Wednesday, September 17, 2008

(R)eckless (R)omantics

Once again from Daily Kos, and it's importance mandate that I post it in it's entirety:

Wick Allison, current editor-in-chief of D (Dallas) Magazine:

In 1964, at the age of 16, I organized the Dallas County Youth for Goldwater. My senior thesis at the University of Texas was on the conservative intellectual revival in America. Twenty years later, I was invited by William F. Buckley Jr. to join the board of National Review. I later became its publisher [...]

[T]oday it is so-called conservatives who are cemented to political programs when they clearly don't work. The Bush tax cuts—a solution for which there was no real problem and which he refused to end even when the nation went to war—led to huge deficit spending and a $3 trillion growth in the federal debt. Facing this, John McCain pumps his "conservative" credentials by proposing even bigger tax cuts. Meanwhile, a movement that once fought for limited government has presided over the greatest growth of government in our history. That is not conservatism; it is profligacy using conservatism as a mask.

Today it is conservatives, not liberals, who talk with alarming bellicosity about making the world "safe for democracy." It is John McCain who says America’s job is to "defeat evil," a theological expansion of the nation’s mission that would make George Washington cough out his wooden teeth.

This kind of conservatism, which is not conservative at all, has produced financial mismanagement, the waste of human lives, the loss of moral authority, and the wreckage of our economy that McCain now threatens to make worse.

That is, in a nutshell, the conservative argument against Bush/McCain. Elegantly done so, but he's not the first to make this case. But Allison then does something I had yet to see -- make the conservative argument for Obama:

I now see that Obama is almost the ideal candidate for this moment in American history. I disagree with him on many issues. But those don’t matter as much as what Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama’s books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.

Most important, Obama will be a realist. I doubt he will taunt Russia, as McCain has, at the very moment when our national interest requires it as an ally. The crucial distinction in my mind is that, unlike John McCain, I am convinced he will not impulsively take us into another war unless American national interests are directly threatened.

"Every great cause," Eric Hoffer wrote, "begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket." As a cause, conservatism may be dead. But as a stance, as a way of making judgments in a complex and difficult world, I believe it is very much alive in the instincts and predispositions of a liberal named Barack Obama.

How can Allison claim Obama has a "deeply conservative view of the world"? Because of his definition of "conservatism":

Conservatives are skeptical of abstract theories and utopian schemes, doubtful that government is wiser than its citizens, and always ready to test any political program against actual results.

That's a romanticized definition, no doubt, but one I had embraced in my Republican years. My break with the Right came when 1) it was hijacked by cultural conservatives, attempting to impose their theocratic abstract theories and utopian schemes on society at large, and 2) when that "skepticism" over solutions to our problems manifested as outright hostility to change. In other words, I'm not afraid to try new solutions to our problems even if those solutions sometimes involve the government. Skepticism is healthy, and a demand for accountability is crucial, but being paralyzed in fear of change does nothing but impede progress.

Modern conservatives have long abandoned Allison's definition. As he states clearly, Republicans are now the party of "abstract theories and utopian schemes". Witness the failure of deregulation currently costing taxpayers tens of billions and financially destroying countless people, or the failure of utopian schemes to "defeat evil" around the world, costing us thousands dead and closing on a trillion taxpayer dollars. Yet Republicans shrug off the painful lessons and insist on staying the course. The results are irrelevant, their ideology trumps all.

Remember, conservatism can't fail, only people can fail conservatism.

But when you get past ideological blinders, it's clear that modern-day conservatism has utterly failed. If reality-based conservatives want to claim Obama's pragmatism and realism are "conservative", then all the power to them. We should embrace them with open arms.

1 comment:

Mike said...


Thanks a lot for posting this. It's actually rather reassuring.

In fact, it is Obama's brand of "conservatism" which appeals to me, too.

BTW, I love the "I got this" image!