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Ideology, Foreign Policy, and Yellow Submarines

by Scott Winship

Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to....review a paper by one Paul T. McCartney. (Hey Jude, I never claimed to be the Daily Humorist.)

For real though. Let's talk about a paper presented at last weekend's annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. Not just any ol' paper, but Sir Paul's "Partisan Worldviews and Foreign Policy in Post-Cold War Era." The paper tackles the question of whether there really is such a thing as an ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy. That is, can it be said in the post-Cold War period that Democrats and Republicans consistently prioritize different values that lead them to embrace different foreign policies? Is there something about the Administration's foreign policy that is "conservative", or does it simply reflect the particular views of the Administration itself? Is Democratic electoral weakness on foreign policy due to framing or past decisions by Democratic leaders, or is it a consequence of the Party's basic ideology in foreign affairs? Different answers to these questions imply different political strategies.

McCartney's review of the more general "culture war" literature and literatures oriented toward national security positions leads him to identify two worldviews that govern foreign policy preferences. The Inclusive Pluralist worldview is analogous to George Lakoff's Nuturant Parent worldview; both emphasize cooperation and empathy and reject blind authoritarianism and moral absolutism. Lakoff's Strict Father worldview mirrors McCartney's Nationalist-Darwinist worldview. In both cases, the emphasis is on strength, competition, self-interest, submission to authority, and respect for tradition.

McCartney took all of the Key Votes related to foreign policy -- as chosen by Congressional Quarterly editors -- between 1989 and 2004 and coded them to indicate which position was Inclusive Pluralist and which was Nationalist-Darwinist. He then examined how the votes mapped onto legislators' parties. Each year, between 60 and 92 percent of Democrats voted the IP position, while just 8 to 64 percent of Republicans did. The gap between Democratic and Republican legislators ranged from 9 to 64 percentage points, with the average across years being 37 points.

There was one exception to these results -- in 2001 Republicans were actually more likely than Democrats to vote the IP position. That's because in the wake of 9/11, most Democrats voted for N-D policies (i.e., related to the Patriot Act) while Republicans were more likely to vote the IP position on Fast-Track Trade Authority (i.e., pro-free trade). McCartney classifies the pro-free trade position as IP because it indicates support for a cooperative arrangement that benefits poor countries. In this case, the domestic Nurturant Parent/Strict Father worldviews conflict with and win out over the foreign policy IP/N-D worldviews. The same is true for one immigration vote in 1998.

I would go a step further than McCartney and argue that there are three fundamental value dimensions underlying the domestic and foreign policy worldviews (and therefore all policy preferences): altruism vs. self-interest (How much do I care about others versus myself?), idealism vs. realism (How practical is it for me to pursue these priorities?), and classical liberalism vs. traditionalism (Is it legitimate for me to pursue these priorities?). Inclusive Pluralism and economic liberalism at home combine altruism and idealism, while cultural liberalism rests on classical liberalism. The foreign policy preferences of establishment Republicans as well as economic conservatism can be seen as reflecting self-interest and realism. Nationalist conservatives like Pat Buchanan add a dose of traditionalism. Cultural conservatives value traditionalism above all. Domestic neoconservatives of the '60s and '70s can be viewed as altruistic realists who wanted to believe in social programs but could not. They eventually also embraced traditionalism. Finally, the foreign policy neoconservatives of recent decades blend self-interest and idealism.

Analyses like McCartney's help explain why Democrats have electoral problems related to their cultural liberalism and their national security views. Fairly or not, the Party is perceived to put too much of a priority on the rights and interests of other nations rather than advocating a strong self-interested foreign policy. And their stance on key "values issues" challenges the traditionalism of many voters. Because of the basic values underlying each party's worldview and the policies the parties have supported over time, voters have become sorted into two camps, one of which embodies both traditionalism and self-interest and one of which values classical liberalism and altruism.

One final thought -- like cultural polarization, foreign-policy polarization is a recent phenomenon. The '60s marked the arrival of the culturally-loaded controversies that would reshape the parties in subsequent decades as well as the breakdown of Cold War liberalism as a unifying foreign policy doctrine. Vietnam activated the altruistism, idealism, and anti-authoritarianism of young liberals and changed American politics. It is interesting to ponder what might have been if early war protestors had been more traditional or if anti-authoritarian youth had entered politics without the backdrop of the war. Perhaps we'd be looking at a gap in only one policy area rather than two.