When a world figure dies, so much is written about them, I rarely feel compelled to join in on the avalanche of tributes and commentary.
The occasion of the death of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is one of those moments, She was unquestionably one of the giant figures of the latter half of the 20th century.
I have noted, however, among some writers and other figures in her country, and in mine, an attempt to denigrate Mrs. Thatcher, almost all of this out of political spite.
The words “divisive,” “controversial,” “headstrong,” “vindictive,”and “unwomanly” are among many terms employed pejoratively (some of these terms otherwise might not be considered negatives) in this petty spite. In fact, her most famous unofficial title, “The Iron Lady,” which she bore proudly, was originally penned by her sworn enemy, the Soviets, because of her long opposition to communism.
Margaret Thatcher, like all politicians, made mistakes. Some of her policies did not work out. But to have played a vital part, along with Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Mikhail Gorbachev in ending the Cold War (1945-90), and in defeating totalitarian communism, places Baroness Thatcher in some very exclusive and important company. Completely on her own, she stood down attempts by the chronically dysfunctional Argentine government to annex the Falkland Islands, and helped restore a waning British self-identity.
The United Kingdom was once the greatest naval power the world has even known. It was for a few centuries the world’s greatest colonial power. At the outset of the 20th century, however, Britain was in decline, militarily and economically. By the end of the 20th century that decline had significantly increased. What has remained, however, on that small island is a legacy of language, law, and courage unmatched perhaps by any other national experience.
Even now, the UK remains outside (a Thatcher policy) the collapsing Eurozone, and holds its own with the major European powers of Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
Just as scholars, analysts and other commentators (including myself) are dissecting and reconsidering the careers of Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the heroes of the previous generation in the West, two great men who were, as all of us are, flawed and made mistakes, there will be time enough to analyze Margaret Thatcher’s time on the political stage.
The “death parties” and other “celebrations” of her death in the U.K. are childish and unbecoming of the British people. The denigrations of her contributions, at the moment of her death, are quite petty, especially by those men and women who fancy themselves as liberal advocates for women and feminism, but can’t allow that an English woman could accomplish so much for what she cherished and believed.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
The leaders of Italy and France essentially “blackmailed” Frau Merkel into reversing her decision to stop the bailouts, and one more time, a stopgap
“plan” has been put into place to stave off the day of European reckoning. A new and inexperienced conservative prime minister in Spain, and a
disappointingly weak conservative prime prime minister in Great Britain, have gone along, having their own hands full with local economic problems. Troubled economies in Greece and Portugal are doing nothing really to correct their own problems.
Having begun various programs of austerity, European leaders are now being pressured to reverse themselves to promote “growth.” In this case, the word “growth” is a euphemism for repeating the old policies which have caused the continental economic crisis. Its assumption is the discredited notion that an economy can spend its way out of its problems while, at the same time, increasing taxes on the rich.
Lest I be accused of simply pointing an American finger at the Europeans in their time of crisis, I need to cite the unfortunate role of the American president, Barack Obama, who has pressured the Europeans to adopt the “growth” approach and reject austerity. Mr. Obama, of course, practices in the U.S. what he preaches for Europe, and the result has been a lagging economy, high unemployment, slow growth and general pessimism about a recovery that does not ever seem to arrive. Mr. Obama’s motive is also informed by his belief that if the “growth” band-aid is not applied, the troubles of the European economy could hurt his own chances for re-election by further depressing American trade with Eurozone member nations in the near term.
The outlook section of the Christmas Day Sunday edition of The Washington Post offered another one of their “Five Myths about —-” op-ed pieces. I have found most these op-eds to be reasonably accurate and politically unbiased. Yesterday’s subject was former British Prime Minister (and American Conservative heroine) Margaret Thatcher. “Five Myths about Margaret Thatcher” is consistent with what I had heard from both British acquaintances and from some of the senior Reagan staff who knew her well. One of the most important attributes cited was her gift for choosing her battles wisely and avoiding those she could not win. This knack was a key contributor to her overall success. It is also something to which contemporary American conservatives and Republicans might want to pay close attention. This was an important attribute of Ronald Reagan’s and was one of the foundations of his success in politics and as president; he used his political capital wisely. The Post op-ed closes with a nice succinct discussion of Thatcher’s political philosophy and those who would falsely blame her (and Reagan) for the financial crisis of 2008. In debunking the myth that “Thatcherism” caused the global financial crisis, it closes with the observation:
Thatcher stood for thrift, sound money and balanced budgets, powered by private enterprise. The uncontrolled explosion of debt in Western economies that followed her time in power would have appalled her.
Well said. It should appall each and everyone one of us. Following is the complete article:
Five myths about Margaret Thatcher
By Claire Berlinksi, Published: December 22
1. The Iron Lady never backed down.
Not true. Her genius was her gift for choosing her battles wisely and avoiding those she couldn’t win. In 1981, for example, the National Union of Mineworkers — Britain’s most powerful union — threatened to strike. Despite urgent warnings from her advisers, Thatcher had made no preparations to withstand a conflict with the miners, and she capitulated immediately to their demands. She spent the next three years preparing to take them on: Her government stockpiled coal, devised schemes to smuggle strategic chemicals into power stations, changed the trade union laws and infiltrated MI5 spies into the miners’ inner circle.
When another strike loomed in 1984, she was ready. Previous mining strikes had ended after only weeks. Not this one. Over the course of a year, as Britain waited to see who would break first, Thatcher proceeded to crush the strike with a brutal, calculating ruthlessness that stunned the public. Neither labor nor the unions ever recovered.
2. Thatcher was prim, dowdy and moralistic.
Not at all. As a number of her colleagues told me, she has a ribald sense of humor and was quite unconcerned when her ministers got themselves into sordid adultery flaps. One of her civil servants, for example, remembered desperately trying to finesse a compromise between Thatcher and her chancellor, the Cabinet minister responsible for the economy, during a dispute over the budget.
His delicate diplomacy was upended when Thatcher came back to No. 10 Downing St. from the House of Commons, apparently quite drunk, and discovered her chancellor holding a secret strategy meeting. She strode in uninvited, kicked off her shoes, tucked her heels under herself and declared, “Well, gentlemen, let’s just settle this now, shall we?” She “held court like a queen bee,” the civil servant said — and thus was it settled in her favor.
Afterward, the others could be heard muttering among themselves, “Phwoar, wasn’t she sexy tonight?” French president Francois Mitterand is said to have called her Brigitte Bardot with Caligula’s eyes.
3. She was against European unification.
Yes, she is known as the great Euroskeptic. But the peculiar truth is that for most of her career, she was a passionate advocate of European unification. In 1975, she led the Tory faction of the “Vote Yes” campaign in referendum to determine whether Britain should stay in the Common Market, the precursor to the modern European Union. The Single European Act of 1986, which revised the Treaty of Rome to expand the power of the European Economic Community, as the Common Market was then known, was her initiative.
Thatcher was an ardent Europhile, in fact, until the issue of the single currency came up. That, she believed, would require one European economic policy, leaving Britain without access to the key economic instruments of a sovereign government.
In October 1997, then-Labor Chancellor Gordon Brown announced that the Treasury would set five tests to ascertain whether the economic case for joining the euro had been made. Thatcher might as well have written the test. The case was never made. History has obviously proved her right.
4. No one would meddle with Britain if she were still in power.
It is often said that if only Margaret Thatcher were in power, Britain wouldn’t be in this mess — “this mess” being whatever has just gone wrong. When the British Embassy in Iran was stormed recently, many in the British media rushed to insist that this would never have happened if Thatcher were in charge. GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann have invoked her legacy to imply their ferocity when asked how they would formulate policy toward Iran.
But in 1979, President Jimmy Carter asked Thatcher for “the strongest possible remonstration or action” to pressure Iran, asking Britain to reduce its diplomatic staff in the country. Thatcher responded that she did not believe it “wise to make a political point of any reduction, partly because we doubt whether the Iranians would be much impressed and partly because of the risk of retaliatory action against those remaining.” In 1984, Moammar Gaddafi loyalists opened fire on demonstrators from the second floor of the Libyan Embassy in London, killing a young British policewoman. The shooters were permitted to leave the country. They were not arrested and tried, despite howls of outrage from the British media.
Why not? Because Thatcher feared reprisals against British citizens in Libya. This is precisely the sort of thing that would never happen if Thatcher were still in power, except that in this case, Thatcher was in power.
5. “Thatcherism” caused the global financial crisis.
This is among the most muddled ideas about Thatcher. It is true that failure of regulation was a significant factor in the 2008 financial collapse and it is true that Thatcher promoted deregulation. As leader of the Opposition, she once interrupted a droning speech by a fellow Tory about the “middle path” the party must follow. She extracted a copy of free-market thinker Friedrich von Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty” from her briefcase, held it up before the audience, then slammed it on the table. “This,” she said, “is what we believe!”
But the deregulation she pursued had nothing to do with the lack of oversight that contributed to the meltdown on Wall Street. Before Thatcher, commissions of civil servants decided, for example, what sorts of cars Britons should drive. That was the kind of regulation she ended. She was a passionate proponent of regulation that makes free markets function properly — otherwise known as the rule of law.
Thatcher supported stringent bank regulation. Consider the 1986 Financial Services Act which, contrary to its reputation, closed loopholes in investor protection laws, boosted the enforcement power of regulators, and applied the same investor protection standards to a broad range of securities and investment activities.
Thatcher stood for thrift, sound money and balanced budgets, powered by private enterprise. The uncontrolled explosion of debt in Western economies that followed her time in power would have appalled her.
Claire Berlinksi, a journalist in Istanbul, is the author of “There is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters.”
This photo seems to have gone viral in recent weeks as evidence of the tack that Democrats plan to take against Gov. Romney should he clinch the GOP presidential nomination next year. The photo speaks for itself, and features a young-ish Mitt Romney showing off the fruits of his labor:
Of course, in times like these, Republicans tend to fret over accusations of Aristocracy. How, after all, can the average middle income, middle aged American, struggling to make ends meet, be expected to connect with a fellow who, as a mere youth, was seemingly rolling in dough? If only there were evidence from a recent national election in a Western nation that voters will rally behind an upper-class conservative leader despite tough economic times.
Oh, wait, there’s totally evidence from a recent national election in a Western nation that voters will rally behind an upper-class conservative leader despite tough economic times:
The fellow pictured second from the left in the upper row in the above photo is none other than British Prime Minister David Cameron, immortalized as a member of the Aristocratic Bullingdon Club during his days at university. This photograph was disseminated as part of a classist campaign against Cameron during the last U.K. general election. Look how well that turned out for Labour. The reality is that the public is not in the mood to reject someone who can fix their pain simply because of his inability to feel it.
It’s no secret that I’ve long believed that the sweet spot for conservatives in the U.S., when it comes to cultural cues from a candidate, lies in the urban North, and that a candidate who emanates from a blue state, urban, working class background, would be in the ideal position to capture both culturally red voters and culturally blue persuadables. When Republicans put up a candidate like Rick Perry, voters east of the Missouri River and north of the Mason-Dixon line feel as if they’re being asked to vote for someone from the cast of The Wizard of Oz. But candidates like Tim Pawlenty and Chris Christie bring with them that same self-made status without being culturally foreign to voters in the North, or voters who are products of an urban environment.
Unfortunately, Republicans lack such a candidate this time around, as Christie chose to demur on the race for 2012, and as Pawlenty dropped out early, opting instead to endorse Romney. That leaves Republicans with a limited range of candidates from which to choose, and Romney, for various reasons, remains the best of the bunch. Would Republicans be better off with a nominee who gave off a more gritty, Yankee working class vibe? Of course. But such a candidate no longer exists in the Republican field. And as Cameron’s 2010 election showed, an Aristocratic demeanor is hardly a death knell for a conservative party leader during times like these.
Always fascinating is the manner in which British and American political trends seem to flow in tandem, a dynamic that seems resolute to continue unabated. Despite President Obama’s attempt to form a “special relationship” with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, manufacturing similarities between the two in order to provide a sense of validity to Obama’s own failed presidency, the reality is that President Obama is much more similar to ousted Labourite Gordon Brown than Cameron. Obama and Brown both emanated from the unreformed Old Left in their respective parties, and like Prime Minister Brown, I suspect that President Obama’s bid for re-election will not end well for the current White House occupant. Barring any major changes in the dynamics of the race for the Republican nomination over the next couple of months, an Obama loss will mean a Romney presidency, and that will give both the U.S. and the U.K. a very similar type of leader, one who, for better or for worse, breaks both from the revolutionary style of his party’s base and from the policy orientation of the opposition party.
The path that took the nations of the Anglosphere on both sides of the Pond to this moment has been similar for everyone involved. The Anglosphere’s rejection of Continental European models of social democracy three decades ago led to the rule of Reagan and Thatcher, who did their best to steer the Anglosphere onto a trajectory somewhat different from the rest of the Western world. Both were followed by tepid and somewhat embattled successors in George H.W. Bush and John Major, each haplessly reigning in the shadow of his predecessor. Then came the great NeoLiberal moment, with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair promising a Third Way for the Anglosphere that would marry economic freedom with domestic largesse, the latter financed via loose credit. George W. Bush then came onto the scene and continued the NeoLiberal domestic policies of buy-now, pay-later, adding to the credit card a series of adventures in the Middle East, efforts which were supported and endorsed by Blair.
By the late 2000s, though, the NeoLiberal-NeoConservative dream had been decimated from within, as easy credit turned into bad credit, resulting in a financial collapse, and as the denizens residing in the sands of Arabia stubbornly refused to trade Sharia for Snooki. This collapse in both economic confidence and geopolitical prowess took down both the Houses of Bush and Clinton and left the Anglosphere with two leftists who just happened to be in the right place at the right time: Gordon Brown and Barack Obama.
The notion that the Anglosphere longed to return to a pre-Reagan/Thatcher political model though was soon upended, as was demonstrated by Brown’s quick exit from 10 Downing and President Obama’s brief honeymoon prior to losing public confidence and giving Republicans their largest House majority in many decades. Were Congress able to call a vote of no-confidence in the Executive Branch, Obama would already be gone. And as things currently stand, the candidate who will depose Obama on behalf of the Republican Party bears many striking similarities to the current British Prime Minister who ended Brown’s reign and brought the Tories back to power.
Both Cameron and Romney emanate from upper-income backgrounds, a fact that was used against Cameron in his bid for Prime Minister and that has and will continue to be used against Romney as well. Both bring with them the sense of Noblesse Oblige that prevents them from taking on entitlements in the manner that more middle class conservative politicians such as Reagan and Thatcher were able to pull off. With the exception of Romney’s brief flirtation with the world of v-chips in personal computers during his 2008 campaign, neither Cameron nor Romney seem particularly angry at modern culture, and both are sufficiently urbane as to avoid the knuckle-dragger image that scares away urban and suburban educated swing voters.
Interestingly, both Cameron’s campaign last year and Romney’s campaign this year have involved reassuring voters that they will protect their nations’ most popular entitlements. Cameron specifically ran an ad campaign promising to “cut the deficit, not the NHS,” referring to the British National Health Service, something of a third rail over in the U.K. Meanwhile, Romney, when contrasting himself with Gov. Perry in recent weeks, has deemed himself the candidate who wants to “save Social Security.” In a way, both Cameron and Romney are running campaigns that give validation to core elements of the 20th Century welfare state of their respective nations, breaking from the more revolutionary elements of their parties that are seeking a more transformational endeavor.
Whatever one thinks of this approach, the reality is that David Cameron is now the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the leader of the Conservative Party, and that Mitt Romney will probably be the next President of the United States and the leader of the Republican Party. What lies ahead is anyone’s guess though. The fact that Labour now leads Cameron’s Tories in polls of British voters shows the difficulty that any conservative leader will face amidst continued economic malaise and unpopular spending cuts. The moment President Romney takes office, his demise will become the primary goal of such diverse figures as Hillary Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, all of whom will be humming “Hail to the Chief” as they prepare for the race for 2016. It’s certainly possible that both Cameron and Romney will succeed in their efforts to chart a new, center-right approach to governance in their respective nations that is neither a diet version of their left-wing opposition nor a storm-the-palaces approach as desired by those on their right flank. It’s also possible that such a strategy will end up pleasing no one, angering everyone, and paving the way for the return of Labour and the Democrats to the helm of the Anglosphere later in the decade.
While the dog days of the race for the presidency creep along here in the States, over in Merry Old England, riots have been dominating the news. British conservative and proud curmudgeon John Derbyshire weighs in on the events that are taking place in his native land:
Why does the British government not do its duty? Because it is the government of a modern Western nation, sunk like the rest of us in trembling, whimpering guilt over class and race.
Through British veins runs the poisonous fake idealism of “human rights” and “sensitivity,” of happy-clappy multicultural groveling and sick, weak, deracinated moral universalism — the rotten fruit of a debased, sentimentalized Christianity.
When not begging for forgiveness and chastisement from those who rightfully despise him, the modern Brit is lost in contemplation of his shiny new car or tweeting new gadget; or else he has given over all his attention to some vapid TV production or soccer team.
I treasure my faint, fading recollections of Britain when she was still, for a few years longer, a nation.
Today Britain is merely a place, a bazaar. Let it burn!
Derb’s usual tongue-in-cheek cynicism notwithstanding, the old Brit does make a very good point about the manner in which the Anglosphere has become decadent. And by decadent, I don’t mean that, gasp, someone, somewhere might be engaging in sexual activity in a manner which garners the disapproval of another. Quite frankly, viewing sex as the primary focus of morality is highly superficial and totally misses the point, or at least misses my point. When I refer to the decline of the Anglosphere into decadence, I am talking about the manner in which Anglosphere cultures are losing the core values that brought them to the pinnacle of the globe in the first place. These values include things like personal responsibility, recognizing that actions have consequences, thrift, strength of character and of will, and the willingness to dedicate one’s life to something greater than oneself. Another of these values is the search for truth, and the realization that, as the great Briton George Orwell put it, to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. It was that search for truth that made the Anglosphere the primary propagator and defender of individual liberty for a thousand years.
The great Lady Thatcher once observed, “In my lifetime, all our problems have come from mainland Europe and all the solutions have come from the English-speaking nations across the world.” Today’s politically correct world would have branded her a bigot for such a statement, but there is more than a kernel of truth that lies therein. From the Magna Carta on down, it has been the Anglosphere that has been pushing the world towards an organization of societies that leads to greater recognition of and fealty to the primacy of the individual, and the submission of the collective to the individual, not the other way about. Indeed, were it not for the Anglosphere, the 20th Century would likely have been the point at which the globe was swallowed up by the competing ideologies of Communism and Fascism, which had so enticed the peoples of Asia and Continental Europe.
It is important to remember that there is nothing “natural” about human liberty. The most natural order is the law of the jungle, where man responds only to his passions and urges and the strong enslaves, captures, and kills the weak. To recognize individual dignity and rights takes the development of morality and ethics, something that separates man from beast. And despite our many millennia of humanity, it remains true that most of human history has been a story of domination and not freedom. It has not been the norm throughout history for humans to organize their societies in a way that unleashes human freedom. That the Anglosphere has been the primary proponent of such a method of organization for the past few centuries is to its credit.
And all of that, I think, is why someone like Derbyshire sees a debased culture in one that values Snooki over stoicism. As Derb points out, the contrast between the Britons of old and the modern-day Englishman admiring the shiniest of his new gadgets is telling, and the same can be said of our own society across the pond. The reality is that we here in the States have lost much of our drive to be the pinnacle of civilization and are instead placated by objects that shine and glisten, not unlike our primate ancestors from which we descended and evolved. If Western civilization is at some point lost to the bowels of history, the decline will have come not from without, but from within.
Conservative British MEP Daniel Hannan, who became a YouTube sensation after blasting [now-former] Prime Minister Gordon Brown for his spendthrift ways, to the man’s face, (and an MEP whom some see as a potential future Prime Minister of Britain) sees a presidential candidate worth supporting in Gov. Gary Johnson.
Hannan came out in support of Johnson in his latest Telegraph column, who calls the two-term governor a “sea-green incorruptible who is surely the most anti-government candidate ever to have sought the GOP presidential nomination,” and places Johnson in the same category as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and Chris Christie.
Hannan sums up his seal of approval thusly:
The fragility of the US economy is perhaps the gravest threat to world prosperity. Heaven knows the White House needs someone who can balance the books. Well, my American friends, if you’re looking for a president with the gimcrack charisma of a Blair or a Clinton, stick to the incumbent. But if you’re looking for someone who has shown that he can cut government spending, ecce homo [Latin: “behold the man”].
And if, by some chance, you missed the speech that made Hannan an international conservative hero, you must see this:
Right now there is a fascinating battle going on in the Badger State. To keep it brief, the Wisconsin Teacher’s Union is locking horns with the Republican dominated legislature and Republican Governor Scott Walker. The Democrats have literally fled the state, heading to Illinois and schools have been shut down in many districts as teachers and other union supporters descend upon Madison to protest a piece of legislation aimed at reforming the state’s pension system and ending collective bargaining for the unions.
So far, Governor Walker and the Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature are holding firm. And good for them. The way I understand it, the Governor is essentially saying that it’s time to change the way the state of Wisconsin deals with their public service unions. The Governor is probably looking at what happened to his neighbors in Michigan and other Midwestern states that caved to the unions and is deciding that he doesn’t want that fate for his state.
This is a pivotal moment early on for Governor Walker and the Wisconsin Republican Party. They can’t capitulate to the thuggish tactics used by the unions. Here in Florida a couple of years ago, the teacher’s union made their students (from preschool up) write letters to their state legislators asking to “save my teacher” and “let me keep my education” to try and bully them into not reforming the system. This has got to stop. Times are tough and the teacher’s union, along with the whole education system, is going to have to suffer through the cuts and reforms like everyone else.
We’ve seen unions do this before, across the pond in Great Britain. Back during the Thatcher years, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), led by a radical communist Arthur Scargill, went on strike against the Conservative Government’s pit closure program. For an entire year, from 1983-1984, there were protests, pickets, and pitched battles in Britain between strikers and police. Back in the 1970’s, the NUM’s strike had broken the back of Ted Heath’s Tory government, and the Labour Party was in their pockets anyways. So a miner’s strike was a pretty formidable thing. But Margaret Thatcher stayed firm. The Lady wasn’t a turnin. Eventually, she triumphed. The NUM’s strike collapsed. Since then, a union strike has never again reached the point where it threatened the stability of the British Government. Margaret Thatcher had conquered one of the most powerful unions in Britain.
Our Republican Governors, from Chris Christie to Mitch Daniels to Scott Walker, appear to be following in the footsteps of the Iron Lady. Knowing that their state’s need reform, these three Governors are taking on their states public sector unions. As with the British Miner’s, the public sector unions aren’t going to play fair, nor are they going to be nice. However, if our leaders do just what Thatcher did, stand firm and not give in to their demands, we’ll win. This could be the tipping point in Northern, unionized states. If Christie, Daniels, Walker and others beat the unions now, they might well break the back of the public sector unions in their states. Considering how important the unions are to the Democratic efforts in those states, this could have serious electoral consequences in the future.
It’s high time someone smashed these unions and now is the chance. So Governor Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature, go for it!
…and Why He Needs to Learn it for 2012.
A charismatic candidate, with the ability to reach out to minorities, and a stated desire to move beyond the party leader idolized by the rank and file. A “big society” conservative, unwilling to talk about the issues nearest and dearest to the firebrands in his base, but forced to do so by circumstances. A party leader seen as the most electable alternative—particularly in head-to-head match-ups with his opposition—who eventually triumphs, but at a high cost.
If this saga, that of British Tory Party leader David Cameron, sounds familiar, it should. History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme, and in early 2011, it looks like David Cameron’s story might just rhyme with the 2012 presidential candidacy of Mike Huckabee.
The similarities between Huck and David are legion, and they represent both positive and negative qualities that these candidates share. Both have made minority outreach, and softening the image of their party, a hallmark of their political careers. Of course, they went about it in slightly different ways—I don’t expect Huckabee to announce he’s not a global warming skeptic or back off from his conservative immigration stance—but the pillar both men seemed most ready and willing to abandon from the old party orthodoxy was economic conservatism. Both were also quick to announce the death of the old Reagan and Thatcher consensus within each party, a fact which helped differentiate Huck from his competitors in 2008, and was more successful in gaining Cameron the victory in his party leadership struggle. Both Huck and Cameron have “base issues”. Rank and file Tories were suspicious of Cameron’s new “big society” project, and many conservatives within the Republican Party remain wary of Huckabee’s lack of fiscal conservatism. Neither man was particularly experienced on foreign policy, but for Cameron, who can simply find his party’s brightest light on foreign policy issues and make him or her foreign secretary, this is less of a problem. Huckabee’s weakness on this issue will have to be overcome with good foreign policy staff work, and the selection of top-shelf surrogates.
More centrally, however, I think there’s a philosophical continuity between Huckabee and Cameron. Cameron calls it “big society” conservatism; Huck doesn’t have a name for it. At it’s core, this philosophy, I think, tries to go beyond the dynamic of individual-versus-government, and speak up for the mediating structures (church, family, community), which sit between these two polar opposites. Rick Santorum, in his controversial book It Takes A Family, makes a similar argument. There have always been conservatives like this in the Anglo-American tradition, but in the fusion of conservatism and classic liberalism, communitarian conservatives have tended to get lost in the shuffle. This is probably a shame, as the sort of virtuous free society envisioned by libertarian individualists almost certainly requires such mediating structures to function.
But Cameron and Huckabee (and to an extent George W. Bush before them), have a unique take on communitarian conservatism. Since government, they argue, has done a great deal to wreck these mediating structures, it is up to government to fix them. And both Huckabee and Cameron are comfortable using the power of the federal government directly to create the conditions which foster such communitarian regeneration, in ways which make limited government advocates nervous.
Ironically, I think Huckabee may face some of the same challenges in his 2012 race which Cameron did in the 2009 British elections. First, of course, Huckabee would have to (A) decide to run and (B) win the nomination. For Cameron, these two hurdles did not exist, since the British parliamentary system picks it’s party leader long before elections are called (those bemoaning the length of American campaigns and the “permanent campaign” often forget that, in countries with shorter campaign seasons, party leaders are chosen by parliamentary cadres, card-carrying members and/or back-room wheeler dealers). Assuming Huckabee can overcome these two uniquely American hurdles, he still must face the factor which almost sank David Cameron: circumstance.
It is almost a truism, and no less accurate for all that, that candidates almost never get to talk about the things they want to, when running for office. This was certainly the case for David Cameron, who was forced to pivot from the big society programs and kinder gentler Toryism which were his hallmark, to an aggressive deficit-cutting, immigration-curtailing candidate reminiscent of the Thatcherism he sought to move beyond. Likewise Huckabee, who is not an economic conservative or limited government advocate at heart, will likely be forced to take on the mantle of austerity when he runs in 2012. Even if the economy improves temporarily in 2011, there are enough potential economic crises on the way to keep economic issues at the heart of our political debate. What, for example, happens when twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings with literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loans start defaulting enne mass? Or, what if candidate Huckabee is faced with a massive foreign policy crisis?
Mike Huckabee can, potentially, learn from David Cameron’s successes and failures. The Tories, after all, did manage to throw out labor, all be it somewhat underwhelmingly, and they did so with a high number of minority MPs newly elected. Cameron broke into long-time Labor and LibDem strongholds in his win, but also failed in certain key ridings. For Mike Huckabee, the biggest lesson is: be prepared to transcend your base. For Cameron, this was the moderate reformist wing of the Tory party, while for Huckabee it is the conservative evangelical element within the Republican Party. But Huckabee, like Cameron before him, may be limited by his inability to demonstrate to fiscal conservatives and defense hawks that he is, fundamentally, one of them. Huckabee could also benefit from a little philosophizing. There’s an argument to be made that strong communities foster individual liberty, and if Huckabee wants to unite the party without substantially changing his politics, he needs to make it. Finally, the biggest lesson from Cameron’s travails is also the simplest, and as a Baptist minister, Huckabee should appreciate it. There is a famous passage in the Old Testament (in the book of judges I believe), which stated that the Men of Issachar “new the times”. For a presidential candidate, “knowing the times” is an essential ingredient for success. No candidate can prepare for all eventualities, but it is possible to have a smart, flexible and effective policy staff, which can provide rapid-yet-thoughtful responses to developing crises. For a candidate not generally associated with policy wonkishness like Huckabee (or Cameron), such a group is essential.
I don’t know whether Huckabee will be the nominee, and I’m not particularly sure I want him to be. While I am sympathetic to communitarian conservatism, I’m not sure a nation with an economy in crisis is in the mood to be receptive to it, and I am a bit concerned—regarding both Huckabee and Cameron—that their desire to use government to undue the previous mistakes of government may back-fire. But, on the off chance that Huckabee is our nominee, I think it’s important for him to learn from—and improve upon—the electoral fortunes of another big-society conservative across the pond. And, he’d better learn his lessons well, because whatever else you can say about Barack Obama, he’s at least a hundred times more effective a politician than Gordon Brown.
(Note: this is a bit off the beaten path for the 2012 focus here, but I was inspired by Dave Gaultier’s excellent post of a couple of days ago. I claim no particular expertise on minority outreach; these reflections are drawn from working for Bush-Cheney’s 72 hour program on Hispanic outreach in 2004, living in a part of Washington DC demographically dominated by minorities for the past three years, and studying comparative politics).
There’s been a lot of talk recently about GOP minority outreach, as happens every so often. In this case, the talk has been largely spurred by an editorial written by former Florida governor Jeb Bush about the need for Hispanic outreach. Yet as is so often the case, this talk mostly revolves around the proposition that all the party needs to do is follow the speaker’s own beliefs, and minorities will flock to the party. Social conservatives point to high levels of opposition to abortion, while economic conservatives talk about minority small business ownership. Self-proclaimed moderates bemoan the party’s drift to the right, which is causing Republicans to become an old, white, rural party, in their estimation.
All of this talk has one common element: it misses the point. The problem, as it so often does, cuts to a Pygmalion project tendency among people of all political persuasions. There is a common assumption that everyone—or at least all the reasonable people—secretly think like I do, and, if the unreasonable people just understood things better, they would think like me too. As politically-minded people with fixed opinions about things, we are all guilty of this, to one extent or another. However, the problem often goes much deeper. Because we—and all of our friends—often make decisions about which party and candidate to support based on complex policy calculations, we assume that everyone else will make decisions based on the same criteria. Thus, the key to attracting minorities is to create the correct precisely calibrated set of policies to attract them.
Studying politics, particularly comparatively, I’ve found a different phenomenon is more often the case.; by and large, local issues trump national concerns in the minds of voters. Let me give you an example from British local counsel elections., which illustrates this point dramatically. A BBC reporter spent a day before one of the recent local counsel elections shadowing a candidate of the Fascist, self-admittedly racist British National Party as he campaigned in a neighborhood largely inhabited by Afro-Caribbean immigrants. This reporter was baffled by the fact that some of these immigrants were voting for a party which used hatred of immigrants as a national-level rallying-cry. How could this happen? In shadowing the BNP candidate, the BBC reporter rarely heard questions asked about the BNP’s views on immigration, or the often racially-tinged pronouncements of their party higher-ups. Instead, as one of the local residents put it: “we’re voting for you because you’re the ones who took care of the rat problem.” The BNP’s national policies couldn’t have been more inimical to these Afro-Caribbean immigrants; Tom Tancredo is a La Raza advocate by comparison. Yet, because the BNP showed up, and governed competently, the locals were willing to vote for their local counsel candidates.
Now, just to be abundantly clear (this is the internet and people do like to take things out of context, so I want to be specific), I’m certainly not advocating we copy anything from the obnoxious BNP, nor do I think the situation of the Republican Party and the BNP are in any way analogous. However, I do think this anecdote is an example of a phenomenon of interest to Republicans. The lesson is simple; national-level policy is not particularly important. The crux of a successful minority outreach strategy can be summed up in five words: show up, then govern competently. This, of course, begins with “showing up”, which, it would seem, is harder for Republicans than you might think. The fact is, in many minority neighborhoods, the residents have never been visited by a Republican canvasser, let alone a Republican candidate. Urban parties, or parties in predominantly minority areas, are often very poorly resourced, if at all. At most, Republicans will make a push in these areas a couple of weeks before a presidential election, and hence way too late to counter a life-time of Democratic messaging.
Minority outreach is not going to be quick and easy, and it will take time. This needs to be a priority over multiple election cycles, not just for the 2012 cycle (it’s probably already too late for that). And, when Republicans do show up, it won’t be enough to talk about big, complex, national-level problems, and bombard these newly-contacted potential voters with information about how our policies are better than Democratic policies for them. First contact should come from local Republican parties and candidates, interested in solving local problems. Fix the sewers, curb the influence of gangs, reform the prison system in order to bring down recidivism rates for non-violent offenders, and reintegrate non-violent offenders into society, find creative, conservative policies which, at the local level, will help poor minorities stay in their homes amidst increasing gentrification. Help their kids get a better education, and real, good-paying jobs. The problems will very, but the method is simple. Show up, listen to the concerns of local people, then show them how you can solve the most pressing issues they have at a local level better than the Democrats. A good example of how this can be done (and a much less obnoxious example than the BNP) comes from the British Tories, and their excellent think tank, the Center for Social Justice. Not all of CSJ’s solutions are directly transmissible to the US, nor should they be. However, they focus their policy work not on national-level issues, such as NHS reform, but on revitalizing broken urban communities. That, not these broad, national policy issues, is the immediate focus which minority outreach will require of our policy-oriented thinkers.
But what about national elections? What about policy questions? First, minorities won’t trust Republicans with national policy until we’ve demonstrated our competence on a local level. Second, if local candidates have governed successfully, and want to move up to national-level offices, chances are they’ll vote the interests of their constituents in a uniquely Republican way. Through watching these successful Republican politicians, we will actually gain a picture of those areas of agreement and disagreement between minority communities and Republicans. What I suspect we will find is, like any other group in the history of politics, minority groups are not monolithic on matters of policy. Some will be social conservatives, some fiscal conservatives, some moderates, and some will lean left no matter what outreach Republicans conduct. This is why arguments that x policy will make minorities flock to the Republican Party in droves, or that Y policy will make minorities into Democrats for generations, are ridiculous. Surely, if the BNP can convince people to vote for them, on a local level at least, in immigrant communities by showing up and governing competently, the Republican party can do much much better by doing the same. It won’t be quick, easy, or emotionally satisfying to the Pygmalion project politics in which we all indulge. On the other hand, it has the virtue that it just might work.