August 6, 2010

Signs It's Time to Clean House

For those of you who don't know me - or who have only been reading Sensen No Sen for a short time - it may come as a surprise that I do not consider myself particularly liberal. I am certainly left of a lot of people, but I am also to the right of a good many as well. I believe that private enterprise can and does serve a vital purpose - albeit in a far from perfect manner - but I believe the same of government, too.  I understand the tremendous value of a market economy and have seen it fuel unprecedented success.  I have also watched the market produce booms and busts that incur terrible human costs, and am convinced that well-structured and consistent regulation is key to producing gains which do not rely on the perpetual exploitation of one group of citizens by another.

I do not believe that one political party or another has all the answers, and while I voted for Barack Obama, it certainly wasn't because I think he's some kind of savior.  As I wrote on the eve of the 2008 election:
Barack Obama is certainly not perfect and he's not the messiah, but he has never claimed to be either of those things. For me, he is simply a better candidate than his opponent on the issues... and in the larger picture, the GOP very definitely needs some time in the wilderness to regroup as a viable and respectable party of opposition.
I am not party or brand loyal, and I vote by issue.  I have cast my ballot for Republicans on occasion in the past, and I will again in the future if the GOP presents compelling candidates. The fact of the matter is, however, that that doesn't look like it's going to happen again anytime soon; the worst elements of the American right remain at the head of the contemporary conservative movement.

Don't think so?  Watch the clip below and contemplate that Glenn Beck is not just the second highest rated political talking head in all of television, but a man capable of mobilizing significant protest action, and to whose followers conservative politicians are held accountable:

Mr. Beck is a man who, like it or not, speaks for and to a lot of people, and it's not just those outside the GOP and the political right who understand that he is bad for both the country and conservatism. Conservatives may claim that the Becks and Palins and Limbaughs and Bachmans and Angles of the world don't represent them and aren't "true" conservatives, but at the end of the day, conservatism is what conservatism does.  After all, Kremlin leadership of the Soviet Union hardly toed the lines of true Marxism, but no one tries to argue that the U.S.S.R. wasn't communist.

Clearly the role played by Mr. Beck and others like him alarms David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the very conservative Discovery Institute:
Once the conservative movement was about finding meaning in private life and public service. But it has undergone a shift toward demagoguery and hucksterism.
[William F.] Buckley's
National Review, where I was the literary editor through the 1990s, remains as vital and interesting as ever. But more characteristic of conservative leadership are figures on TV, radio and the Internet who make their money by stirring fears and resentments. With its descent to baiting blacks, Mexicans and Muslims, its accommodation of conspiracy theories and an increasing nastiness and vulgarity, the conservative movement has undergone a shift toward demagoguery and hucksterism. Once the talk was of "neocons" versus "paleocons." Now we observe the rule of the crazy-cons.
Conservative law professor and writer Stephen M. Bainbridge - a member of the Federalist Society no less - agrees, and says simply that It's Getting Embarrassing To Be A Conservative:
Let's tick off ten things that make this conservative embarrassed by the modern conservative movement:
  1. A poorly educated ex-sportwriter who served half of one term of a minor state governorship is prominently featured as a - if not the - leading prospect for the GOP's 2012 Presidential nomination.
  2. Tom Tancredo calling President Obama “the greatest threat to the United States today" and arguing that he be impeached. Bad public policy is not a high crime nor a misdemeanor, and the casual assertion that pursuing liberal policies - however misguided - is an impeachable offense is just nuts.
  3. Similar nonsense from former Ford-Reagan treasury department officials Ernest Christian and Gary Robbins, whose IBD column was, as Doug Mataconis observed, "a wildly exaggerated attack on President Obama’s record in office." Actually, it's more foaming at the mouth.
  4. As Doug also observed, "The GOP controlled Congress from 1994 to 2006: Combine neocon warfare spending with entitlements, farm subsidies, education, water projects and you end up with a GOP welfare/warfare state driving the federal spending machine." Indeed, "when the GOP took control of Congress in 1994, and the White House in 2000, the desire to use the levers of power to create “compassionate conservatism” won out over any semblance of fiscal conservatism. Instead of tax cuts and spending cuts, we got tax cuts along with a trillion dollar entitlement program, a massive expansion of the Federal Government’s role in education, and two wars. That’s not fiscal conservatism it is, as others have said, fiscal insanity." Yet, today's GOP still has not articulated a message of real fiscal conservatism.
  5. Thanks to the Tea Party, the Nevada GOP has probably pissed away a historic chance to oust Harry Reid. See also Charlie Crist in Florida, Rand Paul in Kentucky, and so on. Whatever happened to not letting perfection be the enemy of the good?
  6. The anti-science and anti-intellectualism that pervade the movement.
  7. Trying to pretend Afghanistan is Obama's war.
  8. Birthers.
  9. Nativists.
  10. The substitution of mouth-foaming, spittle-blasting, rabble-rousing talk radio for reasoned debate. Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt, and even Rush Limbaugh are not exactly putting on Firing Line. Whatever happened to smart, well-read, articulate leaders like Buckley, Neuhaus, Kirk, Jack Kemp, Goldwater, and, yes, even Ronald Reagan?
At some point, things have to change, and at some point, reasonable conservatives need to regain their voice, either by reclaiming the Republican Party or striking out on their own.  In the meantime, the ideologically impure are being driven from the ranks, even when they have what just a few years ago would have been considered unassailable conservative credentials.

Take, for instance, the case of Republican Representative Bob Inglis of South Carolina, a politician with a 93 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union.  Mr. Inglis recently lost his state's Republican primary in a landslide, defeated by an opponent who claimed he was not far enough to the right.  Now a man without a job, the lame-duck congressman hasn't been shy about the problems he sees within modern conservatism:
While he was campaigning, Inglis says, tea party activists and conservative voters kept pushing him to describe Obama as a "socialist." But, he says, "It's a dangerous strategy to build conservatism on information and policies that are not credible... This guy is no socialist." He continues:
The word is designed to have emotional charge to it. Throughout my primary, there were people insisting that I use the word. They would ask me if he was a socialist, and I would always find some other word. I'd say, "President Obama wants a very large government that I don't think will work and that spends too much and it's inefficient and it compromises freedom and it's not the way we want to go." They would listen for the word, wait to see if I used the s-word, and when I didn't, you could see the disappointment.
Why not give these voters what they wanted? Inglis says he wasn't willing to lie:
I refused to use the word because I have this view that the Ninth Commandment must mean something. I remember one year Bill Clinton - the guy I was out to get [when serving on the House Judiciary Committee in the 1990s] - at the National Prayer Breakfast said something that was one of the most profound things I've ever heard from anybody at a gathering like that. He said, "The most violated commandment in Washington, DC" - everybody leaned in; do tell, Mr. President - "is, 'Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.'" I thought, "He's right. That is the most violated commandment in Washington." For me to go around saying that Barack Obama is a socialist is a violation of the Ninth Commandment. He is a liberal fellow. I'm conservative. We disagree... But I don't need to call him a socialist, and I hurt the country by doing so. The country has to come together to find a solution to these challenges or else we go over the cliff.
The fact of the matter is that the leadership of today's GOP has failed, and continues to fail, both its rank and file and the nation it claims to serve.  Instead of working in good faith toward compromise - rather than demanding their policies be adopted completely despite having been voted into the minority - Republicans in the Senate have attempted to foul the gears of government with a record number of filibusters.

Principles are important, but given, for instance, the willingness of Republican legislators to oppose the stimulus bill but still claim credit for funding it delivered to their states and districts, principles are clearly not what's at work here.  The team-first zealotry in evidence has no place in politics, which in the words of Otto von Bismarck, is "the art of the possible."  Without leaders who are willing to compromise, little at all is, in fact, possible, and given the sorry state of the country, we cannot afford the paralysis of ever deeper polarization driven by fear-mongering and demonization from pundits and extremist politicians.

When one of the most popular public figures in movement conservatism links the President of the United States to The Devil - The Devil! - he is setting expectations for the behavior of politiians among the electorate (just ask Bob Inglis) that are both untenable and profoundly detrimental to the country.  It's time for reasonable conservatives to disown craven fools like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Tom Tancredo, and it's unquestionably time for the GOP to clean house.

The entire story on Bob Inglis - Confessions of a Tea Party Casualty - can be found at the link. It's well worth reading for a picture of what conservative politicians who don't operate at the extremes are facing.


lokywoky said...

Hi there!
Excellent post. Love the graph! All this filibustering and fear-mongering and purity tests etc are what is driving the moderate, well-reasoned Republicans out of the party, out of office, and out of public discourse. Until this changes, I fear the conservatives will run further and further right until they come around to the left. Ha Ha!

We need responsible conservatives - unfortunately, they are now few and far between, and being marginalized by their own party. Too bad.

PBI said...

Hi LW,

Good to hear from you again!

Something's definitely got to give in the GOP...