Moderation for Non-Moderates
I have a new piece up at Discourse commenting on the removal of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy asking, “Where Is the DC Uniparty When We Need It?”
The eternal complaint of political activists on all sides is that the federal government is controlled by a bipartisan “uniparty,” a stolid and staid D.C. establishment that agrees internally on all the most essential issues and is always out to smother the disruptive plans of radicals.
At the current moment, I think many of us are thinking: if only.
Back in the day, all other things being equal, I would have delighted at the defeat of “the establishment” by a faction of radicals. But the salient characteristic of the recent conflict over government funding and party leadership is that there is no positive goal it is attempting to achieve. I link to Michael Strain on this, but the full quote from him is worth reading.
“We are truly heading for the first-ever shutdown about nothing,” said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Strain has started referring to the current GOP House-led impasse as “the ‘Seinfeld’ shutdown,” a reference to the popular sitcom widely known as “a show about nothing.” “The weirdest thing about it is that the Republicans don’t have any demands. What do they want? What is it that they’re going to shut the government down for? We simply don’t know.”
As I describe it:
Previous showdowns over government funding were driven by specific demands for budget cuts that had broad support from a majority in the House, with negotiators working frantically up to the last moment to broker a deal. But what was this one about? There was no Republican plan for reforms or spending cuts, and the only specific result seems to be the removal of aid to Ukraine from the temporary spending bill. That says a lot about the Gaetz faction’s priorities, yet it is still very much a minority position even within the Republican caucus.
So, this shutdown crisis was an act of pure nihilism. It was about a few agitators blowing things up just to show that they could.
I go on to suggest that Democrats find a a sufficiently moderate consensus candidate and try to peel off enough moderate Republicans to elect their own Speaker. Such a governing majority wouldn’t be able to do much, which is fine with me, but it would at least “keep the ordinary, uncontroversial machinery of government going. A coalition of moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans would prevent another shutdown and a debt and budget crisis, and it would ensure the continuation of widely popular policies, such as support for Ukraine, through 2024.”
Partly, this represents the biggest change in my own attitude toward politics over the past 10 years or so: I have warmed up to gradualism.
I am in favor of moderation, but not because I am a “moderate.” I have not changed my vision of my ideal outcome: free markets, small government, vigorous national defense—all of which would be a big change from where we are now. But I have given up looking for a radical caucus to sweep in and accomplish that.
This is partly because the radicals who actually come to power and are able to overturn US politics turn out not to be my kind of radicals. And now we’ve seen the ill effects of the radicals’ chaotic attempts to magnify their influence beyond their numbers and wield power without first gaining a broad consensus.
I invoke James Madison’s idea of the counter-balancing of factions and embrace the virtues of governing from a broad consensus.
More broadly, I am pushing for an ideological realignment of American politics that is historically overdue. I think it’s already underway, and the rise of the pro-authoritarian nationalist conservatives is an indication of that. But what hasn’t happened is the formation of a new and better ideological coalition to counter-balance the nationalists. I see the current crisis as an opportunity to make headway on that.
The nationalists are strong enough to shatter the old party establishment, but there is no new establishment strong enough to oppose them. It’s time to get to work on that. There is a saying with old roots that it is the duty of an opposition to oppose. If so, I supposed it is also the duty of the establishment to establish.