Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Government, Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 11:41 am

I am one of the few who still see Andrew Sullivan as a conservative, albeit one whose philosophy is made wildly inconsistent by his misreading of President Obama. The reason is evident if you bother to read a lot of what he writes instead of cherry picking his paeans to the president, or react to his potshots at movement conservatives.

Sullivan appears to believe in a modified Burkean conservatism that, at its most essential, preserves what is best about society while embracing change that is logical and acts as a spur to rescue tradition from becoming too hidebound. His is not a conservatism that believes government can improve society so much as intelligent, non-ideological government can create conditions where society can improve itself.

But always, Sullivan tries to convince us that his is a pragmatic conservatism that is completed by supporting the “centrist” Obama and his supposedly non-ideological approach to government. Quite simply, this is a crock.

The reasons for Sullivan’s fanciful portrayals of Obama as a politician who is capable of rising above all the grubby little wars between liberals and conservative partisans are probably complicated. Part of it, I’m sure, is the amount of prestige and personal energy he has put into supporting the president. Beyond that, perhaps Sullivan simply sees what he wants to see in the Barack Obama - a selective and not very astute analysis of who and what this cipher of a man purports to be.

The most hyperpartisan of liberal organizations - Americans for Democratic Action - do not give 100% ratings to a centrist. Neither does NARAL (100%), nor the Citizens for Tax Justice (100%), NEA - Grade “A”, and ACORN (100%).

The flip side is also revealing. If Obama were any kind of a centrist he wouldn’t get a 4.5 conservative rating from the non-ideological National Journal A “0″ on economic policy), an 8% from the ACU,, or another “0″ from the National Right to Life Committee.

Lest there be any doubt, I would recommend that Sullivan apply “the prudence test” to Obama’s legislative agenda. Is the kind of massive dislocation involved in the health care reform bill a prudent way to improve American health care? In any way whatsoever? Any definition of prudence I have ever seen would make what Obama is doing with reform incredibly imprudent. Ditto his cap and trade proposals, card check, and massive, out of control spending. This is not a prudent man and the Democrats are not a prudent party. Prudence being the rock upon which conservatism finds its most pragmatic, and realistic outlet, it begs the question how anyone who lays claim to the “pragmatic conservative” title as Sullivan does can do so with a straight face.

It is intellectually dishonest to make any claim that Obama is non-ideological or centrist based on his votes. Anyone who prefers to judge a politician by what they say rather than how they vote is either too naive to make a living commenting on politics or deviously disingenuous in the extreme. And yet, here’s Sullivan telling us that Obama is what this country needs:

I believe that although Obama is indeed a liberal in the sense that he believes government really can and must improve the lives of its citizens, he is much much more like a real conservative than his detractors on right and left. The change he still represents at home is an abandonment of this ideological, red-blue abstract form of politics toward a realistic, pragmatic, reasonable center. Abroad, he represents an attempt to defuse the dangerously polarizing religious and cultural warfare that is fomenting terrorism, and further fusing religion and politics in so many places across the world. In this sense, I regard him as a vital, indispensable figure standing against the forces of ideology and religious warfare, whose failure could lead to catastrophic consequences for our future.

Is Sullivan paying attention to what is going on in the world? The Israeli-Palestinian divide is worse today than when Obama took office directly as a result of his ill considered lurch toward the Palestinians and his incomprehensible policy of placing pressure on our best ally in the Middle East to make concessions it doesn’t feel it can do safely. Is religious fervor any less in Pakistan today than it was before he took office? Has the progress being made by Islamists in Turkey been blunted by any rhetoric or policy of this administration?

At some point, Sullivan has to wake up and smell the rancid coffee being brewed by the Obama administration overseas. Our president may be personally popular with ordinary people, but his relationships with other leaders leaves a lot to be desired. Good arguments can be made for his outreach to Iran, Syria, and other dangerous regimes (arguments I reject), but there too, we see nothing but abject failure from the president.

Domestically, can Sullivan see no vicious partisanship, no ideological fervor in Obama’s obsession with pushing the imprudent and destructive health care reform initiative through Congress? His insults, belittling, and arrogance toward the opposition is not the mark of someone very interested in non-partisanship. Apparently Sullivan is only listening when Obama makes his claims regarding bi-partisanship and closes his ears to the president’s haughty dismissiveness when those admittedly few ideas emanating from the other side are presented.

His maddening blindness when it comes to the true nature of Barack Obama notwithstanding, Sullivan is still one of the best at getting to the heart of what is wrong with conservatism today. But his decidedly un-pragmatic view of the president taints his otherwise outstanding analysis of the problems of the right. It’s almost as if he has compartmentalized his feelings for Obama so that he can freely dissect conservatism without being burdened with the reality that Obama represents a true anti-conservatism replete with an overly developed ideological worldview that is dangerously augmented by an arrogant belief in his own superiority, going so far as to totally reject the advice of his generals, his cabinet secretaries, and many wise old heads in the foreign policy arena.

I happen to agree with Sullivan that most criticism of Obama from the right is wildly off base, excessively ideological and partisan, while maintaining a curious detachment from the essential conservatism of Burke, Kirk, Oakeshott, and Buckley among others.

Here Sullivan remarks on a point I made last week; that conservatism has changed little, if at all, and that simply because the right’s electoral prospects have improved thanks to the the mismanagement of Obama and the Democrats, doesn’t mean that “victory” will have any meaning beyond the shallow, short term political gains that will probably be realized:

This narrative is a reflexive and easy one; it echoes the inanity of “Who Won The Day?” Politico-style analysis; it has turned political journalism into sports journalism; it avoids historical context in favor of constant cultural and political amnesia. It takes the mind of the American people as an etch-a-sketch, shaken anew every electoral cycle. It infects left and right.

Just look at Frank Rich’s column today, which like MSNBC to FNC, which is the same dynamic, and the same understanding of politics, and its purposes. In this worldview - which is now the worldview in American political analysis - ideology has infiltrated everything, it has saturated public and private, it has invaded even something sacred like religious faith, in which the mysteries of existence have been distilled in writing or even understanding the churches into a battle between “liberals” and “conservatives.”

The right may celebrate in 2010, but what of 2012 and beyond? Without a realistic agenda to challenge the Democrats, conservatives will be dead in the water.

This goes back to my points about conservative governance. A utilitarian, pragmatic approach to government is desperately needed. Only real conservatism can supply that commodity. It is an approach solidly grounded on First Principles without treating the Constitution as the revealed word of God. Flexibility, deftness, a firm handle on the rightful functions of government and the determination to fund those functions - as well as having sense enough to leave the rest to the private sector or individuals - could be a very popular way for conservatives to achieve and hang on to power.

As it stands now, conservatives have boxed themselves into an ideological corner by opposing anything and everything that smacks of a government solution to health care, energy dependence, and the changing role of America in a rapidly changing world. Clinging to a treasured past at the expense of marching boldly into the future is not very conservative. But that is the current state of the right and Sullivan is at his best in articulating those problems.

I don’t know what demon has possessed Sullivan to blind him to President Obama’s obvious and painful shortcomings. But I think more people on the right would listen to him if he could see his way clear to being slightly less enamored of the president’s rhetoric and see this cynical poseur for who and what he truly is.

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