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It is important for all of us to appreciate

where we come from and how that history

has really shaped us in ways that we might not

understand.

Sonia Sotomayor

US Supreme Court Justice

Life’s too short to hang

out with people who

aren’t resourceful.

Jeff Bezos

American businessman

OPINION

THURSDAY 22 FEBRUARY 2018,

SAUDI GAZETTE

10

EDITORIAL

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Missing conservatism? Just wait

for a Democratic president

W

ITH

President

Trump’s support,

Republican

ma-

jorities in both

chambers of Congress recently

enacted an enormous increase

in government spending, revers-

ing the only major policy victory

of Tea Party insurgents in 2011.

Given this blasphemy, where is

the conservative revolt?

The typical conservative cycle

runs from backlash to embrace

to disappointment — and we are

right on schedule. After opposing

government expansion and social

change under Democratic presi-

dents, conservatives typically give

new Republican presidents the

benefit of the doubt. By the time

of the next counterattack against a

new Democrat, historical revision-

ism sets in: Republican leaders are

seen as part of the problem, being

too accommodating to liberalism

and selling out their principles.

The cycle is born of the in-

feasibility of conservative goals,

especially the American right’s

attempt to reverse the growth of

the welfare and administrative

state (which even the world’s most

right-wing parties accept) and

its tendency to start unwinnable

culture wars against inevitable

change (a typical conservative

foible). The public shares conser-

vatives’ broad desire for limiting

government growth and social up-

heaval, but that does not translate

into support for specific policies to

achieve those goals. The interna-

tional and historical norm is that

the size and scope of government

grow over time and new social

changes are codified; conservative

resistance slows this liberal policy

drift but does not reverse it.

Each conservative cycle be-

gins with a backlash against lib-

eral acceleration. Just as in 2010,

the midterm elections of 1966,

1978 and 1994 brought Republi-

can surges reacting to the policies

of new Democratic presidents.

Each insurgency was more con-

servative than the previous ver-

sion, but they lacked realistic and

popular proposals to rein in gov-

ernment or reverse social change;

they focused mostly on stopping

Democratic action.

Following each backlash, new

Republican presidents in 1969,

1981 and 2001 pleased conser-

vatives with regulatory reversals

and tax reform. But they were

also given wide latitude to pur-

sue compromise legislation that

expanded government (including

Matt

Grossman

new social spending under Rich-

ard Nixon, job training under

Ronald Reagan and prescription

coverage under George W. Bush).

Each time, right-wing grum-

bling increased as Republican rule

progressed. Mirroring the current

role of the House Freedom Cau-

cus, the Republican Study Com-

mittee in the 1970s and the Con-

servative Opportunity Society in

the 1980s arose to refine hardline

positions and tactics. Organizing

outside Congress also advanced,

with the development of conser-

vative think tanks, grass-roots

groups and media outlets.

Late in each cycle, rightist

rebellions set the stage for fu-

ture attacks: Mr. Reagan’s 1976

nomination campaign, Newt Gin-

grich’s 1992 revolt against tax

increases and the 2007 opposi-

tion to Mr. Bush’s immigration

plan. Full-scale backlash waited

for new Democratic presidents

but came with reinterpretations of

previous Republican records as

failing conservatism.

Given Mr. Trump’s heterodox

campaign and personal weak-

nesses, he faced earlier defections

by intellectuals and administra-

tion veterans bothered by his ra-

cial and institutional views. But

on policy, Mr. Trump’s first year

gave conservatives little to com-

plain about. The administration,

staffed by hard-liners, rolled back

liberal policies. Mr. Trump did

not pursue any major new laws

expanding government during his

initial year (a first in the postwar

era), enacting only a large tax cut.

When the Trump administra-

tion was widely praised at last

year’s Conservative Political Ac-

tion Conference, some saw it as a

sign of conservatism’s defeat in an

existential battle with populism.

But one year later, conservative

policy is largely advancing, and

populism is waning. Conserva-

tives won over by Mr. Trump’s

moves on taxes, regulation and

foreign policy are likely to over-

look a deal on government spend-

ing (or blame it on the demands of

Democrats). But he may eventual-

ly face the same fate as Mr. Bush,

whose “big-government conserva-

tism” was increasingly criticized

as his presidency wore on.

Mr. Trump does not talk or

act like previous Republican

presidents, but he is facing the

same fundamental difficulties

translating symbolic conservative

politics into coherent governance.

The backlash that brought him to

power is not so different from

those his predecessors rode, nor

is his inability to translate base

grievances into policymaking.

But under Mr. Trump, Re-

publicans have postponed inevi-

table compromises even more than

usual. Administration budgets re-

peat right-wing fantasies and are

promptly ignored by Congress

and agencies. After promising in-

frastructure funding nearly every

week, Mr. Trump has reiterated

only his odd campaign demand for

larger state and private investment

in exchange for the same federal

dollars. Compared with Mr. Bush

or Mr. Gingrich, he shows little in-

novation in solving social problems

with nongovernmental strategies.

But if history is a guide,

conservatism will rise again un-

der a new Democratic president

— featuring the same concerns

about overweening government,

accelerating social change and

American decline. Liberals will

cry hypocrisy as Republicans

complain about spending under a

Democrat, but the pattern reflects

the unique form that American

conservatism takes: as a reaction-

ary backlash rather than an alter-

native governing platform.

The conservative movement

has perennially stimulated resis-

tance to liberalism, frequently

incorporating new cultural issues

and voters. But conservatives have

been unable to guide Republican

presidents to implement a policy

agenda beyond lowering taxes

and building the military. Despite

gaining working-class constituen-

cies, Republicans are not offering

tangible solutions to rural poverty,

family breakdown, rising drug ad-

diction or deindustrialization.

Yet Republicans should have

no trouble reinterpreting the cur-

rent moment. Even if Mr. Trump

is encouraged today, he may later

be accused of departing from or-

thodoxy. A future Mike Pence

campaign can simultaneously

sell the nationalist pride he shares

with Mr. Trump, his disappoint-

ment at some betrayals of conser-

vative principles and his commit-

ment to finally follow through.

The same plan of resurgence has

worked for generations.

The New York Times

Matt Grossmann is a political

scientist at Michigan State

University and a co-author of

“Asymmetric Politics: Ideological

Republicans and Group Interest

Democrats.”

Germany’s military

failings

H

ISTORICALLY

, Germany has had a ferocious military

reputation. But no more it seems. The parliament in

Berlin has just been given a report that suggests the

country’s armed forces have become so run-down,

they might be incapable of doing their job.

The evidence supplied for this is quite star-

tling. The navy has six submarines. At the end of

last year, not one of them was capable of putting to sea. The air force

has fourteen Airbus A-400M transport aircraft. Investigators found

that at times last year, none of these newly-acquired transports was

available. Germany’s partnership in the multinational development

of this troubled plane - it proved to be overweight and underpowered

- was a political decision.

Legislators discovered these were not exceptions to the condition

of the armed forces. The state of fighters, tanks, helicopters and other

naval vessels was described as “startlingly bad”. And the problems go

further. January 2011 saw the last draft of conscripts for the armed

forces, ending 50 years in which the majority of German males went

through a year of square-bashing and basic military training. Turning

the Bundeswehr into a volunteer force was in line with much of the

rest of Europe where high-technology requires highly-trained profes-

sional soldiers, sailors and airmen. The army was cut from 240,000 to

a planned 170,000 with an expected saving of $11 billion a year.

But the plans went wrong. For a start Germany a member of

NATO had long missed the organization’s spending target of two per-

cent of GDP. Last year it devoted just 1.2 percent to its armed forces.

Since its defeat in the Second World War, like its wartime ally Japan,

Germany has shied away from the notion of a strong military. Both

countries for years avoided having their armed forces involved in for-

eign deployments. Cynics made the point that by radically curtailing

their defense spending, both Germany and Japan were able to focus

funding on their remarkable post-war recoveries, largely protected

by the US military umbrella.

In recent years, Washington has become increasingly impatient

with Berlin’s unwillingness to carry its fair share of NATO defense

expenditure, even though, until Poland and other eastern European

countries joined the alliance, it had been in the frontline against the

old Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces.

Germany has still not upped the amount it spends on its military,

despite the billions saved with the ending of conscription seven years

ago. The parliamentary report cites a lack of spare parts and outdated

equipment as a major issue. It has been reported that in 2014, during a

NATO exercise, some commanders of Germany’s Leopard tanks had

to use broomsticks painted black as pretend machine guns because

the real weapons were being serviced and no spare replacements

were available.

It has also been revealed that the officer corps of the Bundeswehr

is seriously understrength. It would appear that, in stark contrast to

the Prussian military traditions that led their country into two di-

sastrous world wars, service in the armed forces has little appeal to

young Germans. This must have a lot to do with the shame over the

country’s belligerent past that has been encouraged in post-war gen-

erations. But 73 years on from Germany’s defeat, it is time to adopt

a realistic attitude to defense and spend the money that it requires.

There’s reason for

hope on guns

V

ERMONT has some of

the weakest gun laws in

the United States. After

the school shooting in

Florida last week, Vermont’s gov-

ernor — Phil Scott, a Republican

— initially vowed that those laws

would remain the same. But then

he changed his mind.

He changed it just one day af-

ter his initial response. Why? In

the meantime, an 18-year-old from

Poultney, Vt. — a small town in

the southwestern part of the state

—was arrested for allegedly plan-

ning yet another school shooting.

“If we are at a point when we

put our kids on a bus and send

them to school without being able

to guarantee their safety, who are

we?” Scott said, according to Sev-

en Days, a Vermont publication.

“I need to be open-minded, objec-

tive and at least consider anything

that will protect our kids.”

The governor’s about-face may

be only words, but it’s still encour-

aging. And encouragement is im-

portant. I fully understand the in-

stinct to despair about guns: Kids

keep dying, and things never seem

to change. But the only way they

will change is if people outraged

by gun violence resist despair.

“This world-weary predic-

tion of inaction is pernicious,”

ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis wrote

this weekend, in a perceptive mini-

essay on Twitter. “It demoralizes

Will America choose its children over guns?

A

S surely as there are

camels’ backs and

straws to break them,

moments arrive when

citizens say they’ve had enough,

when they rise up against politi-

cal leaders who do not speak for

them and whose moral feckless-

ness imperils lives. We may be

witness to such a moment now

with the protests by American

teenagers sickened — and terri-

fied — by the latest mass murder

at the hands of someone with

easy access to a weapon fit for a

battlefield, not a school.

These kids have had enough.

They’ve had enough of empty

expressions of sympathy in the

wake of the sort of atrocities

they’ve grown up with, like last

week’s mass shooting that took

17 lives at a high school in Park-

land, Fla. Enough of the ritual-

istic mouthing of thoughts and

prayers for the victims. Enough

of living in fear that they could be

next in the cross hairs of a well-

armed deranged killer, even with

all the active shooter drills and

lockdowns they’ve gone through.

Enough of craven politicians who

kneel before the National Rifle

Association and its cynically fun-

damentalist approach to the Sec-

ond Amendment.

They are asking in what kind

of country are children sent off to

school with bulletproof book bags

strapped to their backs — capable,

one manufacturer, Bullet Blocker,

says, of “stopping a .357 Magnum,

.44 Magnum, 9mm, .45 caliber hol-

low point ammunition and more.”

“I was born 13 months after

Columbine,” a 12th grader named

Faith Ward said on Monday, re-

ferring to the school massacre in

Littleton, Colo., in 1999, the dawn

of the modern wave of school

shootings. Ms. Ward spoke to

a television reporter at an anti-

gun demonstration outside her

school in Plantation, Fla. “This is

all I have ever known,” she said,

“this culture of being gunned

down for no reason, and this cul-

ture of people saying, ‘Oh, let’s

send thoughts and prayers’ for

three days, and then moving on.

And I’m tired of it.”

So are we all.

It is too soon to tell if this

righteous anger augurs a sus-

tained youth movement for gun

sanity, going beyond the occa-

sional protest. We hope it does.

It’s time, once again, for Ameri-

ca to listen to its children. Who

among us have more at stake

than they?

Sensible young people have

it in their power to make their

senseless elders take heed — and

act. We saw it happen during

the Vietnam War half a century

ago. Young people, initially re-

viled by establishment forces as

unwashed, longhaired traitors,

energized an antiwar movement

that swept the country and, even

if it took years, ultimately ended

America’s misguided adventure

in Southeast Asia.

To be effective, any move-

ment needs a realistic program,

not mere emotion. Otherwise, it

risks coming and going in a flash

with little to show for itself. A

tighter federal system of back-

ground checks is a start, to bet-

ter monitor would-be gun buyers

with mental illness, for example,

or histories of gun violence. Such

a program should also include re-

instating a nationwide ban on as-

sault weapons — a state measure

died in the Florida Legislature

Tuesday — and ending an absurd

prohibition against using federal

public health funds to study gun

violence.

Even President Trump, who

told an NRA convention last

April that “you have a true friend

and champion in the White

House,” has signaled he might

be willing to improve the system.

The Washington Post reported

that after Mr. Trump saw the

coverage of the student protest-

ers, he asked Mar-a-Lago guests

whether he should do more

about gun control. On Tuesday,

he ordered that regulations be

written to ban bump stocks, de-

vices that can make an automatic

weapon out of a semiautomatic.

Beyond that, though, it’s hard to

tell if he means business when he

says he’s open to more thorough

background checks.

However, if young people

channeling this angry moment

remain steadfast, they might not

only force his hand but also stiff-

en the resolve of other elected

officials and candidates. Horrific

school shootings aside, they are

vulnerable every day to gun may-

hem at a stomach-churning rate.

The journal Pediatrics reported

last June that gunfire, each week,

kills an average of 25 children ages

17 and under. A 2016 study in The

American Journal of Medicine

calculated that among two dozen

of the world’s wealthiest nations,

this country alone accounted

for 91 percent of firearms deaths

among children 14 and under.

What the young protesters

are saying now is: Put down the

guns. We’re your children.

How can anyone not heed

their pained voices?

The New York Times editorial

The conservative movement has

perennially stimulated resistance to

liberalism, frequently incorporating

new cultural issues and voters. But

conservatives have been unable

to guide Republican presidents to

implement a policy agenda beyond

lowering taxes and building the

military.

David

Leonhardt

those who are actually motivated

to fight against gun violence. And

it lets off the hook those who are

opposed to reform.”

MacGillis continued: “The

NRA’s influence depends heavily

on the PERCEPTION of its pow-

er. By building up the gun lobby

as an indomitable force, pessimis-

tic liberals are playing directly

into its hands.”

Among the reasons for hope:

n

The courageous – and

deeply political - response of

many Florida survivors, which

felt different from any previous

response. “The people in the gov-

ernment who are voted into power

are lying to us,” Emma González,

a senior at the Parkland, Fla., high

school that was attacked, said at a

rally this weekend. “And us kids

seem to be the only ones who no-

tice and are prepared to call BS.”

n

Inspired by that response,

the movement to reduce gun vio-

lence seems to have a new ener-

gy, driven by students — who of

course have provided much of the

energy for previous political move-

ments. Individual schools have al-

ready held or planned walkouts. A

nationwide protest is scheduled for

March 14, with help from organiz-

ers of the Women’s March.

n

State policy is a flawed way

to regulate guns, since they can

obviously cross state lines. But

recent state changes nonethe-

less make the case for gun-safety

laws. In Missouri, which recently

repealed background checks for

gun purchases, violence is up. In

Connecticut, which passed tough

laws after the 2012 Sandy Hook

massacre, gun violence is down.

The New York Times