How does the Republican Party establishment choose its presidential candidate? Typically, constitutionalists accuse their establishment rivals of being moderate, risk-averse, stubborn old fools who lack faith in conservative principles. This is a soothing interpretation, as it begins from the hypothesis that the contest between conservatives and the GOP elite is a family feud.
But there is another hypothesis – less soothing, but, at least from an outsider’s bird’s-eye view, more reconcilable with the facts. This hypothesis is that America has reached a stage of progressive soft despotism in which the only important family feud in national politics is between the fundamentally allied factions of the Washington establishment itself.
The great advantage of despotism is its predictability. In nations whose leaders have forsaken the manners and morals of representative government, the future can mean only two things: the present, continued, or the present, escalated. Thus, if my alternative hypothesis is correct, it becomes possible to identify the 2016 Republican presidential nominee “a priori,” if you will, with no need for rumors or speculation.
My only proviso is that we keep in mind the central difference between traditional despotism and progressive soft despotism, namely that in traditional despotism, the personal character and whims of the man with the fancy title are paramount, whereas today’s is a ruling establishment game, in which major directional decisions are made by committees of mutual back-scratchers who outlast any of the figureheads they prop up to front the organization for a while. Thus, whereas in a monarchy, popular democracy, or old-fashioned tyranny, the particular identity of the leader is everything, in soft despotism the standard-bearer is less significant for who he is than for which interests he advances for his handlers.
By “interests” here I mean only “specific agenda items.” Of course the true, fundamental interest of progressive establishmentarians, all German philosophical rationalizations aside, is simply to control and stabilize the masses, i.e., to maximize their usefulness while minimizing their threat. This essential goal is as invariable as the feelings that fuel it, namely fear and greed. Thus to predict the establishment’s practical moves is as simple as looking away from the increasing artificiality of electoral politics – polls, “momentum,” “electability,” and well-timed scandals – to observe the broad pattern of outcomes that remains consistent through successive campaigns.
That pattern, in American politics, is as obvious as it is unspeakable in polite society, namely the gradual imposition of a permanent progressive authoritarian state with unlimited executive power, answerable to no imperatives of human nature, and administered by unelected technocrats.
America’s national political establishment is factionalized along lines that correspond to what remains of the nation’s unofficial “two-party system.” But what the competing factions lack in uniformity of emphasis and vocabulary – “polite society” means different things to different men – they more than make up for in unanimity of overarching purpose.
Let’s be clear: we are not talking about lizard-men meeting in a vat of jelly in the White House basement. These are ordinary men with ordinary moral weaknesses who, having in one way or another found themselves within reach of the world’s biggest cookie jar, developed an irresistible habit of dipping in – for financial advantages, regulatory favors, careers, self-importance, and in general for the means to permanent, risk-free status as kings of their various little hills. In other words, they are men who have found, on the “honor among thieves” principle, that they have more in common with one another than with the cookie bakers they are robbing blind, and therefore a greater vested interest in covering for one another than in defending the rights of bakers.
By induction from the major public policy initiatives these men actively or passively promote, we may conclude that, surface frictions aside, the American ruling class seeks: (a) to shrink the range of unregulated human action; (b) to narrow men’s moral horizons in order to foster conscienceless resignation to their parasitocracy; © to reduce citizenship to compliance and conformity; and (d) to promote “security,” variously defined, as a primary social goal that trumps all considerations of self-determination, human dignity, and private property.
These goals are embodied in various forms by the elite, and then either trumpeted as “idealism” (Democrats) or finessed as “realism” (Republicans) via the elite’s kabuki theater of competing electoral dummies, dhimmis, and dandies. In short, these men have turned electoral politics into the comforting charade of which Tocqueville wisely forewarned, in which “the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master, and then relapse into it again.” (Democracy in America, Bk. IV Ch. vi.)
As is well known, the Democratic Party takes the lead on the goals cited above, continually shifting the vanguard just a little farther towards the socialist tyranny with which their leading lights always sympathized internationally, and which they now advocate boldly at home. In our quest for the establishment’s current mainstream, however, we ought to think conservatively, and look not to the daring vanguard, but to those points of alliance between the establishment’s two public faces.
That is, if you want to gauge the long-term trajectory of the ruling class, listen to the Democrat professors and activists who are calling for the criminalization of non-progressive opinions, the confiscation of all firearms, or the regulation of journalism based on socialist-defined “critical information needs.” But if you are seeking a snapshot of today’s ruling class status quo, with a view to what they plan to accomplish in 2016, watch the GOP establishment. For they – and by “they” I mean the party elders, corporate insiders, and pandering “conservative media” fixtures – show us precisely where the Democrats and Republicans are essentially allied on current objectives.
Therefore, if one gets over the mental habit of imagining presidential politics are what they were when Calvin Coolidge won, or even when Ronald Reagan won – after a war against the establishment, which learned a lesson from this defeat that it would never forget – one can fairly certainly identify the next Republican nominee.
The trick to reading the Washington elite is to avoid overemphasizing the differences between Republicans and Democrats, which are minimized when the GOP establishment gets its way. A great egret has a longer neck than a little egret, but we call them both egrets because what unites them is plainly more essential than what distinguishes them. The same goes for great progressives and little progressives.
(The current Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue is often cited as an exception, even by establishment standards. Obama represents the lawless vanguard, to be sure. But if he is so far away from the mainstream establishment, then how do you explain all those cheerful Boehner-Obama photo ops, his signature power-grab being upheld as constitutional by a Republican-appointed Chief Justice, or all the establishment “conservative” pundits fawning over him in 2008 as though he were a combination of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Cary Grant. My hypothesis, by contrast, explains these seeming incongruities very neatly. Obama is not the establishment mainstream – yet.)
A thought experiment: try plotting U.S. presidential politics on a Venn diagram. I provide a template below.
Populate the two circles with the major policy positions and of any plausible Democrat and Republican presidential candidates. Policies that fall within the intersection of the two circles represent what the two sides of the ruling class substantially agree upon right now, thereby revealing the heart of today’s Washington establishment. The GOP faction of the establishment, therefore, can be counted on to promote the candidate they regard as falling most reliably within that intersection. (Notice that this means the candidate himself need not be a full-fledged member of the establishment; they are merely looking for the man whose positions most closely match their priorities.)
For example, the left circle alone will contain the terms “transgender rights,” “federally funded abortion,” “gun confiscation,” and “tax increases.” The right circle alone will contain “religious freedom,” “anti-abortion,” “gun rights,” and “tax cuts.”
The intersecting area will contain several items which, whatever else the candidates who embrace them may say, will truly define those candidacies, in the sense of revealing why the ruling elite favor those men as presidential nominees. (For example, Mitt Romney was the only candidate in the 2012 primaries who was hopelessly compromised on Obamacare; thus, on my hypothesis, he was the obvious choice for an establishment that intended not to challenge that most unpopular lurch towards authoritarianism too vigorously.)
Anything else the establishment candidate may represent, beyond the items in that intersection, will be useful optics for idiosyncratic purposes, and something for conservatives to cling to. This is not negligible, but its role is mainly aesthetic, putting a partisan face on an establishment agenda.
Nevertheless, the surest window to the establishment’s “soul” is that middle section of your Venn diagram, where we find the “bipartisan” goals the Republican candidate will most assuredly stand for.
So here he is, the 2016 GOP nominee:
He supports a “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants. This drops anchor for the progressive captains of the ship of state, eventually inflating the electorate with millions of people lacking education or cultural heritage related to individualism and property rights, while deflating manufacturing costs with low-skill, low-literacy workers.
His position on manmade climate change is “evolving,” drifting and shifting somewhere along the continuum from “climate change may be real” (Jeb Bush, 2011) to “when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role it’s time to defer to the experts” (Chris Christie, 2011).
He criticizes Obamacare as “failed legislation” (who could call it anything else?) but finesses any concrete talk of fundamental reversion. He advocates a watered-down version of the establishment’s thin gruel of “Repeal and Replace” – something along the lines of “Tweak and Touch-up,” with “free market solutions” as a euphemism for a heavily regulated pseudo-market analogous to cap-and-trade.
He is insistent that no one should impugn the motives and patriotism of the Democrat candidate – any Democrat candidate – and that “we all want what’s best for America.” When asked during a presidential debate whether his Democratic opponent would make a good president, he says “Yes, but….”
He supports the Common Core agenda for nationalizing education standards, claiming that this is necessary to keep America “competitive,” and to ensure that “everyone has a fair chance to learn the skills needed in today’s economy.” He plays to conservatives by saying the problem with education is the teachers unions and “lack of choice.” Improving quality and providing choice are his euphemisms, just as in healthcare, for standardizing methods and outcomes to the point where every American child’s fate will henceforth be molded by a centralized spiritual death panel – this will be called “equal opportunity.”
He supports the “vitally important” work being done by the “patriots” at the NSA, while promising “vigorous safeguards” to ensure that none of their top-secret methods of collecting every scrap of electronic communications data and other private information ever overstep the bounds of “legitimate” privacy concerns – where no concern voiced to date meets the threshold of legitimacy.
He is absolutely silent on the question of whether the federal government has any responsibility to abide by its constitutional (i.e., legal) limits, and indeed rarely mentions the Constitution at all, and never as an essential concern.
There he is, your next GOP presidential candidate – a man the establishment can live with.
Am I cheating by not providing an exact name? But what’s in a name, when that name is attached to a man who is, for all practical purposes, merely a vessel for an agenda devised by self-seeking manipulators behind the scenes? An agenda designed to concentrate more power within the federal government, and ultimately within the executive branch. Not the constitutional agenda for which the President was meant to be a vessel, but a “transformative” agenda designed to protect the social position and wealth of the permanent ruling class America was never supposed to have.
Might events falsify my hypothesis? Unlike the global warmists, I hope so. Failing that, might constitutionalists find a way to slay the monster at last? That doesn’t seem likely, to be honest. More realistically, perhaps they can minimize the damage pre-emptively during the 2014 congressional primaries and elsewhere. The establishment, a centralized authority monster, will be weaker in those areas it considers less vital. Their attention and resources cannot anticipate and repel every “minor” challenge – at least not until they have finished apportioning all practical authority to themselves.
Whatever you do, don’t assume that any candidate who espouses a few items on the Republican side of your Venn diagram is satisfactory. That section then becomes the ruling class’s shiny distraction. Keep your eye on the intersection of the circles, where the two mildly competitive factions of the progressive elite follow their bliss together – at their nation’s expense.