Thursday, August 24, 2006


From Radical To Populist

Ned Lamont made an interesting rhetorical swivel in his criticism of Joe Lieberman:

Ned Lamont, who defeated Mr. Lieberman in the Democratic primary in part by stoking antiwar sentiment, said that Mr. Lieberman’s comments put him “way outside the mainstream, not just of Democrats, but of the public at large.”

Mr. Lamont has said he would back a plan for a firm timeline of troop withdrawal from Iraq, a position supported by several other Democrats in the Senate.

“Nobody is talking about isolationism,” Mr. Lamont said, responding in a telephone interview to Mr. Lieberman’s remarks. “The problem is that the Bush administration and Senator Lieberman think that you can fight this like a conventional war, and that’s where they are wrong. We have to deal with homeland security, port security, to really protect ourselves.”
In accenting the latter points, Lamont may have figured out a way to make the radical -- pulling out of Iraq -- "populist."

As Arnold Kling points out at Tech Central Station, the public may now see that forced
"democratization" for the Middle East may be the radical idea -- not the need to withdraw precipitously:

My sense is that popular opinion is likely to gravitate toward one of two positions.

1) The Middle East is a hopeless cauldron of hatred. We should focus on homeland security, stay out of the Middle East, and have as little interaction with the Muslim world as possible; or
2) A major war is inevitable, so that we need to get ready for it. Nothing else will stop Iranian aggression, and nothing else will stifle the funding, sponsoring, and glorification of terrorists.

In 2008, I believe that either a Republican running on (1) as a platform or a Democrat running on (2) as a platform could win broad bipartisan support. However, my guess is that the Democrats are likely to come closer to representing (1) in 2008, and as of now my sense is that (1) is more popular than (2).

In my own thinking, I tend to vacillate between (1) and (2). The advantage of (2) is that it helps align our interests with the UK and Israel, which are not in a position to adopt (1). The UK, with its larger and more radical Muslim population, necessarily is affected by international Muslim belligerence. For Israel, staying out of the Middle East is not an option.

The main prediction from this essay is that we will see an outbreak of popular frustration in the next few years. I think that many people are tired of political spin machines, diplomatic "solutions," and fancy intellectual models of the world that fail in practice. They long for a leader who talks straight and who can make the plays work on the field the way they were designed to work on the chalkboard.

The failures of elitist thinking will create an adverse environment for haughty, cerebral politicians such as Tony Blair or Benjamin Netanyahu. Instead, I expect more populist figures to emerge, which gives me considerable misgivings. I think that populist economics is mostly bad. If voters turn to populists on the issue of national security, my guess is that the economy will suffer for it.

But I think that the popular instinct is that the elites so far have not gotten it right on security and Islamic militancy. And in that regard, the popular instinct is right.
So, in Connecticut, it can be argued that Lamont is attempting to portray Lieberman as one of the "haughty politicians" that Kling describes (not too difficult, in my view). Furthermore, Lamont is arguing that his quote-antiwar-unquote position is now represents the mainstream -- as opposed to the "Iraq liberation" view of Lieberman and bush.

Given that Kling has previously been more supportive of the administration, his take on where popular opinion is going may very well be correct. If so, Lieberman may be heading for a second defeat in Connecticut.

That John McCain is
making an apparent step away from his earlier full-throated support of the Bush strategy (with notable detours on issues such as torture) suggests that reflexive defense of the status quo is no longer working -- and sentiment against the war is becoming less a radical notion.

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