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How the Democrats Lost Their Way By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Tod Lindberg, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and editor of its Washington D.C.-based journal Policy Review. His new book is The Political Teachings of Jesus (HarperCollins), an excerpt from which appears in the latest edition of Policy Review. He is a contributing editor at the Weekly Standard and is often heard as an analyst on National Public Radio.



FP: Tod Lindberg, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Lindberg: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

FP: Can you talk a bit about the danger political parties face when they quit looking to the center? This is an especially acute problem for Democrats right now, correct?

Lindberg: Of course, you have to look after the party base, there's no question about that. The most hard-core partisans are indeed the ones most likely to turn out to vote, especially in off-year elections -- unless they're turned off by what the party is up to. But the problem with the base is that it often has unrealistic expectations about what is politically possible, which can cause the congressional leadership to overreach. That tends to lead to two consequences. First, your only real achievement is symbolic. Second, you reinforce the perceptions on which you are most vulnerable to attack from the other side. Now, I think you could say that in its last two years, 2005-06, the GOP Congress fell hard into this trap. There were a lot of symbolic votes on social issues, including immigration restriction, that didn't really amount to anything, and there was little to nothing for the elements of the GOP coalition for whom those issues are not top priority -- let alone for the less partisan center, which might respond favorably to the GOP on taxes, on spending restraint, and on national security, for example.

Now the Democrats are at risk, and it's interesting that it took them so little time in charge to drive congressional approval ratings to historic lows. There is huge pressure on them from their base to end the war in Iraq, or maybe die trying. The congressional leadership can't deliver that outcome, but still thinks that incessantly pressing the issue is good politics. I'm not so sure. The base is angry about the absence of results, and it looks to the center of the country like the same old partisan politics. So you have a dissatisfied base and a tuned-out center. This situation is more dangerous than Democrats think.

FP: When you say that the situation is “more dangerous than Democrats think” what exactly are you implying? What could a dangerous scenario be?

Lindberg: Essentially, that the people who were new to the political game in the 2006 election cycle -- who turned out to vote or to give money on-line to Democratic candidates in the hopes of bringing the war to a quicker end --- will get turned off by how little the Democratic Congress was able to deliver relative to their expectations. It doesn't take much to get people to tune out in frustration. When Democrats came back with a big win in November 2006, a lot of the people who voted for them thought that meant the U.S. would have to get out of Iraq. They're now learning different, and they don't like it. That's why congressional approval ratings have tanked so quickly.

FP: When we look at the Democratic Party, we actually have a party that is rooting for defeat in Iraq. The other day, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats admitted that the surge is working in many respects, but that we still need to leave Iraq. What sense does this make? Do the Democrats even know who the enemy is? The radical Left has taken control of the party hasn’t it? Why has this occurred?


Lindberg: I think it's more accurate to say that the vast majority of the Democratic Party is fully vested in the idea that Iraq has been a misbegotten failure, the proper response to which is to figure out how to extricate the United States as quickly as possible. At this point, signs of success for the surge are being juxtaposed against the lack of progress on political reconciliation. That's a shift of the goalpost from people who thought the surge was certain to fail in military terms.

I think it reflects adaptability on the part of people who just want to get this over with starting now -- nothing they see is going to change their minds. As for the idea that Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terrorism, I find it difficult to see how people can take that view except out of ideological blindness. Yes, there is a huge problem with sectarian conflict in Iraq. Would that have been a problem if Al Qaeda in Iraq didn't exist? Yes. But AQI is there, and did set out to aggravate the conflict, to impressive effect. The idea that Bin Laden's lieutenants, camp-followers, fellow travelers and sympathizers wouldn't
perceive a precipitate U.S. departure as a major victory is just folly.

FP: So what do you make of the 2008 presidential campaign as it stands right now?

Lindberg: I think Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee. She is tough, organized, funded, and disciplined. On the GOP side, I am an informal and unpaid advisor on foreign policy and national security to John McCain, so that takes me out of the handicapping. The reason I'm with McCain, by the way, is that I think foreign policy and national security are the most important issues in 2008, and he understands them better than anybody, by dint of long experience and a clear moral vision. It's sort of an odd position to be in, but I'm an advisor on foreign policy and national security to the candidate who least needs advice on foreign policy and national security.

FP: Will the Republican nominee be able to beat Hillary? What risks face this nation, especially in terms of national security and the economy, if Hillary becomes President?

Lindberg: Some people seem to think that the Republicans haven't got a prayer for the White House in '08 because of popular opposition to the Iraq war, the spillover effect of George W. Bush's unpopularity, and various and sundry Washington scandals, especially unsavory sex and corruption in office. I don't think that's right, though. A presidential election comes down to a comparative judgment of two people, the candidates. George W. Bush was able to beat John Kerry in 2004 not because objective circumstances were favorable to Bush (they weren't), but because of John Kerry. He was just not a good candidate. People might not have thought so highly of Bush, but that's not the question. It's "compared to whom?" If Republicans nominate a formidable candidate, they have a good chance. Obviously, I think McCain would be the best choice, but he's not necessarily the only Republican who could go the distance against her.

As for the risks of a Clinton 44: First, keep your hand on your wallet. Taxes will go up, if indeed they won't go up and up and up. Second, just because Democrats have gotten a little smarter about things like guns and gay marriage, don't think they have given up their policy preferences. They'll just be looking to appoint judges who are willing to legislate the outcomes they favor from the bench.

On foreign policy and national security, the good news is that even Democrats are talking about the need for a larger military. But for way too many of them, "decisive action" and "moral clarity" are notions to be resisted as "simplistic," which raises the unfortunate prospect of sitting back and admiring the nuances while Iran gets the bomb.

FP: Tell us about your new book, The Political Teachings of Jesus.

Lindberg: What I wanted to do in this book was to examine closely what Jesus had to say about how people should live their lives and organize their affairs in this world. He had a lot to say on the subject, and the world in which we live, the modern world, has been hugely shaped by his message.

What you find in his political teachings is an extraordinarily well-worked out account of how to go about creating a society based on the principle of universal freedom and equality, one that reaches out in an effort to extend "brotherly" and "neighborly" relations in an ever-expanding circle of neighborhood, including to former enemies, in the hope that they might reciprocate. The benefits of living in such a society are vast, and lest we forget them or grow complacent about them, we need to go back to the source.

Recall the world into which Jesus was born: the Roman occupation, the court of Herod the Great, a Temple elite of vast power and influence, the rampant institution of slavery, the near-complete subjection of women, the rich and powerful separated by gates from the poorest of the poor, the banishment of the sick, the exposure of unwanted infants. Jesus said: it doesn't have to be like this. If we get serious about treating people the way we ourselves would like to be treated -- the Golden Rule -- the possibilities for the improvement of the human condition in this world are extraordinary.

As you can probably guess, you're not going to find any speculation in my book about what Jesus would drive or who he'd like for president in '08. I wanted to get at this larger aspect of his message, not only so that we can appreciate what he said more fully, but also because there are so many places in the world today where conditions aren't all that different from how things were 2,000 years ago. In the largest sense, working in one way or another to extend the blessings of the modern world to those who don't currently enjoy them is our greatest challenge.

FP: What are some things that Jesus had to say that have made a deep impression on you?

Lindberg: Where to begin? First of all, think about Jesus's statements in the Beatitudes that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed and shall be satisfied and that the meek are blessed and shall inherit the earth. If you conclude from those claims Jesus makes that he is talking solely about the next world, you are missing something important. What he is also describing is the effect in this world of the spread of his teaching about how people should get along with each other and the kind of society that will result. And however imperfectly, because we are after all human, the world we live in has been shaped by his teachings. The hunger and thirst for righteousness, properly understood, can indeed be satisfied among all those who share it. Indeed, it can only be satisfied for any if it is satisfied for all, otherwise my satisfaction comes at your expense, and is selfish rather than righteous. This is a profound and revolutionary insight into the human condition.

At the same time, Jesus was pragmatic. He said he came not to abolish the ancient law, but to fulfill it. He rejected the idea that you can simply cast the law aside and get on with building the society he envisions. The result would more likely be anarchy. You have to start from a position of law and build on that. It's an important insight unfortunately neglected by those who want to see Jesus solely as a revolutionary.

FP: Overall, the left-Liberal culture that dominates our mainstream media is hostile to such a book, no?

Lindberg: I think it's very difficult for those whose outlook is thoroughly secular if not anti-religious to get past their scepticism and understand that Jesus's teaching about how to live in this world is reasonable -- not only that, but that the social relations they seek for themselves have their origins in what he had to say. I hope they too will read this book and come to understand Jesus better.

FP: If Jesus came not to abolish the ancient law, but to fulfill it and if he rejected the idea that you can simply cast the law aside and he believed that one must start from a position of law and build on that, then all of this directly rejects the prescription of the radical Left. In other words, Jesus rejected the notion that the slate must be wiped clean and a utopia built on its ashes. The teachings of Jesus are therefore anathema to the radical Left. Your thoughts?

Lindberg:
The idea that you can wipe the slate clean and start over is one of the most dangerous ideas human beings have ever come up with, and you are quite right that they didn't get it from Jesus. That's the route that leads to Nazi extermination politics, Stalin's millions of dead, Mao's scores of millions dead, Pol Pot's killing fields, and on and on.

Some people have tried to portray Jesus as a revolutionary; that's the basis of so-called "liberation theology." Along the same lines, some people like to see the parable of the vine-growers (Matthew 21:33-41, Mark 12:1-9, Luke 20:9-16) as a story of a proletarian revolution, which is about exactly the opposite of what Jesus had in mind. The political teachings of Jesus mark a path to freedom and equality for all. Those who pursue perversions of those ideas through coercion and repression are rather spectacularly missing his point.

FP:
Tod Lindberg, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.

Lindberg: I thank you. The pleasure was mine.

Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.


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