Monday, September 19, 2005


Construction Politics

A number of observers have pointed out that, in the aftermath of their several high-profile failures (Social Security, Terri Schiavo, Iraq, Katrina), the GOP are particularly helpless at managing the political fallout. They're all about the assault. This made them particularly successful at dismantling the Democratic bloc. They created a politics of destruction. For every problem, the solution was destruction. Tax cuts, for example, are the quintessence of modern GOP politics. They are technique of dismantling government. The rhetorical solution is a healthy economy, but the actual effect is almost always the opposite. In Bush's case, five years of tax cuts begat no economic recovery, but they have sowed the seeds of future slowdowns with massive indebtedness.

The modern GOP is also a lot better at the politics of politics. Karl Rove's strategy of crippling candidates by attacking their strength has a kind of mesmerizing genius. You don't have to offer a solution to any policy problems, or even mention policy. You just Cleland your opponent.

So it's not surprising that, having inherited the mantle of power, the GOP would botch it. They haven't spent much time thinking about sustaining or constructing. It didn't occur to them that cabinet heads might actually do something--these posts were given to the warriors of destruction like Bernie Kerik and Michael Brown. Nor do they handle the fallout of the failure of these heads any more ably. Tooled for attack, the GOP doesn't know how to play defense.

So what of the Dems? They've found themselves in the opposite position. Having spent so long on defense, the Dems are emulating the politics of the right--attack and destroy--but badly. They've handled that task no better than the GOP has handled governance. Following Katrina, the Dems should have lept forward with plans. But having been on the defense so long, they weren't prepared with plans and don't seem to muster much more than feeble attacks on the failures of the GOP.

If the Dems are going to appeal to the population, they're going to have to return, foursquare, to the politics of construction. It's what liberalism means. Global warming (which all serious scientists agree is happening, even apologists who say it's not human-caused) will result in more serious disasters. The conservative response to this should be market driven. People will live where they live, and they'll take risks based on what they can afford, and the actuarial tables will tell insurance companies how to charge them. Which is, obviously, an untenable position in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.

But the liberal position should be to fund agencies to handle these increasingly harmful disasters and spread the cost throughout society. We should have increasingly strict regulation on development and stronger environmental protections. These are the two positions--liberal and conservative. Somehow liberals have lost their ability to plan and construct. We instead wait for the opportunity to jump from the bushes and point at the predictable GOP failures. Yet isn't it the liberal position to fight to stop the disasters in the first place?

Katrina proved that the GOP isn't ready to handle real responsibility. Unfortunately, it showed that Dems aren't, either. Shouldn't this be the moment we decide to change that?

1 comment:

iggi said...


i should probably say something else...well, i've already iterated that the Dems really need to get on the ball. they are so ridiculously spineless that it really doesn't bode well for the next general election...floating memes like this could be a good start.