Seeking Progressive Social Change
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Posts from — May 2009

The Conservative Minority: On the Outside Looking In

I am no conservative (though I once played one in college). But I can usually get along OK with traditional conservatives because their goals are well-matched to mine: Fairness, freedom, equality. The differences, in some ways, are how we get there.

Right-wingers are a different animal, and since their party gave up its  conservative roots a long time ago, I have little concern – and not a little glee – watching the right-wing Republican Party self destruct. When you consider the mess that right-wingers have made of the economy, the environment, our foreign policy, (pick a topic), their current implosion seems a just and fitting reward.

So the web is full of articles from Republicans looking for the way out of their abyss, and with every post they remind us just how deep their problems are.

Consider this article from the The Becker-Posner Blog, a website out of the classical conservative school, called “The Serious Conflict in the Modern Conservative Movement.” They argue that the ideological disparities between classical “economic” conservatives and “social” (or “family values”) conservatives are the culprit:

The Republican Party may encompass both economic conservatives and social and international conservatives even though the philosophies behind each type are inconsistent with each other…However, even large parties are generally stronger and more coherent when different factions share most of the same philosophy.

Well said. But I’d go further:  Social conservatives and traditional conservatives can no longer hold their party together because their inherent contradictions can no longer be sustained.

That’s what you get when you abandon the traditional ideas of small government and the like for the more electorally enticing – though inherently hypocritical – “social issues.” Like “Clear Skies Initiatives” that make it easier to pollute; frantic appeals to gun-toting outdoor-types while undermining the national park system; “small government” that starves public works on one hand but dictates personal behavior on the other and spies on its own citizens; “Christian Coalitions” that appeal to bible-thumpers while ignoring The Beatitudes, the poor, and 90% of Jesus’ teachings.

These were the kinds of hypocrisies that would make a progressive pull their hair out for the last twenty years or so. But ultimately such contradictions cannot continue, because people can be duped for only so long. And in the age of blogs and electronic media such duplicity gets even harder to pull off.

So going after gays/liberals/latte-sipping intellectuals, science and “elites” now makes them look nasty, backwards and foolish. For one, even Republican families have kids coming out of the closet. The culture is moving on and becoming much more accepting in this area. And do they really think Joe SixPack is the kind of guy to navigate the economy? To keep the banks together? Scapegoating and appeals to mediocrity fall flat when the times call for our best and brightest.

And then there’s a bigger problem, one which transcends these internal contradictions.  In an era when Baby Boomers – approaching retirement and living longer – can’t afford their anticipated quality of life; where most people struggle with debt, health costs, college tuition; where Americans have been rejecting consumerism for a more natural, local-based lifestyle, and when yet another financial crisis feeds a growing suspicion of big business’ role in creating these problems, small-government, hands-off ideas no longer appeal in a mass way.

If the Party can’t hide beneath a less-impactful cover of “family values,” and the culture rejects even those old-time conservative economic ideas, then there ain’t much there, there. However the conservative movement comes to define itself, it’s going to be on the outside looking in for a long time to come.

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May 17, 2009   |  Filed Under Political  |  1 Comment

“Liberal” vs “Conservative: A social change dead-end

Letters, letters, I get letters.

Sometimes I get thoughtful comments, sometimes off-color pings that make me laugh out loud. Once in a while I get a disturbing email, like the guy who blasted my BlackBerry three times while I sat in my car at the ShopRite demanding in four-letter terms that I should ship myself “back to the other socialists in Canada”.

Yesterday I got one from the disturbing category.This came from someone named “b*fox” (I’ll betcha ”fox” is a reference to that fabbie news channel ). Since this is a public forum and a free country, I’ll reproduce this one in full:

Read “Atlas Shrugged”. When I read your profile, it didn’t surprise me that you were a former teacher. The true disciples of liberal nonsense. Thank god most of the educators I work with are conservative, and just nodded in agreement during college so we could receive good grades.

On one hand, I’ve gotten much meaner notes than this one. I found myself wondering why this one struck such a nerve.

For one, I have read “Atlas Shrugged” – well, most of it. I also read “Anthem” and “The Fountainhead” (two times through, back to back.) I’ve written about my break with Ayn Rand and the Objectivists before; I rejected that philosophy because, like all fanatics, Objectivists assume that their way is the only way without exception to solve all social ills.

That’s called zealotry, which makes Objectivism no different – practically speaking – from communism, fascism, or libertarianism.  Demanding that a single philosophy should be followed without exception gets you ideological tyranny. It’s a social change dead-end.

I was a fanatic myself, two different times: Once of the Right (God Bless Ronald Reagan) and once of the further left, let’s say.  But as I’ve gotten older and – dare I say it wiser – I’ve come to believe that no framework for understanding the world fits every situation, every time.

I think that’s why this note from b*fox got under my skin so. I don’t know what political bucket I fit into anymore, except that I no longer define myself by any single one. When people assume that I’m a “liberal” I blanch, and not just because of the way the Right has come to define the term ( “bleeding heart, limp-wristed, welfare-spending, enemy-loving wimp” -thank you Lee Atwater, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove and FOX News.) I could live with the WWll-era definition, where “liberals” were open minded, anti-racist, and open to social change within the confines of capitalist democracy.  But this definition no longer lives in our social consciousness.

So then here’s b*fox, a fellow citizen who rejects anyone’s thinking that falls outside of his rigid conservatism, and takes the time to submit a blog’s form to make it clear. Here’s a guy who boasts – proudly – that he “earned” a college degree without challenging, arguing, engaging or defending an opinion. I’d say this guy ought to remove all references to his degree from his resume. This is no kind of education.

Cornell West once said, When  your prejudices and preconditions no longer sustain you, you’ve been educated. I’d suggest b*fox give some thought to this. But then he’d ignore these wise words because they came from that “liberal” Cornell West. A sad thing for him.

And for us. I assume that democracies are still the most effective way we’ve found to organize a peaceful society, and I think history defends that position rather well. So running into narrow-minded folks like this guy is disappointing indeed.

I aim for optimism. It’s really never too late to change, and given that we’re in the early days of our Information Age there’s reason for being hopeful. Even for someone like b*fox. Not that he should agree with my viewpoint; rather, I’m simply suggesting that he consider other ideas even when they don’t jive with his own.

One can’t deny that people are rejecting the old right-wing fear tactics in a way that transcends modern memory. Obama’s popularity remains surprisingly high even in the face of a Right-wing propaganda machine, which keeps falling flat. And I’m not saying that everyone should be a fan of Obama. What I am saying is that disagreements should be reasonable or honest, and not because he’s a “socialist”, a “non-American”, or “dictator”, terms which the republican party employs and right-wing fanatics actually seem to believe.

I don’t know what my personal political bucket should be defined by.  When you tie yourself down to a unbending viewpoint, you spend your energy rejecting any idea that doesn’t neatly fit with your preconception. And you’ll miss an awful lot of good ideas as a result. Political ideaologues devote their efforts to defining a perfect society. Imagine one that’s filled with open-minded, contemplative citizens? That’s a world I could be happy living in.

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May 10, 2009   |  Filed Under Political  |  2 Comments