Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Guest Post: A Pair of Threes

A Pair of Threes, I Suppose I Shouldn't Gamble
From Morning Jolt . . . with Jim Geraghty
Posted with permission
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A lot of readers seemed to enjoy yesterday's assessment of the three inviolate principles of the modern Democratic party (I posted the relevant portion on Campaign Spot here). I realized there's probably another side of the coin, what Republicans think.

Of course, upon further review (as they used to say when instant replay was brought to the NFL), it became clear that there are unwritten, but widely believed principles that Republicans probably ought to hold dear and ones that they probably could leave behind. So, to begin:

Three things I fear Republicans believe:

The media controls everything. Republicans have a legitimate and well-documented complaint about a leftward bias in almost all mainstream media institutions. But somewhere along the line "media bias" became an all-purpose explanation or excuse every time events don't turn out the way a Republican would like. Rarely if ever do you hear a GOP voter say, "Our guys just didn't get the job done. They weren't persuasive. They didn't come up with compelling arguments. They didn't win over the voters' trust, and they made too many mistakes to win the fight." It's strange -- somehow the media bias is all-powerful in years such as 1992, 1998, 2006, and 2008, and some years the media bias suddenly loses all of its power against the GOP, such as in 1980, 1994, 2004, and 2010.

The government wastes a lot of money on other people, but what it spends on me is different. Everybody loves cutting foreign aid, because the folks who get the money are foreigners. Unsurprisingly there's less desire to see government spend less when some of those dollars end up in our own pockets or those of our friends. Some farm-state Republicans talk a good game about economic conservatism until it comes to ethanol and agricultural subsidies. Some elderly Republicans want the government to spend less, but not to reduce anything associated with Social Security. Hawks argue as if we were certain that every penny that goes to the Pentagon is well-spent. Heck, I've even seen self-proclaimed conservatives argue that the benefits of foreign-language education programs outweigh the costs. Er, wait, forget that last one.

One size fits all. Successful conservative governance is going to look different in Louisiana than it does in New Jersey, different in Virginia than it will look in South Carolina, and different in Maine than in Texas. If you're a coastal state lawmaker contemplating offshore oil drilling after the BP oil spill, is it somehow un-conservative to decide that the risk to existing coastal jobs from a spill -- tourism, fishing, etc. -- outweighs the potential jobs created by offshore drilling? Is it so bad to see some states pursuing a more libertarian course and others enacting more socially conservative policies? Wouldn't federalism allow for the most experimentation and result in the most satisfied people?

Three things Republicans should believe (and I think most of them do).

Be skeptical of every new task proposed before government. Do I even have to explain this one? Government does not do many tasks well. Efforts to help people often have unintended consequences. Left alone, most folks will turn out okay.

The government can't legislate morality, but the culture can reinforce it. "Compassionate conservatism" turned out to be more expensive and less effective in practice than on paper, and the world is full of examples of disastrous, even tyrannical attempts by governments to make people do the right thing. But just because government is the wrong tool, it doesn't mean the concern is illegitimate. Right now, I think our culture celebrates some of the worst of human behavior, and this piece from 2009 lays out the case against reality television as culturally corrosive:

We've seen Balloon Boy's dad bring the state of Colorado to a shrieking halt with the false report that his son was in grave danger in a helium balloon thousands of feet above the ground; the use of a woman's womb to produce a litter of eight babies when she already had six children and was living on public assistance; and the break-up of a marriage in slow motion on Jon and Kate Plus Eight (eight children desperately in need of state protective services, that is). Preceding them, MTV offered the spoiled brats of My Super Sweet 16, whose crass greed and ostentatious materialism could turn the most ardent free-marketeer into a Bolshevik revolutionary, and a contestant on CBS's Big Brother held a knife to a housemate's throat. It's enough to make one yearn for the good old days when we watched people eat worms.  

With depressing regularity, we hear of Americans who ought to know better behaving outrageously, obnoxiously, recklessly, and sometimes criminally in an effort to become famous. We're increasingly besieged by narcissists. "Amen, James Wolcott," are not words heard often in this jurisdiction, but as the acerbic lefty critic declares in Vanity Fair, "the ruinous effects of Reality TV have reached street level and invaded the behavioral bloodstream, goading attention junkies to act as if we're all extras in their vanity production.  

I don't want government to ban those programs; I want the culture to "push back" by criticizing and mocking this behavior as foolish and not to be emulated.

The most effective national-security policy is some variation of, "If you try to hurt Americans, we will beat the @#*(% out of you." As mentioned yesterday, the daily weather forecast in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia now includes "cloudy with a chance of hellfire missiles from Predator drones," and no one in the world objects. We know that in a dangerous world, we probably can't prevent every attack forever. But we can avenge every single attempt. I find it fascinating that anyone would object to "an eye for an eye" thinking in response to a war started by a blind sheik and Mullah Omar.

(You notice my work often comes in threes? Three Martini Lunch, three items most days in the Morning Jolt, and so on. I could say that it's a subtle allusion to the significance of the number three -- the Holy Trinity, third time's the charm, the Three Amigos -- but some might conclude it's because I can't count to four.)

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