Rutte’s Liberal Party Shifts to Center in Netherlands

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte joins a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, January 20, 2016 (European Parliament)

The Netherlands’ ruling liberal party has further moved to the center in its manifesto for the upcoming election, arguing that the coronavirus, climate change, American disengagement and instability in the European periphery call for a stronger state and a stronger EU.

It’s not sudden shift. The traditionally anti-statist and mildly Euroskeptic liberals have become more middle-of-the-road during the ten-year prime ministership of Mark Rutte, who will be seeking a fourth term in March.

They have overtaken their traditional rivals on the right, the Christian Democrats, who are polling at a mere 8-10 percent compared to 25-28 percent for the liberals — faraway in first place, but short of an absolute majority.

The manifesto therefore won’t be implemented in full, but it is telling the party is already signaling a willingness to move to the left in a future coalition.

The draft has yet to be approved by members. There are liberals who complain Rutte has been too willing to compromise with left-wing parties and left a space on the right for Forum for Democracy and Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, which are polling at a combined 15-19 percent. But liberal rebellions against the party leadership are rare.

Here are the manifesto’s highlights. Read more “Rutte’s Liberal Party Shifts to Center in Netherlands”

Conservatives Should Look to Bavaria

Colomanskirche Schwangau Germany
Colomanskirche in Bavaria, Germany, May 26, 2019 (Zsolt Czillinger)

Caroline de Gruyter writes in EUobserver that Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) — which allies with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union nationally — has moved back to the center after it tried, and failed, to outflank the far right.

Conservatives in France, Spain and the United States should take note. Read more “Conservatives Should Look to Bavaria”

EU Once Again Proves the Doomsayers Wrong

Mark Rutte Pedro Sánchez Charles Michel
Prime Ministers Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Pedro Sánchez of Spain speak with European Council president Charles Michel in Brussels, July 20 (European Council)

Whenever the EU is in crisis, you can count on the doomsayers to predict its imminent demise.

Not just the Euroskeptics: British tabloids, Russian propaganda and far-right politicians amplified by Russian propaganda arguing the EU is on the “brink of collapse”.

Even Europhiles. Former European Commission chief Jacques Delors warned that “the lack of European solidarity pose[s] a mortal danger to the European Union.” Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte threatened the “destruction of the single market” if other EU countries didn’t agree with his demand for a €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund consisting wholly or largely of debt-financed grants.

Lucas Guttenberg, deputy director of the Jacques Delors Center in Berlin, warned that Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden — the “frugal five” — were “playing with fire” by demanding verifiable economic reforms in return for financial support.

Christopher Wratil, an assistant professor in European politics at the University College London, argued “anyone with a sense of solidarity” would exclude those five countries from the recovery fund altogether.

As the EU summit, where the size and terms of the recovery program were hashed out this weekend, dragged on for days, the patience of pro-Europeans wore thin and inevitably World War II entered the discussion. Philipp Heimberger, an economist at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, tweeted:

Thinking about the Marshall Plan and debt forgiveness after World War II. Striking: leading European politicians today are oblivious to history. How else could you become a nitpicker on essential common efforts for an EU recovery fund, harming your own long-term interests?

Pay up, or war! Read more “EU Once Again Proves the Doomsayers Wrong”

Standing Up to Cancel Culture

Empire State Building New York
The Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York (Unsplash/Gaurav Pikale)

You wait for three years for the center-left and center-right to make common cause against the extremists on either side and in the course of a week it all happens at once:

  • Yascha Mounk has created a community and newsletter in defense of liberal democracy called Persuasion, which includes left-wing thinkers, such as Sheri Berman and Thomas Chatterton Williams, as well as Never-Trump conservatives Jonathan Haidt, David French and David Frum.
  • Seventeen academics have started the blog Radical Classical Liberals.
  • The Neoliberal Project has launched the Center for New Liberalism, a center-left think tank and pressure group.
  • The conservative Lincoln Project is putting out the most effective ads against Donald Trump.
  • 153 intellectuals of the left and right, including Anne Applebaum, Margaret Atwood, David Brooks, Ian Buruma, Noam Chomsky, Richard T. Ford, David Frum, Francis Fukuyama, Jonathan Haidt, Michael Ignatieff, Garry Kasparov, Mark Lilla, Yascha Mounk, Jonathan Rauch, J.K. Rowling, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Gloria Steinem, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Matthew Yglesias and Fareed Zakaria, have signed “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” warning that cancel culture is getting out of hand and stifling free debate. Read more “Standing Up to Cancel Culture”

Center-Left and Center-Right Need to Team Up Against Extremists

Washington Monument
View of the Washington Monument from the General Ulysses S. Grant Memorial in Washington DC, July 3, 2018 (DoD/Reese Brown)

John F. Harris argues in Politico that the center-right anti-Trump movement could outlive the president and make common cause with the center-left.

Both oppose efforts to stifle free thinking and the bullying of those who dissent from ideological or racial orthodoxy, he writes.

James Bennet was recently fired as opinion editor of The New York Times for publishing an incendiary op-ed by Republican senator Tom Cotton. A Boeing spokesman resigned over an article he wrote 33 years ago, as a young Navy lieutenant, in which he argued against women in combat. There are countless other examples of Americans losing their jobs for holding the “wrong” opinion or for merely giving a platform to the wrong opinion.

“If we lived under some fickle absolutist king, who arbitrarily decided what was offensive, outrageous or even criminal, we’d all recognize the illiberalism of it,” Jonah Goldberg writes in his newsletter. “But when a mob arbitrarily rules the same way, we call it social justice.”

The pro-Trump right loves to hate on left-wing cancel culture, yet they have purged many Trump critics from conservative media, organizations and think tanks. Under the guise of free speech, Trump wants the federal government, not social-media companies, to decide what the likes of Facebook and Twitter can publish. So much for free enterprise. (And have Republicans considered what a Democratic administration might do with such power?)

Traditional conservatives and liberals also share an interest in propping up institutions, which the Bernie Sanders left and the Trump right agree are beyond repair. The far left wants to abolish the Electoral College, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and in some cases the police. The far right wants to uproot the media, universities and the Washington “deep state”. The center-left and center-right argue for reform.

Harris wonders if the alliance will endure beyond the election:

Once Trump leaves, so too will the incentives that drove liberals and conservatives together in opposition.

But defeating Trump in November will not necessarily defeat the authoritarian right. Read more “Center-Left and Center-Right Need to Team Up Against Extremists”

Left-Wing Criticism of Macron Isn’t Grounded in Reality

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron chats with a guard at the Elysée Palace in Paris, December 19, 2017 (Elysée/Ghislain Mariette)

Seventeen left-wing lawmakers have quit President Emmanuel Macron’s party in France and started their own group, called Ecology, Democracy and Solidarity.

The defections have deprived Macron of his absolute majority in the National Assembly. His La République En Marche is down to 288 out of 577 seats, although it still has the support of the centrist Democratic Movement (46 seats) and the center-right Agir (9).

The defectors accuse Macron of shifting to the right and neglecting income inequality and climate change.

That has more to do with perception than reality. Read more “Left-Wing Criticism of Macron Isn’t Grounded in Reality”

Democracy Must Be Resistant to the Coronavirus

Washington DC
The skyline of Washington DC at dawn (Shutterstock/Orhan Cam)

In a crisis, calls to do something, quickly, can be hard to resist. Politicians must still try.

On both sides of the Atlantic, governments are planning some of the largest peacetime interventions in the private economy to cope with the outbreak of coronavirus disease.

  • Familiar battle lines have been drawn in Europe, where conservative northern countries, led by Germany and the Netherlands, hesitate to free up EU funds for the crisis.
  • The roles are reversed in America, where once fiscally prudent Republicans are trying to rush through a stimulus twice the size of Barack Obama’s, and Democrats, who traditionally support a larger role for government, are stepping on the brakes.

The stallers are not unreasonable. We can take a few days to debate how to spend trillions of euros and dollars. Read more “Democracy Must Be Resistant to the Coronavirus”

Time for Sanders’ Opponents to Put Their Heads Together

Bernie Sanders
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 9, 2016 (Gage Skidmore)

After the New Hampshire primary, I argued it was too soon for center-left Democrats to panic about a possible Bernie Sanders nomination. Now that it looks like the self-described socialist will walk away with at least half of Nevada’s delegates, it’s time for his opponents to worry.

Unlike Republicans, Democrats don’t award their delegates to whoever receives the most votes in a given state. So there is little risk of Sanders winning a majority of the delegates to the national convention in July against two or three opponents, like Donald Trump was able to prevail with 45 percent support against Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio in 2016.

However, if more candidates split the anti-Sanders vote, each would struggle to meet the 15 percent support required to qualify for delegates. Under those circumstances, Sanders could win a majority. Read more “Time for Sanders’ Opponents to Put Their Heads Together”

Moderates in America Should Not Give Up on Political Reform

Washington DC
View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, February 17, 2015 (Matt Popovich)

Regular readers know I believe the two-party system in America is one of the root causes of the country’s many political problems: extreme partisanship (but weak parties), polarization, a politicization of the judiciary and an unwillingness by lawmakers to rein in presidents of their own party, to name the four most urgent.

What are moderates to do? I propose reform.

Ideally, these various changes would break up the Democratic-Republican duopoly. Countries in Northwestern Europe prove that multiparty democracy produces better outcomes. Read more “Moderates in America Should Not Give Up on Political Reform”