Why There’s No Longer Political Common Ground
Posted on October 7, 2018
With the increasing polarization and acrimony of American politics on stunning display in the Kavanaugh confirmation comes the understandable complaint that there’s no longer any middle ground between the two major parties. This observation is correct but usually not for the reasons assumed. It is generally assumed that this loss of middle ground is the result of the gradual loss of moderates in both parties, with the belief that moderates work toward a middle ground, while ideologues at the outer edge of each party are inflexible and uncompromising. This assumption is a mistake. As Charles Lane pointed out in the FOX All-Star panel, Susan Collins is arguably considered the most moderate GOP Senator, and yet her speech on the Senate floor yesterday explaining why she would endorse Kavanaugh was anything but a flexible, middle-ground speech. Alternatively, Donald Trump has earned his reputation as a pugnacious political street fighter, but even his critics might be surprised at how flexible and moderate his policies have become, on everything from immigration enforcement to international trade. Political ideologues can be and often are flexible in policy, while political moderates can be and often are inflexible in philosophy.
What creates middle ground in constitutional republics is not the erosion of strong political viewpoints but, rather, the insistence on procedural justice, the rule of law, due process, and institutional checks and balances. These are all part of the political philosophy broadly known as classical liberalism embraced by America’s Founders. It creates an atmosphere of reasoned discourse. People with strikingly different political viewpoints can discuss and argue these viewpoints within a process that respects both. When the time comes to decide a course of action, that decision reflects the will of the majority but respects the will of the minority. It also provides a process of amendment or reversal. This is what we have in the Constitution. In the system of classical liberalism, the losers on a political decision should never feel disrespected or demeaned. In time, they will get another chance to make their case, and the eventual winners have been forced to grapple with the argument of the eventual losers. This is the genius of the American political system.
The great competitor to that system since the French Revolution has been perfectionist progressivism. This is the view that correct political decisions are usually the result of the careful thoughts of virtuous, gifted intellectuals. These intellectuals, from Plato to Marx, should not be impeded by process trivialities like constitutions, due process, and the rule of law. Indeed, in perfectionist progressivism, these essential features of classical liberalism are often just a smokescreen for people who do not want real justice, the perfect society. The rule of law is the tool by the oppressors to keep justice (as defined by progressive perfectionists, of course) from prevailing. This is why Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot abhorred classical liberalism: it was a nefarious barrier to their vision of the Perfect Society.
It is also why today‘s Democratic Party abhors it. The Democrats have become infested with Cultural Marxism, a modern version of perfectionist progressivism. This is why they were not especially interested in considering corroborating evidence for the charges of Professor Ford. They reverse the order: guilty until proven innocent. One of the nation’s most noted Democrats was a classic example:
Former Vice President Joe Biden argued explicitly for this standard whenever allegations involve prominent men. “You’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real,” Biden told reporters on Monday, “whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time.”
The argument is simple, stark: “Women as a class have been oppressed. Women must always be believed. We must get justice for women irrespective of the means to get it.” Following due process is a tactic the classical liberals use to keep women (not conservative women, mind you, but liberal women) oppressed. The rule of law and due process are impediments to justice, as defined by the wise, the virtuous, the noble, and, of course, the humble. They as the anointed must be privileged. They know what’s best for the rest of us benighted, self-centered, oppressive souls.
In abandoning classical liberalism, the Democratic Party has eroded the middle ground. It was not always the case. Democrats FDR, JFK, and MLK were classical liberals who happened to embrace a different socioeconomic policy from the equally classical liberals in the Republican Party. At that time, virtually all Republicans and Democrats were classical liberals. They disagreed on political ideology, but not political philosophy (of governance). They essentially agreed with the Founders.
[I]ntellectuals, from Plato to Marx, should not be impeded by process trivialities like constitutions, due process, and the rule of law. Indeed, in perfectionist progressivism, these essential features of classical liberalism are often just a smokescreen for people who do not want real justice, the perfect society.
Today, it’s modern conservatives (politically, Republicans) that carry on the classically liberal tradition. Most Democrats, on the other hand, have largely abandoned classical liberalism and embraced Cultural Marxism. This is why a well-known political moderate like Susan Collins can champion classical liberalism and sound so bizarre to the ears of Democrats. She is championing an older political philosophy that the Democratic predecessors all embraced, but which the current Democratic Party has forgotten.
While classical liberalism relies on the power of persuasion within a well-defined process (this is the “common ground”), Cultural Marxists rely on intimidation, screaming, threats, and coercion to get their way. According to their presuppositions, these tactics are perfectly logical. If classical liberals stand in the way, it’s because they’re preventing the right results, true justice, in this case, for women. True justice means Dr. Ford must be believed at all costs, and Justice Kavanaugh sidelined at all costs. The tactics of how to get there are essentially irrelevant. The logical extension of this position was embraced by Chairman Mao: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Classical liberals would counter “Political power grows out of the rule of law.”
The conclusion of the matter: there’s no longer middle ground in American politics because one party has abandoned its heritage in classical liberalism. It has embraced Cultural Marxism, and the politics of perfectionism and the coercion it requires. The recent change in the Republican Party has not been in political philosophy, but in developing a strong resistance, countering coercion with a reassertion of the rule of law. For the last couple of decades, Republicans have attempted to act as gentlemen and gentlewomen. They have finally come to understand amid the horrific treatment of Justice Kavanaugh and their own senators that the only barrier to totalitarian anarchy is the rule of law, and, more broadly, a muscular assertion of classical liberalism. It is doubtful that a Republican president other than Trump would have furnished an example of muscular political assertion.
It is only when both parties again embrace classical liberalism that political common ground, and with it a calmer, more reasonable, negotiated politics — envisioned by the Founders — will reappear. To put it bluntly: we need more liberals in the Democratic Party.