Politics, et Cetera

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

They Said It:

I shall insert here what may seem obvious: I consider this battle of educational theory important and worth time and thought even in the context of a world-situation that seems to render totally irrelevant any fight except the power struggle against Communism.  I myself believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world.  I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.  I believe that if and when the menace of Communism is gone, other vital battles, at present subordinated, will emerge to the foreground.  And the winner must have help from the classroom.

I should also like to state that I am not here concerned with writing an apologia either for Christianity or for individualism.  That is to say, this essay will not attempt either to prove the divinity of Christ or to defend the advantages of conducting our lives with reference to divine sanctions.  Nor shall I attempt to demonstrate the contemporary applicability of the principal theses of Adam Smith.

Rather, I will proceed on the assumption that Christianity and freedom are “good,” without ever worrying that by so doing, I am being presumptuous.

William F. Buckley, God and Man at Yale:  The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom,” 1951.



So Donald Trump named some of his foreign policy team last week.  And, as has become something of a ritual in this campaign, he caught many people off guard, which, in turn, caused those people to lose their minds.  Like clockwork, to coin a phrase.

You see, Trump did something that most people in politics don’t do.  He picked from outside of the pool of “acceptable” – which is to say “establishment” vetted – advisers.  He picked people who haven’t put in enough time at Brookings.  Or Heritage.  Or . . . wherever.  He did what he always does, which is to say that he did whatever the hell he wanted to do, letting the proverbial chips fall where they may.  And in so doing, he both aggravated the national freakout and roused even greater admiration from his fans and supporters.  Like his slash and burn precursor George Wallace, Trump has no time for “pointy-headed college professors who can’t even park a bicycle straight.”  And nor, for that matter, do his fans.

For our part, we might be a little more comfortable if Trump had picked his advisers from a more experienced and recognized group of folks.  But then, our choices might be considered odd also.  In any case, our interest in Trump’s choices is not related to them as individuals but to the fact that they collectively don’t fit the mold.  And they don’t fit the mold because the mold is broken, whether anyone other than Trump knows it or not.  The commentariat attributed the oddness of the picks to the oddness of the picker.  But we think there is another explanation, that being that America’s foreign policy concerns are themselves odd; they are not the same kinds of problems that the old Washington crowd trained to solve.  That is not to say that Trump’s people are better; it’s just that there may be a reason that they seem odd other than the fact that Trump is a nut.

And speaking of odd…In order to explain our point about Trump and the broken mold of American foreign policy, we will start by discussing the foreign policy advisers of Trump’s final rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Ted Cruz.  You see, Cruz recently named his foreign policy team as well, and one member of that team is also somewhat unusual.  This guy is not just smart and an aggressive adversary of Islamic terrorism, but is also a case study in the problems that confront the GOP today in the foreign policy arena.  Indeed, he demonstrates unequivocally that Donald Trump is a symptom, not the cause of the Republican Party’s collapse.  And no matter what happens this summer in Cleveland and then this November at the ballot boxes, the GOP collapse is as inevitable as it is essential.

The Cruz adviser in question is Frank Gaffney.  He is the Founder and President of the Center for Security Policy.  On CNN last week, Cruz described his as “a serious thinker” who has been “focused on fighting jihadism across the globe.”  About this, Cruz is absolutely correct.  As much as anyone in Washington, Gaffney had been at the forefront of fighting jihad and advocating strong American policies meant to deter Islamist terrorism.  Gaffney’s bio reads, in part, as follows:

Mr. Gaffney is the publisher and associate author of Shariah: The Threat to America(Center for Security Policy Press, 2010).  With an introduction by former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, New York Times bestseller Andrew C. McCarthy and Lt. General Harry Soyster as well as contributions from the 19-member Team B II, this highly acclaimed report provides a comprehensive and articulate “second opinion” on the official characterizations and assessments of the threat of political Islam as put forward by the US Government. . .

In April 1987, Mr. Gaffney was nominated by President Reagan to become the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, the senior position in the Defense Department with responsibility for policies involving nuclear forces, arms control and U.S.-European defense relations.  He acted in that capacity for seven months during which time, he was the Chairman of the prestigious High Level Group, NATO’s senior politico-military committee.  He also represented the Secretary of Defense in key U.S.-Soviet negotiations and ministerial meetings.

From August 1983 until November 1987, Mr. Gaffney was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy under Assistant Secretary Richard Perle.  From February 1981 to August 1983, Mr. Gaffney was a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John Tower (R-Texas).  And, in the latter 1970’s, Mr. Gaffney served as an aide to the late Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson (D-Washington) in the areas of defense and foreign policy.

All things considered, that’s pretty impressive.  Unfortunately, that’s really NOT all of the things that need to be considered.  In fact, one of the not-considered things in that bio is Gaffney’s most prominent role in Washington these days.  He is the arch-nemesis of Grover Norquist.

Norquist, for those of you who don’t know, is the President and Founder of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).  He is also arguably the movingest and shakingest mover and shaker in conservative politics today.  If there is something happening anywhere in the conservative movement, Grover is in on it.  He’s been the most active and successful conservative advocate in Washington for the last three decades.  Wanna know why Republican politicians all pledge not to raise taxes?  Grover.  Wanna know why tax rates, free enterprise, and gun rights remain on the Republican agenda, even after all these years?  Grover.  Wanna know why the airport formerly known as “Washington National Airport” is now called “Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport?”  Grover.  Grover, Grover, Grover.

As it turns out, however, Norquist is married to a woman of Palestinian descent, the former Samah Alrayyes, which, for whatever reason, has made some of his former friends suspicious.  As it also turns out, Norquist has a long history of promoting free enterprise among Islamic populations, of encouraging the conservative movement to pursue a partnership with Muslim-Americans, and of helping some rather unsavory characters in the American Muslim community gain access to the halls of power.  All of which has made him a target of some “criticism,” not all of which is justified.  Which brings us back to Gaffney.

Frank Gaffney has been criticizing Norquist’s connections to unpleasant Islamist-types since at least 2003, which was about the time that Norquist began dating his wife.  That was also about the time that and Gaffney moved out of the office complex that he and his then-friend Norquist shared.  In our opinion, some of what Gaffney has written about Grover is fair and well-sourced.  Besides providing the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American Muslim Council (AMC) with a degree of legitimacy that they do not deserve by arranging for their members to meet with President George W. Bush, he also started the Islamic Free-Market Institute with his then-friend Abdurahman Alamoudi.  Alamoudi, it turns out, was a genuine terrorist sympathizer who later pled guilty to a variety of charges involving terrorist activities and is now serving a 23-year prison sentence.

At the same time, much of what Gaffney has accused Grover of doing and/or being is somewhat bizarre, to put it kindly.  For example, Gaffney has long insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to take over the American government AND the conservative movement.  Moreover, he insists that Norquist is the means by which this takeover is to be effected.  People close to Gaffney have accused Norquist of being a “closet Muslim” who converted to Islam when he married his wife.  Others close to Gaffney claim that Norquist is a spy of sorts for Islamic radicals.  Gaffney’s biggest supporter and his one-man PR team is radio talker Glenn Beck, who travels with Gaffney to promote his anti-Islamist agenda and who has been a big part of the Gaffney effort, now in its second year, to have Norquist removed from the National Rifle Association’s board of directors.  The whole episode is quite a mess – and telling from a conservative perspective.  Last week, Betsy Woodruff, a political reporter for The Daily Beast who used to work for National Review, wrote about the Cruz-Gaffney-Norquist-NRA business as follows:

One of Ted Cruz’s top national security advisers has convinced the National Rifle Association’s members to weigh in on whether or not they think one of their board members is a secret Muslim spy.  Yes, really.

The adviser, Frank Gaffney, aided by cheerleader-in-chief Glenn Beck, has spent more than a decade trying to convince Washington conservatives that anti-tax leader Grover Norquist is part of a secret Muslim Brotherhood plot to infiltrate the government and sow the seeds of jihad.  It fits squarely in the “whoa if true” category, and it’s amusing nonsense.

Over the years, Gaffney’s crusade has gotten him slowly pushed to the far outer margins of the conservative movement — barred from Conservative Political Action Conference, kicked out of influential conservatives’ closed-door meetings, booted from strategy lunches and basically expelled from anywhere that polite, sane company resides . . .

Glenn Beck — naturally — is in Gaffney’s corner and has indulged his theorizing on his radio show and TV channel.  Beck regularly “educates” his 7 million-plus listeners about Norquist’s alleged terror ties and his role as one of NRA’s 76 board members.

Last year, Gaffney and Beck encouraged NRA members to vote against Norquist’s re-election to the board — after all, God forbid the agents of Sharia take over the NRA!

Norquist easily won re-election. But Gaffney and Beck wouldn’t let something as simple as flat-out defeat stop them — what would the Founding Fathers say?

So this year, they got the requisite 450 voting members of the NRA to sign a petition calling for Norquist to be recalled from the board (voting members are those with a five-year or lifetime membership with the gun group).  Just a few days before Cruz announced Gaffney would join his team, the conspiracy theorist said on his radio show that Norquist has done “incalculable harm” to America.

Truth be told, we really have no dog in this fight.  We have been friends with both of these men for a long time.  We like and respect both of them.  We wonder sometimes about Norquist’s associations, but then, we’re not charged with trying to build a strong and enduring conservative coalition.  More to the point, we have never had any doubt whatsoever about Grover’s love for this country or about his dedication to the tenets of conservatism.  Indeed, his bona fides are unimpeachable.  But so, for that matter, are Gaffney’s.  Our interest in the feud stems from its distillation of the challenges facing the Republican party today – and the Democratic party and the country tomorrow.

All of which brings us to the main issue here.  If you take a glance around the conservative commentariat, you’ll notice that everyone, it seems, is now acknowledging that the Republican party as we know it is finished.  Jonah Goldberg put it this way in his column last week: “Nominating Donald Trump will wreck the Republican party as we know it.  Not nominating Trump will wreck the Republican party as we know it.  The sooner everyone recognizes this fact, the better.”  We agree.  But we think it has very little to do with Trump.  We think, rather, that it has everything to do with Gaffney and Norquist.  Or more to the point, it has everything to do with the intractable nature of the conflict they represent.

Regular readers may recall that we’ve been predicting the collapse of the Republican and Democratic parties for almost twenty years now.  Now that our prediction is coming to fruition, we want to make sure that there is no mistake about how and why this is taking place.  Nearly four years ago, during the last presidential election, we penned a piece titled “Turn Out the Lights, the Parties Are Over” in which we discussed the inevitable collapse.  We put it this way:

For more than a decade now, we have been writing that the two major political parties would eventually have to change to meet the demands of the new, post-Cold War political dynamic.  The old political paradigm collapsed along with the Soviet Union.  And the old political divisions that had guided our sense of partisanship for three generations or more couldn’t help but collapse as well.  The parties, through some combination of luck, economic distraction, and the gross negligence and intellectual laziness of their elites and leaders, have managed thus far to stave off the inevitable reckoning.  But they cannot do so forever.  And in our estimation, it all ends here.

As we see it, the 2012 presidential election will mark the end of the old partisan order and the rise of the new order, whatever it may be.  For guys like Norman Ornstein, who is counting on so-called pragmatists and centrists in both parties to “be responsible,” to ignore the will of the (presumably stupid) people, and to get down to work on the business of “compromise,” this will come as a terrible and terribly unwelcome shock.  But to the rest of the world – those who have seen the impending disaster that “compromise” built, this intrapartisan realignment comes not a moment too soon . . .

That’s the thing that the elites and the media and the Democrats and the President and everyone else have always missed about the Tea Party movement.  It is, and always has been, just as angry at the Republicans who got us into this mess as the Democrats who refuse to get us out of it.  And if anyone anywhere believes that those Republicans are going to fall back into their old comfort zones again after November, they are sorely mistaken.  If anything, the backlash against the Republican establishment is likely to be far more severe than anything directed at the President and the Democrats.  Mark our words, this isn’t the end of Republican Party’s shift away from establishment centrism.  It’s only the beginning.

As for the Democratic Party, we suspect that the reckoning is a little further off.  But it is coming nonetheless.  As (the economist Herb) Stein’s Law has it: something that cannot go on forever won’t.  And in the case of the Democrats, the party cannot continue forever counting exclusively on the votes of those who rely on ever-expanding government in an era when government cannot continue to expand. And so it won’t.

Taken in sum, this is probably one of our more accurate predictions.  The fact of the matter is that Donald Trump is NOT the cause of the Republican party’s imminent collapse.  He is a symptom.  He is merely the embodiment of the immense disjointedness that has characterized our political parties since the end of the Cold War.  That disjointedness is explained, at least in part, by the feud between Gaffney and Grover, who represent factions of a movement that no longer seems to have any sense of itself or its purpose.

It is, we think, important to remember that the conservative movement as we know it – and, by extension, the contemporary Republican party – is very much a creature of the Cold War and of the fight against conventional, state-initiated oppression.  During the 1950s and 1960s, men like Russell Kirk, Robert Nisbet, William F. Buckley, and Whitaker Chambers laid out the tenets of contemporary conservatism, dividing its doctrines, more or less, into three distinct yet entirely interconnected facets of human endeavor.  On the foreign policy front, there was the war against Communism, a great and unprecedented evil.  On the domestic front, there was the fight against the encroachment of the liberal state, its parallels to Communism, and its assault on the rights of man.  Binding them together was the spiritual battle against both the manifest evils of Communism and the soul-stealing, individuality-destroying omnipotent and omnipresent state.

In Witness, his definitive assault on the wickedness of Communism, Whitaker Chambers made the connection between the moral and foreign affairs aspects of conservatism as powerfully as anyone had done before or has done since.  As he put it:

[Communism] is not new.   It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith.   Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.”  It is the great alternative faith of mankind.  Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision.  Other ages have had great visions.  They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man’s relationship to God.  The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God . . .

Communism is what happens when, in the name of Mind, men free themselves from God.  But its view of God, its knowledge of God, its experience of God, is what alone gives character to a society or a nation, and meaning to its destiny.  Its culture, the voice of this character, is merely that view, knowledge, experience, of God, fixed by its most intense spirits in terms intelligible to the mass of men.  There has never been a society or a nation without God.  But history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that become indifferent to God, and died . . .

[This from the book’s forward in the form of a letter to Chambers’ children.]  Much more than Alger Hiss or Whittaker Chambers was on trial in the trials of Alger Hiss.  Two faiths were on trial.  Human societies, like human beings, live by faith and die when faith dies.  At issue in the Hiss Case was the question whether this sick society, which we call Western civilization, could in its extremity still cast up a man whose faith in it was so great that he would voluntarily abandon those things which men hold good, including life, to defend it.  At issue was the question whether this man’s faith could prevail against a man whose equal faith it was that this society is sick beyond saving, and that mercy itself pleads for its swift extinction and replacement by another.  At issue was the question whether, in the desperately divided society, there still remained the will to recognize the issues in time to offset the immense rally of public power to distort and pervert the facts.

At heart, the Great Case was this critical conflict of faiths; that is why it was a great case.  On a scale personal enough to be felt by all, but big enough to be symbolic, the two irreconcilable faiths of our time–Communism and Freedom–came to grips in the persons of two conscious and resolute men.  Indeed, it would have been hard, in a world still only dimly aware of what the conflict is about, to find two other men who knew so clearly.  Both had been schooled in the same view of history (the Marxist view).  Both were trained by the same party in the same selfless, semi-soldierly discipline.  Neither would nor could yield without betraying, not himself, but his faith; and the different character of these faiths was shown by the different conduct of the two men toward each other throughout the struggle.  For, with dark certitude, both knew, almost from the beginning, that the Great Case could end only in the destruction of one or both of the contending figures, just as the history of our times (both men had been taught) can end only in the destruction of one or both of the contending forces.

Likewise, Robert Nisbet, in his great opus, The Quest for Community, made the largely incontrovertible case that the domestic state – the liberalism of Roosevelt and the Progressives – was also a moral abomination, an attack on that is good and decent in man’s nature and his history:

At the present time we are suspended, so to speak between two worlds of allegiance and association.  On the one hand, and partly behind us, is the historic world in which loyalties to family, church, profession, local community, and interest association exert, however ineffectively, persuasion and guidance.  On the other is the world of values identical with the absolute political community – the community in which all symbolism, allegiance, responsibility, and sense of purpose have become indistinguishable from the operation of centralized political power . . .

There is a kind of State that seeks always to extend its administrative powers and function into all realms of society, always seeking a higher degree of centralization in the conduct of its operations, always tending toward a wider measure of politicization of social, economic, and cultural life.  It does not do this in the name of power but of freedom – freedom from want, insecurity, and minority tyranny.  It parades the symbols of progress, people, justice, welfare, and devotion to the common man.  It strives unceasingly to make its ends and purposes acceptable –through radio, newspaper, and document – to even the lowliest of citizens.  It builds up a sense of the absolute identity of State and society – nothing outside the State, everything in the State.

Increasingly, in this type of State, the basic needs for education, recreation, welfare, economic production, distribution, and consumption, health, spiritual and physical, and all other services of society are made aspects of the administrative structure of political government.  This process of transfer comes to be accepted by almost everyone –- by businessmen in search of guaranteed production and profit, by educators in need of funds, by labor in the interests of guaranteed jobs and living wages, and by liberal reformers in the interests of housing programs or other projects. Autonomous areas of economy, education, and other spheres of culture shrink constantly.  Invasions of minority rights are defended, as are invasions of social authority and responsibility, and limitations upon right of association in the name of the people, of social justice, or preparedness for war against poverty, ignorance, disease, and external national enemies.

It is no coincidence that Buckley could wax eloquent about Communism and Christianity in one paragraph, about the “perils of deficit financing” in the next, and about the risks to the “entrepreneur” from the fabricated morality of the “social good” in the third.  All were interconnected, part of the same existential battle against which conservatism was fighting.

Given this, otherwise seemingly strange bedfellows found common ground.  For decades now, the mainstream media, conventional intellectuals, and establishment politicians have scratched their heads bloody in confusion over the alliances between the liberty-loving free market folks and the social conservatives, and between the “war-mongering” hawks and the peace-affirming Christians.  What they never understood was that they were all aligned together in the great struggle.  The hawks, the libertarians, and the social conservatives all fought the same battle, albeit in different ways, against the state, its ultimate manifestation, and the evil inherent in that manifestation.  The conservative Cold War alliance made perfect sense.  It represented a perfectly coherent order.  And this order found its perfect expression in the presidency of Ronald Reagan, which united the three principal factions of conservatism under one, Republican “Big Tent.”

Of course, this big tent collapsed when Communism collapsed, which is to say that contemporary conservatism is, more or less, a victim of its own success.  Reagan halted the growth of government.  He defeated Communism.  In so doing, he advanced the greatest of moral causes.  And then came the crackup.

Over the course of the last quarter century, the erstwhile allies in the war against the state have lost both their inherent connection to one another and their tolerance for the others’ needs.  In the era of peace and prosperity, the small-government libertarians like Grover Norquist undertook the perfectly reasonable task of re-building a majority conservative coalition that emphasized business, free enterprise, and a minimalist state.  In the years after 9/11, the hawks undertook the perfectly reasonable task of re-building a majority conservative coalition that emphasized strength, security, and the projection of power.  It was inevitable that these two factions would collide.  Given the social conservatism and commercial interests of the nation’s Muslims, a commercially friendly small-government faction was bound to seek their support.  Likewise, given the ubiquitousness of the Islamist enemy, “security” for the hawks in the post-9/11 age was bound to bump up against the civil liberties of the nation’s Muslims.  The collision and its concomitant incoherence were inescapable.

In the end, what we were left with was a movement – and a party – with several factions, none of which could understand what connection they had to the others.  And so each went about its own business, developing its own power base, advancing its own interests, and increasing its isolation both from the rest of the movement and from the Republican party’s electoral base.  The conventional wisdom is that the Republican party’s collapse is, in large part, a result of the dissociation between the “establishment” and the “working class.”  That’s part of it, certainly.  But the bigger part is the conservative movement’s present philosophical incoherence and the resultant retreat into self-centeredness.  The movement’s factions can’t find common ground with one another most of the time, and so it’s nearly impossible to imagine the base and its leaders – the representatives of the factions – ever finding common ground.

In a very real way, every Republican candidate except Donald Trump has manifested this incoherence and self-centeredness.  Ted Cruz, now the only plausible challenger to Trump, has just promoted Frank Gaffney, a man who thinks that Grover Norquist is a super-secret double-agent for the Muslim Brotherhood.  At the same time, though, Cruz also has ties to Norquist.  Cruz’s spokesman, Ron Nehring used to work for Grover at ATR.  Cruz’s chief of staff, Paul Teller, attends Grover’s Wednesday Group meetings.  According to Betsy Woodruff, even Grover doesn’t have a clue what it means that Cruz is now trumpeting his association with Gaffney.  “‘On those things, I think they’re just tossing out names,’ he said. ‘I don’t know. I mean, we work with the Cruz people.’”

Donald Trump doesn’t have any of those problems.  He doesn’t know Grover Norquist from Adam.  He doesn’t know Frank Gaffney from Grover Norquist.  And he doesn’t care about either of them, their feud, or the collapse of the conservative movement.  He cares about himself and about his supporters.  And given the mess in the party, it’s not hard to see why there are so many supporters.  And nothing explains his choices for foreign policy advisers than these facts.


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