Sunday, May 23, 2004
America deserves better #4
Those of you who have responded to my first 3 letters have been 7:1 encouraging, while a couple have implied that because I am anti-Bush, I am either pro-Clinton or anti-Republican. As I said at the beginning, my concern is not politics, it is philosophy, morality and economics. However I guess the political issue won't go away, so I will address it, but in the context of philosophy. This may be a little heavy going, so please stay with me.
Philosophically, I am primarily a conservative. When I came to the USA, political difference seemed to span a spectrum from Democrats as liberals, with quasi-socialists at the extreme left, to Republicans as conservatives with a very muted extreme right. Classical extremes of left and right, i.e. communism and fascism were enemies of American democracy, and McCarthyism was largely dead. With the extremes untenable, but an awareness of the extremes very present, the center was relatively strong, and shadings were perhaps more important than positions. As a conservative, I became a member of the Young Republicans even before I became a citizen, and I voted Republican up to 1992. Goldwater was probably a little to my right, but I saw him (and still see him) as an honorable man, worthy of support.
However, over the last 40 years much has changed. Liberalism, in the "New Deal" sense has ceased to be meaningful. Much of what was very left liberalism pre-WW2 is now a fully integrated part of our social fabric, and programs like Social Security and Medicare are not only valued even by Republicans, but are commonly referred to as entitlements.
Perhaps as a response to this shift, perhaps for reasons yet to be elucidated, in the 1980s Republicanism seemed to begin to lose it's way. For me Watergate was the beginning of a shift to untenable ground of "dirty tricks". In the late '80s, maybe with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the communist enemy, it seems that Republicanism had to find or invent new enemies, and the party began a shift from it's conservative roots to a kind of reactionary radicalism where anything goes, where the end does justify the means. In the early days this shift was most apparent on talk radio, starting with Rush Limbaugh and his rants filled with distortion, deception and outright lies. In 1992 the Gingrich crowd effectively hi-jacked the old Republican party, and moved it in a direction that was hard for a classical "Edmund Burke" kind of conservative like me to support.
Ever since there has been an insidious loss of moral compass growing in the party, that has made it ripe for takeover by elements like the Neo-cons, and the small amoral element of big business that I spoke of before. (Barry Goldwater must be spinning in his grave). Now we have an administration that spends significant resources to concoct distortions, deceptions and lies to denigrate what they oppose or fear, and to sell what they know Americans won't otherwise buy. And worse, the Neo-cons have hijacked foreign policy, pushing a line of American Imperialism that is contrary to the very foundation of America, and would be anathema to our founding fathers. The Neo-cons started as professed liberals, but they couldn't find fertile ground for their ideology of supremacy until they found an area of moral decay. If that makes you think of the Third Reich, the analogy is not too far-fetched, and that should give all of us pause.
Let me mention a few key principles of the old "Republicanism" that have now been largely abandoned. Alexander Hamilton noted that "a man must be far gone in Utopian speculation to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive and rapacious", and it was noted in the Federalist Papers that these tendencies had to be "accommodated or curbed" (in effect by government), leading to our Constitutional "checks and balances". Burke also thought of society as "a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born. Our partnership with the dead means respecting tradition, evolving customs slowly, and avoiding revolutionary breaks. Our partnership with the yet to be born means conserving resources for future generations, and not mortgaging their future. In more recent times, Dwight Eisenhower warned us against the "military/industrial complex", and Richard Nixon warned against favoring the top 1 or 2 percent.
The present administration caters to the rapaciousness of a small number of large, greedy and amoral corporations; opposes any barrier to environmental rapine and resource depletion; creates deficits that mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren; passes tax cuts that grossly favor the top 1%; and has replaced the military/industrial complex with a Pentagon/Congressional/Industrial complex that even military leaders find repulsive. This is not conservatism, it is irresponsible wealthism and corporatism.
Another strange thing has happened during these years. Over a couple of decades there grew something like a fusion of the Libertarian and Conservative political movements. True Libertarian philosophy favors minimal government and maximum individual liberty coupled with responsibility, with an understanding that such liberty depends on virtue, on transcendent morality. However the marriage of conservative traditionalism and Libertarian freedom has spawned our misshapen administration, that seeks license instead of liberty, replaces virtue with professed but rarely practised religiosity, and wears the cloak of Republicanism. Thankfully, both the real conservatives and true Libertarians are becoming disillusioned, and are beginning to question their offspring.
Howard Dean has run on the slogan "Take back America", and I think he means take government control back from corporations and return it to citizens. It's time also for conservatives to say "Take back the Republican Party", and the first step will be to defeat the present administration, and clear the way for new leadership.
I'll get into more specifics in future letters.
PS: for a conservative, but not pro-Bush view, Republican friends should find http://www.amconmag.com/archive.html interesting.