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8/9/2010
WHO OWNS ‘THE CONSERVATIVE CONSCIENCE?’

This article originally appears on The Moderate Voice.

Who owns the “conservative conscience?” Is it necessary to have one?

After all, there is no identifiable “liberal conscience” - at least no one who comes readily to mind. There’s plenty of criticism of Obama from the left but weirdly, the president is being taken to task for not being “liberal enough.”

This presents a delicious dichotomy; conservatives taking other conservatives to task for being too conservative (or not conservative at all) while liberals are taking other liberals to task for not acting liberal enough and being too centrist.

Flip the philosophical identifications and you have a mirror image of the way internal critical debates were conducted during the Bush era. It seems that ideologues belonging to the party in power are never satisfied that the leadership is “pure” enough while those on the “outs” are advised by apostates to be constrained in their criticism so as not to terrify the great middle of American politics.

How many times have we seen over the past decade “a liberal who gets it” or “a conservative who gets it” appear on opposing websites, describing a critic who skewers his own? Apparently, those who criticize their friends using some of the same arguments as the opposition achieve the status on the opposing side of being “the conscience” of one ideology or another (while being described as a traitor by their putative friends) - until they revert to form and criticize the opposition. Then, they are no longer the “conscience” of anything but rather a member of the echo chamber that parrots the talking points of the day for either side.

If I sound a little bemused by it all, I beg forgiveness. Having been accused of criticizing some conservatives in order to garner adoration and praise from liberals, I have experienced this process first hand. But it raises the interesting question; what kind of criticism makes one a “conscience of conservatives?” (I invite someone from the left to ask that same question and respond to it. I have no expertise - or desire - to take on the question myself.)

Perhaps a better question would be is a conscience for conservatives even necessary?

In the last fortnight, we have seen several respected conservatives wonder about the craziness of some in the movement and the general abandonment of reason and logic that has resulted in conspiracy theories, exaggerated and over the top criticism of the president and the Democrats, and an incoherent rage that suffuses the movement with a patina of paranoia that scares these observers about the direction the right is taking.

These critiques were roundly rejected by most conservatives. What is it, then, that these conservatives find wrong with the right?

I don’t think I am overgeneralizing when I say that the primary criticism of the right offered by most conservatives today is that those in positions of power are simply not conservative enough, that they are not true to conservative principles (as they understand them), and that such squishiness makes them “Democrat lite” - a pale echo of the other party.

Since this appears to be the dominant criticism of the right from the majority of conservatives, are those who can best elucidate that theme acting as a “conscience,” illuminating what needs to be changed for conservatism to stay on the straight and narrow and succeed as a viable alternative to liberalism? Or is the meme just another part of the “epistemic closure” described by Julian Sanchez and others?

The idea that just because a majority of conservatives believe its leadership (and those who don’t agree with their worldview) are squishes does not necessarily disqualify them from winning the title of “conservative conscience.” They have a point - of sorts. One of the problems of conservatism is that we continue to elect those who swear allegiance to conservative values and philosophy while running for office, but then discard, or even apologize for the label when they get to Washington.

But the tendency to lump everyone who fails to toe the very strict, very narrow line that most of these critics require of their leaders is very much reflective of the kind of epistemic closure described by other conservative critics. And the further tendency to dismiss those critics who show how this narrow-minded obstinacy creates impossible performance standards that are in danger of condemning politicians to the political fringes only reinforces the notion of conservatism being an echo chamber that admits no deviation from scripture.

My guess would be that the majority of conservatives who adhere to this worldview would be dismissive of the very idea of a “conservative conscience.” To their way of thinking, it smacks of more elitism and top-down management of the movement, not to mention that they are the targets of this criticism. No one likes being told they are the problem, or an obstacle to fixing what ails a system.

In this case, the pushback against those who rail against the illogical and unreasonable criticisms of the Obama administration and the Democrats - that they are “socialists” who are hell bent on “destroying America” - is often incoherent and irrelevant, based as it is on the notion that the critic is only trying to curry favor with the liberal media, or seeking to gain status in the elitist conservative hierarchy, or even that the critic is angling for a job in the MSM. This too, represents a kind of closure, as Sanchez pointed out:

To prevent breach, the internal dissident needs to be resituated in the enemy camp. The Cocktail Party move serves this function particularly well because it simultaneously plays on the specific kind of cultural ressentiment that so much conservative rhetoric now seems designed to stoke. Because it’s usually not just a tedious charge of simple venality—of literally “selling out” to fetch better-paying speaking gigs or book deals. You can clearly make a damn good living as a staunch conservative, after all, and Bruce Bartlett doesn’t exactly talk as though he’s gotten a big income boost out of his apostasy.

No, the insinuation is always that they’re angling for respectability, because even “one of us” might be tempted by the cultural power of the enemy elites, might ultimately value their approval more than that of the conservative base. It’s a much deeper sort of purported betrayal, because it’s a choice that would implicitly validate the status claims of the despised elite. You’re supposed to feel as though you’ve been snubbed socially—discarded for “better” company—which evokes both more indignant rejection of the quisling and further resentment of the liberal snobs who are visiting this indignity on you. In a way it’s quite elegant, and you can see why it’s become as popular as it has.

Sanchez believes that rejection of legitimate criticisms offered by “dissidents” is also a sign of insecurity on the part of the movement. He thinks it self defeating “because it corrodes the kind of serious discussion and reexamination of conservative principles and policies that might help produce a more self-assured movement.”

Would a “self-assured” conservative movement recognize or accept “dissident” critiques of conservatism as legitimate and thus grant them the status of being a “conscience of the right?” That will never happen. Sanchez dances around the idea that this is as much a cultural battle within the conservative ranks as a conflict being driven by ideology or policy differences. The movement likes to portray the differences as a fight between “ordinary” Americans and those who went to the best schools, had the advantage of class, or, as Stacy McCain has pointed out, are looking for career advancement by trying to separate themselves from the “rabble.”

In fact, the support for Sarah Palin, whose very ordinariness is what recommends her to many on the right, is a living example of how closure has warped the conservative movement and turned it into something not recognizable as a philosophy embraced by Reagan, Buckley, Kirk, and other more practical, less ideological adherents. The thinking goes that the smart folks have blown it and now its time to give an ordinary American a chance. The fact that this reasoning is thought sound by so many is indicative of why “dissidents” will never be taken seriously by those who most desperately need to be reintroduced to logic and common sense.

Having the left, or the media, identify anyone as a “conscience of conservatives” is meaningless. The source of that label is instantly disqualifying among the majority on the right. Who, then, will take it upon themselves to bring a measure of responsible opposition and a coherent set of principles under which the right can govern to the majority?

In order to offer a solution, you have to see a problem first. Since the Becks, the Limbaugh’s, the Hannity’s, the Coulter’s, and other cotton candy conservatives have no intention of risking their own status as movement icons in order to bring a measure of sanity to their acolytes, it seems probable that the simple answer to that question is nobody.

By: Rick Moran at 11:02 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

7/31/2010
CONSERVATIVE HYSTERIA THREATENS MID TERM GAINS

Maybe it’s the heat. Perhaps it’s an al-Qaeda plot that has dumped LSD in public cisterns throughout the country. Or, it could be simple, old fashioned, bat guano crazy wishful thinking.

Whatever it is, the very silly season has arrived on the right and with it, diminishing chances that the American people will drink the same flavor of Kool Ade and join conservatives in giving the Democrats a well-deserved paddling at the polls.

A kind of irrational combination of fear and exuberance has infected the right in recent weeks as the number of vulnerable Democrats grows and the realization that at the very least, the House may fall into their laps takes hold. And if the hysteria was limited to the fringes, one might dismiss it as not worthy of discussion.

Instead, illogical ranting has gone mainstream with a call by former Rep. Tom Tancredo in the Washington Times for the president to be impeached, and now the belief that there may be another American Revolution on the way emanating from the pages of the staid, and usually rational Investors Business Daily.

The probable response of those two media organs would be that these are valid points of view and they are performing a public service by airing them. At least, that’s what the New York Times says when they publish off the wall looniness from liberals.

In truth, they are not valid. They are not rational. They are not sane. Tancredo especially, forces one to ask the question; what country is he talking about?

For the first time in American history, we have a man in the White House who consciously and brazenly disregards his oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution. That’s why I say the greatest threat to our Constitution, our safety and our liberties, is internal. Our president is an enemy of our Constitution, and, as such, he is a danger to our safety, our security and our personal freedoms.

Now, if you’re familiar with the conservative internet, this is not an uncommon idea. All that’s missing is the charge that President Obama is a Marxist.

Oh, wait…

Mr. Obama’s paramount goal, as he so memorably put it during his campaign in 2008, is to “fundamentally transform America.” He has not proposed improving America - he is intent on changing its most essential character. The words he has chosen to describe his goals are neither the words nor the motivation of just any liberal Democratic politician. This is the utopian, or rather dystopian, reverie of a dedicated Marxist - a dedicated Marxist who lives in the White House.

That’s right. Tom Tancredo believes the president of the United States is a Commie. He’s not even a pinko. He is a dead red, dyed in the wool, “dedicated Marxist.” Left unsaid, but easily inferred from Tacredo’s unbalanced rant, is that President Obama is deliberately out to destroy the country. This is a Rush Limbaugh talking point and many of his 17 million daily listeners fall for it. One would think a former congressman should know better, but evidently, such rationality requires adherence to a worldview that doesn’t see the political opposition as the reincarnation of the Devil.

Is President Obama intent on “changing [America's] most essential character?” Unfortunately, yes he is trying. He is doing it not because he wants to destroy America but because he thinks he is improving her. This misguided, imprudent, and ultimately doomed attempt to alter the relationship between the people and the government can be opposed rationally (as defending it can be argued without resorting to hyperbole or name calling). Tancredo chooses to believe (or lets on that he believes) that in order to oppose the president, one must resort to hysterical exaggerations and deliberate misinterpretation of Obama’s motives. But doing it the logical way will not garner him headlines or make him a hero on the right.

Such is the level to which conservatism has sunk in some quarters.

There is not a shred of evidence that the president has “violated his oath of office” nor is there a speck of proof that President Obama has committed any high crime or misdemeanor that would even hint at the necessity of removing him from office. He has played hardball politics the Chicago Way, rewarding friends and punishing enemies as any other flag waving, patriotic, devious, two faced politician in America has done in the past. Admittedly, using $800 billion in taxpayer monies to play that game is a rather novel gimmick to protect the jobs of the president’s union friends and benefactors. But “impeachable?” Not hardly.

But Tancredo’s skewed version of reality can’t hold a candle of idiocy to the ideas expressed in this IDB editorial by former Ford-Reagan treasury department officials Ernest Christian and Gary Robbins. The headline - “Will Washington’s Failures Lead To Second American Revolution?” - is really quite deceiving. You will be glad to hear that except for the lede where the authors compare the internet to the colonial Committees of Correspondence and dreamily wonder whether that alone could lead to another revolution, nowhere in that article do the duo defend the premise of the headline.

Instead, they launch an hysterically exaggerated attack on what President Obama has done so far in office:

Barack Obama, however, has pulled off the ultimate switcheroo: He’s diminishing America from within — so far, successfully.

He may soon bankrupt us and replace our big merit-based capitalist economy with a small government-directed one of his own design.

He is undermining our constitutional traditions: The rule of law and our Anglo-Saxon concepts of private property hang in the balance. Obama may be the most “consequential” president ever.

The Wall Street Journal’s steadfast Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote that Barack Obama is “an alien in the White House.”

His bullying and offenses against the economy and job creation are so outrageous that CEOs in the Business Roundtable finally mustered the courage to call him “anti-business.” Veteran Democrat Sen. Max Baucus blurted out that Obama is engineering the biggest government-forced “redistribution of income” in history.

Fear and uncertainty stalk the land. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says America’s financial future is “unusually uncertain.”

What can be said when grown-ups, former government officials no less, resort to such nonsensical hyperbole? How much courage, really, does it take business execs to call the president “anti-business?” If they had released a statement saying that Obama was really Satan, that might take some balls.

And why is anyone surprised at the liberals engineering income redistribution? It’s what they do for a living. Of course, they’re never honest enough to run on such a platform (recall Obama denying as much vociferously and the liberal pile on of Joe the Plumber for asking about it). But electing Democrats to such huge majorities is an open invitation for the government to pick you pocket - in the name of “fairness,” of course.

I confess to not seeing how any of this leads to a revolution. A shooting war between the right wing and the US army would be over very quickly, to the detriment of the wingnuts. Revolution at the polls is more likely, but who’s going to vote for people who spout nonsense like the above?

Marc Ambinder:

The Democratic strategy in a nutshell is small enough to fit in one but has the protein of a good, tasty nut. The Republicans want to be mayors of crazy-town. They’ve embraced a fringe and proto-racist isolationist and ignorant conservative populism that has no solutions for fixing anything and the collective intelligence of a wine flask. This IS offensive and over the top, and the more Democrats repeat it, and the more dumb things some Republican candidates do, the more generally conservative voters who might be thinking of sending a message to Democrats by voting for a Republican will be reminded that the replacement party is even more loony than the party that can’t tie its shoes. This is a strategy of delegitimization, not affirmation. It is how you reduce independent turnout. It’s how you fundraise for your own party.

A corollary: the House is not going to save itself for Democrats. Let’s stipulate that House Democrats have passed a lot of legislation. It’s too late to convince voters that all of it was good. So selling is not going to work. If you’ve already decided not to buy an Acura, you’re not going to be convinced just because James Spader’s melifluous voice tells you that it’s the right thing to do. Decision science suggests that the only avenue available to Democrats is to prevent people from making the OTHER choice, too.

Ambinder titles his post “Democratic Message: We may be incompetent, but they’re crazy” which is pretty close to the truth. The problem is that people get mad at incompetents but fear crazies. For this reason, the more that people like Tancredo take center stage for the Republicans, and the more respected conservative outlets like IDB publish nonsense, the more those few voters who might be persuadable enough to turn a GOP wave into a tsunami that would wash away Democratic majorities in the House and Senate look in askance at the right and wonder if they can be trusted with power.

By: Rick Moran at 10:21 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (4)

7/11/2010
CAN A LITTLE RADICALISM SAVE AMERICA?

This post originally appears on The Moderate Voice

I don’t often write in apocalyptic terms about the current administration, largely because America is too big and government too unwieldy to countenance sudden, dramatic change.

However, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have made it quite obvious that they’re willing to give radicalism the old college try because America pre-Obama was not to their liking. Indeed, a look at America on January 20, 2009 would have revealed a country in need of reform in many areas. Few would argue that the previous administration didn’t leave much to be done in health care, the economy, energy, and the twin wars we are fighting against radical Islam.

The question about Obama’s radicalism has never been that the problems he has sought to address aren’t in need of attention; the question has always been does he have to destroy the America that we have always been to accomplish reform?

If Obama and the Democrats had sought incremental, prudent change while keeping an eye on the federal budget deficit, I doubt very much if the tea party movement would have arisen. Every initiative that the president has undertaken had elements within them that would have enjoyed much broader, bi-partisan support if he had reined in the real radicals in Congress who made no bones about what they were trying to accomplish. From taking over one-sixth of the American economy by federalizing the health care system, to the impossibly wrong headed cap and trade idea, to financial reform that will hog tie the financial industry desperately in need of regulation but not the kind of anti-market rules currently stuck in Congress, President Obama has proven the upside down adage more is less, and much more is unmitigated disaster.

There is nothing “moderate” in any of this. The insistence of many commentators who apparently believe that simple repetition of this “moderate Obama” mantra suffices as far as describing reality would be laughable in another context - pitiful it is in our current dilemma. Using language as a beard to hide the true nature of Obama’s reforms - not to mention out and out lies about the consequences of them - is part of the motivation of the tea party movement. They, like the rest of America, are blessed with two eyes, two ears, and a decent passel of common sense. It’s hard to fool citizens who have taken the measure of this administration’s extremism, and have found much to fear.

Is the fear driven by exaggeration and lies by the opposition? To some extent, yes. But that’s politics that goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson who ran for president in 1800 accusing the Federalists of trying to set up a monarchy and ratcheting up fear and loathing against the opposition by trying to convince voters that John Adams was going to hand America back to the British. It is not an exaggeration to say that the “Democratic Republicans” of Jefferson tried to portray the election as the choice between liberty and tyranny. Needless to say, it worked. And ever since then, both parties have pushed the boundaries of fair play while stretching the truth to the breaking point in order to win in every single election, and when arguing every issue of import in our nation’s history.

More to the point today, the tea party movement is animated by more than “death panels,” and “Obama is a closet Muslim” prevarications. Millions of ordinary Americans have detected a disconnect between what Obama and the Democrats are trying to accomplish to mold America into what their particular vision of our country they wish to realize, and the words, the spirit, and the tradition of the Constitution. In order to change the subject, obfuscating what the tea party movement is really about, we have witnessed desperate attempts to describe their opposition as a by-product of racism, or far right, paranoid delusions. The people aren’t buying it, as evidenced by a strong plurality of citizens who support at least some of what the tea partiers stand for.

Bill Kristol believes that a sense that America is in crisis coupled with “alarm” is what is driving the tea party toward embracing radical change:

This sense of crisis is what animates the Tea Parties. I had the pleasure of attending the “Proud to be an American July 4th Tea Party” outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It featured patriotic songs and speeches, and expressions of support for our troops and praise for our country. Yet the mood of patriotic gratitude was mixed with expressions of alarm from my fellow Tea Partiers about the administration now in charge of our government. The combination of patriotic gratitude and urgent alarm produces a determination to act and a willingness to deal boldly with the crises in the economy, in foreign policy, and in self-government that the country faces.

In this respect, the Tea Parties are ahead of the two major parties. As established political parties are wont to do, both remain constricted in their views, attached to business as usual, and invested in established modes and orders—too much so to easily come to grips with a moment like the present.

Kristol is advocating radicalism to address what ails us:

But the GOP can be the party of the future as well as the present. It can be the party of fundamental reflection and radical choice as well as the party of day-to-day criticism and opposition. This isn’t easy. It can lead to mistakes and missteps, tensions and confusions. But it’s what the moment requires.

So fear not the Tea Parties. Be open to fundamental reforms. Belt-tightening and program-trimming, more transparency and greater efficiency, are not enough. The danger for Republicans isn’t that they will address the current crisis too boldly. It’s that they won’t be bold enough.

Fight radicalism with radicalism? Kristol, as impatient with the notion of evolutionary change as Obama, would substitute Republican “mistakes and missteps, tensions and confusions” for the Democratic blunders and idiocies that we are living through today. At the final bell, we end up in the same place; ideologically driven politicians and agendas that alienate half the country while failing to address the real, intractable, long term problems that threaten our financial future and our traditions of liberty.

The Tea Party movement has its uses as both the sharp end of Republican politics and as a prod to get politicians of both parties to pay attention to what ordinary people are thinking. Kristol is right in describing the reaction of Democrats and Republicans to the tea partiers as still being “attached to business as usual, and invested in established modes and orders…” In this, the tea partiers are enemies of the status quo, and thus, very dangerous to politics as usual. But is what they are advocating - if it can ever be determined exactly what it is they are seeking - as bad in its own way for America as anything the far left Democrats in the White House and Congress have been pushing on us?

Indeed, many in the tea party movement advocate a radical shrinking of government, which would be as damaging in its own way as the gargantuan expansion of government we are experiencing under the current administration. The abandonment of prudence by conservatives - a virtue by which every conservative should try to live their lives - would mean that the right agrees with Obama in principle; that change should not be governed by incrementalism and contemplation of consequences, but rather by whim and emotionalism. Tearing up the social compact between government and citizen and picking up the pieces later on isn’t going to work for Obama and the Democrats and it surely won’t work for Republicans who wish to do the same, albeit hoping for the opposite outcome.

Those, like Kristol, who are dazzled by the Tea Party Movement’s grass roots appeal should resist the idea of revolution and settle on adapting the spirit and patriotism of the tea partiers as the basis for pragamatic change in Washington. Change can be bold without being radical. If that’s the only lesson we learn from the Obama disaster, it will hold us in good stead as conservatives attempt to reclaim power from the radical leftists who are running this country into the ground.

By: Rick Moran at 10:16 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

7/1/2010
HAWKINS AND THE TRAGIC FLAW OF THE IDEOLOGUES

This articile originally appears on The Moderate Voice

I would like to think that the continuing drama being played out between pragmatists and ideologues in the conservative sphere might be optioned to NBC and made into a daytime drama. Two problems arise immediately; soap operas are a dying TV genre and it would be no contest with regards to sex appeal between Sarah Palin and David Frum.

That said, a fascinating incident made public by John Hawkins, who denied David Frum’s website a place in his conservative ad network because he didn’t believe Frum was sufficiently conservative (defined as someone who criticizes the right solely to ingratiate themselves with liberal elites), underscores the current struggle between those who believe in applying conservative principles to government in a prudent, practical effort to preserve liberty and force Washington to be a servant of the people, and those who wish to use conservatism in the same, exact manner in which Democrats are using liberalism today; as a club to destroy their enemies.

Am I mischaracterizing the beliefs of Hawkins and his ilk? I’m sure John would mostly agree with this rant from Dr. Zero (linked by Instapundit), in which the good Doctor defines the two sides thusly:

There are two Republican parties, and both had a candidate on the 2008 presidential ticket. John McCain was the candidate of the thin-blooded aristocracy, tired men who dislike certain elements of their nominal constituency far more intensely than their political opposition. They have no strenuous objection to the premises of the Left, as could be seen from McCain’s swift acceptance of the freedom-has-failed spin pushed by the Democrats during the 2008 financial crisis. Many of them believe opposition to the Left’s emotional narrative is electoral suicide. This also makes them reluctant to criticize Democrat candidates in harsh terms…

[...]

The other Republican party is young and vital. On the 2008 ticket, its banner was carried by Sarah Palin. It’s the yeoman wing of the party, composed of people with middle-class backgrounds and real-world business experience. These people are appalled at the bloated mess in Washington, and the smaller but equally fatal tumors infecting many state capitols. They see a government speeding toward systemic collapse, its doom spelled out in the simple math of unsustainable entitlements and economy-crushing taxation. They’re in love with the American people, a sincere passion that rings from every speech Palin delivers.

Dr. Zero didn’t include the horns and tail for the “thin-blooded aristocracy” or the halo for his “yeomen” (hardscrabble dirt farmers operating on the economic margins, and light years from being considered “middle class” ) which is just as well. This isn’t serious analysis anyway. Such one dimensional, stick figure characterizations can’t even be construed as generalizations; more like representational cotton candy cut outs with the heft of a feather pillow and the consistency of oatmeal. It’s value is in how it reveals the shallowness of ideologues’ thinking and their exaggerated opinion of themselves as well as the comically broad manner in which they denigrate the pragmatists.

Here’s Hawkins on why he turned Frum down:

There’s an easy answer to that question: the mainstream media loves “conservatives” and “Republicans” who will trash whomever the Left hates most. So, if you’re willing to talk about how Sarah Palin is a hick, Glenn Beck is a crank, Rush Limbaugh is bad for the country, and the Tea Party is bad for democracy, the mainstream media will reward you — and because conservatives pride themselves on being open minded, they’ll all too often give you a pass for your atrocious behavior — especially since the MSM doesn’t insist you play their game all the time. As long as you’re willing to say what they want about the people they hate the most, they’ll reward you with a cover story at Newsweek and then in your off time, you can churn out a few articles to point gullible conservatives towards while you’re trying to guilt them into taking you seriously by crying “epistemic closure!”

This is what David Frum does for a living — and don’t think he doesn’t know it. Even the people who write for him know it. I ran into someone who writes for his blog at an event once. He was extremely defensive about writing for them. I must have heard him tell at least three people, myself included, something akin to, “I write for FrumForum, but please don’t hold that against me.”

Long story short, everybody has to make a living. But, I’m not interested in helping people like Frum play this little game where they try to cripple conservatives publicly while coming around on the back end to milk us for money. If Frum wants to be a dancing monkey for the Left, let them come up with the money to pay for the tune.

Hawkins has a lot more to say and you should read the whole thing. But instead of mocking epistemic closure, John should reread the original piece by Julian Sanchez and contemplate how his explanation defines the term:

Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile. Think of the complete panic China’s rulers feel about any breaks in their Internet firewall: The more successfully external sources of information have been excluded to date, the more unpredictable the effects of a breach become. Internal criticism is then especially problematic, because it threatens the hermetic seal. It’s not just that any particular criticism might have to be taken seriously coming from a fellow conservative. Rather, it’s that anything that breaks down the tacit equivalence between “critic of conservatives and “wicked liberal smear artist” undermines the effectiveness of the entire information filter. If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely—maybe even when it comes from the New York Times. And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation. A more intellectually secure conservatism would welcome this, because it wouldn’t need to define itself primarily in terms of its rejection of an alien enemy.

Hawkins does not believe that Frum is a conservative at all. He comes to this conclusion not because of what Frum espouses or what he believes philosophically but because liberals like it when he criticizes Hawkins’ favorite cotton candy conservatives! It is not where Frum stands on the issues that rankles Hawkins, but rather some of his criticisms are exactly the same as those coming from liberals. Ergo, since liberals have nothing to say that any “real” conservative should listen, anything Frum says is dismissed.

I went through this same thing when I had some nice things to say about Sam Tanenhaus’s Death of Conservatism. Dismissing what someone says based solely and exclusively on their ideology is too stupid to comment on. That goes for both sides of the divide and bespeaks an anti-intellectualism from those who practice such idiocy. Tanenhaus was dead wrong in much of his critique, but that doesn’t mean he had nothing of value to say. To believe that is to close your mind entirely to alternative points of view.

Incredibly, in Hawkins’ response to Frum’s pique over the ad controversy, Hawkins claims that he and other conservatives don’t mind being criticized - as long as it doesn’t mimic what liberals say about them:

If you were going by talent, personality, or ability to hold an audience, none of the people I’ve just mentioned, including David Frum, have the ability to claw their way up the conservative food chain like Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and Mark Levin have. So, to use David Frum’s word again, they’re willing to prostitute themselves (If Meghan McCain happens to read this, I don’t mean that literally — like a street walker. It means you’re selling out your principles. If you get confused, ask your daddy to hire someone to explain it to you) to the liberals in the mainstream media who want “conservatives” who are willing to tell liberals what they want to hear. This is no secret to David Frum or anybody else who works in this business.

[...]

Actually, I, like most conservatives, do not advocate groupthink or demand people rigidly stick to the “company line.” We actually have a simpler request: We just want people who are billed as Republicans and conservatives to actually be on the same side we are. The editorial pages in the newspapers slant liberal. The columnists slant liberal. Even the news in the newspapers slants liberal. Hell, even the TV shows and movies slant liberal. So finally, after all that, you run across a “conservative” in the mainstream media giving an opinion and guess what? He’s been given a platform to speak because he agrees with the liberals. That’s what people like David Frum get paid to do, I’m sick of it, and I’m not doing anything else to reward people like him, including allowing them to get into the Blogads Conservative Hive.

Shorter Hawkins; We don’t advocate groupthink except when we advocate groupthink. We don’t want an independent thinker representing conservatism and Republicans - even if he served in the administration of a Republican president, advocates strongly for conservative issues like fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, and strong defense, supports many conservative candidates, and has written passionately about ways that the GOP and conservatism can be made relevant again.

We want someone like Eric Erickson representing conservative - a guy who once referred to former Supreme Court Justice David Souter in a Tweet as a “goat fucking child molester” and daydreamed at RedState, “At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?”

Much better. Such “true conservatives” are what we need front and center, representing the right.

What makes Hawkins response to Frum so classically tragic is that he fails to recognize how much in the grip of epistemic closure he is. He can write that he doesn’t subscribe to groupthink while making it plain as day that this is exactly what he is beholden to. Such a Shakespearean formulation - where the protagonist fails utterly in sensing his tragic flaw due to hubris, or fear of knowing oneself, or even being blocked from self-awareness by the Gods - makes Hawkins’ ignorance heartbreaking for those of us on the right whose criticisms of the Beck-Hannity-Palin-Limbaugh worldview seeks to smash the echo chamber that dominates conservative conversation and inject some realism and a little sanity into the discourse. At the very least, criticizing the shallowness, the illogic, the wildly exaggerated conspiracy theories and the outright falsehoods espoused by the cotton candy conservative crowd allows for an alternate record to be made that promotes reason rather than the irrational.

Hawkins is a prisoner of an intellectual conceit that brooks no opposition, and even less independent thought. Unable, as Sanchez points out, to answer the criticism on an intellectual level, Hawkins and his ilk stoop to questioning motives. Of course Frum is critical of the right; he craves attention and financial rewards from liberals. Never mind engaging Frum on the specifics of his criticisms (a far more rewarding proposition and one with a good chance of success given Mr. Frum’s sometimes inconsistent arguments). The way to answer Frum is by trying to discredit him by accusing him of being intellectually dishonest.

Frum:

Hawkins seems to be suggesting that we go on TV not as individuals, to express our own ideas as best we can, to offer the most useful information we can discover. No – people should appear as representatives of pre-existing tribes: conservatives, liberals, blacks, whatever, to engage in a ritual of synchronized repetition of pre-existing phrases. You are a conservative? You must say THIS – and never that. You must approve THIS – and never admit to doubts about that.

Hawkins asks: “What’s the point of putting Frum on TV?” Take him seriously though and you have to wonder: What’s the point of putting ANYONE on TV when the job could be so easily automated?

Hawkins makes it plain that conservatives are free to speak their minds - as long as they think Glen Beck is the bees knees, Rush Limbaugh is the cat’s meow, and Sarah Palin is ready to be president. The ideologues who equate criticism of their heroes with being a liberal do so because their worldview is so closed to alternative viewpoints that they are incapable of logical argument. Hence, the strawmen, the logical fallacies, and the simple, personal smear questioning the integrity of others is all they have.

What criticism of the right would Hawkins agree with? He never says, although you can be sure it would be irrelevant to what really ails conservatism. A movement so fatally flawed by its failure to engage critics from its own ranks - critics who seek to make conservatism relevant again so that electoral success can translate into prudent, practical public policy that will regrow the economy, protect our citizens, and re-establish the primacy of individual rights - may find temporary success at the polls as a result of the utter stupidity and incompetence of Obama and the Democrats. But in order to truly reform the government and the culture, it will take a more intellectually rigorous application of conservative principles and a pragmatic political bent that will ensure political competitiveness for decades to come.

By: Rick Moran at 10:14 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

5/11/2010
BENNETT’S MISTAKE: TOO RATIONAL FOR THE GOP

This article originally appears on The Moderate Voice

How can you claim that a senator who has a lifetime score of 85 from the American Conservative Union to be “not conservative enough” for any state?

You can if you are a member of the modern Republican party. You can if the senator in question - Bob Bennett of Utah - made the horrible mistake of taking his responsibilities as a senator seriously. Senator Bennett was unaware that the modern Republican party demands that he seek to constantly score political points against his opponents by exaggerated and outrageous name calling rather than thoughtfully approach issues that concern his constituents and look to address their problems.

For this, he has been tossed aside by Utah Republicans and will not appear on the ballot this November.

Bennett, along with his Democratic colleague from Oregon Ron Wyden, made a serious attempt to address the health insurance problem in America with a flawed, but earnest effort at comprehensive reform. Called “The Healthy Americans Act,” the bill incorporated some standard liberal thinking like an individual mandate, but was also innovative in the way costs would be shared and how the program would be administered at the state level. It would also have done away with Medicaid - a plus in any conservative’s book. In short, it was a good old fashioned senate compromise on a thorny issue that, in another less mindlessly partisan time, would have served as a starting point for the two parties to work out their differences.

It wasn’t just his dalliance with the “enemy” that angered right wingers in Utah. Bennett courageously voted against the Constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning back in 2006 - one of only three GOP senators to do so. He also supported comprehensive immigration reform. While there was a lot wrong with that bill, the guest worker provision had broad bi-partisan support and Bennett worked tirelessly to improve it. As for the rest of it, the best that could be said of the measure was that it was attempting to address a problem for which there are probably no good answers. That Bennett felt responsible enough as a legislator to lend his name and support to the bill reveals much about how seriously he views his office.

Alas, Bennett’s base of conservatives in Utah didn’t see it that way. Egged on by a massive infusion of cash by the Washington, D.C. based Club For Growth, Utah conservatives plotted to ambush Bennett at the state convention where he needed at least 40% of the delegates to vote for his candidacy in order for him to take part in a closed primary with the other leading candidate. (If he had received 60%, he would have won the nomination outright.)

In the end, Bennett received 26% at the convention and his 18 year senate career of exemplary public service will come to an end. Chris Chocola, President of Club for Growth, who poured $200,000 into the effort to defeat Bennett, said, “Utah Republicans made the right decision today for their state and sent a clear message that change is finally coming to Washington.” The CFG is angry at Bennett for supporting TARP in the fall of 2008 – a bill desired by a Republican president and pushed by a Republican Treasury Secretary.

How “conservative” is making a change simply for the sake of change? Not very conservative at all. And despite the fact that polls showed a plurality of Utah Republicans supported Bennett’s candidacy, he was defeated largely because he is identified with a GOP leadership that is perceived as insufficiently rabid in their opposition to President Obama and the Democrats. The Tea Party forces don’t want cooperation with the opposition to address the pressing needs of the people; they want war. And any Republican incumbent viewed as less than ideologically committed to total victory will be in trouble this year.

Senator Bob Bennett may not be as far to the right as many Republicans in Utah would wish. But their loss is more than they can imagine. A senator with Bennett’s seniority shouldn’t be sidelined so precipitously, and it very well may be that right wingers in Utah will rue the day they so gleefully shelved a fine public servant.

By: Rick Moran at 9:26 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

4/12/2010
My Kingdom for a Moderate?

This article originally appears on The Moderate Voice

Clive Crook is making way too much sense:

A moderate and intelligent opposition to the Democrats’ policies is badly needed. Apparently, nobody in the Republican party aims to provide it. Republican leaders seem intent on presenting the party’s angriest, most stupid and least tolerant face. Some leading Republicans who are moderate by temperament and conviction – John McCain, for instance – are being pushed to the right in primary election contests with more conservative opponents. Others, such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, are disowning their previously expressed views or just keeping their heads down.

Republicans are right to say that the Obama administration has over-reached. Democrats failed to convince the country that their healthcare reform was the right solution to an obvious and pressing problem, yet passed their law anyway. Many voters are angry about this, and entitled to be. Also, despite the administration’s denials, the reform will most likely add to public borrowing, which was on a dangerously high trajectory to begin with. Again, they are right to be concerned.

Disenchantment with Mr Obama and the Democrats is especially pronounced in the political centre. (Conservatives, of course, were dismayed before the evidence was even in.) You might have thought this would commend a centrist platform to the Republican party approaching November’s mid-term elections. Swing voters decide who wins, and they were up for grabs. Why are Republicans steering to the right?

Why, indeed. The easy answer is that the entire conversation on the right is being driven by ideologues who profit personally or politically from fearmongering, exaggeration, deceptive analogy, pandering to stereotypes, and sometimes, outright lying about the opposition.

What’s worse, the ideologues actually believe the rot their pushing. If it were simply a matter of saying whatever it took to get elected, or talking wildly about the evils of the Obama Administration in order to sell mattresses on the radio, that would be understandable. Such demonstrations of human frailty would actually be a relief, considering where these sometimes bizarre critiques of the Democrats are leading the GOP.

The Democrats do the same thing, of course. Referring to conservatives as racists or Nazis is par for the course these days on the left. I would certainly call that an exaggeration, and using deceptive analogies between the tea partiers and southern resisters to civil rights is outrageous to anyone who knows anything about that movement. So too, the political lie that the GOP has no new ideas, or that it doesn’t offer alternatives to the Democratic agenda. This simply isn’t true and the fact that Democrats say this with a straight face while deliberately burying bills offered by Republicans that are serious efforts to address our problems is maddening. Both parties indulge in this childish name calling and fearmongering, which is Illustration No. I of what is wrong with political discourse today.

But aside from allusions to a “vast right wing conspiracy,” the Democrats keep their stupidity on a familiar level - that of the normal eye gouging and nut twisting that has been occurring in politics since our founding. Making the other fellow appear as Satan may not be uplifting to political dialogue but is SOP when trying to score points against your opponent.

What makes the attack rhetoric so moronic from the GOP is that much of it is tinged with wild eyed hints of dark conspiracies and the evil machinations of unseen forces. Obama is out to “destroy the country,” is a familiar theme. If you want to know how something so nonsensical could be close to mainstream thought on the right, just listen to talk radio. Rush Limbaugh’s pet theory is that Obama and the Democrats are intentionally trying to ruin our economy so that we all become dependent on government for our lives and thus, become Democratic voters overnight.

Think of it; 20 million people listen to this kind of crap from Limbaugh everyday:

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.

There is no response possible to such idiocy. One can only marvel at the flight from reality that is necessary to say this and worse, believe it. It’s as if millions of conservatives don’t find life interesting enough and have to invent these extraordinarily dramatic reasons to oppose Obama when the simple fact that the president is a far left liberal Democrat should suffice for most reasonable conservatives.

Mr. Crook doesn’t see much reasonableness from the right:

The Democratic party, for all its faults, is a broad coalition. There is such a thing as a conservative Democrat. Ideologically, the Republican party is shrinking even as it gains popular support. The parties used to overlap in the middle. That is the part of the political spectrum where trade-offs can be admitted, where balances between what voters want and are willing to pay for can be struck, and where fiscal conservatives usually live.

Liberal Republicans were already a rare species. Healthcare reform, and the electorate’s reaction to the Democrats’ plan, seems to have extinguished the breed entirely. With that proposal now law, the acid test is tax reform. Is there a Republican out there willing to support a simplification of the tax system that, while lowering marginal rates, raises revenues significantly above their historic average? Even after every plausible economy on the spending side has been made, that is going to be necessary. So far as I am aware, not a single prominent Republican is willing to say so.

Why? Because reaching out to the center as a Republican is a zero sum game. For every centrist you pick up, you lose two conservatives who accuse you of being a “RINO” or “squishy.” Always looking for a sure thing, politicians would rather gather the votes from their base and hope that enough centrists come of their own volition rather than make an effort to actively seek them out.

And I’m not sure many Republicans would go for a “centrist agenda” anyway. Neither would many Democratic politicians opt for a middle of the road posture. This is the age of the ideologue in American politics and there simply isn’t room for reason, logic, and the desire to work together as a nation to solve our problems,

It was headline news this past weekend at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference when Ron Paul said Barack Obama is not a socialist, despite even Newt Gingrich using the “S” word to describe Obama at the same venue. That is the significance of having ideology govern a political party. Most Americans do not see the president that way and as I point out here, calling Obama a socialist flies in the face of the accepted definition of the word:

I detest conservatives throwing around the words “socialism” and “Marxism” when it comes to Obama as much as I get angry when idiot liberals toss around the word “fascist” when describing conservatives. I’m sorry but this is ignorant. It bespeaks a lack of knowledge of what socialism and communism represent as well as an ignorance of simple definitions. Obama will not set up a government agency to plan the economy. He will not as president, require businesses to meet targets for production. He will not outlaw profit. He will not put workers in charge of companies (unless it is negotiated between unions and management. It is not unheard of in this country and the practice may become more common in these perilous economic times.).

An Obama presidency will have more regulation, more “oversight,” more interference from government agencies, more paperwork for business, less business creation, fewer jobs, fewer opportunities. It will be friendlier to unions, more protectionist, and will require higher taxes from corporations (who then will simply pass the tax bill on to us, their customers). But government won’t run the economy. And calling Obama a “socialist” simply ignores all of the above and substitutes irrationalism (or ignorance) for the reality of what an Obama presidency actually represents; a lurch to the left that will be detrimental to the economy, bad for business, but basically allow market forces to continue to dominate our economy.

I wrote that before the election in 2008. I still believe it despite the fact that national health insurance reform puts us on the road to socialized medicine, the unforeseen consequences of which could lead to the kinds of government control most feared by conservatives. But we’re not there yet - not by a long, long shot. And the slippery slopes on such a road, if recognized, can be avoided if conservatives keep their heads and fight against them.

Unfortunately, conservatives are not keeping their heads. Hysterical shouting and hand wringing about evil Obama may work this time around, as Crook points out, because the vast middle of the country is in a mood to punish the Democrats. But come 2012, someone on the right is going to have to come up with a rational, reasoned critique of Obama’s policies that the moderate righties and libertarians won’t think is the mouthings of some crazed paranoid inhabiting an alternate universe.

Otherwise, the GOP may find itself marginalized and on the outs for a long time to come.

By: Rick Moran at 1:57 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

3/26/2010
Frum’s Fall a Telling Blow to Pragmatism on the Right

This post originally appears on The Moderate Voice

Would the last intellectual conservative to leave Washington please turn out the lights?

The fall of AEI senior Fellow David Frum is not only a loss for intellectual conservatism, but a warning to conservative apostates everywhere that tolerance for opposing viewpoints on the right in the Age of Obama will not be a paying proposition. The previous firing of Bruce Bartlett, former Reagan senior policy analyst from the National Center for Policy Analysis in 2005 for writing an anti-Bush book should have been seen at the time as a shot across the bow by the moneybags who largely fund the conservative movement and who are apparently so insecure in their own beliefs that they are terrified of the independent mind, of thoughts and ideas that don’t match up with their own.

Most of the internet right is joyful today at the humbling of Frum who has stood four square against the emotionalism and excessive partisanship demonstrated by those who consider themselves true conservatives. He has lambasted the cotton candy conservatism of Beck, Limbaugh, and other pop righties whose exaggerated, over the top rhetoric may bring in ratings but ultimately damages the cause they purport to espouse.

Does this mean Frum was always right? Nobody is always right, which is one of the main points of intellectual conservatism. A healthy conservatism would have intelligently debated Frum’s frequent critiques of the right and the GOP. Rather than questioning his motives, his ambition, or his commitment to the right, a dynamic colloquy could have ensued that would have benefited all.

Alas, such was not - could not - be the case. Instead, Frum’s numerous critics accused him of naked ambition, trying to curry favor with the left and the press in order to further his career. He was dismissed as a non-conservative or a RINO because he didn’t believe government was the enemy. He was charged with practicing punditry under false pretenses, of not really believing what he was talking and writing about.

I can tell you from experience that it is that last criticism that hurts the most and is the quickest to bring anger to the forefront of one’s emotions. Frum knew that his critiques would diminish him in the eyes of the very people who were paying his salary. Perhaps some of his critics should try doing that in their own job someday. The squeaky wheel often does not get the grease, but rather, is replaced - and quite easily as is the case with Frum.

Indeed, Frum speculates to Politco’s Mike Allen that it was his Waterloo article that proved the last straw for some of AEI’s biggest contributors:

David Frum told us last night that he believes his axing from his $100,000-a-year “resident scholar” gig at the conservative American Enterprise Institute was related to DONOR PRESSURE following his viral blog post arguing Republicans had suffered a devastating, generational “Waterloo” in their loss to President Obama on health reform. “There’s a lot about the story I don’t really understand,” Frum said from his iPhone. “But the core of the story is the kind of economic pressure that intellectual conservatives are under. AEI represents the best of the conservative world. [AEI President] Arthur Brooks is a brilliant man, and his books are fantastic. But the elite isn’t leading anymore. It’s trapped. Partly because of the desperate economic situation in the country, what were once the leading institutions of conservatism are constrained. I think Arthur took no pleasure in this. I think he was embarrassed. I think he would have avoided it if he possibly could, but he couldn’t.”

That “economic pressure” was in the form of a donor revolt, made even more remarkable, Bruce Bartlett, because of the cone of silence that dropped over AEI health policy wonks who were instructed not to talk to the press because they agreed with some of the things Obama was trying to do:

Since, he is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI “scholars” on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.

It saddened me to hear this. I have always hoped that my experience was unique. But now I see that I was just the first to suffer from a closing of the conservative mind. Rigid conformity is being enforced, no dissent is allowed, and the conservative brain will slowly shrivel into dementia if it hasn’t already.

Sadly, there is no place for David and me to go. The donor community is only interested in financing organizations that parrot the party line, such as the one recently established by McCain economic adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin.

I can see the gloat on the faces of Frum’s critics as they read that “the elite isn’t leading anymore.” This has been the biggest bone of contention between the few conservative critics on the right who rail against the mindless, ideologically driven opposition of many movement conservatives to anything they don’t agree with vs. the reasoned and logical, more pragmatic opposition that is more open minded, more accepting of the notion that compromise is necessary for government to work.

In fact, this was the thesis of Frum’s Waterloo article; that by choosing not to engage the Democrats in crafting Obamacare, the GOP shot itself in the foot by not only appearing weak, but eventually being unable to block the monstrosity of Obamacare. In achieving this dubious honor, the governing elites were driven like a herd of cattle, being prodded on by talk radio and Fox News buffoons who lead a movement and where any deviation from accepted wisdom was met with a withering blast of mockery and threats of excommunication.

Why has conservatism turned into such an echo chamber? Why do most on the right only read and digest that with which they agree and not open their minds, test their basic assumptions against opposing views? What is it that frightens them so that they see those who criticize the rank emotionalism of a Beck or Limbaugh as “the enemy” rather than the normal give and take among people who disagree?

I searched for an answer to these and other questions in my 5 part series “Intellectual Conservatism Isn’t Dead.” And while I never came right out and said it, I think what I was driving at was that the rejection of intellectuals or “the elites” is symptomatic of a lack of confidence in what conservatives should stand for. Issues aren’t the problem. There is broad agreement on which issues are important and what position conservatives should hold.

Rather, it is a lack of confidence in what conservatism as a philosophy should be all about. Witness the health care debate and the eagerness with which many conservatives are embracing the rush to federal court to have Obamacare declared unconstitutional. Does anyone see the titanic irony in, on the one hand, declaring fierce opposition to “activist judges” while on the other hand scurrying off to court in order to plead with a judge to take an activist stance against legislation with which the right disagrees?

This is the kind of emotional partisanship that is killing conservatism, driving the right off a cliff. And it comes from closing one’s mind to alternative viewpoints; to understand where the other side is coming from (both the left, and opponents on the right) while being terrified that one might be harboring views that are not in lock step with the majority. It is fear that is driving this kind of excessively partisan, morbidly ideological behavior on the right - fear that being cast outside of the groupthink that has become modern conservatism will leave the apostate without a political ship on which to sail.

Reading and listening to Hannity, Limbaugh, Coulter, and other pop conservatives without investigating alternative viewpoints, without challenging your own beliefs from time to time, marks one as a philistine. It is the antithesis of conservatism to close one’s mind and reject alternative viewpoints based not on their relevancy or reason but rather on the source of the criticism.

It is easy to dismiss conservatives like Frum by chalking up their opposition to the groupthink by wittily offering that they say those things so that they can get invited to liberal cocktail parties, or advance their careers in the leftist MSM. This kind of personal criticism is easier than having to respond directly to the charges that modern movement conservatism has lost touch with reality, and has become irresponsible, loutish, anti-science, and anti-intellectual. Greedy, selfish, cynical, and most of all, intellectually rigid, what is being identified as modern conservatism has no coherence, no basis in logic, and proudly represents itself as the party of little or no government at all.

And people like Frum, David Brooks, Peggy Noonan, Bruce Bartlett, and others like them who are in bad odor on the right for being “traitors” will go on being ignored and marginalized because actually dealing with their criticisms by debating them on the merits or demerits of their opinions opens a chasm beneath the feet of most movement conservatives. Even the tiniest of hints that not all they believe may be true is enough to throw the fear of God - or Rush - into them and send them scurrying back into the safety and warmth of blissful ignorance found on talk radio and conservative internet salons.

The apostates are not always right. On health care, it is naive to believe the Democrats were prepared to work with the GOP on anything that would have stopped short of the kind of comprehensive remaking of our health care that eventually passed. This, the GOP could not countenance under any circumstances and remain a viable political party. In that respect, the main thesis of Frum’s Waterloo article is hopelessly wrong. But should that be cause to force him out?

Not if conservatism was a healthy, dynamic, politically relevant entity. If that were the case, the conservative moneybags would have gotten their money’s worth because conservatism would have been better for the subsequent debate. Instead, lockstep lunacy reins and Frum - and the rest of intellectual conservatism - finds itself on the outs.

By: Rick Moran at 10:37 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

3/8/2010
CONSERVATISM MAY BE DEAD BUT ANDREW SULLIVAN’S FAUX PRAGMATISM IS STILL KICKING

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.

By: Rick Moran at 11:41 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

2/22/2010
CONSERVATIVE REALITY CHECK: WE STILL AREN’T VERY POPULAR AND ARE LOSING THE NEXT GENERATION

After having just seen the euphoria and confident words coming out of CPAC about how conservatism isn’t dead - it’s back and better than ever - I feel some trepidation in trying to rain a bit on that parade.

I really don’t like being a Cassandra. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be able to report on a popular, dynamic, vibrant conservatism that is in the ascendancy and ready to reinvigorate government. But blinding oneself to the facts, misinterpreting straws in the wind, and basing a conservative comeback more on wishful thinking than on the evidence before our eyes only makes the task of asking you to face our shortcomings, own up to them, and change course all the more difficult and depressing.

For those of you who refuse to believe that all polls are rigged against the right, and all pollsters have it in for conservatives, you may find the following interesting. The rest of you can move on to more agreeable sites who would rather blindly engage in cheerleading, while ignoring the fact that conservatism is still seen as a marginal philosophy among the young, and that the right’s comeback is the result almost entirely of a huge jump in support among those aged 65-82.

First, the numbers (via Larison), that show some movement toward the right among “millenials” (18-29) but still show a huge gap in party ID:

However, over the course of 2009 the Democratic Party’s advantage among Millennials in party affiliation weakened considerably from its high point in 2008. The most recent party affiliation data (from the fourth quarter of 2009) show that in terms of straight partisan identification, Democrats held a 36% to 24% lead over the GOP among Millennial voters, a significantly narrower edge than the nearly two-to-one margin (41% vs. 22%) in 2008. At the same time, the percentage of Millennials who said they lean Republican has nearly doubled, from 8% in 2008 to 15% at the end of 2009. There was little change in the percentage who leaned Democratic (20% in 2008 vs. 18% in late 2009). While the Democratic Party has a larger advantage among Millennials than it does among the two oldest cohorts, a greater proportion of the party’s support comes from people who do not explicitly identify as Democrats but only lean toward the party.

Despite the shift in partisan leaning among Millennials, the Republican Party has had limited success in increasing the number of Millennials who identify as — and not just lean –Republican. Just 22% of Millennial voters identified as Republican in 2008, and there was no significant rise in the latest polling (24% in the 4th quarter of 2009).

In other words, no sale. Gains were also made by the right among the Gen X, Boomers, and the “Silent Generation” (65-82) with the last of those showing a complete flip in support away from Obama and the Democrats. However, all but the “Silents” still show majority support for the Democrats.

On average, Millennials’ underlying social and political views put them well to the left of their elders. If you dig into the full report, you will see that the recent Republican resurgence owes almost everything to the dramatic shift among members of the so-called “Silent Generation,” whose voting preferences on the generic ballot have gone from being 49-41 Democrat in 2006 to 48-39 Republican for 2010. There have been small shifts in other age groups toward the Republicans, but by far it is the alienation of voters aged 65-82 that has been most damaging to the Democrats’ political strength*. As we all know, these are the voters who are far more likely to turn out than Millennials, which is why Democratic prospects for this election seem as bad as they do even though the Pew survey says that Democrats lead on the generic ballot in every other age group. Among Boomers, Democrats lead 46-42, and among Gen Xers they barely lead 45-44. In other words, the main reason why the GOP is enjoying any sort of political recovery is that many elderly voters have changed their partisan preferences since the last midterm. Republicans remain behind among all voters younger than 65.

What does it mean for Republicans and the right that they now find themselves in the position of defending Medicare against fiscally responsible moves to rein in its costs? Catering to the elderly voting bloc means maintaining the complete integrity of their entitlements.

Even a cursory examination of the huge hole that Medicare is digging for future generations will tell you that addressing the problem is going to entail much more draconian cuts than the measly $500 billion contemplated by the Obama administration in their health insurance reform package. When we’re talking about an eventual shortfall of tens of trillions of dollars, such gestures are hardly worth the political blood spilled to get them enacted.

But the GOP now finds themselves the Defenders of Medicare - an irony too sour for many of us who believe that entitlements need to be drastically overhauled in order to save us from ruinous decline. But since old people vote, it isn’t likely that the Republicans will give up their current advantage in that age group willingly.

It is the young that should concern us, however, Unless something unexpected occurs, the Millenials will be lost to conservatism largely due to what is perceived to be a much less tolerant and less expansive view of social issues:

The percentage of self-identifying conservatives among Millennials is basically equal with that of self-identifying liberals (28% vs. 29%). The youngest generation of voters is unusually ill-disposed towards movement conservatism of the sort on display at CPAC, which is the event Gardiner hails not only as proof that conservatism is the future but as an “intellectually vibrant” gathering.

Gardiner can believe what he wants, but the evidence we have available right now suggests that conservatism is losing, indeed has already lost, most of the next generation, and that conservatism as we know it today is going to keep losing ground in the future. It is possible that something could happen in the next few years that could change that significantly, but typically once a cohort attaches itself to one party or the other its later voting habits become fairly predictable. The generation that came of age during the Bush years and overwhelmingly backed Obama is not going to become receptive to movement conservatism.

Larison’s analysis fails in one respect; the idea that the Millenials will always vote Democratic because they have attached themselves to the Democratic party and their voting habits become “predictable.” The survey Larison references, in fact, shows a growing comfort with conservatism the older one gets.

The Democrats feel they have a chance to cement the loyalty of Millenials to their party by passing national health insurance. Perhaps the “right bill” might have done so, but the monstrosity that has come forth will almost certainly drive them away from the party or, at least, make them so cynical that they drop out of the voting process altogether. The entire burden in the current health insurance plan falls on the youngest wage earners. Once they get wise to that, I suspect they won’t like it much at all and will be looking for someone to blame.

Larison’s point, then, has some deficiencies but its thrust is correct; the current state of Millenial attraction to movement conservatism is very weak and may get weaker over time. Obviously, the conservatives will never abandon their anti-gay marriage stance (and the perception that this makes them bigots plays a significant role in the standoffishness of Millenials), nor is the right likely to move away from the pro-life position - a stance that drives away Millenial women in droves. (While the numbers may be near equal, better educated and wealthier Millenial women are more pro choice.)

Perhaps social upheaval caused by a significant economic downturn would shunt social issues like gay marriage and abortion to the sidelines enough that a conservative economic populist message would resonate more with the Millenials. Then there’s always the chance that they might go the opposite way and embrace more liberal solutions. Given the fact that neither side will change their base conclusions about social issues, something along those lines would appear to be the only real chance to cause the Millenials to give conservatism another look.

As for the other age groups, it was encouraging that in the NJ and VA governor races last year, and the MA senate race this year, it appeared that the right was making a small comeback in suburbia. But it should be noted that the GOP candidates in all three of those races downplayed their social conservatism and talked up economic populism.

The recently completed CPAC conference also lends credence to this idea that the dominance of social issues on the GOP agenda may be on the wane with only 1% of attendees believing that opposition to gay marriage should be the number one issue of the GOP. No word on how many think it should be #2, or #3 which makes me think that the perception that the GOP is anti-gay might not be changing any time soon.

In 2010, where only half the number of people will vote who cast a ballot in 2008, the general level of enthusiasm on the right along with the turnout among the old folks will mean sizable, perhaps spectacular Republican gains.

But what of 2012? Conservatives still have a huge problem with the highly educated, the wealthy, and still trail the Democrats in support by the Middle Class. In a general election with elevated turnout, the Millenials may once again give the Democrats victory despite all that has happened.

Perhaps instead of crowing about a comeback, conservatives should keep their focus on developing alternatives to what the Democrats are doing in order to offer a positive program that would win over those independents who will decide the next two elections.

By: Rick Moran at 10:16 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (12)

2/21/2010
GOP A BIG LOSER AT CPAC

Republican leaders were treated well enough by attendees at CPAC. They clapped in all the right places. They cheered lustily at every Obama put down. They dutifully applauded at the 100,000th mention at the conference that the GOP had learned its lesson and were now born again fiscal conservatives.

Then attendees went ahead and gave Ron Paul a victory in the presidential straw poll.

National Journal’s Hotline on Call, picking winners and losers, tags the GOP as a big loser:

What the straw poll did show is that many conservatives aren’t happy with the GOP. RNC chair Michael Steele’s fav/unfav rating is upside down, and 37% say they view GOP leadership in Congress unfavorably too. Many speeches included reminders that the GOP had its chance and lost power because of excess spending. If anything, CPAC showed the GOP is courting the Tea Party movement, but Tea Partiers aren’t sold yet.

A man much admired by many tea partyers, Glenn Beck really let the Republicans have it during his keynote address:

Beck also recalled Reagan’s use of the phrase “morning in America” from one of his TV campaign ads. “It is still morning in America, said Beck. “It’s shaping up to be sort of a nasty day, but it’s still morning in America.” Beck blamed “progressivism” in both parties as the “cancer” in U.S. politics.

“It’s big government, and we need to address it as if it is a cancer,” Beck, on the other issues facing politics. “You must eradicate it. … We need big thinkers and brave people, with spines, who can make the case [that] … it’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be ok. We’re going to make it.”

“It’s not enough to not suck as much as the other side,” said Beck, on how Republicans can regain their ideals. “The first step to redemption is admitting you have a problem. … When they do say they have a problem, I don’t know if I believe them. … They’ve got to recognize they have a problem. … ‘I’m addicted to spending and big government.’”

Beck also made the observation that, “One party will tax and spend. The other party won’t tax, but spend. It’s both of them together. I’m tired of feeling like a freak in America.”

And so it went for most of the conference. The crowd saved their biggest applause for those out of government (Gingrich, Cheney), or those challenging the establishment (Rubio), or for those who are quirky, loony politicians who want to go back to a gold standard while eliminating the Fed (Ron Paul).

“It’s not enough to not suck as much as the other side,” is very good advice from Beck. Too bad the GOP isn’t taking it. The fact is, the Republicans can make huge gains in the House and Senate simply by presenting themselves as a less sucky alternative to the Democrats. They don’t need any specific ideas. The certainly don’t think they need a new agenda.

Whatever pablum emerges as a GOP platform for 2010 I guarantee will look a lot like 2008, 2006, 2004, 2002, and 2000. They may drop anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion stuff further down the page. And there will be a something about returning to “constitutional government’ which, while I find a lot of what Obama and the Democrats are doing to be inimical to liberty, I don’t recall the Supreme Court coming out and pronouncing their agenda “unconstitutional.” For people who claim a fealty to a strict interpretation of the Constitution, I find it fascinating that they declare stuff the administration is doing “unconstitutional” when that document implies such determinations are made by the Supreme Court and not conservative activists.

Of course, judicial review is not written into the Constitution but since Marbury vs. Madison, the high court’s jurisdiction in matters pertaining to the interpretation of what is constitutional and what isn’t hasn’t been questioned. Hence, while I agree with those activists who question the constitutionality of some of what Obama has sought to do, I think it nonsensical to declare willy nilly that just because there is no mention of health insurance in our founding document, that the attempt for a government takeover of health care is, by itself, unconstitutional. It’s a horrible, stupid, ruinous idea. But unconstitutional? I will wait for the Supreme Court to decide that question.

Also, this loyalty to our Constitution seems to have its limits with many activists. I seem to recall a passage in there about Congress being granted the sole authority to declare war or something. This is a problem for many (not all) strict constructionists who appear to want government to treat what’s in the Constitution as the Revealed Word on some things, but others? Not so much.

But never fear, there will almost certainly be language in any GOP manifesto for the election that will seek a “return” to constitutional government. Asking those conservatives when we abandoned that kind of government would elicit some fascinating responses, no doubt.

All snark aside, the Republicans are in a bind. They put on a full court press at CPAC to attract, flatter, and praise the tea party movement, while seeking to move them into the GOP orbit, as Hotline explains:

The Tea Party Movement: Virtually every speaker paid homage to a movement that remains loosely defined, praising fiscal restraint and a renewed energy among activists protesting the Obama admin’s policies. The media had fun interviewing the guy in the tri-cornered hat and “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, but GOP leaders are doing their best to incorporate, and kowtow to, the movement. Anyone who can show they lead a local Tea Party group is leaving CPAC with an enormous sense of power, and the GOP is all too happy oblige.

I have no doubt that a sizable segment of the tea party movement - perhaps even a majority - will resist the siren song of Steele et. al. and remain outside the party structure. But the conservative/libertarian bent of the movement makes it inevitable that there will be some synergy between the establishment and the new grass roots simply because they are a natural fit. The Democrats aren’t interested in conservative reform and have kicked the flirtatious libertarians to the sidelines. Since there seems - at the moment - to be little energy among the grass roots for a third party, that leaves them only one place to go.

The GOP will make big gains in 2010 simply by being less sucky than the Democrats. But the difference between picking up 25 seats in the House and 4-5 in the Senate, and a Republican tsunami that sweeps the Democrats from power will be the GOP’s ability to offer a positive agenda that speaks to the fears and concerns of ordinary voters. Without something to vote for, the great independent middle of the electorate who broadly support a platform that espouses fiscal sanity and an end to legislative overreach by the Democrats, will not give Republicans the smashing victory they are capable of achieving unless there are specific initiatives that deal with their everyday problems.

It’s not enough to say you’re for the Constitution. Holy Jesus, you might as well say you’re for apple pie, and grandmothers. Republicans are going to have to earn this one by convincing the American voter that they hear their cries for help, and will respond by passing legislation that deals with the specific causes of their misery; jobs, the deficit, skyrocketing health care costs, and a promise that what happened on Wall Street that initiated this mess, won’t happen again, among other things.

Can a party and a movement that has worn its disdain for government action of just about any kind on its sleeve convince people that it now sees government as part of the solution?

That would be a trick worthy of Houdini.

By: Rick Moran at 11:20 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (11)