The legislation is not a work of art, either. Anything that involves computers and background checks–as this bill does for gun purchases–is an abuse waiting to happen. As computers grow more sophisticated, people find more sophisticated ways to use them–all of them always involving curtailment of liberties. Australia, actually, is the country that pioneered the antilibertarian use of databases. Even in the 1980s, the Australians I hung around with in London would describe the burdens of putting their lives in order before going abroad even for a vacation. Everyone who left the country had his name run through a computer at the airport, and there were a whole host of things that could pop up onscreen to render you a hostage on Australian soil: back taxes, child support payments, bad debts from years ago, even parking tickets.
It’s highly unlikely that our own well-organized interest groups–let alone our obscenely efficient government surveillance organizations–will be able to resist piggybacking on this kind of tracking system. At some point, the right to bear arms becomes a lot more trouble than it’s worth. Which, I suppose, is the point.
Quayle: Smarter Than Gore
Every time Al Gore takes the lead in something, I’m reminded of his similarity to Dan Quayle. Quayle is running a flat-footed presidential campaign–not to mention running out of money–and he’ll be out of contention by the time we hit New Hampshire. But Gore has a flat-footed campaign, too, and he has a fighting chance at being president. Don’t tell me it’s because Gore is smarter. In fact, there is plenty of evidence–not least the 1992 vice presidential debate–that Quayle is the smarter of the two. He certainly has smarter speechwriters.
In fact, Quayle, though his presidential prospects may already be shrouded in doom, has given the very best speeches of this young campaign. Last week, on the seventh anniversary of his (admittedly overrated) Murphy Brown speech, Quayle issued an attack on elites in San Francisco. That’s the place to do it, of course–metropolitan, multicultural, gay and richer than anyplace else in the country. It’s the Sister Souljah method. The key thing that made Bill Clinton a better candidate than either of the milquetoasts he faced was his willingness to propound his program in the face of those who wouldn’t necessary like it. He didn’t just follow the time-honored Republican method of telling the Rotary Club how good business was and the Southern Baptist Convention how good prayer was and Archer Daniels Midland how good ethanol subsid–
But I digress. Quayle’s speech was on the “legal aristocracy.” For a conservative politician, it’s a trope of great explanatory power. It allows him to blame someone for the fact that there’s no prayer in school, condemn Washington gridlock, protect his big-business donors (or claim to) from excessive litigation, draw attention to the fact that regulation itself is big business and lambaste the trial lawyers who are the Democratic Party’s single biggest source of campaign dosh outside of China–all in one fell swoop. Clinton hack Paul Begala mocked Quayle for trying “to blame lawyers for all the problems in our schools.” And it may be true that Quayle fails to see that there’s almost a physics of regulation in society. If you erode customs, you
get lawyers. But it’s Begala who doesn’t realize that not all regulation is alike, and the triumph of lawyers is not exactly a healthy sign.
And Quayle was up to something even bigger. Though he was much belittled for talking about a “left-wing cultural elite” in 1992, he was right, of course. (If you disagree, please drop a note the next time you hear of Barbra Streisand and Spike Lee voting for a Republican.) Now he has expanded that point. In Quayle’s mind, the Democratic Party has become the party of the elite tout court–not just in culture, not just in government. In describing them as such, he resorted to the rhetoric of generations of left-wing sociologists and agitators: “In funding its cultural agenda, the legal aristocracy has not worked alone. It has been aided by a willing and compliant news media and an entertainment community that transmits counterculture values. They live in gated communities and send their children to expensive private schools. This is their world. But it’s not the real world.”
Sorry–powerful corporations as puppeteers of a media propaganda network? This sounds less like Ronald Reagan than Rosa Luxembourg. It may be nonsense. It may be paranoid. But it’s coherent, and it’s very new. Because Quayle’s implication is that the Democrats are the party of the rich and the Republicans the party of the working poor.
I like it. It will be interesting to see how this line of thinking plays out, and if anyone buys it. There has been evidence for quite some time that Democrats are the party of rich elites, Republicans the party of working stiffs. But there was always evidence to the contrary: Republicans, for instance, remained the party of the global financial elite, and the evidence was that they favored free trade and the Democrats didn’t. But a stunning poll out last week shows that that’s no longer true. The Association of Women in International Trade commissioned a poll from EPIC/MRA asking respondents whether they believed the United States should continue participating in the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement with Mexico, or pull out. Democrats were in favor of continuing in the pact by 27 percent to 13. Republicans, by 25-20, were for pulling out.
GOP: Prole and Proud of It
Okay, now let’s pile up the anecdotal evidence that the Republicans are the party of the horny-handed rabble. There’s the announcement by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, late of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, that he is mulling a run for Congress against Brad Sherman in the California 24th. This is a real prole/nob matchup. The last time I saw Skunk, he had a walrus mustache, and the bleary-eyed look that seems to be mandatory if you grow a walrus mustache. The last time I saw Brad Sherman, he was a dorky little bald guy from Harvard Law. (Very bald, in fact–his 1996 campaign handed out combs reading, “You can use one more than I can.”)
Just playing for those two bands is a stunning achievement for Skunk. There was never a band more intellectual than Steely Dan, and never a band more anti-intellectual than the Doobies. What’s the journalistic equivalent? Probably spending half your time writing pieces on paleontology for Raritan and half your time writing Cindy Adams’ material. Skunk has carried the anti-intellectual/intellectual dichotomy into his political life. He seems to know next to nothing about economics, but has made himself perhaps the world’s leading authority on nuclear defense. He does have a bit of a resume problem. He claims to have been an adviser for the space program, which he was not. But who didn’t make such claims in the 70s?
Also keeping up the GOP’s working-class image was Steve Forbes’ New Hampshire campaign director Peter Robbio, who got arrested last month at the Black Brimmer restaurant in Manchester for pulling a gun on three guys who were giving him “threatening looks.” (Why didn’t he just say, “Hey, lay off, man–it’s a Republican state.”) The most mystifying part of the episode was the statement made by Forbes’ campaign manager Bill Dal Col when asked if he knew his most important employee had been arrested. According to the Manchester Union-Leader, Dal Col said that “all he knew was that Robbio resigned from his campaign post on April 17 for personal reasons.”
Yeah–like his being “personally” in jail.