Sunday, June 19, 2011

How I got to be liberal...

Like many of my readers, I have looked back at my words and discovered they no longer match up with modern "conservatism". This is of course viewed with alarm by those who do embrace the movement today in agriculture. It has puzzled me for some time.

In 2004, I wrote this about getting "lost".

The latest jolt though, was President Bush’s 2005 budget. My position on the political chart has always been in the conservative Republican camp. This is where I thought the guy I voted for was anchored as well. But if planning more tax cuts in the face of $500B deficits, erecting trade barriers for politically powerful industries, attacking sincere dissent as craven disloyalty are the beliefs of conservative Republicans today, then I must be something else. Maybe I’m a liberal…Republican. I’ve heard there may be as many as 6 or 7 of us. Now all these perceptions could simply be fusty middle-aged crankiness. Perhaps I am just not well-informed or smart enough to understand my principles are outdated. Regardless, my painfully-acquired intellectual tools and moral compass are all that I have to guide my decisions. [More]
Meanwhile, I have taken comfort in similar, though not identical adventures recounted by bloggers and commentators I admire, and who have vastly greater audiences than mine.

As most of you know, I read Andrew Sullivan (and have for years) regularly. Here is his account.

Back in the 1980s, conservatism was a thrilling empirical, reality-based challenge to overweening government power and omniscient liberal utopianism. Today, alas, it has become a victim of its own success, reliving past glories rather than tackling current problems. It is part secular dogma - no taxes, no debt, more war - and part religious dogma - no Muslims need apply; amend the federal constitution to keep gays in their place; no abortions even for rape and incest; more settlements on the West Bank to prepare for the End-Times. Although there were inklings back then - Stockman was right; Iran-Contra should have been a warning - they were still balanced by empiricism. Reagan raised taxes, withdrew from Lebanon, hated war, and tried to abolish all nuclear weapons on earth. The first Bush was an under-rated deficit-cutter and diplomat, a legacy doubly squandered by his son.
Now it's Levin-land: either total freedom or complete slavery and a rhetorical war based entirely on that binary ideological spectrum. In other words, ideological performance art: brain-dead, unaware of history, uninterested in policy detail, bored by empiricism, motivated primarily by sophistry, Manicheanism, and factional hatred. This is not without exceptions. Douthat, Brooks, Zakaria, Bacevich, Bartlett, Frum, Manzi, Salam, Lomborg, Mac Donald, et al. are still thinking. It's just that many of them are now deemed - absurdly - to be liberals. And none will have or does have any real impact on the base of the party.
Why? Because these thinkers are prepared to believe that the conservatism of the 1980s might have run its course, that new times might require new ideas, that we have been wrong in some areas, while right in others, that it is not a crime to reverse course when events encourage it, that we have to live in the world as it is, rather than as we would like it to be, that we can learn from mistakes and base policy on shifting reality.
In contrast, today's unconservative "conservatism" is a movement held together by cultural resentment and xenophobic panic. Until it wrests free of this trap, it deserves its Palinesque fate: an ideology wrapped in anachronism, and laced with venom. [More]

Sullivan captures many of of my thoughts along with the others he lists in this peculiar club of exclusion. While this can be seen as a whiny pushback against the criticisms of more righteous believers, all these writers have earned reputations for cogent commentary and thoughtful analysis. It is to be remembered to that ad hominen attacks are now the first line of intellectual defense for today's conservatism.

I have no illusions about members of the right being moved by even these voices, let alone mine, but I do think the essential flaws in modern conservatism will reduce both its effectiveness and appeal, and that the high water mark may already have been reached, despite massive funds being made available. It could be even wealth and political power cannot withstand the erosion by higher truth and sounder logic.
 It may also be the case that mainstream conservatism simply has not gotten down to the serious work of creating pragmatic solutions based on their slogans and dislikes. The ex-pats above all have, and found they can only afford so much ideology if problems are to be solved.

Consider health care. While still ranting (and I think that is apt) about ACA, card-carrying conservatives are discovering the range of possible options is actually fairly narrow. Despite their best offerts, some consensus could emerge. Ideology is trumped by reality.

I think, without much justification I'll admit, that conservatism will find a moderate center and once again be able to entertain a wide range of pragmatic positions. It is an inherent aspect of traditional conservatism, after all. It just may not occur in my lifetime. Until then, I am OK with the company I have found.


Anonymous said...

How are Sullivan's comments not an ad hominem attack. It's easy to justify your new found beliefs if you totally distort the beliefs of the group you now oppose.

John Phipps said...


Sullivan words are not necesarily ad hominen except possibly for the one mention of [Mark] Levin. They are not personal, as in,
"Obama is un-American", or "Limbaugh is a fat lying coward".

His scathing words cover the attitudes and actions of today's "conservative" movement, not individual character flaws.

The matter of distortion is exactly where we disagree.

BTW, check out Zakaria's POV.

Finally, this is exactly the type of rhetoric deployed by the right successfully, so it would seem snark is the tone of the day. Compare the tone of NPR to FNN. The right won that race to the bottom.

Anonymous said...

Having been an avid reader of your blog for years I have witnessed your evolution to an enlightened progressive through "reasoned logic". How sad.
I will continue to enjoy your world of music, sight and new tech posts while wading around your muddy political views.