, and those who just find his presence on the national scene to be a vulgar and demeaning one. (It’s no accident that Trump’s worst numbers come in states with heavy Mormon populations.)

Whoever the #NeverTrump folks settle on, they’d be wiser to choose someone with the ability to win a few key states, not just to make a generalized protest vote case against Clintonism and Trumpism. They should be focused on making a difference in the outcome, not just providing a better vehicle for throwing your vote away.

Meanwhile, conservatives being rallied by Erick Erickson are keeping their powder dry – but well within reach – according to today’s “Statement from Conservatives Against Trump”:

We call for a unity ticket that unites the Republican Party. If that unity ticket is unable to get 1,237 delegates prior to the convention, we recognize that it took Abraham Lincoln three ballots at the Republican convention in 1860 to become the party’s nominee and if it is good enough for Lincoln, that process should be good enough for all the candidates without threats of riots.

We encourage all former Republican candidates not currently supporting Trump to unite against him and encourage all candidates to hold their delegates on the first ballot.

Lastly, we intend to keep our options open as to other avenues to oppose Donald Trump. Our multiple decades of work in the conservative movement for free markets, limited government, national defense, religious liberty, life, and marriage are about ideas, not necessarily parties.

Opinions may differ as to whether “keep[-ing] options open” is not already the classic strategic sin of dividing one’s forces in the face of the enemy. On the other hand, if the conservative moment already possessed the unity of command necessary to make and implement any singular and exclusive decision, or a single general or general-in-waiting head and shoulders above all peers, then it would not be in so much trouble.

These and other initiatives all are occurring, obviously, in the shadow of a primary campaign approaching its final phase. A fourth alternative has been proposed by Christopher J Regan, writing in the Washington Examiner: Expulsion of Trump from the Republican Party. The proposal is too reasonable, coherent, and principled to succeed, since it relies on the notion that the Republican Party actually is or has been or might soon be something reasonable, coherent, and principled, or anything other than a vehicle for the promotion of whoever cares to attach the word “Republican” to their movement. It is perhaps indicative that the proposal itself, including a compellingly wistful reflection on the three yes’s of Detroit, comes from a nominal Democrat:

The Republican Party itself must show it is capable of leadership. Trump should be expelled, immediately, from the GOP nominating contest. None of the other candidates need to debate him further — they are not required to do so and should never again appear with him, anywhere. The RNC rules committee should announce that his candidacy will not be considered at the Republican convention in Cleveland, period. It is within their power to do this.

Regan’s main grounds for expulsion:

Trump’s campaign has descended into violence and it has to stop now… People are being slugged at speeches. Rallies are turning into riots. Donald Trump calls for violence directly from the podium at his events, over and over again. Trump encourages, and provides cover for, violent, dangerous, and indeed terroristic organizations that formerly festered on the fringes of our society.

To the dismay of many Republicans, the Party missed its chances, or repeated chances to choose principle over tactics – assuming that there are “Republican principles.”

Meanwhile, in a masterpiece of polemical false equivalence – in which, for instance, candidate Trump’s repeated, open calls for violence, or thinly veiled threats of same, are equated with once upon a time candidate Obama’s highly atypical occasional use of campaign-as-combat rhetoric – Victor Davis Hanson asks us all, implicitly his colleagues at National Review especially, to calm down:

So let us all take a deep breath…

I would not vote for Donald Trump in the primary, given that I have no idea what he would do as president and thus most certainly hope he does not get the nomination. But he seems about on par with the current president, in terms of reckless speeches, inexperience, crudity, and cluelessness. Yet I don’t recall hearing that many in the Democratic party ever felt that Obama’s provocative and ignorant campaign utterances, along with his past associations with the likes of Tony Rezko, Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers, and Father Pfleger, had driven them to vote for a far more sober and judicious John McCain or Mitt Romney.

To put it in terms that Hanson might understand: A more morally as well as politically insensate, as well as ill-timed and unwelcome, utterance, offered in the name of σωφροσύνη, but in abject service to its opposite, would be hard for any nevertrumpist, to imagine. For them, it’s ἀνερρίφθω κύβος fast approaching, or already here.


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Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

One comment on “Federalist, Libertarian, Conservative, Republican, or Insensate?

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  1. I think the adoption and inversion of the Federalist brand is a grave mistake. Unless the goal is friendly fire.

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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