Sunday, February 24, 2008

Will the Rational Conservatives Please Stand Up?

Am I the only one who wonders what's happened to the GOP since it was party of the cool, calm and collected?

I remember fondly when "bleeding-heart" was the epithet always prepended to "liberal", and it was the LEFT that was notorious for emotions clouding their thought process. It's pretty hard to convince people these days that conservatism represents dispassionate reason and hard-headed logic making the tough choices that nations have to make, what with Rush and O'Reilly and Coulter shouting in people's faces all day. Their shows are really just hour-long horn-blowing confrontations. They don't have much to do with facts and figures, and that's how conservatives are supposed to think. It's all about wishy-washy feelings and images and symbols about children and flags - things which if I didn't know better I would say were normally the province of liberals! (Really Ann. If you're worried about America's men becoming too feminized, here's a man who's telling you what you need. Note: hilarious, but not work safe.)

Of course, to win minds you have to win hearts, and of course clearly-stated facts and statistics don't do that for many people. But we're conservatives who think with our brains. What we need, after the election, is hard-headed policy-making, policy beyond "what can I do to pander to the populace for next term". The guys running the GOP seem to have forgotten about that sometime in the past 10 years. This is why guys like Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who worked for Reagan, today has been reduced to using his considerable brainpower to attack the current sad state of the GOP. (There's a long list of quality guys who were Reagan Republicans and have now been forced to defect. And they've done so loudly. Jim Webb is another one.) Waving American flags is fine, but the hard reality underneath it all doesn't go away. If you don't understand that, please get out of the GOP, right now. You're not a real conservative.

Ignoring facts and figures in favor of feel-good heart-swelling social issues isn't helping us. It's having an impact right now. All the brilliant kids coming out of law and policy institutions at top schools - guess which party they're flocking to right now?

The Fourth Kind of Lie

The reaction within the GOP to John McCain's probable nomination troubles me. Here you have a war hero, a POW, a card-carrying member of the Reagan revolution, and he's roundly condemned by the loudest voices in the party. What's wrong with people? Mark Twain said, "There are three kinds of lies. Lies, damned lies, and statistics." If he had lived to see rihgt wing talk radio, he would've added a fourth kind. Ever had the feeling that those folks aren't doing conservatism any favors?

When I wrote this, Ann Coulter was threatening to vote for Hillary Clinton if McCain is the GOP presidential nominee. Rush Limbaugh is making un-retractable kinds of statements that will badly damage McCain's chances in the general election. Ol' Jimmy Dobson is saying he'll sit the election out entirely. Wow, that's brilliant! Thanks guys! You're so conservative you want another Clinton in office. That makes perfect sense. Why didn't *I* think of that? Bravo! (Insert sarcastic clapping here.)

But even beyond all the histrionics, these people - these four in particular - LIE, all the time. They abuse their positions in the media to make statements that are not only out of the conservative mainstream, but are just plain factually untrue, and it undermines conservatism's credibility. Either these people have terrible research staffs, or they know what they're doing. Do we want conservatism linked to that kind of behavior? There's a difference between playing rhetorical hard ball and flat out lying that these maniacs don't seem to get, and it's hurting us; it's hurting political discourse in general.

There are plenty of legitimate conservative commentators in the media. John Stossel and Neal Boortz are both fantastic, but they don't get nearly the exposure that the other jokers do because they refuse to stoop to circus tactics, AND they don't have the big business and Ivy League connections backing them up like Coulter and O'Reilly do. Think about it, Middle America. How often do you think Hannity has to worry about making his mortgage payments? Do you think he eats at Tuscan restaurants more or less than you? Coulter grew up in New Canaan, Connecticut and went to Cornell. Straight-talking regular folk? Their propaganda doesn't help the forces of good seem good, especially when it's as hysterical and thinly veiled as theirs tends to be.

Of course, Right Wing Media have helped round up the vote for the GOP, but it's also damaging the party's makeup. By that I mean we're full of rank-and-filers and cheerleaders who don't have a clue about the hard work of real, facts-and-figures policy-making. And right about now you can tell.

Does This Look Like a Degraded Marriage?

This is my wife and I, about two minutes after we got married, at San Francisco City Hall.

There is no doubt that gay marriages have been conducted on the spot where we were standing. In fact there was a commitment ceremony going on about eighty feet from us while we were getting married. Yet according to cultural conservatives, such activity "degrades the institution of marriage".

I throw myself on the mercy of conservatives to look us in the eye and tell us whether our marriage is somehow degraded. (Here's a hint: it's not.) I'm very lucky to have this lady in my life. She hasn't figured out that she got the raw end of the deal, but that's another story.

So, culture conservatives: clearly I don't understand this degradation the institution of marriage is undergoing. We certainly seem to love each other and plan to have kids that we love and raise with strong values, and work hard to give them a good life. So perhaps you can explain it to me. What exactly is it about us that's degraded? Is it something in the way we're standing? Maybe you don't like my tie? Or is it something that can't be picked up on film, like I don't know, microwaves? And how exactly was the degradation transferred to us - is it airborne, like the flu? Or maybe if we wore rubber-soled shoes we were safe, like insulation from electric shock?

I think you get it by now. I'm ridiculing the whole idea that gay marriage somehow denigrates the institution of marriage because the whole idea is beneath contempt.

If you want to somehow legislate heterosexuality and use government to interfere in people's lives, your insistence is not only completely without reason, but you are also directly contradicting conservative values.

Can We Lay Off My City Please?

I was skimming other conservative blogs, and ran across this one, and I've finally had my fill of San Francisco and California-bashing. It's really getting pretty cliche.

Here I am, doing my part for America by writing a progressive conservative blog, sitting literally in San Francisco (Pacific Heights specifically; pretty cool place). And I'm looking around. Am I sheltering any terrorists in the bathroom? No . . . trying to sneak in illegal immigrants through the window? No . . .I should probably set my running shoes outside to air out before my wife tells me to, but that's about the worst offense I'm guilty of at the moment.

You know what? It's not so bad here. I really like my city. I really like my state. And guess what? So do a lot of other people. You don't read a lot about the lack of technical innovations coming from Silicon Valley. You don't read a lot of headlines about how cheap San Francisco is - if as a conservative you're concerned about government interfering with wealthy businesspeople's money-making, you should be sticking up for Californians! And when I've traveling on business around the country and I tell people where I'm from, I don't hear a lot of them saying "We visited San Francisco three years ago and it was just terrible. Horrible. I don't understand why anyone would want to live there."

Maybe it's time to re-evaluate those cliches. Does anybody remember Ronald Reagan, governor of California? Does anybody remember California Senator Richard Nixon? Has anybody noticed our outstanding GOP governor Arnold Schwarzenegger? How many Republican names on that level can you cite from YOUR state?

If you didn't know better, you might almost think there's something GOOD going on here. Almost like people like living and visiting here.

I'm strongly patriotic about my city and state, just like we all should be about the place we choose to live. And we've all chosen to live somewhere, even if we were born there. So here are the ridiculous knee-jerk cliches from the conservative blog-and-radio set:

1) Anything from San Francisco is bad. I'm sure there are people who won't read my blog because I'm from San Francisco, and they don't want gay electrons getting into their computer.

2) Anything from San Francisco is SO bad that whatever they do, we should do the opposite.

3) Next time you're in the car listening to a conservative radio show, and it gets a little slow because the callers aren't there, pay attention to how to fill dead air the host will start reading off instances of "look what those crazy liberals in San Francisco did". In fact the local AM news station used to have a regular feature, covering the "crazy San Francisco" coverage elsewhere in the country.

On this blog I'm trying to promote rational conservatism, and anecdotal accounts of any kind are not a good way to think through problems. Anecdotes engage emotion, suspend critical thinking, and lead to gross overgeneralizations. And ALL three statements result from gross overgeneralization, and THAT results from the unfair, outdated perception that this place is a seething hotbed of Satanic radicals who burn three flags between coffee and corn flakes every morning, and of course, mass media feeds that. Just like there's an unfair, outdated perception, also fed by the media, that the South is all inbred racist fundamentalists. Maybe we should remember we're all Americans, and we all together built this fantastic country? Is that too much to ask?

By the way, we were just in Mississippi and Alabama for a little mini-vacation in December. Not only did we have a great time with some fantastic people, but when we told people we were from San Francisco, they didn't lynch us, AND people who'd visited here said they loved it!

Obviously I wouldn't defend every resolution that every Bay Area city has ever made, because a lot of them really are pretty bone-headed. But it's not any crazier than what goes on in any other major city in the country (for example, Philadelphia, my home city), and that's probably just the result of a lot of intended career politicians trying to make a name for themselves in big markets. What I do value about San Francisco is the spirit of rational problem-solving among people here in general. Seattle and Portland have something similar; possibly it's a result of the biotech/high tech industrial base of both places.

It's a pretty cool place to visit. Shoot me an email if you'll be in town, I can tell you where the best brewpubs are.

Are you kidding me, Mike Huckabee?

An outrage!

It's bad enough that these nutbars want to use intrusive big government to force their hangups on the rest of us. And then they're delivering addresses in the Caymans (which serve as a criminal banking haven and evade US tax and gambling laws)
and going to Hooters in Vegas? Are you for real?

Listen, I think anybody would have fun at a fight hosted at Hooters. I like a beer and a fight as much as the next guy. The difference is, I don't have to justify my behavior against a very restrictive moral code that I'm trying to force on other people.

Now, if you're an honest evangelical supporting Huckabee, you're angry. If you're an evangelical who's just looking for political power in this world, you should be angry but instead you're swallowing their hypocrisy so your man can get in the White House. (By the way, he's not going to. You guys have been wrecking the GOP for long enough, so give it a rest.)

Of course, if you're not an evangelical, you're just shaking your head at the doublethink that these folks indulge in.

Mike Huckabee Would Be Even Funnier if He Weren't Republican

Drop out already! Stop wasting GOP money, Mike Wannabee! We have our nominee, now let the Democrats waste money fighting it out! And of all things, don't go on Saturday Night Live and make fun of how you're wasting GOP resources ahead of the general election.

The Onion might have the best analysis of Wannabee's policy positions of any press outlet.

Why Are People Scared of Third Parties?

Have you noticed there's something that most Americans, and especially conservatives, find - I don't know what the word is - creepy - about third parties.

Oddly enough, when they form around an individual, people relax. Ross Perot was somehow okay. People keep whispering about Huckabee going out on his own and taking the religious wing of the GOP with him.

Of course, there are real short-term reasons why, in specific situations, you don't want a third party. I sure as hell don't want Huckabee going out on his own and handing the White House to the Democrats, even though apparently Rush and Coulter do (there will be a future post about this). Perot definitely helped lose the '92 election for Bush 1.

But those are tactical concerns. I'm talking about the gut reactions of every day voters to third parties. Every day voters, who are often ethnic Democrats or ethnic Republicans. You know what I mean - those people that have absolutely no idea what their party stands for, and maybe its positions are directly counter to their interests, but they always vote straight ticket - and why? "My dad was a strong union guy, so I always vote Democrat."

It's almost like we've forgotten that political parties are there to advance our individual interests into government. You shouldn't support the GOP because it's the GOP. You support the GOP because it serves your interests better than other parties out there, I hope. When your party starts to drift, you make your voice heard, and when it's foundering because it's been invaded by people openly hostile to its real values - like Ralph Reed and James Dobson - then, you find a new home, and that could be a third party. Adhering to your principles is what matters, not blindly supporting a party that has the same name but different values. Seems simple enough! Unless, of course, you'd like to tell us that loyalty to the Party is a value in and of itself. If you really believe that, Kim Jong Il is always looking for new Party members.

Next Time Some Left-Wing Freak Starts Telling You 9/11 Was an Inside Job

...tell them that even Noam Chomsky thinks they're stupid.

As a conservative, you either know Chomsky and don't like him, or you don't know him at all. Chomsky is absolutely brilliant at linguistics, but not so much at politics. Unfortunately that doesn't stop him from putting out books like a firehose puts out water. But even old Noam thinks the 9/11 inside-job conspiracy nuts are exactly that.

Libertarian Party, Why Didn't You Endorse Paul?

Yes yes, I know there were process-dependence arguments against doing that. That doesn't win votes. Root is a fine candidate and probably a big contributor too and we might have lost him to the GOP if he was passed over.

But endorsing Paul would have:

- put the LP in touch with a large grassroots base of enthusiastic people with libertarian values. Look at's success - and that was around a single issue. Several Religious Right organizations have been "accidentally" expanded this same way.

- you get influence with somebody who is probably cruising for a cabinet position. Why else did he stay in the race so long?

- you would have built a coalition between the LP and GOP at exactly the time the Religious Right is taking a time out and the moderates are taking control again

But it's never too late. Take advantage of Paul's national profile now and build those bridges.

The 2008 Primary Season Wrap-Up

Most of my readers are registered in the GOP, but as you know I'm registered Libertarian (I'll explain why in a future post), and I voted for Michael Jingozian in the Libertarian primary because he was essentially the only guy who came right out and said (to paraphrase) "We're not going to get elected to anything major in 2008. I'll use my nomination as a fundraising platform to get people elected to local offices, and then in '12 we'll be in better shape." The winner, Wayne Allyn Root, at least has a little experience getting media exposure, so he'll do a good job at the same endeavor.

Having said that, The Cato Institute and one-issue interest groups seem to have done a lot more for the LP's positions than the LP ever has. If I were in a strategy position in the LP, I would be forging alliances with all those groups, and that I know of at least, they have not been. Hey NRA, gun ownership is right in our party constitution! Can't you spare a few dimes so we can at least win XYZ local elections?

So I was saddened, but not surprised, to see this little news release on the LP's website.

That's right guys! The most closely allied major party, whose positions have been drifting away from yours steadily for 20 years, has finally chosen a candidate whose positions represent a movement back toward real conservatism. So pull a half-assed media stunt that the press doesn't even cover, and makes the bigger party take you even less seriously. Strong work! Bravo!

This kind of confrontational message between allies is rarely useful in politics. After your allied party loses a big election that in some ways they really did bungle, alright, fine (like when in 2004 the day after the election on their email list referred to the Dems as "professional election losers").

My $0.02 (I'm an amateur but so it seems are the people running the LP):

Pick one or two issues that really get people's blood pressure up. There are a lot in the LP that a majority of Americans agree with.

Pound the hell out of those one or two issues with some TV spots. Show how the GOP is representing them less effectively.

Will you win the election? No. But if Root can win a few % in some Southern states where those ads air (read: take a few % away from McCain exactly where he's already vulnerable), that might hurt. After a lost election, the GOP might be more amenable to incorporating elements of the LP's platform into its own.

Supporting Paul(link) would have been smart, actually, but I suspect he's cruising for a cabinet position with McCain at this stage; more influence with the Secretary of X couldn't have hurt.

If you think this strategy is unrealistic, think about the other side of the political spectrum in the 2000 elections. Nader got about 90,000 votes in Florida. The final count was that Gore lost there by about 5,000. Most of Nader's votes would have been Gore's in a 2-party election. The Democrats got a clear signal: support Green Party issues, or you can get hurt. For this reason it would be interesting to do a news analysis and see if there were more environmental references were in Kerry's 2004 campaign speeches vs Gore's in 2000. (This just in, Nader is in the 2008 race and of course the Dems are none too happy about it.)

Why Did You Name Your Blog Tom Paine's Clubhouse?

If you're American, you of course know who Thomas Paine was. He wrote Common Sense, a powerful, impassioned, concise treatise which crystallized the democratic rights we now take for granted and which is credited with inspiring the colonists to revolt against British tyranny.

Even if you already do know who Thomas Paine was, you still probably don't know that he participated in politics outside the U.S. (he was arrested in France for opposing Napoleon's dictatorship). Like most people, you probably also don't know that he wrote a number of books emphasizing the principles of reason and individual rights as the foundation of morality and government, and that our loyalty should be to these principles, not to one particular party or nation.

"Conservative" is Not a Political Party

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that I have sympathies with the Libertarian Party. As it turns out it's a little more than that. I registered Libertarian in 2003 after the Iraq debacle began. The Libertarian Party today is closer to the GOP in 1981 than to the GOP today. When we get my party back, I'll be back on the rolls (hopefully my blog will be some small part of that effort). A friend of mine said it best - the guy is an venture capitalist with some $$$, so 20 years ago he would have been an steadfast Republican - and we need him today more than ever. Unfortunately he now has a bumper sticker that says "I left the Republican Party when the Republican Party left me". Good riddance you say? Well of course - who wouldn't want to get rid of all those despicable self-made, brilliant investment professionals? Who needs them in the GOP anyway? They're just plain un-American!

To many people the idea of an American calling him/herself "conservative" and not being Republican is just plain unthinkable. Conservative equals Republican, right? If you're not Republican, you're not conservative. If you're not conservative, you're not Republican. It's the same, right?

NO, it's not the same. We should be loyal to principles and values, not to political parties. Right and wrong don't change. Parties do. When Lincoln got elected, the GOP unambiguously represented the liberals. His positions are just as right today as they were then, but the political landscape of America has, of course, changed. If you're a small-government conservative who believes that political decisions should be based on fact and reason, and your party wavers on that(there will be a future entry on this), you try to fix it, or you get out (and THEN try to fix it). I'm hoping McCain's nomination will put the party back on the right track.