Tag Archives: conservative

Boy, Has That Pendulum Swung!

I have been commenting for some time on how dramatically the political pendulum has swung just in my own adult lifetime. When I first became “political,” Democrats were about as far Left as Americans ever go (which, despite dark mutterings from ahistorical types, isn’t all that far when compared to Europe). It was in reaction to what I perceived as the Democrats unrealistic and utopian goals that I joined the Republican party, which at that time was a comfortable home for someone who was a fiscal conservative and a social liberal–or, more accurately, an 18th Century liberal in the Enlightenment mold.

Over the years, both the GOP and the Democrats have moved steadily to the right. Today, the bulk of the Democratic party is pretty much where the Republicans were back then, and–with the exception of some bewildered holdouts–the Republicans have become…well, whatever it is that the irresponsible “party of no”  is these days.

I note this bit of political history because my daughter sent me a link to Abdul’s recent blog, in which he shared a list of “most liberal reporters” created by a local Tea Party group. To my considerable amusement, I was third–after Matt Tully and Jim Shella, ahead of Dan Carpenter, and well ahead of Abdul himself.

The list was “interesting” for several reasons. I’m not a reporter nor do I currently write for the Star, despite being so identified on the list. Dan Carpenter–who I admire–is significantly more liberal than I am, but we are both columnists who do share our political perspectives.  Matt Tully–who I would not consider particularly liberal despite his position of honor at the head of the list–is also a commentator rather than a straight reporter, so I suppose he’s fair game.  But Jim Shella? Mary Milz?What possible basis exists for characterizing them as “liberal”? That they report facts? It’s a puzzlement.

The Tea Party did helpfully append a list of positions that they believe constitutes “liberalism.” And it’s a hoot:

Anti-tea party, world government; weak local government; centralized state government; weak states’ rights; high progressive tax rates; pro Common Core; anti school vouchers; free universal health care; pro gun control; full rights to gay marriage; abortion without restriction; centralized economy; tax on hydrocarbon fuels; open international borders; lower national defense spending; and European Socialism.

Granted, this laundry list lacks clarity–it falls into the “name calling” rather than the “descriptive” category. What, for example, qualifies as “weak” state’s rights? How much “gun control” is enough to qualify one as a leftist? Evidently, recognition of climate change and support of equal rights for GLBT folks makes one liberal, in which case I plead guilty. (I also admit to being somewhat “anti” Tea Party, although I’m not sure that equates to being “pro” one-world government.)

The Tea Party folks may lack a coherent understanding of conservatism, liberalism, socialism, fascism and other “isms,” but they are surely correct that my own label has changed as the pendulum has swung. In fact, I feel a lot like that Dr. Seuss book, “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” The difference is, I’ve traveled while standing still.

Maybe–if I keep standing and live long enough–the pendulum will swing back.

Bartlett’s Oddyssey

Bruce Bartlett has written a rather sad article in the American Conservative , detailing his estrangement from the conservative movement–or at least, the folks who have current ownership of that title. He begins by listing his past service to the Republican party and conservative causes, service that should have earned him the right to dissent from orthodoxy without being shunned.

Of course, it didn’t. When your economic and political beliefs take on the character of religious dogma–when they become matters of faith rather than opinions grounded in experience and evidence–dissent becomes blasphemy.

As Bartlett describes his journey into the “reality-based world” (his own description), he makes some discoveries that startle him.

For the record, no one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman. The blind hatred for him on the right simply pushed me further away from my old allies and comrades.

The final line for me to cross in complete alienation from the right was my recognition that Obama is not a leftist. In fact, he’s barely a liberal—and only because the political spectrum has moved so far to the right that moderate Republicans from the past are now considered hardcore leftists by right-wing standards today. Viewed in historical context, I see Obama as actually being on the center-right.

Of course, Bartlett is correct about Obama’s centrism. It drives the left wing of the Democratic party nuts.

When I read “The Audacity of Hope,” I remarked that Obama’s philosophy as described in that volume was virtually identical to that of a moderate Republican–at least, as moderate Republicans defined ourselves in the 1980s. His positions were pretty much the positions I’d espoused in my run for Congress back then, when I was actually considered part of the conservative wing of the party.

When I left the GOP in 2000, the party had already left me. It had shifted dramatically to the Right, and it has continued its radical transformation. That so many thoughtful people fail to recognize how different today’s GOP is from the party of Goldwater and even Reagan is something of a statement on our very human tendency to resist recognition of change.

It’s like looking in the mirror every morning for years without noticing that your formerly black hair has been slowly turning  grey, that your once-rosy complexion is becoming a bit more wrinkled each day…and then somehow, suddenly and without warning, actually seeing that you’ve aged thirty years. When did that happen?

Bartlett looked in the mirror. It’s a sad article, but well worth the read.

Conserving Our System

What passes for political discourse these days is so debased, so irrational, that we no longer even think about the real meanings of the words we throw around. So “socialist” is conflated with “Nazi” (and used without any obvious understanding of what the term describes) and “conservative” is used to describe positions that are anything but.

To be conservative is to “conserve”–to protect elements of the past.

E.J. Dionne makes the point that today’s self-described conservatives are really radicals bent upon a wholesale abandonment of settled aspects of our national life.  It’s an important column, and well worth reading in its entirety.

Now, there are times when wholesale change is necessary or advantageous. There are other times when dramatic, radical reinvention is profoundly harmful. In a democratic system, it is up to the voters to decide whether they want to replace what they have with something radically different. But in order to make that decision, voters need to understand what is really being proposed–and in an era where propaganda has displaced much of the news, where a pitiful minority know enough about America’s history or constitutional system to recognize the magnitude of the changes the current GOP field is advocating, the significance of the 2012 election is not obvious to many–perhaps most–voters.

What was that old Chinese curse? May you live in interesting times?

We’re there.

The Urban Archipelago

When I was doing research for my book “Distrust, American Style,” I came across an article written just after George W. Bush defeated John Kerry. The author rejected the “red state/blue state” divide, in favor of a more fine-grained analysis comparing voters in urban and rural areas. Cities tend to be blue, rural areas tend to be red; most states are thus “purple.” He called the blue islands in seas of red “Urban Archipelagos,” and attributed urban voting patterns to the lessons and attitudes one learns living in close proximity to other people. Urban life is diverse; it requires progressive attitudes and a degree of tolerance largely missing from more bucolic settings.

A recent survey by Pew on attitudes toward abortion tends to support that thesis–although what Pew was measuring were religious and denominational differences on the issue. As religious scholar Martin Marty summarizes the findings,

“Almost sixty percent “say that at least some health care professionals in their communities should provide abortion.” This time white evangelical Protestants are anti-abortion and joined by Latino Catholics. “White mainline” and “unaffiliated” are most “pro” (at 72% and 71%). “White Catholic” and (here’s one surprise for me) black Protestants, line up next (58% and 56%) as pro-abortion. Least enthusiastic is the third duo, “Latino Catholic” and “white evangelical” (at 38% and 37%). One large gap is between the pro-abortion among metropolitan areas (67%) and rural dwellers (39%). ” (emphasis supplied)

When you think about it, the urban/rural differences make a lot of sense. In a city, you soon learn the folly of insisting that everyone adhere to your personal religious and moral beliefs. You learn to live and let live. If you are truly open to the society of people with different backgrounds, ideas and customs, you may even come to question some of your own beliefs and prejudices, and to appreciate that–as an old friend of mine used to put it–it’s a very thin pancake that has only one side.

I think that’s the original definition of a “liberal.”