The Way We Were

Ah… We’re gonna miss ye, Marvin Hamlisch…

As I meet conservatives in person, on the internet and other reading, I note there is a category of conservative who label themselves and select others as a True Conservative. I’m not sure how much unity there is in the definition, but it involves a checklist, like certain faith in regulation-free capitalism, pro-life and a sense that family values can be found in reruns of 1950s television or at Bob Jones University. Conservatism is prone to a formula; it seeks some historical ideal. The ideal is really nonexistent; True Conservatives cherry pick their favorite ideals and wish the world would get on their side.

The popular media and culture doesn’t lift up the counter to a True Conservative, a True Liberal. I think this concept disappeared around Bill Clinton’s era, though Carter and even Kennedy avoided such a label. Modern people who ascribe to left leaning politics tend to cherry pick issues from the left and right, study them, and promote the changes they like, with the goal being a better society. We call these people center-leftists. There is a pragmatic side to these people, they gain support from independents and undecided.

JP, I think you want to be a True Liberal. You have a formula for your politics, which involves general faith in government programs and regulation. You often say, “We’re in this together,” and expect good Democrats to stand up for certain traditional left leaning issues. Strong environmental standards mean exactly that. Government is a solution. More bad guys necessitate more rules and more government-delivered justice. Downtrodden and victims of injustice deserve a hand. A true liberal sees the world as an I-pad, and “there’s a (government) app for that.” When the Republican Party, which is roughly half of the electorate, shifts its weight to the right, it has no effect on your views. You remain true to your principles. When Clinton said, ‘the era of big government is over,’ you felt the loss.

You recommended an article from The Nation by Eric Alterman, here is an excerpt:

The GOP strategy was clear from the start. Republicans, circa 2009, were no longer interested in bipartisan solutions to America’s problems. As then–Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told National Journal, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Senator Jim DeMint famously promised healthcare reform could be used to “break” Obama from day one. And that was before the Tea Party even existed.

Part of the problem, for far too long, was that President Obama collaborated in the charade. He was so invested in the notion that both sides could just get along and legislate together that he couldn’t part with the illusion he had helped to create. His communitarian rhetoric, together with his compromise-in-advance legislative strategy, was always oriented toward inclusiveness, consensus-building and, ultimately, political passivity. As a result, Obama allowed the Republicans to stymie his ability to act on behalf of most of his agenda, beginning with the underfunded stimulus and carrying through with virtually every single initiative he undertook throughout the first two years of his term.

The net effect of this legislatively was that, rather than reversing the right-wing policies of the Bush administration, Obama has, despite his significant accomplishments, largely continued them. He has issued fewer new regulations than Bush did at the same point in his term. He has lowered taxes, both on the rich and the rest of us, and his healthcare, economic and environmental initiatives were largely based on Republican proposals. And his foreign policy is, in many respects, unchanged from Bush’s.

In short, it’s simple: Obama caved and did not stay true to Liberal principles. Alterman implies the result is twofold: problems were not solved how they should have been – with a pure liberal approach, and the world is messed up. Furthermore, the press shirked their responsibility when they followed a perceived drift to the right. Alterman is as pure a liberal as George Will or Doctor Dobson is conservative.

You and Alterman ‘ain’t gonna take it,’ and intend to fight fire with fire. While your courage and rectitude are admirable, there are some problems with it.

First of all, when you meet the narrow mindedness on the right with an equivalent closed mind, where does that really get you? The natural response is a sort of defeatist one. “It won’t make a difference anyway, and at least our side is true to the facts as we see them.” Or, “The right may be having its day now, but our side’s turn is coming, and when it does, we’ll need leadership from the Keepers of the Faith.” As you are a human gene bank of pure liberalism.

Next is the principle of Purity. Ayn Rand has her purity, so do Milton Friedman and Barry Goldwater. But American liberalism works a little differently, I say. It still believes in capitalism at its heart and applies select rules to moderate and preserve it. It’s moderate at heart, not socialist or communist. Liberals appreciate government solutions, but not every solution must be from the government. Even FDR advocated for private charity. Liberals must necessarily have some moderation between government solutions and ascription to capitalism.

Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line? Does the press have an obligation to document the rise of the Tea Party? Sure. And to show the country that somehow, the public dialogue has shifted to the right? Sure. Should the press call out a fact-twister or outright liar? Yup. But to long for the good old days, when the discussion was right versus the traditional left? That ain’t gonna happen. We get the press we deserve, and it reflects the way things are.


About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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2 Responses to The Way We Were

  1. JP says:

    Things are crazy here right now, so I don’t have time for a full response. Some of what you say I agree with, and I some I just don’t get. You have read and posted as much as I have about the extreme radicalsim of the right and today’s Republican party (which has even been written about by many long-time Republicans). And yet you seem to be saying that unless I give those extreme views full credence and accept them as just a different view I am somehow wrong. It’s as though you’re saying I am too rigid in my belief that cutting taxes on the wealthy doesn’t create jobs (though we have a decade of solid evidence, and all I ask is if you don’t want me to beleive it then show me some evidence), and unless I’m willing to bend on that and accept that some conservative believes dinosaurs walked the earth with humans and that it is a valid scientific view, then I’ll never get to them or have a constructive conversation with them. I say hogwash to that. Pretending those views have merit is simply enabling them to think they’re okay to believe things we know are not true. And I think that makes them ultimately harder to reach than if we continue to tell the truth as best we can.
    A quick example; in the last couple weeks one of Michele Bachmann’s former campaign managers finally had enough and called her out and rejected her views that radical Muslims had infiltrated the state department. I think he would have done that much sooner if the media and politicans on both sides had called her radical views for what they were. Instead, she was enabled to continue to spout them and still be seen as legitimate, I guess in the hopes that, as perhap you would say, doing so, accepting her views as just, you know, her views, then we would have a better chance of reaching her, reasoning with her. I think some like Bachmann herself you have to just leave behind: she is too far gone, and will never dialog with anyone on the other side. And people like her former campaign manager can be brought around sooner if everyone would call what is radically crazy for what it is.

    • Jim says:

      In short what I am saying, JP, is that sticking to your guns is a flawed platform. Ideology should never come before rationality. When the facts lead to a justified conclusion, great. But to start with the conclusion and bend or choose facts that lead one there. We all need to be careful of that, from whatever side you stand.

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