Cutting the Leg Off a Stool?

The Republican Party is often described as a three-legged stool consisting of social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and foreign policy hawks. I had recently been encouraged by the moderate nature of some of Obama’s early appointments (e.g. retaining Joe Lieberman as Chair of Homeland Security, appointing Clinton for Secretary of State, talk of retaining Gates as Secretary of Defense). My thought was that these moves indicated a moderate streak in President-elect Obama that might translate into opposition to radical measures like the Freedom of Choice Act. Ross Douthat, in a characteristically smart
post, has caused me to reconsider, highlighting the dangers of Obama-the-foreign-policy-centrist for social conservatives:

Of the three legs of the rmodern right-of-center stool – social conservatives, small-governmenteers, and foreign-policy hawks, it’s the hawks who almost always have the least to fear from savvy Democratic Administrations. And Barack Obama is nothing if not savvy.

Here’s a fearless prediction: On an awful lot of issues, the Obama foreign policy will end cutting to the right of Bill Clinton’s foreign policy, which was already more center-left than left. Even with the GOP brand in the toilet, Republicans are still trusted as much or more than Dems on foreign policy, mostly for somewhat nebulous “toughness” reasons. So why give the Right a chance to play what’s just about its only winning card, when you can satisfy your base with a phased withdrawal from Iraq that’s scheduled to happen anyway while waxing hawkish on Pakistan, Afghanistan … and who knows, maybe Iran as well?…Meanwhile, on detainee policy, wiretapping, etc. you can earn plaudits from liberals for showily abandoning the worst excesses of the Bush era, while actually holding on to most of the post-9/11 powers that the Bushies claimed….

And with his right flank safely guarded (assuming, of course, that Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iran doesn’t become his Administration’s Iraq), he’ll have that much more political for the big-ticket goals that will guarantee his place in the liberal pantheon – universal health care, a New Deal for energy policy, a succession of young liberal judges who will tilt the Supreme Court leftward for a generation, etc. Among right-wing hawks, there will be strange-new-respectful talk about Obama’s centrist instincts, his Scoop Jackson-ish tendencies, his Reaganesque blend of idealism, pragmatism and strength. Meanwhile, the rest of the right-wing coalition will be getting steamrolled.

This scenario sounds depressingly plausible to me. I hope it does not come to pass (although universal health care, depending on the plan, might be something I would support). The three-legged stool has its flaws, but a Democratic Party marrying fealty to Planned Parenthood, with expanded executive power, and Bush-lite foreign policy to create a permanent majority would be much, much worse.

6 Responses to Cutting the Leg Off a Stool?

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    I’ve been a Republican since the age of 7 in 1964. If the Republican party is a three legged stool, social conservatives make up two of the three legs. Without social conservatives the Republican party would have slightly more electoral success than the Libertarian party.

    However the whole concept of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and foreign policy hawks ignores the fact that many Republicans are all three: I certainly am for example. Reagan was a great leader for the Republican party because he embodied what most conservatives believe: less government, traditional values and strong defense. RINOS always capture press attention, but they are at their weakest in the party now than at any time I can recall.

    As for Obama, he may start out tough in foreign policy, probably too tough, but after the first disaster or two I think he will will come under increasing pressure from the Left to concentrate on domestic policy, slash defense spending, “come home america”, and will then refuse to confront our adversaries if he can kick the can down the road beyond his term. As with all Presidents in foreign policy he will not be a completely free actor, but if left alone I think he will be content to pursue the agenda of the Left here at home.

    The consideration of Clinton for Secretary of State might play into a retreat strategy abroad. Neutralize the biggest threat to him inside of his own party, and then make sure she has as little to do as possible.

  • John Henry says:

    “I’ve been a Republican since the age of 7 in 1964. ”

    Vote early, vote often, vote young, in Illinois, I guess ;-) .

    “However the whole concept of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and foreign policy hawks ignores the fact that many Republicans are all three: I certainly am for example.”

    I agree. It seems to me, though, that a lot of social conservatives automatically gravitate towards the other two legs without much reflection. For instance, K. Lopez over at NR when she said ‘McCain wasn’t with us on torture,’ which was pretty shocking – ‘who’s us?’ And there are significant tensions between SoCons and libertarians. At the same time, it seems to me that foreign policy hawks and libertarians who dislike social conservatives have a disproportionate role in political punditry vis-a-vis their actual influence in terms of votes.

  • “that foreign policy hawks and libertarians who dislike social conservatives have a disproportionate role in political punditry vis-a-vis their actual influence in terms of votes.”

    I certainly agree with that. They are chiefs with no braves. Actually if they were honest with themselves they would acknowledge it. In any mass gathering of Republicans it is always easy to see where the passion and the numbers are. The reaction of the GOP convention to Palin’s speech demonstrated once again where the heart of the Republican party resides.

  • crankycon says:

    I’m with Donald on being all three. I know we’re talking about the Republican Party and not conservatism more generally, but I would also argue that you can’t really be a conservative in any meaningful sense without being socially conservative. Now, there can be disagreements about specific policies, but generally speaking, without the anchor of culture, family, and transcendent moral values, there’s nothing there. I would also add that anti-statist fiscal policy is also a must, but secondary, and there is wider room for specific policy disagreements. And I think foreign policy provides the greatest space for disagreement, because the term “muscular” foreign policy can mean a lot of different things.

    This is all a long way of saying that conservatism without social conservatism is not conservatism.

  • rob says:

    Acvtually, AD should be written previous to the year. It can’t be written so quickly though: November 20th in the Year of Our Lord 2008, or November 20th anno Domini 2008, or November 20th A.D. 2008

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