Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Issues and 'Infantilism'

Last week Daniel Henninger wrote a transparently self-serving (or, more precisely, [Republican] party-serving) column urging anti-choice Republicans to grow up and support Giuliani. Like any good party hack, he's nervous about the most reliably Republican constituency defecting on a matter of principle. The key passage:

American politics, right and left, has become obsessive about nailing where candidates "stand" on standalone issues--abortion, gay marriage, immigration, the North Pole melting or pulling out of Iraq....In the '60s, the left introduced the "non-negotiable demand" into our politics. It's still with us. It's political infantilism. In real life, the non-negotiable "demand" usually ends about age six. [emphasis added]
Let's see now--what non-negotiable demand did the left introduce in the '60s? Oh, yeah, I remember: civil rights.

The civil rights movement: "political infantilism".

And that's the key to what Henninger is really saying. Look at the list of issues he dismissively describes as 'standalone' issues: Iraq; global warming; civil rights for LGBT people; abortion. He's not talking about single-issue voting (of which I'm not a fan); he's talking about issue voting, period.

Henninger's dismissiveness toward issues is the flip-side of that thing Atrios is always railing about: the Broderesque desire for 'bi-partisan' content-free politics, and disdain for the notion that policy matters. Henninger has the same contempt for people who care about policy; he differs from Broder only in that he seeks a content-free partisanship. Henninger's ideal is a Republican party that rules unopposed and unbound by any sort of principles.

Which, in fact, has been the guiding spirit of the GOP almost since they took Congress in 1994. When they bought into the Reagan-Gingrich line that government is the enemy, they precluded any sort of constructive political effort; in its place, they enshrined the sacred commandments that holding power is more important than using it, that appearances matter more than reality, that seeming to do something is always enough and more important than actually doing anything. (See, for example, Iraq; Katrina; the prescription drug benefit; etcetera, etcetera.) Thus did they bequeath us the howling void at the core of Republican ideology.

I'm a pragmatist. I reject single-issue politics in favor of the broadest possible perspective; I accept the necessity of balancing conflicting interests. In the end, though, I believe that issues matter. I believe that politics matters. That's what makes me different from people like Henninger and Broder.