Saturday, March 25, 2006

Boogeymen and Ideas

I recently had an email exchange with an activist friend of mine about taking on specific Republicans (e.g. impeachment, elections) or challenging their ideas (e.g., the "ownership" society). His sort of straw-man argument was that we should let people chose how they want to be involved and it is good to take on specific Republicans. I call this the Boogeyman strategy. This strategy plays nicely into election cycle politics and may be useful and/or necessary.

The other strategy--which I call the Philosophical strategy--is challenging the extreme philosophies of the right (or left) wing. One such philosophy is the so-called "ownership society" which, to me, seems intent to let people fend for themselves. This reminds me of the Hobbesian war of all against all and seems to be a big hurdle to implementing single-payer health care (or at least universal). Another such philosophy is the extreme version of the "unitary executive" theory. This has been a central tenet of Bush Administration practices and has led to the NSA wiretapping, torture, pre-emptive war, rampant cronyism, etc.

Bush is a very unpopular person at this time--and for good reason. It's easy to start taking him on. But future GOP candidates may be more popular even though they espouse the same radical Bush philosophies. Challenging and standing up to these people could prove more difficult if their philosopies are unchallenged beforehand. The right-wing has, for the past half century, been challenging liberal/progressive philosophies and have pushed the "accepted" center more and more to the right. Sure, they demonized their political enemies (can you say Clinton?), but they have done so while also promoting their philosophies and challenging liberal ideas.

Dems can take on the monster under the bed and be successful. But then we'll have to challenge the monster in the closet, out the window, etc. Or we can start challenging the idea that monsters exist and not have to worry about a monster again.

Does Bush deserve censure? Sure seems like it. But his idea of the unitary executive also deserves to be scrutinized as well. If not, the next President (whether Democratic or Republican) may continue to use signing statements to invalidate the Congress.


At March 25, 2006 9:01 PM, Blogger Eric Z said...

Gilbert, I'm with you on opposing the ownership society and not just Bush personally. But don't you think that the censure movement IS a way of opposing a "unitary executive," and making clear that our system of checks and balances is still operational? If we let Bush's actions go uncriticized, it seems like that would be the biggest danger to future "unitary executives" as well.

At March 26, 2006 12:04 PM, Blogger Gilbert Martinez said...

Bush's actions definitely deserve to be challenged. I'm a little concerned that the polls favoring censure are more a referendum on Bush than on his policies specifically. Censure or not, I don't know that we are doing enough to challenge the underlying theory behind Bush's motivations.

Yes, Bush has overstepped the boundaries of executive power and needs to be held accountable. But we should also make clear that those who hold onto the unitary executive theory or ownership society will do the same things as Bush. We can't let Bush become the scapegoat. He is a symptom of the bigger problem: right-wing ideas.

The narrative which seems to be coming out of the right is an attack on Bush and his competence, while still pushing for his agenda. Listen to William Kristol, Andrew Sullivan, Phyllis Schafley, etc. and you see they are trying to make Bush the anti-conservative. Liberals have been too quick to point out the right-wing criticisms of Bush. They have an agenda and are willing to throw some of their own into the fire to push that agenda.


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