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Human beings will be happier - not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That's my utopia.
~Kurt Vonnegut
Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Great Defections

During the Cold War, it was commonplace for persons to try to escape from behind the Iron Curtain, to establish a better life in the West, often right here in the United States. Many of these defections were played up in the media. The implication was that the defections proved that "we" must be better than "them."

In point of fact, defections actually went both ways. Still, there probably were more east-to-west defections than the other way around, and it probably is true that we were better than them.

In American politics today, there have been a couple of high-profile defections. Both involve long-term supporters of the Republican party. Perhaps it is not really fair to call the "defections," though, since neither is planning to join the Democrats.

On February 19, 2006, Francis Fukuyama published an essay in the NYT Magazine: After Neoconservatism. The essay was basically a preview for his book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. (See book review here.) His main point is that the neoconservative movement has gone seriously astray. So far astray, indeed, that it cannot be salvaged.

On March 21, 2006, Kevin Phillips published a book, American Theocracy : The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21stCentury. There was an interesting interview with Phillips on the Diane Rehm show on 3/24/06. (Windows Media/Real Audio) Further media interest was exhibited on TPM Cafe, where American Theocracy was discussed in their book club. Like Fukuyama, Phillips expresses the belief that the modern incarnation of the Republican party has gone astray, much to the detriment of our country as a whole.

With two prominent conservatives bashing the Republican party, it would be tempting for progressives to jump for joy, just as the USA celebrated the high-profile defections of the Cold War.

Unfortunately, that would not be appropriate. Fukuyama and Phillips are castigating the Republican Party because the party has really screwed things up. There is no joy in that, no matter how you look at it. Even if everyone defected from the Republican party, things would still be screwed up. Moreover, Fukuyama and Phillips have not embraced the Democratic party. Perhaps that is because it would be just too great of a leap for them. But perhaps that is because they have grown wary of any large political organization. Or perhaps it is because they do not see the Democratic Party as having much to offer.

No, if there is a reason to be joyful over these defections, it is because it raises the possibility that maybe, maybe, there is hope for the development of a credible centrist party. I would like to think so. I would prefer to have a progressive centrist party, but failing that, I could support any centrist party that is not ideologically-driven.

At this point, our political system is seriously screwed up. What we need to do is back off on any grandiose initiatives, and focus on fixing things. We need to put our country in the political equivalent of an intensive care unit. The focus has to be on stabilizing our vital signs, keeping us alive for a while longer, before we plunge ahead with anything too ambitious.

Phillips gives some apt suggestions for getting the country back on track: reducing dependence on oil, reducing the deficit, and limiting the influence of religion in politics. That would help keep things from getting worse.

In order to start healing, we need to undo most of the tax cuts, knock off this foolish imperialism, cut way back on defense spending, stop coddling large corporations, and focus on rebuilding the middle class. But the focus should always be on outcome, not ideology.
posted by : Joseph j7uy5 | link | | |


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