Thursday, November 19, 2009
You have my ear.
INSTAPUNK LISTENS. I was pleasantly surprised that AllahPundit linked my last post. When I take somebody on that directly, I email them if I can to let them know about it. Seems fair. Regardless of his motives, I respect him for the link.
I also read all the comments. Some good points were made and some important questions raised. I appreciate the compliments and enjoyed the trolls. Things wouldn't seem quite real without them, would they? That's why I'd like to offer them a one-size-fits-all bouquet. YOU ARE WHO WE THOUGHT YOU WERE. Thanks for the demonstration.
But there are other, more serious questions of identity surfaced in the comments. People have different assumptions about the meaning of terms like "RINOs," "libertarians," "independents," "moderates," and even "conservatives." I'm not going to be able to match specific ideas with specific commenter names here, but I am going to clarify what I think about these labels and how they relate to the electoral task facing conservatives.
For example, I was concerned by the commenter who identified himself as a RINO because he is pro-choice in the weeks before brain activity begins in the fetus. That's not a RINO in my view. And more importantly, I don't believe it's the definition of a RINO in the poll AllahPundit was talking about. I tend to agree with the commenter who opined that RINOs are either opportunistic Democrats (Arlen Specter) who have a local reason for running as Republicans or they are Democrats Lite; that is, they have no real philosophical objection to big government solutions but get worried when they seem too expensive (John McCain).That's who I think the poll respondents were talking about.
It's true that there are one-issue conservatives, particularly on abortion. But the impact of this kind of constituency is, in my opinion, consistently overstated. One of the commenters pointed out, very eloquently, the difference between principle and ideology. Despite the media's ignorant overemphasis on the religious right, conservatives tend not to be airy-fairy utopians but hard-headed pragmatists. Their views are not a species of hyper-intellectualized theoretical dogma. which is, self-evidently, the province of liberals and snobbish conservative elites. Grass-roots conservatives tend to be merely common-sensical. Government interferences in the lives of private citizens seem to result in hideously expensive and often frightful unintended consequences, which should therefore be limited as much as possible. They regard as the only proper roles of government those things which private citizens cannot do for themselves -- administer the rule of law consistent with the Constitution, build and maintain key elements of national infrastructure like the interstate highway system, negotiate treaties with reasonable foreign powers, and defend the country from hostile threats, foreign and domestic. Everything else the government seeks to do is suspect. Not out of the question, mind you, but suspect. For example, most conservatives have no principled aversion to a safety net that protects the weakest among us from death and ruin. But the bigger government gets, the more suspicious they become.
This represents a core of beliefs to which, in all likelihood, a solid majority of Americans would subscribe. It's certainly the basis of the Reagan political coalition which won two landslides in the 1980s. What do all our other disputed definitions signify in this context? When the stakes are small, they are important drivers of individual political fortunes. But when the stakes are big enough, they are revealed as subsidiary.
In other words, there are principles, and then there are principles. The italicized ones are the ones that people remember and rally to when they are directly threatened. The others are things we care deeply about but can stand to set temporarily aside when the situation is truly dire.
Are there differences between so-called social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and national security conservatives? Yes. But they're grossly overblown by the liberal mass media and those who, for whatever reason, accept the pronouncements of the mass media. Generally, they all agree with the basic definition of conservative spelled out above. Arguments about the Ten Commandments in public places, the ongoing spat about gay marriage, guns, and the Patriot Act pale in comparison to the prospect of a government which intends to take over the entire private economy and regulate every aspect of our individual lives. Very importantly, opponents on specific issues in these camps do not fundamentally disagree about each other's root assumption -- that the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, religion, and whatever cussed viewpoint you want to espouse, with no say granted to the federal government to restrict or criminalize private opinion. I submit that Obama is a sufficiently catastrophic threat to the Constitution itself that other differences will matter less and less as we approach election day in 2010 and 2012.
There are only two points worth analyzing above and beyond the existence of this large, fundamentally American coalition. Who are the Independents, really, and what does it take to pull them toward one tent or the other? The broadest possible definition is that Independents are people who for one reason or another choose not to affiliate themselves with a major party. Some of them truly are between the two parties. These are the moderates.
I have written a fair amount about moderates, but they are only one segment of Independents, and given recent polls, hardly a decisive segment. They do get an outsized share of the press coverage because they are the politically visible and outspoken RINOs and DINOs, as well as private citizens so lacking in self-awareness they're proud to articulate their "no opinion" pitifulness on TV panels emceed by pollsters in the run-up to major elections. But their decisions have little to do with ideas or principles. They tend to vote for the last politician they heard. Which is to say they're idiots nobody should waste any analytical attention on.
There are also self-proclaimed moderates who are anything but. You have Republicans who are still pissed off at Bush and looking to punish him. You have Democrats who are pissed off at, or on behalf of, the Clintons, who want to punish the ideological sins of their party. And you have people whose political positions are so utterly incoherent that they are simultaneously rightwing and leftwing, depending on which particular issue their fragmented and contextless minds are interrogated about.
On top of this are the genuine extremists -- people too far to the right of the Republican Party to admit they'd ever endorse one of their candidates and people too far to the left of the Democrats to admit... you get the drift. On the right, for example, you have people who call themselves libertarians, objectivists, and 'Paulists,' as well as paleolithic types who are still hoping for Buchanan or Perot. On the left you have Greens, Communists, Naderites, etc.
I'll get to the bottom line of all this in a moment. Before I do, though, I'd like to say a word about libertarians. There are two varieties. The old original libertarians are actually the ideologues of the right. They hate all functions of government but customs, the post office, the courts, and (to varying degrees) the responsibility for national defense. These people have no excuse whatever for not opposing Obama tooth and claw. Then there are the contemporary squishy libertarians, who pretend to have an ideological reason for opposing everything they oppose (drug laws, anti-abortion laws, God in the public sector, wars) while tolerating a great many things that are, in fact, manifestations of big government paternalism (social security, affirmative action, environmentalism, anti-smoking laws, and various forms of economic regulation). I call these faux libertarians (or is 'urban elite libertarian' a nicer term?). Libertarians of this stripe are distinguishable by the fact that they at least occasionally spoke well of Obama before he became the anti-capitalist Anti-Christ. Their political philosophy is that they're for what they're for and against what they're against. Which makes them superior to the rest of us somehow. But when push comes to shove, if they vote, which they're often too superior to do, they will vote Republican. Mostly. Hey, Allah. How ya doing? Finding lots of common cause with Neal Boortz, Penn Gillette, and Glenn Beck, are you? Didn't think so.
BOTTOM LINE. How would you go about winning over the "Independents"? They're just the big pile of glop in the mix. We put them in the middle only because the two parties are more clearly defined on the right and the left. But there's no valid reason for regarding them as some organized continuum between right and left. In reality, they're just the 'junk DNA' of the American political chromosome. There's no single message you can convey to them that will win them over. They're all over the place. All you can do is be who you are, believe what you believe, and trust/hope that there are enough subscribers to your core beliefs that they'll come with you when the stakes are too high for vain posturing.
And, finally. How does embracing a RINO, or even a DINO, get you even one step closer to a majority of independents? They're confused as it is. Unless they can see you're actually somewhere, you'll never tempt them out of the nowhere that is their political home.
Thanks again for all your contributions.