September 23, 2009

Left tactics for Right ends

My friend Heather Mac Donald has a long post, The Right plays the race card, over at Secular Right. Despite her avowed atheism sometimes I do think Heather has a great deal of faith, at least in humankind and our better natures. She observes:

Republicans denounce identity politics, except when they engage in it themselves.  Steele is claiming either that Obama is going after Paterson because he is black or that Obama should not go after Paterson because he is black.  The first proposition is ludicrous, the second, poisonous.  Steele strikes me as intermittently unhinged, but his exploitation of identity discourse here is hardly sui generis.  Sarah Palin parroted Hillary Clinton?s feminist blather in announcing her vice presidency: ?It turns out that the women of America aren?t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.? Her supporters regularly accused her critics of being anti-woman.  I wouldn?t have been surprised, therefore, to have seen Limbaugh or some other Republican luminary, instead of Steele, play the race card against Obama for his anti-Paterson campaign.

This sort of tactical behavior is something I’ve observed a lot. During the battle for Social Security reform some commentators pointed out that the lower black life expectancy worked against them when it come to their benefits (liberals naturally dispute this). The problem of course is that no one on the Right wants to reform Social Security because of racial disparities, it’s just a talking point, a tactic useful in the short-term but not part of a larger strategic vision. Its transparency is also manifest to most, so I don’t understand why they even want to go there. Attempting to use liberal frames to advance Right agendas might win you some battles, but it loses you the war. The same can be said about the efforts of liberals to portray universal health care as a way to increase our “economic competitiveness.” Does anyone believe that that’s the reason that liberals want universal health care? Of course not. They’re wasting their breath, though probably most people will politely allow the argument to be heard.

Over the long term this sort of focus on short-term tactics as opposed to long-term strategy seems counterproductive and inefficient to me in terms of governance of the republic. So why does it happen? I suspect there are public choice issues at work, Washington operatives and players need to earn their keep, and they grab on to any short-term tactic which keeps them in the game. The war, that’s something that can be dealt with tomorrow…except that day never seems to arrive.

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