Sunday, October 30, 2005

Waiting for Arnold by Bernie Quigley

Note: This article ran in The Free Market News Network on March 30, 2005. Arnold faces a referendum in a week and a half which will be the catalyst to his political career. It should be noted that he is the first politician since John F. Kennedy with a natural sense of humor.

IN 1991 a sea change occurred here in New England. Massachusetts elected William Weld as its governor, who cavalierly referred to himself as a Libertarian. In the most general sense, this was a new idea up here in the north country and one that translated into a new and independent direction. From 1980 and earlier we had begun to hear tinkle in the new language of the Libertarians, generally speaking, of politicians who were fiscal conservatives on economic issues and liberal on social policies. But until the dynamic and charismatic Bill Weld appeared, it never quite materialized.

The significance of this was brought home in 1994 when Weld was reelected. Not long before, politics in Massachusetts and New England was an ethnic rivalry not far removed from that of the Kurds and the Sunnis - Episcopalian gentry and its management subsidiary voting in opposition to Catholic working class in an ancient scenario that found its roots in East Boston where John J. Quigley opened a bar with P.J. Kennedy a generation after his father came over from Ireland. That the same Boston would elect a Blue Blood New Yorker with buildings named after him at Harvard was a milestone of politics and Americanization. I received calls from ancestors that he was a Bourbon, a robber baron and a red head. But Weld won the day with 71% of the vote and the American condition won out over the ethnic condition. Consider today, when a vastly competent and intelligent man like Mitt Romney is elected governor of Massachusetts, a Mormon and a Republican whose family traveled from West to East to get to Massachusetts, and no one, not even us Hibernians, gave it a second thought. Possibly the curse is lifted.

There are rumors today the Mitt Romney will seek the presidency or the vice presidency, possibly as a running mate to John McCain. I see this as highly possible. During the crisis in Iraq the two mainstream parties were driven to a crisis moment and their extreme posts were exposed. When the Democrats found Howard Dean, and affirmed Dean again recently when rank and fire operatives electing him to leadership of the Democratic National Committee, I believe it was a fateful moment. Dr. Dean is novelty politics. Here in the mountains his time has come and gone and we have moved beyond him. History will prove his ascension to the national front to be a decisive moment as a wrong turn to a dead end for the Democrats.

The war on Iraq has been compared to the War of 1812 but I see a relevant resemblance to the Mexican War. Ulysses S. Grant called the Mexican War a war of the strong against the weak, the one merely establishing dominance over the other because it was stronger. But good or bad, he said, it was a pivotal event and anyone who did not participate in it would not participate in the future of the country and in the critical events just ahead on the Southern borderlands.

I worked up here in New Hampshire for Wesley Clark as a volunteer all through his campaign and thought then and think now that he had the correct perspective. General Clark was fiercely opposed to terrorism and railed against it. He opposed the invasion of Iraq but welcomed its democrazation. When he told a group of voters up here at a veteran's rally, "When I say I'll bring Osama bin Laden back dead or alive, I mean it," you knew in your heart that he meant it.

But Howard Dean, who also opposed the war, sent a different message. I live about 200 feet from the state of Vermont and have been watching it closely all my life. There is a Magic Mountain quality to Vermont. Magic Mountain is a novel by the great German novelist Thomas Mann about the German middle class backing away from its responsibility and duty as Nazism rose in the heartland, and retreating instead to the fashionable tuberculosis camps in the mountains, feigning vapors and cultivating artistic disaffection. Vermont has that quality of the Magic Mountain to some good degree. People move to Vermont to escape, retreat and feign artistic disaffection - it its way it is like a pastoral province of Brooklyn Heights in New York City, or much like Provincetown, Massachusetts or Nantucket. More than half of the people in the state were born someplace else, many of them in New York and Massachusetts. You pass the same people you would pass at Herald Square or Tribeca and would see at Bloomingdales. Dean is the mayor of Magic Mountain, and during the war in Iraq he became the standard bearer for the disaffected left.

The problem the Democrats have now is that the war in Iraq has more or less ended with at least a generic degree of success going to President Bush. And though it may have been opaque and morally ambiguous, as Grant said of Mexico, only those who participated will go forward. That would be the Republicans.

The mainstream parties are as polarized today as they were in 1831 and the Republicans at the helm today resemble the Jacksonians who mocked the policies and pretensions of northern Whigs in their heyday. After the Mexican war the South gained strength and the Whigs succumbed, regrouping under the aegis of the Republican banner with a new set of ideas. With Dean at the helm of the party the Democrats could conceivably succumb and meet the same fate as the Whigs.

With Dean on one end and Tom DeLay on the other, both parties are at their political extremes. But the center today is wide open as it was in the 1830s. This is the great opportunity for the Libertarians.

What is bringing the demise of the Democrats is a ritual attachment to ideas whose times have passed. That which necessity might have called forth 100 years back when half of Americans work in factories and the other half in fields no longer fits in an America that is mostly middle-class. But Libertarian ideas are beginning to fit, and increasingly they fit better and better.

In the years ahead we will see a new line develop. As the Republican Party rose from the ashes of the Whigs in the mid-1800s, so will we see a new movement arising. Perhaps, as David Brooks has written recently, with a larger-than-life figure or a heroic figure leading the charge, like Ross Perot or Arnold Swarzenegger. (Did someone say larger than life?)

But rather than a new party development more likely we will see a stronger competition developing within the two existing lines of the Republican party, loosely called economic conservatives and cultural conservatives, while the Democrats descend into irrelevance. The cultural conservatives reign freely now and the reelection of President Bush showed widespread support. But recent events in the Terri Schiavo case have shown the country a startling display of religious sentiment by the cultural conservatives, passionate and sanguine and some would say beyond reason; the kind of religious fervor akin to that left behind by northern Europeans long before the founding of the American republic. President Bush's approval rating has slipped into the mid 40s. How will the country respond now to a failure of the dollar or the collapse of General Motors or any other number of monetary and financial crises which seem to be just beyond the curtain and are most likely to occur in the next three years?

A division is occurring in the conservative movement between those guided by passion and those guided by reason and common sense. The vote by Congress to allow the federal courts to take over the Terri Schiavo case has created distress among some conservatives who say that lawmakers violated a cornerstone of conservative philosophy by intervening in the ruling of a state court, Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times. Stephen Moore, a conservative advocate who is president of the Free Enterprise Fund, said: "I don't normally like to see the federal government intervening in a situation like this, which I think should be resolved ultimately by the family: I think states' rights should take precedence over federal intervention. A lot of conservatives are really struggling with this case," Nagourney reports.

And Senator John W. Warner of Virginia said, "This senator has learned from many years you've got to separate your own emotions from the duty to support the Constitution of this country. These are fundamental principles of federalism."

This is where the Libertarians should nurture and cultivate the growing constituency disaffected with the tradition of the left but uncomfortable with the passion-driven reactions of the Republicans in power.

William Weld is prelude to a new direction of national politics that will take wing and rise out of this crisis and those ahead, just as the Republican Party rose out of crisis and sent Lincoln to the presidency in 1861. In Massachusetts, the most liberal state and the most tax-prone, this Republican governor cut taxes, slashed government social spending, privatized parts of the state government, and won reelection by one of the highest percentages ever. As high as any ethnic son of the old sod ever had. His legacy is ahead.

Consider a presidential ticket of John McCain and Mitt Romney, and with Arnold Schwarzenegger brought in as Secretary of State. The on-line magazine The Free Liberal calls Arnold the "most feared social conservative" by other Republicans - the cultural conservatives and those of Bush's core constituency.

"Arnold Swarzenegger is a libertarian Republican, short and sweet," they write. "And the emergence of a true blue libertarian Republican to the forefront of the GOP spells disaster for social conservatives."

But not for Libertarians. A new century beginning with this line-up would bring a sea change to politics and would bring Libertarian ideals to the forefront of American political culture.