SANTA MONICA, Ca. — “Paradox” is a thoroughly inadequate description of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appearance last month before the GOP convention. The event’s internal contradictions bounce off each other like reflections in a funhouse gallery, creating disorientation if not suspicion across the entire spectrum of GOP ideologues. What most fail to see is that, obscured by the pomp, the irony, and the mischievous “action hero” overtones of Schwarzenegger’s ascendancy is a big fat opportunity for conservatives.
Imagine: A Republican governor voted into power in a special election by a luridly Democratic state. Now, he movingly and passionately supports the nominee, highlighting his policy differences in personal domestic policy only by his abject silence.
It gets better: Before Arnold speaks, the pundits worry how this outsider, this actor, this pro-choicer would be received by the more conservative convention assembly. The answer, of course, is with affectionate, raucous acceptance of his message of strength abroad and opportunity at home. Few in either party remember that his father-in-law, Sargent Shriver, was, in 1972, the last pro-life candidate on a national Democratic ticket.
And for those keeping score at home: Twelve years earlier, Margaret Sanger, arguable founder of the pro-choice movement, declared that she would “leave the country” if Mrs. Schwarzenegger’s uncle, John F. Kennedy, (a dangerous Roman Catholic) were elected. (She didn’t.)
In the battle for the soul of the Republican Party, Arnold represents neither side — and both. For fifty years, Republicans have been periodically riven by a seemingly irresolvable collision of philosophies. Most partisans consider this a zero-sum battle, where each side’s gain is the other’s loss.
Broadly speaking, the fault line is between those classic conservatives who “just say no” to liberal social programs and the “Rockefeller Republicans” who eschew ideology to realistically (cravenly?) meet the Democrats half way on every expansion of government. Schwarzenegger smashes that dynamic, as he moves toward realizing a vision of government that is both libertarian and authoritarian, both laissez faire and confiscatory, both brutal and affectionate.
Both sides are confused: Is the governor some kind of hypocrite, schizophrenic, or poseur? Only if we rely on an obsolete, last-century worldview. Arnold introduces a new way to play the game: with a conservatism that is unique, and not made in America. In an age where “European” has become synonymous with “socialist,” “progressive,” or maybe just “depraved,” Schwarzenegger is a living, breathing import of the retro liberal/authoritarianism introduced into central Europe by the notable social architect Otto von Bismarck.
THE GREAT PRUSSIAN AGGREGATOR of the late 19th century German empire, Bismarck achieved initial success the real old-fashioned way, with “blood and iron,” better strategies, and faster implementation of new armaments. Then, determined to head off the socialism that had roiled neighboring countries, Bismarck initiated path-breaking social welfare programs for the disabled and the elderly. Funded by payments both from the worker and the government, it became the template for all liberal programs of the next century. To the consternation of the “real” conservatives of the ruling class, Bismarck saw no incongruence between the cold blooded pursuit of national power on the one hand and a nurturing governmental safety net on the other. Like his unification of the local Germanic fiefdoms, social welfare was just one more component of his vision of the modern state, an inexorable evolution from an inferior feudal world. (A Nexis search of “Von Bismarck” in proximity to “Rockefeller Republican” yields no matches.)
Technically speaking, Governor Schwarzenegger is an unlikely emissary of Bismarckian social welfare into the New World. Arnold is from Austria, a territory with which Bismarck allied but specifically excluded from his confederation. Moreover, Arnold is a Catholic, the group against which Bismarck launched the original Kulturkampf, seeing the Church as an alternate ruling structure and thus a threat to empire’s power base. Nonetheless, by both words and behavior, Schwarzenegger displays a deep internalization of the mindset that the Iron Chancellor imposed on the region 125 years ago. In fact, the personal parallels are strong:
• Both are outsiders, taking leadership of a population and a society far larger than their own birth country.
• Both are by their nature authoritarians, with a visceral contempt for anything that smacks of socialism — yet both appeal to the power of the “common folk” as allies in their battle against entrenched special interests.
• Bismarck was the father of “realpolitik.” Even when not playing the Terminator, Arnold is also no slouch when it comes to emotionally-detached strategy and the power of self discipline.
• Both consciously employ strategic misdirection to confound their opponents often “winning” the battle before it begins.
Like Bismarck, Arnold’s fusion of conservatism and social welfare is not a milquetoast compromise, but rather the simultaneous pursuit of twin core passions. In the convention speech, speaking of his first experiences in this country in 1968, Arnold recounts how, in America, he found a conservatism that resonated with his own innate value system:
I said to my friend, “What party is he?” My friend said, “He’s a Republican.” I said, “Then I am a Republican!”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online