Springtime has Become the Winter of My Discontent
I missed writing my annual paean to the change of seasons this year. In the past, my blog sang the praises of the return of the robin, the blooming of the dogwood, the eternal hope engendered by opening day at Wrigley Field, and the quiet joy that feeling the warmth of the sun on my face after months of bitter cold brings to my fatalistic Irish soul.
I just didn’t have it in me this year. I am restless, irritable, snarky, sneeringly condescending, and hopelessly cynical about the future.
Yeah – a real fricking joy to be around. Just asky my Zsu-Zsu.
Since my blog has always been an aid to self-examination, I thought I would put to words the utter helplessness I feel about the turn that conservatism has taken and how just now, at the very moment that the United States needs a rational, deliberate response to the radicalism of the Democrats and Obama, the right has flitted off into NeverNever Land on the wings of conspiracy and unreasoning hatred.
Andrew Sullivan a few days ago:
Conservatism cannot be defined as whatever is the most extreme right-wing narrative of the moment. Time matters. Conservatism needs to be flexible enough a governing philosophy to be able to correct for conservative ideology itself. When such an ideology threatens fiscal balance, a prudent foreign policy, and a thriving middle class, it has become the enemy of real conservatism, not its friend.
Sullivan still thinks that the National Journal’s #1 liberal senator of 2007 (he was #10 in 2006 and #16 in 2005) with a lifetime ADA rating of 95 is a moderate “pragmatist.” I want you to imagine that instead of Obama, the senator’s name was Jim DeMint and the ratings were for most conservative senator. Would Sullivan or anyone who agrees with him say that DeMint was a moderate pragmatist? Sullivan being so desperate to convince himself of Obama’s pragmatism is one of the great continuing public self-deceptions in the history of the internet.
But he’s right about conservatism. The radical ideologues who are pushing, crowding, and denouncing what they want to call “establishment” Republicans are compounding the inconsistencies and creating new hypocrisies that are destroying the right’s ability to adequately counter the expansion of government power that we have seen over the past decade – revved into high gear by the Obama administration.
EPA rules on CO2, health insurance “reform” that sets the stage for massive government interference in the health care of individuals, consumer “protection” from our own stupidity, rules, rules, and more rules on everything from what we can eat to narrowing choices in the marketplace – at the point of a gun for the most part. What is it about forcibly compelling Americans to do what is best for themselves that makes the left so happy about itself? God knows.
But the radical right has failed to stop any of it, and has, in fact, made it easier for the radical liberals to achieve their goals. The only thing that has saved us from total immolation is that the liberals have screwed up the economy so badly with slow growth/no growth policies deliberately designed to punish success and business creation, that the American voter threw them out of power in disgust. Mistaking voter rejection of Democrats with approval of their radical agenda, the right is now in the process of giving back to the Democrats in 2012 what they lost in 2010. It is rare when so many are so demonstrably self-deluded.
It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You see the torn up track ahead of the engine; you watch as the engine goes off the rails; you freeze as, car by car, the train rolls off the track, piling up into a tragic heap of twisted metal. And there is nothing whatsoever you can do to stop it.
The blind support for personalities like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman, the clutching at conspiracy theories ranging from Obama’s birth to the authorship of his autobiography, the incomprehensible incoherence of the right’s desire to govern as a one party dictatorship while claiming to want a “return” to constitutional principles – all of this and more has made conservatism (in the eyes of many) a “riot of conceits” as R. Emmett Tyrell referred to liberalism at one time.
Note on the “one party dictatorship” crack: If you refuse to accept anything less than 100% of your position on an issue, eschewing negotiations with the opposition, while openly talking about destroying them, one can only conclude that you favor the GOP as the sole party to run the government. This is especially true if you seek to punish those conservatives who wish to govern by getting things done – only accomplished by negotiating with the opposition. Calling that a “betrayal” is not only ignorant, but reveals an unlovely authoritarian streak that proves many on the right more concerned with gathering power to destroy their enemies than governing the United States.
If the desire for compulsion rules the left, resentment against change and the modern world appears to rule the right. Sarah Palin is a master at tapping into the resentment against a changing America whose demographics are getting less white, less rural, and relatively poorer. And more tolerant. In this, the right is being left behind as American society begins to accept those who, 50 years ago, would have been shunned – or worse. Not just homosexuals, but also women, the handicapped, immigrants, other religions – the struggle for acceptance by these and others is an American story; as American a tale as the Alamo or Gettysburg. At bottom, American history is a history of people and their struggle to realize the promise found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The telling of it reaffirms who we are and what values we should most hold dear.
But many on the right want the same verities that comforted their grandparents to somehow still be true today. Yes, there are timeless principles to be passed from generation to generation – and a few that should be left behind. Resenting the necessity and inevitability of change is irrational. As conservatives, our job is to manage that change, channeling it down constructive avenues that keep that valuable connection with the past while acknowledging a future that will be different that what came before.
It is up to the right to place limits on change so that though necessary, the alterations don’t obliterate the outline of America. Change with familiarity.
But the modern ideologues not only don’t want any change, they wish a “return” to some mythical time when everyone was self reliant and didn’t need government to survive. If they got in trouble, their local church would take care of them, or relatives, or neighbors. No welfare. No food stamps. No housing assistance. No job training. This 18th century view of government is silly and stupid but is a widely held construct of what government should be on the right.
As I’ve said before, this is not a “return” to constitutional principles, but rather a resurrection of the Articles of Confederation – on steroids. The other half of the equation for many conservatives – the 10th Amendment movement – would be fine if a realistic federalism was being advocated. But there is nothing realistic about turning EPA responsibilities over to the states, or all social welfare spending dumped on governors and state legislatures. The only thing that this kind of advocacy promises is chaos – something that would occur to anyone not enamored of their own excessive ideology in about 5 seconds.
I never thought I’d live to see the day when being called a “pragmatist” would become an epithet of denigration. It doesn’t matter where I stand on the issues – most of the time it is with the vast majority of the right. What matters is that I am significantly less hateful toward the opposition and wish to see both sides negotiate a way out of this monumental mess we find ourselves in. This is a no brainer. America is in crisis and conservatives can only think about hating and destroying liberals by seeking electoral advantage when their obstructionism succeeds in making it appear that Democrats have done nothing about the country’s problems. This is patriotism? This is proof that the right loves America more than the left? Spare me boys.
This is why the onset of spring has not had its usual uplifting effect on my spirits. America is headed for a terrible fall and the chaos that will follow the collapse will throw up the worst kind of leaders – knights on white horses who will ride to our rescue if only we would give them the power to make things right. It’s happened before elsewhere and there is no reason why it couldn’t happen here.
I will leave to your imagination what ideological form our shining knight will take.