EVERY NOW AND AGAIN

You read something and a light bulb switches on. I had that feeling reading Stanley Kurtz’s piece in National Review Online about how contemporary liberalism has become a religion. Some of us who still think of ourselves as liberals in a classical sense also have faith in God to provide an over-arching meaning to our lives. So we enter political debate, guns blazing, but remain aware that it isn’t everything – that there is faith and culture and love and sex and home and friendship – and it is these things that give meaning to life. We engage in politics – or at least I do – in order to ensure that it doesn’t prevent us from enjoying life, to stop the busybodies and megalomaniacs from ruining our way of life. To paraphrase my philosophical mentor, Michael Oakeshott, I am a conservative in politics so I can be a radical in many other parts of life. But not all liberals feel this way. Liberals without faith or without a sense of private life, people who see everything as political, see their politics as the fundamental meaning of their lives. In their eyes, it is what makes them virtuous and others evil. So their liberalism becomes the opposite of what it was invented for. Liberalism was founded (by Hobbes, Locke, et al) to check religious intolerance, to create a safe political space where questions of ultimate meaning and import were set aside. But increasingly in some quarters, liberalism has become a religion of its own. There is an orthodoxy, a truth, and a religious hierarchy. New ideas are not considered for their own sakes, but simply in the context of whether they conform to the orthodoxy. Heretics are regularly singled out and punished. Opponents are not argued with, they are demonized. Little by little deviant thoughts are turned into crimes – speech-codes, loosely implemented sexual harassment laws, hate crime statutes. You see this on the racial left, the feminist left and the gay left. I’m not saying all liberals are like this. Thank God, many are not. But increasing numbers are; and we are fast approaching a very Animal Farm moment, when we look at the world view of some of the conservative fundamentalists and the world view of some of the liberal fundamentalists, and we find that they are exactly the same, bristling, insecure, intolerant creature.

SCUD REVENGE?: Maureen Dowd argued yesterday that Jim Jeffords’ revolt and John McCain’s non-revolt are responses to crude revenge tactics by George W. Bush. The evidence she provided for this is, to say the least, thin. Apparently, Jim Jeffords was not invited to a ceremony at the White House. Ouch. When Newt Gingrich griped about his lack of a good seat on Airforce One, Dowd ridiculed him for being a big baby. What’s the difference with Jeffords? Similarly, McCain. Sure, I have no doubt that Senator McCain harbors some bitterness about what happened in South Carolina – and I don’t blame him. Bush’s primary campaign there was disgraceful. But I have seen no real evidence of Bush trying to humiliate McCain since. McCain had a major speech at the convention, and didn’t meet stiff White House resistance to his campaign finance reform bill. Bush will likely sign such a bill if it reaches his desk. On the other hand, it seems likely that the Bush team has staffed the White House with people who supported Bush all along and have not hired former McCain staffers. So? This is another non-story. Did we expect Bill Clinton to hire staff from the Tsongas campaign in 1992? It seems to me that the Bush administration has been no more vengeful – and arguably much less – than any other recent administration in this respect and the attempt to prove otherwise just doesn’t hold much water. If anything, the tone of this new administration has been remarkably free of vengeful or angry talk. I hope the Bushies respond to some restlessness in their party by tacking gently to the center. I sure hope they don’t respond to this by stooping to their opponents’ level.

THE TORIES’ QUEENSLAND STRATEGY: No-one thinks that William Hague’s Tory party has a chance of avoiding humiliation on Thursday, when the Brits go to the polls. Well, the same could have been said for the opposition in the election in Queensland, Australia, in 1995. I know it sounds like a stretch, but bear with me. In Queensland, the ruling Labour party was way ahead in the polls, with a strong economy. The opposition party, the Liberal-Nationalists, all but conceded that they were going to lose. But in the last week of the campaign, they Liberal-Nationalists refocused their campaign around preventing Labor winning a landslide. The opposition’s message in a nutshell was: “if you think Labor’s arrogant now imagine what will happen if they win a big majority again.” This indeed is the final plea of the British Tories. They have rolled out a poster of Tony Blair, urging voters to “burst his bubble.” It’s desperate stuff but sometimes it works. In the Queensland election, the polls showed a huge margin of victory for Labour right up to election day. But in the vote itself, Labour saw its vote fall by 8 percent, and its big majority reduced to one seat. Could it happen in Britain? Well, Tony Blair’s only real weakness is the sense that he’s somewhat arrogant and out of touch. Plenty of people, while not wanting a Tory government, might think it worth bringing him down a peg or two. And in the last two national elections in Britain – for local seats and European seats – the Tories did far better than in the polls and actually beat Labour nationwide. I’m not saying it’s going to happen again, but I am saying it could.