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2/10/2011
CPAC Boycott by Social Cons Reveals the Right’s ‘Gay Problem’

Here I go again - delving into an issue where my position is diametrically opposed to the social cons, as well as many traditionalists in the conservative movement.

My latest blockbuster is up at Pajamas Media where I take the social cons and others to task for trying to eject the conservative gay advocacy group GOProud from CPAC and the conservative movement for their stance on gay marriage.

A sample:

It can be extremely unnerving to discover that the grounded, safe, familiar, secure cocoon in which we exist is being invaded by what appears to be radical ideas and radical people that throw our notions of what is “normal” out the window. We try to shelter our children by drawing them into the cocoon, just as our parents, and their parents before them tried to keep the outside world from intruding on our peaceful existence. It never works. Sooner or later, we discover that America has other plans. A nation that prides itself on being a revolutionary society where there is the chance for change every four years does not sit still for long. For better or worse, America is constantly in motion, and like a steamroller, flattens the past and readies the ground ahead for whatever transformation is to occur.

Beyond the front gate, there are all sorts of people we wish would just go away and not disturb us with their problems. Fifty years ago, it was African Americans being asked to be “patient” while society continued its glacial pace of progress toward granting dignity and freedom from oppression. Then it was women who were told to go back to the kitchen and shut up. The disabled were asked to keep a low profile so as not to upset our delicate sensibilities. The homeless became invisible. The mentally ill, exorcised from our consciousnesses.

And now, the turn of the gays. Do we learn nothing from history? Are we condemned to constantly retreat into our cocoons and fight like hell to try and maintain an outmoded, antiquated notion of what is “normal?” You would think that knowledge is liberating and that having discovered that homosexuality is not a disease, that genetics more than environment determines your sexual orientation, we might cautiously reach out and try and understand the unnecessary burden carried by the gay community in that they have to constantly fight for what you and I take for granted; the simple, decent, American ideal of equal rights under the law.

There is nothing “unconservative” about this, despite what some on the right are saying about GOProud and CPAC. This is especially true as it relates to the fundamental truth about gays that many opponents of gay marriage refuse to concede; that people in love — even if they are of the same sex — should not be denied the legal and social advantages gained by being married.

What is fascinating to me is that most of those who strenuously object to my position do so on “moral” grounds. That is to say, they believe that homosexuality is intrinsically immoral. Barely a majority in this survey disagree but note the huge change in attitudes since 1973 when 80% thought gay love was immoral.

This buttresses the point I try to make in the article. Very little in America is static and unchanging. As more and more gays come out of the closet to their families, their friends, their co-workers, attitudes toward gay people change. When they are seen as people - real, live, flesh and blood humans - rather than objects of fear or derision, attitudes toward their behavior and lifestyle soften. It is a long process and will be decades more before wide-spread acceptance is gained. But the question confronting us today is why isolate a group of conservatives who agree with the right on almost every single issue save gay marriage and DADT repeal? You don’t even have to accept gays as full citizens to do that, although you have to do some fancy intellectual footwork to make it happen.

It strikes me as ludicrous that conservatives would deny membership in their little club to people who agree with 90% of their agenda. The same goes for the brawl over whether libertarians can be conservatives. What an extraordinary example of tribalism that there would be objections from the likes of Mike Huckabee and Erick Erickson to libertarians having a role in the conservative movement. And it’s not just libertarians or homosexuals who these jamokes want frozen out of CPAC and other gatherings on the right. They actually want to ban their supporters as well - those who don’t mind if gays or libertarians participate.

If these “conservatives,” who don’t act or think very conservatively, don’t watch out, their next CPAC will be held in a conference room in Cody, Wyoming.

By: Rick Moran at 9:35 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

2/18/2010
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW: CPAC 2010

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.

By: Rick Moran at 11:21 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (6)

1/8/2010
SARAH PALIN AS THE PIVOT FOR ‘NEW’ GOP

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.

By: Rick Moran at 10:47 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (51)

12/23/2009
BOOBS, BIRTHERS, AND BIRCHERS

Oh, we’re meetin’ at the courthouse at eight o’clock tonight
You just walk in the door and take the first turn to the right
Be careful when you get there, we hate to be bereft
But we’re taking down the names of everybody turning left

Oh, we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Here to save our country from a communistic plot
Join the John Birch Society, help us fill the ranks
To get this movement started we need lots of tools and cranks

Now there’s no one that we’re certain the Kremlin doesn’t touch
We think that Westbrook Pegler doth protest a bit too much
We only hail the hero from whom we got our name
We’re not sure what he did but he’s our hero just the same.

(”John Birch Society” by Michael Brown)

Upon hearing that the John Birch Society was going to co-sponsor the Conservative Political Action Conference, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or put my fist through a wall.

The very first thing that came to mind was this hysterically funny Chad Mitchell Trio song from 1962 that captured the JBS perfectly:

A family favorite for more than 40 years, we never tire of singing it at reunions. “We’re Your Friendly, Liberal, Neighborhood Ku Klux Klan” was another CMT family favorite.

You’ll never recognize us, there’s a smile upon our face,
We’re changing all our dirty sheets and a-cleaning up the place.
Yep, since we got a lawyer, and a public relations man,
We’re your friendly, liberal, neighborhood Klu Klux Klan

Yes, we’re your friendly, liberal, neighborhood Klu Klux Klan
Ever since we got that lawyer and that public relations man.
“Course we did shoot one reporter, but he was just obscene,
and you can’t call us no filthy names. What does Anglo-Saxon mean?

As far as I know, the Kluxers have not as yet, been offered a booth in the exhibit hall, but you never know.

After laughing at the idea that responsible, mature, sane conservatives would invite into the mainstream this nest of kooks, crazies, and paranoid loons I then broke down in tears. The callousness of this move is unbelievable. Don’t these fools know what it took to wipe the stench of these freaks off of the conservative movement?

Why stop with the Birchers? Why not have a few seminars and panels on the birther issue? After all, news out of New York is that the birther convention went quite well last week:

Dear Friends:

Welcome to the Second National Conference on Barack Obama’s Missing Birth Certificate and College Records. Our meeting begins tomorrow in New York City! I am delighted to provide you with this second progress report.

[...]

3. Videotaping/Internet posting cancellation

Unfortunately, our plan to videotape the conference and post the proceedings on the network is stalled. We did not receive enough financial support to hire a professional videographer to tape the conference, so we have cancelled our reservation for a videographer. If late-in-the-day financial support still arrives, we will see if someone is available to tape. We can’t do more than the budget allows.

[...]

5. Obama: The Hawai’i Years

I had hoped we could finish editing our Hawai’i movie by early December but we are swamped with work and preparations for the conference. We will definitely show a rough cut of the movie on a laptop at the Conference and finish the film up for New Year’s.

The organizer and head honcho of this bunch is Andy Martin, perennial candidate for something or other, and an internet gadfly.

Mr. Martin, making a Quixotic run for the senate here in Illinois, claims his life story is “inspirational.” Indeed, it inspired me to almost lose my lunch. Careening wildly between right and left, the only constant in his life appears to be an overpowering ambition. In the end, it’s hard to tell whether he is sincerely nuts or has simply latched on to the birther movement for attention and a little cash.

No matter, this is a fellow that conservatives should embrace. After all, he’s only “asking questions” - like, where’s the “ribbon copy” of the birth certificate, Barry?

What I have asked Hawai’i officials to do is produce their original “ribbon” copy of Obama’s 1961 birth certificate. (For those of you not old enough to know what a “ribbon copy” is, ancient devices known as “typewriters” used “ribbons” to make impressions on paper. Cormac McCarthy’s original 1963 typewriter is about to be auctioned as an antique. The original copy of a document, i.e. the one which the typewriter ribbon actually touched, was known as the “ribbon copy.”)

Hawai’i officials have never released Obama’s ribbon copy of his birth certificate, despite many demands, lawsuits, etc. I am continuing my litigation for access. Because I am currently a candidate for U. S. Senator [www.AndyforUSSenator.com], I was unable to actively pursue the litigation in August-November, but we are gearing up to go back to Hawai’i to pry loose the original, 1961 document once funds are available.

Of course, if state officials ever released the “ribbon copy,” Martin and his ilk will probably want to see the actual typewriter ribbon on which the document was produced. You just can’t be too careful when you’ve got a reputation for truth and honesty.

Unlike some of Obama’s critics, I have been scrupulously honorable and honest in seeking only the truth about him, and trying to find only the facts about his past. Because of my passion for the truth and the facts, I seem to get under Obama’s skin, whereas his critics who float unsustainable theories are ignored. Obama wants to hide the truth; help us in our search for the facts.

Please help support these projects financially.

How can anyone resist someone so “scrupulously honorable and honest?”

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Andy shows up at CPAC with his hand out, piping his story all around the venue while the conspiracists follow him like rats leaving a sinking ship.

The birthers are only the latest paranoids on the far right. The Birchers have them beat by nearly 50 years. In addition to accusing Eisenhower of being a “conscious agent” for the red menace, over the years, the JBS has topped that lunacy by seeing goblins in globalization, and Communists everywhere, not to mention firmly opposing teh gay, as was made evident in this meeting sponsored by the JBS earlier this year in Oklahoma City:

Among the items in the agenda, Kern said, was getting the public to view homosexuality as a matter of taste, like a preference for strawberry or vanilla ice cream. She quoted the text: “The masses should not be shocked and repelled by premature exposure to homosexual behavior itself.”

“You know,” Kern said. “I’ve done a lot of reading on this. I wish I could describe to you their behavior. I will not because I would be redder than this suit. It’s their behavior that we oppose.

“This theme of equality and freedom is the approach that the homosexuals are using today — totally perverting the true intention of what our Constitution meant. … The homosexuals get it — it’s a struggle between our religious freedoms and their right to do what they want to do.”

Around the banquet hall, Kern’s speech met with applause and calls of “Amen!” from a crowd stoked in a crucible of conspiracy and intrigue. For the whole day, the “Clouds Over America” conference, run and organized by the John Birch Society, held lecture after lecture Jan. 23 and 24 dedicated to explaining their various conspiracy-laden tenets. Here’s one — that a godless secret society, the Illuminati, has been battling against the founding of the United States of America and decent citizens to live in peaceful, worshipful freedom.

Kern called for a new “Great Awakening,” referring to a period of religious revivals from the 18th century considered precursor to the American Revolution.

“The solution is another Great Awakening, folks,” Kern said. “We need a spiritual revival, and that will only come if God’s people, especially you pastors, will stand in your pulpits and vocally preach the word of God and thus declare the Lord this sin, and preach it in love, only then does our nation have a chance of overcoming the scourge of AIDS, HIV and the devastating destruction that the homosexual lifestyle is bringing on your children and our grandchildren.”

The world is too complex to give these idiots a seat at the table. Let them rant on the internet. Let them spew on their tiny radio stations. Let them meet in the dark, exchange their secret handshakes, glance furtively over their shoulders for the government bogeyman, and run up their psychiatric bills.

People wonder why I think Glenn Beck is a dangerous clown. When you lie down with rabid dogs, people are going to think you’re one of them. Beck has spoken approvingly of the JBS on a number of occasions over the years, which only feeds the perception that his mindless meanderings about fascism coming to America with Woodrow Wilson’s presidency and other lunatic conspiracies are not aberrations but rather an entrenched part of his character.

But if you were to go to CPAC in February and take a poll, Beck would be wildly popular. I will never understand it, nor will I ever get used to it. A sizable segment of the right has lost its mind and embracing the John Birch Society is just one more indication that they are not going to find it anytime soon.

It would do no good to call for a boycott of CPAC. But I would hope that some principled activists and members of Congress would take that step. As for me, I will probably be covering the conference in some capacity but I already have my storyline:

We’ll teach you how to spot ‘em in the cities or the sticks
For even Jasper Junction is just full of Bolsheviks
The CIA’s subversive and so’s the FCC
There’s no one left but thee and we, and we’re not sure of thee

Oh, we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Here to save our country from a communistic plot
Join the John Birch Society holding off the Reds
We’ll use our hand and hearts and if we must we’ll use our heads

By: Rick Moran at 10:20 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (17)

12/22/2009
GOP: OUT OF GAS, OUT OF IDEAS, OVER THE CLIFF

Jonathan Chait at The New Republic:

In reality, both parties have plenty of ideas that they would like to implement if given the political power to do so. Republicans’ policy ideas primarily involve cutting marginal tax rates and regulations. The question isn’t whether the Republican Party has any ideas. The question is whether the party has any relevant ideas.

In the days following the 2008 election, some Republicans predicted that the party would retool itself in response to reality–not just political reality but the actuality of policy challenges. “Republicans,” wrote conservative Ramesh Ponnuru in Time, “will have to devise an agenda that speaks to a country where more people feel the bite of payroll taxes than income taxes, where health-care costs eat up raises even in good times, where the length of the daily commute is a bigger irritant than are earmarks.” Nothing like that rethinking has happened or will happen.

Whatever the merits of President Obama’s agenda, it is clearly a response to objectively large problems facing the country. The administration has selected three main issues as the focus of its domestic agenda: the economic crisis, climate change, and health care reform. The issues themselves offer a stark contrast with Bush’s 2005 crusade to reshape Social Security. While sold as a response to the program’s long-term deficit, the privatization campaign was actually motivated by ideological opposition to Social Security’s redistributive role. (Bush refused Democratic offers to negotiate a fix to the program’s solvency without altering its social-insurance character.) By contrast, it is impossible to dismiss the problems Obama has chosen to address. In all three areas, the Republican Party has adopted a stance of total opposition, not merely because it disagrees with aspects of Obama’s solutions, but because it cannot come to grips with the very nature of the problems of modern American politics.

Yahtzee!

I would take issue with Chait over the reason for Social Security reform - something the Democrats will now have to face in the coming years if, as I fully expect, they maintain their majority for a decade or so. Yes, my liberal friends, there is an unfunded mandate for social security that works out to about $17.5 trillion by 2050. By that time, the entire federal budget could be comprised of payments for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Don’t sit there and tell me that the only reason Bush wanted to reform Social Security by privatizing some of it was due to “ideological opposition” to the program. It was Republicans, I will remind Chait, who reformed SS in 1986 while he and his Democratic friends took potshots from the sidelines. Democrats have always, shamelessly, used Social Security fear mongering with seniors as an electoral club. And Chait is proving that nothing has changed.

As for the rest of Chait’s thesis, he is spot on. The GOP cannot meet the basic definition of a political party; a repository for ideas and principles that advance a particular political philosophy. Cutting taxes when we’re staring at a deficit of $1.5 trillion a year is not only irrelevant, it is reckless, suicidal, irresponsible policy. Claiming that government spending would be cut an equal amount as any tax breaks is ludicrous, not to mention a horrible idea in the midst of a deep recession. The cuts that would be necessary in discretionary spending - only about 28% of the budget (most of that in the defense sector) - would gash programs that benefit the poor and the middle class. It won’t happen so why discuss it? Any tax cuts enacted would add to the deficit substantially.

So much for “fiscal responsibility.”

Tax cuts aren’t the only idea that the GOP wants to implement but it seems that way sometimes. Cutting spending is another basic notion being pushed by the GOP, but so far, specifics have been lacking. Not so with the base of the party who not only can’t “come to grips with the very nature of the problems of modern American politics,” but would have trouble “coming to grips” with 19th century American problems. This is where Chait’s ideological animus by the GOP to government truly resides (although eliminating Social Security and Medicare are ideas relegated to the fringe right). Entire swaths of the government would be on the chopping block if many in the base got their way. And I am not talking about some kind of “super-federalism” where many programs would be “transferred to the states.” There is a belief that much of what the federal government does, individuals should be able to do for themselves. I am not unsympathetic to this basic premise, but the scope and breadth of what many on the right would like to see eliminated are several bridges too far for most rational conservatives.

And this points up the major reason why the GOP is in the barren intellectual state that it is in; a stubborn, (I would say hysterical) refusal to see the world as it is and develop counter-proposals and ideas that reflect the realities of 21st century America.

What’s so hard about that? Well, for starters, perhaps admitting you have a problem dealing with reality in the first place might help:

The writers of The Daily Show, Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live (although I’m not convinced they’ve even had writers lately) can have February 18-20, 2010, off. The hosts can handle it themselves. On those dates, the jokes will practically write themselves as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) takes place — co-sponsored by the John Birch Society. Every liberal commentator needs to send a thank-you note to CPAC’s organizers for that monumentally stupid decision.

By having the John Birch Society sponsor it, CPAC can guarantee that 90% of the coverage regarding the conference will relate to JBS’ oh-my-god-look-a-conspiracy attitude rather than the heavy-hitters and rising stars of conservatism and libertarianism that speak there. Instead of focusing on politics, reporters will ask attendees for their response to the JBS controversy and will ask organizers whether they are in such financial distress that they had to embrace a fringe group for support.

This is beyond the “nihilism” Chait writes about with regard to what the GOP has become. I think a more technical term is in order to describe what is happening with the base and hence, with much of the Republican party.

Loony tunes.

You have to live in a different reality (or perhaps spend most of your time on another planet) to accept the notion that the John Birch Society today is much different than the bunch who questioned whether General Dwight David Eisenhower - American hero - wasn’t “pink.” Or that John Foster Dulles wasn’t deliberately hiding Communists in the State Department. (Yes, there were commies at state and defense but the idea that Dulles knew they were there is lunacy).

The JBS “core principles” include this gem:

The Society also labors to warn against and expose the forces that seek to abolish U.S. independence, build a world government, or otherwise undermine our personal liberties and national independence.

The problem as I see it isn’t necessarily that the John Birth Society is filled with kooks who think Obama is part of an international conspiracy to enslave America to the Communist ideal, it’s that they are a perfect fit for CPAC and the paranoid righties who are pursuing the birther matter, believe the president and the Democrats are out to “destroy the country,” believe there’s nothing much wrong with our health care system, and are not sure if Obama isn’t the antichrist.

Yes, that last is hyperbole but it’s easy to go over the top when you are trying to describe people who have tossed aside reason and embraced a kind of collective madness that is being promoted on talk radio, and some venues on Fox News. The world - the country - simply is not as it is described by Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the cotton candy conservatives who are cleaning up by playing to the fears of the ignorant and uninformed.

And then there are those who ape the worst of these:

It isn’t too much to ask for Byrd to step off for that great klavern in the sky before the Senate vote that may force this nation to accept government-rationed health care. Even a nice coma would do.

Without his frail, Gollum-like body being wheeled into the Senate’s chambers to cast the deciding vote, the Senate cannot curse our children and grandchildren with crushing debt and rationed, substandard healthcare.

I suppose some will be shocked and appalled that I’d wish for the former kleagle to die on command. I’d remind them that the party wheeling in a near invalid to vote in favor of this unread monstrosity of a bill is the one that should feel shame.

Yes, the health care bill as it has been so cynically and maliciously drawn up by Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democrats might easily be termed a “monstrosity.”

But it is grotesque, deformed thinking to wish for another human being to die for political gain. And not seeing that is a reflection not so much of Bob Owens, but of the casual, anti-reason, anti-rational thinking that has gripped the Republican party and made it an irrelevancy.

Can you govern without believing in the efficacy of government? I find it hard to imagine that, even if the Democrats and Obama screw things up so royally that the GOP wins a smashing victory and overturns both houses of Congress next year, that the Republicans are capable of doing anything to address the problems of 21st century America. Trying to reconstitute a nation that doesn’t exist anymore - a pastoral place where everyone was self-sufficient, went to church on Sunday, and dreamed the same dreams - does not equip a party or its members to deal with the complex, urbanized, less homogeneous country America has become.

To do that, one must actually live in the present rather than some ill-defined, half-imagined past that perhaps never was, but certainly will never be again.

By: Rick Moran at 11:00 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (19)

7/31/2009
YES, MORE PAUL RYAN PLEASE

Michael Moynihan has a post up at Reason’s Hit and Run that identifies at least one conservative “leader” who isn’t a talk radio host, or some other pop conservative polemicist.

After excoriating Republicans for spending like Dutch social democrats (and elevating halfwits to important leadership positions), I was asked recently by a radio host to name a Republican qualified to be “leader of the party.” The pickings are slim, but there are a few exceptionally bright, market-oriented contenders out there. So I plugged, with appropriate obsequiousness, the always impressive Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. When I sat down with Ryan last month to discuss Obama’s education policy, he quoted Hayek, talked at length about handing out Rand books to staffers, and discussed his previous life as an economic analyst. Such conversations should be de rigueur with members of the House Budget Committee, but I suspect Ryan is the only one that could name an Austrian economist.

Further proof that the Republican Party needs more Paul Ryans: Yesterday, he beat up on MSNBC host Carlos Watson and The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel regarding the “public option” and why Congress shouldn’t pass bills it hasn’t read. Imagine such a performance from, say, Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann:

Indeed, Ryan dispatches vanden Heuval with the greatest of ease:

Prior to hearing the Wisconsin congressman at CPAC, I didn’t know much about the guy. Michael Barone notes in The Almanac of American Politics that Ryan is pretty much a mainstream Republican, although more of a foreign policy centrist. He is a reliable conservative on fiscal matters and toes a pretty conservative line on social issues.

But this fellow is a thinker - a rarity among all politicians and especially among many legislators who call themselves conservatives today.

An example from his CPAC speech:

Our greatest leaders - from Lincoln to Reagan - succeeded because they anchored conservative thinking and policies in the founding principles of our nation. They did so not because of mere “history” or “tradition” - but because they understood the need to revitalize the unchanging truths that inspired the birth of America.

Let those truths inspire us again! Let them re-ignite the sparks of hope for a new generation of Americans who love freedom!

Without enduring principles we get “change” but no direction.

Guided by the founding principles we can direct “change” toward the ends that have made America the envy of the world: Individual freedom … growing prosperity … and equal rights secured by constitutional self-government.

America’s Founders did not discover ideas no one ever heard of. Their great achievement was to build a constitution of equality and liberty upon a foundation of self-evident truths as old as the beginning of mankind and as new as tomorrow.

What are those truths?

First is that the “laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” are the only sure touchstone of right and wrong … for individuals as well as societies.

A second is that all human beings are created with equal natural rights - the rights to live … to be free … to acquire property - and other means to fulfill our God-given potential for happiness.

Third, and most important for conservatives: The great purpose of government is to secure these natural rights: protecting every person’s life, liberty, and freedom to pursue happiness is the great and only mission of a government true to our founding.

There are very few congressmen who speak so eloquently of First Principles. Now, he frames those principles in a quasi-religious context, which is acceptable to me as long as it goes to fundamental truths espoused by the Founders who, like all natural rights supporters at the time, believed man was created by God and that these rights were simply self-evident manifestations of God’s desires.

His CPAC speech was necessarily more political than philosphical. But read this speech he gave at a Hudson Institute symposium on “Making Conservatism Credible Again:”

“Conservatism” at its best, defends the standards and qualities which define “people of character.” The original source for these standards is the Western tradition of civilization, rooted in reason and faith, stretching back thousands of years. The tradition as a whole affirms the high dignity, rights, and obligations of the individual human person. One of the glories of Western civilization was to break out of the mythological past which saw only groups and classes, ranked and organized by collectivist governments. Before the Western tradition began in ancient Israel and classical Greece, the individual person as a subject of rights was simply unknown.

Nowhere was the Western tradition epitomized more memorably than in our Declaration of Independence. By “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” all human beings are created equal, not in height, or skills, or knowledge, or color, or other nonessentials, but equal in certain inalienable rights – to live, to be free, and to fulfill their best individual potential, including the right to the “material” such as property needed to do this. Each individual is unique and possesses rights and dignity. There are no group or collective rights in the Declaration. Nor does basic human equality imply “equal result.” It means “equal opportunity”: every person has a right not to be prevented from pursuing happiness, from developing his or her potential. The results should differ from one to another because “justice” or “fairness” is giving each individual what each has earned or merited. That’s what fairness is.

The great conservative purpose of government is to secure these natural rights under popular consent. Protecting every person’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness should be the great and only mission of legitimate government.

After a stirring defense of the Adam Smith “invisible hand,” Ryan make a thoughtful attempt to unite libertarian and social conservatives by pointing to common ground:

A “libertarian” who wants limited government should embrace the means to his freedom: thriving mediating institutions that create the moral preconditions for economic markets and choice. A “social issues” conservative with a zeal for righteousness should insist on a free market economy to supply the material needs for families, schools, and churches that inspire moral and spiritual life. In a nutshell, the notion of separating the social from the economic issues is a false choice. They stem from the same root.

Take that Huckabee and all of you “crunchy cons.”

I tried to think of some other elected conservative who is making this kind of honest attempt to bring the factions back together and came up empty. Nor can I think of too many conservative legislators who quote Hayek, Mises, and Adam Smith, while speaking the language of social conservatives and espousing a decidedly libertarian economic viewpoint.

But he voted for TARP I which makes him poison to many in the base of the Republican party. I was disappointed so many conservatives voted for the execrable legislation except we have to understand the context. Everyone was being told that if this money didn’t get to the banks right away, there would be a financial meltdown that could lead to a panic which would plunge us into a worldwide, catastrophic depression. They were being told this by a president and Treasury secretary of their own party. They had no clue that the money would be used for everything but buying up those bad assets that were weighing down the balance sheets of the big banks. In my book, they were acting as responsible lawmakers.

For that reason, I am inclined to cut Ryan and others some slack for their vote on TARP I. And his subsequent statements and actions have shown Ryan to be an innovative and creative legislator. His alternative budget would have cut taxes to stimulate the economy the right way and done it in a revenue neutral manner. Just think where we’d be today if his plan had been followed.

I’m not the first to proclaim Ryan a future conservative leader. But I think he needs more exposure than what he’s been getting from conservatives on the internet as well as the pop-conservatives on talk radio. Elevating his stature would seem to be a smart thing to do given the man’s base intelligence and good ideas on a variety of public concerns. His criticisms of Obama have been reasonable, fact based, and without the hyperbole associated with more rabid conservatives in Congress. That too, is a plus in my book.

At age 39, he will be on the national stage for a long time to come. He may or may not run for higher office some day. But he will be an important voice for conservatives regardless of where his political career takes him.

By: Rick Moran at 2:18 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (14)

3/3/2009
RUSH VS. NEWT: GAME ON!

I am still trying to digest what everyone agrees was an important speech by Rush Limbaugh to CPAC attendees on Saturday. It was, perhaps, the most entertaining political speech I’ve ever heard. But a speech that will last for decades and make an impact on the conservative movement? No one knows. But we can try and judge it based on some solid principles of what makes a good political speech.

I have often pointed to Theodore H. White’s definition of what goes into the making of a good political speech - the moment in history when the speech is given, the background or “framing” of the speech, and the words themselves. In these respects, Limbaugh hit a stand up double and, with a little more effort, may have stretched it to a triple. The moment in history was ripe; conservatism at sea, rudderless, and uncertain of itself in the age of Obama. The backdrop - the CPAC convention with just about everyone who is anyone in the conservative movement present and paying attention (exceptions include some more moderate conservatives frozen out by the movement) as well as mass media coverage. But the words themselves meandered aimlessly at times as Limbaugh treated the address more like an extended monologue from his radio show rather than a well crafted, carefully thought out political speech.

Newt Gingrich also spoke to a large, enthusiastic crowd at CPAC but didn’t get half the coverage of Limbaugh despite a speech that, in many ways, was even more important than Rush’s tour de force. The difference in the two speeches was striking. Rush eschewed a teleprompter - to his detriment I think while Newt used the device to say exactly what he meant to say. Meanwhile, Gingrich had his ideas bubbling up from somewhere deep inside, churning and frothing on the surface until they were laid out like a picnic lunch, cogently and coherently by a master conceptualist. Limbaugh’s speech was more volcanic- erupting against Obama and the Democrats emotionally while flowing effortlessly from pop culture conservatism to a more thoughtful but still generalized critique of the Obama administration.

The juvenile confrontation yesterday between Limbaugh and RNC Chairman Michael Steele, placed in the context of Limbaugh’s extended remarks at CPAC, would lead one to believe that there is the possibility of a civil war erupting in the GOP between the grass roots and the elites. That may yet happen. However, I think it much more likely that war will break out between movement conservatives like Gingrich and “party men” like Limbaugh.

Who is Rush Limbaugh? And why did the only other speech of note at the conference - New Gingrich’s much more thoughtful but flawed critique of conservatism - not receive the massive attention devoted to Limbaugh?

Because Rush is on radio? I’m sure that’s part of it. But beyond that, one speaker gave the audience largely what they wanted to hear, putting into words the feelings and fears of listeners while the other engaged the minds of his audience by relating some uncomfortable but necessary truths. In that kind of competition, the appeal to emotion wins out over the appeal to intellect every time.

Limbaugh does not fit any of the comfortable definitions that liberals and the media love to apply to conservatives. Calling him a mere talk show host is simply wrong and reveals the ignorance of anyone who tries and make that claim. Limbaugh has crossed the cultural divide and, like Obama, become more than a political figure (or entertainer) and achieved a peculiar kind of celebrity. Ross Douthat believes a more appropos comparison is with Oprah Winfrey, someone who crosses easily between the entertainment and political world. In this respect, the irony is that both men start from the other side of that divide. Limbaugh, the entertainer has passed Obama while on the way to achieving his status as political bellweather of the GOP. Meanwhile, Obama was moving the other way, from political force to cultural celebrity. Loved by their legions of supporters, despised by their opponents (with both men generating a hate from their opponents that mirrors the passion of their supporters), the deliciousness of this parallel between the two men shows both the strengths and weaknesses of our political culture.

But Limbaugh’s status is a millstone around the neck of conservatism. Despite his obvious gift of a sharp mind and his presenting the clear impression that he has given a considerable amount of thought to the nature of modern conservatism, Limbaugh nevertheless has a rather narrow and even shallow view of what conservatism is and where it stands right now.

Limbaugh’s speech appealed to the heart, rather than the head.

For those of you just tuning in on the Fox News Channel or C-SPAN, I’m Rush Limbaugh and I want everyone in this room and every one of you around the country to succeed. I want anyone who believes in life, liberty, pursuit of happiness to succeed. And I want any force, any person, any element of an overarching Big Government that would stop your success, I want that organization, that element or that person to fail. I want you to succeed. [Applause] Also, for those of you in the Drive-By Media watching, I have not needed a teleprompter for anything I’ve said. [Cheers and Applause ]  And nor do any of us need a teleprompter, because our beliefs are not the result of calculations and contrivances. Our beliefs are not the result of a deranged psychology. Our beliefs are our core. Our beliefs are our hearts. We don’t have to make notes about what we believe. We don’t have to write down, oh do I believe it do I believe that we can tell people what we believe off the top of our heads and we can do it with passion and we can do it with clarity, and we can do it persuasively. Some of us just haven’t had the inspiration or motivation to do so in a number of years, but that’s about to change. [Cheers and Applause]

Limbaugh struggles to move beyond these show biz tropes when he gets into what he describes as a definition of conservatism:

Let me tell you who we conservatives are: We love people. [Applause] When we look out over the United States of America, when we are anywhere, when we see a group of people, such as this or anywhere, we see Americans. We see human beings. We don’t see groups. We don’t see victims. We don’t see people we want to exploit. What we see — what we see is potential. We do not look out across the country and see the average American, the person that makes this country work. We do not see that person with contempt. We don’t think that person doesn’t have what it takes. We believe that person can be the best he or she wants to be if certain things are just removed from their path like onerous taxes, regulations and too much government. [Applause]

We want every American to be the best he or she chooses to be. We recognize that we are all individuals. We love and revere our founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. [Applause] We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life. [Applause] Liberty, Freedom. [Applause] And the pursuit of happiness. [Applause] Those of you watching at home may wonder why this is being applauded. We conservatives think all three are under assault. [Applause] Thank you. Thank you.

Aside from the small matter that the quote about “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” appears not in the preamble to the Constitution but the Declaration of Independence, that is a very nice start to explaining what conservatism means.

But after telling the audience he was going to define conservatism, Limbaugh flits away off to another red meat topic guaranteed to light a fire under his listeners. His bragging about not needing to write down what his principles are because “we can tell people what we believe off the top of our heads and we can do it with passion and we can do it with clarity, and we can do it persuasively,” may be true as far as it goes but I am reminded of Francis Bacon’s admonition “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” Judging by Rush’s speech, he was anything but “exact.”

But this didn’t seem to bother his thousands of admirers as he hammered away gleefully at Obama and liberals. Here, Rush shows he’s somewhat familiar with Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s critique of the effect of the welfare state on Black families and gets to the nub of the Obama revolution; dependency:

They do believe that they have compassion. They do believe they care. But, see, we never are allowed to look at the results of their plans, we are told we must only look at their good intentions, their big hearts. The fact that they have destroyed poor families by breaking up those families by offering welfare checks to women to keep having babies no more father needed, he’s out doing something, the government’s the father, they destroy the family. We’re not supposed to analyze that. We’re not supposed to talk about that. We’re supposed to talk about their good intentions. They destroy people’s futures. The future is not Big Government. Self-serving politicians. Powerful bureaucrats. This has been tried, tested throughout history. The result has always been disaster. President Obama, your agenda is not new. It’s not change, and it’s not hope. [Applause] Spending a nation into generational debt is not an act of compassion. All politicians, including President Obama, are temporary stewards of this nation. It is not their task to remake the founding of this country. It is not their task to tear it apart and rebuild it in their image.

(Crowd chanting “USA”)

It is not their task, it is not their right to remake this nation to accommodate their psychology. I sometimes wonder if liberalism is not just a psychosis or a psychology, not an ideology. It’s so much about feelings, and the predominant feeling that liberalism is about is about feeling good about themselves and they do that by telling themselves they have all this compassion. You know, if you really want to unhinge a liberal it’s hard to do because they’re so unhinged now anyway, even after — but all you have to do is say you know that the things you people do, the things you people believe in are cruel. That’s the last way they look at themselves. They are the best people on the — they’re the good people. You tell them that their ideas and that their policies are cruel and the eggs start scrambling.

But it was Rush’s references to Reagan that put him at odds with reformers like Gingrich. Limbaugh believes talk of “change” is treason. There is nothing wrong with conservatism that wouldn’t be cured by transplanting the Reagan agenda to the present:

Conservatism — for us to make the decision that we’ve got to figure out policies, to get the Walmart voter — psst, we’ve got most of them already, is the bottom line. Conservatism is a universal set of core principles. You don’t check principles at the door. This is a battle that we’re going to have. And there are egos involved here, too. When the situation like ours exists, there are people who want to lead it. They want to redefine it. Their egos are such that they want to be the next X, whoever it is. So there will be different factions lining up to try to define what conservatism is. And beware of those different factions who seek as part of their attempt to redefine conservatism, as making sure the liberals like us, making sure that the media likes us. They never will, as long as we remain conservatives. They can’t possibly like us; they’re our enemy. In a political arena of ideas, they’re our enemy. They think we need to be defeated. Why do you think — you all in this room know this. For those of you watching at home, my first address to the nation — [Laughter] — I’m sure you paid close enough attention, that you knew at one time Senator McCain was the favorite Republican of all the cable news networks and the Sunday shows. And they would just — I mean their tongues would be on the floor. The media people (panting) when they knew McCain was coming. And they would treat McCain as the greatest guy in the world. Did you wonder why? You were told he was moderate. He was not strict. He was not an authoritarian, he was able to walk to the other side of the aisle, able to get along with the enemy. And everybody wants love and bipartisanship.

That’s not why they invited Senator McCain. They invited Senator McCain because he happened to be the loudest at criticizing his own president and his own party and that’s what they want, is people from our side — and there will be factions in our movement, folks, who are going to make an effort to say we have to grow, we can’t stay stale, I think I heard the term used the other day. Nothing stale about freedom. There’s nothing stale about liberty. There’s nothing stale about fighting for it. Nothing stale whatsoever. [Applause] Freedom. Are you getting tired of standing up, I don’t blame you. By the way for those watching on TV you think the standing — people are just tired. They’ve been up and out of their chairs 100 times here. [Applause] Thank you. Freedom — freedom is the natural yearning of the human spirit as we were endowed by our creator. And the United States of America is the place in the world where that yearning flourishes, where freedom is expected because it’s part of the way we’re created.

I will say frankly that this is the nuttiest part of Limbaugh’s speech. There is probably no one answer to what ails conservatism but there is widespread agreement among profressionals that people like Rush, who wish to repeal not only the Great Society but also the New Deal, are anachronisms. It is not going to happen - ever. The question then becomes do conservatives chase a will o’ the wisp goals that guarantee them permanent minority status or do they apply conservative principles to government as it is and not as we would wish it to be?

I am a broken record saying this as my regular readers know. Since I began promoting this course of action, several commenters have made some excellent points that reveal glaring weaknesses in this formulation. To wit.

* There is a danger that anything proposed by conservatives in Congress would be seen simply as “liberal lite” and voters would give the GOP no credit for dealing with reality.

* The nature of the opposition would make any effort to apply conservative principles to governance moot.

* There is also a danger of throwing our principles under the bus in an effort to compromise.

* The American people are basically conservative and all we have to do is become more conservative ourselves to win.

This will not be an easy or quick route back to power. But I believe a recognition that for conservatism to be vital it must be brought into the 21st century where appeals to the heart fall by the wayside and calls for new thinking dominate. Here’s Gingrich at CPAC (unfortunately I have been unable to acquire a transcript of this speech and only have these extended excerpts):

The great irony of where we are today is that we have a Bush- Obama big spending program that was bipartisan in its nature. Last year the Bush-Obama plan had a $180 billion stimulus package in the spring which failed. It came back with a $345 billion housing package in the summer which failed. It then had a $700 billion Wall Street spending package in October which failed. It had a $4 trillion Federal Reserve guarantee which failed… We got big spending under Bush, now we got big spending under Obama. And so we have 2 new failures. The lesson I draw from this is that we have a party of the American people… that was led by Ronald Reagan and on the legislative side reached its peak with the Contract with America and the election of a majority actually dedicated to reforming welfare, cutting taxes, and balancing the budget. And there is a party of big government and political elites and tragically in the last few years the Republican party became the right wing of the party of big government and political elites. And that is why there is a Bush Obama continuity in economic policy which is frankly a disaster for this country and cannot work.”

I find it fascinating that both men invoke the name of Reagan in two entirely different theaters. Rush points to Reagan’s core beliefs as set in stone - despite the fact that 48% of Americans already pay no taxes at all. How across the board tax cuts would generate the trillions in revenue to offset the damage already done by Obama goes unanswered.

On the other hand, Gingrich takes the Gipper’s desire to reach out to Democrats and independents and uses it as a model for a conservative comeback. Note also that where Rush almost exclusively talks of Republicans, Gingrich speaks more generally about conservatives.

I consider this the most important statement made during the entire week:

And so it is time to recreate the party of the American people and to recognize that that is a much bigger party than the Republican party. In every major political speech Ronald Reagan reached out to Democrats and Independents as well as Republicans, and he understood to govern in America you have to bring people together in a tripartisan majority. We are bigger than the Republican party, we stand for principles that transcend the Republican party, and we’re going to fight for the principles that lead to economic growth and jobs.”

It is implicit in forming this “tri-partisan majority” that some aspects of the welfare state as well as regulatory agencies are remade to function according to conservative principles and not done away with entirely as many Limbaugh conservatives would like to see. Too many Americans benefit from these government programs for the Middle Class to abandon them in favor of some nebulous promise that suffering by denying oneself benefits from government is somehow enobling. In a modern state of 300 million people, the Jeffersonian “yeoman farmer” model of the republic is a fantasy that, if it ever was true, hasn’t been so for more than 100 years.

Limbaugh, the Iconoclast vs. Gingrich the Conceptualizer. That is where the movement will cleave most noticably. One side living in the past, fantasizing about recapturing conservative greatness by stroking Reagan’s name and accomplishments as if they were a magic talisman designed to wipe away the modern world and lead us back to some ancien regime where everyone bagged their own meat, built their own houses, and churned their own butter. The other, dealing with life in America as it is in the 21st century - an enormously complex clash of interests where conservatism must find a comfortable place in which to compete in the great marketplace of ideas.

It will be a lovely little war.

By: Rick Moran at 9:23 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (38)

3/2/2009
THE LIMBAUGH-STEELE SIDESHOW

Both of them should stick a sock in it.

When Michael Steele, Chairman of the Republican party, so violently disrespects mega star talk show host Rush Limbaugh, one has to wonder what sh*t for brains political outfit elected this numbskull to any position higher than Front Door Greeter.

Rule #1 in politics; never hand your opponents a club with which to beat you over the head. Rule #2 is “Don’t eat your own.” Steele broke both those rules and a few others by essentially adopting his opponent’s narrative regarding Limbaugh and opening a wound in the party and among conservatives that will not be easy to heal:

“Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh’s whole thing is entertainment,” Steele said. “Yes, it is incendiary. Yes, it is ugly.”

Last month, Steele, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland, was elected chair of the RNC. He is the first African-American to lead the Republican Party. At the time of his election, Steele said that “Rush will say what Rush has to say; we’ll do what we have to do.”

And I’m very happy to report that at least Steele knows who signs his paycheck:

Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele is taking issue with the notion that Rush Limbaugh is the de facto leader of the GOP, calling the conservative radio talk show host an entertainer whose comments can be ugly.

Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in an interview with CNN that he, rather than Limbaugh, is “the de facto leader of the Republican Party.”

Greg Sargent, pushing the newest liberal talking point that Republicans want Obama to fail (while failing to point out that many on the left spent the last 6 years celebrating casualties and hoping for a defeat of American arms in Iraq while gleefully predicting a recession was just around the corner every month) reports that Steele isn’t apologizing:

The problem for Steele, of course, is that by hitting Rush — and provoking a response from the talk show host — he’s left himself in the unenviable position of having to answer Rush’s implicit demand that he say whether he’s With Rush Or Against Him when it comes to Rush’s desire for Obama to fail. It’s not a good position to be in: Either Steele distances himself from Rush and angers the base, or he throws in his lot with the GOP’s pro-failure brigade and makes it easier for Dems to paint the GOP as petulant, partisan obstructionists.

Amusingly, either choice would help Rush: The first gives him a potent rallying point, and the second demonstrates his power over the party. What’s more, all this underscores again the astonishing degree to which the interests of Rush and Democrats are aligned here, since both Rush and Democrats want Steele, and every other Republican, to publicly make exactly the same choice.

This is news. Limbaugh, the meglomaniacal, power hungry entertainer demanding Steele give him a Bushesque statement of being “with him, or against him.” Could that be true?

Only if you’re a liberal and have the mind of sofa. The rest of us prefer reading what Limbaugh actually said:

I hope the RNC chairman will realize he’s not a talking head pundit, that he is supposed to be working on the grassroots and rebuilding it and maybe doing something about our open primary system and fixing it so that Democrats don’t nominate our candidates,” Limbaugh said, his voice rising. “It’s time, Mr. Steele, for you to go behind the scenes and start doing the work that you were elected to do instead of trying to be some talking head media star, which you’re having a tough time pulling off.”

Steele, Limbaugh said, had “taken the bait” by the media.

Limbaugh also offered a harsh assessment on the state of the GOP.

“I’m not in charge of the Republican Party, and I don’t want to be,” he said. ” I would be embarrassed to say that I’m in charge of the Republican Party in the sad-sack state that it’s in. If I were chairman of the Republican Party, given the state that it’s in, I would quit. I might get out the hari-kari knife because I would have presided over a failure that is embarrassing to the Republicans and conservatives who have supported it and invested in it all these years.”

The talk show host also schooled the RNC chairman on political truths - when in the opposition, oppose:

When you send those fundraising requests out, Mr. Steele, make sure you say, we — we — we want Obama to succeed. So people understand your compassion. Republicans, conservatives are sick and tired of being talked down to, sick and tired of being lectured to. And until you show some understanding and respect for who they are, you’re going to have a tough time rebuilding your party.

Allah has the real politik speil on where Steele and Eric Cantor (who also dissed Limbaugh) are coming from:

My point then, and Ace’s point today, is that pandering to centrists is a political fact of life for politicians. Steele and Cantor, when forced to choose between criticizing Limbaugh and having to explain his “I hope he fails” rhetoric over and over again, will take the former every time: Right-wing partisans will turn out against Obama anyway in four years but the middle has to be wooed, and defending a sentiment about failure in the current political climate while The One’s busy framing himself as Mr. Nonpartisan does not a winning “moderate” message make. No wonder Gibbs is urging the media to keep asking Republicans whether they agree with Limbaugh. If they say yes, they’re vindictive partisans and if they say no they’ll get hammered by Rush on his show.

Fine, as far as it goes. The problem is that it isn’t a question of “pandering to centrists” by politicians but perhaps missing an opportunity for a counterattack.

One of the major complaints I heard all week at CPAC was the timidity of Republicans and conservatives in the face of Obama’s political dominance. Limbaugh’s point about “hoping Obama fails” is not that he wishes ill for the country but rather what kind of nation will emerge if he succeeds.

From the Limbaugh CPAC address:

As I say, we want the best: Happiness for everybody. Now, about my still-to-me mysteriously controversial comment that I hope President Obama fails. I was watching the Super Bowl. And as you know, I love the Pittsburgh Steelers. [Cheers and Applause] So they have this miraculous scoring drive that puts them up by four, 15 seconds left. Kurt Warner on the field for the Cardinals. And I sure as heck want you to know I hope he failed. I did not want the Cardinals to win. I wanted Warner to make the biggest fool of himself possible. I wanted a sack, I wanted anything. I wanted the Steelers to win. I wanted to win. I wanted the Cardinals to fail.

This notion that I want the President to fail, folks, this shows you a sign of the problem we’ve got. That’s nothing more than common sense and to not be able to say it, why in the world do I want what we just described, rampant government growth indebtedness, wealth that’s not even being created yet that is being spent, what is in this? What possibly is in this that anybody of us wants to succeed? Did the Democrats want the war on Iraq to fail!

CROWD: Yes!

RUSH: They certainly did. They not only wanted the war in Iraq to fail, they proclaimed it a failure. There’s Dingy Harry Reid waiving a white flag: [doing Harry Reid impression] “This war is lost. This war is” — [Cheers and Applause] They called General Petraeus a liar before he even testified. Mrs. Clinton — [Crowd Booing] — said she had to, willingly suspend disbelief in order to listen to Petraeus. We’re in the process of winning the war. The last thing they wanted was to win. They hoped George Bush failed. So what is so strange about being honest to say that I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation? Why would I want that to succeed? [Applause]

What’s wrong with a comeback when asked if the GOP wants Obama to fail that includes the notion that Republicans want the American people to succeed but think Obama’s policies are dead wrong? How hard is that to explain? Are these guys so inarticulate that they can’t lay down basic Republcan/conservative principles in a couple of well chosen sentences? Jesus Christ! Would someone please get some 3 X 5 note cards and write down basic talking points for these ignoramuses? Makes sure they’re in words of two syllables or less.

Now as my readers know, I am no fan of Limbaugh. His “show biz conservatism” is a mile wide, an inch deep, and takes forms that while not “ugly,” certainly move the idea of hyperpartisanship to a whole other level. And Limbaugh’s response to Steele was a tad overwrought (Allah rightfully points out that Rush should have a thicker skin by now.)

That being said, with Obama’s agenda on the march to permanently alter America, in the only way he knows how, Rush is trying to stop it. And it’s an open question as to how hard Steele is working to block these transformative, risky, adventurous, and ruinously expensive measures coming down the pike.

If Steele wants to lead the GOP, get out front and lead then. Don’t pull rank on Limbaugh because you only magnify his importance - at your expense. If you spent less time on talk shows agreeing with Democrats who are savaging the party you are supposed to be leading and more time, like, you know, actually opposing what they are trying to do, that would prove your qualities to conservatives who are feeling a little put out by being told that their party convention resembled a Nazi gathering.

The country is going to hell in a handbasket economically, the Democrats are tearing at the Founding Fabric of the nation, our grandchildren are going to be working for the federal government with every dime being taken to service an unserviceable debt, and the world’s bad guys are looking at Obama and feeling pretty damned good.

Meanwhile, Steele and Limbaugh act like two little boys in the schoolyard who unzip, whip it out, and claim their’s is bigger.

Great. Just great.

By: Rick Moran at 6:56 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (29)

LOOKING BACK AT CPAC

I have returned from my trip to Washington after an irritating day of travel yesterday. The tiny plane that I took from DC to Philly (I was supposed to lay over an hour there) was delayed taking off because the Captain - bless him - decided to de-ice the plane before we left. Because of his caution, I missed my connecting flight to Chicago but considering the alternative of flying through a snow and ice storm without de-icing, I am not going to complain.

I’m sure you’ve heard plenty already about CPAC and what or what it didn’t accomplish. For myself, if I were to give the conference a grade it would be a D+. Much red meat - little substance. I understand that this is not unusal for CPAC but given the urgency of the need for reform and the fact that so many people who are actually engaged in the process of reform were present. I thought there might be a little more debate and brainstorming than there ended up being.

The real business of the conference took place behind the scenes at the social gatherings hosted by some of the many groups who exhibited at the conference. As a blogger, I got invited to quite of few of these shindigs and I can tell you that most of the debate about where the movement (and to a lesser extent the Republican party) should be headed took place among activists, lawyers, lobbyists, political pros, non-profit staff, and pundits who shared a drink or two while assessing the prospects for change.

I’m not going to name drop but it is probable if you follow politics closely, you would have heard of or seen on TV a lot of people that I spoke to. Some knew of my writings and were interested in what I had to say. Others wanted the perspective of the blogosphere - which I was happy to give them as honestly as I could. In all instances, I was encouraged by the hunger to seek a new path for conservatism that would lead back to the top.

I hasten to add that no one was suggesting that conservtive principles be abandoned. In that respect, almost everyone agreed with Newt Gingrich that we should be a movement of “bold pastels” as Ronald Reagan put it - our ideals put forth confidently and with certainty. The number one symptom that many agreed was holding conservatism back at this point was timidity in the face of Obama’s success. This was before Rush Limbaugh’s speech on Saturday so I am unsure if there were some who wouldn’t change their mind about that after hearing Rush.

What about Rush? A great performance. But a blueprint for change? I’m afraid not. In fact, Limbaugh set himself squarely on the side of those who believe there isn’t much wrong with conservatism except we’re not being conservative enough. This is depressing if only because Limbaugh - rightly or wrongly - is seen as a leader of the conservative movement. I think this rather silly even though Rush has transcended the notion of pure celebrity and entered the political realm. Limbaugh - who placed the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” clause in the Constitution’s preamble rather than the Declaration of Indpenendence - had similar problems with placing his conservative beliefs in a coherent context.  Being for individual liberty and accomplishment is fine. But Rush said precious little more about the definition of conservatism from there on out.

But on the positive side, Limbaugh gave a stirring and devastating critique of Obama’s bail out culture. Some described it as “angry” which I would agree with wholeheartedly. And why not? It is nonsense to believe that conservatives shouldn’t be angry with what Obama is doing to the country. The people voted for change, not the fundamental alterations that Obama is carrying out using the economic crisis as an excuse for massive intrusions by the government into the private sector. Some of this is certainly unavoidable. But I am beginning to believe that Obama’s concern for the economy is secondary to his ambition to change this country from what it was - a free, capitalist superpower -  to what he wants it to be - a mostly free, mixed economy, second rate power.

Limbaugh’s red meat address actually did some good; it cheered conservatives at a time they needed a boost. But Limbaugh actually may have started something of a civil war with his criticism of Newt Gingrich and those of us who believe that something is wrong with conservatism and that more is needed than simply believing more strongly in the movement and throwing up candidates who are even more “conservative” (according to Limbaugh’s lights) than we have in the recent past.

Gingrich, who gave an equally harsh appraisal of Obama and the Democrats, managed to shoehorn in some very telling comments about conservatism. In fact, I believe he spoke the most important words of the conference when he said, ”

“And so it is time to recreate the party of the American people and to recognize that that is a much bigger party than the Republican party. In every major political speech Ronald Reagan reached out to Democrats and Independents as well as Republicans, and he understood to govern in America you have to bring people together in a tripartisan majority. We are bigger than the Republican party, we stand for principles that transcend the Republican party, and we’re going to fight for the principles that lead to economic growth and jobs.”

I’m not sure if Limbaugh doesn’t mean “Republican” when he says “conservative.” There are many of us who believe that conservatism should no longer be the handmaiden of a party that uses the good name of conservatism and whose acts are  totally at odds with the way a conservative legislator should vote. Rather, we believe it should be the other way around; that conservatism should be the tail that wags the Republican party dog, that if they want our money, our activists, and our support, they should comport themselves in such a way as to gain our confidence so that they not only call themselves “conservative” but act that way as well.

(I hope to compare and contrast the Gingrich-Limbaugh speeches tomorrow.)

CPAC was one of the more interesting things I’ve done these last four years I’ve spent as a blogger. I hope I don’t regret spending my own money in a few months. But considering how seriously I take the present course of conservatism, it was probably well spent even if the worst happens and my job disappears.

By: Rick Moran at 2:16 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (13)

2/26/2009
REFLECTIONS ON GOD, MAN, AND CPAC

I’m sitting in the darkened study of my sister’s beautiful home in Bethesda this morning looking forward to a long day of renewing old acquaintances, making new friends, and participating (more like observing) the goings on at CPAC.

I had an interesting discussion last night with my 17 year old cousin about the problem with conservatism today and was surprised that he pretty much nailed the reasons conservatism is in such bad odor with the public and specifically, with his generation. He sees nothing positive coming from conservatives like Hannity, Coulter, and Rush (just picking three examples). What he sees - and I am forced to agree with him - is an overarching arrogance that brooks no discussion and has little room for disagreement.

We may not like it, but my cousin’s generation - and a couple of previous ones - have been educated differently than many of us. They have been taught that moral questions have many sides, that there isn’t one way of looking at the world. When they hear conservatives referring to the opposition as “unpatriotic” it turns them off - they aren’t sure of their own feelings about America themselves.

Clearly, if conservatives wish to attract the young, a better job of educating them outside of the classroom must be done. They will never learn about conservative principles in school - not only because education is dominated by liberals but because the study of most any western philosophy would be anti-diversity.

So the only exposure to conservatism that most children receive comes to them via the Coulter/Hannity/Limbaugh’s of the movement. Entertaining though they are, their very shrillness and presumption of being in the right turns off most kids who have been educated to eschew such certainties.

But isn’t “question everything” the mantra of any good student? I would hope so. However, at some point, questions must harden into a belief system. And when that process begins, the young have little or no idea what classical conservatism is all about because show biz conservatives either don’t know themselves or find it profitable to abandon reason for ranting.

The perils of educating the young in such a way is that enlightenment values get thrown under the bus in obeisance to a nebulous doctrine where ideology rather than philosophy is encouraged. “Diversity” is a wonderful thing - except in teaching competing ideas. And appeals to “thinking with the heart” are substituted for reasoned thought and a rational, objective examination of the issues.

What’s missing? Historian Page Smith, when writing about the Constitutional Convention referred to a “classical Christian Consciousness” that dominated the gathering. This conservative school of thought posits the idea that man is basically evil, that he is stained with original sin and that therefore, governments must be instituted that restrain his baser instincts and protect others from those who would seek to dominate.

But Smith went on to describe the emerging enlightenment values that were also present at the convention. The enlightenment saw man as basically good, capable of perfection with the application of scientific principles to government. This tug of war - roughly between the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians - ended up with the creation of a document that reflected both sides.

The two great classic philosophies have largely been subsumed by today’s ideological battles. In their name rages a war where one side seeks to dominate the other by any means necessary. I would like to see conservatives try to reclaim some of that classical heritage by becoming more thoughtful, less ideological, and perhaps less doctrinaire - especially since that doctrine is, in my opinion, woefully out of touch with modern realities.

CPAC was not set up to deal with these questions. But it just might start a conversation that would lead to an understanding that for conservatism to become competitive in the marketplace of ideas again, it must acknowledge its shortcomings and work toward reforming itself to better reflect what America has become rather than the way America used to be.

By: Rick Moran at 6:14 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (74)