Relativism and the Republicans

JP your last post lamenting the Republican Party is certainly accurate. Let me elaborate on that a little with my own thoughts.

First, the GOP is an amalgamation of interests, like its counterpart. The recent rise of the Tea Party has filled a leadership void. Those with definite things to say grab the attention of both the press and voters. Michele Bachmann, Rand Paul and in turn, Ted Cruz have each captured the national debate in the same way that any shock jockey does. The difference, of course, is that these people are elected officials, not just crazy people on the radio. And the current state of affairs is not new; many of the comments you reference, JP, are years old. The reactionary and “shock” wing of that party has been a while in the making.

What has really changed in politics that allowed the people I usually refer to as the Crazies on the Right? The moderate leaders – the rational ones – in the GOP have not been vocal or loud enough in countering the extremists. Nor have the voters been willing to listen to them. I see two trends that lead to the shift.

First, several agile and manipulative people whose goals were for power more than any vision of good government – I would call them fiends – have managed to get their foot in the door and change several things about how the Party and the entire political system work. I don’t mind a little name dropping: Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, Dick Cheney, Henry Hyde, Karl Rove and Darrell Issa for starters. These are the guys at the helm of the K Street project, re-districting, and talking points that include, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” The second trend is that the Republican relativists have lost sway to the Republican absolutists. To these people a better way is not good enough, there is only the right way. These two trends have reinforced each other and made for a dysfunctional party and country.

Here is a typical quote from Henry Hyde as long ago as 1998: “What we are telling you today are not the ravings of some vast right-wing conspiracy, but a reaffirmation of a set of values that are tarnished and dim these days, but it is given to us to restore them so our Founding Fathers would be proud. It’s your country – the President is our flag bearer, out in front of our people. The flag is falling, my friends – I ask you to catch the falling flag as we keep our appointment with history.” Note Hyde’s patriotic guilt tripping, and the use of hypocritical double-talking superlatives (from 1965 to 1969, Hyde conducted an extramarital sexual affair with Cherie Snodgrass).

If politics is the art of the possible, then there is little room for absolutes in government. It hardly takes any imagination to say that our current Democratic President is adept at compromise, and shows an ability to see issues and stances as they relate to each other. This aspect of his leadership is a major factor in his rise to power, twice. There simply are more people who prefer whatever is better than the ones who insist on their absolute ideal version of, well, anything. Here are some examples.

· Government is not the enemy; it just needs to be transparent, reformed, able to do its job.

· Abortion is not wrong; it is undesirable, a sad choice, but legal.

· We can say the same about Canada’s Tar Sands and the keystone pipeline. Not evil or wrong, just undesirable.

We sometime talk about false dichotomies, JP, and here is one: If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. Wisdom involves deliberation, comparative consideration, and preferences. David Hume says, “In our reasonings concerning matter of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence. A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.” I’m with Hume on this one.

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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 Relativism and the Republicans

  1. JP says:

    Good follow up Jim. And yes, of course the craziness on the right has been long in coming. Neither I nor Edsall in the column I linked to said the quotes were recent. The ideology goes back even farther than your ’98 quote from Hyde. Nordquist started gathering signatures on his anti-tax pledge in the ’80s, and it even goes farther back than that.
    You hint at why it happened, that the moderate voices and leadership were not heard and not strong enough. And that is true, and I believe the evidence shows that a big part of the reason they did not speak out is that they saw falling in line with the far right as a way to secure power for the party. It did, and now they can’t get out of it so easy, and their moderate voices have been drowned out. We have discussed this at length before, and it’s worth a reminder and remembering.
    I both agree and don’t agree with your examples on absolutes. The first two I’ll go along with basically. The last one really depends on what you believe about fossil fuels and climate chaos and what the Keystone will do. If you believe, as does our top climate scientist James Hansen, that if built and fully operational it is game over for the climate, then it is hard to see it in relative terms. If you think anything anyone says about Keystone has equal validity, then sure, it’s not evil. Would you agree that if something actually was going to destroy the planet it could be characterized as wrong or evil? I mean, in the abstract; not about Keystone as we disagree on those facts, but in the abstract, if you believed something was going to destroy the world would you call it wrong? Because many people believe that about Keystone.
    And I suggest there are many things that we both–along with most of the world–believe are absolutes and not relative. (child abuse, for example).
    Getting away from your main point which was that politics is the art of compromise, and that I agree with.
    And of course we have also talked at length that Newt is the one who we owe for ending compromise as the SOP of congress. They used to work together; since Newt they won’t even sit together in the capitol lunch room. I only wish I was kidding about that.

  2. Jim says:

    JP, You set up a false choice about Keystone. You write: ‘If you believe, as does our top climate scientist James Hansen, that if built and fully operational it is game over for the climate, then it is hard to see it in relative terms.” Hey, it’s just about game over already. And even if not, this is just one oil field, albeit a very dirty one.

    You seem to be taking the starfish approach: I say, “Why toss that one starfish back from the beach, given all of these that lay here dying?” And you say, “It maters to that one.” To me, this issue is the least bad of the various bad options. I will support cap and trade legislation – on that one we can agree.

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