The Long View 2006-05-31: The Life of Saint George and the Coming of the Third Party

Third parties have a habit of not actually doing much in American politics. The Unity party ticket mentioned here is a prime example.

The Life of Saint George and the Coming of the Third Party

The Bush Administration would be in worse shape were it not for the fact that Congress is in worse shape still: a body that has just alienated public opinion on the immigration issue really should not be claiming newly discovered forms of parliamentary privilege, as it seems to be doing in connection with the FBI search of a congressman's office for (more) evidence of bribery.

That said, though, just what is wrong with the Bush White House? The invaluable Regnum Crucis hits the nail on the head:

[O]ne area that I have been constantly harping on is how tone-deaf the administration has been politically when it comes to defending what is almost certainly going to be the defining event of the Bush presidency [the Iraq War]. Whether it is admitting mistakes (and more importantly correcting them), challenging the critics, or even assisting its supporters in defending the rationales for war (the fact that Arthur Chrenkoff and Steve Hayes respectively have done more for the administration's case in this regard than the entire White House PR staff in of itself speaks as to what utter fools these people have been), the approach of the White House, its Congressional supporters, and the GOP in general have been utterly underwhelming. The fact that the administration didn't even start to notice this until after the Cindy Sheehan/Katrina debacle speaks wonders to just how out of touch many of the people assigned to deal with these issues are, as does the fact that the campaign of speeches to support the war in Iraq has since ended. In 24-hour media environment, especially with a press corps as unsympathetic as this one (and blaming the media is a red herring here - if the administration isn't making an effort to defend itself and its positions, why the hell should they?), you have to be in campaign mode all the time. The Clinton people, love 'em or hate 'em, understood this, but the Bush people clearly don't and it has cost them dearly.

And where does all this lead, you may ask? A mythology-minded correspondent offers this oracle:

To that I would say that the destiny of the Bush Administration is a question of form-criticism. The current president's father really did have the Tyrant Holdfast problem. The administration of George Herbert Walker Bush (1989-1993) was seen as the extension of the administration of Ronald Reagan, who, as we know, was a thousand years old and had reigned for a century, after having defeated the greatest dragon the world had ever seen. In other words, poor GHWB was forced to play the role of the hero who has lived past his freshness date: he became the dragon, if you can imagine a dragon who never failed to write polite thank-you notes.

That is not the current president's kind of story. He is not the redeeming hero whose stages of life represent an archetypal lifetime. Quite the opposite: aside from some inevitable graying about the temples, the most notable thing about GWB is that he does not seem to age. The interest his story affords comes not from the development of the man's character, but from the failure of the events through which he passes to change him.

The life of President Bush is a hagiography. There are several kinds of lives of saints: the hagiography of George Bush is of the sort that emphasizes how the saint, after his conversion, resists temptation and works miracles without putting a hair out of place or raising his voice. His power is not growth, but impassibility.

Of course, even the most equanimous saint may suffer martyrdom before he is canonized. I rather doubt that will happen. Bush will stay in office, and even succeed against all expectation. It's the institutions around him that will suffer damage

* * *

This brings us to the vigil of the dawn of the Third Party. Readers will have noticed that, in America, "Third Party" has something of the ring of "Third Age." Be that as it may, a column by Jonathan Alter draws our attention to an effort to immanentize the eschaton: "A New Open-Source Politics: Just as Linux lets users design their own operating systems, so 'netroots' politicos may redesign our nominating system." The project in question is called Unity 08, and it explains itself thus.

In our opinion, Crucial Issues include: Global terrorism, our national debt, our dependence on foreign oil, the emergence of India and China as strategic competitors and/or allies, nuclear proliferation, global climate change, the corruption of Washington's lobbying system, the education of our young, the health care of all, and the disappearance of the American Dream for so many of our people.

By contrast, we consider gun control, abortion and gay marriage important issues, worthy of debate and discussion in a free society, but not issues that should dominate or even crowd our national agenda.

This is a non-starter, of course. The argument for Third Party is that the political class, particularly in Congress, no longer has a clue about what matters most to the electorate. This manifesto begins by, effectively, conceding the culture wars issues to the Left, which is what happens when these matters are relegated to the courts, which is what caused all the fuss in the first place. Immigration, of course, does not even make it to the list of secondary issues. The agenda of Unity 08 is not a remedy for the alienation of the political class, but a manifestation of it.

Alter's account of the origins and organizers of the Unity 08 is quite dismaying:

This Internet-based third party is spearheaded by three veterans of the antique 1976 campaign: Democrats Hamilton Jordan and Gerald Rafshoon helped get Jimmy Carter elected; Republican Doug Bailey did media for Gerald Ford before launching the political TIP SHEET Hotline. They are joined by the independent former governor of Maine, Angus King,...

Antiques indeed, and of flea-market quality. Of course, Alter is not blind to these shortcomings:

There are plenty of ways for this process to prove meaningless, starting with the major parties deciding to nominate independent-minded candidates like John McCain (OK, the old McCain) or Mark Warner. Third-party efforts have usually been candidate-driven, and the centrist names tossed around by way of example (Chuck Hagel, Sam Nunn, Tom Kean) don't have much marquee value in the blogosphere.

Surely we can do better than this?

* * *

103,000,000 immigrants in 20 years was the forecast of the Heritage Foundation made about the Senate version of the new immigration legislation. I noted the matter on May 16 without, perhaps, giving the numbers a good look. Here, in the interests of fairness, is what the Cato Institute has to say in response:

In a "Web Memo" from the Heritage Foundation, author Robert Rector claims that the Hagel-Martinez immigration bill (S. 2611) would unleash a flood of chain migration that would overwhelm America's capacity to absorb so many people....

A far more credible and objective study just released by the Congressional Budget Office estimates that S. 2611 would increase the U.S. population by only 8 million in the first 10 years. Although more chain migration would be expected in the second decade after the original temporary workers achieve citizenship, the rate of 800,000 immigrants per year is far more in line with recent history and the expected need of the U.S. economy for new workers.

An analysis by President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers exposed a number of flaws in the Heritage study. The CEA found that the study double counts millions of new immigrants, first as guest workers, then again as new green-card holders. It substantially overestimates the number of illegal immigrants who would remain in the United States permanently as well as the number of parents of newly naturalized citizens who would immigrate, and it ignores millions of immigrants would later choose to leave.

I have not gone over these numbers in detail, either, but I might point out that a more interesting figure than the cumulative increase in the population would be the change in the population's composition. If all the growth and much of the replacement is coming from immigrants, then the objection to cultural dilution still stands.

Of course, I'm not inclined to accept Cato's numbers in this context in any case. For a libertarian think tank like Cato to understate the effect of immigration is another case of the National Ice Cream Council publishing a study that proves ice cream is America's favorite dessert.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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