The Ethnocentrism of Messina Bashers

Lots of leftists are beating up on Jim Messina, a wizard of President Obama’s presidential campaigns, for taking a job advising the UK Tories of David Cameron. To some observers it looks like utter hypocrisy: In exchange for filthy lucre, a soulless political operative who advises Democrats is now also going to advise the equivalent of the Republicans in another country!

I too am shocked and appalled, not by Messina but by the gobsmacking ethnocentrism of his critics. They don’t seem to realize that other countries have their own politics, which differ from those of the United States.

The center of British politics is well to the left of the center of U.S. politics. The “right-winger” David Cameron whom Messina will be advising opposes the death penalty, supports a right to abortion, extols the virtues of a single payer government-operated healthcare system and just expended enormous political capital on legalizing same-sex marriage. If he walked into a CPAC meeting he’d be torn to shreds rather than greeted as a fellow traveler. Indeed, on the death penalty and universal health care, he is to the left of most of the Democratic Party.

I don’t know Messina or his politics, so I can’t speak to his personal motivations. But I do know that given how much space there is between the political center of the U.S. and that of the U.K., there is plenty of room to allow the existence of reasonable people whose policy preferences are to the left of the American center and to the right of the British center. There is therefore no inherent contradiction between advising the Democrats in the U.S. and the Tories in the U.K. Indeed, it’s easy to understand as soon as you let go of the idea that the U.S. is the template for the rest of the world’s political arrangements.

Comments

  1. Chris Mealy says

    This is crazy talk. I could maybe see the Liberal Democrats, but the Tories? Really?

    • Katja says

      The UK is a fairly conservative country by European standards, but being to the left of the modern Republican party is not a terribly high bar. And David Cameron is one of the more moderate Tories.

  2. Therapsid says

    Ethnocentrism is one of those foibles that are easy to detect and castigate in others, but rather more difficult to recognize in ourselves. Notably, supporters of Israel are apt to condemn ethnocentrism among white Europeans and Americans, but are inclined to excuse Jewish ethnocentrism.

  3. Ebenezer Scrooge says

    One could make Keith’s argument in the opposite direction: Tony Blair as George Bush’s poodle. It’s hard to argue that today’s Labour is all that much to the left of the Democratic Party.

    The Tories, admittedly, are to the left of the Republican Party–a statement which is also true for any European conservative party that has been part of a ruling coalition (Hungary and Austria excepted.)

    I can’t see what the fuss is about. There are good reasons why political operatives are associated with only one party in domestic politics. An operative is entrusted with many secrets, and is supposed to be far more zealous than a lawyer. I don’t see why this rule should apply internationally.

  4. Ken Rhodes says

    Keith, your last sentence is a good one to keep in mind no matter what the referent of the pronoun “it.”

  5. burnspbesq says

    Messina is no different from a litigator. He’s a hired gun. He can work for anyone whose checks will clear. If you don’t like the candidate, fine. But the only criterion on which anyone can or should judge Messina is results.

  6. James Wimberley says

    I suggest Keith is using the wrong word for a genuine phenomenon. It’s not ethnos that creates the perceptual bias here, but polis, in the original sense of “my city not yours”. However, “policentric” conveys nothing. So it’s back to “Beltway vision”. “Chauvinism” will also do – it originally had nothing to do with gender and everything with excessive patriotism.

  7. DGM says

    On social policy and health care the Tories are much to the “left” of the Republicans, true. They are more in line with conservative politicians in every developed democracy in the world, except the U.S.

    They are, however, still the party of austerity, the party of big business, the party of class and the party of money. Most of the troubles inflicting workers in Europe and the UK and the U.S. can be traced to conservative blind determination to ignore all the lessons of Keynesian economics and try to fix the economy by screwing ever harder on the working classes.

  8. del2124 says

    Yea, that’s the thing. He’s not going to advise the equivalent of the Republicans in another country. He’s going to advise the equivalent of the Democrats.

    • Mike says

      del2124 wrote:
      “Yea, that’s the thing. He’s not going to advise the equivalent of the Republicans in another country. He’s going to advise the equivalent of the Democrats.”

      Yep, I don’t see what all the fuss is about in terms of the British.

      On the other hand, Messina’s move highlights just how far to the right the Democratic Party is. “Liberal” hasn’t applied to it as a whole since the 1970s. It’s at best centrist and, at its worst, has simply tried to put a happy face on a number of extremist Republican positions that it otherwise embraced, starting with A for austerity.

      The only ideology I ascribe to the Democratic Party at this point is “careerist.”

  9. Jay says

    It is ironic that this critique of Messina’s critics as “ethnocentric” and ill-informed itself demonstrates an appallingly ignorant and simplistic understanding of British politics. It’s true that British and American political divisions don”t map identically to each other and that Humphreys has managed to identify most of the obvious areas where they don’t. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a great deal of things about the Tories that shouldn’t horrify any reasonable left-center American to the point that they wouldn’t want to throw in with them.

    To address one of Humpherys’ points, though, advocating for the NHS in itself means nothing. The NHS is the political equivalent of Social Security or Medicare in our country. The question, then, is how one would want to “preserve” it and the Tories position on this is akin to the Republicans’ desire to gut SS or Medicare through privatizing it.

    It is true that on the social issues the Tories are often what Americans would consider left-center, because they just don’t care about them and, indeed, many of these issues have been more or less settled in British politics. The main divisions in British politics are economic, class, and racial issues, and on these issues there is a lot to dislike about the Tories and not much to support. In particular, the Tories, not explicitly, but rather in their preferred policies, advocate a rigidly stratified class system with very little mobility. Any left-center American who would want to throw in with the Tories would do well to understand this.

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