The Daily Debate - 7/10/2013

By Robert Tracinski

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July 10, 2013

1. What Is the Job of the Opposition?

2. The Warped View of History

3. Dispatches


1. What Is the Job of the Opposition?

What is the job of the political opposition?

Correct answer: to oppose.

That's from Churchill—not Winston Churchill, but his father, Randolph Churchill. And he put it a little more strongly: "It is the duty of the Opposition to oppose."

This is not merely cynical or amoral advice. It doesn't simply counsel blind opposition. Rather, it reminds us that the function of opposing political parties is to reflect opposing political ideologies. The job of a political party is to stand up for its ideology, which means opposing the policies and platforms of the other parties.

If this seems simple, a lot of people are inclined to forget it—when it serves their purpose to do so.

Thus, Greg Sargent declares that Republican opposition is totally unprecedented in history, because they believe it is the duty of the opposition to oppose.

"It's not unusual to hear dirty hippie liberal blogger types (and the occasional lefty Nobel Prize winner) point out that today's GOP has effectively abdicated the role of functional opposition party, instead opting for a kind of post-policy nihilism in which sabotaging the Obama agenda has become its only guiding governing light.

"But when you hear this sort of argument coming from Chuck Todd, the mild-mannered, well respected Beltway insider, it should prompt folks to take notice.

"That's essentially what Todd, along with Mark Murray and the rest of MSNBC's First Read crew, argued this morning. It's worth quoting at length:

"'Here's a thought exercise on this summer morning: Imagine that after the controversial Medicare prescription-drug legislation was passed into law in 2003, Democrats did everything they could to thwart one of George W. Bush's top domestic achievements. They launched Senate filibusters to block essential HHS appointees from administering the law; they warned the sports and entertainment industries from participating in any public service announcements to help seniors understand how the law works; and, after taking control of the House of Representatives in 2007, they used the power of the purse to prohibit any more federal funds from being used to implement the law. As it turns out, none of that happened. And despite Democratic warnings that the law would be a bust—we remember the 2004 Dem presidential candidates campaigning against it—the Medicare prescription-drug law has been, for the most part, a pretty big success.'

"But that thought exercise has become a reality 10 years later as Republicans have worked to thwart/stymie/sabotage—pick your word—the implementation of President Obama's health-care and financial-reform laws."

We should first recognize that this is primarily an attempt at misdirection. Quick question: who is delaying the implementation of major provisions of ObamaCare? Yes, that's right, the Obama administration. And let's also pass over for the moment this rather selective recollection of the George W. Bush administration. No, Democrats didn't obstruct implementation of the Medicare prescription drug program—an expansion of the entitlement state which Bush proposed in his "compassionate," big-government-conservative mode. But I do seem to recall the newly installed Democratic Congress holding a series of votes through the first half of 2007 attempting to defund the Iraq War.

Let's focus instead on the deeper, more ominous message Sargent is promoting about the role of political opposition as such.

Consider a similar complaint, but one that requires a little more chutzpah, from Jamelle Bouie.

"[T]here's a case for repealing the employer mandate altogether, given how little it matters to the full scheme of the law.

"But such an administrative reform is only possible in a settled political environment, where both sides accept the reality of the Affordable Care Act. As it stands, the Republican Party is still committed to repealing every portion of Obamacare, regardless of the costs....

"The GOP wants Obamacare to fail, and it's doing all it can to ensure that outcome."

Translation: We Democrats messed up our health care reform and shoved it down the GOP's throat, so how come they won't help us fix it now? Well, the question kind of answers itself, doesn't it?

The job of the opposition is to oppose, not to accept the other party's ideological goals and assist them in reaching those goals.

I hardly need point out that you hear this argument from Democrats only after they have won an election. When they have lost, when they are cast out into the opposition, opposing the majority party is suddenly an honorable job again.

It strikes me that this is the Democrats' own version of the Islamists' slogal of "one man, one vote, one time." They wish for the political struggle to be over, done with, and decided once and for all by the results of the last election—but only if they're declared the winners.


2. The Warped View of History

Walter Russell Mead has a long post on Egypt offering a very pessimistic assessment of the chance that the current turmoil will result in a free society.

The facts he cites on his side are interesting and worth considering—though Michael Totten points to a poignant counter-example.

But what caught my attention the most was his argument in favor of a wider bias toward pessimism.

"Many people who came of age politically in the late 1980s and 1990s have a warped sense of history. They lived at a time of rapid democratic advance: East Asia, Latin America, South Africa and above all Central and Eastern Europe hosted a galaxy of new democratic stars. One belief uniting the administrations of Presidents Clinton, Bush 2, and Obama is that this democratic revolution would irresistibly sweep the rest of the world."

This resonated with me because I am one of those people who came of age in the late 1980s and 1990s, and yes, it did influence my view of the possibilities for human freedom. Is this such a bad thing? In fact, it has been my observation that those who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, Mead's generation, have their own warped view of history. Their formative experience was a retrograde era in which the U.S. was in turmoil and seemed to be shrinking, while the Soviets rose to their high water mark overseas, and they have a tendency to project their lousy era as the way of the world.

Mead has a point when he argues that "the low hanging fruit has been picked" when it comes to promoting freedom overseas and that "we need to shift strategy." Specifically, we need to adapt to the dictators' new strategy. In Egypt—as in Turkey, in Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and of course in China—those with a lust for power and control have mastered the ruse of the "democratically elected" authoritarian strongman. They have learned how to allow just enough of the trappings of political freedom to avoid being denounced as dictators, while still removing a lot of the doubt about the outcome of elections. They may not win with 99% of the vote, like their clumsy old-school predecessors, but they are almost never voted out.

But Mead's portrayal of my era is a little oversimplified. The children of 1989 remember the rapid collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe—but we also remember the heart-rending suppression of freedom at Tiananmen Square. So we actually do remember that the advance of freedom is not easy or inevitable.

Moreover, the lesson he has drawn from his own era are oversimplified. The decades directly after World War II, for example, saw the establishment of free nations, prosperous and allied with the United States, in states that had just emerged from experiments with totalitarian dictatorship. It is one of history's great, seemingly miraculous advances for human freedom, and it was the accomplishment of the 1940s and 50s, roughly the period from the Berlin airlift to "Ich bin ein Berliner."

And while the 1960s and 70s were pretty awful, they still saw the beginning of the rise of the Asian Tigers, which gave both economic and political freedom a very significant foothold in Asia and which served and continues to serve as a huge strategic and ideological counterbalance to Communism and to China.

I am just old enough to remember the echoes of a time in which it was obvious that Asia was accustomed to despotic rule and just wasn't suited to representative government like we are. So I'm leery about someone finding another country or culture for which freedom is impossible this time around.

Perhaps they're the ones with the warped view of history.


3. Dispatches

The collapse of work in the Obama era.

Affordable college is working just about as well as "affordable housing."

ObamaCare's individual mandate has a lower approval rate than Congress.

Did Mohamed Morsi fail because Egypt's police and bureaucrats went on strike against Islamist rule?

Has it really been only five years since we were conditioned to believe that "there's an app for that"? Which, when you think about it, is really quite a revolutionary thing to believe.


—Robert Tracinski

The Daily Debate

edited by Robert Tracinski

Brought to you by RealClearPolitics.

Robert Tracinski is also editor of The Tracinski Letter.

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