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5/5/2009
DEBUNKING MYTHS ABOUT MODERATES: 1) MODERATES HAVE NO PRINCIPLES

From long time commenter and center left Obama lover Michael Reynolds left on my post yesterday about Reagan’s toleration for moderates in the GOP:

Rick, you’re an atheist living in sin. You’re a rational man. You believe in evolution and understand that gay rights are coming, like it or not. You don’t think torture is fun. You’re not ant-intellectual. Why are you a Republican?

Seriously. Why are you a Republican?

Rick, I don’t think “Republican” means what you think it means. Maybe it used to. But it doesn’t anymore. Your “Republican” is dead and buried. You’re part of a small and despised minority within what used to be your party. They hate you worse than they hate people like me. They want you to go away. They want you out of their party.

You can’t toady them enough to make them love you. You can abuse liberals all you like, it won’t make any difference to the wingnuts because they are fanatics and you are not and they will never, ever, ever accept you back into what used to be your party but is now theirs.

Face it Rick: you’re not a Republican.

You would get no argument from half (or more) of the commenters who shared their thoughts with me on that post. But allow me to answer that and several ancillary questions while debunking some surprisingly ignorant myths and suppositions about what moderate conservatives believe.

First of all, let’s dispense with the term “moderate.” I much prefer “pragmatist” or even “rationalist” although the latter is a belief system all its own and not generally applied to a set of political precepts or principles.

“Realist” doesn’t cut it either because I think that a lot of conservatives are “realists” in the sense that they have created a false reality and define their politics according to a skewed and often paranoid world view. Please don’t try to tell me they don’t exist because they pollute the comments section of this and other blog sites with their “Obama is deliberately tanking the economy so he and his communist friends can establish a dictatorship,” memes.

If you can’t see that’s a false reality which is a little twisted and paranoid, you need a new pair of glasses.

A related question to Michael’s query is why bother? My demise as a blogger and as someone who has lost even the minuscule amount of notoriety as a political commenter that I once possessed can be traced directly to my calling out conservatives for being too rigid, too ideological, and beholden to who I refer to as “pop conservatives” of the Rush, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter variety.

To my mind, I had only one choice; fight for what I believe to be the correct course for conservatism and the GOP. There simply isn’t an alternative. There might be a half dozen Democrats in the country I could ever vote for so switching parties is out. And I am not one to throw away my vote and cast a ballot for libertarians who I find remarkably obtuse anyway. So it’s either shut up or fight. I chose the latter.

So let’s go with “pragmatist” to describe the kind of conservative who I believe is in big trouble in the Republican party. The reason? A lack of “fire in the belly,” when it comes to the ideology espoused by many on the right. It’s not enough to agree with these conservatives; you must “believe” wholeheartedly and beyond that, attempt to destroy your opponents. “No retreat, no surrender,” is their motto and if such an attitude results in harm to the country, so be it.

Now I like a good cock fight with a liberal any day. And frankly, they present such a lovely target most of the time that it is sometimes impossible not to make fun of them - their “riot of conceits” as R. Emmett Tyrell refers to their own ideological excesses. But I have come to realize that neither ideological extreme has a corner on truth nor do the ideological right and the left understand that there is more to politics than the exercise of raw power.

Politics is a means to an end. And for me, that end is applying broad conservative philosophical principles to the art of governing so that a just and moral society is created, which is adequately protected from those both at home and abroad who would do it harm, and that those unable to fend for themselves are cared for.

That last doesn’t sound very conservative. But we as a nation rejected social Darwinism during the last great economic upheaval 80 years ago. Overturning the New Deal (or some of the social programs initiated over the last 40 years) may be the goal of some of the radicals on the right but it will never, ever happen. I firmly believe that most social programs that aid the poor can be improved immensely by applying conservative principles like prudence, self reliance, and fiscal discipline to their operation. Other government assistance programs can devolve to the states where they can be run more efficiently.

Is that apostasy? Or simple pragmatism?

I want a government as conservative as can realistically be achieved without destroying it. And frankly, there are some on the right who scare me with their callous disregard for the effect on ordinary people some of their plans to dismantle the welfare state would bring about.

As a conservative, I don’t think that government should be “empathetic.” It should, however, work as well as any utility we use such as phone, electric, or gas. (A government that operated the way my cable company is run would have experienced several bloody revolutions.) Recognizing that the state has a role to play in the economy, in maintaining social stability, in protecting the weak from society’s predators - all of this fits very comfortably into a pragmatic conservative’s worldview.

We live in a nation of 300 million people - the majority of whom do not agree with many conservative ideologues who think the government is the enemy and should be dismantled to effect what Jefferson wanted; a “government that governs least governs best.”

The Sage of Monticello said that at a time when there were barely 6 million Americans (2 million in bondage). There was no IBM or AIG or any other multinational corporation whose interests sometimes conflicted with those of the American economy. There were no companies who deliberately poisoned the air and the water. There was little crime. There were no unions to hold up small businessmen or companies that would knowingly place their employees in dangerous situations because it was cheaper than protecting them.

There are a million reasons we need government and conservatives rarely offer any rationale for it beyond national defense. Some, like my friend Ed Morrissey, wish to establish some kind of “Super Federalism” where states could handle environmental concerns, workers’ safety, aid to the poor, road building, and other government functions currently handled from Washington.

In principle, I can’t disagree - especially if there was even a chance of it working. But as a practical matter, most of Ed’s vision is unattainable. Certainly a much better effort should be made to find those federal government functions that the state’s could take over. Some programs that aid the poor would no doubt be more efficiently run at the state level. But in the end, most federal programs are run out of Washington because the states are unable or unwilling to take the responsibility.

This is not to say that you cannot apply conservative principles to manage the behemoth. And recognition of that singular fact is what separates the ideologues from the pragmatists.

To say that moderates or pragmatists don’t have a set of principles that guide their politics is just plain wrong. The same principles that animate the ideologues inform the opinions of pragmatists as well. The difference is in how one interprets those principles as they relate to one’s worldview, which is informed by different criteria for all of us. Our own life experiences shape the interpretation of principles and, depends on temperament, personality, and perhaps even how open we are to new and different ideas.

I am not saying there is “flexibility” when it comes to principle in that they are at the core of all of our beliefs and in a semiotic way, their meaning is set in stone. But I think a pragmatist has a more expansive view in relating those principles to how the real world works. Principles are not meant to engender absolutism but ultimately, that is the trap into which the ideologues fall.

I have said before (and will keep making the point) that there is a difference between ideology and philosophical principles. Excessive ideology leads to putting those principles in a strait jacket, where all issues and personalities are judged according to a very rigid set of definitions. When reality proves elusive to these definitions, the rationale to describe them stretches beyond comprehension. Hence, both right and left ideologues are constantly forced to twist themselves into logic pretzels to defend themselves.

We have been taught since high school civics class that compromise is necessary in a democracy. But there are some issues where no compromise is possible; abortion, gay marriage, perhaps war and peace, and certainly most of the statist, collectivist solutions this administration is trying to implement in order to “fix” the economy. For conservatives, those issues are “no go” zones and I agree that a stand must be taken and battles fought to preserve a free market economy not to mention simple, human liberty.

But to posit the notion that no rapprochement with the opposition is ever possible, that compromise is a dirty word akin to being a traitor, and working with your political enemy is a sign that you aren’t a real Republican is ridiculous - as is the idea that if we let liberals get everything they want and the country goes to hell, conservatives will be swept back to power.

That is fantasy, of course. Some Republicans have to act responsibly and help govern the country. Otherwise, you end up with a situation such as we see with the “climate change” bill with the far left trying to compromise with the not so far left and everybody loses.

You don’t win by not playing the game. Yes, there will be instances where the Democrats shove the efforts at bi-partisanship back in the GOP’s faces. So what? And what do I care that the Democrats have fewer pragmatists or “moderates” than the GOP. What has that got to do with anything? Do you want to ape the absolute worst qualities of your opponent? Not smart.

If nothing else, you can recognize the fact that whoever you define as “moderate” (with obvious exceptions) have principles they adhere to just as conservatives do. The ideologues and close minded galoots will never understand this because they “mirror judge” everyone, holding the glass up to see if their own ideology reflects back at them. But for the rest of you, I would hope that you grant us pragmatists the benefit of our convictions.

By: Rick Moran at 11:05 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (32)

5/4/2009
IF REAGAN TOLERATED MODERATES, WHY CAN’T TODAY’S CONSERVATIVES?

My latest article is up at Pajamas Media and it’s already attracted the usual cast of thick headed numbskulls who think that “moderate” is a dirty word.

A sample:

RNC Chairman Michael Steele is trying. But his comments at a recent party conclave in Wisconsin point up the difficulty in translating that idea into any kind of practical program:

“All you moderates out there, y’all come. I mean, that’s the message,” Steele said at a news conference. “The message of this party is this is a big table for everyone to have a seat. I have a place setting with your name on the front.

“Understand that when you come into someone’s house, you’re not looking to change it. You come in because that’s the place you want to be.”

Eh … OK. Everyone can come in and sit down for the feast but if you are pro-choice, or pro-gay marriage, or pro-amnesty, kindly realize that no one is going to listen to you so you might as well keep your mouth shut. Meanwhile, your cousins and other relations can publicly chastise you for your different opinions, actively seek to undermine your re-election by running a primary challenger against you, deny you party support, and will stay at home on election day so a Democrat will probably defeat you anyway.

One jamoke in the comments:

Sorry, Rick. That’s nonsense.

Try being a Democrat today with some positions, shall we say, somewhat center-or-right of Kos.

You are political dog meat.

The hogwash you put forth is the Meggy McCain “why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along” mush which brought us liberalish McCain in 2008…as an “alternative” to (Chicago’s version of) Madison Avenue’s polished soap ad du jour.

Reagan HAD principles and stood by them, bending at times to compromise under the reality of DC politics.

What you propose HAS NONE.

Why should Republicans care if the Democrats are as narrow minded as they are? What possible benefit would accrue to the party by aping the worst instincts of their opponents?

And referring to John McCain as anything except a moderate conservative is nonsense. If he is “liberalish” the commenter is to the right of Attila the Hun.

And how about the myth that moderates have no principles? Nonsense. As I make clear in the article.

But this is the kind of ignorance the Republican party and conservative movement is up against in its efforts to reform. I don’t hold out much hope that anything constructive can happen until the Ed’s of the party and movement are either co-opted or simply shunted to the sidelines where they can rant to their heart’s content and do no harm in the meantime.

By: Rick Moran at 12:47 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (54)

4/29/2009
Moderates? Who Needs ‘em

What’s wrong with conservatism?

Philosphically, absolutely nothing. There is a family argument going on at the moment where some question how conservative principles can be translated into a set of issues and policies that would lead to actual conservative governance but beyond that, everything is just peachy, right?

Sarcasm aside, the question for the day is can political moderates be conservative too? Can you believe in conservative “First Principles” and believe in less ideological, realistic conservative governance at the same time?

(Note: This is the de facto position of the David Brooks, David Frum’s, Ross Douthat’s, and Kathleen Parker’s of the world.

Forget Specter. This was no “moderate” and, of course, neither was he a conservative - except around election time when all of a sudden he would discover his connection to Ronald Reagan and the conservatism he represented. Jonathan Chait of The New Republic had it about right, calling Specter an “Unprincipled Hack.” That just about covers it.

But looking at the larger picture, conservatives should be asking themselves some hard questions about the future. The outpouring of “good riddance” wishes to Specter on the right included calls for other GOP moderates to join him. This “urge to purge” seems to be the fate of losing sides in elections as liberal activists made the same calls for ideological cleansing for two decades. The result: An electoral map that glowed in the dark it was so red. Not so today, of course, And while blame can be laid at the feet of Republicans more interested in their jobs than in advancing conservative governance, an equal amount of credit must go to the Democrats who put up more moderate, less ideological candidates in dozens of districts across the country despite complaints from their base. While Kos and his Krew were getting excited about Ned Lamont who got creamed in the general election, Howard Dean was recruiting candidates like pro-gun, anti-abortion, fiscal conservative Heath Shuler in North Carolina who beat an 8 term Republican incumbent.

To clarify, if the reason one holds to conservative principles is something beyond idly exercising one’s brain, it should be obvious that one of the purposes of conservatism is that it be realized as a governing philosophy. For that to happen, conservatives need a political vessel to translate thought into actions. This is where the Republican party comes into play and why what happens to the party affects conservatism and vice versa. A defeat in a North Carolina district where the incumbent hadn’t been challenged in more than a decade could be explained away by the local peculiarities of that race including the celebrity factor and dissatisfaction with the incumbent Charles Taylor over his failure to vote on CAFTA. But you cannot explain away what has happened to the Republican party in the Northeast where unmitigated disaster has overtaken the party.

In 2006 and 2008, the Republican party was decimated in New England, the Northeast corridor, and the Mid-Atlantic states with additional losses in the upper Midwest and Mountain West. There are now 3 Republican Congressmen from the state of New York out of 29. New Hampshire has lost both GOP congressmen. The party is virtually a memory in Vermont and Connecticut.

Is the reason that long term incumbents like Sue Kelly ( NY-6 terms), Nancy Johnson (CT-12 terms), Jim Leach (IA-15 terms), and Charles Bass (NH-6 terms) lost in 2006 was that they weren’t conservative enough? When you consider that more than 98% of incumbents are successfully re-elected, questions must be raised about why GOP moderates in what used to be the strongest area of the country for Republicans were tipped over.

Perhaps my more conservative friends are right and if only the party would put forward “true” conservatives in the Northeast all would be well and Republicans would regain their position as the dominant party in New England and become competitive again in New York and Pennsylvania.

Pigs could fly too, but I’m not waiting for that to happen.

Conservatives interpret First Principles differently according to political realities, personality, temperment, and one’s own life experience. They are not the Ten Commandments carved in stone and where no discussion is allowed. Taking a principle like “limited government” and asking a Republican from the Northeast and a GOP southerner to define it, I daresay you would get two different answers. The point being, there are many paths to realizing conservative governance and I guarantee you it will take more than a few self-appointed guardians of conservatism defining “true” conservatism to achieve it.

Take a concept like “fiscal conservatism.” Let’s define it (arbitrarily) as “The State should not take from citizens more than is necessary for the maintenance of a just and moral society.” That is a broad conservative concept on which Northeasterners and Southerns would probably agree. But in interpreting that concept, the Northeastern conservative may believe that a “just and moral society” includes federal funds for S-Chip or Pell Grants to college students. It might mean less for defense and more for transportation. It could even mean raising taxes to pay for those programs.To the southerner, it might mean eliminating or drastically reducing those programs and cutting taxes.

One is considered a moderate, the other a “true” conservative. And yet both adhere to their interpretation of “fiscal conservatism.” Why should one interpretation be considered “more conservative” than the other?

Recognizing that many “moderates” that are left in the GOP subscribe to the idea of a slightly larger government in the sense that they believe that government has a bigger role to play in society than perhaps many who consider themselves “true” conservatives doesn’t mean that there is just cause to read them out of the Republican party. I’ve said this before but there is a difference between “ideology” and “philosophy.” And it appears to me that many who would be so quick to drum moderates out of the party for not being conservative enough are confusing the two concepts. There are broad areas of agreement where moderates and conservatives differ only in the interpretation of principles - ideology - not in philosophy.

We have lost the ability to articulate overarching principles in such a way that it would attract a broad spectrum of the American electorate. I think this introduction to an excellent short course in conservative thought at the First Principles website captures the essence of the right’s problem in this regard:

Since World War II, there has been a rebirth of conservative thought in America, beginning with pioneers such as William F. Buckley, Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Friedrich Hayek, Whittaker Chambers, Frank Meyer, and Irving Kristol, and culminating with the electoral triumph of President Ronald Reagan in 1980. Today, the conservative “movement” enjoys both political prominence and a sturdy institutional infrastructure of political organizations, charitable foundations, think tanks, publishing houses, magazines and journals, and other such entities. Because of the movement’s success, a growing number of ambitious students and young professionals are now attracted to careers that advance the conservative cause.

Unfortunately, many of conservatism’s elder statesmen have expressed a grave concern that the rising generation is not well grounded in the fundamental texts, arguments, ideas, and themes that originally inspired the movement. Lacking a firm foundation in first principles, responsible and reflective citizenship is impossible, since we are tossed about by the enthusiasms of the day. Conservative “talking heads” in the electronic media may be effective political combatants, but their short-term goals—winning votes, passing legislation, boosting ratings—often work against the more important goal of cultivating, exploring, and developing conservative principles in light of changing historical circumstances.

“Changing historical circumstances” and the recognition that although our principles may be immutable, how they are interpreted is up to each generation. My interpretation of First Principles differs broadly from most of you reading this. Does this mean we can’t be allies in the struggle to bring those principles to the job of governing a great nation? Chasing away those who agree with you in principle but differ with you on interpretation will only lead to permanent minority status for conservatives. I have to think we’re too smart to allow that to happen.

By: Rick Moran at 11:46 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (46)

4/26/2009
IT’S SILLY TO BLAME A POROUS BORDER FOR SWINE FLU IN US

Yes, silly.

I’ve blogged for years about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the U.S. as a result of uncontrolled immigration. We’ve heard for years from reckless open-borders ideologues who continue to insist there’s nothing to worry about. And we’ve heard for years that calling any attention to the dangers of allowing untold numbers of people to pass across our borders and through our other ports of entry without proper medical screening - as required of every legal visitor/immigrant to this country - is RAAAACIST.

9/11 didn’t convince the open-borders zealots to put down their race cards and confront reality.

Maybe the threat of their sons or daughters contracting a deadly virus spread from south of the border to their Manhattan prep schools will.

I am as strong a supporter of guarding our borders and dramatically reducing illegal immigration as anyone but the attempt to hijack the Swine Flu story and portray it as a question of too many illegal immigrants coming into America spreading disease is so far off base as to be a laughable exaggeration.

The Chinese are fanatical about closing their borders and yet SARS became a huge problem for them. Disease doesn’t know about walls or barbed wire. Viruses don’t care if you have 100,000 soldiers guarding your border. If Swine Flu does become widespread, the overwhelming majority of people will catch it as a result of contact with an American citizen.

Even the beginnings of the spread of Swine Flu in the US cannot be traced to illegal immigrants. The kids in New York who contracted what appears to be a mild form of the disease got it in Mexico after a recent trip.  The Texas and California cases were also mild and still something of a mystery because none of the infected people were anywhere near pigs and hadn’t been to Mexico. As the CDC narrows its search to find “Patient Zero,” it is likely that individual would have recently been exposed to the bug  in Mexico.

But even if the original infection came from an illegal immigrant,  it is not reasonable to assume that if we had only closed the borders, we would have been any safer whatsoever. Millions of Mexicans have entered the US perfectly legally since the outbreak began and it a dead certainty that any serious spread of the disease would occur in this group rather than the tiny number of cases that could be attributed to illegals.

Adequate border protection will go a long way to preventing another terrorist attack. It will help relieve the burden on our schools, health clinics, and other social services from illegals who leech from the taxpayers after breaking the law to get here.

But to believe that closing the border to illegals  will have any effect on the spread or even containment of Swine Flu is refuted by the facts. It is estimated that anywhere between 500,000 and one million illegals pour across our border every year. Almost the same number - about 650,000 -  enter the US legally every day.

Let’s not bring unrelated issues into the discussion of Swine Flu.

UPDATE: HEY KIDS! LET’S BLAME AGRI-BUSINESS!

This is not only sillier than trying to drag illegal immigrants into the mix, it is dangerous rumor mongering as well:

Is Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork packer and hog producer, linked to the outbreak? Smithfield operates massive hog-raising operations Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. The operations, grouped under a Smithfield subsidiary called Granjas Carrol, raise 950,000 hogs per year, according to the company Web site-a level nearly equal to Smithfield’s total U.S. hog production.

On Friday, the U.S. disease-tracking blog Biosurveillance published a timeline of the outbreak containing this nugget, dated April 6 (major tip of the hat to Paula Hay, who alerted me to the Smithfield link on the Comfood listserv and has written about it on her blog, Peak Oil Entrepreneur):

Residents [of Perote] believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to “flu.” However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms. It was unclear whether health officials had identified a suspected pathogen responsible for this outbreak.

From what I can tell, the possible link to Smithfield has not been reported in the U.S. press. Searches of Google News and the websites of the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal all came up empty. The link is being made in the Mexican media, however. “Granjas Carroll, causa de epidemia en La Gloria,” declared a headline in the Vera Cruz-based paper La Marcha. No need to translate that, except to point out that La Gloria is the village where the outbreak seems to have started. Judging from the article, Mexican authorities treat hog CAFOs with just as much if not more indulgence than their peers north of the border, to the detriment of surrounding communities and the general public health.

To sum up, a couple of newspapers and a couple of blogs have tried to make the connection between the evil Smithfield and a Swine Flu outbreak  and that swarms of flies feeding on the apparently untreated fecal matter is the way the disease spreads - at least how it began to spread.

I guess we can call the WHO and tell them to stop the investigation, that we’ve found the cause and the culprit. Aside from being incredibly irresponsible, I would think that the scientists at WHO and the Mexican health agency IMSS might want to look into it before rumor mongering newspapers and ignorant bloggers start spreading false information.

No explanation forthcoming as to how the disease mutated from one that spread through fly bites to one that apparently spreads human to human (no one is sure yet how the bug spreads). Neither is there an explanation for how these flies were able to travel hundreds of miles to infect others. But that doesn’t stop irresponsible journalists and bloggers from just making sh*t up as they go along.

We’re going to see a lot of this.

By: Rick Moran at 3:27 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (14)

4/21/2009
WHY DO CONSERVATIVES SEE RED WHEN OBAMA TALKS GREEN?

I used to be as much of a frothing at the mouth, anti-EPA, anti-environmental regulation ideologue as the next fellow. Back in the early 1980’s when I was but a young buckaroo, I could rail against the anti-business, anti-free market bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency and the anti-people environmentalists with the best of them.

But at that time, one must recall that the Reagan administration represented the first push-back against some of the really silly and stupid — not to mention draconian and illiberal — regulations that had contributed to the decline of the steel and other industries as well as placing an unnecessary burden on farmers, ranchers, loggers, and other small businessmen who became targets of the regulators.

So what happened? I’d like to say I grew up and opened my eyes but that would presuppose that somewhere in my conservative soul I wasn’t concerned about the environment all along. Rather it was the gradual realization brought about by my own life experiences that the industrial age and free market capitalism had brought us wondrous riches and allowed for a lifestyle unknown anywhere else on the planet but that it had come at a cost. We have always known of this cost to the environment. Even in my dotage I can recall Lake Michigan beaches in Chicago being closed due to excess pollution, and a small stream near where I grew up becoming a frothing, foamy cesspool of smelly brown sludge from some business or other dumping waste upstream. Driving through Gary, Indiana in the 1960’s after spending 4 weeks in the pristine wilderness of northern Michigan made us all gag from the stench of the belching steel mills running 24 hours a day, turning white laundry a soft shade of brown on backyard clotheslines.

Knowing all this, I still resisted the idea that government could tell business what to do. I just never made the connection between pollution and the polluters until I had traveled enough and lived long enough to see the impact on ordinary people’s lives.

Later, it was concern about suburban sprawl that affected me directly and all the attendant environmental problems and quality of life issues that came with it. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that environmental protection was necessary and even desirable, and that only the federal government was a big enough entity to take on giant corporations and powerful interests who were acting in an irresponsible manner toward the natural world.

And therein lies the conservative dilemma about the environment and why, to this day, conservatives are uneasy about getting too excited about going “green.”

In a perfect world where the free market was truly “free,” environmental protection would be fairly easy. “You break it, you pay for it,” would be the sentence for polluters who damaged the air and water that Americans breathe and drink. There might even be incentives for business to be good stewards of the land. But that notion supposes that all businesses will act with some degree of responsibility toward the environment. History has proved otherwise which made federal intervention a necessity.

In the early days of the federal environmental movement, there was much support from more moderate Republicans for measures like the creation of the EPA, the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, and the original efforts to cut down on lead in gasoline emissions.

But when EPA regulations began to cut into profits and pose a burden on businesses large and small, conservatives saw an agency out of control and uncaring about economic growth. The fervent beliefs and self-righteousness of environmentalists didn’t help matters either. In the end, it was enough to simply oppose anything the EPA tried to do, branding it as government overreach and injurious to wealth creation.

This view became even more pronounced during the 1990’s as the Global Warming debate heated up. As climate change advocates became more and more accusatory of skeptics, conservatives recoiled from what they saw as the almost religious nature of AGW beliefs. Kyoto, a treaty so obviously flawed that the senate wouldn’t even consider it, proved to conservatives that the global warming argument was less about climate change and more about massive transfers of wealth from rich nations to poor.

But why should conservatives look upon environmental issues in such a way? Environmentalism was invented by a “progressive” conservative, Teddy Roosevelt. TR was in love with nature — especially that part of which he could shoot — but he also realized that unless action was taken, some future generation of Americans would lose the legacy of our wilderness. The almost incomprehensible vastness of the land is one of the things that makes us an exceptional nation and TR saw a day when almost all the empty spaces would be filled up. Thus was born the conservation movement by government (it had existed for 50 years previous to that as private citizens bought up more than 20 million acres to save the wilderness).

What happened to that legacy? Post World War II conservatism became entranced and then captured by the idea that untrammeled growth and unregulated free markets was the ticket to paradise. Somehow, the notion that bigger was better married with a semi-religious belief in corporatism to unbalance the traditional conservative belief in “conserving” the past. When the reality of choking smog and filthy rivers became an issue, conservatives balked, believing it was a “cost of economic growth” or more incoherently, a question of “keeping the government out of the business of business.”

That view held by many conservatives has matured since the 1960’s but not by much. Conservatives are still apt to make fun of “tree huggers” and others who go overboard in professing their love of nature while believing that global warming is a “hoax”. In this, the right has been content to allow the left to claim the mantle of “Protectors of the Earth” despite the fact that there are few issues that are more conservative than conservation.

Conservative thinkers for the last century have embraced conservation and environmentalism as a natural outgrowth of one of conservatism’s most cherished principles. Political theorist Russell Kirk:

“True conformity to the dictates of nature requires reverence for the past and solicitude for the future. ‘Nature’ is not simply the sensation of the passing moment; it is eternal, though we evanescent men experience only a fragment of it. We have no right to imperil the happiness of posterity by impudently tinkering with the heritage of humanity.”

The “heritage of humanity, or as he put it later in life, the “concept of society as joined in perpetuity by a moral bond among the dead, the living, and those yet to be born—the community of souls. . . .”

Prudence, piety, a regard for the world around us and the people in it; you can’t get much more conservative than that. We see this ideal slowly being resurrected among younger conservatives especially. Perhaps the last two decades of materialism and the celebration of capitalism has affected younger conservatives who seek more meaning in their lives. This is part of the crunchy-con beliefs of Ron Dreher and embodied politically by Mike Huckabee. Environmentalism to some younger righties is very much a concern that is tied into an overall critique of American capitalism.

Kirk decisively rejects the “practical conservatism [which has] degenerated into mere laudation of ‘private enterprise,’ economic policy almost wholly surrendered to special interests.”28 He “Indignantly denie[s] . . . that his conservatism could or should be identified with businessmen.”29 Other leading traditionalists concur. Peter Viereck admonishes conservatives to “conserve the humane and ethical values of the West rather than the economic privileges of a fraction of the West.”30 Stephen Tonsor contends that the traditionalist conservatives “are not now, nor will they be, identified with the American business community. They are clearly identified with natural law philosophy and revealed religion.”

From a traditionalist perspective, just as we have inherited our culture and must preserve it for future generations, so have we inherited this earth, and we have to take proper care of it as good stewards. As Margaret Thatcher stated when she announced her conversion to environmentalism, “No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy—with a full repairing lease.” The principle of stewardship, and consequently of “sustainable development,” should lead conservatives to accept their duty to design our economy so that we produce our goods in a way that does not impair the planet’s ability to provide for future generations.

The question, then, of why conservatives have abandoned environmentalism and ceded the issue to the left is more political than philosophical. The rationale has always been there. It’s just that in the heat of political combat — and thanks to a Republican party that would rather be in bed with the polluters than regulate them — conservatives have ultimately taken the position that whatever the liberals want to do with regard to the environment is wrong and must be opposed as a matter of principle.

I would say to my friends on the right that we’re missing the boat when it comes to the environment. President Obama’s top down solutions will be costly, inefficient, and in the end, won’t work very well. The liberals have left a huge political hole that conservatives could drive a truck through if they would begin to think more than superficially about how to protect the earth. Obama wishes to mandate which technologies will win out in the competition to develop alternative energies, reduce carbon emissions, and develop clean coal plants. One wonders what kind of mandates the government will force on auto manufacturers to develop “green” cars now that they have The Big Three by the short hairs. And cap and trade may prove to be one of the biggest boondoggles in the history of government - without reducing carbon emissions by one molecule.

But does that mean that these goals are unworthy? Or is it that the “solutions” are wrongheaded? Being dismissive of global warming is one thing; not promoting the idea of reducing carbon emissions is quite another. There are good reasons beyond “saving the earth” from what may be catastrophic climate change to reduce our carbon output. First of all, there’s a chance that ruinous changes in climate might actually occur unless we do something. The problem is that global warming has partnered so many odious ideologies and movements that the “solutions” being offered are thinly disguised power and wealth grabs by the United Nations, anti-globalists, anti-capitalists, radical environmentalists who put nature above human beings, and “sustainable development” freaks who actually wish to rid the world of 80% of its human population.

Making the reduction in carbon emissions a goal in and of itself would make more sense. Lessening our carbon footprint saves energy and helps us along the road to energy independence - a worthy goal all by itself. And devising laws and regulations that maximize market input into what kind of technologies will win out to help with the development of new, cleaner systems (and old ones like fast-tracking new nuclear power plants).

Resistance by conservatives to the idea of “going green” is, in the end, self defeating. Issues such as what is happening to our forests and national parks where over logging has denuded the land of millions of acres of trees (at bargain basement prices), as well as the systematic plunder of western lands where companies have purchased mineral rights for a song while reaming the taxpayer thanks to the stupidity of Congress and bureaucrats should be cause for reproachment of the Democrats by conservatives and not a reason to brand those who advocate protecting these resouces as kooks.

This state of affairs should rend the soul of any good conservative who agrees with Kirk that we are not leaving a decent “heritage to humanity” by our silence and non-engagement on environmental issues. If we continue to allow Democrats the run of the house and not challenge them with good, solid, conservative alternatives to their collectivist notions of paternalism and government control, we will be missing a huge opportunity.

By: Rick Moran at 8:06 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (30)

4/1/2009
THE ILLUSION OF OPPORTUNITY

Patrick Ruffini wrote a post on his Next Right site yesterday where he sees a golden opportunity for the GOP to gain some political ground by running on an agenda that includes healthy cuts in the size of government. He believes the GOP is “galivinized” to make cutting government by a third - back to 2007 levels - the centerpiece of a revival even if, as he realistically points out, not much will change given the huge advantage currently enjoyed by liberals in Congress.

It’s an ambitious proposal and is predicated on the idea that people will reject the naked statism being advanced by President Obama and come home to the party of smaller government as a reaction to the bail-out culture as well as the heavy handed attempts by the Administration to gain outright control of companies like GM and AIG.

But will they? Obama still enjoys broad support among the American public and beyond that, you have to wonder how much people really care that government has instituted policies that are destroying the free market and limiting freedom. The small percentage who are paying any attention at all to what is happening in Washington will hear this by Obama and be satisfied:

Let me be clear: the United States government has no interest or intention of running GM. What we are interested in is giving GM an opportunity to finally make those much-needed changes that will let them emerge from this crisis a stronger and more competitive company.

If the lie is told often enough, people will believe it - especially when the media doesn’t think it’s their job to call Obama out for his prevarications. Have you seen any article (outside of the Wall Street Journal and a few reactionary newspapers) or any news broadcast beyond a few CNBC and Fox segments that even discusses the possibility that what Obama is doing is nothing short of a government takeover of GM? If you can fire one CEO, hire another, force bankruptcy, and guarantee warranties, not to mention deciding which “changes” GM should make in their business plan, that sounds an awful lot like “running GM” to me.

But the average voter doesn’t hear any of that. All they hear is the president standing up on national TV and solemnly proclaiming one thing while his Administration is blatantly doing exactly the opposite. The key to any good propaganda is to make the lie believable. And for the moment, the people trust the president to tell them the truth. Right now, people just aren’t that upset with what is going on save the minority of us who are paying a little closer attention to what’s going on in Washington. And don’t forget, there’s another minority of people paying attention who are supporting the President and urging him to do more. Liberal activists have only just begun to hold the president’s feet to the fire and before all is said and done, America could potentially be a place that you and I wouldn’t recognize from just two years ago.

Patrick makes this point in his post:

The end result of this agenda, the size of government at 2007 levels, may seem minimalist in any broad sweep of history, but it is galvanizing in a way it wasn’t before because of the sheer scope of what’s changed in six months. The yawning gap between where we are now and where we were two years ago gives conservatives an ambitious goal to reach for and a reason for being again, even if the end result is little change over time. And if we get a mandate to actually cut government significantly — and I think the public mood will shift there in a few years if not sooner — it might not be that much harder to cut it to below pre-Obama or pre-Bush levels because current levels are so out of whack that people would not be able to tell the difference between that and what the status quo was in the mid-2000s — only that it is change.

Unfortunately, history is not on Patrick’s side. The most conservative president in history couldn’t shrink the size of government. The most conservative Congress in history barely made a dent in the size of government during the 1990’s and then turned around and became the biggest spendthrift Congress in history. “Shrinking” the size of government to 2007 levels can’t be done simply because it is not 2007 anymore. A great tide washed over the country last November and when it ebbs, no one knows where we will be. But there is an historical certainty there will be no road back the way we came. As powerful as the Obama wave seems to be today, even he cannot erase all the contours of what Reagan built many years ago. Similarly, if, as many suspect, Obama’s victory was a transformational moment in history, the next wave of change cannot entirely undo what has been done by his Administration.

The game has changed. Nationalized health insurance is on the way, more top down solutions to education are being contemplated, wholesale changes to business and industry as a result of the green craze will be forced on the economy, the defense budget will be drastically cut, and that’s probably only the beginning. Patrick believes the voter will rebel against these changes. That remains to be seen. But what is certain is that they won’t turn to Republicans for the answers no matter how “galvanized” the GOP becomes.

For Patrick’s proposal to succeed, the word “Republican” will have to be rehabilitated with the voter. The damage done to the party during the Bush years - as Patrick rightly points out - will not be fixed by simply reiterating what the party’s message has been since LBJ’s presidency. It won’t be repaired by offering the same small government mantra no matter how much “big government” is screwing things up. Ruffini points to history to buttress his argument:

The Welfare State mentality of the ’60s that created the conditions for 1980 and 1994 systemically excused bad behavior at an individual level, creating millions of individual tragedies. Obamanomics systematically excuses bad behavior at the wholesale macroeconomic level, creating a vicious circle of irresponsibility with major consequences for every American.

If nothing else, the first 70 days of Obama — with an assist from the last 4 months of Bush — has left government economic policy so off-kilter that it may take a decade or more to fix. Remember that exhausted to-do list? Not a problem any more.

For the first time in decades, Republicans could run on a platform of cutting government by a third and not seem wild-eyed or mean-spirited. When we talk about the dangers of governments running private businesses, we will have contemporary object lessons to teach with, not bogeymen that are decades old or oceans away. When we talk about getting the government out of our lives, more people will nod their head knowing exactly what we mean, having just footed the bill for bailout after bailout, instead of yawning or dismissing it as a non-issue as they did in the prosperous, laissez-faire post-Reagan America.

All of that would be true if the GOP wasn’t totally and deeply discredited as a political party. The difference between 1980 and 1994 and the situation today is that in both those eras, Republicans were competitive across the country. Now, whole swaths of the United States are almost no-go zones for the GOP. Bereft of national leadership, having no counter-agenda that is accepted by the party regulars, and unable to escape the economic legacy of George Bush, Republicans have a lot of work to do in order to be taken seriously - even when they pledge to “shrink” the size of government.

And it isn’t just the map that is the problem. Vital segments of the voting public have decisively rejected the party including the 18-35 age group and Hispanics - two groups who are growing in number and becoming more politically savvy at a time when the Republican social agenda is receding in importance to voters and on issue after issue a decisive advantage accrues to the Democrats. Couple this with the thought that Congressional districts will be redrawn in 2010 with a probable increase in Democratic seats as a result and you have not only problems with party ID but systemic hurdles to overcome as well.

Patrick is not talking about an opportunity for the short term but it is hard to fathom at this point where the GOP can begin to close the gap. Ruffini is attempting to reduce the online activism gap but that too is a long term project. Can these problems be overcome by running on a platform “We are not socialists?” In the end, I think Patrick expects too much of the voter, projects our own anger on to them when I am convinced it will take more than what Obama has done so far to rile them up.

What Patrick has latched onto is an illusion of opportunity. The people aren’t ready. The party’s not ready. The elected representatives certainly aren’t ready for what he is proposing. And before we’re through, history will have a say as well. For that, no one can predict what the outcome of Obama’s assault on capitalism will be nor how well the GOP can respond given the limits imposed on them by their own stupidity and arrogance in the past.

By: Rick Moran at 8:11 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (18)

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)

2/22/2009
EXPLOITING TAXPAYER RAGE NOT THE WAY BACK FOR GOP

I have read some speculation in the last few days that it may be possible for the GOP to make big gains in the House and Senate in 2010 if they “tap in” to the rage being felt by ordinary taxpayers against the savior based economy being created by Obama and the Democrats.

As a tactic, it would probably be a winner. But is there another way to achieve the same result without exacerbating the already deep divisions in American society? We may be in a period of low employment, sluggish growth, and high inflation for a while if the Japan model is any indication with their “lost decade.” This is especially true since the Obama administration shows no signs of lessening the flow of cash from the federal spigot. Taxpayers have seen where most of this money is going already and feel betrayed by a government that is seeking to reward failure and bad decisions. The chances are pretty good at this point that all the “stimulus” in the world is not going to head off a deep recession and the federal government is apparently setting itself up to decide who wins and who loses in this shakeup.

The inevitable populist backlash is predictable. The problem is that mass movements based on populist rage have generally led to untoward and unanticipated consequences. History is littered with these populist outbreaks - especially those that happen as a result of great cultural and economic changes being enacted by a perceived elite. The last major populist movement in America was George Wallace’s candidacy in 1968 (to a much lesser extent in 1964 and 72) that saw the Alabama governor get an astonishing 13.5% of the vote and carry 5 states in the general election. Wallace tapped into the rage and fear being felt by white, working class men who felt threatened (thanks to Wallace’s sneering, bigoted rhetoric) by African American agitation for equality. Nixon and the GOP then mainstreamed the tactic albeit using much more subtle language and even Clinton got into the act with his famous “Sister Souljah Moment,” assuring whites he wouldn’t pander to black racists like Jesse Jackson (Clinton is the only Democrat since JFK to carry any states of the traditional “Deep South.).

Tapping in to the rage of taxpayers by exploiting their fears then, would almost certainly result in unanticipated problems for the GOP. But beyond that, is this the way the Republicans wish to return to power? The Rovian strategy of using wedge issues to cleave the electorate over gay marriage, abortion, and other social issues got Republicans elected but also sowed the seeds of their own destruction. By the time 2008 rolled around, those wedge issues had lost their potency and there was ample evidence of a backlash by center-right and center-left moderates against the GOP and their perceived intolerance. It was Obama who exploited this backlash by promising to govern based on not what divides us but by what unites us. His “post partisan” message - a campaign gimmick we know now - resonated powerfully with the center who had tired of the back biting and poisonous partisan atmosphere in Washington and longed for “change.”

There is only one campaign theme more powerful in American politics than fear; optimism. This is especially true in dire economic times or when America is threatened from abroad. Not only would running a campaign based on tapping into the native optimism of the people score political points with the electorate, it would give the GOP if not a mandate, then certainly the political clout to slow down the Obama Dependency Express and restore some sanity to our fiscal situation. It would also give the Republicans some leverage to moderate the Democrat’s bail out policies and give the party more input into legislation

What a marvelous opportunity for the GOP to show that they have indeed changed their tune if the party were to adopt an enthusiastically optimistic message while presenting viable solutions to our economic problems. With President Obama criss crossing the country trying to scare people into supporting him, the contrast between the GOP’s confident, optimistic agenda and the Democrats “America Held Hostage” policies would be pronounced. And, they would result in the kind of gains we can only dream of at this point.

But if the GOP were to descend to the Democrat’s level - scaring people by screaming about “socialism” and the attendant imagery of economic doom and gloom, the party may indeed make some gains but with what kind of mandate? And would it be as effective as preparing the people for tough choices by playing to their native optimism and saying that as Americans, we are capable of anything if we pull together? Coupled with some new ideas about targeted tax cuts and real “stimulus” spending instead of the porked up monstrosity offered by the Democrats, that rage could turn to optimism and hope which would attract a helluva lot more people than scare tactics.

Obama has ceded this territory to the Republicans. He has embarked on a course where in order to get his agenda passed, he will be forced to appeal to the basest instincts of the people. We are already seeing the result as it has pitted ordinary Americans who are resentful of where the bail out money has been going against other Americans who will be the beneficiaries of government largess. He may have underestimated the extent of this backlash although it remains to be seen if this rage can be channeled by Republicans into doing something constructive. For that, they simply cannot exploit the emotions of the day but must help make people feel good about themselves. Already, the feel-good aspect of the Obama candidacy - electing the first African American president - is fading. And as Obama’s policies to fundamentally alter the country become obvious, I suspect that feeling will disappear for all but the most committed Obamabots. The Republicans can reclaim the “feel-good” mantle by appealing to one of America’s greatest strengths; the ability of our citizens to look to the future with hope. Obama played to that strength during the campaign and is now abandoning it in favor of fear mongering. It’s s delicious political opening that the GOP ignores to its detriment.

Newly minted GOP chairman Steele is just the sort of person to lead a newly energized GOP into this fight. His ideas on reforming the party at the top to bring transparency and ethics to the fore as evidence that the Republicans have learned their lessons is a gigantic first step toward reviving the party’s fortunes. But if the GOP were to then simply fall back on failed strategies involving dividing the electorate, any good work accomplished by the chairman will probably go for naught. The party needs new ideas, new solutions that can be presented to the people as evidence that they have gotten beyond the past and are ready to lead the country to a bright future.

I must say that I am not optimistic that the GOP has learned such lessons. The temptation to exploit fear and anger is almost irresistable since it is the easy way back, a shortcut to where the party wants to be. The hard thing to do would be to eschew such tactics and be positive, optimistic, and forward looking while offering solutions that recognize how serious the trouble we are in but remaining true to our first principles and beliefs.

Then again, I may be pleasantly surprised…

By: Rick Moran at 9:30 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (37)

2/16/2009
CPAC AGENDA SHOWS CONSERVATIVES STILL IN DENIAL

The theme of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) should be “Cocooning our way to Irrelevancy” or perhaps “How to lose the next 5 elections in 10 easy steps.”

From my point of view, it really is that bad. With the exception of some effort to bring conservatism into the 21st century communications-wise, the program appears to be an excellent panacea for what ailed conservatism in about 1980. It’s as if the debacles of 2006 and 2008 never happened. Does it matter that the very same people who helped get us clobbered the last two election cycles are running seminars and roundtables at the conference? Not if you’re a movement still in denial that it will take more than “message tweaking” and better utilization of the internet to bring conservatism back and make it relevant to a large portion of Americans again.

The side conference being sponsored by PJTV - “Conservatism 2.0″ - looks interesting but here again, we have familiar faces who haven’t expressed much interest in real conservative reform. (Some panelists on the communications side are the exception.) Glenn Reynolds and Michelle Malkin are internet friends of mine and I agree with them on many issues. But are they really the people to be running a “Conservatism 2.0″ conference? Perhaps I misunderstand what they are trying to accomplish. And I may be pleasantly surprised. But before we can even get to “Conservatism 2.0″ perhaps we should be thinking of taking a remedial course in what conservatism should mean in our modern society. I’m afraid this sort of introspection will reveal how far afield conservatism has strayed but may also generate thoughts and ideas about how conservatism can be relevant in a 21st century industrialized democracy.

Online activism is fine and seeking new ways to communicate is an excellent idea. But does it matter what we will be trying to get across? If so, I’m not sure that this PJTV side conference will accomplish anything useful.

Alright…so. My idea of “reform” is probably a helluva lot different than most conservatives. But maybe we could start with the recognition that in elections, the way you win is by getting one more vote than the other side. And no matter how you want to add up the numbers, the 30% of so of the nation that identifies itself as “conservative” will always fall short of 50% + 1. I hate to break this news to my fellow conservatives; you can use any kind of mathematical hocus pocus you wish but there just aren’t enough of us to only allow “true conservatives” a place at the table. The absence of conservatives like David Frum, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, and others who probably agree with 90% of conservative positions on the issues but have been driven from the movement for their apostasy — real or imagined — is as incomprehensible as it is depressing.

This is the way back? It’s not a question of being “moderate” or “true-blue” but rather how long does conservatism want to wander in the wilderness? Ideas on how to reform conservatism — and I speak of real reform, not the cosmetic solutions that appear will be offered at CPAC — must come from as many sources as possible. Some conservatives might not like the smell inside the “Big Tent” but turning up your nose at people who disagree with you on one or two issues is just plain nuts. “Litmus tests” and the like are all well and good unless you are a minority, getting smaller and less relevant, and don’t wish to find a way back in order to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

Our dire situation doesn’t seem to have sunk in yet. This is evident by how many sessions are scheduled that appear to have been lifted from the agenda of a decade or more ago. To wit:

Thursday, 2/26 at 10:10:

“The Key to Victory? Listen to Conservatives”

Michael Barone, U.S. News and World Report
Rep. Aaron Schock (IL)
Rep. Peter Roskam (IL)*
Rep. Virginia Foxx (NC)*
Saul Anuzis, Michigan Republican Party

Moderator: Al Cardenas, American Conservative Union Board of Directors

I would listen to Michael Barone if he appeared in a bathtub. As for the rest, the day the conservative movement stops listening to members of Congress (with precious few exceptions) is the day we begin the road back.

Thursday, 2/26 at 1:50 pm

“New Challenges in the Culture War”

Rep. Chris Smith (NJ)*
Dr. Janice Crouse, The Beverly LaHaye Institute
Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel and Liberty University School of Law

Moderator: Marjorie Dannenfelser, Susan B. Anthony List

New, old, what’s the difference? The issues are losers. The GOP is no longer seen as the party of fiscal restraint, low taxes, and strong defense but rather the gay bashing, anti-woman, anti-minority party. Those who believe a simple tweaking of the message will change that are dreaming.

Friday, 2/27 at 9:00 AM

Breakfast with Phyllis Schlafly: “Doing the Impossible”

Schafly is one smart, tough woman but part of the ancien regime. The same goes for many of the speakers at the conference. Ann Coulter will once again try to make headlines by attempting to top her own outrageousness. Ralph Reed is selling a book and hardly relevant to my idea of modern conservatism. The Members of Congress invited are, with a couple of exceptions, an uninspiring lot. Mike Pence and Eric Cantor are two of the more thoughtful House members in the Republican caucus but the rest are vanilla and oatmeal.

There are a couple of interesting sessions including Thursday morning’s “Timeless Principles, New Challenges: The Future of the Conservative Movement.” But the panelists? Van Hipp, American Defense International, Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal, and Bay Buchanan, of the The American Cause would not be my choices to run this session. How about Ross Douthat or Marc Ambinder? These are guys who have given conservative reform a considerable amount of thought. Alas, they are not “pure” enough for this crowd.

Also a session I plan on attending will be “Building the Conservative Hispanic Coalition.” I will almost guarantee that it will be the least popular session as far as attendance at the conference. Given the way GOP candidates shamefully and inexplicably dissed Hispanics by refusing to show up for the Spanish TV debate, I would be ashamed to show my face at this session too.

And, as I mentioned, there is the PJTV side conference. At least here, there appears to be an effort to think outside the box. Patrick Ruffini will be on a panel with Jude Cristobal, singer-songwriter, Andrew Klavan, award-winning author and screenwriter, and Alfonzo Rachel, advocate of right-minded ideas on new media talking about “New Media Empowering Conservative Messages.” There isn’t a new message yet but at least we’ll be ready when there is one.

Saturday’s PJTV session is being billed as a “conservative answer to The View “and features some pretty savvy women moderators including Michelle Malkin, political strategist Jeri Thompson, and pollster Kellyanne Conway. The concept is interesting but I question how it plays into the “Conservatism 2.0″ theme. A take off of an MSM television show and transferring the format to internet TV may be entertaining but instructive how? It would seem to me that the format might get in the way of any kind of serious discussions about the future of conservatism but, I may be pleasantly surprised.

Perhaps I am expecting too much from a conference where conservatives are gathering to learn about activism (there are several sessions about “nuts and bolts” politics that are always very good), enjoy the company of mostly like minded people, and gape at some of the stars of the conservative movement.

But looking at the agenda and the speakers for CPAC 2009, I can’t help but think that this will be a lost opportunity. There is so much for conservatives to think about; facing up to the failures of the Bush years and conservative’s role in enabling those failures; less ideology and more pragmatism; a fundamental reassessment of how conservative principles can be relevant in a nation of 300 million people of varied ethnicity and interests; and a radical cleansing of limiting ideas that stifle debate and place more emphasis on assessing the purity of one’s conservative beliefs by a self-selected minority rather than accepting and embracing our differences.

And most importantly, fleeing the mindset that re-enforces the notion that there isn’t much really wrong with conservatism that a dab of message clarification here and a spot of renewed enthusiasm there won’t cure. Accepting the fact that there are fundamental problems is the first step toward recovery.

Unfortunately, CPAC fails miserably in that regard.

UPDATE

Here’s more from some clear thinking conservatives:

Frum:

Could we possibly act more inadequate to the challenge? More futile? More brain dead?

We in fact have a constructive solution to offer, one that would deliver more jobs faster: the payroll tax holiday, an idea endorsed by almost every reputable right-of-center economist. But that’s not the solution being offered by Republicans in Congress. They are offering a clapped-out package of 1980s-vintage solutions, including capital gains tax cuts. Capital gains! Who has any capital gains to be taxed in the first place?

Almost 70% of Americans say that President Obama will change the country for the better, the CNN poll found Feb. 7-8. Asked whether President Obama is doing enough to cooperate with Republicans, 74% said yes. Asked whether Republicans are doing enough to cooperate with President Obama, 60% said no.

In every poll I’ve seen, hefty majorities approve of President Obama’s economic performance. Approval numbers for congressional Republicans remain dismal.

If we’re to make progress in 2010, we have to look serious. This week we looked not only irrelevant, but clueless and silly. Quite a job for a little mouse.

Douthat:

But that’s a big if - which is why the more likely road to revival for the GOP probably starts outside Washington, with politicians who can afford to be experimental without constantly worrying about what Rush Limbaugh would say about them. This is one of the ways reform happened in the Democratic Party of the ’70s and ’80s: You had a collection of distinctive and innovative political figures - your “Atari Democrats,” your neoliberals, your “New Democrats” - who were testing out new ways of being liberal in statewide races long before their ideas were embraced by the party nationally. (Some of them still haven’t been, of course, as Mickey Kaus will be happy to inform you.) What the Republican Party needs, above all, is a generation of politicians who can fill the “center-right” space currently occupied by time-servers like Arlen Specter and Susan Collins with a politics that’s oriented around policy, rather than process. It needs a reform caucus that’s actually interested in reform (as opposed to deal-cutting), and that’s populated with politicians who have tried something new in difficult political terrains, and proven that it might work.

If such a caucus doesn’t emerge in Washington, though, then the party has to hope it emerges in the statehouses - and that one such statehouse occupant has what it takes to win the party’s nomination, the Presidency, and singlehandedly turn the GOP away from it’s self-defeating, self-destructive habits along the way. This is both the easiest way for the party to acquire the leadership it needs, and the hardest: It’s the easiest because it only requires the emergence of one great politician, rather than the slow cultivation of a generation of them; and it’s the hardest because it depends on the skills and vision of a single reform-minded leader, rather than a pooled efforts of like-minded cohort. Some of the failures of the Bush Administration, it’s worth noting, reflect precisely the latter set of dangers: You had a President trying, fitfully but with some sincerity, to create a new kind of conservatism (compassionate, big-government, whatever) without the kind of institutional and intellectual support that his project required. And it’s easy to imagine the next Republican President - whether it’s Jindal in 2016 or whomever - running into the same sort of problems, and running aground on them as well.

And yet, these guys are frozen out of CPAC and Ann Coulter gets center stage?

By: Rick Moran at 12:44 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (66)

2/2/2009
GINGRICH SEES THE PROBLEMS BUT WHERE ARE THE SOLUTIONS?

I have written extensively on a man I consider one of the most brilliant conceptualists in the conservative movement, Newt Gingrich. There is little doubt that Newt drives both friends and enemies batty at times and, like all conceptualists is given to vagueness and a maddening circular logic when it comes to describing problems.

But those lefties unable to see any human being in more than one dimension fail to understand Gingrich, seeing him as some kind of partisan ogre rather than the political theorist and historian he can be when the mood strikes him. No doubt that when the partisan juices flow, Gingrich can and has been a lightening rod for liberal hate of conservatives. This was probably most true when Newt was a GOP backbencher in the early and mid 1980’s and Republicans in the House were nearly somnolent, allowing Democrats to run roughshod over them. Virtually accusing Speaker Tip O’Neil of being complicit in communist atrocities in Nicaragua did not endear him to the left and his subsequent role in Clinton’s impeachment while Speaker himself no doubt made him an inviting conservative punching bag for liberals.

That being said, there is no one who has a better grasp of “The Big Picture” among politicians right or left. But listening to Gingrich is dangerous because the threads of his logic are so clear and riff so easily from one to the next that he can hypnotize the listener with the power of his presentation. His grasp of history, his ability to weave a narrative that traverses the past, present, and future can leave one breathless - until you realize that his conceptualizations, while impeccably logical, don’t go anywhere. Ideas and observations have no purpose, no destination. He rarely offers solutions and when he does, they are high concept dissertations that are long on rhetoric but short on practical, real world applications.

One of his oldest friends, ex-Congressman Vin Weber:

“I never saw a lot of crackpot ideas. I saw a lot of good ideas. But there was difficulty in assessing a cost-benefit ratio. Even if every idea is good, resources are limited. With Newt, it didn’t matter if we were overreaching, we had to do everything.”

A staffer noted that “He would always get people started on a project or a vision, and we’re all slugging up the mountain to accomplish it. Newt’s nowhere to be found…He’s gone on to the next mountaintop.”

Gingrich is afflicted with the same disease that brought down another brilliant conceptualizer in politics Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson set liberals on fire with the suppleness and power of his intellect but his problems in taking the next step and putting those concepts into a framework that was politically actionable had the Kennedy’s dismissing Adlai as a lightweight. That feeling of disdain persisted right on up to the Cuban Missile Crisis when, after proposing the solution that inevitably became the basis of agreement between the Soviets and the US - removal of the Jupiter Missiles from Turkey and a “no-invasion” pledge for Cuba - Stevenson was lambasted by Bobby Kennedy as “an appeaser” and there was serious thought given to replacing him at the UN (Bobby calling anyone an appeaser was a joke dripping with irony considering his father was the world’s #1 appeaser of Hitler.).

In the end, Stevenson performed more than adequately at the UN and history has judged him correct with regard to the eventual concession on the Turkish missiles - a fact not revealed about the crisis until fairly recently due to the Kennedy’s fears that the luster would be lost on JFK’s “victory” over Khrushchev in the crisis if it became known we gave up the strategically relevant Jupiters for missiles in Cuba. There was also the immediate matter of the 1962 mid term elections where Kennedy did not wish it known he had folded on the Jupiters thus giving the Republicans a club to beat him with.

Gingrich and Stevenson are similar in that they could mesmerize an audience with their brilliance but when it came to offering solutions to the problems they so exquisitely described, they were already on to talking about the next problem that needed addressing. Such men do not make good executives which is why any talk of Newt in 2012 scares me. Still, this piece in The Hill today gives us some vintage Newt in a real tour d’horizon performance:

“The world is much more difficult than any American realizes, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better,” Gingrich said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

From an economic system in tatters to dangerous enemies abroad and a culture of corruption among politicians from coast to coast, Gingrich said President Obama faces truly mountainous tasks. The country, he said, will require “changes on a scale that is going to drive the establishment crazy.”

Gingrich voiced disappointment with the economic stimulus package moving through the Senate this week, saying any package should focus on boosting small businesses rather than on bailing out big corporations and banks.

“What they’re trying to do now is bail out the guys who failed, and I think that’s very dangerous,” Gingrich said, comparing the latest stimulus plan with bailout legislation signed by former President Bush. “That’s not change you can believe in. That’s more of the same.”

Facing increasingly well-educated generations of Indian and Chinese citizens, Gingrich also called for an overhaul in the nation’s education system. While high schoolers in India get four years of physics training, “this country is aggressively preparing for the 1956 Olympics,” Gingrich said.

Warning that foreign challenges are mounting just as quickly as domestic concerns, Gingrich pointed to Mexico, where violence fueled largely by drug cartels has exploded, and Pakistan, where terrorists roam freely in some parts of the country, as two of the nation’s top concerns.

“We are piling up risks, and one morning one of those risks is going to break loose,” he said.

Gingrich never concerns himself with solutions, believing that identifying the problems clearly and concisely is enough - at least for him. But if he wants to be a force in presidential politics, he is going to have to get used to the idea that most people prefer a candidate who can both articulate what’s wrong and propose common sense solutions to fix it. To date, Newt is more enamored with that “next mountaintop” rather than slogging along, doing the grunt work of pushing solutions forward.

It is perhaps less glamorous to labor to bring about change rather than simply announce that change is necessary as Obama is finding out. In the case of both men, their success or failure will depend on how each of them perceives the enormous challenges we are facing and goes beyond the atmospherics of electoral politics to enter the world of policy making where the power of one’s ideas count only as much as the viability of solutions those ideas bring forth.

So far, neither Obama or Gingrich has set forth any convincing solutions to the problems they both have so brilliantly defined.

By: Rick Moran at 1:58 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (24)