Monday, March 16, 2009

Uncluttered Conservatism

I've been working and running my kids around today, so I'm just now sitting down to respond to Dan Riehl's commentary on my earlier essay, "Core Values and Foreign Policy.

Dan and I don't differ too much on the basics of our conservative beliefs. I see that Dan's working to
clear the clutter from what we want to do on the right, for example:

Personally, I'm for the least powerful government we can afford while being able to retain order on our streets, efficient commerce and project power abroad on a case by case basis as some need might warrant. I call that conservative, you may not. Beyond that, I've no strong desire to lock myself into some preconceived concept of a psuedo-ideology that might only constrict my good judgment, or give political opponents another term of art they will try to use to mis-characterize me and misrepresent my thinking.

Frankly, in some ways the Right seems to be becoming as pre-occupied with labels and hyphens as is today's Left. My instincts tell me that can't be good. But I'm not going to dwell on it as my primary interest remains what's small d democratic and most common denominator forms of communication aimed at the average Jane or Joe.
In the spirit of Barry Goldwater, I can advocate the "least powerful government we can afford"; although following both Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, I place stress on the exigencies of national power in a world of predatory states and totalitarian ideologies, so there are both values to weigh and liberties to preserve in designing a robust conservatism for the 21st century.

But note Dan's rejection of the "preoccupation with labels." This is something Robert Stacy McCain mentioned as well in his recent discussion, "
Meghan and 'Progressive Republicans'." McCain, for example, rejects the (erstwhile) neoconservative David Brooks because, "Whatever label you slap on Brooks, he is a first-class peddler of 'noble lies', who labors tirelessly to create a myth of American political history that exactly suits his purpose." But rather than jettisoning labels, McCain proposes his own: "I believe that "libertarian populism" offers a winning antidote to the nonsense of 'national greatness' and 'compassionate conservatism' that have led the GOP astray."

The truth is, each one of us, Dan, Stacy, and myself, wants a winning conservatism that promotes freedom and protects life. Perhaps we could all come together under the banner of "uncluttered conservatism," which is just another way for me to say, "Okay, screw the labels and let's get down to some real ideas." What do we want? As I noted at my essay, "
Core Values Conservatism," partisans of the right cannot abandon a poltics of human dignity and social traditionalism. We must put families first, through a pro-life agenda that affirms child-rearing and the historic understanding of marriage. We must also support economic policies that are both pro-family and pro-growth (cut taxes, support children), and we mustn't ignore educational reforms that empower families, engender competition, and procure value in learning.

But we must also be populist, and I want to stress this point for Dan in particular. I'm a professor, but I'm not an Ivy League stuffed-shirt academic. When you teach community college, you're in the trenches of the life-challenges of everday people. Two-year college professors are by definition the un-elite. I chose a career in community college teaching because that's where I started my training; and I identify personally with the recent immigrants from all over the world, the students from working-class families who have deep roots in Long Beach, the inner-city students escaping crime and poverty (the great many of whom cannot read), and the Iraq war veterans who are returning from the conflict. This is the real America. These are the "non-traditionals" people forget about when talking about the freshman application "admissions game" that's the rage of the college-ranking crowd. These are the "Wal-Mart" voters who Ross Douthat talks about but with whom he has no contact, ensconsed in the offices of the Atlantic or the New York Times.

So yeah, I can relate to "populist libertarianism" and the "average Jane and Joe."

But let's get some resolve on those cluttering labels. Well, it's interesting that all three of us, Dan, Stacy, and I, are former Democrats. I don't know what exactly caused Dan and Stacy to reject the ideology of the left, but with me it was foreign policy first and foremost, and especially Iraq in 2003. I simply cannot abide antiwar, anti-American ideologies, and that includes those of the left or the faux right. Sure, it's easy to eviscerate the Democratic-left as nihilistic and anti-military, but we have those who are ostensibly conservative who have made common cause with the Firedoglake-Keith consitutuencies on the collectivist left. In response to last night's post, Daniel Larison at the American Conservative attacked my "
so-called core values conservatism" as some empty pro-war immoralism. That's got to be rich, coming from Patrick Buchanan's flagship, the home of "unpatriotic conservatives" in bed with antiwar libertarians and Washington Independent paleo-postmodernists. No doubt we'll soon see Larison hanging out with Justin Raimondo and Cindy Sheehan (but not Sean Penn) at a Bay Area "peace vigil" once the Afghanistan surge kicks into high gear. These people are not conservative. And that's one reason I really admire Robert Stacy McCain's blogging - he's just not worried about the impolitics of calling the AmCon freaks out, and saying "Fuck you, Glenn Greenwald."

In any case, I'm neoconservative, but the label's not as important to me as is a pro-life, pro-family, and pro-victory ideological paradigm that takes moral traditionalism seriously and doesn't skimp on standing up for what's right, both home and abroad. On that score, I'm thinking Dan Riehl's down with the crew, and I'm ready to hang with him, uncluttered, conservative, and cool.


Trish said...

Make that two Donald, "I'm neoconservative, but the label's not as important to me as is a pro-life, pro-family, and pro-victory ideological paradigm that takes moral traditionalism seriously and doesn't skimp on standing up for what's right, both home and abroad."
I also agree wholeheartedly that we need to unclutter the movement, and get the job done!

Old Rebel said...

Americaneocon wrote: "These people are not conservative."

Right. The original conservatives are not conservative. The intellectual heirs of Trotskyites who brag they "tear down the old order every day..." are the real conservatives. Got it.

In other news, "War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength."

Unbelievable. Americans are accepting authoritarian radicalism as conservative.

No wonder we're descending into socialism.

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