Conservative Fusionism Is To Blame

In his response to Freddie, Conor writes:

This is sloppy reasoning. It treats conservatism as though it is indistinguishable from the Republican Party and the Bush Administration — as though a political philosophy and an American political coalition are the same things — and it proceeds to make a rather stunning implicit assertion: that if one objects that conservatism isn’t responsible for some ill, one must necessarily believe that no one is responsible for it.

I am broadly sympathetic to this type of argument, but I’ve come to realize that it largely misses Freddie’s point, which I take to be a criticism not of any specific strain of conservatism but rather of the notion that modern movement conservatism is a salvageable governing philosophy.  In other words, as I wrote this morning:

Individually, each of the various forms of conservatism can present a viable philosophy of governance such that no individual strain of conservatism can bear the brunt of the blame for conservatism’s failings.  Collectively, however, the need to keep each strain within the tent leaves conservatism as a movement incapable of governing well on the national level based on the issues this country faces at this moment.

Regardless, Conor’s point above fails for a more basic reason insofar as it is specifically an attempt to defend Douthat against Freddie’s criticism: Douthat himself does not distinguish between the conservative movement and the GOP.  Indeed, in his remarks at Princeton University yesterday, he spent several minutes explaining why he views the conservative movement and the GOP as “interchangeable” terms. 

Again, it may be that no individual strain of conservatism can be viewed as consistent with the activities of the Bush Administration.  But collectively, the amalgamation of all those strains of conservatism into one master ideology is what not only enabled those activities, it perhaps made them inevitable.  For that, those interested in the notion of a conservative “movement” need to be prepared to accept responsibility if conservatism is to emerge from the wilderness as not merely an electable movement, but also a competent and coherent one capable of governing.

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96 thoughts on “Conservative Fusionism Is To Blame

  1. I never feel smart enough to run with you intellectual big dogs, but I will give it shot:

    if conservatism should not be synomymous with the GOP, should liberalism be linked to the Democratic Party? There is a lot of talk about people being conservatives and not Republicans, but I’ve never heard people saying they are liberal but not Republican.

    Just a thought?

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    • Intellectual big dogs? Dude – we have the word “ordinary” in our title for a reason! :)

      Anyways, that’s a good question, which I think gets to the point. I tend to think that you hear those sorts of things whenever the party nominally identified with the particular political movement has held power for awhile and has (inevitably, perhaps) been a huge disappointment to that movement.

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    • Wait, you obviously don’t mean that…

      I’m trying to unpack your statement.

      Hrm. I’d say that it’s probably a venn diagram that looks like the mastercard logo (in both cases). One circle is “this” and one circle is “that”. There is (perhaps a great deal of) overlap but it isn’t absolute.

      The more overlap there is, of course, leads to it being safer and safer to assume that if someone says that they lean “X” that they vote overlap.

      But 20% of the population swings their vote. That’s 1 outta 5.

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      • Liberal doesn’t mean “Democrat” because there are many conservative Democrats. They even have a name for them: Blue Dogs. The only correlation I can see within the Republican party are the Log Cabin Republicans, who are often treated like pariahs within their own party. (The irony…the Democrats would be much more tolerant of the LCR’s fiscal conservativism than the Republicans would be about their sexual orientation. If you’re gay and conservative, just might as well be a Democrat in that case…)

        My criticism is that the Republican party isn’t all that conservative either. Every Republican wants a “small government” when it comes to the IRS. But when it comes to keeping boobies off primetime TV, get me the FCC…NOW.

        This kind of hypocrisy is rampant in the Republican party. They’ll rail against Washington insiders dictating policy for the rest of the country…but weren’t they telling us just a few years ago that we needed a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage lest the liberals in MS and CA try to legalize it? That’s conservative? In what, the conservipedia?

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    • There seems to be no shortage of self-described liberals who don’t identify with the Democratic Party because they view it as too enabling of/captured by corporate interests.

      That said, I think the greatest political loss the nation’s suffered in the past 40 years is the decline of the Liberal or Rockefeller Republican. They can talk all about being the Party of Lincoln today…but those guys were the political heirs of Lincoln, not Jim DeMint.

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  2. the amalgamation of all those strains of conservatism into one master ideology

    Has this occurred in a form that is accepted to be what you describe it to be by the preponderance of those who describe themselves as “conservatives”? Can you point me to it? (Zero snark attached there: I want very much to know what people who say they are conservative [I don’t know if that’s you, but perhaps as an outsider you would have a more disinterested view] would say denuded conservatism is generically. Not their personal inflection thereof, which they of course have every right to, but rather what the thing is that comes after their particular variation in the hyphenated formulation, “I am a [personal flavor]-conservative.”)

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    • I have seen the formulation of “conservatism is the belief that liberalism is wrong” put forth by a good number of die-hard movement conservatives in recent years. See, e.g., here: http://hotair.com/greenroom/archives/2009/06/15/how-to-think-about-liberalismif-you-must/

      In many ways, the movement conservative die-hards tend to be more honest about this than the reformers, but even at the discussion yesterday, it was pretty clearly an underlying, if unspoken, theme, and pretty explicitly the theme behind Postrel’s lightbulb allegory.

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      • Wow. I actually think people who describe themselves instinctually as conservative (even just in general — not in specifically political terms, though it seems like they tend to end up being politically conservative by instinct as well, though of course not always) have more in mind than just ‘not-liberal.’ It seems like the guiding lights of the movement, in trying to deal with this identity that is quite devoid of independent substance on which there is agreement, might do well to explore what it is that makes an ordinary person call herself “conservative”, and see where those things lead them in terms of political conclusions. Otherwise, maybe just go with whatever the individual political commitments are (libertarianism, social traditionalism, etc.) as their own separate categories, to which a particular party can them appeal explicitly. This conceptual bundling under an ill-defined umbrella concept (distinct from the party) seems like a nearly fruitless exercise. On the other hand, abandoning it would seem to be tantamount to admitting the conservative movement (though not “Movement”), as distinct from mere opposition to Democratic power, to be effectively dissolved.

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  3. To start with, let us admit that Hayek was wrong.
    The growth of the welfare state doesn’t cause socialism, it causes secularism.
    Goverment welfare (ie, the public option for religion) causes the death of the non-competitive local religious welfare providers.
    The GOP needs to become more secular to broaden the base. I estimate the GOP base at 75% WEC (white evangelical christian). As long as the GOP can only front WEC or mormon candidates, they remain unappealling to the key demographics…..youth, minorities, teh college educated, academic, intellectuals, and the cultural elites.

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    • “To start with, let us admit that Hayek was wrong.
      The growth of the welfare state doesn’t cause socialism, it causes secularism.”

      Hayek never argued that the welfare state causes socialism, at least not of the variety he was discussing in RTS. He was talking more about central planning and top-down technocracy.

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    • I don’t think that’s actually likely. The Republican base at present is right-wing Christians. The party isn’t libertarian, and it’s never going to be libertarian, because of it’s disregard for civil liberties. Dropping gay marriage as an issue isn’t going to help with that.

      If you take a guess at what proportion of the country is “cultural elites” and young people who aren’t voting for the Republicans due to their social conservatism, and the proportion of the country that are low-income, culturally conservative, religious people that don’t vote for the GOP because its economic policies harm them, the latter are almost certainly larger. However much of a tool Douthat acts like, he’s got a point that the best way for Republicans to recover is to find some economic policies that actually benefit the types of people who are, for non-economic reasons, inclined to vote for them.

      In short: there’s just a lot more low-income religious people than there are upscale secularists.

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      • Not to mention the sheer number of people who are low-income, culturally conservative, and religious, and nonwhite who won’t touch the GOP with a ten-foot pole due to the racism the party continues to exude.

        Not every Republican is a racist, obviously, but a critical mass of the party seems to be. Many others in the party certainly spend lots of time echoing talking points that have a racist appeal, even when they protest they want little more than equal opportunity and to end “unfair advantages” and such. But guess which “unfair advantages” seem to be the only ones targeted?

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          • Actually, no it’s not, Mike. Google “Southern Strategy.” Look up “Willie Horton.” Remember Rush Limbaugh’s “halfrican” nonsense, or all the tea-party signs about Kenya. Sorry, Mike, but you may think Republican racism is too clever to be detected…but it’s not clever, and it’s been detected.

            And yet, you’re going to say it’s liberal tinfoil hat land??? Dude…you can’t even say, “That’s those Republicans over there. That’s not me.” You’re just going to deny it completely and insist that it’s liberals being crazy?

            Not gonna work, bud.

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            • Actually, no it’s not, Mike. Google “Southern Strategy.” Look up “Willie Horton.” Remember Rush Limbaugh’s “halfrican” nonsense, or all the tea-party signs about Kenya. Sorry, Mike, but you may think Republican racism is too clever to be detected…but it’s not clever, and it’s been detected.

              He’s not saying there’s no racism in the Republican Party. He’s responding to the comment claiming that a critical mass of the party seems to be. I don’t think I’d go that far either.

              As far as the Tea Party signs, weren’t those the ones carried around by the birthers? I’m not sure how racially motivated those are without actually seeing them but racism is not the first thing I come up with.

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            • I think a LOT of what liberals like to atribute to Republicans is sort of like when we were accused of being racist by saying that Obama hung around with radicals because y’know ‘radical’ is a racist code-word. Liberals see what they want to see. I’d say 50% is people really believing it and 50% is them wanting to make sure blacks believe it so their votes remain firmly with the Democrats.

              I known three people in my life who use the word ‘nigger’ on a regular basis. All three of them are life-long Democrats. I don’t know where you live Herb but below the Mason-Dixon line it’s little more complicated than saying GOP = racism and DNC = friend of the black man.

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              • I don’t think all Republicans are racist, or even that the Republican platform is racist. But I am saying that the poor Republican reputation among minorities is entirely deserved, and its causes are well-documented.

                Do you really think the anti-Obama tactics mounted so far are going to change that? Or will it just make it worse?

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                • Entirely deserved? Really? Because I know for a fact that minority communities generally sympathize pretty strongly with socially conservatism on a variety of issues (hispanics don’t like abortion, blacks don’t like gay marriage, etc) African Americans are also big fans of vouchers and they don’t like busing. I also think that poor blacks, if they understood the way that immigrant labor hurts them economically, would be much more conservative on immigration. No, the GOP doesn’t like affirmative action or social programs. And yeah, the Bush administration dropped the ball on Katrina. But let’s be honest…a LOT of the hatred that minorities (re: blacks) have for the GOP is as much a product of the Left’s spin machine as it is the actions of the Republican party.

                  Well of course we aren’t going to get any support for attacks on the President. You have a biased audience there. Even the most truthful of complaints aren’t going to receive a fair listen…and I get that. Blacks are very proud of this President and that’s fine. We certainly weren’t depending on their votes prior to this election.

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                  • You bring up good points about how the Republican party can, in theory, appeal to minorities, many of whom will be receptive to GOP’s message. But if you’re asking “Why aren’t minorities getting the message?” and the answer is “the left has bamboozled them,” you’re not giving credit where credit is due.

                    Let’s assume in good faith that minorities are every bit as capable as non-minorities in recognizing their own interests, and matching up those interests with politicians who will look out for them. Feelings on abortion and gay marriage aside, these politicians have not traditionally come from the Republican party.

                    They can start, but they’re also going to have to take some responsibility for fostering the “angry white man” image and start appealing to minorities in non-superficial ways.

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                    • If we can agree that minority also means ‘more likely to be low income’ then I don’t think it’s fair to say they are able to parse out what’s best for them with the same degree of certainty as other groups. I think it’s also fair to say rural folks are more likely to be manipulated (see rise of the Religious Right). It’s a combination of being in a closed community and also the parties playing on their inherent fears. So yes, i believe there is a big degree of manipulation coming from Democrats towards minorities, especially blacks. I mean, the most exciting thing they dangle in front of them are social programs. You’ve got to do some real salesmanship to make that sound appealing.

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  4. “But collectively, the amalgamation of all those strains of conservatism into one master ideology is what not only enabled those activities, it perhaps made them inevitable.”

    Which strains of conservatism led to Katrina, specifically? Did some terrible guy at YAF make it rain a lot? Is Grover Norquist advocating for substandard dams?

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    • I would argue that the lack of any governing ideology whatsoever beyond “we’re not liberals” creates a vacuum of leadership. It’s not that any one strand of conservatism is to blame for the government’s response to the Katrina disaster; it’s that collectively the irreconcilable differences of the various strains of conservatism paralyzed the leadership to do much of anything beyond crass political opportunism and cronyism.

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      • “We’re not liberals.” Is that really the governing ideology of conservatism? I mean, come on. You cited to Robert Stacy McCain to identify the governing ideology of conservatism! Even George W. Bush regularly articulated a set of mushy principles for conservative governance. We can argue over whether his governance reflected those principles or not. But they certainly did not amount to “we’re not liberals.”

        Does your argument boil down to the proposition that George Bush-style governance is inevitable given the various disparate strains of conservatism? If so, I would really like to see someone — you, if you’re willing — explain in more detail the internal dynamics that dictate such a result. I am interested in the reasoning, and I don’t think you, Freddie, or anyone else has shown their work on this yet. Looking back at the 2000 GOP primary, the strongest two alternative candidates were John McCain and Steve Forbes. Do you believe that either of these men would have governed as George W. Bush did?

        Finally: if this was Freddie’s only point, I wouldn’t have much problem with it. It’s an interesting discussion to be had. But this was not his only point. Instead, it carried water for a much more problematic point, presented in two steps: all conservatives bear responsibility for the failures of the Bush administration, and therefore, their opinions and arguments need not be considered for their merits. Do you agree with this as well?

        To make it more concrete, and since we’ve established that everyone around here seems to think Daniel Larison is a pretty bright guy, let’s use him as the test case. Larison belongs to one of the many disparate strains of conservatism. He disagreed with Bush on most things. But the logical result of the argument seems to be that he is still responsible for Bush’s failures because he is a conservative and conservatism — being so fractured — doesn’t work anymore. Therefore, his opinions and commentary are discredited. Fair?

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        • I could cite a pretty good number of people within the movement base for that proposition; regardless, whatever else you might say about Stacy McCain, he has his finger on the pulse of the conservative movement’s base. It is also a proposition that is implicit in the cries of even many dissident conservatives – most of whom I actually do respect quite a bit – about the need for a “big tent.” The bottom line is that there are precious few, if any, areas of relevant affirmative policy preferences and themes that can meaningfully unite all of the old “legs of the stool” on a national level (again, this is not necessarily the case on the state and local levels where the issues are different). The old “seat” of the stool is built for issues that were relevant in the late 70’s and early 80’s. But by the end of the Clinton Administration, most of those issues ceased to be relevant, in large part because, well, movement conservatism was successful.

          Seriously, though – what agenda relevant to today’s problems could meaningfully unite libertarians, social/religious conservatives, defense conservatives, and paleoconservatives? I struggle to think of a single issue (education reform? Maybe, but even that’s just barely on the national radar screen at the moment), and definitely not any kind of theme for an affirmative agenda, on which all of those groups could agree. Yet if you dropped any one or two of those versions of conservatism, I could see the remnant putting together a pretty solid set of themes that would be relevant, have electoral appeal, and provide for a competent governing agenda.

          As for whether Forbes or McCain would have governed differently than Bush, I’m not sure how that’s relevant. Bush won with relative ease for good reason – he was the candidate that the movement backed almost to the hilt (Limbaugh was an early backer of his). Sure, McCain gave it a good fight for a little while thanks to his support from independents, but if possible he was loathed by the base even more in 2000 than he was in 2008.

          “Instead, it carried water for a much more problematic point, presented in two steps: all conservatives bear responsibility for the failures of the Bush administration, and therefore, their opinions and arguments need not be considered for their merits. Do you agree with this as well?”

          If that’s Freddie’s point, then I don’t agree with it at all. But I don’t think it’s Freddie’s point.

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          • Maybe it’s just because I’m re-watching The Wire, season 4, but education reform doesn’t seem like such a bad idea for a theme, especially if it were coupled with a more comprehensive approach to improving the conditions of inner cities and improving global competitiveness. It would even be pretty timely. I doubt there are any members of the three-legged stool that disagree with what Michelle Rhee is doing in DC, for example.

            I agree it’s not much on the radar now. Did you ever see any comparisons of polls taken in the years leading up to the last election and polls taken since? Health Care Reform was WAY down the list of priorities, where it has remained for decades, apart from spikes that correlate with big new policy proposals. I would submit for your consideration that leadership and issue salience are synergistic.

            The rest of your comments either seem reasonable or I’m not in the position to argue with them, although the “we’re not liberals” platform doesn’t reflect the conservatives I know and respect. But that’s anecdotal.

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      • p.s. I just read your posts on the other thread. I understand that Larison does not self-identify as a “movement conservative.” But this seems like a gift from you to him that you are not willing to offer to everyone else. Whatever Larison calls himself, he writes for a magazine called The American Conservative and participates in panels on the future of conservatism. His may be a different strain, but he and Pat Buchanan are no less part of conservatism than the Weekly Standard or Heritage Foundation.

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  5. Matoko hits the nail on the head for me. It is very hard for me to vote for a party that says I am the cause of all of societies problems because I am an atheist.

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  6. If we are to speak of conservatism and a governing agenda, it must largely encompass the GOP. If are to speak of conservatism as some ideological tenets and ideals, I think it is possible to dissociate the two. Much like libertarians and the free market, speaking of the former comes in handy when you are succeeding, and speaking of the latter comes in handy when you are blame shifting. What has gotten big conservatism in trouble is that the wall between the intellectuals and the political types has eroded, and the former have been overwhelmed. While folks like Douthat do enter the policy space, his only reason for being in the policy space is matter of finding a winning political coalition. Ponnuru is similar, having only a few issues that truly animate him. Friedersdorf is likewise not a wonk. Among the exceptions to the general trend are Daniel Larison, who is as welcome in Republican circles as pork chops at a Mosque.

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  7. I agree. You simply can’t dissociate conservatism from the Bush Administration. For most of Bush’s eight years, conservatives were solidly behind him. The vast majority of conservatives backed the Patriot Act, backed torture, backed the invasion of Iraq, backed massive tax cuts for the wealthy – and by supporting the last two, supported most of the massive deficit the US is dealing with. And now they’re pretending that people kicked the Republicans out because of fiscal irresponsibility by ignoring the fact that those two things are the main components of said fiscal irresponsibility.

    Conservatives have some grounds for distancing themselves from the bailout, as the House Republicans tried to shoot down that one, but everything else during the Bush era is squarely their responsibility. I’m sure there were a few dissidents like Larison who opposed Iraq from the start, but they’re not representative of conservatism generally in the least.

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    • Doesn’t this sidestep the uncomfortable fact that elected Democrats backed the administration or simply didn’t care until it became a political winner to criticize most of these issues. Yet, they’re not tarred because….they weren’t representing the “vast majority” of liberals? they were too scared to act otherwise? or some other silly reason.

      If it’s consistent to say that people who voted for the President once, maybe twice are responsible for his failures (even if their votes in states not called Florida didn’t really matter), doesn’t that require that Congressional Democrats who voted with the Administration on more than one occasion bear just as much, if not more responsibility? Because, if so, that makes Senator John Kerry more of an enabler of Bush’s failures than say Ross Douthat.

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      • That’s true to some extent – but it has nothing to do with the guilt of conservatism. You can’t say “the things our party did aren’t our fault because the people we accused of being traitors if they questioned them also voted for them”.

        Yes, the Democrats were useless for most of the Bush era, and yes, the ones who voted for tax cuts, for the Patriot Act, for the Iraq War bear some responsibility for those policies, albeit much less than that of the party that actually carried it out. But the actions of the Bush administration were actions of conservatives – in favour of tax cuts for the rich, in favour of military aggression, opposed to civil liberties [yes, there are some libertarians who differ from this – but again, they’re a small minority], pro-torture, pro-business and against holding businesses accountable (look at the contractor fiascos). They were not failures of liberalism – Democrats failed because they chose not to act as liberals. And unlike the overwhelming conservative support for the Bush Administration, they took a lot of flak for it from left-liberals.

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        • I guess I’m missing something or the pieces aren’t falling to place for me.
          It was – after all – Republicans who killed Bush’s Social Security reform, conservatives who killed immigration reform, the nomination of Harriet Miers (enabled by Harry Reid), and tried to scuttle the bank bailout. Conservative Utah was one of two states to challenge the President’s hallmark education reform accomplishment, NCLB. Medellin pitted Texas versus the Bush administration and conservatives didn’t side with the President.

          Granted these weren’t to push through liberal policies but the political monolith of Bushian conservatism seems fractured enough to ditch the too-inclusive labels liberalism/conservatism.

          As for the point I’m making about Democrats, I remain unconvinced. Does Bill Frist have more responsibility than John Kerry, sure. However, my views and votes on war with Iraq/Afghanistan make me far, far, far less responsible for them than Senator Kerry’s. We didn’t go to war because polls said 70% of conservatives think we should. We went to war because the Congress of the United States of America said, populus vult. In 2001 and 2002, that meant a bipartisan Congress.

          So why all the ire about conservatives being insufficiently apologetic when most of the Democrats who voted for these wretched things are being re-elected to Capitol Hill as passionate, revered advocates of the people? I think it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to complain about the mixed record cheerleading of the conservative commentariat and let your political friends off the hook, when the latter group didn’t just abet the policies you cite but were critical supports that allowed them to happen.

          If the bad policies conservatives supported from the sidelines are evidence of their irresponsibility and poor choices, what does that say about the people who supported those policies and didn’t think they were good ideas in the first place?

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  8. The other problem with conservatism is that those who do reject indiscriminate and unthinking hawkishness (ie, TAC) tend to be the same people who are deeply unsavory for other reasons, namely the racism and xenophobia of Pat Buchanan and others who write for his magazine.

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  9. I am not sure that I understand everything I read here, but I have to disagree that all conservatives are responsible for Bush any more than I, as a very left wing old baby boomer am responsible for Johnson’s misadventure in Viet Nam.
    The major problem with conservatives is that their ideas don’t work, and like the fundies, they refuse to change no matter how much empirical evidence there is to show that it does not work.
    One last note, I think this blog is much more erudite and less in the oppositions face than most of the others that I read, and that makes it not ordinary.

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  10. I am very late to this conversation.

    Dennis Sanders sent me this way.

    By the comments that I’ve read so far I would assume several things:

    — most of the commentary is by individuals not born and bred, or living long in the South or Western USA, or the lower MidWest (Kansas, Missouri) or rural New Hampshire/Massachusetts or areas with homogenous populations;
    — knowledge of conservatives comes mostly from reading about them and not living with or daily discussion of ideas with them; and
    — the names of Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Bertrand Russell are probably somewhat familiar but what they believed is not. And a very key figure that ties the aforementioned together is Thomas Jefferson — him you know but have you read Jefferson?! Jefferson is worshiped.

    I say this because I was born a conservative. Most conservatives just know that they are conservative.

    I’m not saying that conservatism is the answer. My point is that conservatism is not an active thought process. So it is a misdirected question to imply that conservatives can even agree on what they believe.

    Conservatism is more like a computer operating system than it is some piece of software that gets installed and then run. Conservatism is more of a ‘background process’ than it is a ‘user interface’.

    As one political scholar once put it: “To put conservatism in a bottle with a label is like trying to liquify the atmosphere … The difficulty arises from the nature of the thing. For conservatism is less a political doctrine than a habit of mind, a mode of feeling, a way of living.”

    So when a conservative ‘boots up’ their operating system they tend to focus on a few key functions that run in the background, not in the forefront:

    — Self-reliance: You are responsibile for YOU. You will succeed because of what YOU do and learn and achieve. Do no expect help. All help comes with a price. Never owe another.

    — Economic independence: See self-reliance; charity to another is to be encouraged; charity to you is a shame. You are what you make yourself.

    — Family: You are your family. Your family is of you. There is no other entity other than God (or in Bertrand Russell’s case: some mutally satisfying blessing of greater good) and family. The family is the most meaningful organization of mankind. You have a responsibility to perpetuate and to protect your family. Family is responsible for taking care of other family members.

    — Community: Communities represent an aggregation of like-minded believers. There is a status quo which must be respected. You advance within the community and gain respect through self-reliance and economic independence.

    — Tradition: the status quo is exalted as proof that family and community are successful.

    — Recognition of a higher power, but government isn’t it: government beyond the bounds of the community is a thing to be feared. It is not of your family. It does not respect and support your status quo. It does not honor your traditions. Government which governs least governs best is oft heard.

    ======

    Now, how all of this translates to politics at state and federal levels is a messy thing.

    Until the 1950s conservatives were protected by living in a white Anglo-Saxon world framed in some essence of Anglo-Saxon Christianity — real or imagined. From Jefferson to Eisenhower there were only moments of intrusion of another world into the conservative world.

    —>> Conservatism became primarily a white American philosophy only because the status quo and community failed non-whites so badly. Nonetheless there were self-reliance movements among non-white Americans and the essence of how they functioned was hardly different that white conservatism.

    Goldwater’s greatest achievement was perhaps that when he ran for president in 1964 he attempted to define conservatism. He had no choice. He created a conservation — the likes of which George Will, the late William Buckley and William Safire spent the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and now the early 2000s attempting to define and further refine.

    Reformed Conservatism (I hate this term): Bush 41 and Bush 43 lucked out just by the good grace of having been associated with Reagan, by having stood in his shadow. Neither could lead conservatives because they talked about being conservative instead of being conservative. John Wayne didn’t explain. John Wayne just did it.

    The conservative world has now crashed upon the rocks of an ethos (America today) that is without ethos.

    There is no leader (heir apparent) of conservatism because if there were we would know his or her name already. We would respect them for their self-reliance and economic or cultural achievements. And their very life would transcend the nuances of how we conservatives see ourselves.

    So now we are left with a conservative movement that must try to define itself. But how can (and why must?) you define status quo, and tradition, and most of all family? These things do not require definition. Yet we try and that frustrates us and builds anger and divides us into combative camps that lashes out at that which is not family and is not community and which challenges our very notions of self-reliance and economic independence and organization of our lives within our families.

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    • A question that I’d like to see a post on: why do conservatives (particularly “non-movements” ones) venerate Goldwater so much? All I know about him is that he opposed the Civil Rights Acts and Johnson made an add claiming he’d start a nuclear war (and a person would have be pretty scary for Lyndon Johnson to consider them too hawkish). And that he lost by a landslide.

      So why are there all these “Goldwater Republicans”? What do they think of his views on race? And why pick a person who lost so extraordinarily – you don’t get loads of people calling themselves “Mondale Demcrats”?

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      • Katherine, the CW act was opposed, primarily by commie-dems such as Algore’s daddy, and Bubba’s mentor, Sen. Fulbright. Commie-Dems also started the Ku Klux Klan. That’s why Dr. King was a Republican.
        Probably you shouldn’t ask about AuH2o, might be a little above your pay grade and end up confusing you.
        He was a states rights kinda fellow, a strict constructionist, resisted the usurpations of centralized gummint, and a whole host of ideas that, I’m afraid, you’ll never, ever be able to wrap your head around.
        In a way, it’s a shame, however, it was probably inevitable, what with public schooling, the Enlightenment, and technology. May God have mercy on us!

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    • Freakin’ hilarious!

      For experience proves that the moral and physical qualities of man, whether good or evil, are transmissible in a certain degree from father to son. But I suspect that the equal rights of men will rise up against this privileged Solomon, and oblige us to continue acquiescence under the {‘Amayrosis geneos aston} [“the degeneration of the race of men”] which Theognis complains of, and to content ourselves with the accidental aristoi produced by the fortuitous concourse of breeders.

      For I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. Formerly bodily powers gave place among the aristoi. But since the invention of gunpowder has armed the weak as well as the strong with missile death, bodily strength, like beauty, good humor, politeness and other accomplishments, has become but an auxiliary ground of distinction. There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society. May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government? The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent it’s ascendancy.

      let me see…..Barack Obama== natural aristoi
      George Bush Presidentsson == artificial aristoi

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    • I liked this essay, for what it’s worth.

      The problem is, of course, that the people who identify as “conservative” who want to tell others how to live tend to get elected a lot more often than the conservatives who tell you to leave others alone.

      After a couple of generations, you’ve got conservatives who are indistinguishable from liberals. They just have different swear words.

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    • That’s a lot to think about, Bill. Hope you stick around and keep commenting.

      But I believe you owe me/us a group deboggling or at the least a lengthy explanation re: Bertrand freakin’ “Marriage and Morals”- CND – “War Crimes in Vietnam” Russell as a *conservative* icon? Don’t get me wrong – Russell is one of my intellectual heroes, and Newt among others proves that any degree of personal vileness is no impediment to being an acclaimed leader of the movement of family values and eternal verities – but I believe that your post is literally the first time I have seen Russell labelled as conservative (other than perhaps in technical analytic philosophy; see e.g. “On Denoting”).

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    • I really think you couldn’t be more off-base in what you are saying about the bloggers here – certainly myself.

      Yes. “Most conservatives just know that they are conservative.” Most liberals just know they are liberal too. Here, let me drag out my degree for you. Sure ain’t doing me much good right now.

      Regardless of what you actually believe, whether you call yourself liberal, conservative, or something else owes more to who your parents are and where they live than just about anything else.

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    • As someone who did grow up in Kansas, let me offer a few thoughts:
      – Yes, many midwesterners grow up with the inherent values you mention. But that does not always identify itself as “conservative.” My parents, for example, life-long Kansans, are very much as you describe, but they would shrink from any kind of label – they would say they are just trying to be “good people.” In the same vein, while I was born and raised with those values, I didn’t ever “know” I was conservative, I just knew these were traits to be valued, and things to hold on to. So I think there is some over-generalizing going on when you imply that holding these values means you “just know” you are conservative. It’s not that clean.
      -I think you are under-emphasizing the generosity and mutual aid that a well-developed sense of community engenders. I can think of plenty of examples in my life where people inside the community or my extended family, fallen on hard times, would get help from family, friends and neighbors. This is important because of how it interacts with the definition of community.
      I think a lot of the shifts in American culture right now are due to shifts in how each person defines their “community.” Certainly this has been under discussion here before in the realms of the internet, living locally, etc. Well, from my experience, people in Philly or Boston or back at home, within their communities, were often quite the same, sharing a lot of these values. The biggest difference came in the scale of what was considered their “community.” The larger your sense of community, the more that instinct towards generosity and help leads you to social justice, a very liberal notion that can conflict with tradition, and pride in tradition. To that extent, I feel your definition of community as “an aggregation of like-minded believers” is the key to the whole thing. And for me, coming from Kansas, but a megachurch, and being one of the few people in my extended family and high school class to leave the area for college and post-college, it is interesting the ways in which my definition of my community has shifted, and how I can track that shift to different feelings I have about liberal v conservative policies in government. I think similar things are happening for a lot of the younger generation growing up with internet and online communities.

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  11. Mr. Golden’s essay proves my point in so many ways that it is hard to know where to begin. First, I was born in New Mexico, lived in Oklahoma during my preteen years and have lived in Louisiana for the past thirty-five years, so I have been immersed in conservative culture for most of my life. What I find in the south is a plethora of rascists, a lack of formal education and the belief that one wins a debate by outshouting your opponets.
    What kind of conservative was President Reagan? Does running up the deficent count, does one need to sell arms to Iran, send weapons to Salvadorian death squads, or convince the people that giving huge amounts of money to the uberrich will solve all of America’s problems?
    Does Mr Golden believe that I don’t care about my family? Does he believe that I can’t be a good man because I don’t think his god is real? Does he really believe that Jefferson was a christian?
    Why did the conservatives fail the none whites so badly?

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  12. In what sense is the Democratic coalition “coherent”? Soccer moms, inner-city minorities, pro-union pro-life white guys in the rust belt, academics, artists, etc. I am sure all of these people agree on some things, disagree on others. Just like Republicans.

    Like it or not, Bush not only won the election, he governed. And got some really controversial things passed. Like, you know, huge tax cuts, a war, etc. The difference being that the GOP cracked up. It couldn’t hold the coalition together after eight years of putting people at the back of the line.

    One of the forces uniting liberals at the moment happens to be, “we’re not conservatives.” A hatred of the previous administration. A sense that a MAJOR political victory like health reform will lead to more.

    The GOP had most of that going in 2000. Then through 2001. Then it won another election. But then the crack-up started. It will happen to the Democrats, too. Not because they are dumb or bad. But because it’s inevitable. Unless you think some kind of magical overarching governing philosophy somehow unites liberals from Johnstown, PA, with liberals from Manhattan.

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  13. One thing that perplexes me: Republicans here (and on other sites) like to proclaim themselves and their party “conservative”. What exactly are they “conserving”? I’ve seen plenty of advocates of starting more wars, I’ve seen advocates of voodoo economics, I’ve seen advocates of theocracy (wrapped up in various ways), and advocates of ignorance over empiricism, and occasionally one finds all of these tendencies in one red, enraged package. Why should we consider any Republican to be a credible conservative in any meaningful sense?

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  14. Ah yes, the coherence of the liberal coalition in full force: Unions oppose the Baucus bill, vehemently:

    http://apnews.myway.com/article/20091013/D9BADD0G0.html

    I wonder where the union rank and file stands on DADT.

    But let’s say the unions take a back seat on both of these issues. And then a free-trade bill comes up in 2012. What then? What happens to the coherence? To the coalition? For some reason, people here seem to think that holding the coalition together in year 7 of an administration is the same as holding it together in year one. Because there is some philosophical bond holding these people together. But their isn’t. They bondd together to win the election. Just like the conservatives did. Which is why the people from Cato sat in the same room as the people from the Eagle Forum. Because “we’re not liberals.” Right now, what unifies liberals is the fact that they all hate Karl Rove. Which is good. That’s one way to get things done. But don’t flatter yourselves by thinking that you have somehow found a new path, a way to work together as a grand, coherent worldview.

    It’s going to crack up. It has to.

    By the way, from what I understand, at least half the people who are currently uninsured wil still be uninsured under Baucus. I wonder if Freddie and company, years from now, will take responsibility and apologize for all those hundreds of thousands of deaths. What I expect, instead, are claims that they did what they could, that they tried to get a better bill passed, but certain elements of their coalition stood in the way.

    Rubbish, I say. Apologize! Liberlaism hates sicj people if it kills sick people!

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    • That’s about as conservative a bill as the democrats are capable of producing. of course people hate it. you’re not making the point you think you are.

      And if this does indeed turn out, than I expect I will make that apology, but in a backhanded way that makes sure most of the blame falls on the Democrats.

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  15. Dear Bob and Jaybird,

    Thanks. To those that thought my essay comments required them to believe in one god or to ignore racism or whatever — then you just skimmed my remarks.

    Quite specifically I believe that conservatism is challenged once it attempts to reach beyond the local community. Conservatism allows wrongs to persist whenever there is a dominant group. I tried to make that quiet clear — American conservatism has long been presided over by Anglo-Saxon Christians. But conservatives are numerous enough that once they get their act together they will stand as a force to be reckoned with.

    As for the future, I believe that conservatism will break into two branches. Progressive conservatives such as myself will hold hands with centrists and moderates and sing Kumbaya. We will separate community and family from economic independence and self-reliance. We will agree to disagree at the state and national level. We will step back from mandating outcomes to social issues; let that be handled at the community level. We will become the force to be reckoned with.

    The other portion of conservatives will go in some other direction. I don’t expect success. Dogmatic rightwing conservatives have a nasty habit of eating their own. Even with a third party I do not expect that they could pull more than 22 million votes — enough to do damage as did Perot in 1992 (whom I voted for). It more likely that they would try to emulate the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) of Germany … which would be irony, looking to Europe for an answer to an American political challenge.

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    • Well, let me third Jay’s and Bob’s praise. Certainly, I think it is an excellent description of what conservatism ought to mean and generally does mean when divorced from the national political movement that claims the conservative banner. I especially liked this (which also, I think, reinforces my point in these posts): “Quite specifically I believe that conservatism is challenged once it attempts to reach beyond the local community.”

      I think my point in these posts is that for a period of time in the 60s, 70s, and 80s (and to a lesser extent the 90s), the various forms of conservatism present in the various regions of the country had a lot of reason to work together on the national level not only with each other, but also in common cause with some distinctly un-conservative folks from more cosmopolitan areas. I use the fairly popular analogy of the three-legged stool to describe this common cause, but ultimately the “legs” are probably as representative of regional differences as they are of different philosophies.

      The ties that bind these various strains of, for lack of a better phrase, “modern national movement conservatism” have largely ceased to exist. So what we now refer to as conservatism on a national scale is, as you suggest, likely to break up, with one group becoming politically independent; I suspect that the other group will simply takeover the GOP and wind up building a new coalition that may or may not still self-describe as “conservative” rather than take the third party route. What I am interested in is what that latter, new coalition, will look like.

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        • That’s the million dollar question, Bob. Like I said in the other post, a year ago I would have (and did) argue that the libertarian/paleo-con elements of the old GOP coalition would move leftward and slowly trade places with the unions in the Dem coalition (I thought this would be an awesome thing since it would unite modern liberals and classical liberals under one umbrella). I even had empirical evidence showing that this was actually happening! Then the financial crisis hit and mucked everything up, changing the central issue in our national consciousness from the GWOT to economics, which is obviously the area with the biggest gap between libertarianism/paleo-conservatism and modern liberalism. Meanwhile, Obama’s been just enough of a pro-war kinda guy that he can eventually pull the neo-con types back into the Dem coalition from whence they came 30 years ago. If that were to happen, then once health care reform and cap-and-trade are yesterday’s news, I could see some elements of what we now think of as the far left finding quite a bit of common ground with libertarians and paleo-conservatives.

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  16. Dear BCChase,

    Apologies for any over or under simplications. I tend to take both the yin and the yang road before getting to my point. Life is such a journey.

    As for “I think you are under-emphasizing the generosity and mutual aid that a well-developed sense of community engenders”, communities with a sense of self are indeed usually very generous. Community is family, too.

    My use of the word “conservative” is meant to be more cultural than political. I believe that conservatives once they become politically active at state or national levels become somewhat miserable. It is as if they have to deal with issues that they really want no part of — which probably the reality.

    When asked specifically about how they would self-identify, “conservative” has long vied in Kansas with “moderate” as the most popular choice, normally there is only a point or two difference in the polling (2). Liberal is a distant also ran.

    Earlier today someone was trashing Senator Olympia Snowe for being a bad conservative and a bad Republican for being the lone voice on letting the health care debate move from committee to the next stage before going to the floor for debate and vote.

    She is a brave woman in my opinion and good conservative in my opinion. She represented her community well. Maine actually adopted a statewide health care program in 2003. Six years after adoption of the plan the estimate is that Maine residents are saving $78 million per year and the plan covers small businesses and those that would not qualify for Medicaid.

    In a poll released just this morning, only 37% of polled Maine residents oppose the national health care plan that had Snowe’s vote (1). Her own popularity is at 80%. While she is getting bashed as a bad, traitorous conservative, Senator Snowe has represented her community well. Bumpersticker politics be damned.

    (1) http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1009/Maine_polls_shows_support_for_Obama_plan_public_option.html

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