The Long View 2006-09-20: Republicans Less Doomed; Matters of Interpretation

In 2006, the Democrats had big gains in the mid-term elections, a state that lasted until 2010, when the House swung strongly Republican. As John noted here, no American political party has managed to assemble a stable coalition since the end of the New Deal era.


Republicans Less Doomed; Matters of Interpretation

 

Every optimistic political forecast presented to the public is itself a piece of propaganda. Nonetheless, I think that this one has merit:

It is no longer a "given" that the Democrats will gain at least one house of Congress in the November elections ó and the latest poll shows trend that should make Democrats nervous: Amid falling gas prices and a two-week drive to highlight his administration's efforts to fight terrorism, President Bush's approval rating has risen to 44% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. That's his highest rating in a year.

Republican control of the House is still iffy, but the small majority that the Democrats might acquire is likely to be too fractious to pose more than a nuisance to the Bush Administration. This is a remarkable turn around; a few months ago, I was certain the Republicans were toast. And in fact, given a reasonably competent opposition party, they would have been toast. The Democrats have failed to achieve competence. In my estimation:

They have not put together an attractive platform: On the Iraq War, they fudged the difference between the genuine anti-war position (which at least creates enthusiasm) and the War-on-Terror position by offering a "lose slowly" alternative. This position dispirits everybody. The chief Democratic domestic issue seems to be an increase in the minimum wage. For my part, I would like to see the minimum wage defined as a percentage of the median wage so we could be done with the matter. As an electoral issue, however, it suffers from the defect that most of the people who earn the minimum wage are students or in the country illegally.

They have not found plausible candidates: I see this particularly in the US Senate race in New Jersey. Incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez has good qualifications and he functions well in the ethnic politics of the urban northeast of the state, but the political history of New Jersey consists in large part of qualified candidates from the northeast failing to win statewide office. He may yet beat the empty Republican suit, Tom Keane Jr. (the "Jr." got him the nomination), but it says something about the Democratic Party that they put forward such a weak candidate in a race that ought to have been easy for them. This pattern has been repeated nationwide.

The Republican Party had the chance after 911 to achieve the level of domination of national politics that the Democrats did in 1932. In this the Republicans signally failed. If they retain both Houses of Congress this November, it will be because the electorate sees no reason to replace one party that is beyond satire with another.

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Correction: A kindly Arabist corrected an assertion of mine in the entry for 18Sept06. There I said that textual priority rather than chronological priority is key to the practice of Koranic interpretation. Apparently I was mistaken. Chronological priority is indeed the issue in the matter of abrogation. However, I am also informed that the interpretation by Juan Cole that I had been questioning is problematical anyway, since a large number of scholars agree that Sura 2:256 has been abrogated. I am referred to Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam, Chapter 3, pp. 94-95, 100-106.

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Benedict's Regensburg Lecture was not holy writ, but it continues to attract interpretation and commentary, such as these surmises from Stratfor's George Friedman:

One view derives from the fact that the pope is watching the U.S.-jihadist war. He can see it is going badly for the United States in both Afghanistan and Iraq. ...Bush has been trying to portray the war against Islamist militants as a clash of civilizations, one that will last for generations and will determine the future of mankind. Benedict, whether he accepts Bush's view or not, offered an intellectual foundation for Bush's position....

This perspective would explain the timing of the pope's statement, but the general thrust of his remarks has more to do with Europe....

[W]ith his remarks, he moved toward closer alignment with those who are uneasy about Europe's Muslim community -- without adopting their own, more extreme, sentiments. That move increases his political strength among these groups and could cause them to rally around the church. ...And he has delivered his own warning to Europe's Muslims about the limits of tolerance.

Let me suggest that a key segment of Benedict's audience was the Oriana Fallacis of the world (would that she had lived even another week!), and that among that class we must number the Left-agnostic anti-Islamist Christopher Hitchens. As a diagnostic baseline by which to judge the progress of the Lecture, let us note Hitchens' column of September 18, Papal Bull -- Joseph Ratzinger's latest offense:

Attempting to revive his moribund church on a visit to Germany, where the Roman congregations are increasingly sparse, Joseph Ratzinger (as I shall always think of him) has managed to do a moderate amount of harm and absolutely no good to the very tense and distraught discussion now in progress between Europe and Islam...

The Muslim protesters are actually being highly ungrateful. When the embassies of Denmark were being torched earlier this year, Rome managed a few words of protest about the inadvisability of profane cartoons. In almost every confrontation between Islam and the West, or Islam and Israel, the Vatican has either split the difference or helped to ventriloquize Muslim grievances...

[At] Regensburg, the man who modestly considers himself the vicar of Christ on Earth maintained a steady attack on the idea that reason and the individual conscience can be preferred to faith... and dishonestly tries to make it seem as if religion and the Enlightenment and science are ultimately compatible...

Several things are happening in this column. There is Hitchens' good English-red-beef No Popery, the Left Book Club's take on the Whig interpretation of history, and a measure of the frustration felt, even among people who are not anti-religious, at the slowness of the churches of the West to recognize their peril. Hitchens is quite mistaken about the relationship in Western intellectual history between science and faith (a point about which even Stephen Gould got the memo in his last days). Here we will note that, perhaps because of his other misunderstandings, he has adopted this clearly erroneous of what the Vatican and the Muslim world have been doing since the Lecture was given:

And of course now we hear, as could have been predicted, the pathetic and unconvincing apologies issued by his spokesmen and finally Ratzinger himself. These will only serve to convince infuriated Muslims that by threatening reprisal, calling for the severing of diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and issuing a few more sanguinary fatwas, they can force yet another retreat. The usual things have happened: the shooting of a nun in Somalia and the desecration of Christian churches in Palestine. And so the ecumenical "dialogue" goes on.

What happens when he recognizes the subtlety of the Vatican's policy? One might ask that of the whole non-suicidal wing of the Left in the West.

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Starting to cheer up, were you? Just in time, there is a new television drama to fill your Wednesday evenings with thoughts of cosmic catastrophe:

JERICHO is a drama about what happens when a nuclear mushroom cloud suddenly appears on the horizon, plunging the residents of a small, peaceful Kansas town into chaos, leaving them completely isolated and wondering if they're the only Americans left alive. Fear of the unknown propels Jericho into social, psychological and physical mayhem when all communication and power is shut down. The town starts to come apart at the seams as terror, anger and confusion bring out the very worst in some residents.

I strongly suspect that this story of civic collapse in the face of natural disaster was inspired by last year's Katrina disaster. In fact, the only American city where you can rouse a rabble at the drop of a hat is Springfield, where the Simpsons live.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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