Walter Mondale

New York State of Mindlessness

It's (Still) The Economy, Stupid!

By George Scoville | @stackiii

I have fought every impulse in my being to weigh in on the Cordoba House debate, and to pontificate, lecture, and moralize from atop my libertarian mountain. Now that I'm actually writing about it I find myself stricken nearly dumb by the irony of what I'm about to suggest on a blog entitled THE NEXT RIGHT. But it has become clear that The Current Right has completely forgotten about The Last Right, and this could prove to be the foil for The Next Right -- at least that's my worry. I do not intend to debate the morality or legality of the construction of Cordoba House in either this post or in the comments - so if you're looking for an ideological fight, you've come to the wrong place. The Right has a new messaging problem, and if anyone intends to supplant the Democratic Party in any meaningful, long-term way, it will require pretty swift action.

The Republican Party is polling considerably well among registered voters (Gallup) on a number of factors: party identification, 2010 vote preferences among independents, and 2010 candidate preferences. The Republican Party also seems to be riding a wave of enthusiasm (RCP) that spreads quicksand all over the Democratic Party's uphill battle as November draws near. Finally, the Republican Party has retaken the lead on the generic ballot (PPP). Whatever successes the Republican Party currently enjoys it owes in large part to both the Tea Party movement and the fact that President Obama and the Democrats over-estimated their "mandate." This cannot be overstated, especially in light of the fact that only a handful of Republicans are engaging their Democratic counterparts substantively (The Weekly Standard).

Now, set all that aside for a moment. Step back 26 years to 1984.

Ronald Reagan wasn't polling well, hitting a 35% approval rating in 1983 (Gallup). The economy was in recession. Unemployment was high, though it dropped from 10.8% in '82 to 7.4% by Election Day '84 (Salon). We were at war -- each day every American faced an existential threat. Federal spending was at 22.9% of GDP (EconLib), in large part because Reagan's defense budget crested far above projections he made on the campaign trail in '79 and '80. But Reagan handily won re-election in 1984 because he kept the message simple -- this worked:

Why, then, is former Speaker Newt Gingrich -- a sort of de facto leader of today's Republican Party, an icon of the 1994 Republican Revolution, and potential 2012 presidential hopeful -- foisting a divisive cultural narrative (WaPo) onto an election cycle already dominated by anti-Big Government and anti-spending narratives that, heretofore, have been working (Pew Research via NPR)?

Ezra Klein is pickin' up what I'm puttin' down:

One political question about the Ground Zero Islamic complex/mosque/theater-space/swimming pool: Why are Republicans trumpeting this? And why, a week or two ago, did they start talking about the 14th amendment? Republicans are going to win a lot of seats this year. And they're going to do it on the backs of the economy. Getting into social issues -- particularly social issues that might anger minorities -- is a dangerous play. It loses them long-term votes that they just don't need to lose. It paints their party as intolerant and opportunistic. And it's unnecessary: It's not like they're hurting for things to talk about.

The Cato Institute's Gene Healy blames the Professional Right:

All this posturing is getting tiresome. The "mosque" controversy isn't about property rights or religious freedom. It's a bogus issue seized by the GOP establishment to distract the rank-and-file from the party's reluctance to shrink government.

Will Wilkinson, also of the Cato Institute, blames the amateur Right:

This idiotic foofaraw could be a distraction only if the GOP rank-and-file actually cared more about the size of government than the cultural politics of American identity. But they don’t. It’s not even close. American conservatism is a movement consumed by protecting and asserting a certain fabricated conception of the traditional American way of life against imaginary enemies. Support for small government is no more than a bullet point on the Right’s “What We Believe” cheat sheet, mouthed at opportune moments. I approve of what Gene’s trying to do here rhetorically, but the fact is that complaining about Muslims and keeping holy the memory of 9/11 and Ground Zero — the legitimizing altar of aggressive American imperialism —  is a direct manifestation of contemporary conservatism’s essence.

Personally, I don't really care who is to blame for the propagation of this narrative -- whether Gingrich is demagoguing, or the conservative, evangelical base needs some pandering. The bottom line is that playing with this narrative is like playing with fire, and could be as dangerous to the Right long-term as a Gingrich marriage proposal. In many ways the conservative base is like the fuel in a gas can, fuel that powers the political machine that winds up carrying water in elections -- but for God's sake, don't hand the Left a big, fat box of strike-anywhere matches. 2010 and 2012 can -- and should -- be a slam dunk for right-of-center candidates. Let's not botch it.

Update:

Ben Smith (POLITICO) notes that Gingrich's caustic remarks echo those of Mussolini:

 

A regular correspondent wondered why Newt Gingrich's recent declaration on the planned downtown mosque sounded so familiar, and found this:

 

Gingrich:

 

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.

 

Mussolini:

 

There will be a mosque in Rome, the Fascist ruler said, only when a Roman Catholic church is permitted in Mecca.

 

The quote is frequently attributed to Il Duce, though I'd be grateful to any Italian-speaking reader who has a primary source.

 

Sorry, folks - you can call me a wet blanket all you want - independent voters just won't trade one statist polemic (Obama) for another (Gingrich).

Cross-posted at Liberty Pundits.

Further reading:

Jacob Sullum, Reason Magazine

Doug Mataconis, Outside the Beltway blog

Doug Mataconis redux, Outside the Beltway blog

David Harsanyi, Reason Magazine

Ben Smith, POLITICO

Garrett Quinn, boston.com

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