Monday, March 20, 2006

The Future of America's Political Parties

Sometimes my 9-5 work and my graduate work line up together in beautiful ways. The month of April is a month where there are two events that do just that.

The Henry Salvatori Center at Claremont McKenna College will be hosting a one-day conference April 7th. The subject of the conference, and the tagline of this post, is "The Future of America's Political Parties." Yes, I know that CMC is an undergraduate college, but I go to Claremont Graduate University 25 steps away from CMC and take classes from CMC professors from time to time.

The CMC event will have speakers adressing, not surprisingly, the health and strategies of the two major political parties in the upcoming elections. Speakers for the Democratic side are Peter Beinart of The New Republic, Professor Elaine Karmark of Harvard University, Professor Samuel Popkin of UC San Diego, and Dr. Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress. Essentially two intellectuals and two "pundits."

What I like about the mix is that the two pundits represent what I see as the split in current Democratic politics. Peter Beinart represents the Wilsonian Social Liberal. If you don't know what that means you had better rush to the newstand to pick up last week's New Republic. But to quote Peter,

In 2001, Mead published a book titled Special Providence, in which he argued that four traditions comprise U.S. foreign policy. Wilsonians believe America must make the world safe for liberty. Hamiltonians believe America must make the world safe for commerce. Jeffersonians fear that both of these crusades threaten liberty at home. And Jacksonians believe in destroying America's enemies and defending America's sovereignty, no matter what the rest of the world thinks.

Mead described Bill Clinton's foreign policy as a coalition between Wilsonians and Hamiltonians. Wilsonians saw the post-cold-war world as a golden age for democracy. Hamiltonians saw it as a golden age for free trade. When human rights and moneymaking clashed--over China, for instance--the Wilsonians and Hamiltonians split. But they agreed on something fundamental: The best thing for America was to make the rest of the world as much like us as possible.

BTW, Peter has been very good to the non-profit I work for by speaking at a number of our events. His is generous of his time and sincere in his beliefs, something his critics don't often give him credit for being. An acquaintance once commented how "The liberal New Republic" was something of a joke among "progressive" circles, but I assure you that TNR is anything but a joke. It is a thoughtful and well written magazine with a long history of liberal politics. Sure, Walter Lippmann (an early TNR Editor) might disagree with some of their current arguments, but he would admire their sincere love of liberal politics.

On the other end of Democratic politics, at what is often called the "progressive" end, is Dr. Ruy Teixeira. Dr. Teixeira writes the Public Opinion Watch column at the CAP website. Dr. Teixeira, and the CAP, are perfect examples of what I think of as the Wisconsin-Madison brand of modern liberalism. From the Winter Soldier hearings to today's anti-war movement the northern Mid-West has played a significant role in American progressive politics, a brand of liberalism that is more socialist than that advanced by TNR.

On a side-note, the fact that the more socialist left uses the term "progressive" I find mildly ironic. After all, Wilsonian Progressivism was created as a response to socialism/socialist movements in the United States and some of the most heated "redbaiting" was during Wilson's administration. I think that might also explain some of the tension between TNR and CAP liberals.

On the Republican side of things the speakers include Michael Barone of US News and World Report, Professor Andrew Busch of Claremont McKenna College, Professor John Green of the University of Akron, Hugh Hewitt (Radio Host) of Chapman University Law School, and William Kristol of the Weekly Standard. I look forward to hearing from Barone, Green, and Busch, but am leary of Hewitt and Kristol.

Though the Republican panel features one additional speaker, I don't think it will much affect the substance of discussion. Hewitt will paint Republican politics with rose colored pro-Bush glasses. Hewitt's raison d'etre seems to be defense of Republican Presidential policy without criticism, not Republican politics generally, just Presidential. And for those who want to expose the dark conspiracy at the heart of PNAC, Bill Kristol anxiously awaits your conspiracy theories.

My one criticism of this panel is that while it has its "partisan hack" (Hewitt), it doesn't well represent the split in Neo-Conservative politics. While the panel includes William Kristol, son of Irving Kristol (an early Neo-Conservative and student of Leo Strauss), it doesn't include Francis Fukuyama. I think any discussion of modern conservatism necessitates a debate over the the "neo-conservative rift." Fukuyama may have theorized that the End of History was all nations becoming free democracies, but he has been critical of the forceful promotion of that end since before the Iraq war. Kristol believes that one can militarily promote democracies while Fukuyama sees any democratization as the long working out of History (the capital H is for the Hegelian use of the word). Hopefully either Professor Busch or Green will bring up that position.

Later Panels will include discussions by Professor Nelson Polsby of UC Berkeley and Professor William Mayer of Northeastern University.

Needless to say my inner PoliSci geek is weeping with joy.

The second event is an event being hosted by Southern California Grantmakers on April 10 and is about "Supporting Nonpartisan Voter Mobilization" with a panel that includes the Elvis of Modern Mobilization research Dr. Donald Green of Yale University. I look forward to listening to his ideas, especially considering this is an off-year for elections so increasing turnout is badly needed.

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