The Right Strategy

I have a rather discursive post up at Taki’s Magazine that draws together a few recent threads about Obamacons, Jim Webb, and the futures (such as they are) of conservatism and paleoconservatism.

Addendum: Memes relating to the subjects above have been making the rounds on several blogs. I’ll just link to three threads here: Ross Douthat, Stacy McCain, and Rod Dreher.



I think Paul Gottfried is altogether too optimistic when he says that the neocons won’t control the Right forever in his post-paleo piece up at Taki’s Magazine. I’m not one to discount “changing historical conditions,” but I wouldn’t count on any changes in the cards in the near future to rid us of the neos. They’re nothing if not adaptable, after all. Gottfried is also more exuberant about “younger (thirty-something) writers and political activists” being “a counterforce to neoconservative dominance” than I think is warranted. I see some hope for the future in the younger generation — I have a piece in the April 21 TAC talking about that — and I certainly see cause for hope in the Ron Paul movement. But all of that has to be weighed against what I said in this post. I’m not sure that a small cadre of journalists, bloggers, and political activists is much of a hook to hang a movement upon. But I don’t know who all Gottfried might have in mind when he writes of “younger (thirty-something) writers and political activists.” Maybe I’m overlooking someone in my own, more pessimistic analysis.

About That Gravelanche…

Richard Spencer has a reaction to it up at Taki’s Magazine. I still think that the true believers in the LP will prevent Gravel from getting the nomination. But Gravel may be the second coming of Russell Means, the Indian-rights activist who was Ron Paul’s rival for the LP’s 1988 nomination. Means was also a fashionably outre lefty with questionable libertarian credentials. But he came rather close to getting the nomination. In fact, if he weren’t running against a serious contender like Paul, he would have won the nomination easily. So perhaps Gravel will do better than I expect.

I’m inclined to vote Libertarian in November no matter who they nominate. Gravel’s entry into the race might actually help Bob Barr if Barr decides to run. The main obstacle Barr would have faced were Gravel not in the race would have been questions about his libertarian orthodoxy — Barr was a drug warrior in Congress, after all, and also voted for the Patriot Act that he now campaigns against. Gravel might make Barr look more orthodox by contrast.

Apropos of nothing in particular, I feel like mentioning that one of the few flaws of Brian Doherty’s otherwise nigh comprehensive history of the libertarian movement, Radicals for Capitalism, is that it contains very little about the 1988 LP nomination fight, even though that fight and the bad blood that followed it had monumental consequences, spurring Murray Rothbard to break with the party and seek allies on the Buchananite Right instead. The present configuration of libertarianism, with a sharp division between the Beltway libertarians and Rothbard-inspired institutions like the Ludwig von Mises Institute, owes a great deal to the fallout from the 1988 race.

And apropos of everything, here’s David Weigel’s coverage at Reason of the Gravelanche (which I think David christened).

Update: Am I selling Means short?  His libertarian credentials were better than Gravel’s, at any rate.

The Neocons’ Bid for the Pro-Life Movement

I have a new piece up at Taki’s Magazine in which I take a look at the efforts of neocons Ramesh Ponnuru, Joseph Bottum, and James Hitchcock to win over the antiabortion movement — and why pro-lifers should reject them and follow the lead of Ron Paul and Benedict XVI instead. Check it out.


Jim Antle responds at 4Pundits to my critique of his article on Sen. James Webb. A few quick replies of my own: Antle says that I “concede” and “agree with” him that Webb isn’t an economic or social conservative. That’s true in the same sense that I concede and agree with him that the sky is blue. Webb campaigned as a social and economic liberal; he’s voted as a social and economic liberal. The point of my original rejoinder was that there’s nothing surprising here. Antle argues that Webb is like the Daniel Patrick Moynihan of the Right. Yes, ok. But we knew that in 2006.

Jim raises several valid new points in his reply to me: why all the paleo emphasis on Webb when certain other Democrats elected in 2006 are also, like Webb, antiwar and pro-2nd amendment? Jim and I agree (or am I “conceding”?) about the answer: as Jim writes, “Webb’s past political incorrectness, stated and implied, on some of these cultural issues is a big part of the answer.” Or as I said last time, we found the “cultural” conservatism of Jim Webb appealing — understanding, as I took pains to point out, that this “cultural” conservatism actually is about culture and not politics. And in general, as Jim might agree (or concede), Webb is a more colorful, interesting figure than Tester.

Now we get into some points of disagreement. Jim writes, “After agreeing with my argument that Webb is neither an economic or social conservative, Dan finds it ‘strange’ that I would bother to cite evidence for this claim.” Specifically, what I found strange was that Jim would cite the Club for Growth and Family Research Council congressional ratings as his evidence. Jim’s well aware of the defects of both groups. And again, you don’t need to consult a James Dobson scorecard to know that Jim Webb is not a social conservative: Webb told us that himself in the ’06 campaign. Where’s the story here?

To my question, “Would Jim, or other paleocons, rather see more Santorums and fewer Webbs?” he replies, “On some issues, yes. On other issues, no.” That’s not an option we get to choose, unfortunately. As I said last time, if Pat Buchanan were running against Jim Webb, I’d vote for Buchanan. Instead, it was George Allen running against him. Did paleos makes the right choice in rooting for or voting for Webb? I think so. And I would guess that Jim still thinks so, too. There was no antiwar social conservative candidate in that 2006 race, and, unfortunately, there probably won’t be in 2012 either.

Jim makes a few accurate criticisms of Webb on the points where Webb is supposed to be strong: on the Iraq War (Webb hasn’t voted to defund it) and civil liberties (Webb supported FISA). “I don’t want to be too hard on Webb,” Jim writes, “even in those cases he tried to make the best of a bad situation and these are all complicated matters on which his predecessor would have been much worse.” That’s all fair enough; this is where Webb has not performed the way paleos might have expected. But then Jim asks, “wouldn’t it be better for paleos to focus on electing more people like Ron Paul and Jimmy Duncan … ?” I wasn’t aware that Jim Webb was running against Paul or Duncan in the 2006 senate race. Jim knows, on the basis of what he’s written himself, that one can root for Webb in a Virginia Senate race while rooting for the much better Ron Paul and somewhat better Jimmy Duncan (who has his own FISA problems) in Texas and Tennessee. There’s no conflict there. Jim hasn’t shown, or even tried to show, that paleo support for Webb detracts from support for Paul or Duncan.

(That argument can be made: paleos surely do cost themselves credibility among conventional conservatives who may not be die-hard Bushies when they support guys like Webb. Trouble is, conventional conservatives haven’t been listening to paleos in the first place.)

Jim concludes by asserting “the Democratic Congress has mostly been a disaster” (true) and “The fact that Bush and the Republican Congress were no great shakes either is no argument for us to be positively supporting these people.” But paleos were not positively supporting “these people” — we were supporting Jim Webb, who was better than George Allen on the most important issue of the day. We were hoping for divided government, but that’s not the same thing as “positively supporting” Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, except in the roundabout sense that a vote for Webb was an indirect vote for making Reid senate majority leader. Jim concludes, “If the best we can come up with in politics are people we sort of like personally, think are authentic, and have made conservative contributions to the culture until we distracted them by putting them in office, then maybe there are better things for us to be doing with our time. Like stamp collecting.” But that’s not the best we can do, and Webb was better than that in 2006, since he was right on a few issues, including the crucial issue of the war.

Jim knows as well as I do that you can’t get everything you want in real-life politics. If you get mixed up in politics at all, unless you happen to be able to vote for Ron Paul every time, you’re sooner or later going to have to make some tough choices between candidates on both sides with whom you disagree on key issues. Then the question becomes, do you vote for the Family Research Council and Club for Growth candidate or do you vote for the antiwar candidate? Paleos made their choice in 2006. Jim’s article and his response to my feedback don’t convince me that they made the wrong choice.

Is Jim Webb our Daniel Patrick Moynihan? Well, so what if he is: the neocons were right to support Moynihan, who gave them what they wanted on some of their key issues. Paleos who support Webb are making a prudential judgment, too. That’s politics.

Still a Webbhead

My old American Conservative colleague Jim Antle takes a few shots at Sen. James Webb, the paleo set’s favorite Democrat, over at Taki’s Magazine. But Jim (Antle that is) is mostly firing blanks.

Webb may be a disappointment to those who hoped he would take a firm stand for restricting immigration, but I didn’t have any expectation that he’d do that. During his 2006 campaign, Webb made it clear to anyone who was paying attention that he supported abortion and repudiated his former objections to affirmative action, so nobody can be too surprised by his record in those areas.

Antle shows that Senator Webb is neither an economic nor a social conservative. But again, none of that is surprising, and none of it speaks to why some conservatives and libertarians, myself included, supported him. Our support boiled down to Webb’s opposition to the Iraq War and support for civil liberties, including the right to keep and bear arms. The senator hasn’t disappointed on those scores, even if he hasn’t shined the way we might have wished.

I find Antle’s article rather strange. He’s criticizing Webb for not getting good grades from the Club for Growth and Family Research Council. But Walter Jones, whom Jim still likes and suggests is “more valuable to traditional conservatives” than Webb (and I agree), also gets poor grades from the Club for Growth and is one of that group’s prime targets for 2008. As for the Family Research Council, I’m sure that Rick Santorum got pretty good grades from them while he was still around. Would Jim, or other paleocons, rather see more Santorums and fewer Webbs?

There are plenty of things to object to in Webb’s record. If Pat Buchanan ran for the Senate against Webb, sure, I’d support Buchanan. In fact, depending on whether Webb gets better or worse over time, I might well vote for a third party against him in 2012. But if it comes down to Jim Webb vs. a Bush Republican again, which was the 2006 match-up, I’ll gladly vote for Webb.

Two other points to keep in mind about Webb: a vote for him in 2006 was a vote for divided government, giving Congress some teeth to go after the Bush administration. In 2012, there might be just as pressing a need to vote for a Republican, assuming they can find someone better than a Bush-Allen type, to stop the abuses of a Democratic administration. The other point is that sometimes cultural conservatism is just that — about culture, rather than politics. It doesn’t compensate for his policy flaws, of course, but as one of Daniel Larison’s posts about Webb in 2006 indicated, Webb seems much more like a real person and a real Virginian than George Allen ever did. That’s why many paleos *like* Webb even more than they support him politically.

Finally, just for nostalgia’s sake, here’ s a link to an old post of mine from ’06 about Webb and the race in Virginia. Jim links to it as well, so I figure I have some excuse for dredging it up.