Looking for a Conservative Phoenix

I have long yearned to see a rising by old-style American Conservatives against the hijacking of their movement (even its zombification) by the cynical murdockian cabal, a process that Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley and Billy Graham all saw in early phases and denounced.

A process that none of us could have imagined would go as far as it has, with all of the GOP members of the U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee deliberately and vociferously proud to be anti-science.

Elsewhere, I describe the sort of thing that’s called for.  Something akin to what liberals and democrats did in 1947, when they decisively cut themselves off from the mad-communist left, and thereby saved the relevance of their movement.  Alas, while millions of U.S. conservatives do express discomfort with the transformation of Buckley’s intellectualism into a know-nothing mob, few on the American right have roused to do anything about this tragedy for the republic. (And let’s be clear — it is tragic if we’re compelled to look only to one party for a semblance of sanity. I prefer a competitive marketplace.)

Some voices of protest have risen, now and then, e.g. on the pages of the American Conservative, decrying how Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the Republican Party (assisted by the Koch brothers, radio shock-jocks and the Saudi Royal House) has systematically reversed dozens of hallmarks of the Goldwater-Buckley era, especially the notion that grownups engage in debate, not hysteria, with the aim of negotiating pragmatic solutions in a complicated world. That conservatism’s natural skepticism vs “activist-meddling” should not mutate into rage against everything in the last lines of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

It has become clear that this rising of conservative adults won’t be happening soon, to any degree that actually matters.  Amidst Phase Three of the American Civil War, the side that stuffs ballot boxes and gerrymanders in order to stay in Congress will go down in flames, as did the Confederacy, and decent conservatives will then have their chance — rebuilding from the ashes.

Still, there are such men and women out there, making sincere efforts to at least talk about the problem, offering hopeful manifestos for what the conservative phoenix might look like.  Take this one by Andrew Bacevich in the Imaginative Conservative. I highly recommend that you read it…

especially if you are a liberal or progressive!  Because you, above all, need to begin parsing what a sane conservatism would look like. Because half of your fellow citizens do ascribe to a conservative worldview, and that is not going to change. You will achieve more by pointing them toward a more adult version than by ridiculing them in blanket terms. Let me reiterate that: I hope all of you liberals do read Bacevich’s article.

Consider the following passage: “Conservatives, therefore, are skeptical of anything that smacks of utopianism. They resist seduction by charlatans peddling the latest Big Idea That Explains Everything.”

I believe that (putting aside the “charlatans” snark) he hits it on the head, here.  That conservatives will always – by personality and nature – be wary of externally imposed and frenetic “improvement campaigns.” And this trait will always make them inherent opponents of meddlesome, gotta-save-the-world liberalism. They will have this trait, even when Goldwater-sanity in restored. Moreover, in this reflex they will not always be wrong.

Progressives – driven by a manic need to solve this problem right now(!!!) … and that problem and that one(!) … naturally drive half their fellow citizens batty.  And liberals’ inability to recognize that visceral response is one reason the Koch-Murdochs have been able to nurse resentment into fierce political power.  In other words, liberals, Fox is partly your fault.

The crux: progressives see a world that needs saving and many things that desperately need improving.  They are correct about this… but often insane in their mania and inability to listen.  Their worst crime is often refusing to admit that many past progressive measures actually worked! Refusing ever to give the citizenry a pat on the back for past, partial victories against racism, sexism, prejudice, and environmental blindness. By emphasizing guilt trips and chiding … and only sanctimonious chiding… many progressives have been Sean Hannity’s favorite people and the source of much of his power.

ConservativeIn contrast, conservatives react to nagging with hackles.  They find the constant hectoring to improve things aggressive and often rude.  They have a perfect right to feel that way. Meddlesome chiding (justified or not) truly is rude.  But that emotional response blinds them to the simple fact that liberals have been correct in nearly every improvement campaign that they’ve raised for 80 years.  The world does need saving and the proper role of conservatism is not to obstruct with volcanic fury.

It is to act as the voice of skeptical reason, demanding proof and reality checks and evidence. To insist, as Buckley and Goldwater did, that “solutions” always contain as much as possible of the element most in need of preservation from would-be meddlers — a generous helping of old-fashioned free will. That is what conservative negotiators would be insisting upon right now… if conservatism still negotiated.  If it were still sane.

When you read Bacevich, you get the sense of a fellow who would take up that latter role, as Barry Goldwater did.  A role that would serve us all well… even when you deem it retro, overly recalcitrant or overly nostalgic.

Sure, when you read his essay, you will find much of it rather old-fogey. Tough. You must learn to converse with folks like this. Learn to talk Fox-watchers into veering away from the Hannity-Limbaugh hate fest  and listening instead to folks like Bacevich.

You will never make the conservative personality go away! (If you dream of that, then you are a would-be tyrant.) But you can try understanding it better, so you can ease your neighbors’ pain. The dread and fury that has transformed them from debate-worthy fellow citizens and estimable opponents into rage-drenched soldiers in the New Confederacy.

=== Can you hear the tumbrels? ===

AirlineDeteriorationDelta, United and American Airlines have all announced plans to upgrade their business-class seats for cross-country and transcontinental flights. Then there’s Emirates, which now sells first-class suites — complete with a shower — that go for a tidy $19,000 on the New York-Dubai route.  At the other end of the economic spectrum, low-cost airlines that re-create the thrill of traveling in steerage are thriving, too. The new business model, apparently, is to shrink the seats, charge extra for everything and offer nothing for free.  Elsewhere I have discussed what all this means (See Airline Deterioration and the new Elite).  When the rich abandon a mode of transport, or can truly divide castes of travel, that mode goes to hell.

What does it all mean? Harold Myerson of the Washington Post lays it out in A Hard Landing for the Middle Class:  “The upgrading of business and the downgrading of coach present a fairly faithful mirror of what’s happening in the larger economy: the disappearance of the middle class. As University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez has documented, between 2009 and 2011, the incomes of the wealthiest 1 percent of American families grew by 11.2 percent while those of the remaining 99 percent shrunk by 0.4 percent. Median household income has declined every year since 2008. Profits, meanwhile, have risen to their highest share of the nation’s economy since World War II, while wages have sunk to their lowest share.”

I’ll let Myerson have the last word: “The U.S. economy has not stagnated over the past four decades, but so much of its wealth has been claimed by the very top that most Americans have experienced it as a zero-sum game in which they’ve lost ground. As tax rules favored the wealthy, as employees lost the power to bargain for their wages, as globalization reduced the incomes of millions of workers, the rich grew richer at everyone else’s expense. That’s the reality that today’s air travel illustrates, as the comfortable standard seat that once was the norm goes the way of the dwindling middle class.”

They truly haven’t a clue what they are doing. History shows where this leads.  I even tried to warn them, in Existence.

=== High Speed Trading Redux ===

TransactionFeeTerminateI’ve discussed elsewhere the problem of High Speed Trading or HST, which allows a cartel of “seated members” of stock exchanges to game the system, exponentially augmenting their already unfair advantage over other traders (like you and me.)  Now see how institutionalized this unfair practice has become, as the New York Attorney General reveals that Thomson Reuters would allow you access to the Consumer Confidence data a full two seconds earlier than the rest of its subscribers… if you pay them thousands per month.

There are three levels to this: (1) The insider trading aspects are intrinsic to human nature and all we can hope for  in transparency, wary regulators and whistle blowers. (2) This is made far, far worse by the cartel of seated exchange members.  Even if this generation does nothing about it, a future one will, so the brightest cartel members should start looking for ways to benefit from helping us.  (3) HST offers a potential for a true doomsday scenario.  One akin to TERMINATOR.  I mean nothing less.  See my article for reasons to fear.

=== Political Miscellany ==

As Congress braces for a possible government shutdown next month and the fresh danger of default before Thanksgiving, there is a surprising exodus of senior GOP staffers that has worried people in both parties.

NamesInfamyThe appalling poor taste of Rolling Stone – a journal I generally admire – in putting the face of the surviving Boston Bomber on their cover – had the Net roiling with anger.  My simple reaction? Refer folks to my Salon Magazine piece proposing a solution. That we  “re-name” people who are decisively proved guilty of heinous deeds.  It’s called the “Herostratos Effect” and it has compelling logic.  We deserve the right to shun those who harm us grievously, denying them the attractive “immortal fame” that derives (in a sick mind) even from infamy.

Here’s a link to the offensive cover, which has drawn hundreds of marriage proposals from deeply sick women who seriously ought to enter the Darwin Awards contest… as (thank heavens) The bomber clearly has.

Okay.  Got to include this: 35 Founding Father Quotes Conservative Christians Will Hate.

The Boehner-led Congress has been the least productive since record keeping began, in 1940.  And yes, that includes their stated goal of reducing government or repealing laws… they’ve done less of that than any democratic-led Congress.  

Communist Party cadres have filled meeting halls around China to hear a somber, secretive warning issued by senior leaders. Power could escape their grip, they have been told, unless the party eradicates seven subversive currents coursing through Chinese society. These seven perils were enumerated in a memo, referred to as Document No. 9, that bears the unmistakable imprimatur of Xi Jinping, China’s new top leader. The first was “Western constitutional democracy”; others included promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market “neo-liberalism,” and “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.

Lawrence Kotlikoff has been doing yeoman work drafting legislation for which he has now lined up significant bipartisan support in Congress. This bill would require congressional budgeting offices to actually state the long-term fiscal impact of current legislation on future generations. He also has support of 12 Nobel laureates and over 500 economists. I urge you to go to http://www.theinformact.org/ and sign up yourself and pass the word to your friends and associates.

1 Comment

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One response to “Looking for a Conservative Phoenix

  1. Craig

    “blinds them to the simple fact that liberals have been correct in nearly every improvement campaign that they’ve raised for 80 years”

    Hmmm…ever consider the possibility *you* could be blinded. I believe (don’t knowI) that’s a pretty bad case of confirmation-bias you have there.

    Also, that’s a real knee-slapper about how you’re begging for a new conservative to arise. One whom will put up a mild disagreement, say science-worshipy things that you like and then simply agree with everything you *know* to be true right?

    Have you read any David Hume? I *think* (don’t know!) you suffer badly from many biases and seem not to understand that ~99% of what we try or have tried (liberal or conservative or whatever) is going to be wrong and that by that miserable record, we should keep to what has been shown to work over thousands of years before we completely destroy our society (either physically, morally, etc.). Feedback is king. Read some Robin Hanson.

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