Peter Wehner, former Deputy Assistant to the President (George W. Bush) and Director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Mr. Wehner served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations prior to becoming deputy director of speech writing for President George W. Bush in 2001. In 2002, he was asked to head the Office of Strategic Initiatives, where he generated policy ideas, reached out to public intellectuals, published op-eds and essays, and provided counsel on a range of domestic and international issues. Prior to joining the Bush Administration, Wehner was executive director for policy for Empower America, a conservative public-policy organization. Mr. Wehner also served as a special assistant to the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and, before that, as a speech writer for then-Secretary of Education Bill Bennett.
Mr. Wehner writes widely on political, cultural, religious, and national-security issues. Since leaving the White House in 2007 he has written for Commentary, The Weekly Standard, National Review, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. He also writes regularly for Commentary magazine’s blog “Contentions” and National Review Online. Mr. Wehner has also appeared as a commentator on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, C-SPAN television, and the BBC.
That perhaps tells us more than enough to understand why Wehner has attempted to place Democrats on the Left of an imaginary political spectrum that leads people into thinking that the Left-Right spectrum is the only one that matters. It isn't. Other categories of political divisions have been extant, and some have actually been used to measure divisions along ideological lines, such as:
In his Op-Ed piece on May 27th, Wehner compared both Barack Obama and current presidential contender Hillary Clinton to Bill Clinton back in the 1990's, indicating that both Obama and Hillary Clinton have moved to the left of Bill Clinton whom he reminds us ran as a "centrist New Democrat." Wehner's underlying themes present the same old Neo-Con agenda, and that is the more revealing narrative. So, let us compare what he says to what it really means.
1) "In the last two decades the Democratic Party has moved substantially further to the left than the Republican Party has shifted to the right. On most major issues the Republican Party hasn't moved very much from where it was during the Gingrich era in the mid-1990's."
What it Means: "The Republican Party really isn't as radical as you've heard, but watch out for Hillary!" This is his real theme and purpose for this article: to bash Obama's legacy, and to pin the term "radical leftist" on Hillary Clinton before she ever gets her campaign rolling. But, the Gingrich version of the Republican Party is exactly what the Tea Party revolt was against. They wanted conservatives to stand up for conservative principles rather than backing down in the face of Democratic opposition or bi-partisan compromise. No compromise. No equivocation. No quarter given to Leftists. No more central government power enhancements: no social programs, no restrictive regulations on businesses, few if any oversight agencies, no public ownership; no welfare programs. Some of their tactics: Privatize. Criticize. Evangelize. Pulverize. Racialize. Criminalize. Fantasize. Scandalize. Marginalize. Exceptionalize and above all, Prevaricate!
2) "To see just how far the Democratic Party has moved to the left, compare Barack Obama with Bill Clinton. In 1992, Mr. Clinton ran as a centrist New Democrat. In several respects he governed as one as well. He endorsed a sentencing policy of "three strikes and you're out," and he proposed adding 100,000 police officers to the streets. In contrast, President Obama's former Attorney General, Eric H. Holder, Jr., criticized what he called "widespread incarceration" and championed the first decrease in the federal prison population in more than three decades. Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has chosen to focus on police abuses."
What It Means: "Watch out for those Democrats (like Hillary) who focus on reducing prison populations" (to undo harsh restrictive sentencing of racial minority men for non-violent drug crime that was meted out or plea bargained because of unjust and unfair laws aimed at minorities). Especially "watch out for Democrats who don't put extra police on the beat or who focus on police abuses" or who don't treat police with deference, because without such protection, racial minorities are going to destroy your property and perhaps your life. Apparently, Mr. Wehner forgot that President Obama actually signed legislation that did fund extra police and other first responders (the Stimulus Act).
3) Even worse, Wehner goes after President Obama for loosening "welfare reform" restrictions made law under President Clinton, and further chides him for being more liberal than Bill Clinton on gay rights, religious liberties, abortion rights, drug legalization and climate change. But then emerges the talking point that always appears from a Conservative mouthpiece: "Mr. Obama is responsible for creating the Affordable Care Act, the largest new entitlement since the Great Society. He is the first President to essentially nationalize health care."
What It Means: Surprisingly, Wehner comes out with it quite succinctly:
"Hillary Rodham Clinton, in positioning herself for the 2016 election, is decidedly more liberal than she or her husband once were on illegal immigration, gay marriage and incarceration. She has called to 'end the era of mass incarceration' and spoken about the importance of 'toppling' the wealthiest 1 percent. She has remained non-committal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership."
He then adds this tidbit: "The Democratic Party is now a pre-Democratic party, the result of Mr. Obama's own ideological predilections and the coalition he has built."
So, he has attacked Hillary Clinton by associating her with liberal tendencies of President Obama and his administration, and then he looks back before the Clinton administration in order to remind readers to associate Hillary with a liberal agenda (when she was in college, for instance, she worked on behalf of Eugene McCarthy's nomination by traveling to New Hampshire to help with his campaign). He then concludes with an opinion laden, factually-limited defense of how Conservatives today have established themselves as the dominant party; and how they have opened up substantial leads on how they deal with terrorism, foreign policy and taxes. Can you say "WAR," "EXCEPTIONALISM" " and "CUT TAXES for the RICH"?
In The Atlantic for Jun 20, 2014, Crispin Sartwell cautions us:
"The left-right divide might be a division between social identities based on class or region or race or gender, but it is certainly not a clash between different political ideas." We should arrange political positions according to whether they propose to increase hierarchy or to dismantle it. Instead of left and right, we should be thinking about vertical versus horizontal arrangements of power and wealth."
I partially agree with Sartwell and propose that we begin thinking, not in terms of ideological differences between the Left and the Right on a horizontal spectrum. I propose instead that we begin to think about political action, not just political ideas or thought. Indeed, it is my fervent belief that, in light of the prevailing divisions that exist between Right and Left, that we abandon that false premise in favor of a new spectrum. I am of the opinion that we should judge the political parties on the basis of the actions they take, not the words they speak, for words are cheap in terms of results.
I propose that we change the conversation and begin to measure politicians and would-be politicians, and one's own political orientation perhaps, on the basis of what best serves the People of this nation; on the basis of what actions help enhance the everyday life experience of the broadest representative number of the People; on the basis of what best promotes the welfare of the greatest number of our citizens and non-citizens; on the basis of what actions produce the most effective opportunities for the greatest number of the People; finally, on the basis of what the People actually say are the most effective outcomes for them because of actions undertaken on their behalf.
We have never been just a nation of ideologues and cheap-shot artists whose target is the diminution of other people and of ideas different from their own. We are a nation of activists who believe that we must participate in our communities, our states, and our national issues and concerns in order to keep alive and well the values and freedoms that have sustained us throughout our history. Beyond all the rhetoric, we have always acted upon beliefs, ideas and values. We have always maintained that helping our neighbors is paramount to a thriving democracy like ours. We are "joiners" because we believe fervently that groups united in a cause benefit our country and our own lives. We are a nation of people who care about people of other cultures and nations; we have long led the world in our generosity and charity beyond our borders. We have been a nation of People who cared about how the most vulnerable among us are treated. Parents, grandparents, neighbors, philanthropists have often joined together to enhance a community's response to basic needs that have gone unattended. We are a people who don't wait for someone else to tell us what to do, we see a problem, we organize to solve it, or at least to abate its effects.
We are not a nation of haters; although we know we harbor many within our borders who hate others and they come in various forms - some hate other races and cultures, some despise those down on their luck who need a helping hand, some hate Jews, or Christians, or Muslims; some hate those who look or act differently from some imagined norm - members of the LGBT community, or persons with disabilities. Haters include those who want to destroy this nation with some form of terrorism - be it a War on Drugs that ends up a war on racial groups; bellicose advocates of war against other nations, militarization of police forces, denial of long-protected civil rights such as the vote or unwarranted search and seizure, or unequal application of laws and protections. Haters are also terrorists in other senses - they want to destroy our nation and its people by bombing, maiming or committing crimes that take something precious from others including life itself.
But, hate is not our standard practice. Tearing down democratic standards and rights and freedoms is not our national goal. Treating government as the source of our problems and then using it to force one Party's thoughts and actions and goals upon us all is not our mission. The fundamental mission of all of our basic institutions, including government, is the welfare, protection and enhancement of the well-being of all our People, applied equally. It is time to judge our progress in that mission, not on ideologies conceived and promoted by demagogues who seek power for themselves rather than using their delegated powers to perform on behalf of their constituency.
It is time to characterize our political nature by actions that beget the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Finally then, my own proposal for a spectrum (below) that measures where one falls on a scale that makes sense in a democracy, and yes, in a capitalist economic system. It is a vertical spectrum that looks at where one falls in terms of actions, not words, and it has little to do with whether your beliefs have been tainted by the Left or the Right of political thought; here we are all measured for what we do on behalf of other people, whether as an individual or as part of a group or organization.
However, we cannot afford to be naive about what political ideologies can do to such a concept. They can destroy it of course, and not without malice. For instance, from the Right wing, we could have people defining outcomes in terms of how many abortions they were able to prevent instead of how many babies (and mothers) they could assist by promoting world-class pre-natal care. Or, from the Left, we could have good outcomes for people defined by an over-abundance of government programs that begin to replace non-profit organizations. Neither approach to good works and effective outcomes is acceptable. And that is why a proposed measurement of actions on a spectrum like this must begin with principles and guidelines for defining "need" and "outcomes" and "welfare."
That is the very trouble with the Left-Right continuum: it often fails to define terms or principles, so that words like "leftist" or "socialist" or even "the Left" along with words like "conservative" or "Right-wing" or "reactionary" or "regressive" are equally vague but become epithets all by themselves with no demand for definition or explanation. This is where we stand today: the Left-Right spectrum is simply a meaningless jumble of undefined, rhetorical catch-phrases that are used as weapons of political warfare rather than as a measure of what one believes and what one does to effectuate those beliefs. We are the victims of a political device that affects people running for office but which does nothing constructive for the vast majority of our citizens. It is devoid of authenticity.
Let us then return to some foundational principles, values and norms that might underlie the vertical continuum of effective positive outcomes of actions taken on behalf of the People of this country. What I will propose is a starting point, not a be-all and end-all product. This spectrum needs to be able to evolve and not remain static. The next posting will address this subject, so "tune-in next time."
10 - Champion of others' rights and welfare - part of at least 10 documented favorable outcomes
9 - Zealot on behalf of others' rights and welfare - part of at least 9 favorable outcomes
8. - Activist for rights and welfare of others - part of at least 8 favorable outcomes
7 - Promoter of others' rights and welfare - part of at least 7 favorable outcomes
6 - Organizer on behalf of others' rights and welfare - part of at least 6 favorable outcomes
5 - Performer of routine duty toward others' rights and welfare - part of at least 5 favorable outcomes
4 - Promulgator of actions on behalf of others' rights and welfare - part of at least 4 good outcomes
3 - Developer of actions on behalf of others' rights and welfare - part of at least 3 good outcomes
2 - Doer - of actions on behalf of others' rights and welfare - part of at least 2 outcomes
1 - Initiator - part of at least one favorable outcome for others' welfare