The Tar Pit

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Hugh Hewitt's Vox Blogoli:
On Jonathan Rauch's Bipolar Disorder

Hugh Hewitt has convened another Vox Blogoli to discuss a passage near the end of Jonathan Rauch's long piece in the Atlantic, Bipolar Disorder, (which has been made available at Hewitt's site to non-subscribers), asking bloggers to comment on "what it says about the author, The Atlantic, and the left's understanding of the Christian culture in America in 2005." First, some background:

Finding the Red State/Blue State model to be oversimplified, but seeking an understanding of that political bipolarity it indicates, Rauch attempts to construct a sort of Political Atomic Set Theory (PAST) of the American electorate.

For example, in contrast to the known quarkiness of Red and Blue voters (in a relatively general sense), Rauch describes Purple swing voters as subatomic entities whose inclinations are more uncertain, except momentarily on Election Day, when they unhappily manifest as Red or Blue partisans -- er, particles.

Like the subatomic particles that live in a state of blurred quantum indeterminacy except during those fleeting moments when they are observed, on election day purple independents suddenly appear red or blue. Many of them, however, are undecided until the last moment and aren't particularly happy with either choice. Their ambivalence disappears from the vote tallies because the very act of voting excludes the nonpartisan middle.

Purple, you see, is a Heisenbergian photon (voton?) of the political spectrum.

Rauch observes that the reliance on political primaries to select party nominees has increased to near totality in the last 50 years. The intent was to marginalize party bosses, which has occurred, but an unintended effect, asserts Rauch, has been to marginalize "mainstream" (that is, not politically active) party members in favor of the smaller number of party activists, or Ideologues, who are more motivated early in the political silly season to see to it that more ideological candidates eclipse more mainstream candidates.

The rise of primary elections was meant to democratize the process of nominating candidates, and so it did; but hard-core ideologues -- with their superior hustle and higher turnouts -- proved able to dominate the primaries as they never could the party caucuses and conventions.

This dynamic was evident in 2004's Democratic primary season, when arch-liberal Howard Dean took an early and illusory lead. However, when Dean's character flaws erupted in wild-eyed, Janovian braying at functioning microphones, the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, John Kerry, became the fallback position for party Ideologues. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates who were more acceptable mainstream, Richard Gephardt and Joe Lieberman, passed inconsequentially through the primaries like neutrinos of electable sense through ideological gray matter.

Rauch explains: "the ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans in Congress is wider now than it has been in more than fifty years... the top leaders on Capitol Hill are the bluest of blues and the reddest of red -- left and right not just of the country but even of their own parties," and writes that "centrist voters, of course, are unhappy, but what can they do?"

As Rauch sees it, this absence of options for the centrists is an emission of the negation field of America's bipolarity.

Rauch then infers an interesting premise from these quantum political observations: "America may be culturally peaceful because it is so politically polarized." Political extremists with capacities for violence or other illegal forms of expression are Fringe Right and Fringe Left subsets of the Red and Blue ideological activist subsets of the broader Red and Blue sets of registered Republicans and Democrats. In the theoretical PAST language we'd express it this way:

Registered members > Ideologues > Fringes

He further contends that the greater inclusion, even dominance, of the major parties' Ideologues in selecting candidates and constructing platforms serves to sufficiently pacify their respective sympathetic Fringes by persuading them that they have a stake in lawful political processes. The attractive force of the Ideologues prevents the unstable isotopes on the Fringes from conglomerating their singularities and achieving violent political mass.

At the outset it's prudent to stipulate that some smaller subsets of the Fringes (or perhaps adjacent neighbor sets) are intractable political sociopaths, assassins, and terrorists. That leaves other subsets of the Fringes who might be capable of political violence if sufficiently alienated, but who are also capable of confining their wrath to lawful expression through free speech, assembly, and suffrage. These other subsets are the Fringe people who teeter on the fulcrum of Rausch's contention that a sense of inclusion in the political process serves to circumvent some degree of political violence and other unlawful forms of political expression.

In broad principle this premise is true, and we see it in the soundbite for the cause of the American Revolution: No taxation without representation.

However, the question of how much the gravitational attraction of the Ideologues prevents reactions political violence by their allied Fringes is less clear.

Rausch attempts to answer with a comparison between the Red and Blue political Fringes and what forces constrain them. This is the passage of Hewitt's focus:

"On balance it is probably healthier if religious conservatives are inside the political system than if they operate as insurgents and provocateurs on the outside. Better they should write anti-abortion planks into the Republican platform than bomb abortion clinics. The same is true of the left. The clashes over civil rights and Vietnam turned into street warfare partly because activists were locked out of their own party establishments and had to fight, literally, to be heard. When Michael Moore receives a hero's welcome at the Democratic National Convention, we moderates grumble; but if the parties engage fierce activists while marginalizing tame centrists, that is probably better for the social peace than the other way around."

Violence at or against abortion clinics is reprehensible and should be prosecuted and punished severely. It is also exceedingly rare, despite the azure circumvention of the political processes by Roe v Wade over the past 32 years, and such violence is roundly condemned and opposed by Registered Republicans and Party Ideologues. According to Rauch, this is because the Religious Conservative Red Ideologues and their sympathetic Fringe have access to the political process within the Republican Party.

Similarly, the Blue Ideologues have successfully included planks in their party platform expressing their desires to subordinate the American economy and military to international bodies they hold to be our moral superiors. If Rauch's theory of the PAST holds true, domestic tranquility should be similarly preserved on the Fringe Left.

However, the analogy between anti-abortion violence from the Right Fringe with the anti-war Left Fringe of the Vietnam Era is poor. The Democrat Party surrendered to their allied Ideologues and Fringes with the Presidential nomination of George McGovern in 1972, the year before Roe v Wade, yet Democrats from all three Blue subsets are engaged in unlawful and violent political expressions in the here and now simply because they lose free and fair elections, which is hardly an objective sign of any political suppression of their Fringe.

The Blue Fringe sympathizers with the Howard Dean, John Kerry, and Michael Moore Ideologues don't confine their political expressions to legal behavior, despite that Dean, Kerry, and Moore have had more opportunities than most to participate in political processes. If Rauch's Political Atomic Set Theory is true and if the vandalism and assaults by the Blue Fringe at the Republican National Convention and at the recent Inauguration are examples of a faction that is self-restrained by the dominance of their Ideologues in the political processes of the Democrat Party, then one can only wonder and shudder at what the bowels of that party might release if, paradoxically, their cooler heads prevailed.

What denial of political participation leads to the unlawful political activities of allegedly non-Fringe Democrat functionaries who are slashing Republican tires in Wisconsin and perpetrating voter fraud in Washington, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Missouri?

Rauch's theory leads him to mark his misunderstanding of Christian culture in America in 2005 in the wrong quadrant entirely. His failure to grasp the ideological and intellectual dysfunction of the Deep Blue Left within the Democrat Party, as well as its moral nonchalance at the illegal and violent excesses spawned by its own Fringe, veers beyond Cartesian navigation.

What political concession do these Democrats require, short of resigned Red State surrender to their presumptions of moral superiority over Republicans, presumptions that would overthrow the Constitutionally mandated political order?

Rausch doesn't answer; he doesn't ask because he's obeying the law of conservation of angular momentum, whirling in the spinning paradigms of the past.