Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: American Issues Project — Rick Moran @ 10:37 am

My new AIP article is up and it returns to one of my favorite - and scariest - policy subjects; the threatened disaster due to entitlement growth.

A sample:

There is a ticking bomb embedded in America’s future that is hiding in plain sight. Everyone knows about it. Everyone acknowledges its potential to do enormous damage to our economy. Everyone is worried that, if not defused, it will destroy the dreams and aspirations of future generations of Americans.

And yet, we continue to act as if we can’t see the danger. We pretend that we can continue to pass the problem along to the next administration, the next congress, the next generation of Americans, as if they will be any different and find the courage to face the cancer that is eating us away from within.

We refuse to address the issue of middle class entitlements and how their growth will eventually impoverish the nation. And every year we delay, the problems only grow worse.

Today, we live in the most affluent nation in the world. This is largely the result of our possessing a hard working, industrious, creative, educated middle class whose amazing productivity is the wonder of the modern world. But certain demographic trends are emerging - trends that no one can stop or alter - that will make it impossible for that same middle class to maintain their standard of living not so many years from now.

As James Capretta points out, writing in the new policy quarterly National Affairs, the middle class entitlements of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were all predicated on a growing, prosperous work force. If that were ever to change, the US government would find itself in the same position that General Motors finds itself today; a company whose own health and pension arrangements with its workforce has bankrupted it…

Read that article in National Affairs by Capretta. Our problems arise because of a well meaning and compassionate government that sought to ease the retirement years of the Middle Class - the backbone of the country and those responsible for creating so much of our wealth. These pension and health insurance benefits were designed in another era, for another subset of demographics. When Medicare was first proposed, the lifespan for an American male was pegged at around 67. Now it’s 82 and couple that with a birth rate that has declined from 3.5 children per couple to around 2.1, and you see the crisis immediately.

More people are living much longer and being supported in their pensions and health care by far fewer workers. Something has to give somewhere, sometime, and it is going to happen sooner rather than later. Every year we delay dealing with Medicare and Social Security, the problems will only get harder to solve.

By the way, National Affairs is a great publication and you should bookmark it. It is the grandchild of the old Irving Kristol policy mag The Public Interest that I can remember back in the 70’s and 80’s going to the library to read every quarter because I couldn’t afford to subscribe. National Affairs didn’t disappoint. Still the same excellent writing, devotion to making issues clearly understood for the reasonably intelligent, and right of center slant.



Filed under: Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 10:04 am

This is the last in my series on the state of intellectual conservatism. Previous articles can be found in order here, and here, and here, and here.

If, as we’ve discovered, intellectual conservatism has been marginalized, and its adherents are in bad odor with much of the base, then conservatism as it is advanced by movement righties must be doomed to wander the night like the headless horseman; an unholy terror riding unseen and unloved, searching fruitlessly for its head until the dawn sends it scurrying back into the shadows.

A bit melodramatic, but who can resist the headless horseman analogy?

Indeed, with the conservative base rejecting the idea that most of their critiques of Obama and the left are wildly illogical and, unreasonable, one wonders if they’re even bothering to search for a head in the first place. It’s as if they really believe that relying on anger and paranoia will win over the great independent middle and sweep them back to power, grinding the left - and their less ideological enemies on the right - into powder.

Well, all I can say is good luck with that. I have little doubt that in 2010, you could put a GOP monkey up for election against some Democrats and the Chimp would be celebrating a victory. That’s how bad Democratic prospects in some districts look at this point. The reaction against Obamacare, and the inevitable rise in taxes along with dim prospects for much of a recovery will give the Republicans a good 20 seats.

But it will take at least a gain of 40 seats to see the GOP returned to power in the House, not to mention the 11 seats Republicans need to take control of the senate. Both numbers are currently out of reach, no matter how bad the Democrats screw up.

The reason is simple; in most districts, running a chimpanzee against a Democrat won’t get the job done. In order to realize the goal of overturning Democratic majorities in Congress, it would help immensely if the GOP had a coherent, consistent, programatic agenda that would seek to address the real concerns of real voters.

Broad themes are nice but a Gingrich-like “Contract with America” is more to the point. But given where the movement is now, what would that “Contract” look like?”

I would hope that insisting on finding the provenance of Obama’s birth certificate might be far down the list. Ditto the repeal of “death panels” in any health care legislation - if they can be found.

Indeed, promising to roll back liberal legislation might work, and it might not. A lot of opposition to health care reform may melt away once it’s passed. Democrats have history on their side in this since there has never been an instance of an entitlement being repealed once it has been passed.

Besides, while significant electoral gains are possible with a wholly negative agenda, voters would be far more enamored of a GOP platform that laid out positive legislative goals that they would wish to enact.

Frankly, I don’t see this being possible as long as enraged, populist ideologues are driving the Republican party off a cliff.

If reformers will not be listened to with regard to what is needed to regain a majority for the GOP, perhaps they have a role to play on the margins of the movement; that is, in developing the rationale for a consistent philosophy to be applied to governance.

Currently, conservatism is, in the words of R. Emmett Tyrell, a “riot of conceits.” We currently have the spectacle of movement conservatives hoping to use the courts to overturn legislation.

Steven Menashi, a public affairs fellow with the Hoover Institution, writing at The American Scene:

[T]he so-called Tenthers think all manner of new legislation is unconstitutional. There is no question that the courts have weakened the constitutional restraints on Congress, and it’s useful to point that out in order to guard against further attrition. But come on. The courts are not going to declare health-care reform unconstitutional. It’s just a fanciful notion that consigns its adherents to the political fringe. Federal regulation is with us, for better or worse, and conservatives should try to make it better rather than worse.

Conservatives have long argued that it’s unhealthy to use courts to decide policy questions because it removes contentious political issues from the realm of democratic deliberation. What’s more, when a political movement focuses its efforts on declaring some policy unconstitutional, it removes itself from the debate over how to craft that policy. Instead of revisiting Supreme Court cases from the 1940s, the Tenthers might want to read up on health policy.

For the same reason, conservatives should be defending the president’s use of informal policy czars. Creating a White House policy apparatus doesn’t undo the growth of the administrative state since the New Deal — that’s not going to happen anytime soon — but it’s a significant counter-measure: it helps shift the balance of power towards unitary executive control of the bureaucracy. And that’s a change we can believe in.

These arguments against using the courts to short circuit the legislative track while opposing policy czars despite how they may help the president reign in the bureaucracy are exactly the kind of inconsistencies promoted by movement conservatives. And they are the direct result of excessive ideological zeal in that they represent an emotional need to oppose the president and congress in everything they do even at the expense of adhering to a consistent conservative philosophy.

There are many such inconsistencies in conservative principles to be found in the beliefs being touted by the base. Calling for the significant lowering of taxes when the deficit hit $1.7 trillion in FY 2009 isn’t logical (nor is raising taxes during a recession, but tell that to Obama). Nor is it prudent (a marvelous conservative value) to support massive increases in defense spending for the same reason. And how does one square the attempt to legislate morality with subscribing to Kirk’s “voluntary community” or support for an “enduring moral order” when it is crammed down our throats?

I believe these inconsistencies to be a product of a lack among movement conservatives - perhaps a fear - of self examination. Unless you turn a critical eye to the assumptions found in one’s own philosophy, the chances are good that these kinds of inconsistencies will arise and wreak havoc with the logic of one’s beliefs.

Of course, such self examination would also reveal the paucity of critical thinking in much of their critique of the other side as well as challenging their overwrought paranoia about the effect of what Obama has been attempting to do. Would such self-criticism make it easier to see that we are not living under a dictatorship or some kind of socialist form of government? An honest, non-ideological appraisal of their own philosophy just might.

I’m not holding my breath. It appears that much of the right has abandoned reason altogether and has descended into a cave where, blind to their own excesses, they repeat the echos heard from talk radio and other pop conservatives, while failing to light a match and see where their fear and anger have brought them.

The edge of a precipice where stepping over the edge means falling into political irrelevancy.



Filed under: Government, Politics — Rick Moran @ 6:28 am

Since when did it become “unconservative” to support the idea that a political party - even in the minority - cannot fight to make legislation proposed by the majority better?

The Baucus bill hasn’t a chance of surviving a conference committee between the House and Senate. But it might have if the GOP worked to improve it rather than be terrified of their wild eyed base who sees any cooperation with the Democrats in trying to govern the country as tantamount to a betrayal of conservative principles.

Forget health care reform for a moment and concentrate on the idea that by totally eschewing comity and cooperation, the GOP has absolutely no input into legislation that is changing the country. None. Zero. Zilch. In the hyper partisan atmosphere that currently surrounds Congress, it very well may be that the Democrats wouldn’t meet the GOP halfway and incorporate some of their ideas into important legislation. Then again, they just might. Yes, it would be doing them a favor to give them political cover but it would also be doing the country a bigger favor by making any such legislation better, more attuned to conservative principles of governance.

Yes, Disraeli’s advice is very pertinent; “No Government can be long secure without a formidable opposition.” But how formidable is the GOP in Congress if they have absolutely no say in legislation like health care, or any other vital bill that has come down the pike in the last 8 months? Such a party is weak, and without a voice. And we wonder why absolutely no one takes the GOP seriously on the the Hill? We wonder why our own health care proposal is ignored by both Democrats and the media?

Spencer Churchill’s admonition, “The duty of an opposition is to oppose…” doesn’t mean that legislators should abandon their responsibility to help govern the country. That is, unless you believe that our representatives are there for the sole purpose of acquiring political power so that once the Democrats are replaced, we can ignore them as they have ignored us. Is this kind of childish game what the country needs?

I am not insensate. I fully realize that working with Democrats doesn’t always mean that the interests of conservatives are completely served. But that is the essence of compromise - something that one conservative icon knew better than anyone.

Ronald Reagan never had a majority like Barack Obama has in Congress. But he got more done in his first 9 months than Obama will probably get done in 4 years. Reagan also faced an economic crisis of historical proportions. He didn’t brag about the “opportunity” such crisis presented to change America. He simply went out and revolutionized the tax code, cut spending, and began to build our defenses back up after a decade of decline.

And he did it with the help of Democrats - and not just the “Boll Weevils” who agreed with him. Speaker Tip O’Neil, to his eternal credit, could have obstructed Reagan’s agenda with little trouble. But O’Neil - an old fashioned, back of the yards Democrat - actually believed that his Democratic party was a partner in governing the United States. Input from many Democrats into legislation made some of it better, some worse, but the point is, the Democrats were responsible enough (barely enough) in opposition to bring about successes for the Gipper’s agenda.

It is a different time today, a whole different atmosphere. The parties are not only more polarized but are nearly monochromatic ideologically. A partisan media makes politics a zero sum game where one side’s plus is the other side’s minus. The rabid base of both parties spits and tosses feces at one another, and woe betide the luckless Congressman or Senator who gets in the middle of it and tries to work with the opposition.

All of this works against the idea that the opposition should cooperate on some issues, and oppose on others. The entire notion of governance loses meaning as the party in power simply steamrolls legislation using their status as the majority. The GOP did the same thing when they were in power as the Democrats are doing today, with Bush delivering the same kind of lip service to bi-partisanship as Obama.

I ask quite sincerely, where has it gotten us? I can be as partisan as the next fellow but really, isn’t there a time when partisanship should be set aside for the common good? Obama’s health care plans are atrocious. But could they be made palatable with a lot of input from the GOP?

Realistically, no, although Ezra Klein thinks otherwise:

To make this more concrete, consider a guy like Utah’s Bob Bennett. As the lead co-sponsor of Wyden-Bennett, he’s clearly interested in health-care reform, and willing to take risks to achieve it. But despite his best efforts, Wyden-Bennett is not a viable proposal. But he has shown no interesting in bettering, or even involving himself, with Baucus’s legislation.

But why? I’ve read Wyden-Bennett. It is, undoubtedly, a better bill. But its advantage comes because of its radicalism, and its radicalism has denied it support. Baucus’s bill, however, doesn’t include much that should be appalling in principle to a supporter of Wyden-Bennett. In a way, it’s an incremental step towards Wyden-Bennett. Like Wyden-Bennett, it creates insurance exchanges. Unlike Wyden-Bennett, it does not make them the main option. But they could certainly grow, which is, in theory, better than them not existing at all. Like Wyden-Bennett, it relies on an individual mandate, and insurance market reforms, and subsidies, and it eschews a public option. Like Wyden-Bennett, it changes the tax treatment of health-care insurance so that more expensive plans cease being subsidized.

There are certainly elements of the bill that Bennett dislikes, and elements of the bill he’d like to change. But as a potential Republican vote, he’d actually have a real shot at changing them. Wyden has been fighting a lonely battle to include the Free Choice amendment in the bill, which would make the legislation a lot closer to Wyden-Bennett. It looks like he’s going to lose that battle, but if he’d been able to leverage Bennett’s vote, he might well have won it.

It’s not just Bennett, though. No Republican save Olympia Snowe has actually come forward with a concrete set of proposals that could permit them to sign onto the final legislation. Which is a shame, as there are actually places where conservative ideas and Republican cover could have bettered the bill.

In this case, if most Republicans could be convinced that the bulk of what’s in the Baucus bill would end up in the final package, Klein may have seen a few Republicans actually take him up on his challenge to better the bill. With a few alterations, I myself may have ended up supporting the Finance Committee bill - if I believed there was a ghost of a chance that the liberals in the House wouldn’t fight like hell to make sure that whatever comes back to the Senate for a final vote doesn’t look anything like what the Finance Committee is reporting out.

These are the wages of excessive ideology and excessive partisanship; a horrible bill that will screw up our health insurance, our health care, eventually bankrupt us, while moving the nation to a single payer system.

Could it have been avoided? In another time, perhaps; another era. But not now. And certainly not with this crew of Democrats and Republicans who play childish “tit for tat” games, call each other schoolyard names, and go on TV to scream at one another at how destructive their tactics are.

As long as Republicans are in the minority and accept their role as being only obstructionists, giving no thought to becoming a “formidable opposition” by placing their mark on important legislation so that when they do stand up and oppose something, they are taken seriously, the Democrats will have their way with them. It may not be possible for this kind of change to come about - which means that when the GOP rides back into power, the same tactics they are visiting on the Democrats will be turned around and employed against them.

Meanwhile, no matter who is in power, the country is ill-served.

You may think it slightly (or incredibly) ridiculous to make this argument. But somebody has to make it because I can’t believe that deep down, anyone who reads this doesn’t know that I’m right. The fact that it isn’t possible at the moment for two parties - majority and opposition - to work together to better the United States doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be argued. For if you really believe that the current situation is the correct manner that the majority/minority should govern, then God help our country because neither party will.



Filed under: Blogging — Rick Moran @ 3:06 pm

I was awakened at 5:00 AM with the persistent ringing of the telephone in my ear.

Me: Hello?

Osama Bin Laden: Richard, my old friend! Assalamu alaikum.. Have you heard the news?

Me: Osama? Is that you? What in blazes are you calling me at 5 in the morning for? Couldn’t it wait for our daily conference call?

Osama Bin Laden: Richard, Allah is indeed merciful. Those dogs on the Nobel Peace Committee have named the Unclean One winner of this year’s peace prize.

Me: Oh for God’s sake, Osama. I told…

Osama Bin Laden (interrupting): Richard, you may be one of my favorite conservative infidels but if I hear you take the name of Allah in vain again, you will regret it but once and that will be forever…

Me. Osama, I told you to stop with the jokes. I mean, when we plotted to have that tape released right before the 2004 election that had you endorsing Kerry, that was one thing - and a great gag it was too. And when we planned on hitting the Brooklyn Bridge, who would have taken something like that seriously? But please don’t pull my leg. Obama winning the peace prize? Really.

Osama Bin Laden: Most certainly, Richard. It is on CNN as I speak.

Me: Well, gee. No kiddin’, huh?

Osama Bin Laden: Do I have the kind of face that kids, Richard?

Me: Osama, my old friend, you have a face that only a goat could love.

Osama Bin Laden: Ha! Truer than you think, my infidel partner!

Me: So - how do we handle this?

Osama Bin Laden: If I were you, Richard, I would recommend you and your conservative friends celebrate this moment, congratulate the president, and make praise to Allah for his wondrous miracles.

Me: No joke, Osama, but even Allah would be hard pressed to fix it so the Nobel Peace Prize Committee gave their award to someone who was in office 11 days before he was nominated, and hasn’t accomplished anything at all in 9 months of being president.

Osama bin Laden: Trust me, Richard. You are playing with fire if you mock, or say bad things about this award. You and your conservative friends will blow your cover and reveal yourselves as my allies.

Me: Don’t be ridiculous. Who would possibly think that we conservatives were actually in league with terrorists?

Osama bin Laden: Richard, listen to me. We have worked together for a long time, yes?

Me: Forever, it seems Osama.

Osama bin Laden: I tell you now, the Democrats will see through your charade and uncover the truth of our collaboration unless you pretend that the dog Obama’s award is the answer to a prayer. The only other people who will agree with you that the award is undeserved are my other allies in the Taliban. And even the idiot liberals will then put two and two together and break your cover.

Me: Well, all I can do is call a quick meeting and see what everybody thinks. Can’t promise anything but I will certainly relay your concerns to the membership. And thank you, my Master, as always, for your many words of wisdom and kindnesses.

Osama bin Laden: Farewell, Richard.


Filed under: Blogging, Decision '08, Ethics, Government, Media, Politics — Rick Moran @ 9:49 am

There are several commentators who are tossing around the idea that this situation is so outrageous (or simply undeserved at this point) that the president should humbly decline to accept the prize.

I don’t think that is realistic, but some of the reasons given resonate.

On the right, Yuval Levin:

The prize, and the question, also risk awakening with a vengeance the notorious good sense of the American public, and its democratic intolerance for pompous arrogance and nonsense. In its fatigue with Republicans, and its unease with John McCain’s erratic and empty campaign, the voting public gave Obama a comfortable victory last year, but only the young and the silly really went in for the whole cult of personality. It has seemed at several telling moments this year, however, as though Obama himself and his circle were among those that believed it all, and remain so: Their enormous faith in the power of Obama as a messenger and presence, the sense that the world would change its attitude about America simply because he was there, the endless stream of first person pronouns. We might have thought the falling poll ratings would check this attitude somewhat, but Obama’s words and deeds — the Olympics fiasco, for instance — suggest otherwise. Now this odd moment could force the administration to face the matter one way or another. It compels all reasonably sensible people to say “come on, really?!” and it challenges Obama and his circle to assure the country that they are not delusional. It’s hard to know quite what the right response would be, but it would probably require a self-effacing show of humility (including declining the prize) that our president may not even be able to fake, let alone actually exhibit. It is a dangerous thing for a president to become a joke, and between his Olympic Committee trip and this peculiar honor, he’s getting there fast, and in a way that could do him real harm.

I wonder if any commentator, anywhere on the political spectrum, will offer a genuine straight-faced defense or case for this prize. Whoever does will no-doubt win next year’s Nobel Prize for literature.

Actually, a survey by NBI just came out that showed America being the most admired country in the world again. I have no doubt that is the direct result of President Obama being elected - as well as his humble approach to foreign policy that, by his own admission, seeks to minimize the power of his own country.

But Yuval is on to something. The reaction is almost universally one of astonishment - at least among ordinary people. All but the most mindless Obamabots are surprised and not a little puzzled. There is gladness on the left, but it is not universal nor is it uncritical of the committee.

John Dickerson of Slate:

Having worked at Time magazine when it occasionally named a Person of the Year who evoked a similar “Huh?” reaction, I recognize this language: It the sound of words groaning for a rationale. The committee can, of course, pick whomever it wants. But in his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.”

“Shall have done,” seems a tricky piece of language to write around. This makes the committee’s statement sounds more like a wish list. It’s not that Obama has done nothing. It’s that so much about his presidency is preliminary. (I’m not counting the beer summit.) Other recipients—Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel, and Lech Walesa—seem more aptly to hit the “have done” mark. Others who might not be household names, like Muhammad Yunus, make sense on inspection.

On the other hand, Obama may fit the bill more than some other recipients. At least he hasn’t actively been engaged in making warfare, as were previous recipients Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat. Then again, Obama is considering whether to send more troops into Afghanistan, one of America’s two wars.

That is disingenuous by Dickerson. Obama has personally ordered drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have killed dozens if not hundreds of civilians. As the Nobel Committee was making up his mind, the president has been contemplating sending more troops to Afghanistan. There is a chance that in the coming months, we will have to reengage in Iraq to some degree.

And is bombing Iran completely off the table?

But even Dickerson recognizes the fact that there is nothing in particular that the president has accomplished that merits this high honor. And comparison to other winners certainly falls flat, doesn’t it?

This may sound overly harsh, but there are people who have risked their lives for peace, have stood up to the same thugs and tyrants that Obama is embracing, who have gone into war zones and sought to mediate conflicts, and who have, with great courage, stood up against the forces of darkness in order to bring light to the innocent.

And Obama is elevated above these? Here’s a small sampling of obviously more deserving people from Mary Katherine Ham at the Weekly Standard:

Sima Samar, women’s rights activist in Afghanistan: “With dogged persistence and at great personal risk, she kept her schools and clinics open in Afghanistan even during the most repressive days of the Taliban regime, whose laws prohibited the education of girls past the age of eight. When the Taliban fell, Samar returned to Kabul and accepted the post of Minister for Women’s Affairs.”

Ingrid Betancourt: French-Colombian ex-hostage held for six years.

Handicap International and Cluster Munition Coalition: “These organizations are recognized for their consistently serious efforts to clean up cluster bombs, also known as land mines. Innocent civilians are regularly killed worldwide because the unseen bombs explode when stepped upon.”

Hu Jia, a human rights activist and an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, who was sentenced last year to a three-and-a-half-year prison term for ‘inciting subversion of state power.’”

“Wei Jingsheng
, who spent 17 years in Chinese prisons for urging reforms of China’s communist system. He now lives in the United States.”

“Dr. Denis Mukwege: Doctor, founder and head of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. He has dedicated his life to helping Congolese women and girls who are victims of gang rape and brutal sexual violence.”

Any one of these courageous individuals would have been a more inspirational choice than someone who talks a good game but has done nothing to back up his words at any risk to himself whatsoever.

Michael Binyon at the TimesOnline:

The award of this year’s Nobel peace prize to President Obama will be met with widespread incredulity, consternation in many capitals and probably deep embarrassment by the President himself.

Rarely has an award had such an obvious political and partisan intent. It was clearly seen by the Norwegian Nobel committee as a way of expressing European gratitude for an end to the Bush Administration, approval for the election of America’s first black president and hope that Washington will honour its promise to re-engage with the world.

Instead, the prize risks looking preposterous in its claims, patronising in its intentions and demeaning in its attempt to build up a man who has barely begun his period in office, let alone achieved any tangible outcome for peace.

A rather harsh assessment but unless you are totally in the tank for the guy, it is difficult to argue with its conclusions. One thing that is arguable is the notion that this is causing “consternation” in many capitols. From what I can see, most governments are sending words of congratulations. How they really think may be another matter. But given how the president has now been encouraged in his program to de-emphasize American power and subsume our interests to those of other nations, I can’t see them being too full of “consternation” for Obama’s continued quest to downgrade our power and influence on the world stage.

The president will not turn the prize down. Nor do I think he should. He is being rewarded for the kind of foreign policy choices that sit well with a world that is enamored of gestures and atmospherics. This kind of foreign policy works very well - as long as no one challenges the comfortable illusions it represents.

There will come a time in the next 8 years when most of those congratulating the president’s weakening of American power and influence will have need of her strength. And when that day comes - as it always has given the history of the last 100 years - those in need of that strength are simply going to be Sh*t out of Luck.


This is from Robert Naiman at Huffpo and is the first take I’ve read in support of the award that actually makes sense:

The Nobel Committee gave South African Bishop Desmond Tutu the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his leadership of efforts to abolish apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid wasn’t fully abolished in South Africa until 1994. The committee could have waited until after apartheid was abolished to say, “Well done!” But the point of the award was to help bring down apartheid by strengthening Bishop Tutu’s efforts. In particular, everyone knew that it was going to be much harder for the apartheid regime to crack down on Tutu after the Nobel Committee wrapped him in its protective cloak of world praise.

That’s what the Nobel Committee is trying to do for Obama now. It’s giving an award to encourage the change in world relations that Obama has promised, and to try to help shield Obama against his domestic adversaries.

Interesting that Mr. Naiman sees it as a plus that the Nobel Committee would see fit to interfere in our domestic politics. In fact, he seems downright satisfied that foreigners want to butt their noses into our business. (Wonder how he’d feel if they did something similar for a conservative Republican?)

Other than that, however, his analysis makes sense.


Filed under: Blogging, Decision '08, Ethics, Politics — Rick Moran @ 5:53 am

Originally, I was just going to repost my AT blog post on the news that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

But those of you who read what I write both there and here are aware that I put a little harder edge on what I write at American Thinker than at RWNH.

I think most honest observers on the right and left would have to agree that President Obama has no concrete accomplishments that would make him deserving of this honor. A perusal of the list of past winners would make Obama stand out as the only recipient who never negotiated any agreement, didn’t intervene to prevent bloodshed, never put his personal popularity on the line to push through an important treaty, didn’t risk his life to bring peace to his own war torn country, or any other criteria previously used in Nobel citations that would place him on par with those so honored in the past.

In order to give President Obama this award, the Nobel Committee had to lower the bar:

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”

“Extraordinary” efforts? He has been in office 9 months - almost completely absorbed in domestic affairs. The word “extraordinary” in this case rings hollow indeed.

And what about the committee attaching “special importance” to President Obama’s “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons?” You don’t have to oppose the president to raise an eyebrow there. Activists have spent their entire lives working toward that “vision” - many of them prominent statesmen and personalities. And President Obama is recognized for his johnny come lately efforts - or I should make that “effort” since his one day dog and pony show as chairing a Security Council meeting on the subject constitutes his only exertion toward that goal.

The Nobel committee has simply lowered the bar in order to award the president his honor. Even compared to other presidents who have received this award, Obama’s efforts and most especially his accomplishments, just don’t stack up.

Teddy Roosevelt got his peace prize for mediating between Japan and Russia and ending their bloody war. Woodrow Wilson got his for his efforts at peace after World War I. Jimmy Carter - whatever else you can say about him - engineered a singular, personal triumph with the Camp David accords which was the first peace agreement between Israel and another Arab state.

What’s Obama done? What peace has he negotiated? What efforts of his have born fruit?

The news could just as easily be a Saturday Night Live comedy skit or a Mad Magazine layout. If it had appeared in either one of those venues yesterday, it would have seemed a ripe subject for satire and humor. I daresay even many liberals would have laughed at the notion of Obama getting the Nobel for peace.

Is there a possibility that this is an effort to meddle in our domestic politics? Setting the president up as an international demigod certainly plays into his cult-like status here in the US. I have no doubt it will boost his approval ratings and could supply a little impetus for health care reform. And 2012? Too soon to say what impact it might have there but it couldn’t hurt, could it?

Despite all this, it wouldn’t kill those of us on the right to offer congratulations to the president. For whatever reason, this is indeed a high honor and brings nothing but warm feelings from other peoples around the world to the United States. I don’t attach any real world importance to that.

But it couldn’t hurt, could it?


According to their own website, the deadline for the submission of names to be considered for the prize is February 1.

Obama was not nominated based on what he had accomplished as president because he had been in office for about 11 days.

I would add a simple, declarative WTF and leave it at that.



Filed under: Blogging, Decision '08, Ethics, Government, Media, Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 10:32 am

This is the 4th in a series of 5 articles on the state of intellectual conservatism. Here’s Part I. Part II. And Part III.

There is a terrific exchange of views on the health of conservatism over at Slate between conservative writer Reihan Salam and Sam Tannenhaus (author of Death of Conservatism). Salam is author (with Ross Douthat) of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream[ that was not very well received by movement conservatives. He is also the Schwartz Fellow at the decidedly unconservative New America Foundation.

I suppose for many on the right, this kind of background disqualifies Mr. Salam from having anything relevant to say about conservatism. No matter. I find Salam's writing to border on brilliant at times, and his insights into modern America fresh and thought provoking. I'm sure this exchange with Tannenhaus over the latter's new book will not change anyone's mind.

Salam offers a brief summary that will also familiarize readers here with the substance of Tannenhaus's book:

To summarize briefly, you offer a sharp distinction between rigidly ideological movement conservatism, which you describe as more Jacobin than Burkean in its tone and in its anti-democratic ambitions, and the more modest and restrained "Beaconsfield position" advocated by Whittaker Chambers, a man whose courage, intellect, and independence you plainly admire. These two strands, revanchist and realist, have been present throughout the history of the American right and, as you vividly demonstrate in the case of William F. Buckley Jr., often coexist in the work of leading conservative intellectuals. The book ends with the revanchists triumphant as even neoconservative intellectuals, once the arch-realists, find themselves overtaken by ideological zeal.

"Beaconsfield" refers to the peerage of Conservative Party Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (Earl of Beaconsfield) and his school of mid-19th century reform conservatism in England that embraced measures expanding the government's purview into areas where it was previously unknown. Tannenhaus admires Disraeli, holding him up as the kind of conservative to which the right should aspire. But today, he would probably be seen as a "Big Government" conservative by the base given the numerous reforms that brought government in to play a role in education, and worker safety, while committing the definite conservative no-no back then of expanding sufferage to include almost all male heads of households.

Disraeli is usually referred to as the "Father of Modern Conservatism" - and for good reason as this 2005 piece by David Gelernter makes clear:

THUS DISRAELI FOUND HIMSELF in a position to rebuild the Tory party. How did he go about it? Reverence for tradition was central to Toryism and to Disraeli's own personality. He wanted his new-style Tory party to embody respect for tradition--wanted it to be new and old, to be a modern setting for ancient gems, a new crown displaying old jewels. This was a popular idea in 19th-century Britain, where "the future" and "the past" were both discovered, simultaneously.

Disraeli's approach was like Barry and Pugin's in designing a new home for Parliament. The old one burned to the ground (except for a magnificent medieval hall and a few odds and ends) in 1834. The new structure, it was decided, should be built of modern materials and work like a modern building with all the conveniences--but should look medieval. The intention wasn't play-acting or aesthetic fraud; it was to use the best ideas of the past and present alongside each other.

The result was wildly successful, one of history's greatest public buildings. Disraeli aimed to accomplish something similar for the Tory party. His underlying thought, which defined Disraeli-type Toryism and reshaped conservatism for all time, was that the Conservative party was the national party. Sounds simple and is. But everything else followed. If you understood "national" properly, then (on the one hand) the Tories must be a democratic, "universal," progressive party that cared about the poor and working classes--since the party was national it must care for the whole nation, for all classes. But the Tories must also be a patriotic party that revered ancient traditions and institutions, again inasmuch as they were the national--and therefore honored profoundly the nation's heritage and distinctive character.

He put it like this:

"In a progressive country change is constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines."

I present intellectual conservatism at its most lucid and sublime.

Perhaps here is where the schism between movement conservatives and reformists is most pronounced; the very idea of "change." Not the revanchist view that the United States should return to some unrealistic, impossible to achieve, 19th century "small government" paradise - before there was a New Deal or Great Society. But rather the idea that conservatism at its best manages change so that ultimately, it is based on the traditions - "the manners, the customs, the laws" - that are the best of any society.

Even Russell Kirk embraced this view of change in his 10th Conservative Principle:

Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world. When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects. The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces, which Samuel Taylor Coleridge called its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate.


Change is essential to the body social, the conservative reasons, just as it is essential to the human body. A body that has ceased to renew itself has begun to die. But if that body is to be vigorous, the change must occur in a regular manner, harmonizing with the form and nature of that body; otherwise change produces a monstrous growth, a cancer, which devours its host. The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new. This is the means of the conservation of a nation, quite as it is the means of conservation of a living organism. Just how much change a society requires, and what sort of change, depend upon the circumstances of an age and a nation.

I would hope that our liberal friends read the preceding and understand why conservatives cannot and will not support the Obama version of national health care reform. It is decidedly not connected to our traditions, or our customs, and in no way can be supported since it posits “change” as some kind of mythical “progress.”

Neither, however, should many on the right believe that change should always be opposed simply out of opposition to the majority. This is mindless nihilism, and is also decidedly “unconservative” if you believe that society should be constantly trying to improve itself.

I took this detour into Disraeli and the notion of “change” because it is at the heart of Tannehaus’s critique; that movement conservatism has short circuited the connection between intellectuals and themselves by rejecting logic and reason, substituting paranoia and an incipient anti-intellectualism in its stead.

Salam responds this way:

I have a slightly different interpretation of conservatism’s excesses. For good reason, you place the conservative intelligentsia at the heart of your story. I tend to think intellectuals belong on the margins. The revanchism you lament is not the invention of conservative elites. My view is that it is rooted in the considered judgments of a small but intense and vocal minority of American voters, many of whom are white evangelical Christians living in the Southern United States. As labor economist Stephen Rose argued in 2006, these are voters who are very tax-sensitive; they tend to settle in regions with a low cost of living, where self-reliance seems more plausible than it does from my vantage point as a lifelong city dweller. Social conservatism arguably has a totemic significance; because rural red America suffers from scandalously high rates of divorce, the sanctity of marriage is a live issue. Far from resenting public moralism, the voters I have in mind consider it a vital part of a decent, well-governed society.

What you see as conservative decline strikes me as a structural consequence of our permeable democracy. In Britain, for example, large majorities of the public back the restoration of the death penalty—more, according to some polls, than in the United States, where we’ve experienced its many downsides—but an elite cross-party consensus keeps the issue off the table. For better or for worse, our system gives the most intensely committed voters a voice that can’t be ignored. We remember the movement to impeach President Clinton as the wild-eyed crusade of out-of-touch congressional leaders, yet it was also fueled by the outrage of rank-and-file conservatives. And in a similar vein, Karl Rove never imagined that opposition to same-sex marriage would cement a permanent Republican majority. It was a distraction that I’m sure he found distasteful. President Bush himself could barely stomach talking about the issue. Yet talk about it he did, in deference to the need to press every advantage.

Is it an accident that southern evangelicals (and those who sympathize with their social agenda nationwide) are the most reliable GOP voters and play such a prominent role in conservatism today? I hesitate to agree with Tannenhaus that these grass roots conservatives exhibit reactionary traits but it is hard to escape the fact that much of the right’s social agenda - anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage (and gay rights), school prayer (”God in the public square”) - is predicated on the belief that attitudes in society that have changed to varying degrees on these issues can be rolled back. I don’t know if this is “reactionary” although I don’t believe that social conservatives are desirous of the kind of “change” that would have been supported by Disraeli or perhaps even Kirk.

I hasten to add that this doesn’t make these issues illegitimate. But they don’t represent my kind of conservatism, nor that of many others.

response is interesting:

Actually, what you call a polemic means to be an interpretive history that makes the opposite case from the one described in your account. Revanchist conservatism did not originate as a form of populist protest. Rather, it was the brainchild of the very elites you say have no influence on our politics. It was conservative intellectuals who argued that the “managerial elite” (James Burnham), the “liberal establishment” (William Buckley), or the “new class” (Irving Kristol) had seized control of American politics and later our society. This argument, in its inverted Marxism, gave theoretical shape to the unarticulated anxieties and suspicions—anti-government, anti-institutional, antinomian—of the “small but intense and vocal minority,” many of them “white evangelical Christians,” who today populate the eroding island of movement conservatism. Even today the right insists it is driven by ideas, even if the leading thinkers are now Limbaugh and Beck, and the shock troops are tea-partiers and anti-tax demonstrators.

In other words, the movement has thrived not as a top-down operation, nor as a bottom-up one, but as a convergence of shared prejudices and cultural enmities. Thus, the right’s first great modern tribune was Joe McCarthy, whose theatrical “investigations” of “enemies within” were either endorsed or indulged by each of the intellectuals mentioned above.

The same antagonisms continued through the Bush years. Your reading of that dismal period seems rather wishful to me. Bush and Rove built their presidency on revanchism. This isn’t surprising since Rove’s number-crunching following the 2000 election—when Bush lost the popular vote by 500,000 or more—suggested that the GOP ticket had failed to exploit the evangelical base that might have yielded a majority. No wonder Bush devoted so much of his presidency to courting social conservatives—remember stem cells, intelligent design, the faith-based initiative? Nor was Rove taken aback by opposition to same-sex marriage. On the contrary, he made it a centerpiece in the 2004 election. It is the politics of the excluded middle, or center, and it defines the right today on every stratum.

Tannenhaus believes that the intellectuals who supplied much of the substance and heft to conservatism in the 1970’s ended up embracing ideology as a means to political power, igniting the passions of the base by focusing on “enemies” and “antagonisms.” He calls it a “convergence” of the elites (most of whom are not intellectuals I might add) with the base. Who was driving whom? I agree more with Salam on this one. The entrance into politics of evangelicals, motivated by TV preachers like Jerry Falwell, was definitely a grass roots phenomenon and one of the more significant political events since World War II. Reagan largely gave lip service to the Christian right (as Roosevelt gave lip service to the far left agenda during his administration), and George Bush 41 stupidly rejected them.

It was left to Bush 43 to pander shamelessly to the evangelicals, increasing their power and influence, while running a corporatist, big government administration. He was supported by conservatives largely because of his social conservatism and his hawkish foreign policy. Also, the alternative of John Kerry was unpalatable to almost all on the right.

But did this “convergence” lead us to the sorry state of intellectual conservatism today? Salam replies to Tannenhaus by positing a different explanation:

And as I suggested in my first entry, I really do think that something structural is going on: In the past, the democratic marketplace was less “efficient,” and that was in a sense a very good thing for writers and thinkers and public-spirited elected officials, who had the freedom to defy movement discipline. Our more fragmented media landscape has far lower barriers to entry, and it allows passionately engaged citizens, as well as cranks, to organize and even intimidate. When you consider that Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa fears a hard-right Internet-enabled primary challenge, his otherwise puzzling behavior in the health reform debate starts to make sense.

Throughout the book, you draw on political analyst Samuel Lubell to argue that America’s party system consists of a dominant sun, a majority party that sets the ideological agenda, and a minority moon. And like many observers, you suggest that after a long period of Republican dominance, during which Democrats came to embrace conservative insights as part of a new consensus, we have now entered a progressive era. And so conservatives face a choice: Either a new generation of Republican Disraelis will champion a Bismarckian welfare state, a view that Irving Kristol championed as late as 2003 (I disagree with your interpretation of the late Kristol, but I digress), or the movement will be doomed to snarling insignificance at the margins of our political life.

That’s a pretty stark choice but, I believe, an accurate one. Salam said in his first piece that he believed the anger of the base would “steadily work its way out in hundreds of thousands of roiling conversations in office parks, shopping malls, living rooms, and lecture halls.” And, I might add, the voting booth. It is there that movement conservatism will finally meet its own “Waterloo.”

I believe it inevitable that even if the GOP mounts some kind of comeback in 2010, it will be shortlived. The systemic contradictions inherent in the movement as well as a continued disconnect with the concerns of ordinary voters will spell defeat of what will almost certainly be a movement candidate for president in 2012. Then, the excuse that their candidate wasn’t “conservative enough” will ring hollow and they will be faced with the yawning chasm opening beneath their feet that their angry, paranoid, illogical worldview is not shared with many outside of the cocoon they have created for themselves.



This is the third in a series of 5 articles on the state of intellectual conservatism. Part I can be found here. Part II.

Few speechwriters of the modern era can match the record of Peggy Noonan when it comes to memorable presidential addresses. Teddy Sorenson was of a different era but managed several significant, and remembered speeches for JFK, including Kennedy’s inaugural address which is often considered one of the best. Ray Price and Pat Buchanan added a combative style to presidential addresses (Price was especially good at sticking the knife in). James Fallows penned some good speeches for Carter that were delivered atrociously.

But Noonan was lucky enough to work with a president who was not only a dynamite speaker, but a wordsmith in his own right. Her best efforts with Reagan were collaborative, as Noonan would shoot the Gipper a draft, who would return it with numerous notations and changes. She had a great sense of Reagan’s speaking cadence which was evident in one of the best speeches of the 20th century; Reagan’s D-Day address to the “Boys of Point du Hoc.” Rarely has the moment so gloriously reflected the words uttered by an American president.

But Noonan the political analyst? Most conservatives have dismissed her columns on conservatism as elitist, and not all that conservative to begin with. She has said nice things about Obama. She has said bad things about movement heroes like Rush Limbaugh. She has criticized the inchoate rage of the extreme right.

In short, she has been reasonable, pragmatic, desirous of engaging the opposition, and doesn’t see the president with horns and a tail.

Heresy, that.

Yes, Peggy Noonan is an elitist. Yes, she has misread the pull/push relationship between populists and reformers, ascribing opposition to her brand of conservatism as a nascent anti-intellectualism. She is befuddled about why the base hates her so, considering the fact that she was working for the conservative cause while most of her detractors were still in books, or not even born. This makes her somewhat pathetic in my opinion. She hasn’t much of a clue about the real conversation that is going on right now and this is reflected in her writings.

She is clueless about engaging on the internet. Her website is a simple repository for her numerous articles. She famously devoted an entire column following one of her more clueless articles, bemoaning the loss of civility in internet comments. Why anyone would be surprised in this day and age about the viciousness of anonymous posters is indicative of a kind of quaint, child like innocence about the world that is both attractive and gobsmackingly dense.

But she is still a great writer. And she usually has something to say that is somewhat relevant, although it is usually a hit or miss proposition.

Here’s a definite “miss”
as she comments about the loss of William Safire:

Anyway, everyone there knew we’d suddenly lost one of the great ones, the Elders, and there is lately a sense of a changing of the guard.

Who are the Elders? They set the standards. They hand down the lore. They’re the oldest and wisest. By proceeding through the world each day with dignity and humanity, they show the young what it is that should be emulated. They’re the tribal chieftains. This role has probably existed since caveman days, because people need guidance and encouragement, they need to be heartened by examples of endurance. They need to be inspired.

We are in a generational shift in the media, and new Elders are rising. They’re running the networks and newspapers, they own the Web sites, they anchor the shows. What is their job?

It’s to do what the Elders have always done, but now more than ever.

You know the current media environment. You think I’m about to say, “Boy, what’s said on cable, radio and the Internet now is really harmful and dangerous.” And you’re right, and it is. Some of the ranters don’t have the faintest idea where the line is. “They keep moving the little sucker,” said the William Hurt character, the clueless and unstoppable anchorman, in “Broadcast News.” They’ve been moving the little sucker for 20 years. But it’s getting worse, and those who warn of danger are right.

This is nonsense, obviously coming from someone who is not only clueless about the “generational shift” in the media but its true significance as well. New “elders” aren’t being created. There are no more elders, or youngers, or tweeners. Such designations are irrelevant in a media landscape with literally thousands of outlets, and many thousands of writers who are just as qualified, just as smart, just as talented as Noonan herself or any other “elder” who ever lived, scratching out their opinions, paid and unpaid.

The “elders of which she writes came of age when the Saturday Evening Post was still a viable publication; when Life, Look, and Time Magazine sold tens of millions of copies; when there were perhaps a half dozen newspapers where “elders” sat on high and pontificated to the rest of us; and where there were only three gigantic TV networks.

This is not to say that excellent writing and thinking doesn’t rise to the top of the ziggurat and is recognized, or that there aren’t any writers with influence. But compared to Noonan’s “elders” the effect of today’s media stars is extremely limited. The fact that no one publication can attract millions of Americans to read what they put out is a direct cause of why print media is dying. Even syndicated columnists like Noonan, Will, Krauthammer, Samuelson, or Dowd can only reach a fraction of the readers of those who came before them.

But does Noonan have a point?

A few days ago, I was sent a link to a screed by MSNBC’s left-wing anchorman Ed Schultz, in which he explained opposition to the president’s health-care reform. “The Republicans lie. They want to see you dead. They’d rather make money off your dead corpse. They kind of like it when that woman has cancer and they don’t have anything for us.” Next, a link to the syndicated show of right-wing radio talker Alex Jones, on the subject of the U.S. military, whose security efforts at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh show them to be agents and lackeys of the New World Order. “They are complete enemies of America. . . . Our military’s been taken over. . . . This is the end of our country.” Later, “They’d love to kill 10,000 Americans,” and, “The republic is falling right now.”

This, increasingly, is the sound of our political conversation.

It is not new to call this kind of thing destructive, though it is. It is a daily agitating barrage that coarsens and inflames. It tears the national fabric. But it could wind up doing worse than that.

Of course she’s right. It is a fact that in order to stand out in this fractured, media multi-verse, the louder and angrier you are, the more you resonate on an emotional level with the audience.

Noonan believes this to be “dangerous.” I’m not sure of that at all. It may be sad. It may be pathetic that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck actually enjoy the respect and admiration of so many - those who think that because they “sound” like they are making sense or they “feel” that what they say is true is indicative of wisdom and logic. An entire subculture of conservatives have grown up believing that strawman arguments, hysterical exaggeration regarding one’s opponents, fear mongering, shallowness, and even hate is a substitute for reason, for thinking.

How can anyone possibly mistake this typical rant from Limbaugh for reasoned, rational, discourse?

The people that run our country now have a much closer proximity and they’re much closer to the world’s tyrants and dictators than they are closer to the people who founded the country. This is not accidental. They have chosen it. This is the ideology that they have chosen. This is what’s best for them. And you’re going to learn this if you stay focused and stay interested and keep learning as you grow older, you’re going to learn this. You’re gonna learn that they’re not innocent idiots. They are dangerous, devious central planners who have designs on everybody’s liberty and freedom. That’s what matters most to them because that’s where they derive their power.

I have to say it because Limbaugh either believes this, or knows his audience too well; he is saying all of this about our fellow Americans; that they are “closer to tyrants” than Thomas Jefferson; that they are “dangerous, devious central planners who have designs on everybody’s liberty and freedom” - as if their motives were to enslave us.

This kind of rant hits all the emotional buttons of Limbaugh’s listeners while eschewing logic and promoting fear. Nearly 20 million people listen to this crap every day and nod their heads in agreement, thinking how “true” this sounds” and how it feels like an intelligent analysis of liberalism.

Now, a visit to just about any liberal website will reveal similar things said about conservatives and conservatism. But the point made by many on the left - that Limbaugh is considered so mainstream and respected that even political leaders cower in fear of his influence with the base - is well taken. When some pissant lefty blog, or the equally invisible Olbermann/Maddow/Schultz trio at MSNBC (which is the nexus of lefty kookery) spout off about conservatives, you don’t find too many Democratic Congressman imitating them (although Alan Grayson sure tries hard, doesn’t he?).

But hey! Beck got Vann Jones fired and Rush arms his dittoheads with talking points that they can take into internet forums and chat rooms to do battle against evil. Surely there is some good that comes out of this, isn’t there?

There are those who have been telling me that conservatism needs these populizers to excite the troops and motivate them to achieve political victory. What kind of “victory” is it worth to lose your mind to gain a majority?

And that, dear readers is the bottom line. This is why it is imperative that intellectual conservatism - or at least a reasonable, hard headed, tough minded approach to political combat - is so far superior to the Limbaugh/Beck/Savage school of slash and burn, take no prisoners conservatism that dominates today.

Public intellectuals like Richard Posner, Yuval Levin, and other, younger thinkers like Conor Friedersdorf and Reihan Salam - whose critiques of liberalism are every bit as devastating as anything Limbaugh et al can conjure up - are whispering in a typhoon of irrationality and bombast. While it may be true as Richard Viguerie and Steven Allen point out in an Examiner op-ed today that conservative intellectuals (”elites” Viguerie calls them) in the past never really enjoyed much cache with movement conservatives, the fact is they were always there to add depth and legitimacy to the national political conversation.

Would that it were so today.



Filed under: The Rick Moran Show — Rick Moran @ 4:54 pm

You won’t want to miss tonight’s Rick Moran Show, one of the most popular conservative talk shows on Blog Talk Radio.

Tonight, I welcome fellow Chicagoan Rich Baehr and my good friend Ed Morrissey for a discussion of health care reform. Chicago Oympic fail, and Iran.

The show will air from 7:00 - 8:00 PM Central time. You can access the live stream here. A podcast will be available for streaming or download shortly after the end of the broadcast.

Click on the stream below and join in on what one wag called a “Wayne’s World for adults.”

The Chat Room will open around 15 minutes before the show opens,

Also, if you’d like to call in and put your two cents in, you can dial (718) 664-9764.

Listen to The Rick Moran Show on internet talk radio


Filed under: Blogging, Decision '08, Government, Politics, conservative reform, health care reform — Rick Moran @ 10:57 am

This is the second in a series of 5 articles on the state of intellectual conservatism. Part I can be found here.

Should conservatives pay any attention to liberals who attempt to critique us?

I actually sympathize with those conservatives who reject out of hand any effort by a liberal to tell us what’s wrong with us. Sympathize - but neither do I brush off such criticism without reading and digesting it for myself.

There are a few liberals who actually make a living looking seriously at the intersection of politics, philosophy, and ideology and, through rigorous examination, while using logically sound arguments, have something important to say that I believe conservatives should take very seriously.

I should note that I don’t necessarily believe it when a liberal says they are offering their critiques because they believe it important that their philosophical opponents get back on their feet intellectually or politically so they can “challenge” liberalism. That’s stretching things a bit, boys. Let’s just leave it at acknowledging a sincere attempt by reasonable people to honestly look at history and conservative philosophy, and, in an academic sense, offer reality based criticism from their point of view.

I am in the process of writing a long, hopefully readable review of Sam Tannenhaus’s Death of Conservatism. I wish I could have done it sooner but I am a slave to time, and such an interesting, thoughtful, although ultimately flawed book deserves a serious effort. Besides, I get to crib from best conservative reviews of the book since I am so late to the party, thus making my job a little easier.

But today’s lesson comes to us via Jacob Weisberg, editor in chief of the Slate Group, former editor of Slate Magazine, and author of the book In Defense of Government. His liberal credentials impeccable, Weisberg wrote a piece a few days ago in Slate that mourned the loss of Neocon Irving Kristol and the fact that the intellectual conservatism he represented died off decades ago:

In the heyday of Kristol’s influence in the 1980s, Republicans styled themselves the party of ideas. Whatever you thought of those ideas—challenging Soviet power, cutting taxes, passing power back to the states, ending affirmative action, cutting off welfare benefits to the undeserving poor—they represented a genuine attempt to remodel government around a coherent vision. Today, as during the pre-conservative stage of Kristol’s career in the 1950s, the Republican Party takes itself much more lightly. It has fallen back upon what Lionel Trilling once called “irritable mental gestures”—crankily rejecting liberal attempts to come to grips with the country’s problems without offering any plausible alternatives. Since the last election, it has been the brain-dead home of tea parties, pro-life amendments, and climate-change denial.

Are tea parties any more “brain dead” than anti-war protests? I had my doubts that any kind of mass protest movement at the grass roots could ever arise among the highly individualistic conservatives. At this point, I have been proved wrong although I am waiting for the inevitable absorption of the tea party movement into the Republican party. All that energy has to be channeled somewhere. And since a 3rd party would be futile, there’s really only one place for the movement to go; a de facto alliance with the GOP in 2010.

Already there are signs that tea partiers are endorsing candidates for office, raising money, and will no doubt supply volunteers to some of these candidates.

I doubt there will be many Democrats on the list of tea party endorsed candidates.

I have written often of what I believe the tea party groups are really all about. It’s not really about taxes, or even gargantuan deficit spending. It is something that few liberals can grasp, although I have seen some analysis on the left come close. The kind of “change” that Obama seeks to bring to America may seem overdue to many on the left but is seen by most conservatives as an attempt to replace an America they know with an another America, one that rejects the values of their ancestors and substitutes what appears to them to be an alien vision of what America should be.

I disagree with conservatives who say the president’s race doesn’t play a role with a small, but significant minority. But those who issue blanket condemnations using that meme are clueless about what is driving this protest; it is the abandonment - or seeming abandonment - of what conservatives see as “First Principles” that includes a basic outline of the Constitution.

It can be argued that fear of change is a fact of life for conservatives but I reject that as a primary motivation because what the president has done is, in fact, revolutionary. Perhaps not to the educated and urbane who believe us far behind the social democracies of Europe in creating a welfare state. But to millions of patriotic, god fearing Americans, they feel they are losing their country and will fight to keep it.

Is this brain dead? No more so than anti-war protestors who believed that Bush was in league with big business to bring perpetual war to our shores. Or that Bush went to war in Iraq to enrich his friends and cronies. Or that the Terrorist Surveillance Program was riotously abused and that the government was spying on Bush opponents wholesale. Excessive ideology leads to excessive paranoia on both right and left. That is the lesson of America in the modern age.

In fact, Weisberg acknowledges this - at least on the right:

How did this prudent outlook devolve into the spectacle of ostensibly intelligent people cheering on Sarah Palin? Through the 1980s, the neoconservatives became more focused on political power and less interested in policy. They developed their own corrupting welfare state, doling out sinecures and patronage subsidized by the Olin, Scaife, and Bradley foundations. Alliances with the religious right skewed their perspective on a range of topics. They went a little crazy hating on liberals.

Over time, the two best qualities of the early neocons—their skepticism about government’s ability to transform societies and their rigorous empiricism—fell by the wayside. In later years, you might say Kristol and the neoconservatives got mugged by ideology. Actually, they were the muggers. “It becomes clear that, in our time, a non-ideological politics cannot survive the relentless onslaught of ideological politics,” Kristol wrote in 1980. “For better or for worse, ideology is now the vital element of organized political action.”

Reformists - and I include intellectual conservatives in that mix - have, as neoconservatives have done, accepted the New Deal and many elements of the Great Society. But their overall critique of both lies not in a rejection of the role the state must play in a modern industrialized society as so many movement conservatives do, but in the belief that value based reforms as well as more efficient allocation of resources can be achieved without destroying the “safety net” while promoting virtues such as self reliance and independence. In short, conservative reformists want to alter the liberal culture in the bureaucracy that seeks to expand their clientele rather than reduce it.

Is this a “liberal lite” approach to government? Is there enough contrast with Democrats to parlay these ideas into a successful political platform? Movement conservatives do not think so. But I believe they are viewing those toward the center through a darkened prism where attempting to address the many serious problems in our country by working with the opposition is tantamount to a betrayal. How can the application of conservative principles to the serious business of government be a betrayal - unless you believe either there are no problems to solve or the solution is to be found in dismantling government hell bent for leather.

I have been asked several times if I understand the 10th amendment or whether I believe in federalism. Sure I do - and a realistic application of the 10th as well as a healthy federalism when it comes to dealing with our nation’s problems can go a long way toward easing the crushing presence of the federal government in our lives.

But you’re kidding yourselves if you believe it will result in lower taxes or even less government. The more responsibility you pile on the states, the higher the taxes go. It would not be logical to expect as the federal tax burden is reduced, the state tax burden wouldn’t increase.

We all believe that there are many programs at the federal level that could easily be transferred to our state legislatures. Just don’t expect taxes to go down because most of those programs have constituencies of ordinary Americans that depend on them. Weaning people “for their own good” from government would be received contemptuously - and well it should be - from those who benefit directly from federal programs some would wish to do away with.

Sorry for the digression but I think part of the problem with movement conservatives and their attitude toward reformists is that they misunderstand motives and intent. The widespread belief that reformists have no principles is laughable - and fighting words if you try and accuse me of such a ridiculous notion. Applying conservative principles to the operation of government is a worthy and - dare I say - principled goal. The confusion comes in identifying “issues” as principles - a trap ideologues fall into regularly. Substituting dogma, which by its nature can be transient responses to momentary openings offered by the opposition, for immutable principles which, by definition, are unchanging, is what ideologues in the movement are all about.

In short, it is not I who lack principles, my ideological friends.

Weisberg correctly, I believe, diagnoses the switch from intellectual principles to ideological dogma and gives us a turning point of sorts while incorrectly observing the reason why a principled conservative could never support Obamacare:

There was no clearer sign of that shift than the effort by Kristol’s son, William, to prevent any health care reform legislation from passing in 1993—on the theory that the political benefit would accrue to the Democrats. Today, that sort of Carthaginian politics has infected the entire congressional wing of the GOP, which equates problem-solving with treasonous collaboration. Though the president has tried to compromise with them in crafting the last missing piece of the social insurance puzzle, even allegedly moderate Republicans are not interested in making legislation more effective, less expensive, or in other ways more conservative. They are interested only in handing Obama a political defeat.

That’s a pretty shallow, partisan analysis of why Obamacare is being opposed. I agree there is that partisan element to the opposition, but it is obvious Mr. Weisberg lives a sheltered life. Otherwise, he would have noticed that health care reform town hall meetings held by Congressmen were just chock full of people who could care less about Obama being defeated, and cared a great deal more about liberals fiddling with the most intimate, and personal part of their lives; their own health.

I have argued that there was much fear mongering on the right (and some on the left as we have seen with Mr. Grayson and several liberal ideologues) that contributed to the anger. But Weisberg is only fooling himself if he didn’t recognize the underlying reason why people who had never taken a stand on anything in their lives showed up at these meetings and howled bloody murder. If it comforts Weisberg and other liberals to believe it was all astroturfed mobs of rabid, enraged, fearful conservatives - fine. Fooling oneself is not a fault confined to the right.

But Weisberg has a point about how political opposition has deteriorated into a mindless nihilism that offers little in the way of alternatives (although the GOP health care reform plan was both substantive and ignored by the media and Democrats) on issues that need to be addressed.

For health care, as long as Democrats insist on offering a “solution” that will ultimately result in a single payer system of insurance and decisions made by government that are better left to a patient and his doctor, conservatives will oppose them with every fiber of their being. We do not see national health care as the “the last missing piece of the social insurance puzzle” but rather as an insidious attempt by government to control the personal lives of citizens - as fundamentally against conservative principles and our concept of individual liberty as anything that has ever been proposed by an American congress.

I agree with much of what Weisberg has written about intellectual conservatives and their failure to either fight the ideologues politically or challenge their dogmatism. Richard Posner saw this months ago:

My theme is the intellectual decline of conservatism, and it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in the election and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanity of trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of management and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.

By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.

Nor, I trust, will they have one anytime soon.

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