Photo by DJames, from East Atlanta
I grew up in Columbus Ohio and I still consider myself a Democrat. However, I believe in limited government and individual freedom, which one would traditionally identify with Republicans. However, in my adult life the Republicans have become the party of hypocrisy and the Democrats the party of competence, and I’m happy to go with the latter. Republicans still act Conservative in word, but it action they have grown the government massively, become corrupt, had numerous (homo) sexual scandals and advocated torture and warrant-less wiretapping of people, including American citizens. The Democrats, in contrast, have restrained government, reduced the deficit, are honest and accepting of the homosexuals in our midst, and defend civil liberties. That is why I’m glad that the Democrats won the House and the Senate and why I hope the Republicans learn and reform.
The word has become as ideologue laden and useless as terrorism, but it used to mean something. Conservatism is, to me, a bulwark against the dangerous hubris that a government can know all and solve all. In its worst form this is Communism, where the government owns everything and everyone, but even Socialism or Democratic Socialism (as here) can be dangerous. People assume that the government call pull peace and universal education and health-care out of its ass, but it can’t do it alone. I’m not looking for God in government and I’m not looking for salvation. I think that’s unreasonable. There are some direct solutions a government can do, but I think the main job of government is to build stable institutions, not to make everything peachy. The institutions can do the heavy lifting with time.
In a lot of leftist reasoning you find this anger that things aren’t perfect, and this assumption that the government can magically set them right. Some concrete examples here are electricity, transport, water and education. The left is very good at pointing out what’s wrong, but less good at fixing it. In many cases the answer to how to fix something is ‘fix it’, as if the right government would simply know what and how to do. I simply don’t think that centralized, executive form of government works because it relies too much on the fallible reason of a person or a party. Conservative, as described by Burke et al is a call for humility and patience admist the hoarse cries for revolution that build nothing stable or good.
Some men, argued Burke, have less reason than others, and thus some men will make worse governments than others if they rely upon reason. To Burke, the proper formulation of government came not from abstractions such as “Reason,” but from time-honoured development of the state and of other important societal institutions such as the family and the Church…
However, conservatives do not reject change. As Burke wrote, “A state without the means of change is without the means of its conservation.” But they insist that further change be organic, rather than revolutionary. An attempt to modify the complex web of human interactions that form human society, for the sake of some doctrine or theory, runs the risk of running afoul of the iron law of unintended consequences. Burke advocates vigilance against the possibility of moral hazards. For conservatives, human society is something rooted and organic; to try to prune and shape it according to the plans of an ideologue is to invite unforeseen disaster.
I’ve actually found this to be a programming, design and business principle as well. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel cause most of the time you’ll fuck it up. And it takes more work. That is why I abhor revolutions that call for destroying everything that came before and taking orders from a committee or leader that claims to lead by simply knowing everything. I don’t trust them and I don’t trust their government.
At the same time, however, I don’t consider myself a cultural or religious conservative, though I think the American Constitution is such that you can be for gay rights, family planning, or separation of church and state with some pretty sound backing. In that aspect, also, I think I identify more closely with American Conservatisms de facto founder, Barry Goldwater.
By the 1980s, with Ronald Reagan as president and the growing involvement of the religious right in conservative politics, Goldwater’s libertarian views on personal issues were revealed, which he believed were part of bona fide conservatism. This put him at odds with the Reagan Administration and religious conservatives who wanted stricter government control and intervention over personal affairs, particularly regarding sex. Goldwater viewed abortion as a matter of personal choice, not intended for government intervention. In fact, his own daughter, Joanne, chose to have an abortion before her first marriage at the age of 20, and he supported her decision. He was also not against gays in the military. As a passionate defender of personal liberty, he saw the religious right’s views as an encroachment on personal privacy and individual liberties.
He advocated a common-sense conservatism which railed against ‘centralized planning, red tape, rules without responsibility, and regimentation without recourse (1964 Speech).’ I think most people would agree that the government and politicians are slow-moving, corruptible and not generally reliable, but many people still hold out some deep belief in their omni-potent ability to fix everything. Barry Goldwater argued against this, and laid the foundation for a body of though which simply didn’t exist before. Post New Deal, American politics was all about government programs and authority, whereas now it is dominated by the words of Conservatism.
Republicans have been quick to latch on to the ideology of Conservatism, mainly because it is solid. However, like organized religion, they have taken admirable ideals and corrupted and perverted them beyond recognition. Reagan was their posterboy, but George W. Bush has taken what was left of Conservatism and sucked the soul from it. On the most obvious points, his Department on Homeland Security and convoluted expansion of Medicare have been the biggest growth in government size, cost and bureaucracy since the New Deal (discussion via Cato Institute). He has also attacked individual freedoms by demanding warrantless wiretapping, detention of people without charges, and basically suspending habeas corpus. I read Rush Limbaugh cause people listen to him and even he is fed up,
There hasn’t been any ideology in the Republican Party, any conservatism, for at least two to maybe four years. You could argue Bush was more of an ideologue in the presidential campaign of ’04, but in looking at what happened yesterday, it wasn’t conservatism that lost. Conservatism won when it ran as a Democrat. It won in a number of places. Republicanism lost.
The way I feel is this: I feel liberated, and I’m going to tell you as plainly as I can why. I no longer am going to have to carry the water for people who I don’t think deserve having their water carried. Now, you might say, “Well, why have you been doing it?” Because the stakes are high. Even though the Republican Party let us down, to me they represent a far better future for my beliefs and therefore the country’s than the Democrat Party and liberalism does (rushlimbaugh.com).
What is interesting here is that he (and people) still support the Republican party on principle, despite whatever contrary and destructive actions that party might take. So Rush has and will continue to carry the partisan line and ignore the party actions. However, given absolute power (and a blank check from supporters) the Republican Party has become absolutely corrupt. 15 of the 19 representatives under investigation (wtf) are Republican. In more legal corruption of pork (including a $233 million dollar bridge to nowhere in Alaska), the Republicans added 3,407 pork barrel projects to bills, compared to 47 by Democrats in 1994.
Even on the Cultural Conservatism issue, the Republicans have skeletons (literally) piling out of the closet. There are thousands of openly gay people in the Republican party (which is fine), yet the party has resorted to demonizing them and implying that gay marriage leads to sex with animals and all manner of ills. Meanwhile, the news looks like the party is collectively in the closet. You’ve got Pagefuckergate, beating up wives, prostitutes, and the fall of a prominent evangelical after paying for gay sex and crystal meth. All in all Wonkette called it the Cocktober Surprise. Makes you long for an old-fashioned heterosexual blowjob scandal.
The Republican use of gay-baiting to gain votes is repulsive, but what I was most simply perplexed by is their tolerance of hypocrisy and lies simply because people were Republican. The most audacious argument comes from David Frum, former speech writer for George W. In this is his talking about Ted Haggard, former leader of 30 million evangelicals who was recently caught paying for gay sex and crystal meth for the last 3 years. It’s terrible for his family and him and I hope he recovers, but Frum’s bizarro argument is this:
Consider the hypothetical case of two men. Both are inclined toward homosexuality. Both from time to time hire the services of male prostitutes. Both have occasionally succumbed to drug abuse. One of them marries, raises a family, preaches Christian principles, and tries generally to encourage people to lead stable lives. The other publicly reveals his homosexuality, vilifies traditional moral principles, and urges the legalization of drugs and prostitution.
Which man is leading the more moral life? It seems to me that the answer is the first one. Instead of suggesting that his bad acts overwhelm his good ones, could it not be said that the good influence of his preaching at least mitigates the bad effect of his misconduct? Instead of regarding hypocrisy as the ultimate sin, could it not be regarded as a kind of virtue – or at least as a mitigation of his offense? (National Review)
To which I say, wtf. Does hypocrisy run so deep that it’s become a Republican value?
Now, in a turnaround almost as strange as the party of Lincoln becoming modern Republicans, the Democrats are the party of responsible Conservatism. The party that started Vietnam is now the voice of reason on Iraq and the party of the New Deal is the party that reformed welfare. The Clinton years stand out as a bastion of reduced spending, balanced budget, individual rights, international support, and general not-suckiness. The extreme leftist anti-business, anti-globalization wing is still there, but the Democrats as a whole are now dominated by moderates like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, etc. This is not to say that there isn’t a significant liberal aspect to the Democrats, but they at least reduce spending, restrain government growth and and preserve civil liberties, whatever they say. Countless Conservative commentators have supported the Dems, or turned away from Republicans, Andrew Sullivan being the most prominent (and intellectual honest IMHO). This is not to say the Democrats are the conservative party, they sound a lot of liberal talking points. When it comes to action, however, they are the party that a Conservative should support. And did, it seems.
To close, here are some words from Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Speech at the Republican Convention.
Now, certainly, simple honesty is not too much to demand of men in government. We find it in most. Republicans demand it from everyone. They demand it from everyone no matter how exalted or protected his position might be…
Now, we Republicans see all this as more, much more, than the rest: of mere political differences or mere political mistakes. We see this as the result of a fundamentally and absolutely wrong view of man, his nature and his destiny. Those who seek to live your lives for you, to take your liberties in return for relieving you of yours, those who elevate the state and downgrade the citizen must see ultimately a world in which earthly power can be substituted for divine will, and this Nation was founded upon the rejection of that notion and upon the acceptance of God as the author of freedom.
Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed.
Fellow Republicans, it is the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power, private or public, which enforce such conformity and inflict such despotism. It is the cause of Republicanism to ensure that power remains in the hands of the people. And, so help us God, that is exactly what a Republican president will do with the help of a Republican Congress.
They only words I would add are ‘with a Democratic Congress.’ Congrats Dems. Good luck in 2008.