In the Arena

More Historicity

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After last night’s venture into Walter Russell Mead’s four American foreign policy traditions (Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson and Hamilton), we have Chuck Lane plumbing another foursome today: the four American political traditions that the brilliant historian David Hackett Fischer–I mean, you really have to read this guy; it’s both deeply enlightening and a total pleasure–located in his classic Albion’s Seed.

Lane is being somewhat hyperbolic when he forecasts the imminent shattering of the American polity into four parties, based on Fischer’s four strand(Puritan, Quaker, Cavalier and Scots-Irish)–if anything, there may be a populist augmentation of Ron Paul’s Libertarians in 2012. More likely, in another great American tradition, the Libertarians and Tea Party ascendency will be reflected by the Republican nominee.

I also believe that the media is overplaying the importance of the recent Democratic retirements–the two Senate retirements seem a wash: Dodd seemed likely to lose Connecticut, but the popularity of his replacement, the state’s Attorney General, makes that a likely win; Dorgan was a likely winner, though. Bruce Ritter, the governor of Colorado, is a lovely man–a former missionary–but not as strong as some other candidates (especially Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, who may replace him). In any case, the idea that the Democrats would be able to retain a super-majority in the Senate for any extended period seems a reach–so long as the Senate is larded with conservative mini-states like the Dakotas and Wyoming, which, collectively, have fewer people than Brooklyn. (And Dick Morris’s notion that the left is anywhere near strong enough to split off from the Democrats and form a separate party is sheer nonsense–recent polls have 87% of self-described liberals supporting Obama.)

The real threat now is that the Senate requires some cooperation between the parties to get things done–and the Republicans, in deep extremist implosion, are unwilling to join in the governing process. This is a recipe for inaction, the very thing that the public seems to like least.

Meanwhile, it is curious to think about how Mead’s four tendencies and Fischer’s four match up.

Jacksonian=Scots-Irish…(after all, he was the first populist, Scots-Irish President)

Wilsonian=Puritan (high-minded idealism)

Hamiltonian=Cavaliers (conservative, elitist realism)

Jeffersonian=Quakers (international diffidence, with a strong dose of community compromise)

Of course, none of the boxes ever quite fit. Obama is, appropriately, a mongrel; most Presidents are. But it’s an interesting parlor game.