Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 12:24 pm

Before I delve into the thicket of analysis as to why a sizable number of conservatives are opposed to gay marriage (and the subset of that minority that hate gays period), I wanted to address Bob Barr’s comments yesterday at the National Security panel at CPAC.

The setting was interesting.

Oh what a lovely crowd, huh? Bob Barr is booed and yelled at loudly by the crowd until the moderator, Jay Sekulow, calms them down, for daring to point out that waterboarding is torture. This is from one of the CPAC 2010 panel segments, the topic of which was, “Does Security Trump Freedom?” The panelists included Barr, Jim Gilmore, Dan Lungren and Viet Dinh. Rep. Lungren got a nice little cheer out of them for saying he was for “enhanced interrogation” as well. There’s your conservative base, folks: Torture lovers.

1. Many in the crowd were yelling support for Barr, especially the Paulbots were were all over CPAC yesterday, and libertarians who came to see their former presidential candidate. There were also many boos - especially after the former congressman condemned water boarding as torture.

2. The crowd was none too kind to Barr either after his remarks about the Patriot Act (”repeal it”), the terrorist surveillance program, and his strong criticism of Bush-era national security measures at home.

3. The discussion was remarkable. There were disagreements about many issues among the panelists. For contrast, when I attended the Netroots Convention a few years ago, I saw several panels where there was as much disagreement about issues as you might expect from the College of Cardinals about theology. Not only boring to listen to, but the lockstep mentality of the panelists was almost comical.

Readers of this site know that I side with Barr in this debate - at least on waterboarding torture. I think he has some good things to say about civil liberties overall, but I would disagree with him about some elements of the Patriot Act which have been blown wildly out of proportion by civil liberties absolutists. Oversight is the key and, while there have been notable lapses, overall I think the courts, DoJ and Congress have done a pretty good job in that regard. They can do better and we need people like Barr to hold their feet to the fire to make sure they do.

Despite what many on the left may say, these are not cut and dried issues (except those “enhanced interrogation techniques” that are clearly torture) where the left is on the side of the angels. In fact, they have tried to politicize the national security/civil liberties debate to their shame.

They shamelessly sought to score political points by railing against the Patriot Act, the TSP, and even the innocuous SWIFT terrorist money tracking program. These are not programs that are indicative of a slow slide towards authoritarianism. There is certainly room for disagreement. We know that some on the left care as much about civil liberties as they care about Joe Lieberman because now that Obama is president and has kept many of these programs intact, we hear nary a peep from most of them (Barr and Greenwald being notable exceptions).

The discussion yesterday where Barr was loudly booed for some of his views was robust, nuanced, intelligent, and so far above anything in quality that I’ve ever seen from the left on these subjects that they are not even playing in the same league. Pointing out diversity of opinion in these matters only makes liberals look like the mindless automatons on these issues that they have shown themselves to be.

What of the blow up about gays?

It happened at an event that highlighted young conservative activists across the country - many of whom started “conservative clubs” at their high schools and had to go through the usual harassment by clueless school administrators. One YAF member from California, Ryan Sorba, went up to the podium with a chip on his shoulder, and rather than tell his little two minute story about his activism, he launched a tirade against “GoProud” - a conservative gay organization - who had a booth at the conference.

It was pretty embarrassing. Sorba stood up there like the former high school star athlete he probably was and kept looking out into the audience - many of whom were booing him - and kept sneering “Bring it on!.” It was painful to watch - especially when you realized that the cheers for Sorba were, if not equal to the boos, then certainly noticeable.

That’s only half the story. Someone at the American Conservative Union who assigned booth space was either trying to sabotage the gays or is really, really dense. They placed the gay’s booth very near a table manned by representatives of the National Organization for Marriage -a group that, um, strenuously opposes gay marriage.

My guess is the former. The thinking must have been that those visiting the anti-gay marriage booth would then sidle over to GOProud’s table and harass them. Maybe they were even hoping for fisticuffs. Instead, according to this video from CNN, the two sides got along fine. There were spirited discussions as you might imagine but no unpleasantness - until yesterday.

That’s when NOM issued a press release, warning GOProud that if they supported candidates who advocated gay marriage, they would “Scozzafavaize” them. That led to this statement by one of the gay group’s representatives who wonder why the NOM people couldn’t have said the same thing to him in person since he was only 5 feet away. “Who’s are the pansies at CPAC” the GoProud fellow asked?

The bigger issue, of course, is the attitude shared by many in the Republican party and conservative movement toward gay people. Opposition to gay marriage does not make one a homophobe, although there is certainly a subset of that group who are. Since our politics has become so irrational that debating gay marriage sensibly is out of the question, supporters of the issue lazily tar all opponents, willy nilly, with that disgusting moniker.

But it is not those who oppose gay marriage because they see it as detrimental to society, or against their religious beliefs who necessarily demonstrate a nauseating intolerance for gay people. Rather it is that ever shrinking number of opponents - mostly men - who genuinely hate gay people for who they are, and who have been given a home in the conservative movement and Republican party that should concern us.

Are there gay haters who are liberal Democrats? Of this, I have no doubt. Given the amount of racism we’ve seen from “tolerant” liberals, I am completely convinced that there are homophobes in the Democratic party and progressive movement as well.

The difference is, that kind of bigotry isn’t catered to as it is in the conservative movement and GOP so anti-gay liberals generally know enough to keep their mouths shut. Ideology plays a small role in gay hating, or any kind of bigotry. People are people, and intolerance knows no political party or philosophy. To argue otherwise is to argue against human nature - nice trick if you can pull it off.

While there may be homophobes who are liberals, gay intolerance is a problem for conservatives exclusively. The left has mostly marginalized their haters - not so the right. It is tolerated under the guise of “religious freedom” for the most part, but the effect is the same; a poisonous fear and loathing of homosexuals that drags down all conservatives and adds to the right’s problems with regards to the political perception of conservatives held by the public at large.

I am not a psychologist. I don’t even play one on the internet. My personal feelings about gays is fairly tolerant - when I think about it. I’m not sure someone’s sexuality should be a major political issue, but I understand why gays would try and make it so. I support gay marriage simply because it is an inevitable consequence of changing societal values, as I stated here. Managing that change so that it occurs within the context of the popular will should be what concerns conservatives, in my opinion. No judicial shortcuts.

But through their opposition to gay marriage, conservatives supply cover for the genuine bigots who usually couch their intolerance by claiming common cause with the traditional marriage folks. Obviously a way must be found to separate those who sincerely oppose gay marriage out of conviction or faith, from the haters who want homosexuals back in the closet and sodomy laws reinstituted. I’m not sure that it’s possible, but an effort should be made nonetheless. Self-policing language and rhetoric would be a start. Defending outright bigotry by alluding to “political correctness” isn’t going to cut it. There are lines that cannot be crossed and those that do should be called out for it.

Beyond that, there are symbolic, but telling steps that can be taken to raise the profile, and integrate Log Cabin Republicans, GOProud, and other gay conservative organizations into the party leadership. The establishment is terrified of gays, thinking that accepting them would bring down the wrath of evangelicals upon them. This may be true. But as Allahpundit and others have pointed out, the tide may - just may - be turning on that score:

The One’s agenda has vaulted fiscal conservatism to the top of the list of right-wing priorities; with even Darth Cheney sanguine about gay marriage, social issues simply don’t have the same bite that they used to. In fact, I’m curious to know if Ed’s gotten the same vibe at the convention that Time magazine’s getting — namely, thanks to the GOP’s tilt towards libertarianism, that the big tent is a little bigger this year than it used to be.

Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.

I believe there is a way to maintain conservative and GOP opposition to gay marriage while purging the movement and party of the bigots who do so much to harm the perception held by the average American of the right. It won’t be easy. The left, as they continuously do with regard to race, will seek to minimize, criticize, and misrepresent anything conservatives do in this regard.

But a changing society demands that we change with it. And recognizing and tolerating the 10% or so of the population who are attracted sexually to the same sex is not just the politically correct, or politically advantageous, or even the philosophically satisfying thing to do.

It is the right thing to do, and should be done because it is morally correct.



Filed under: CPAC Conference, Government, Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 11:21 am

I am not attending CPAC this year. Finances have become problematic and since neither one of my employers were going to pay my way, the $1,000 or so that the trip would cost me will be put to better uses I’m sure.

Not that they would have rolled out the red carpet for me anyway. RedState is running Blogger’s Row this year and it’s strange, but my invitation somehow got lost in the email. Or perhaps they’re still smarting from my post criticizing RedState as “a barbarous brew of angry yawpers.”

A mystery, yes?

Then there are the few conservatives who have gotten angry enough to de-link me, or write long screeds calling me a liberal or other swear words who would have taken great pleasure in confronting me at CPAC for my apostasy. I apologize for not giving you your “Chief Brody slap” moment. Maybe next year.

So who is going to be welcome at CPAC this year?

“There needs to be a purging of the movement, and I think we’re already starting to see a different of hierarchy of groups,” said Erick Erickson, the Macon, Ga.-based founder of RedState.com, who predicts that “you’re going to see a much more diffuse conservative movement that is being led in large part from outside of Washington and is much more in line from the grass roots.”

Erickson, a favorite of the new activists, said, “Some of these legacy groups have become so entrenched in the Republican establishment in Washington that a lot of these new activists don’t think they can trust them.”

As examples, Erickson singled out CPAC’s primary sponsor, the American Conservative Union, as well as CPAC stalwarts including the Heritage Foundation think tank and the groups headed by Grover Norquist and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Those groups and other organizations that once formed the vanguard of the conservative movement — such as the National Rifle Association, the Family Research Council and Young America’s Foundation — haven’t made major inroads in the tea party movement.

And thus my first observation; this is not a friendly gathering where independent thought - or much thinking at all - is welcomed. It is the Palinization of conservatism; the rise of Joe the Plumberarianism on the right as George Will (another who is in bad odor with this crowd) points out:

America, its luck exhausted, at last has a president from the academic culture, that grating blend of knowingness and unrealism. But the reaction against this must somewhat please him. That reaction is populism, a celebration of intellectual ordinariness. This is not a stance that will strengthen the Republican Party, which recently has become ruinously weak among highly educated whites. Besides, full-throated populism has not won a national election in 178 years, since Andrew Jackson was reelected in 1832.

Note: It is not what these establishment conservatives say, nor especially what they think as much as what they represent that has Erickson and others pining for a Stalinist purge. Sidelining Norquist I can see. The man is a toad of a lobbyist who facilitated the sale of the Republican party to special interests. But kicking the Heritage Foundation out the door? Or Newt Gingrich? What connects these targets of the neo-right is that almost all of them approach politics and the issues with a thoughtfulness that is painfully lacking in their purge-happy opponents. They are no less fiscally conservative than the neo-rightists who want their scalps. Nor are they less devoted to the Constitution. To imply otherwise is libelous.

But the neo-rightists who smell blood in the water and wish to take control of the conservative movement are arrogant enough to believe that they have a corner on love for our founding document, and take the simple minded approach that if you criticize them, your devotion to First Principles are suspect. They constantly refer to themselves as “patriots” as if designating oneself thusly actually confers legitimacy on the honorific.

As I mentioned previously, I have never heard of this kind of self-reverence until tea partyers began to identify themselves as “patriots.” Real patriots allow others to append that appellation to them and eschew doing the honor themselves. That’s because some of the prerequisite qualities for being considered a patriot are humility and self-abnegation - not much of which will be on display at CPAC this year.

Second observation; welcoming the Birchers back into the fold while gleefully kicking intellectual conservatives and other “elites” out into the street may be enormously satisfying on an emotional level but brands the neo-rightists as gigantic failures in appreciating irony.

If there is one thing I wanted to do at CPAC if I had been able to attend, I would have loved to stand around the John Birch Society booth and talk to the visitors. Would they be aware of the battle that mainstream conservatives fought in the 1950’s and early 60’s to sideline these wackos, and bring conservatism into the intellectual mainstream? Probably not. In response to my criticisms of CPAC for allowing the JBS to co-sponsor and exhibit, I was informed that, at least as far as fringe nutjobs are concerned, the conservative tent should be expanded to include them. Others, who might not agree with the neo rightists on 100% of their pet issues need not apply.

Third observation; if this indeed, is a changing of the guard with the conservative establishment being marginalized and the neo right ascendant, then it stands to reason that the definition of “conservatism” will narrow considerably.

Protestations to the contrary will do no good. I have experienced first hand the definitional constriction of who these jamokes believe is “conservative enough.” We have seen the repudiation of Newt Gingrich, George Will, Peggy Noonan, David Frum, and countless others who, at one time or another, have been tarred with the “liberal” epithet, or RINO, or “Democrat-lite.” Their sin has been to disagree with the notion that there is one overarching definition of conservatism, that differences on issues or tactics does not mean that there are differences in principles.

But the neo right is unable to differentiate between issues and principles, and thus, there will be precious few “acceptable” conservatives from the northeast, the upper midwest, and most of the mid-atlantic. Ceding that much territory to your opponent will eventually lead to permanent minority status.

Right now, the right is rising because of the demonstrated incompetence and overreach of the Democrats. The voter literally has nowhere else to go if they disagree with health care reform, the bailouts, the buy outs, and the corporate cozying being carried out by the Obama administration. Since conservatives have offered nothing positive for voters to rally to, the recent polls showing people gravitating toward conservatism can be seen as a reaction to what Obama is doing, not to anything conservatives are offering as an alternative.

This will be fine for 2010. But what happens in 2012? And beyond? The bad economic times will be with us for a while, and there will come a point where people will get tired of hearing about sticking to principle and want their government to do something to help them. Since this is a foreign language to the neo-right, they will elect those who seem to care about their problems.

What problems? Here’s David Frum commenting on the vapid Mount Vernon Statement released yesterday:

* Are you an American who was earning less in 2007 than in 2000? The document has nothing to say to you.

* Did you lose your home or job or savings in the crisis of 2008-2009? Blank to you.

* Are you worried about the loss of your health insurance – or how you will pay for nursing care for your aged parents – or what 20% youth unemployment will mean for your newly graduated child’s life chances? Not our department.

* Do you wonder whether we are winning or losing the war on terror? Do you want an explanation for why it took so long for a conservative administration to react to military disaster? No answers here.

I’ve said it before; there are many on the neo right who claim allegiance to the Constitution but refuse to recognize a role for government in modern society. Their notion of “limited government” is more akin to the Articles of Confederation than the Constitution, more comfortable in a 19th century setting than the 21st century.

With that kind of attitude, and if candidates are elected to office that espouse this kind of extraordinarily narrow and restrictive view of what government is about, then conservatives will find themselves shunted to the sidelines before they know what hits them.

The true believers and ideologues who are angling to overthrow the existing conservative regime will eventually discover that populism, as George Will noted, hasn’t won an election in 187 years. And noble goals do not always translate into success at the ballot box. Government, limited or expansive, must answer the needs of the people. Forgetting or eschewing that fact will lead to marginalization and defeat.



Filed under: Decision 2012, GOP Reform, Politics, War on Terror, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 11:10 am

Tim Pawlenty is a mainstream conservative governor in a traditionally liberal state. When I use the term “mainstream,” I mean simply that he is in the mainstream of Minnesota conservatism - decidedly less conservative than the heart of Republicanism in the south, but conservative enough for most of the rest of the GOP. This alone gives him a decent shot as an alternative to either Palin or Romney in the 2012 primaries.

Reading this long interview in Esquire, I was struck by the governor’s pragmatism and unflappability. Esquire’s Mark Warren threw enough bait into the water that Pawlenty could have easily blundered in his responses. Instead, the Minnesota governor coolly maneuvered through the minefields and came off looking reasonable, and thoughtful.

One thing is for sure; Pawlenty has a very good idea of where the GOP went wrong during their time in the majority:

“The Republicans had their shot not long ago to address the real needs and concerns of everyday Americans, and they blew it…. Over the time that they were there and had the leadership opportunity, they blew it. We got fired for a reason.”

“The party got into a whole bunch of corruption and personal scandals that weren’t compatible with the principles it claimed to stand for.”

“We just lost our way. You can’t say that your hallmark issues are that we’re going to control spending, keep taxes low, and make government accountable, and then go to Washington and do the opposite…. Let’s face it, when Republicans had total control over it, they didn’t do what they said they were gonna do.”

“The marketplace measurement in politics is something called an election…. And in 2006 and 2008, the marketplace was telling the Republicans, We prefer the products and services of your competitors.”

That may still be the case in 2010 if the GOP tries to recycle an agenda better left in the 1980’s. Conservative principles may be deathless, but issues are not. Compared to Palin, Pawlenty has a lot going for him in this regard. Where Palin has a laundry list of resentments that resonate with the base, Pawlenty has a record of achieving concrete results by applying conservative principles to governance. That puts him lightyears ahead of Palin in my book.

Like most GOP governors, Pawlenty is a font of new and innovative ideas when it comes to applying conservative principles to a governing philosophy. Education, health care, mass transit, and other issues important at the state level were addressed to varying degrees by Pawlenty by growing government as little as possible. He also addressed budget shortfalls by generally cutting spending and not raising taxes, although he did raise the cigarette tax and tuition at Minnesota state schools among other “fee” increases to close the budget deficit.

Along with Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, and now Ambassador to China, former Utah governor John Huntsman, Pawlenty represents a new kind of Republican governor - pragmatic leadership buttressed by maintaining good relationships with the legislature, and plugging in conservative policy ideas to address the problems of ordinary people.

If this be the future of Republicanism, bring it on.

This pragmatic conservatism comes through in the Esquire interview as Pawlenty addressed what he would have done about the financial meltdown, a stim bill, and the bailouts:

Whether the threats or doomsday scenarios that were painted were real or partially real or not real at all. We won’t know the answer to that, but we do know that some very bright people said that we faced doomsday, and there were other very bright people who said that, at the very least, the danger was overstated, and this notion that they were too big to fail was untested or untrue.

I’ve argued, at least as it related to the stimulus bill as opposed to TARP, that there were things that we could have and should have done, but it should have been much more targeted. For example, instead of spending $800 billion in a stimulus package, I think we would have gotten much more bang for the buck if we would have done two simple things: focused on tax cuts that would have put cash immediately into the average citizen’s pocket, and two, put money into bread-and-butter infrastructure projects like roads and bridges that could be done quickly. Of the $800 billion stimulus package, only about $50 billion, give or take, actually went into roads and bridges. It was a paltry amount compared to the overall size of the bill.

As for the other bailouts, I did not support the car-company bailout, either. They should have been allowed to go bankrupt — in fact, they [entered] bankruptcy, most of ‘em. That’s the way that they’re going to get most effectively restructured. And I think the same could be said for many of the financial institutions. The idea that we’re gonna bail out every major bank in the country with the exception of Lehman Brothers is ridiculous. Why let Lehman fail and not all the others? These markets have to correct. And the answer can’t be for every problem that emerges as a result of reckless behavior, the government’s gonna come in and bail everybody out. I was talkin’ to people this morning who run small businesses. Where’s their bailout?

The narrative as it is presented today - the trillions we spent on TARP, bailing out the banks, the auto takeover, and the stimulus package - is that without these measures, we would have had a catastrophic, worldwide depression.

As Pawlenty says later, “We’ll never know” if that scenario would have played out if we had allowed the banks to go into bankruptcy, along with the GM and Chrysler (who, as the governor points out, went into bankruptcy anyway), or if the stim, bill had been smaller and more targeted in its spending and tax cuts. Yes, there are many economists who agree with Paul Krugman that Obama saved the world, but there are also many others who disagree to one degree or another. Why their criticisms should be any more or less valid than the dominant narrative that has emerged about these government actions mitigating a crisis is a mystery.

Nor do I believe that the choice was between doing nothing and having the government massively intervene the way it did. That’s a political take on what might have been accomplished short of the trillions in bailout monies advanced by the Fed and the government. The fact is, there was talk at the time of managed bankruptcies, forced mergers, and other measures short of simply handing over money to companies that it was claimed were “too big to fail.” It was never tried, so it is impossible to say if it would have accomplished much of the same thing; i.e., an economy in the toilet but a ruinous depression avoided.

I think Pawlenty is the man to make that case. He supports regulation of the banks, a modified stimulus bill, health care reform, but a firm belief in the idea that market forces are what underlies the American economy:

I think both sides have people who have genuine feelings and beliefs about what they think the proper direction of the country should be. I just think the other side’s wrong. I don’t question motives or assign some sort of label. But I think what President Obama and the Democratic Congress are offering is a dangerous direction for the country. Not just because it’s gonna cost us more, not just because taxes are gonna go up, not just because it expands government, but because of what it does to the American spirit. As I view it, there is an American spirit that is associated with the kinds of attitudes about taking risk, about taking responsibility, about a sense of respect for the private market and the power that it has in creating and rewarding wealth. The government doesn’t do that — the government redistributes, but it doesn’t actually create wealth or prosperity. And the health-care debate is a pretty good proxy for this struggle between these two views. And in the case of the Republicans, what they see and what they’re rightly concerned about is that it’s another increment down the road toward government taking over more and more things. And it worries people.

Is Obama a socialist?

You know, I don’t think name-calling is helpful. I’ve done my share of that, so I’m not Pollyannaish about how the political process works. But as a general proposition, I think these are serious times, the country’s in significant danger, and I think we need people who are thoughtful. We’re gonna have sharp differences, but we need to debate those in a way that’s constructive and civil. I think President Obama is governing as a movement liberal. I don’t think that rises to the level of being a socialist.

This puts Pawlenty in the mainstream of conservatism in about 75% of the country - and proves that he can handle a hostile interviewer. (Warren spent a lot of time making statements that defended Obama, much less time asking Pawlenty any questions that might reveal something about the man.)

Beyond that, note that he makes a classic defense of conservative principles against the onslaught of liberal orthodoxy on growing the size of government to meet challenges. And he frames this argument in terms of American exceptionalism - the “American Spirit” he calls it - while clearly delineating between the role of government and the role of private citizens.

Clearly, Pawlenty has given these issues and concepts a great deal of thought. This comes out in his statement on why he might run in 2012:

I think the country’s in trouble. And I think I have a pretty clear sense of the values and principles that have made this country great. I’ve had a chance to govern and lead with those in mind, with some significant success in Minnesota. And I think the country needs that kind of leadership and insight and perspective. So through my PAC, I’m going to share my beliefs across the country. And I’m gonna take the next year to see how that goes and make my decision late in 2010 or in early 2011.

His bid is still a very long shot. He will not generate the kind of excitement that Sarah Palin would if she chooses to run, nor will he possess the bottomless resources of a Romney should Mitt choose to throw his hat into the ring again. He will not capture much of the Republican base, nor attract much interest in the south generally speaking. He is not an inspiring speaker by any means.

But Pawlenty is a candidate brimming with ideas, and an idea of what kind of leadership the country needs right now. How far that will take him is anyone’s guess.



Filed under: GOP Reform, Politics, Tea Parties, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 11:16 am

Should the tea party movement be seen as a phenomenon as large and consequential as another Great Awakening?

Glenn Reynolds thinks so:

I attended this past weekend’s National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, and I came away feeling that I had seen something important. The Tea Party movement is part of something bigger: America’s Third Great Awakening.

America’s prior Great Awakenings, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, were religious in nature. Unimpressed with self-serving, ossified, and often corrupt religious institutions, Americans responded with a bottom-up reassertion of faith, and independence.

This time, it’s different. It’s not America’s churches and seminaries that are in trouble: It’s America’s politicians and parties. They’ve grown corrupt, venal, and out-of-touch with the values, and the people, that they’re supposed to represent. So the people, once again, are reasserting themselves.

Mr. Reynolds is incorrect. The Great Awakenings were very much about politics - so much so that the First Great Awakening is seen as the first stirrings of what historian Page Smith refers to as an “American consciousness.” For the first time in colonial America, a clear distinction was widely sensed between the highly stratified society in England and America’s more egalitarian, less class oriented social structure. It had a profound impact on most of the Founders who saw “moral behavior” as the true value in evaluating an individual’s worth, not his class.

The importance of this political awakening cannot be underestimated. Before we could sever our ties to Mother England, the colonists had to make the leap of logic that we were a separate people deserving of our own country. The Great Awakening was not only about renewal and reform of religion and its institutions, but also the notion that the unmistakable hand of God was at work in forging a new people, a new “race,” unsullied by the infection of aristocracy and class-based social conventions.

Admittedly, Mr. Reynolds used the term “Great Awakening”more as a metaphor than a straight comparative concept to describe the tea party movement’s importance in America.

But even as a metaphor, it doesn’t hold water. The tea party movement may be more popular than the Republican party with voters (more than both parties by independents) according to this Rasmussen poll but it is hard to see how this nebulous, self-described “bottom up” political movement can translate those good feelings into the kind of massive political power that it would take to upset the establishment in either party.

This is especially true since, despite protestations to the contrary, at least some of the tea party organizational structure is being absorbed into the Republican party - as it was always intended by establishment politicians who fed the nascent movement over the last year with cash and organizational resources. The tea party embrace of Scott Brown’s candidacy in Massachusetts revealed to what lengths some in the movement had been co-opted.

Brown’s “fiscal conservatism” runs a mile wide and an inch deep, as he will shortly prove as he takes his seat in the senate. As an alternative to the clueless Coakley, he was fine. But to imbue the senator with qualities that he has never demonstrated in his political career was either the product of wishful thinking or deliberate self-delusion. Brown is plenty conservative enough - for Massachusetts. But it is at least possible that if the Democrats re-work health care reform, he might vote in favor of it. And if the Democrats jigger cap and trade, he could vote for that too. He may even be persuaded to vote for a modified card check bill.

Brown, of course, played to the sunny side of conservatives during the course of his campaign, giving tea partiers what they wanted to hear while downplaying some of his more problematic positions on the issues. That’s politics, children. This is a politician who no more wants to “shrink” the overall size of government than any other inside the beltway, establishment legislator. A rebel, he is not. An independent conservative, he is. And what he means by “independent” is that he rejects conservative litmus tests that would pigeonhole him as the kind of revanchist politician favored by many in the tea party movement.

If Brown has been elevated to hero status despite his true colors being decidedly less conservative/libertarian than some of his supporters give him credit, what about the impact the tea party movement might have on Republican politics?


And the biggest action item that she presented the crowd with wasn’t to support Sarah Palin, as most politicians would have asked, but to challenge incumbents in primary races. Primary battles aren’t “civil war,” she said. They’re the kind of competition that produces strength in the end.

This seemed to resonate with what I heard from conference attendees. Over and over again, I heard from Tea Party Activists that they were planning to take over their local Republican (and, sometimes Democratic) party apparatus starting at the precinct level and shake things up.

The sense was that party politics have been run for the benefit of the party insiders and hangers-on, not for the benefit of constituents and ideals. And most of the conference, in fact, was addressed to doing something about that, not to worship of Sarah Palin, with sessions on organizing, media skills, and the like.

First of all, I doubt whether “most politicians” would have addressed the convention asking if they could be their leader - at least none with any brains. Most tea partiers have made it clear time and time again that they wish no “leader,” but rather want to remain a nebulously organized entity with ill defined goals. Most politicians would know that and, like Palin, steer clear of overtly trying to hijack the movement for their own ends.

And primary battles aren’t “civil wars” unless that is the perception advanced by the media. ‘Nuff said there. I love the civil war going on in Florida right now with a real up and coming conservative Marco Rubio taking it to the too comfortable Bush/Republican establishment. Sometimes, civil wars are good in that they clear away the deadwood and infuse new ideas, new personalities into a party.

But Florida is an open seat race and hence, a perfect battleground for this sort of thing. Not so in some other races where a GOP incumbent would be challenged by a tea party conservative. Certainly there are allowances to be made when a conservative goes against a moderate in primaries, although just as an example, I don’t think that J.D. Hayworth is the best choice to face off against John McCain.

My point is that it is lunacy to support every insurgent against every perceived RINO across the board. Like Scott Brown, some of those moderates are the best you’re going to get from the GOP in that state. Unless you think like Jim DeMint - that it would be better to “have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs…” then you have reconciled yourself not only to minority status, but also the passage of Obama’s far left agenda. The fact that Scott Brown does indeed have a set of beliefs - except they are at odds with DeMint’s narrow, parochial view of conservatism - won’t stop a lot of tea partiers from pushing for candidates who are simply too far to the right to win a statewide contest.

Yeah - but you’ll sure show them moderate RINO’s somfin, huh?

How prevalent is this attitude among the vast tea party universe? Hopefully, there are practical heads who will recognize that picking and choosing one’s fights is better than trying to nuke the party establishment because they fail some rigid, ideological benchmarks artificially imposed from outside a district or state. Questions like “How limited should government be?” will be answered differently by different conservatives across the country. Penalizing those who fail to live up to some conservatives’ ideas of a 19th century American template for “limited government” will only bring failure to the movement’s efforts.

This “Awakening” that Mr. Reynolds writes about may come about eventually. If it does, it will be the result of hard, slogging work performed by activists who eschew any kind of leadership model and rely on enthusiasm and fervent belief in their cause. It’s been done before. Look at the Democrats prior to 1968 and then view the party after McGovern’s debacle in 1972. The rioters in 1968 ended up sitting on the convention floor in 1972. And they didn’t get there because they were invited by the old-line, southern dominated Democratic party establishment.

We need more good conservatives in both parties. But is the tea party movement the right vehicle to realize that goal?



I’ve been wanting to write about this for two weeks but didn’t find the time to think it through until the last couple of days.

James Poulos at American Scene (formerly Political Editor at Culture 11), writes provocatively about taxes:

The forceful way in which the tea partiers are putting this conservative resistance at the center of our political debate today should remind us of what went wrong for Republicans during the two Bush presidencies. The Bush presidents, different in so many ways, both turned the GOP toward corporatism in a way that significantly limited their success as candidates and presidents. (Reagan had neither problem. This is the root of Reagan nostalgia.) The lesson is a simple one: first and foremost, the Republican party is supposed to deliver not economic nor cultural but political goods.

The tea partiers, in insisting that economic policy derives from and reflects political principles, and not the other way around, help make this clear. Take taxes. When taxes are too many and too high, the economy suffers. But, as this decade has brutally taught us, taxes do not necessarily enrich the state, but they always aggrandize it. The evil of taxes is not primarily economic but political. When a government learns how to use taxes to coerce, control, and manage the behavior of its citizens, a country is placed on a perilous road — not to serfdom, necessarily, but to tyranny, a tyranny that lords over even the rich and famous, even when they happen to profit from its favor. The GOP is supposed to keep this kind of tyranny at bay, and when it comes near, the GOP is supposed to ward it off.

It’s in this regard that, over the past ten years, the GOP has failed. The trouble with RINOs is that, in their liberalism, they are often either blind to the threat of tyranny or they do not really see it as a problem. This is not because they ‘fail to understand the nature’ of tyranny. Tyrannical regimes can rule over dynamic, exciting societies, over huge numbers of people full of promise and purpose. They can focus resources on big challenges and execute amazing feats of efficiency and publicity. Just ask the growing number of American commentators suffering from China envy.

How does government use the tax code to “to coerce, control, and manage the behavior of its citizens…?” Let me count the ways. The government has declared smoking to be a hazard to your health and taxes the beejeebees out of it to discourage you from taking it up and encouraging you to quit. Coming soon, a federal tax on sugary sodas, salty snacks, fast food - again, trying to control your eating habits to keep you trim, slim, and out of the doctor’s office where you will be a drain on the health care system like other obese people.

Of course, the code is replete with such examples of government encouraging or discouraging - i.e. trying to control - behavior and Poulos, in what I see as some very original thinking, makes a case that real conservatives should oppose such laboratory experiments:

Moreover, liberals of any party seeking primarily to foster or facilitate cultural change typically have little desire to focus their attention, much less their careers, on preventing the government from aggrandizing itself. A government that routinely manages economic behavior through its economic policy is well able to routinely manage social and personal behavior that way. In theory, there’s no reason why lots of Republicans can’t be ‘socially liberal but fiscally conservative.’ In practice, social liberals, of any party, have a vested interest in a government that rules not only by law but by economics.

In fact, tea partiers help everyone understand that ‘fiscal conservatism’ is a misleading phrase. A ‘fiscal conservative’ is for balanced budgets and well-calibrated taxes and against wasteful spending. A tyrannical government, if it has any brains, is for solvency and efficiency too. ‘Fiscal conservatism’ can license the aggrandizement and abuse of government power. It might be necessary to economic conservatism, but it isn’t sufficient. Alone, it isn’t conservatism at all, and under the right conditions, ‘fiscal conservatism’ can actually destroy its namesake.

By granting a homeowner the ability to write off interest paid on their home loan, isn’t the government encouraging a certain kind of economic behavior? Of course they are. And this is where I’m not sure Mr. Poulos’s thesis holds. The macro effect of lots of home buying is a net plus for society in that such a large chunk of the economy is related to the care and feeding of our domiciles. Buying a home helps create a demand for more homes - residences that need to be built, furnished, and maintained. Do the resulting economic benefits outweigh the clear desire of government to “control” our behavior? Or is this comparing apples and oranges - freedom and tyranny?

How about the old fashioned dependent deduction? When it was at $500 in the 1950’s, it could be argued that this sum, realized through savings on a parent’s income tax bill, was subsidizing the feeding, clothing, and education of children of that era because the amount paid for a significant portion of a child’s needs. Coming from a family of 10 kids, I can testify to its efficacy in encouraging child bearing.

I think Mr. Poulos is enough of a realist to see that some of these “targeted” tax schemes aren’t necessarily “tyrannical” in the sense that we trade liberty for security by embracing them. The net effect is that the community is served by writing exemptions and subsidies into the tax code that benefit almost everyone. If a desired end in promulgating this kind of behavior modification is a better community - and the examples above regarding home interest and child deductions would seem to fit that model - whatever danger there is that government is aggrandized is mitigated by the net gain for society.

The problem - and I think Mr. Poulos would agree - is that such beneficence comes from the central government, rather than local political authorities. In a more perfect world, this might matter more than it does. But I think it unrealistic to expect that the desired community improvements can be granted or realized by any political entity save the largest - that being the federal government. If that government aggrandizes power unto itself as a result of these incentivizing measures - and this is true given that the increased employment and business activity brings in additional tax revenue - it is the consequence of consensus within the community of the beneficial nature of these schemes and not a power grab by the feds.

But the president’s tax cut proposals for small business might be a different matter:

The proposal, similar to plans he pitched during the presidential campaign and last year in Washington, would give employers a $5,000 tax credit for every net new worker hired this year and reimburse businesses for the Social Security payroll taxes they pay when they increase payrolls faster than inflation.


Though all businesses will be eligible, the administration would keep the focus on small companies by limiting the total maximum credit to $500,000 per employer. The payroll tax credit would be based on Social Security payrolls, and wouldn’t apply to wage increases above the current taxable maximum of $106,800.

Start-up firms would be eligible for half the credit, which the White House calls the “Small Business Jobs and Wages Tax Cut.”

Here is an example of the federal government artificially creating a demand for new workers by, in effect, attempting to influence the business decisions of individual firms. It’s not coercion, but is it tyranny? Given the $30 billion price tag, I can guarantee the measures will not enjoy the same level of support in the community as the home interest tax write off. And the chances that the the benefits will be as widespread as the child deduction are very small.

In this case, according to Mr. Poulos’s provocative thesis, you could say that the federal government is indeed aggrandizing power and influence at the expense of the community. In hard economic times, this may be accepted by the majority but that doesn’t make the power grab any less “tyrannical.”

The idea that the way our tax code is written can lead to a kind of tyranny is connected to the kind of society in which we have made for ourselves. Alexis de Tocqueville was quite enamored of our national mania to tinker with everything in order to make it more serviceable or valuable. It is only natural that this idea would find its way to government - that we can tinker with society through the tax code’s incentive/disincentive structure in order to improve the life of the citizen by modifying his behavior, and punishing poor choices.

But almost every time we “target” tax cuts, or incentivize certain behaviors at the federal level, we pay a price by ceding personal liberty and responsibility to government. And government becomes richer, and more controlling because of it. Some conservatives, as Poulos points out, are not immune to proposing these tax schemes. But his point that “economic policy derives from and reflects political principles, and not the other way around” is well taken.

Generally speaking, the tax code should be used for the purpose of raising revenue and not trying to modify human behavior. If Republicans keep that in mind the next time voters grant them the power to govern, we’ll all be better off for it.



Filed under: Politics, conservative reform, health care reform — Rick Moran @ 10:59 am

My post yesterday drew the usual praise and congratulations from some of my friends on the right. I am always heartened when such open mindedness, thoughtfulness, and attention to nuance pours forth from such a perspicacious crew. They always reinforce my core beliefs about many conservatives who have set themselves up as gatekeepers and arbiters of acceptable thought.

And I am heartily glad that I make a conscious effort to eschew their anti-intellectual, anti-reason, pro-conformist worldview.

Disagreeing with someone because you believe they are wrong is fine. Posing counter-arguments based on logic and rationalism is the goal of enlightened discussion. But trying to suppress, or otherwise condemn reasonable points of view by making unsupportable attacks on my intellectual integrity and character bespeaks a mind incapable of prudent, reflective discourse.

Every now and then, the bilious rants, unthinking diatribes, and ignorant bombast directed at me by legions of right wing conformists becomes too much to ignore and I feel that some kind of response is necessary. The trap, of course, is that complaining about it automatically brands one as a “whiner.” This tactic, employed by those without the chops to argue on the merits of the proposition thus shielding themselves from their own stuporous inanity, is similar to the left’s stratagem of calling anyone who disagrees with Obama a “racist,” - an ironic juxtaposition for the ages.

I reject the idea that talking about the ugliness, the stupidity, the outright fallaciousness of one’s detractors is indicative of “whining.” I consider it a large part of my continuing critique of modern conservatism. After all, the whole point of their philippics are that I am not a conservative - by their shallow and benighted definition of the term.

I suppose I shouldn’t let it bother me after all these years but celebrating one’s own ignorance by glorying in ad hominem attacks is more than an internet phenomenon. It is the same kind of crap pushed by Hannity, Limbaugh, and other cotton candy conservatives whose influence on the base is so profound. Parroting such louts does not make one sound intelligent. It makes you sound like, well, a parrot who’s been taught to screech obscenities.

Yeah I’m guilty of the same thing at times in response. I’ve tried being reasonable in the past and it’s like talking to a brick wall. I’m supposed to be “reasonable” in responding to this?

It was the Tea Party Movement that just won Mass…and…and…I was going to put something in that was nasty. But victories by the Real Roots of Conservatism, that part which doesn’t require big names and big money to be successful, make me giggle about some of the sanctimonious posts you have made, Rick.

LOL! :giggle:

Do you really think you have a part in the future of conservatism? And if you do…why?

Can an adult reason with a two year old? I would think a spanking would be more to the point.

The ugly truth is, many who call themselves “conservative” today haven’t a clue what that means - not because they disagree with me but because their conformist mentality - the palpable fear of being caught thinking differently than the cool conservatives on the radio and TV - drives them to view any deviation from what they know as “conservatism” as enemy propaganda. Nuance is suspect because conservatism is something you should feel in your gut, not reason out with your mind. And for many, intellectualism equals elitism - the “ism” most in bad odor these days.

Allow me to say that I am pleased as punch at Scott Brown’s stunning win yesterday. I am buoyed by the fact that in 6 months, I will still feel that way while the overwhelming majority of my detractors will be spitting blood at Brown for being a traitorous wretch, a RINO, an apostate, and an ungrateful lout.

Tom Blumer:

The worries about Brown’s vulnerability to selling out only grow when one learns, as Politico reported on Monday, that Brown’s campaign was “filled with staffers who once worked” for Romney. Expect Romney, who I believe is the only potential GOP presidential candidate guaranteed to lose in 2012 if nominated, to take major credit within party circles for Brown’s win in an attempt to revive his flagging viability and to quietly attempt to minimize the importance of tea partiers and others on the ground and throughout the country who did the dirty work. Sadly, top-echelon Republican leaders are still enamored of Romney based on his money and supposed charm. They don’t call it the Stupid Party without reason.

“Selling out?” To whom? For what? I think it significant that Brown did not utter the words “tea party” last night in his acceptance speech. The base may have rallied to his candidacy but to believe that Brown would commit political suicide in Massachusetts by redefining himself in the image of a Rush Limbaugh conservative is idiocy. For about 80% of the country, Scott Brown is plenty conservative enough; a fiscal hawk, supporting tax cuts, against Obamacare, and interested in a robust but reasonable kind of federalism.

But in a couple of months, the Blumers of the movement will realize that Brown also believes in - gasp! - spending tax money on stuff like education, alternative energy, infrastructure, and unholy of unholies, health care reform. This will be enough for apoplexy to set in among some conservatives who either didn’t bother to read where this guy is coming from, or who believed that because “true conservatives” supported him, he’d change his stripes and start thinking as they do.

A telling poll done by Rasmussen on how Bay State voters viewed Brown:

In the end, Brown pulled off the upset in large part because he won unaffiliated voters by a 73% to 25% margin. The senator-elect also picked up 23% of the vote from Democrats. [Our polling shows that 53% of voters in Massachusetts are Democrats, 21% Republican and 26% not affiliated with either party.]


Twenty-eight percent (28%) say Brown is Very Conservative politically; 44% say he’s Somewhat Conservative, and 22% view him as a political moderate.

Two-thirds of Brown’s fellow Massachusettians see him as a moderate conservative or a political moderate. And how much further left are political independents in Massachusetts than anywhere else in the country? When Brown ends up disappointing those who believe he is the future of the Republican party due to his strong conservative beliefs, they will have only themselves to blame. Blinding oneself to reality is what many conservatives are all about these days.

And Scott Brown will pay the price for their myopia.



Filed under: Decision '08, Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 12:05 pm

This is the second and final part of my effort to explain why much of conservatism has lost touch with reality. Part I is here.

When I was a younger man, living and working in the early years of Reagan’s Washington, I fell in with a group of guys who mixed penny ante poker nights with discussions of politics and political philosophy.

We were not the Algonquin Round Table, that’s for sure. But in between the sounds of ice clinking in glasses filled with good scotch, and chips being tossed into the pot, a colloquy of sorts would develop about the issues of the day.

I should mention that I was definitely on the low end of the scale when it came to brain power in this bunch. In our group were a couple of congressional aides, some crack lobbyists, an AEI fellow, and two guys who were studying for advanced degrees at George Washington University in Public Administration. I think the rest of them allowed me to hang around to provide comic relief. Otherwise, I was (at the time) royally outclassed.

No matter. My job, as I saw it, was to challenge the assumptions held by these bright young men by playing devil’s advocate in fleshing out the underlying rationale for their positions. More often than not, my attempts were met with groans of “here he goes again,” and not a few guffaws. But at the time, I was not very well read and couldn’t contribute to the scintillating arguments being advanced by my more learned colleagues.

These were exciting times in Washington. The intellectual ferment on the right was incredible with ideas and proposals bubbling and frothing at think tanks, policy hubs, and even bull sessions like the one with which I was involved. There was a lot of cross pollination of ideas as a proposal from one source would be captured by another, improved upon, and perhaps even fiddled with by a third before ending up in Congress or the White House as a serious policy alternative.

The bottom line is that there were no litmus tests, no question of being forced to conform to a certain worldview. The open, free exchange of ideas was done without fear that someone else would step forward and accuse you of not being “conservative enough.” The arguments back then were no less passionate, but there was an underlying respect for those with which you disagreed.

I may be romanticizing this period a bit but I think that essentially, this captures the spirit in conservative salons and other centers of thought at the time. With no internet, and only a few media outlets (NRO and Human Events being most prominent), the dynamic of discussion allowed for a free wheeling exploration of issues and principles from all angles. The idea that anything proposed or said might brand one an “apostate” never entered our thought processes.

Is the state of conservatism today even remotely similar? I would challenge anyone who thought so. The dead hand of conformity has settled over conservatism with consequences that have yet to fully play out. There is no room in modern conservatism for anything except rote ideology. This catechism brooks no deviation lest any introspection reveal how weak and wildly contradictory what passes for conservative thought has become.

Case in point; my inclusion of some criticisms by liberal Sam Tannenhaus in my piece from yesterday. Apparently, my belief that Tannenhaus has anything useful to say with regard to conservatism makes me some kind of closet liberal. The feeling among some conservatives appears to be that anything written about conservatism by any liberal is useless, and believing otherwise makes one a dupe, or worse.

I don’t know how widespread that belief is on the right but judging by comments I have received in the past, it is not uncommon at all. Rejecting criticism based solely on the ideology of an author is anti-intellectual and anti-reason. Despite making the point that Tannehaus - someone who I believe to have made an honest attempt to track the decline of conservatism in a systematic, logical manner - gives us a critique that overall, is seriously flawed. But does this mean that every single criticism he made was invalid simply because he’s a liberal?

I reject that notion and point to this response of some conservatives as evidence that the excessively ideological prism by which many on the right look at the world causes them to abandon reason and logic, substituting a comforting credo that cannot be amended.

Liberals have their own problems along this line. Rigidity of thought is not confined to those on the right. But this attitude still begs the question; can anything be done by anybody to lift conservatism out of this moribund state and set it on a path to where it can claim the high ground based on honesty, prudence, and a clear eyed view of the world as it truly is?

I believe there is hope to be found in a small group of very smart, very talented younger conservatives who may be able to bridge the divide in conservatism’s factions while re-establishing a reality-based paradigm that sees America as the rest of the non-conservative country sees her.

As an example, I would point to the deceased website Culture 11 as a place were young writers were nurtured and given a chance to flex their intellects to delve into subjects you rarely see discussed on blogs or other conservative media. The site was provocative, unconventional, and scandalously unorthodox. They even had the occasional liberal write for them, which raised the hackles of true conservatives everywhere.

I realize I am heading into dangerous territory by bringing up Culture 11. Some of the writers at the site regularly challenged conservative dogma - a mortal sin to many on the right who hate having their assumptions questioned by anyone, even a conservative. And Culture 11 writers like Conor Friedersdorf and James Poulos are are in bad odor with most who consider themselves “real” conservatives, largely because they sometimes speak well of liberals and take a decidedly less ideological approach to their writings.

But Culture 11 had huge problems that it could never overcome; first and foremost, they could never quite figure out what kind of publication they wanted to be. Failure flowed from that one premise, as this autopsy by Washington Monthly’s Charles Homans points out:

This had a lot to do with the fact that Culture11’s editorial brain trust was made up of people who had little concern for—or at least needed a breather from—the self-immolating Hindenburg of movement conservatism. Kuo had proclaimed his own disenchantment in Tempting Faith. Friedersdorf was concerned with improving journalism, not creating a permanent Republican majority. Political editor James Poulos, a PhD candidate in government at Georgetown who describes his dissertation subject as “the alluring puzzle of the Napoleonic soul,” was far too idiosyncratic in his own politics. Arts editor Peter Suderman was a libertarian who in the last frenzied days of the election spent a whole column arguing that voting was stupid. Having no claim to any particular ideological niche, Culture11 tried to corral them all in the same room and get them talking to each other. “People talk about the conservative circular firing squad—I think we see ourselves as a demilitarized zone,” Friedersdorf told me. “There is nothing like an agreement on our staff that would allow us to claim a slice of anything.” The result, perhaps inevitably, lacked a real sense of identity, but it also offered the closest thing political journalism had to a controlled experiment.

In such a free wheeling atmosphere, quality was bound to be uneven. But what excited me about Culture 11 was that a real attempt was being made to break out of the echo chamber conservative media had largely become. The writing was fresh, and the ideas presented challenged conventional wisdom.

Admittedly, my own taste in cultural critiques tends more toward The New Criterion and its mix of policy and cultural criticism. But what kept me coming back to Culture 11 was that the writers were willing to take chances. In a conservative culture so addicted to conformity, it took some courage to place yourself outside the box and approach subject matter from an entirely new perspective.

Of course, this meant that many of those writers were given short shrift by mainstream conservatives. RedState eventually banned any links to the site which is inexplicable unless you realize that this kind of anti-intellectualism is rampant on the right today. Refusing to be exposed to alternative viewpoints is the essence of ignorance and only proves my point again about a large portion of conservatism being out of touch with reality.

Ross Douthat believes that younger conservative writers tend to me more heterodox, less wedded to the ideology of movement conservatives:

Moreover, part of what creates the air of heterodoxy among the young turks is the fact that many of the young conservative writers I’m thinking of (again, myself included) are still experimenting with a wide range of topics, and haven’t settled into the kind of groove (or rut) that most successful pundits and public intellectuals eventually find themselves slipping into. In this sense, at least some of the ideological conformity that you see among old older right-wingers on, say, foreign policy is really just ideological conformity among those older right-wingers who dilate regularly about foreign policy.

What makes some of these younger conservatives different than their elders isn’t their position on issues, which is decidedly conservative, but rather their willingness to examine and criticize assumptions upon which those issues rest. This imparts a breath of fresh air much needed if conservatives are to return to their roots, embrace freedom of thought, and move beyond the narrow confines that conservatism has boxed itself into by rejecting reason and logic in favor of emotionalism and ideology.

The Culture 11 writers have scattered to the 4 winds with some moving on to smaller publications like Reason Magazine or The American Conservative. Friedersdorf and a couple of other Culture 11 alumni are now blogging at American Scene, among other places. But their impact will continue to be felt. It may take a decade or more, but eventually these and other writers will take their place in the forefront of conservative thought.

Will they be any more welcome then than they are today? A couple of more electoral smash ups like 2008 may be the catalyst that shakes conservatism out of its conformist stupor and forces the right to begin listening to those with a more realistic outlook on America and conservatism itself.



Filed under: Culture, Decision '08, General, History, Politics, Tenth Amendment, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 11:20 am

Another in my series of puny attempts to dissect what’s wrong with modern conservatism. Part II will appear tomorrow.

I debated whether or not to make this a piece about “some conservatives” eschewing reality for an alternate universe or if I should make it about much of modern conservatism’s disconnect from the reality of 21st century America.

In the end, I think it is more important to look at how conservatism as a philosophy has closed itself off so thoroughly from uncomfortable and inconvenient truths about America. The fringe players in the movement with their litmus tests and dreams of going bear hunting with Sarah Palin are not really the problem as I see it.

Their worldview, shaped as it is by wallowing in the echo chamber of conservative media, and warped by a naive and ultimately uninformed ideological prism through which they spout nonsensical, paranoid conspiracies, may be relevant to the political health of the right but has little to do with the breakdown of conservatism as a governing philosophy itself.

In this case, it is conservatism losing its ability to question itself in a rigorous and punishing manner, preferring to maintain a comfort zone in which certain shibboleths of the past rest easily on the mind and prevent the kind of examination of underlying assumptions that any set of philosophical principles needs to maintain touch with the real world.

One might argue that the problem is really with people who hold to those philosophical principles and their refusal to challenge their beliefs. I don’t think this is necessarily true. You can’t sneeze these days without tripping over someone on the right indulging in the kind of “Woe is us” pontificating. I should know. I do it often enough. One would think with all this angst, some truths about why conservatism is where it is today and how it got there would emerge. So far, I have been unimpressed.

There have been some valiant attempts, most notably after Sam Tannenhaus’s Death of Conservatism was published. Rejecting much of Tannenhaus’s critique (as most conservatives should), the author nevertheless wallops a couple of extra base hits while socking at least one, long home run in his analysis; that modern movement conservatism isn’t very conservative at all in that it seeks to overthrow the social order rather than conserve what is best about America while channeling change into productive venues consistent with tradition and the Constitution.

Tannenhaus refers to these right wingers as “revanchists.” Indeed, there is a strong impulse even among so called “reasonable conservatives” that FDR’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society need to be repealed or drastically curtailed. In it’s place? There things get kind of fuzzy but what emerges from many conservatives is some kind of “super federalism” where a souped up 10th Amendment would give us 50 different EPA’s or worse, where “market forces” would solve the problems of clean air and clean water.

That’s just one example, of course. And I should hasten to add that any good conservative supports a reasonable brand of federalism, not to mention a prudent regard for liberty and the taxpayer’s money that would force us to question the efficacy of hundreds if not thousands of federal programs. But, what many of the revanchists seek is not a “return” to first principles in the Constitution but rather a form of government more akin to an Articles of Confederation on steroids.

Another Tannenhaus point scored deals with the notion that movement conservatives positively hate government - government of any kind. It goes far beyond the healthy suspicion that all conservatives should possess of the positive impact government programs can have on society, and devolves into paranoia about any government program or effort to address stubborn national problems.

Here is where conservatism itself goes off the rails and feeds this paranoia, preventing conservative ideas from being brought to bear on national issues like health care, immigration, loss of industry, globalization, and adequate, sensible regulation of everything from financial institutions to the environment.

For it is not necessarily people who have become hostile to government but rather conservatism as a governing philosophy that has walled itself into a corner, refusing to confront a modern America that is less white, less agrarian, more urbanized, more technical, and developing a growing tolerance for government solutions to prickly, systemic problems experienced by ordinary Americans.

That last is the killer. Since the end of World War II and the rise of modern conservatism, it is been de rigueur for the right to promote the idea that government can be cut down to size, shrunk to an ill-defined outline that bears more of a resemblance to 19th century America than a modern society with all the miseries and challenges that reality entails.

The thrust of conservative critiques of the welfare state from Hayek to Kirk to Reagan has been that government is bigger than it should be as a result of it trying to do more than is necessary for the functioning of a constitutional republic. Indeed, a strict constructionist reading of the Constitution would cause anyone to question the manufactured justifications for everything from overly zealous government interference in commerce to the legislating of cultural issues from the bench. Conservatives rightly believe that “original intent” are not dirty words and that First Principles are in many ways as valid today as they were 220 years ago.

But over the decades, conservatism lost its flexibility in delineating a coarse ideology from this philosophy. By this I mean that conservatism has eschewed thoughtfulness for conformity. I’m not sure if you can actually pinpoint a moment where ideology trumped reason, although my personal line in the sand was the 1992 Republican convention and the rise of the culture warriors.

But that may have been the denouement to a decade or more of slow rot eating away at the foundations of a carefully nurtured worldview that fought for principle while recognizing that America was changing and that conservatism as a governing philosophy must change with it. The idea of reforming government - Reagan’s grand notion of a New Federalism, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and freer people - died in the fires of a cultural backlash that has come to define modern conservatism.

This is where conservatism lost touch with reality. The moment that the war itself became more important than the principles espoused, all semblance of rationality was tossed out the window and in its stead arose a mindless, knee jerk opposition to government and, of course, the left. As the living embodiment of Big Government, liberals became an enemy and not the political opposition. Rather than fighting to apply conservative principles to the art and artifice of government, the right chose to immolate reason, and turn its back on the reality of modern American in order to destroy their enemies.

As practiced by the most influential conservatives today, this is what passes for conservative thought. Tannenhaus correctly surmised that movement conservatism has won the battle against the pragmatists and now dominates the conservative discussion. I don’t agree with what he believes this fact necessarily portends for the future - a continued decline in influence and relevance of the right. In fact, as I will show tomorrow, there is cause for some hope that younger, more intellectually muscular conservatives who are questioning everything while searching for a new conservative paradigm that would re-integrate movement conservatives into a re-energized whole, may be the beginning of a conservative revival.

Tomorrow: Reports of the death of Culture 11 have been greatly exaggerated.



Filed under: CPAC Conference, Decision 2010, Palin, Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 10:47 am

I don’t know who’s advising her at this point, but Sarah Palin is making some shrewd political moves lately that are likely to vault her into a very favorable position as leader of the only real “reform” faction in the Republican party.

Since the publication of Going Rogue, Palin has demonstrated an understanding not only her core constituency, but has slightly redefined her public image to allow a broader cross section of conservatives to embrace her. This has caused her poll numbers to rise and increase her standing with what passes for the reformist element in the Republican party.

But the question will be for Palin is who is driving who? The way the Tea Party folks want to “reform” the Republican party is to toss out those members of congress who fail to live up to their impossible standards of conservate ideology. Political professionals realize that this would mean a smaller party, not a larger one.

And herein lies Palin’s dilemma; must she embrace the reformers concept of “true conservatism” and thus emerge as a bona fide leader of a movement that may shrink the party? Or should she promote a more mainstream conservatism and eschews litmus tests while seeking support from some of the party insiders?

Apparently, she has made a choice; Palin will forgo speaking at CPAC this year and instead, address the even more conservative Southern Republican Leadership Conference. By dumping on CPAC - what passes for a “mainstream” conservative gathering today even with the John Birch Society co-sponsoring - Palin is sending the message that the conservative elites who run the conference and dominate its programs will have to go through her to get the support of the conservative base. She is setting herself up to be the pivot by which the current party leadership in Washington will be able to utilize the enthusiasm and commitment of the tea partiers to help the GOP.

For more traditional conservatives like Pawlenty and Romney, the road to the White House will go through Sarah Palin.

The significance of her appearance at the SRLC as opposed to CPAC is plain; the party’s strength now resides in the south while the southern brand of conservative ideology dominates among the base nationwide. As I have described it, Palin’s natural constituency lies with the anti-elite, anti-intellectual ideologues who believe they are putting “principle” ahead of politics but end up sacrificing both for a stultifying “purity” that bears no relation to political realities outside of the southern base. Palin made that plain in her dismissal of the CPAC invite:

A source close to the Palin camp says that request led to a decision to stay away from the upcoming CPAC conference, calling it a forum that will place “special interests over core beliefs” and “pocketbook over policy.”

“That’s not what CPAC should be about and people are tiring,” the source said. “Palin is taking a stance against this just as she did in Alaska.”

When asked about the move, Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton said: “We support those who advance our core beliefs and lead by principle.”

To say this is monumentally naive and stupid would be to repeat what ACU president David Keene has said of Palin in the past:

Keene has criticized Palin in the conservative press, telling Newsmax in July that she was “whining” about her press coverage and was not yet ready for primetime.

“Conservatives like her, but you’ve got to have more than that,” Keene told the outlet. “You’ve got to be more than a rock star. If in fact she’s interested in the presidency, she has got to establish herself as someone you can envision in the Oval Office. And it’s become more difficult to envision than it was at the time of the election.”

The base can envision her in the Oval Office because they believe that Palin’s very ordinariness - her demonstrable unfitness for the presidency - is just what the country and conservatism needs. Who cares if she knows less about foreign policy than my bartender? What need have we of a president who can articulate an agenda, speak beyond simple-minded talking points on issues, and grasp the nuance of governance when it is obvious that her gut instincts are so swell?

There are good arguments to be made that the GOP elite is out of touch with ordinary Americans and that some Republican members of congress need to be retired. But when logic, reason, and even a modicum of pragmatism are tossed out the window at the same time as the dead wood and drift wood, there is no meaningful “reform” to be had. Instead, flying squads of political executioners will move into suspect party regulars’ districts (as well as the growing number of open races), and put their stamp of approval on candidates likely to be slaughtered in the general election.

If Palin sides completely with these “reformers,” she doesn’t lose anything, judging by this informal poll of party insiders:

A poll of GOP insiders suggests that ex-AK Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has little support among the party’s professional class — and maybe that’s just how she wants it.

In a survey of 109 party leaders, political professionals and pundits, Palin finished 5th on the list of candidates most likely to win the party’s ‘12 WH nomination. Ex-MA Gov. Mitt Romney (R) was the overwhelming choice of the

Voters were asked to rank 5 candidates in the order of likeliness to capture the GOP nod.

Does it matter that the professional class doesn’t take Palin seriously as a candidate in 2012? Not much. But it is indicative of the chasm that has opened up between the 1/3 or so of the party that identifies with her whose opposition to the party leadership has metastasized into a hate only slightly less intense than that felt for Obama and the liberals.

It may very well be that Michael Steele and the inside the beltway conservatives will have to go hat in hand to Palin and ask for her intercession with her supporters in order to get them fully engaged in the effort to flip the Congress in 2010. Will she end up being a team player and agree to work toward that end or will she maintain her distance and independence, looking to cash in on her standing with the base by running for president in 2012?

My guess is the latter. In the end, the tea partiers will run Palin more than she will be able to run them. That’s the price you pay when you mount the tiger and attempt to ride the whirlwind.



I apologize for the absence of posts these past few days but I have been locked in a titanic struggle with a nasty bug that has sought to lay me low. I was able to perform limited duties at PJM and AT but never found the strength to address some of the more interesting stories that have popped up during the last 10 days or so on my own blog.

A pity, that. There is much I wanted to say about the administration’s approach to the…whatever we’re calling what used to be known as “The War on Terror” these days. While their attitude and strategy may be intellectually satisfying - downplaying the nature of the threat while frantically trying to bolster our counterterror capabilities at home and abroad - I think it is wrong on a psychological and political level.

Obama failed in appreciating the nature of the attack on Christmas day. He miscalculated the mood of the American people and came off looking weak and disengaged when he strolled to the podium more than 48 hours after the attack and read a rote statement that could have been delivered by a press flunkie. He compounded the error the next day by issuing a stronger, more realistic statement while idiotically backing his DHS Secretary’s nonsense about the “system” working, parsing her words like a Clinton.

This is old news now - water under the bridge so I won’t belabor the point. But in their eagerness to show that they are not “chest thumping” and “fear mongering” the administration and the president failed in their primary duty of simply reassuring the American people that someone was in charge and doing something about the problem.

Not their finest hour.

The other story that piqued my interest was Rush Limbaugh’s health scare and his weird, out of touch contention that the health care system is working just fine.

I am glad that Rush is OK and will continue to entertain us on the radio. But if there was ever an example of why conservatism has become irrelevant it was Limbaugh’s monumentally stupid remarks about the American health care system:

“The treatment I received here was the best that the world has to offer,” Limbaugh said. “Based on what happened here to me, I don’t think there’s one thing wrong with the American health care system. It is working just fine, just dandy.”

Limbaugh said that despite his celebrity he received the same treatment as anyone else who would have called 911 and been taken to the hospital in his condition.

“I got no special treatment,” he said, adding that the care he received was nonetheless “confidence inspiring.”

“I just feel very grateful and thankful be an American and have this happen to me,” he said.

Anyone who isn’t worth $100 million and becomes seriously ill in this country probably looked at Limbaugh as if he was from another planet. The American people may hate many aspects of Obamacare, but they aren’t stupid. They fully realize there are severe problems with our health care system and just because rich jamokes like Limbaugh and rich foreigners can get the best care in the world doesn’t mean that the average - or even above average - American gets the same treatment as the radio star.

Put simply, Limbaugh and many of his listeners are out of touch. The alternate universe they inhabit posits an America inhabited by crusty individualists, self-reliant citizens, a Darwinian free market, and a culture informed by “Judeo-Christian” morals and principles. That’s a pretty good description of America, alright - 19th century America. Today, we no longer have to build our own house, or shoot our own meat, or churn our own butter, or even make our own clothes unless we choose to do so. America in the 21st century is a great, big, raucous, tumbling, jumbling place that has moved far beyond what these self-described conservatives believe her to be - or think she should be. In their America, the health care system is “just fine” and there’s nothing wrong with the economy that a few hundred billion in tax cuts couldn’t fix.

The clashing interests of 300 million people coupled with the enormous complexity of governing such a diverse, multi-racial, mutli-cultural society makes the kind of simple minded conservatism promoted by Limbaugh and his admirers a shadow reality, existing outside of time and out of sync with the cares and concerns of ordinary people. They are for regression, not conserving anything. And their failure to accept America as it is rather than how they wish it to be makes them worse than irrelevant in promoting conservatism; they are a hindrance.

I believe these two currents of history - the coming primal thrust of jihad and the battle to wrest conservatism from fakirs like Limbaugh, Hannity, Palin, and others will test us in ways not experienced since the late 1970’s when there was the perception that the world was closing in around us and the Soviets were on the road to victory. That time also saw the final ascendancy of “movement” conservatism as a revolutionary political force.

It will not be a year of decision. But the potential is there for global jihad to wreak havoc on the US and the west as the clock approaches midnight in Tel Aviv and the countdown for an Israeli strike on Iran approaches its final stages.

I have blown hot and cold over the years about whether Israel would attack Iran without US permission or support. But with Obama in office, I think the Israelis believe they have little choice. Our relations with the Jewish state are in shambles - the worst since Eisenhower. Quite simply, Israel does not trust the Obama administration. And with the rise of the J-Street crowd in power and influence in Washington, the prospects for US support of Israel in any strike on Iranian nuclear facilities are very bad.

A year ago I would have bet that the Israelis would have deferred to Washington on the question of attacking Iran. Now, I’m not so sure. The only question left for the Israelis is are they prepared for the consequences? The scenarios of the aftermath of such an attack are all bad. And they all include the certainty that terrorism would be unleashed against Israel, the US, and the west on a scale never before seen. There are Hezbollah cells all over the world, and it is generally believed that they can be activated by Iran. What they could accomplish as far as death and destruction can only be guessed at.

In addition, al-Qaeda is showing it’s not dead yet and may keep up its efforts to attack us. Odds are in their favor that they will breakthrough and succeed. Whether they have the capability for mass casualty attacks isn’t known but many experts believe it to be just a matter of time before WMD is used in a terror attack. What then? Where does that leave the Obama administration’s downplaying the terrorist threat? It’s not necessarily a bad policy but a couple of thousand dead Americans would make it seem faintly ridiculous. Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and their imitators may not represent an existential threat to America but I daresay the American people will have problems with the nuanced view that we shouldn’t get all bent out of shape over terrorism.

Of conservatism’s test I will say this; the farther conservatism retreats into the past, eschewing reason for emotionalism while welcoming groups like the John Birch Society back into the fold, the more irrelevant conservatism will become as a political force. Electoral gains in 2010 may indeed come to Republicans but it won’t be because of anything conservatism is offering but because the Democrats have royally screwed up. Until the voices of reason and pragmatism emerge to espouse a philosophy that resonates with ordinary people and addresses their real life concerns and problems, the right will continue to wander in the wilderness of political ideas wondering why no one takes their 19th century worldview seriously.

It should be an interesting year.

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