Sunday, January 13, 2008

Finding myself, Part I

As part of my quest to figure out once and for all which of the two main political parties I should belong to, I took the same quiz as Daniel Drezner, and learned that I am totally a Democrat. Since there's no candidate socially liberal and pro-Israel enough to make for an obvious pick, I'm left about where I was at in 2004, unsure of what a Democrat or Republican's foreign policy would end up looking like (I'm still convinced that if Gore were president in 2001, we'd now associate fighting terrorism and defending Israel with the Dems), but quite sure of where things would go in terms of domestic nonsense if almost any of the Republicans came out ahead. I do not believe that "biology is destiny." So, to the left I go.

But something holds me back. Among Republicans, it's a given that people vote for one issue or another, and that someone might be against abortion, for an aggressive foreign policy, or against tax increases, and simply willing to accept whatever else comes with their issue of choice. Whenever someone on the right who's clearly on the right on account of just one of these reasons claims to truly care about another, it comes across as disingenuous, and as a pragmatic attempt at getting a Republican, perhaps himself, into office. Among Democrats, there's this sense that you a voting for the left, and that every issue within the movement is supposed to have some logical connection to every other other. If you care about gay rights, you must not only accept a candidate's opposition to Bush's War on Terror, but must see the two as part of one and the same struggle. When, quite clearly, they are not. Feminism, meanwhile, is supposed to have some inherent connection to anti-racism, but once again, no such luck. One form of identity politics is more likely to conflict than coincide with another. Yet a coalition of the oppressed (or various groups designated as oppressed, roughly coinciding with actual oppression) is supposed to channel poor immigrants and native-born workers, the pro-choice and the anti-gun, into one coherent cause. If for whatever reason your oppressed group is not among those in the established canon, you are better off heading to the right than taking the left's list as a work in progress, as general principles that could as easily be applied to any situation.

But more to the point: I have been far from delighted by the Bush presidency, but now that opposing Bush so often means opposing anything (see Comment #2: Hilda and I both knew what Edwards meant) that could be perceived of as Jewish politics, I'm reluctant to consider myself on the left.

I should point out, to preempt contrarian comments, that the above paragraph is an impression, poorly explained and probably wrong. As I argued a hundred years ago, the problem with the right-left, two-party divide is that issues with no obvious connection to one another get lumped together on both sides, making it difficult to enthusiastically support any one candidate without compromising principles. But my sense, largely anecdotal (via articles, blogs, books, and, yes, face-to-face conversations), is that it's far more startling to hear someone on the left grudgingly accept rather than enthusiastically embrace the officially leftist stance on an issue than it is to witness someone on the right doing the same. So much so that when someone on the left doubts one of that side's tenets, it's hard to believe that they wish to still identify as on the left, while few are doubting Jonah Goldberg's right-wing-ness, although his book is about as far from the mainstream right as some of the Dissenters are from the mainstream left.

6 comments:

alex said...

I have the same impression. A number of times when I've argued a right-of-center position on some particular issue, I received responses questioning my status as a democrat. On the other hand, on the right I think this is considerably rarer...

Withywindle said...

Just to be contrarian ... I read a blog a few weeks ago by some guy who had worked for Mike Huckabee a while ago, saying, proudly, that out in the Heartland, people were Conservative, not Foreign-Policy Conservative, Economic Conservative, Social Conservative--that the sort of monolithic unity you perceive in Democrats is also true of Republicans away from the Big Cities. I can't verify this personally, but it seems plausible to me that the sort of Republicans you'd run across face-to-face, and in blogs and articles, are not representative of the movement as a whole. (I surely don't claim to be a typical Republican.)

That said ... the urban/blog/article Republican may indeed be more representative of Republican elites, (using the term as Jay Cost does over on Real Clear Politics, in some sense as shorthand for "cares about politics a lot and has disproportionate influence on those who don't") and I do think that Republican elites are more loose-jointed than Democratic elites--more aware of themselves as a coalition of conflicting interests. This may simply reflect the facts on the ground, that the Republican coalition is more ideologically loose-jointed and fissiparous. But, getting onto my own research interests, the conception of "interest" may play a role here--it's an old nostrum that the Rousseauian Left has a conception of the General Interest/General Will that erases private interests, while the Anglo-American Right tends to think of national interest as assembled from a multiplicity of interests--if this is true, and I think it has considerable truth--then the difference in left and right attitudes toward internal dissent would follow naturally.

That you don't seem to view Republicans as an authoritarian monolith, incidentally, also separates you from liberal Democrats.

Anonymous said...

You definatelt have Edwards wrong. The category of foreign lobby that he refers to is a legal category - Register foreign agents. Edwards is just about the opposite of what you seem to think. Anyway - a liberal Dem in mainstream politics tends to be far to the right of most people in academia - esp. humanities.
Gore was regarded as conservative when he first ran for President in the 80s and Ed Koch was his big booster. He's is pretty middle of the road. He was very strongly opposed to the Iraq war, but that does not make him a dove - If you read his objections at the time, they were mainstream objections and it was crazy that sensible position was twined with the war on terror. Gore was always hawkish on terrorism.

Andrew Stevens said...

but quite sure of where things would go in terms of domestic nonsense if almost any of the Republicans came out ahead.

I find this claim very odd indeed in this election cycle. Are you really saying that the whole Baptist view on husbands and wives is not only supported by Governor Huckabee, but also Senator McCain (Episcopalian), Governor Romney (Mormon), Mayor Giuliani (Catholic), and Senator Thompson (nominally Church of Christ, but almost certainly less religious than either of the major Democratic candidates)? Do any of these gentlemen sound to you even remotely as socially conservative as Governor Huckabee?

I'm not trying to be hostile or contrarian. I genuinely am interested in why you think that. Other than Huckabee, I think all of these men are considerably less socially conservative than George W. Bush, who was President for six years with Republican control of Congress. I assume you can easily show how much worse women have it now than they did in 2000, though I'm at a loss personally. I do think you made the right choice though. If you think electing Giuliani or Thompson would be a disaster on social issues, I can't think of a Republican who has ever run that you could support (since Eisenhower anyway).

For what it's worth, my wife is considerably more likely to vote Republican than I am. (I supported Kerry in 2004, for example, while she supported Bush.) Her opinion on social conservatism has long been that the Republicans have already lost on those issues and cannot make any meaningful headway, so it's harmless to vote for them based on the issues she does care about (mostly foreign policy and economics). I am not as convinced of this as she is, but I am unable to actually give any counter-examples to her position. Take abortion, for example. Supposedly pro-life Republicans have controlled the Presidency for twenty of the last twenty-eight years and they haven't even gotten Roe v. Wade overturned, even though Roe v. Wade gives us the most liberal abortion policy in the Western world. (Virtually every country in Western Europe has more restrictions on abortions than we do, since they arrived at table compromises which the Supreme Court short-circuited here.) Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, my guess would be that only Utah and Louisiana would actually bar all abortions. You obviously have a very different perspective though, since one of your prior posts was apparently worried about the Court overturning Griswold v. Connecticut and then subsequently banning birth control. I can't imagine a single state choosing to do this. (Are there any states that heavily dominated by conservative Catholics?)

By the by, biology is destiny to some extent. Otherwise you could teach calculus to an elephant. I assume, however, that you meant something along the lines of what Adam Smith once said, that "humans differ, one to another, quite a bit less than dogs," a sentiment which I am in full agreement with.

Phoebe said...

"biology is destiny to some extent"

Nothing can be destiny to some extent. Biology puts limits on possibility, but it is not fate, not for humans or elephants.

Andrew Stevens said...

Sure, but everyone agrees with that. Otherwise, identical twins would lead identical lives, which they clearly don't. If a child dies in a car crash, nobody believes this was written in his genes.