Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Times, They Are A-Changing

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a political conservative. I've occasionally adopted what could be called conservative ideas, when they seemed the best for the particular situation. But in the end, I think that part of the role of government is to make its society better, and to do the things that are beyond the ability of that society to do any other way. While I've never liked the term "liberal", in the modern American sense of that word, I am one.

All that is to say that I'm probably not the most knowledgeable observer of the conservative movement in this country. In fact, I don't pay as much attention to it as I should. While reading another blog, I found this enlightening rant from Little Green Football's Charles Johnson:

1. Support for fascists, both in America (see: Pat Buchanan, Robert Stacy McCain, etc.) and in Europe (see: Vlaams Belang, BNP, SIOE, Pat Buchanan, etc.)

2. Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)


And much, much more. The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff.

I won’t be going over the cliff with them.

Why I Parted Ways With The Right

It's a rather extraordinary list, and well worth reading, I think. That list includes any number of sins that, if you believed the news in this country, were things that only liberals objected to. The plain fact is that many things, like a functioning government that isn't corrupt, a court system with rights for the accused, freedom of speech, and a fair and open market are things that many conservative intellectuals believe in, too.

Andrew Sullivan backed up Johnson the next day:

[T]here has to come a point at which a movement or party so abandons core principles or degenerates into such a rhetorical septic system that you have to take a stand. It seems to me that now is a critical time for more people whose principles lie broadly on the center-right to do so - against the conservative degeneracy in front of us. Those who have taken such a stand - to one degree or other - demand respect. And this blog, while maintaining its resistance to cliquishness, has been glad to link to writers as varied as Bruce Bartlett or David Frum or David Brooks or Steve Chapman or Kathleen Parker or Conor Friedersdorf or Jim Manzi or Jeffrey Hart or Daniel Larison who have broken ranks in some way or other.


I cannot support a movement that refuses to distance itself from a demagogue like Rush Limbaugh or a nutjob like Glenn Beck.

I cannot support a movement that believes that the United States should be the sole global power, should sustain a permanent war machine to police the entire planet, and sees violence as the core tool for international relations.

Does this make me a "radical leftist" as Michelle Malkin would say? Emphatically not. But it sure disqualifies me from the current American right.

Leaving the Right

Sullivan goes on to paraphrase Ronald Reagan: "I didn't leave the conservative movement. It left me."

Having read Sullivan's writings in the last few years, I'm not too surprised by his opinion. I hadn't read much of Johnson's, though, so his break with the movement came as something of a surprise. You can probably add John Cole of Balloon Juice to Sullivan's list, too, since he broke with the Republican Party last year.

These defections, and the further defections of many politicians, such as Sen. James Webb (D-VA), have helped bring the Democratic Party into majority status in both houses of Congress, and many state legislatures as well. They have also turned the Democratic Party into a more politically conservative organization than it has been in decades.

It's hard to believe today, but while I was growing up in the '60s and early '70s, I had a very different impression of Republicans than what's represented by their leaders now. They were decent folks who, if they had a failing, was being a bit to eager to like money and order. They were the guys who dressed up in three-piece suits and told us kids to get off their manicured lawns. They were also the guys who believed that science and greater education would guarantee a better tomorrow. They were the ones who, many years before, had been the first to insist on equality, and on a Square Deal, because markets and an orderly society needed them. They felt that we didn't need to be involved in the affairs of other nations, as long as they left us alone and we could trade with them.

That image of them is quite a contrast to what we're confronted with today. The loud morons, the god-bothering politicians, the anti-science crackpots, and the racist assholes were mostly either Democrats or independents. Now, as those links will attest, they all seem to be collected together in what's left of the Republican Party.

We've actually seen quite a shift in that time. In essence, the Democrats rid themselves of many of these embarrassments and the GOP, under Richard Nixon's Southern strategy, took them in. The GOP gradually became the party of facile nonsense like "getting the government off our backs" and similar phrases that increasingly meant allowing Wall Street thieves and the bigots to do exactly as they wanted.

Meanwhile, the Democrats became more enamored of big business and the cash it could dole out, and thus it also became more conservative.

If you took the Republican Party of the early 1970's, added a few more token liberals and nonconformists to it, and moved its headquarters a few blocks, you'd have the Democratic Party of today. The sort of conservative politicians who would appeal to Johnson, Sullivan, or Cole are now mostly Democrats, or looking to become Democrats. The Republican Party is on its way to becoming a home for morons, lunatics, and the politicians who exploit them, a party with no interest or ability to run a country. It's in worse shape than the old Democratic Party ever was. At least that party could come up with effective leaders. This Republican Party comes up with leaders like John McCain and Sarah Palin.

There are certainly folks who celebrate the demise of the Republican Party, but I'm not one of them. The reasons it has changed, and the way it has changed, are disturbing. Not only have these changes made progressives a minority voice in what used to be their party, but it has also created a situation in which voters have no credible alternative to the Democratic Party. Sooner or later, we're going to need one. We've never seen a party yet that could stand being in power for too long without becoming either corrupt, indolent, or both.

When that day comes, we'll be very sorry that the Coles, Johnsons, and Sullivans of this country have no party of their own.


Dana Hunter said...

I'm hoping they'll found their own party, and take some of our Conservadems with them.

It's good to see that some conservatives, at least, aren't Cons.

Thanks for the Cole link. I hadn't known that about him.

(oballity? Now the captcha's kinda verging on the pornographic...)

Cujo359 said...

Perhaps they will, or perhaps they'll take the GOP back. What I'm afraid of is that the Democratic Party will become the new conservative party. It's certainly well on the way already.