The Long View 2004-11-04: Questions about Convertibility

With my recent discovery of a large number of John Reilly's book reviews and essays, I had been enjoying a respite from John's topical political commentary from thirteen years ago. Unfortunately, we need to get back at it.

Questions about Convertibility


As with most things in life, the important reactions to the reelection of George Bush were summed up long ago by Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil's Dictionary:

President, n. The leading figure in a small group of men of whom -- and of whom only -- it is positively known that immense numbers of their countrymen did not want any of them for president.

It would, of course, be churlish to fault the Democratic Establishment for declining to eat their ration of crow all at once. They are still in the denial phase, which is only to be expected. As students of millenarianism know, the failure of the Parousia to occur on a predicted date simply excites the people who had hoped in it to greater efforts to convert the unbelievers. This dynamic is evident in Thomas Frank's column in today's New York TimesWhy They Won:

To short-circuit the Republican appeals to blue-collar constituents, Democrats must confront the cultural populism of the wedge issues with genuine economic populism. They must dust off their own majoritarian militancy instead of suppressing it; sharpen the distinctions between the parties instead of minimizing them; emphasize the contradictions of culture-war populism instead of ignoring them; and speak forthrightly about who gains and who loses from conservative economic policy.

If something does not work, and you don't know what else to do, the natural impulse is to do it harder. That is what made the First World War what it was, and it seems a fair description of the (American) liberal strategy in the Culture War. At this point, one can only remark out that the contradictions are not on the side of the Christian Realists. Thomas Frank in particular has promoted the thesis that the cultural and value issues are not real issues at all, but devices to deceive and bewilder the masses. The contradiction lies in the refusal of progressives to give even one inch on the abortion license or the normalization of homosexuality.

If the points are unimportant, then they should be conceded. If they cannot be conceded, then they must be important enough to figure prominently in public debate. I predict the points will be conceded, however much that outrages and alienates Left Reactionary elements. And then everything will change.

* * *

Many intemperate things have been said since Wednesday, when the results of the election became known. For shear shock value, however, none exceeds Ann Coulter's blasphemy against Karl Rove:

If Rove is "the architect" -- as Bush called him in his acceptance speech -- then he is the architect of high TV ratings, not a Republican victory. By keeping the race so tight, Rove ensured that a race that should have been a runaway Bush victory would not be over until the wee hours of the morning...Seventy percent to 80 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage and partial-birth abortion. Far from appealing exclusively to a narrow Republican base..."Boy Genius" Rove decided Bush shouldn't even run radio ads on gay marriage,

And Boy Genius was right. The values issues were important in the 2004 election, but they were scarcely the only factors; one might mention the continuing low-grade world war, for instance. Just shy of a quarter of the electorate said they were voting chiefly on moral questions. Very good: but a presidential candidate who talked about nothing else would be rightly dismissed as a crank.

Regarding the gay marriage issue in particular, may I point out that the chief difficulty in combating it is that it is nonsense? One falls silent when the matter is raised, not for fear of being revealed as a bigot, but because the notion is incoherent. Arguing about it is like talking about the man who was not there. It's an embarrassment, not a controversy. The people don't want gay marriage refuted; they want it to go away.

* * *

It was with these thoughts in mind that I viewed the press conference that President Bush gave yesterday. The president said something that Bill Clinton was never brave enough to say, much less do:

"I earned political capital during the campaign, and now I intend to spend it."

Good for him, and for the most part I wish him well, but the president needs to remember that he was reelected to win the Terror War and the Culture War. The capital he has amassed is like grocery-store coupons: it can be spent only on certain things.

I am not very keen on the Administration's proposals to partially privatize Social Security. I bow to no one in my eagerness to reform the tax code, but I was distressed to hear that the president has not adopted the position that the way to reform the code is to design it to do nothing but raise revenues for the federal government. If the government must subsidize industries, then let it do so through rebates, which must be separately budgeted and authorized by Congress. As for the federal deficit, the thought of it makes me nearly frantic.

I am not alone in these reservations.

* * *

A good argument has been made (by Glenn Reynolds, probably) that what got the Republicans where they are today is the process of "disintermediation," which means the diminishing importance of the institutional gatekeepers of information. So far, at least as a political phenomenon, disintermedation has been most important in America. If Medienkritik gets his way, however, Germany will not be far behind:

In the United States, consumers have talk radio, Fox News and the blogosphere as an alternative information source to the left-leaning, "mainstream" media. In Germany, none of that exists. The deepest fear of the German media elite and the angry left is that such an alternative could emerge and compete with or even replace them...It will be the stated goal of Davids Medienkritik over the next four years and beyond to continue to offer such an alternative to the German media and to encourage and support others seeking to do so. WE WILL BREAK THIS MONOPOLY, we will provide an alternative, we will seek to bridge the widening transatlantic gap and not to deepen it. And we will do so with your help and support.

And as Germany goes, so goes Europe.

* * *

Finally, here is what that Other Spengler had to say about the election. As usual, every slap on the back from this fellow comes with the jab of a needle:

What brought 4 million more evangelical voters to the polling stations than in the previous presidential election?... It is the hard, grinding reality of American life in the liberal dystopia that makes the "moral issues" so important to voters. Partial-birth abortion and same-sex marriage became critical issues not because evangelical voters are bigots. On the contrary, parents become evangelicals precisely in order to draw a line between their families and the adversary culture. This far, and no more, a majority of Americans said on November 2 on the subject of social experimentation...Unlike the Europeans, whose demoralization has led to depopulation, Americans still are fighting against the forces of decay that threaten - but do not yet ensure - the ultimate fall of American power. That is the message of November 2.

And speaking of Spengler, would you all please buy my damn book, so you know what's going on?

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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