Tuesday, November 13, 2007

If Only One Party's Extreme, It's Not a Mutual Problem

I worried that another wonky column on health care policy would be a bit much for my readers, so this time it's the U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Excited? The only topic less enthralling than tax policy--international law! Hey, but it's my column.

You'll notice that I share the Tribune Sunday op-ed page with someone all upset over some weird plan to create a unified North American currency. Of course, with what's happened to the US dollar recently, maybe we should want to get paid in loonies. This week, Linda's column is a salute to a proposal from a Chandler locksmith that government should require a 4-month boot camp for new fathers of boys. That's your limited government for you! As the late Charles Black used to say, there's no such thing as a principled strict constructionist; sooner or later, they all want to do something.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 11, 2007

Last week on this page, Linda Turley-Hansen demanded that we absolutely must come together to defend our freedoms, to stay together on key issues while agreeing to disagree on the rest! We need unity, never mind labels!

Yeah, sure, fine. But you first, Linda -- if you want unity, agree with me.

All this "I hate partisanship" and "unity" talk really means "shut up and obey me." So forgive me if I find Linda's terror of an imminent unified North American currency to be black-helicopter-and-tinfoil-on-windows stuff.

Linda's call for unity, on threats only she and fellow travelers see, is matched only by pundits who decry the "increasingly partisan" nature of politics. If only politicians could see past party labels and recognize that the real answers to our problems are "centrist" ones!

But as Ezra Klein noted, "centrist" means not opinions near the center of the American public's opinions, but rather opinions similar to those of well-paid Washington pundits, with occasional breaks with one's party on high-profile issues. These folks use "centrist" the same way Linda calls for "unity": Agree with me, for your own good!

There's a fundamental historical illiteracy in these complaints. It makes Americans uncomfortable to remember that for a century after the Civil War, the organizing principle of American politics was race. As Mark Schmitt wrote, it was an accident of history that one political party became home to both Southern conservatives and northern immigrants, and the other to merchants, manufacturers, and minorities. Over the past 50 years, those unwieldy coalitions have drifted apart, yielding us two far more ideologically consistent parties. You may yearn for the bygone days of the Southern white Democrat and the New England Republican, but they only existed because we didn't let blacks enjoy full participation in American life.

It's also historically illiterate to decry "special interests" as a source of partisanship, because those groups generally still operate in a bipartisan fashion. The sugar growers, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, automakers -- all the truly professional players cultivate support in both parties. Even abortion; the top Senate Democrat is pro-life Harry Reid. If you think the problem is too much partisanship, you want more "special interests."

But the final false trope is the "plague on both their houses" argument, that both parties are equally to blame for the widening ideological gulf. This argument usually requires trotting out some left-wing Democrat and some right-wing Republican who are equally far from the speaker's "centrist" position. The problem is that the Democratic wacko is usually some anonymous blogger, while the Republican wacko is a powerful public official.

The latest example comes from Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, who has made it his cause to oppose the U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea. UNCLOS is supported by the Bush administration, the US military, and by environmental and business groups. About 150 other nations already have ratified. Even treaty critics like Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Global Warming Denial, admit that the Navy supports UNCLOS because of the treaty's rules of navigation and exemption of military activities, and that treaty would not require the U.S. to appear in any international court. (But Inhofe opposes the treaty anyway because we might violate it, which could cause our international standing to suffer. It's better our international standing suffers because we hold out on something supported by basically every other country.)

In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the vote to approve was 17-4, with 11 Democrats and six Republicans in favor, and with four Republicans and no Democrats opposed. So a majority of committee Republicans support the treaty. Even the oil industry supports UNCLOS.

This isn't just being partisan, although Kyl does seem more interested in the Republican Senate leadership's position, not what's best for the country. This isn't just being hypocritical, because Republicans who told everybody to obey Gen. David Petraeus on Iraq are ignoring what the same military says about UNCLOS.

This really is about how these days, "mainstream conservatism" is really the black-helicopter-and-tinfoil-on-windows crowd. It's pretty much all they've got left. Unconvinced? Just ask Jon Kyl why he and Trent Lott oppose UNCLOS.

No comments: