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Religion, Taxes, and Programs I Double Dare You!

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Losing Ohio

by Christopher Chantrill
November 27, 2004 at 7:00 pm


LAST WEEK READERS of The New York Times Magazine were treated to part two of a feature on the presidential ground game in Ohio.  Writer Matt Bai reported on the achievements of the Democratic Party, er, make that Americans Coming Together (ACT) the independent 527 organization, in getting out the vote in the battleground state of Ohio.

And what a job Ohio state director Steve Bouchard had done.  With money from international billionaire speculator George Soros and public sector unions like the Service Employees International Union, he’d exceeded his goals handsomely.  In Cuyahoga County, he’d set a target of 350,540 votes for Kerry and actually achieved 433,262.  “Kerry’s 2.66 million votes were the most ever for a Democrat in Ohio.”  He’d done it with three waves of canvassers and paid van drivers who scoured urban neighborhoods in an “almost military operation” to get Democratic voters to the polls on Election Day.  Republicans, on the other hand had developed an “all-volunteer network, modeled on a multilevel marketing scheme like Amway” that Democrats had dismissed as “an exercise in self-delusion.”

Late on Election Day, Bouchard sent reconnaissance groups out to Republican areas to see how the other side was doing.  At first glance, things looked encouraging.  A polling place in the city of Delaware was deserted.  But then they found that the polling place was empty for good reason.  Everyone had already voted.  And how.  The final results showed that Delaware County voted at “an astonishing turnout rate of 78 percent, with two out of three votes going to Bush.”  The volunteer Bush turnout machine had delivered after all.

Appropriately, the parties had developed turnout machines that reflected their overall philosophies of government.  The Democrats believe in social engineering from the top in the name of those below, and they organized their ground game accordingly.  Educated activists would organize the party’s voters, identify them, call them, provide mass transportation, feed them, and get them to the polls.  The Republicans believe in self-government, that citizens have the common sense and the competence to order their own affairs without the direction of experts and activists.  So their turnout machine depended on building a spontaneous organization of ordinary people empowered to build a mediating network between the individual voter and the party.  Both parties increased their turnout substantially in the 2004 election.  But Republicans increased their turnout more.

Could Democrats take a lesson from the election of 2004 and turn away from their top-down, expert-led, one-size-fits-all model of government?  After all, this isn’t the first time that the Hayekian model of social organization—based on the idea that a million individuals collectively know more than a Harvard-educated committee of experts—has eaten their lunch.  Back in the 1980s, Republicans reformed the income tax system because they believed that broad tax rate cuts were more effective in stimulating the economy that carefully targeted tax incentives and government stimulus programs.  In the early 1990s they reformed crime control by delegating to individual policemen the responsibility for harassing individual criminals for committing “minor” street crimes like public drinking and turnstile jumping.  In the late 1990s they reformed the welfare system because they believed that welfare recipients were not helpless victims but rational people responding to the perverse incentives of the AFDC program.  Now they are pushing “choice” in education, pensions, and health insurance, based on the radical notion that ordinary people know what is best for themselves, and can make common-sense decisions about their lives without the imprimatur of Democratic-voting experts.

And what have Democrats had to say about all this?  Nothing complimentary.  They have stigmatized lower tax rates as tax cuts for the rich, broken window policing as racial profiling, and welfare reform as an attack on children.

Democrats at least understand one thing.  They are coming to realize that they have lost the ability to connect with many working-class voters.  Republican social issues like family and patriotism seem to resonate more with the lunch-bucket crowd than the Democratic agenda of “free” education, “affordable” health care and housing.

But maybe the problem is an environmental issue.  Maybe the “organic” growth of mediating institutions of family, church, and association are more “natural” and “human-scale” than the megastructures of one-size-fits-all social engineering.  Democrats have been big on the natural recently: in food, which is important, and in wetland habitat for waterfowl, which is thoughtful.  But they have been big fans of the artificial in almost everything else, and that, millions of Americans are coming to realize, is a problem.  Man does not live by bread alone, as the prophet said.

And imagine the howls we’d hear if the Republican get-out-the-vote operation were funded by, let’s say, Rupert Murdoch!

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.

Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican

Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State

Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self

US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008

Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006

Never Trust Experts

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, “Letter to Lord Lytton”

Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph

Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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