Thursday, January 12, 2012

Understanding USA's Political Spectrum - Part3 - Jeffersonians and Jacksonians

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.

Author: Rudra Devacharya

Continued from Part two

The Jeffersonians, compared to the Hamiltonians or Wilsonians, are decidedly inward-looking. They believe in a largely non-interventionist foreign policy, and in concentrating resources on domestic reforms.

Of the four groups of Meade’s spectrum, the Jeffersonians are most inclined to oppose the rise of the “military-industrial complex”… something that Eisenhower famously warned against as he was leaving office, and which is an important source of political influence for both Hamiltonians and Wilsonians.

As I mentioned earlier, many common Americans are either Jeffersonian or Jacksonian in their outlook. If you talk to an American about the India-Pakistan situation and he says something like “sort it out yourselves, it’s none of our business”… that American is most likely a Jeffersonian.

The typical Jeffersonian is to the “left” of the American political spectrum, upholding traditional “liberal” ideas such as increased Federal Government involvement in social and economic development, upliftment of underprivileged sections, civil rights, environmental conservationism, regulation of corporations, global initiatives against poverty/disease/global warming and so on. Such politicians as Dennis Kucinich are at the extreme left of this group.

However, not all Jeffersonians are leftist. Libertarian Isolationists such as Ross Perot and Ron Paul, who believe in a Fortress America model where the US military is exclusively employed to guard America’s borders and enforce illegal immigration laws, also purvey an essentially Jeffersonian foreign policy.

Jeffersonians with respect to India: As such, the Jeffersonian attitude towards India tends to be neutral… but this is largely irrelevant. That is because Jeffersonian Presidents tend to hand over control of foreign policy to Wilsonians. Jimmy Carter relied on Cold-War-Era Brzezinski, and Barack Obama relies on Clinton-Wilsonians such as Joe Biden, Richard Holbrooke and co. with Brzezinski still present as a mentor-figure. The advantage India has today is that it has cultivated a constituency with the Hamiltonians, who are much more powerful at present than they were during the Carter regime. With the Bush-Wilsonians largely in disgrace, the Hamiltonians are our primary channel of influencing American foreign policy in a positive manner at present.

4) The Jacksonians are also, primarily, inward-looking, though they differ dramatically from the Jeffersonians in terms of their domestic policy agenda. While the Jeffersonians tend to be idealists, the Jacksonians are fervent populists. In the tradition of Andrew Jackson, they stand for increased power of the executive branch (the President) relative to the legislature or judiciary; limited federal government role in the affairs of the country; the “patronage” policy of actively placing political supporters into appointed offices; expanded states’ rights; and decentralization.

Also in the tradition of Andrew Jackson, who pledged to expand the United States “from sea to shining sea”, the Jacksonians believe in America’s Manifest Destiny as the natural leader of the world and in securing America’s influence overseas by any means necessary… not shying away from unilateral military action whenever required.

Some articles on Meade’s spectrum describe Jacksonians as the only group that believes in American Exceptionalism. From an Indian point of view, this is not strictly true… ALL the four groups believe in American Exceptionalism… but the Jacksonians are the ones who most prominently wear it on their sleeves.

Jacksonians tend to be issue-based in their politics, rallying around anti-abortion movements, restriction of gay rights, defence of second-amendment gun rights, unapologetic Christian influence in schools and government institutions etc.

Jacksonians, unlike Jeffersonians, do not make “non-intervention” a cornerstone of their foreign policy views; they are quite happy to intervene in a muscular fashion whenever they deem it necessary to do so. However, their perspective is largely focused on internal priorities, so again, Jacksonian Presidents of the United States have traditionally handed over control of foreign policy to other groups. Reagan depended on Hamiltonians like James Baker and Cold-War-Era Wilsonians such as Alexander Haig. George W. Bush also depended on Hamiltonians, but ceded a large amount of policy space to the new Bush-Wilsonians or Neoconservatives of his day.

Continued to Part four

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