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August 02, 2010

Signal to Noise

After two weeks largely spent away from blogging and the Internet, the Blog Princess returns to find the vitriol level unchanged:

These days it's getting increasingly embarrassing to publicly identify oneself as a conservative. It was bad enough when George Bush 43, the K Street Gang, and the neo-cons were running up spending, fighting an unnecessary war of choice in Iraq, incurring massive deficits, expanding entitlements, and all the rest of the nonsense I cataloged over the years in posts like Bush 43 has been a disaster for conservatives.

These days, however, the most prominent so-called conservatives are increasingly fit only to be cast for the next Dumb and Dumber sequel. They're dumb and crazy.

How does calling people who disagree with your preferred policies and tactics "dumb and crazy" prove that modern conservatism is risible? Risible as compared to what? Some unspecified golden age when erudite and high minded public intellectuals debated the finer points of conservative thought on the merits rather than resorting to blissfully argument-free epithets like "dumb and crazy"?

Funny thing about debates: it's hard to have one absent some disagreement as to the subject of the discussion and if one views that disagreement (not to mention those who disagree with you) as "dumb and crazy", the debate would seem to be somewhat pointless. Come to think it, Prof. Bainbridge may have a point. When self professed conservatives can put forth no more substantive criticism of modern conservatism than to label members of their own party "dumb and crazy" (extremists, feminists, RINOs, polite company conservatives), that is embarrassing.

Patterico has a bone to pick with Bainbridge:

Bainbridge’s complaints include: a lament that Palin is being considered a leading contender for the 2012 GOP nomination; complaints that the GOP is running candidates that are too extreme to take seats that should be ripe for the picking; complaints that certain Republicans have (in Bainbridge’s view) criticized Obama unfairly and too harshly; and criticism of birthers, “nativists,” and the “anti-science and anti-intellectualism that pervade the movement.”

...In addition to the above nonsense, which has nothing to do with conservatism and everything to do with the shortcomings of the GOP, Bainbridge also has a perfectly legitimate complaint regarding the GOP’s lack of fiscal restraint during the Bush years. But, again, why should that GOP failure to act in line with true conservative principles make anyone ashamed to be a conservative??

I agree that conservatism and the GOP are not necessarily one and the same, but I'm not sure how much that really matters. It's a fine thing to have lofty policy debates over the nature of true conservative principles, but absent a viable third party the GOP is the public face of conservatism. In a sense, the Republican party is conservatism in practice (as opposed to conservatism in theory).

Even the most elegant theories must be implemented in a world that is decidedly messy and imperfect. Even the purest and most ardent conservative must be able to convince an electorate who are anything but pure (and far from monolithic) in their beliefs. Thus, theory rarely survives contact with a world in which the opposition also has a vote.

In a world where neither party has enough votes to carry a national election, it's hard for me to see much utility in the name calling that seems to pass for debate these days and as much as I enjoy online discussion, I can't help but think that the instant nature of the Internet encourages the substitution of reductive rhetoric for substantive debate. Don't tell me that you think Tea Partiers are a bunch of racist nutjobs simply because you can point to one or two examples of jackassery in a broad based movement with no real central authority, or that all liberals are America hating communists because you can easily identify a few extremists who haven't been run out of the movement on a rail. Any large political movement will attract thousands or even millions of people who may actually share only a small subset of beliefs. Candidates who can successfully appeal to that small set of shared beliefs will tend to win elections, and the arguments needed to accomplish this are unlikely to resemble the essays of Russell Kirk or William F. Buckley, neither of whom (admirable as they may be) typifies the average American voter.

This isn't a flaw in the political system - it's human nature. And like reality, it's messy.

Posted by Cassandra at August 2, 2010 07:35 AM

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Interesting point. My siblings are divided along party lines. This was rather fascinating, as I tend to lean more toward the Constitution as the acid test rather than a platform that claims to have the Constitution (health, perhaps) of our nation at its heart, because both parties do it. Both parties have failed to live up to it. If you are a fiscal conservative, you are heartless capitalist.

If you are a spendthrift liberal, you are a bleeding heart.

What both parties have failed miserably in many instances is that regulation costs money, and programs cost money, and that the Revolutionary War was over taxation without representation.
To my way of thinking, being out of touch is not representing your constituency.

We lost touch when we allowed government to spend, and when we allowed government to determine that inalienable rights were to be regulated, not protected.

What I mean by that is we treat illegals decently, but we do not deport them. We do not tell them to go back and effect change in their countries. If they fled a third world mess, why denigrate our nation to reflect what they just left?

Why should Arizona have to enact a law (as per the tenth amendment) that is already on the books at the federal level? Because the feds are not enforcing the laws. Arizona is being invaded, and they do not have the right to engage in separate war?

Welfare programs: Extending unemployment benefits by borrowing from China? The mind boggles, as there is a surplus from the Bush years that the Dems don't want to touch!

Sorry for the rant. Both parties are out of touch with their constituents and with reality.
I am also finishing up an audit paper and my Word program is giving me royal fits.

Time for Dr. Pepper.

Posted by: Cricket at August 2, 2010 10:51 AM

The world is a messy place. Here you have Patterico and Professor Bainbridge (both of whom write interesting, worthwhile blogs) locked in combat. The good Professor (and pity him since he's a conservative living in liberal land in West Los Angeles and at UCLA Law) has decided to lift the dainty hem of his academic robe out of the political muck and vow that "No one is purer than I--and you right wing varlets, get away from me!" Unfortunately, the world is full of varlets of all political persuasions.

Posted by: Mike Myers at August 2, 2010 11:19 AM

Mike, what bothers me is how academics tend to belittle others because of their lofty brilliance. We peasants get what we deserve when we let the intellectual elite do our thinking for us, and attempt to divide us into groups.

The messy stuff is human nature, but should be beneath the dignity of the intelligentsia. Otherwise, they lower themselves to our standards, doncha think?

With regard to a third party, I think being a constitutional libertarian ought to cut it. Going back to basics. Think about what we tend to see as conservatism is to hold to what has worked for us for a long time.

Posted by: Cricket at August 2, 2010 12:05 PM

In truth I was a bit surprised to see that kind of rhetoric from Bainbridge. I'm not a regular reader but in the past he had impressed me as more measured in his opinions.

There's a lot of frustration out there right now. Ironically, much of the frustration I'm hearing from conservatives *and* liberals boils down to some variation on, "Damn, I wish the world were a different place than it is".

Well, so do I but it isn't and there are no signs that this is going to change any time soon so we have to live in the real world.

Over the past two weeks I've have several really interesting (and thought provoking) discussions with my progressive family members and friends. My main beef with their position is that they seem to base way too much of their policy preferences on achieving a utopian end state without necessarily contemplating what specific measures would be required to effect that utopia.

The biggest problem with most progressive ideology is that it wants to ignore tradeoffs. If they argue that a wealthy society *ought* to be able to eliminate poverty or house the homeless, that's a hard argument to refute... so long as the arguer has acknowledged the tradeoffs and is willing to pay the costs. I might disagree that the end state is "worth it" because that's a value judgment, but it's hard to prove someone's values wrong if they're honest about paying for their pipe dream up front and honest about the negative consequences. Worth is subjective.

I tend to view most of the problems in society and in human institutions as a reflection of human nature. You could design the most "fair" system around and so long as it's run by humans, it will reflect human nature and human failings. Progressive policies take freedom and power away from imperfect individuals and give it an imperfect government that usually makes (or even exacerbates) the same kinds of mistakes that caused the problem in the first place - all in the name of protecting individuals from their own bad judgment. No matter what we do, we can't get away from "us".

If there seem to be a large number of GOP figureheads that Bainbridge views as "dumb and crazy" around lately, that reflects the undeniable fact that these folks are striking a chord with a significant portion of the electorate. Now that chord may not be a good or wise chord - that's certainly debatable. But we don't get to tell the rest of America who they should support or oppose.

You all know that I'm hardly a Palin fan by any stretch. I honestly don't see her as a viable candidate in 2012, and if I didn't see Condi Rice as experienced enough in 2004 that shouldn't surprise anyone. I don't hate her. I just don't admire her either.

I think people are looking for simple answers or candidates who inspire trust. In a complicated world, Palin's self assurance and enthusiasm are enormously attractive to many. I get that, and I don't think they're "dumb or crazy" because their wish list differs from mine.

Give me well considered reasons *why* I should support or oppose Palin. What anyone thinks of her supporters is irrelevant, though it's far easier than making a principled argument on the merits.

Posted by: Pygmy Marmoset, Unstuffed for your Eating Pleasure at August 2, 2010 12:06 PM

Sorry. That last comment was me.

I need to remember to change the monikers when I'm being serious.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 2, 2010 12:41 PM

The trade-offs are always ignored. No one wants to hear what they or the consequences are or could be. If we are for a balanced budget, it stands to reason that government takes in no more than it spends.

But...then you have the expansion of the welfare state and the simultaneous destruction or reduction of income from business and individuals to support it.

My sister is one who is willing to put her money where her mouth is, but I am not in accord with her...so she will go to the mat to change the law to enforce compliance. No war, nice and clean and hopey-changey! If she and other like minded induhviduals want to change the world, do it on their dime, and rely on the kindness of strangers who agree, not on a taxpayer system of support.

I liked Palin for a lot of reasons but she is rather a ditz. I think of Lucy Ricardo dressed as a hockey mom. Experience as governor notwithstanding, she tends to talk down to her base. Pink elephants? If I want to see those, I will drink myself into a stupor.

Posted by: Cricket at August 2, 2010 12:55 PM

I could be wrong, but I suspect a large part of Palin's appeal is that she appears to believe in what she advocates.

People feel betrayed by politicians who say one thing during the campaign and than do another once they're in office. This doesn't surprise me b/c campaign promises are easy to make - there's that theory again! - but hard to keep once the real world rears its ugly head.

Political theories have a nasty tendency of being overcome by events. Palin does appear to have both genuine conviction and the courage to stick to her guns on important issues.

I think Bush had these qualities too (he may not have had "pure conservative" convictions, but you always knew where the man stood - he told you straight out). As I've pointed out, he ran on the compassionate conservative agenda so that should have been neither a surprise nor a betrayal. I think it was precisely the combination of his moderate views on some issues and his genuine conviction and steadfastness that won the votes of so many independents and even Dems.

That infuriates conservatives, but on the other hand I haven't seen Al Gore or John Kerry have much effect on national policy. Kind of hard to do that if you can't win the votes :p

Posted by: Cassandra at August 2, 2010 01:05 PM

Heh. Palin appealed to me on two levels. She was consistent with her promises and made good in that area. She also appeals to me as the mom of a handicapped child. That is a more personal level though, and I certainly wouldn't knee-jerk into voting for her on that basis alone. I have to know my representative is going to keep their promises and do so by their actions in office.

Posted by: Cricket at August 2, 2010 02:05 PM

A side note about Bush and integrity. He continues to exemplify those traits through his actions, even after leaving office. He comforted the survivors of the Fort Hood attacks on his time and I am sure, still does a world of good, quietly. While I disagreed with some of his policies and whatnot, I could not dislike the man. What he was before he came into office shone through, and it still shines. Some people just have that about them. He truly had a change of heart and lives it. What is not to like?

Palin does that as well, and I think you are correct about the reasons why she appeals to people.

Posted by: Cricket at August 2, 2010 02:13 PM

"Candidates who can successfully appeal to that small set of shared beliefs will tend to win elections"

Winning elections is a side issue in gaining political power. It's what happens after you get power, not before.

you can easily identify a few extremists who haven't been run out of the movement on a rail.

But they can't be easily identified. Because no extremists have been run out of the Democrat movement. Unless Lieberman, Zill, Reagan, and such can be considered unstable elements.

It's a true negative. The absence of action demonstrates the truth of the issue.

Mike, what bothers me is how academics tend to belittle others because of their lofty brilliance.

Right vs Left is not an accurate rendition of reality. Republican vs Democrat is also not as true as people think.

The real dichotomy, behind the curtain, is caste and class differences. Rich vs welfare supported poor. Business vs inherited wealth. Mega corporations vs small businesses. Government bureas vs private industries. Unions vs voluntary organizations. Depending on where you get your financial and social support, you belong to a certain caste, a certain class, and there you will stay when the status quo Democrats or Republicans demand that it be so.

Ideology doesn't matter as much for this phase of the game. Class does, however. Republicans that believe in using government to suppress or organize social wealth, is more likely to ally with Democrats and the Left than with the base of the conservative party.

Well, so do I but it isn't and there are no signs that this is going to change any time soon so we have to live in the real world.

The fact that people of various ideologies want to destroy the status quo and take the risk of partial to full outright conflict and violence, is a sign that this is going to change soon.

My main beef with their position is that they seem to base way too much of their policy preferences on achieving a utopian end state without necessarily contemplating what specific measures would be required to effect that utopia.

The ends justify the means. Given that the end isn't even in sight, that means ALL means are justified. It doesn't matter what they do. It is all justified. They could try boiling water with CO2 ice and they can justify it as the way to Utopia.

That infuriates conservatives, but on the other hand I haven't seen Al Gore or John Kerry have much effect on national policy. Kind of hard to do that if you can't win the votes

They don't need the votes. That's what a conglomerate does, it pools resources. Some people are elected to office. Others have private funds they got from their wife, who got it from her dead conservative husband. Others do business based upon the Green political surge that politicians protect and grow.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 3, 2010 09:43 AM