Israel, Gaza, and the End of Liberalism

Israel, Gaza, and the End of Liberalism

The old dialogue has passed away into the graveyard of consensus.  Yet it persists. Since it has no real, operable meaning any more, it is almost purely ritualistic. However, its persistence has had its real effects. The persistence of this state of affairs so far beyond its own day, has been responsible for two pathological conditions in the 1960’s. The first is that the empty rhetoric has produced a crisis of public authority. Without a basis for meaningful adversary proceedings, there has been little, if any, conflict among political actors at the level where each is forced regularly into formulating general rules, applicable to individual acts of state and at one and the same time ethically plausible to the individual citizen. The tendency of individuals to accept governmental decisions because they are good has probably at no time in this century been less intense and less widely distributed in the United States. This is producing many problems of political cynicism and irresponsibility in everyday political processes; and these problems, in turn, have tended toward the second pathological condition, the emergence of an ersatz public philosophy that seeks to justify power and to end the crisis of public authority by parceling out public authority to private parties. That is, the emerging public philosophy seeks to solve the problem of public authority by defining it away. A most maladaptive “political formula,” it will inevitably exacerbate rather than end the crisis, even though its short-run effect is one of consensus and stabilization….

All of this activity proves that there is no end to government responsibility….The new activity in the 1960’s also proves that the political apparatus of democracy can respond promptly once the constitutional barriers to democratic choice have been lowered. However, that is only the beginning of the story, because the almost total democratization of the Constitution and the contemporary expansion of the public sector has been accompanied by expansion, not by contraction, of a sense of illegitimacy about public objects. Here is a spectacular paradox. We witness governmental effort of gigantic proportion to solve problems forthwith and directly. Yet we witness expressions of personal alienation and disorientation increasing, certainly not subsiding, in frequency and intensity; and we witness further weakening of informal controls in the family, neighborhood and groups. We witness a vast expansion of effort to bring the ordinary citizen into closer rapport with the democratic process, including unprecedented efforts to confer upon the poor and ineducable the power to make official decisions involving their own fate. Yet at the very same time we witness crisis after crisis in the very institutions in which the new methods of decision-making seemed most appropriate.

–Theodore Lowi, “The Public Philosophy: Interest Group Liberalism,” American Political Science Review, March 1967.



As antisemitism once again rears its ugly head, as the nation and the world confront the largest and most acute outbreak of hatred and violence directed at Jewish people since the 1930s, the White House has announced that it has a plan to cool the overheated rhetoric and end the hate.  It is going to war … against “Islamophobia.”  “For years,” Vice President Kamala Harris intoned, as she announced the administration’s new National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia, “Muslims in America and those perceived to be Muslim have endured a disproportionate number of hate-fueled attacks.”

If you’re anything like us, then your overwhelming reaction to this announcement – which, by the way, is REAL – was compassion and understanding.  The suffering here is also real.  And it cannot be allowed to go unchecked.  The President’s poll numbers in Michigan and other swing states in the Rust Belt MUST know that we are on their side and that we will NOT let their agony continue.  The poor things.  (H/T Ben Domenech)

President Joe Biden’s support among Arab Americans, who are crucial voters in battleground election states, has plunged from a comfortable majority in 2020 to just 17%, a new poll shows, amid growing anger over the Democratic president’s support for Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Arab American support for Biden, at 59% in 2020, fell even before the outbreak of violence in the Middle East to 35%, the poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute showed, but has halved since.

The poll, released Tuesday, marks the first time since its inception in 1997 that a majority of Arab Americans did not identify as Democrats – 32% now identify as Republicans and 31% as independents. Forty percent of those polled said they would vote for former President Donald Trump, the likely Republican candidate in 2024, up 5 percentage points from 2020.

In all seriousness, the “National Strategy” is the Biden Administration’s admission that it can no longer support Israel unapologetically, irrespective of the President’s personal fondness for the Jewish state or the global strategic implications of a shift in policy.  The Democratic Party coalition is too fragile to withstand the defection of this key constituency in these key states.  If Joe Biden loses Arab-Americans, then he also loses Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  And if he loses those states, he loses the election.  And we all know what happens then…

It is rare that the malignancies of contemporary American politics are laid as bare as they are in this instance.  President Biden’s dilemma here underlines two of the most destructive and dysfunctional aspects of politics today, one applying to the Democratic/Left specifically, and the other being characteristic of the American system more generally over the last 75 years or more.

In a sense, Biden’s issue is a case of just deserts.  For the better part of the last half-century, the Democratic Party has been the laboratory for experiments in identity politics.  Leftist academics – dating back at least to Herbert Marcuse and the late American Critical Theorists – have long advocated the use of racial, gender, and sexual characteristics as mechanisms for defining “identity” and manipulating perceptions of “privilege” and “disadvantage” to alter various linguistic and power structures.  The goal has always been to create an invulnerable, intermeshed web of grievance that can be utilized to wrestle power from the social, cultural, economic, and political establishments and to foster “equity.”  Or to put it more simply: the Left has long tried to manipulate identity to acquire and maintain power.

Today, that’s coming back to bite them on the backside.  We are tempted simply to dismiss it out of hand and note that the Democrats’ problem is one of their own making, but we know – and any schoolboy can clearly see – that the victims here will be Israel and Jewish Americans.  That’s what the National Strategy tells us.  The Democrats are going to have to pick a side – and whether they’ll admit it or not, they already have.

At the same time, there is a broader failure of American politics at work in the Biden conundrum as well.  The concurrent rise of the administrative state and of “interest-group democracy” altered not only the way in which American government functions but also the expectations that Americans have of their government.  Theodore Lowi, the dean of American political scientists, explained that in combination, these two developments warped Americans’ understanding of what it means for the government to act in their “best interests.”  By the time Lowi began writing about “the end of liberalism” in the 1960s, it had already become clear that government no longer functioned to ensure the broader benefit of the people or the nation as a whole but instead operated as the means to suit other interests, to build bureaucratic fiefdoms, for example, or to placate financial interests, or to advance personal interests, including personal interests in reelection.

Interest group democracy could not exist without the administrative state, and the administrative state could not exist with interest group democracy.  And neither can coexist with a national government that operates in the national interest.  That is the problem Biden faces now.  It’s not just that different interest groups within the Democratic coalition want different things from him.  It’s that they have come to expect that he will deliver what they want and, if he doesn’t, that they should punish him by withholding their votes and undermining their previously identified goals and interests.

Note that this is Biden’s problem right now because he is the president.  If Trump were president, he too would be held hostage by warped expectations of government, as would/will any president.  That is the consequence of the administrative state and interest group democracy.  The only solution, the only way to overcome this issue in the short term is to have public policy directed by a person lacking specific self-interests to impose on his decision-making process – i.e. a politician who has no interest in running for reelection or securing for himself the sinecures of post-service celebrity.

And good luck finding that.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.