Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Trying to Return to Normalcy

I have a friend who is liberal. Really liberal. So liberal that she once saw one of those bumper stickers that say Work harder - people on welfare are depending on you!, and she sincerely thought to herself, "You know, that's true, I should!" and only later appreciated that it was sarcastic. True story.

The reason I mention her is that in my political conversations with her I often compared myself, during the Bush administration, to a conservative Magneto. Like Magneto would occasionally help the X-men when it benefited him, I was a temporary ally of the reality-based political world. The way I put it was that I'd rather be having arguments with her over the measurable economic effects of policies and the merits of free markets, rather than with the kind of people who outlaw certain kinds of medicine because it's against their religion, and put their ideology above humanity. Once the nutcases were out of office, I could go back to arguing with my friend about economics. Until then we had to fight people who believed in witchcraft, and were in office. Whether that second class of people genuinely believes in their witchcraft, or is just using it in a cynical attempt to get votes, is a topic of both frequent and moot speculation. Both prospects are disturbing.

I don't have to put labels on class 1 for you to see where this is going, but I will. Class 1 is liberals with different ideas about how economics can and should work, but at least fundamental understanding of democracy and the rule of law. Class 2 consists of religious conservative extremists that composed much of the Bush administration. I started this blog as a real conservative, sick of what Bush had done to conservatism in the U.S. Up through 2002 I was politically pretty apathetic. It was the run-up to the War in Iraq that woke me up. It bears repeating that the U.S. either stumbled into, or was lied into, a war that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of American lives, and has lasted longer than World War II. What did we get out of it? And, to the most cynical among us, where's the oil? The first (and perhaps so far the only) government to sign an oil deal with Iraq is China.

What made me, and still makes me, the most angry is that American conservatives are supposed to be the guardians of small government, of non-cronyist free-market capitalism (in a way that benefits human beings), of cold, logical, facts-and-figures based thinking, not wishy-washy flag-hugging. I was hoping that in 2008 this would end, that the Civil War Bruce Bartlett had been predicting since 2004 would begin in time, and that's why I started this blog - to support John McCain early on. Unfortunately the Religious Right wouldn't release its claws from the former conservative party of the U.S., and like millions of other conservatives, I was forced out. What the Religious Right turned the GOP into was an organization that could win elections, but couldn't govern its way out of a wet paper bag. In 2009, now that it can't even win elections, the GOP has become a front-end with no back office - a marketing organization.

A ridiculous metaphor? Then why is the head of the GOP bowing in contrition to an entertainer like Rush Limbaugh? This is perhaps the sorriest spectacle the GOP has witnessed in my lifetime, and I include Nixon's resignation in that list. Does this suggest a strong GOP? Ask yourself this: if Tim Kaine (the Democratic Party head) apologized to Jon Stewart for something he'd said, would that make you think the Democrats were a strong, independent party? Sadly, Jindal is on record saying he's glad Steele apologized. Jindal's ready to turn the GOP over to the entertainment industry.

It's here that I have to be honest. In case you can't tell, I'm finding it difficult to rejoin the GOP in its current incarnation. This Magneto might be with the X-men for longer than I anticipated. The rational conservative voices - the ones from the era of Reagan and Bush Sr. like James Bakker and Colin Powell - are either quiet on the sidelines, or they're at least offering solutions to the Obama Administration. They're not impotently grandstanding along with the embarrassing media figures now running the GOP. Personally, I find it hard to see how it's less patriotic to join in the debate with another viewpoint than to want the president to fail. (Frankly it's not only unpatriotic, it reminds me of a pouting four-year-old.)

Of course, I'll be called a faker, a liberal-in-conservative-clothing, and I planned it the whole time, etc. That's fine, remaining conservatives - keep on kicking out everyone who doesn't exactly toe the line, and your share of national opinion will keep shrinking. Here in California, the GOP registration is down to around 35% of registered voters and dropping. Good job! You're almost there guys - you've almost succeeded in purging the California GOP of impurity. It'll be so pure that no one will be in it! Ann Coulter is really helping, calling George Soros a Nazi collaborator. Yes, of course Ann, someone who fled from the Nazis is a Nazi collaborator. Dismiss her as an extremist? Most Americans certainly do, but the GOP doesn't, because Coulter, and Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck are the de facto official spokespeople for the party, and even the official party officers don't dare criticize them. What a great position to be in, to have media figures in charge.

The thing that has most disturbed me about the GOP now is its flailing in the face of the economic meltdown. I initially resisted posting my Jindal criticism because it would erode any remaining credibility I had among self-described conservatives, but I can't be dishonest. At the time I wrote it I didn't realize what a lambasting he was receiving from the rest of the spectrum, making my own contribution seem positively mild by comparison. Jindal et al apparently think it's time to take a stand by refusing bailout money from the Feds. From a purely populist standpoint, please tell me how thrilled millions of unemployed Joe the Plumbers will be with Jindal's refusal to take that money, when their unemployment benefits have run out and they're standing in the election booth nineteen months from now? Apparently even the front-office marketing sense of the GOP has deserted it once and for all. The intellectual vacuum we're seeing is the inevitable windfall of three decades of movement conservatism beating a pseudo-religious populist drum. Making Jindal the spokesman stinks of tokenism for two reasons, one of which is his Rhodes Scholarship.

I am a Libertarian, but I am not a market fundamentalist. It seems that the only time big-government movement conservatives remember capitalism is when they don't want to spend any money to stabilize the credit markets. Hey idiots: remember when what mattered was economic growth, and not ideology? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the free market is not the mechanism to solve ALL of society's problems. In this I am in the good company of the Austrian economists on whom the modern idea of entrepreneur-driven capitalism is based, like Friedrich Hayek: "probably nothing has done so much harm to the [capitalist] cause as the wooden insistence of some [capitalists] on certain rules of thumb, above all of the principle of laissez-faire capitalism". I am also in the good company of no less than Adam Smith, who clearly stated that letting businesspeople write and influence laws is a rotten idea. Government should govern, and businesses should make money, and one unchanging set of rules might not keep the lights on all the time, under all conditions. So, talk show hosts and forum trolls: you can go defend the bonuses of incompetent big bank CEO's and then reluctantly deposit your unemployment check. I'm sure Beck and Limbaugh and Savage and O'Reilly will pat you on the head for it. Maybe this is why American Conservative Magazine recently published an article called "How Radio Wrecks the Right." By the way, do you think Glenn Beck knows who Friedrich Hayek is? Or cares?

As long as I continue to hear solutions and ideas from the center, and from the Obama people, and faux anger and empty social rhetoric from the entertainment industry faces currently running the GOP, I'm in with Obama.

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