Politics within limits

Advice from the Delian Oracle to the revolutionaries of the right: Nothing too much.

Richard Nixon’s landslide re-election took place during my first semester in graduate school. Naturally, I was dismayed and frightened.

But when I expressed my fears to Richard Neustadt, who taught the Kennedy School politics course, he told me I could relax. “Nixon has no sense of limits,” he said. “He will be destroyed.” In that, GWB resembles Nixon, by contrast with Roosevelt or Johnson or Reagan, who were hungry for power and skilled at acquiring it but who shared a sense of what the actual, as opposed to the legal, constitution of the United States would, and would not, tolerate.

Roosevelt, Johnson and Reagan were, in their own ways, Oakeshottian figures, capable of pursuing politics within limits. GWB, like Gingrich, is a more barnburning, revolutionary figure, though GWB is less clear than Gingrich on what his revolution is supposed to accomplish.

That sort of anti-Oakeshottian contempt for limits is now, among those with actual political power, far more typical of the right than of the left, making the term “conservative” a curious misnomer. That the index of Bill Bennett’s Book of Virtues has no entry for “temperance” or “moderation” tells you all you really need to know.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

One thought on “Politics within limits”

  1. No Limits?

    Mark Kleiman makes an interesting observation about some similarities between a prior and current President. I also like his mention of Bill Bennett's Book of Virtues, especially since the right-wing has made such a conscious effort to appropriate all …

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