Thursday, March 12, 2009

Republicans Are From Venus, Conservatives Are From Mars

The Conservative - Republican Kerfuffle

The following is for those with any interest in the Conservative and Republican scuffling-around while outside the halls of power. Others, can click off now.

There’s been a lot of discussion and commentary on the subject of Republican Party leadership and Conservatism the past few weeks, and Dan Flynn’s following article in the Spectator, illustrates the kerfuffle that’s going on between Conservatives and Republicans (separate entities) to effectively articulate their relative positions. I think that both are seeking an effective way to present themselves to the broader public, with the ultimate goal of winning hearts and minds. My view of the difference between the Conservative and Republican Party entities is more fundamental than usually presented, and not effectively explained by employing the term Far-Right as an element of the commentary, although I do believe that there is a Far-Right, just as there are Communists. A better descriptive may be the term ‘Resolved’… as in a firm position.

It seems to me that a significant element of the quibble is that in general, most Conservatives prefer to see principles determine policies, while many Republicans are comfortable embracing their opposition’s policies in the pursuit of their own more flexible principles..…

Many Conservatives favor a clearer presentation and evangelization of the ‘why’ of Conservative principles, believing that if understood, they would be preferred by a majority, and if implemented, they would enable a much improved and effective society. Preferring to convert, not necessarily rule, and in general, believing that principles are immutable and not subject to compromise.

Many Republicans, although oriented towards Conservative concepts, are more interested in the process of wresting political power for their Party in order to implement their preferred policies, and as a result, are amenable to compromise. To those so oriented, less of a ‘bad’ policy is ok, if that’s what gets them elected. They can work with being ‘Liberal - Light’, as they see society being on a trajectory of inexorable value changes, and their main goal becomes just slowing that train down, while getting themselves holding the throttle. Being optimists, they harbor the fantasy that in time it just might eventually be possible to stop the ‘train’ and turn it around. Resolved Conservatives believe that getting on a track that Liberals have laid out, even for just a short run, is a one way journey they don’t want to start.

For both groups, this period will be an uncomfortable and disjointed period without a lot of focus, or feeling of accomplishment. Someone will ultimately emerge who'll be able to reconcile both sides, once again, into a formidable political movement that will seize that throttle back. Hopefully, it won’t be too late.

Dead Wrong

By Daniel J. Flynn on 3.12.09 @ 6:09AM

Dead Wrong  

Newsweek's favorite conservatives are either dead or not very conservative. Its obituary of Bill Buckley serves as exhibit A. The current David Frum-penned cover story, featuring a muzzling "Enough!" that covers talk-host Rush Limbaugh's moneymaker, is exhibit B.
"I'm a conservative Republican," writes Frum. "I volunteered for the Reagan campaign in 1980. I've attended every Republican convention since 1988. I was president of the Federalist Society chapter at my law school, worked on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal and wrote speeches for President Bush -- not the 'Read My Lips' Bush, the 'Axis of Evil' Bush. I served on the Giuliani campaign in 2008 and voted for John McCain in November. I supported the Iraq War and (although I feel kind of silly about it in retrospect) the impeachment of Bill Clinton. I could go on, but you get the idea."
Indeed, he could go on. Frum supported the banker bailout. He wrote last September, "I say 'aye' to the proposed national debt bailout -- and a big shout out to Rep. Barney Frank, one of its early authors, who has been a prescient early voice on the need for a big solution to a big problem." He is pro abortion-rights: "I am not pro-life. I think abortion ought to be legal for the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy and available to protect the health of the mother during the weeks thereafter. I don't see this as a matter of fundamental human rights, so much as one of accommodating reality." In his latest volume of advice to conservatives, Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again, he advises them to get over their fixation of lowering income-tax rates and offers a massive "carbon tax" as a way of promoting "green conservatism."
David Frum, in other words, isn't very conservative these days. One might say he has evolved. Twelve years ago, for instance, Frumbrilliantly schooled Andrew Sullivan in an online debate over gay marriage. Now, despite ballot rejections of homosexual marriage in such deep-blue states as California, Michigan, and Oregon, Frum inexplicably argues that the gay marriage train has left the station and it’s time for conservatives to, if not get on board, at least get out of the way.
Frum's embrace of various liberal positions doesn't make him a dummy, or an unskilled writer, or someone who should be excluded from a necessary conversation among self-identified conservatives about the direction of their wayward movement. It just makes him rather hubristic to envision himself as a general giving marching orders, or as a pope issuing excommunications, to a movement he no longer has much use for.
The piece suffers from the same delusion its writer has: the conflation of the cultural and policy objectives of the conservative movement with the electoral success of the Republican Party. The first six years of the Bush presidency have cured some conservatives of that delusion, but not Frum -- as the article's interchangeable use of "conservative movement" and "Republican Party" demonstrates. This common error does more to explain the conservative movement's sorry state than any "aggressive," "bombastic," "cutting," or "sarcastic" utterance of the talk-radio king.
Frum's premise is one that nobody privately accepts: Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party. As Frum notes, this is a useful notion for Barack Obama and Rush Limbaugh. It allows the president to hand-select his opposition, with the hand-selected opponent naturally going along with the flattery. It's good for the president's Gallup poll numbers and the talkmeister's Arbitron ratings. Unstated is that the situation also presents an opportunity for a writer to land space in a mass-circulation liberal magazine by trading on his credibility as a "conservative" voice to mouth ideas soothing to the editors at that mass-circulation liberal magazine.
Frum points out that Limbaugh is a fat, thrice-divorced, cigar smoker who once had a major drug problem. Ad hominem masquerades as argument, as so many talk-radio critics imagine it does on the airwaves, in the pages of Newsweek. The pot calls the kettle black throughout.
The Newsweek article informs, "In the conservative world, we have a tendency to dismiss unwelcome realities. When one of us looks up and murmurs, 'Hey, guys, there seems to be an avalanche heading our way,' the others tend to shrug and say, he's a 'squish' or a RINO -- Republican in Name Only." Or how about an "Unpatriotic Conservative"? It neither occurs to Frum that he once served as the chief enforcer of the very real narrow-mindedness that he now castigates, nor dawns on him that the avalanche "heading our way" has already hit.
For Frum, it's not the failed president he dubbed "the right man," or the far-fetched utopian military crusades he advocated as "an end to evil," but Rush Limbaugh who is to blame for the Republican Party's sorry state. It's worth remembering that Limbaugh is neither a new phenomenon nor at the apex of his influence (Remember the bestsellers? The magazine covers? The late-night television show?), which makes laying the blame for the Republican Party's current woes on a radio host in national syndication since the Reagan years a rather dubious proposition.
Frum's Bush-worshipping book, Torquemada-like intolerance of Iraq war dissent, and big-government conservatism is what got conservatism into the mess. Just as Rush Limbaugh serves as a useful distraction from the president's economic woes, the radio yakker serves as a useful distraction from the destructive role Frum has played within the conservative movement during the Bush presidency.
When liberals adopt you as their token conservative, kiss your credibility among conservatives goodbye and say hello to writing gigs at the Atlantic, appearances on Keith Olbermann's program, and lectures at the Kennedy School of Government. David Brooks, who serves as the house conservative to both PBS's News Hour and theNew York Times op-ed page, could have told David Frum this. To be the liberals' favorite conservative is usually an indication of just how alienated from conservatism one really is.

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