Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Right Down The Middle

Ben Shapiro on the location of the political center:

Americans are not an extreme lot. When it comes to elections, we never follow the Ralph Naders or George McGoverns or Pat Buchanans. The country never swings too far in one direction without a subsequent swing in the opposite direction. Republicans Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft were followed by Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Democrat Woodrow Wilson was followed by Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. Those three Republicans were followed by Democrats FDR and Truman, who in turn were followed by Republican Eisenhower.

With our tendency toward moderation, it is no wonder that after six years of absolute Republican domination many Americans are thinking of pulling the Democratic lever. Democrats recognize that the natural swing of the political pendulum tends toward the party not in power. Their campaign has relied heavily on that pendulum swing, and they have campaigned on the basis of their opposition to Republicans, labeling Republicans extremists, "out of the mainstream."

There is only one problem: The political pendulum only operates if the center between the two parties is truly at the center of the political spectrum. If both political parties have shifted to the left, the Republican Party now occupies the political center. There is nowhere for the pendulum to swing.

In order for the political pendulum to work, there must be some common ground at the center. Wilson and Harding both believed in the essential morality of America, and both believed in the traditional morality of marriage, family and religion. So did Hoover and FDR. Arguments about the size of government were arguments about how best to bolster that traditional morality within the framework of a growing America.

The period of liberalism ushered in by LBJ, Nixon and Carter, however, pushed all of American politics to the left. The common ground was no longer between the parties; it resided within the Republican Party. The election of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush was not so much a swing of the pendulum as a national realization of that fact. That is why the fluke election of Bill Clinton (who has Ross Perot to thank for his presidency) prompted the Republican Revolution of 1994. The political center was not Bill Clinton, but the much-maligned Newt Gingrich.

Americans recognize that the playing field has shifted. The Republican Party of today is closer to the Democratic Party of 1960 than the Democratic Party of today is...

He then gives many examples to establish this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here is the real "right down the middle." Mr. Shapiro does a pretty good job in his analysis, but fails to bring it home. There is a pendulum swing in American politics because neither the right nor the left can properly estimate where the center should be. Given original sin, I am doubtful that the center set point can hold. Perhaps optimistically, it could be approximated better and for a longer duty cycle.

I was sitting in a cigar shop the other day. An acquaintance, whom I respect greatly, rejoined my comment about the liberals' destructruction of black America's Christianity and its devastating aftermath. My co-tobaccist interrupted his undoubtedly pleasant draw to indicate the relevance of the oft-heard aphorism: "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a life."

I hear this not infrequently from conservatives. Unfortunately, it is precisely why conservatives continue to fail in the culture war. At least, they fail to win in a deep way that truly conquers the second-term complacency that always seems to bring out the worst in Republicans. I say "seems" because it is not that the Republicans lose something [i.e., the moral high ground] they once had in the ferver of the first election campaign; rather it is that they never really had that high ground.

The fish-feeding aphorism, alas, is a shield. It is a protective, self-absolving device that allows Republicans to sound wise. Indeed, it is a wise principle this business of teaching people to fish for their needs rather than expecting big-mommy government to supply these needs from birth until death. Having won the (election) day of a nation tired of Democrat meddling (viz., a nation tired of the expense of feeding fish to the needy on a daily basis at inflated costs) the Republicans proceed to forget the part about actually teaching people to fish. That would be too messy, too demanding, too uncool.

Instead the Republican-led nation launches headlong into its self-centered indulgences, satisfied that the voters have once again affirmed the great American-dream "truth" that greed is good. There are winners and losers. Elections for the Republicans amount more or less to convincing a goodly number of sway voters that it is good that the economic losers lose.

The Democrats fail because they have completely missed the mark. They subscribe to the Marxist notion that human happiness really is about material goods and that talk of the spiritual is delusionary. The Republicans, when scared, get enough religion to get a glimpse of the truth that poverty of means is really a poverty of spirit. "To teach a man to fish..." Ah, how right that sentiment is. But as sentiments go, unacted upon it is yet another good intention that will well-grease one's way to Hell.

Prosperity is not a time to turn one's energies inward. Prosperity (or Republican victories) are never an invitation to profiteering. To the contrary, to live that fishing-feeding aphorism is to begin that second Wednesday in November with rolling up the sleeves. It is not a time to put that aphorism back into its dusty-topped box on a shelf in the back closet for another two or four years.

Teaching the unfortunate to fish is a hard task of self-giving that will extract both time and (egad) wealth from those who are able. It requires a donation of one's talents, and interest, and attention for those who do not get the principle of how to fish. The government, as conservatives are ever wont to point out, cannot and should not do it. True enough! The government should not be enforcing "charity" at the point of a gun. And no, it is not primarily cash-transfers that will make the poor into skilled "fishers." It is a transfer, or better yet, an education in the spirit of self-reliant fishing that the underachieving need. The wealthy will need to spend their treasure to do that, not redistributively, but in their own costs associated with being donors of spirit.

The New Testament has much to say about wealth. Wealth is not condemned. The wealthy are no less spiritual and Christianity is not a world-denying faith. But in all cases, the wealthy disciples give that wealth away in pursuit of the Kingdom and do so without restraint before God. That giving away of wealth begins, and is defined by, a giving of the spirit, and part of that is teaching people to "fish" for life. The check writing comes in in support of this effort, not in direct transfers to bolster the bank accounts of the poor. In short, it is loving your neighbor.

This is where the conservatives have and opportunity to really distinguish themselves from the materialism of the Democrats, which is--sadly--just a poor man's version of Republican greed.

Can conservatives do it?