The Irish Culture Wars and a Post-Crisis Era Observation

Chris Caldwell’s article on Ireland’s ongoing political battle over the regulation of abortion is absorbing, and it makes a number of observations that have implications for the wider North Atlantic world, e.g.:

The present Irish government shares a peculiarity with many Western governments (including the American one): Like them, it came to power primarily because it was not in power when the bottom fell out of the world economy in 2008. All these governments claimed a mandate to act with unprecedented force to set their countries’ finances to rights. But the complexity of the crisis stymied them, and they failed to come up with anything in the way of economic innovation. They did notice, though, that the Bubble Era ruling parties had been reduced to a smoldering political wreck, wholly unable to act as an effective opposition. So with a combination of zeal and self-delusion, these new governments clung to their mandate to act forcefully, diverting it from the purpose for which it had been granted—the economy—and towards a variety of long-cherished partisan (or interest-group) projects. Barack Obama passed health reform in the United States. David Cameron passed gay marriage in England.

In Ireland, Enda Kenny tried to reinvent himself as something that the Republic of Ireland had never had: an outright anticlerical politician.

This is one reason why I find the triumphalism among U.S. Democrats short-sighted. The post-crisis era has proven pretty politically chaotic, with lots of intense anti-incumbent sentiment and a willingness of anxious voters to float from one populist enthusiasm to the next. The U.S. political environment has a tribal dimension, and a first-past-the-post, presidential system limits the potential for insurgent minor political parties. We’re not likely to see an American equivalent of Italy’s Five Star Movement. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a very unfamiliar political configuration 4-5 years hence, which is why the risk-aversion of GOP elected officials is so disappointing: now is the time to try new things. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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