Posts Tagged With: politics

Ronny Reconsidered

The good Benjamin David first invited me to Beyond the GOP to provide a view less sympathetic to libertarianism, and particularly to Ron Paul, then is often represented on this site. Indeed, Ben himself has eloquently defended Paul in the past, and it is certainly a testament to his intellectual character to invite some friendly opposition. I have been meaning to join in here for some time anyway, and now is as good a time as any. Though I apologize in advance for being a little long winded and inadequately substantive at times. The medium of blogging is always prohibitive!

First and foremost, I concede that there is more to admire about Ron Paul than there is to dismiss. This is a man who does what he says and lives what he preaches. Such integrity commands my respect, as does his courage to resist the rapid departure in Washington and elsewhere from anything even resembling conservatism. Indeed, resistance is the very foundation of conservatism – as well as constitutionalism. Ron has also been a relentless defender of individual liberty, limited government, and advocates a monetary policy that actually acknowledges reality. Furthermore – and this is where I depart from many of his usual critics—I think he is ultimately right about most of his foreign policy. For some, he seems to be an isolationist and weak; as someone waving the white flag. Yet when one looks more carefully at his position, this is not the case. Ron recognizes—as the imperialistic and ideological neo-conservatives and many liberals do not—that America’s faux-imperialism is doing more harm to our economy than good and is increasingly devastating to civil liberties. This is particularly true with the increasing and terrifying use of drones—something which no person with a historical sense should support.

Still, I voted for Mitt Romney. Why? For self-defense and self-preservation. Romney is not very conservative, nor would he have been able to clean up the devastation wrought by the reckless and ideological Obama administration. But Obama’s government is, I would argue, the worst presidential administration in American history. Anything I could do to help resist his assault on liberty, limited government, and religious freedom was worth doing. I realize that a vote for someone like Ron Paul would be in principle the same thing, but in a practical sense and in a manner cognizant of efficacious political morality, I chose the lesser of two evils. In an imperfect world, that is often the best we can do.

This brings me to my first major objection to Ron Paul. He is neither an ideologue nor a narcissist like Obama is, but his uncompromising commitment to his principles is politically objectionable in my view. Yes, the current political landscape is littered by people who live in a dream world in which money grows on trees and democracy never fails, but you cannot simply ignore such things. The “games” of American politics are utterly corrupt and broken, but the game is the game. It is not a concession to choose to play it when you know you can’t win everything. Compromise is not a dirty word – it is a necessary element of a just and enduring order. The Constitution was a compromise on multiple levels, and this need has never changed.

Ron Paul does not strike me as someone willing to make this concession to the “game,” but he would do well to learn some lessons from Machiavelli and Aristotle. Machiavelli taught us essentially that when we stick to our principles, to moralism in an imperfect world, and ignore mankind’s fallen nature we lose both our principles and ourselves and accomplish nothing. But when we account for human nature as it is, for fortuna, necessity, and historical examples and circumstances, we can achieve greater virtù—a more efficacious political sensibility and morality. Of course, Machiavelli is famous for suggesting rather sinister and violent ways in which this may be realized in principalities and republics—so we need an Aristotle. Aristotle encouraged us to look for a golden mean between two extremes, and to always choose our actions and recognize virtue as doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, and so on. Yet, unlike Machiavelli, there were certain lines one ought never cross irrespective of means and ends. Certain means and ends would always be evil no matter the circumstances, and I am suspicious of whether or not Machiavelli ever admitted that.

In other words, Ron Paul rightly sticks to honorable principles, but would ultimately find them undermined at every turn should he ever make it to the Oval Office. This is why Clinton was so brilliant. He understood better than most that political success was more about playing well than about principles. Of course, we do not “play” for the sake of playing—but for the sake of those very principles. The ends do justify the means in politics (though not always). Obama is learning this the hard way, stubbornly blaming everyone else, arrogantly refusing to compromise, and failing in every way to lead. His principles mean more than the game, and though he has had some rather unfortunate victories, it is the game that has kept even worse successes from becoming a reality. Ron Paul would have to work miracles in Washington to acquire the necessary political coalitions behind his efforts—coalitions unlikely to be realized at present.

My second objection to Ron Paul resides in my suspicion of capitalism. Now I do not object to capitalism as such, and though I have been tempted by distributism, I have not given in. I believe in economic freedom and have no objection to private property or free markets. Yet capitalism must be restrained by a healthy dose of suspicion: that it is the least worst option and must always be checked by other forces. Ron Paul, and especially his son Rand, seem to me (based on reading his book The Revolution, his campaign websites, and TV appearances) to subscribe to a free-market fundamentalism that I cannot embrace. Markets will not save us, and an economic arrangement elevated to the position of a moral absolute can become an end in itself, instead of a means. We see this constantly in the utilitarian justifications of morally reprehensible policies advanced on purely economic grounds. There is also a tendency in capitalism to treat people as less human, and more like mere wallets and consumers. Furthermore, big business can be just as hostile to liberty as big government.

A conservative economics then is a reluctant capitalism which resists the exploitation of local communities and rural resources for the benefit of distant and impersonal large corporations. It’s one which favors small businesses, a workforce that accommodates multiple levels of skills, less distance between the producer and consumer, opposes outsourcing, and favors the least amount of regulation possible. Ultimately if limited government is to become a reality, it must be replaced by something, by strong local communities, families, and churches. Government is not merely huge because of top-down power grabbing, but because the intermediary associations formerly disincentivizing big-government have broken down. Ron and Rand Paul’s enthusiasm for economic liberty, though welcome, would be better received if it made these qualifications.

In sum, Ron Paul is an exceptional man and politician worthy of our attention. But his political morality and excessive enthusiasm for capitalism bother me. So when you comment below in defense of him, I hope you will comment on these grounds. Is he more politically effective than I am letting on? Does he qualify his love for free-markets in a meaningful way that I have overlooked? I could have also mentioned the objectionable positions of libertarianism when it comes to drugs and the environment…but that is for another blog.

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If a Politician Will Steal for You, He Will Steal from You

The Art of Manliness has a post from a few weeks ago that relates to politics. It’s a short excerpt from a speech Theodore Roosevelt delivered in 1910. While not a fan of Roosevelt’s politics, I think he makes a good point about the dubious nature of most politicians’ promises.

The very last thing that an intelligent and self-respecting member of a democratic community should do is to reward any public man because that public man says he will get the private citizen something to which this private citizen is not entitled, or will gratify some emotion or animosity which this private citizen ought not to possess.

Let me illustrate this by one anecdote from my own experience. A number of years ago I was engaged in cattle-ranching on the great plains of the western United States. There were no fences. The cattle wandered free, the ownership of each being determined by the brand; the calves were branded with the brand of the cows they followed. If on the round-up an animal was passed by, the following year it would appear as an unbranded yearling, and was then called a maverick. By the custom of the country these mavericks were branded with the brand of the man on whose range they were found. One day I was riding the range with a newly hired cowboy, and we came upon a maverick. We roped and threw it; then we built a little fire, took out a cinch-ring, heated it at the fire; and the cowboy started to put on the brand. I said to him, “It is So-and-so’s brand,” naming the man on whose range we happened to be. He answered: “That’s all right, boss; I know my business.” In another moment I said to him: “Hold on, you are putting on my brand!” To which he answered: “That’s all right; I always put on the boss’s brand.” I answered: “Oh, very well. Now you go straight back to the ranch and get what is owing to you; I don’t need you any longer.” He jumped up and said: “Why, what’s the matter? I was putting on your brand.” And I answered: “Yes, my friend, and if you will stealfor me you will steal from me.

Now, the same principle which applies in private life applies also in public life. If a public man tries to get your vote by saying that he will do something wrong in your interest, you can be absolutely certain that if ever it becomes worth his while he will do something wrong against your interest.

Categories: Cultural renewal | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Bill Kristol: Tax the Rich Democrats!

Yesterday, I wrote that it is a fallacy to believe that political will can override economic law.

Today, Bill Kristol says that Republicans should be willing to raise taxes on millionaires because . . . half of all millionaires are Democrats and apparently half of them live in Hollywood.

The arm-flappers keep flapping, but political revenge can’t negate economic reality.

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Hope, Change and the Staid President

My apologies to readers and fellow contributors to the blog; this is later in the day than I wanted to post. That being said, here it is.

Up to this post, our readers have been given advice (with one notable exception) to behave in a way that in practice results in a repudiation of the two-party system in which we participate. I do not think that voting third-party is an effective behavior; I think it is a radical behavior that is contrary to the tenets and the practice of conservatism. So, like Chuck O’Shea, I advocate the support of one of the major two-party candidates in this election. The candidate I support will be the one running against him. I believe that a conservative should support President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012.

This post is broken up into two sections: the first section will provide an anchor for the argument by way of description of a practical conceptualization of the kernel of conservatism as uncertainty; the second section will shift to a description of a case (through secondary sources) for why President Obama has governed as a conservative and why this should be sufficient to persuade conservatives to support him for re-election.


Part 1: Conservatism as Uncertainty

The arguments that have dominated this blog revolve around the definition of conservatism and the corollary of who and what qualifies as conservative today? Many of us on this blog have input time and energy into answering a question that pundits more important than we are
have dwelt. This suggests a broadness, perhaps more accurately and precisely, a foundational uncertainty to be the characteristic which is hallmark of conservatism. Conservatism, in a sense, is so dysfunctional and confused (or at least antifoundational) that a prominent conservative magazine is subjecting itself to an identical tortured process that we are conducting at the same time we are conducting it.

This uncertainty can be understood as an effect of a fluidity the vocabulary of the traditionalist-historicist conservative would recognize as the universal being expressed in the particular; further, in its vocabulary, it is what the rationalist would recognize as a fundamental abstract principle being applied to or filtered by and through reality: it is a cornerstone of a conservative case to support President Obama for re-election in 2012.


Part II: President Obama as Conservative, or the Prudence of Practice

Let me move to the second portion of this post, which lays out a case for the conservative support of President Obama by a brief examination of his policies in his first term.

Bruce Bartlett summarizes the case for Obama the conservative in the following bullet points (h/t to paul krugman

His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.

I think that list makes a compelling case for the conservative to support President Obama for re-election in 2012. This is not about abstractions such as ideological purity, pro-life bona fides or any other conceptualization of conservatism whose essence exists outside of time and space; rather, this is about an on-the-ground, historically contingent conservatism which recognizes that history puts us in a set of circumstances in which liberal “big government” of the New Deal and Great Society are essential, defining characteristics of the relationship between a citizenry and its government; furthermore, that to recognize this relationship is to be cognizant of the historical concreteness that is, allegedly, at the core of conservatism. Such that this historical reality of post-New Deal and post-Great Society liberalism means that President Obama is the one conservative candidate running for President during this election. The other choices you have – which have been discussed on this blog – occupy positions on the ideological branches of the left and the right. When the pundits recognize a continuity between the two major parties’ candidates’ policies; and, when progressives recognize you to be a conservative and make a case against your candidacy for re-election, then you must be doing something right behind which conservatives (no pun intended) can throw their support.

If other conservatives want to make a convincing case that Obama is a liberal or a left-wing President of any type, then they will have to respond to the policies that he has implemented by effectively demonstrating how they represent a liberal rather than a conservative style of governance. References to a vague, amorphous, and essentially content-less notion of history or tradition will not be a strong foundation for a persuasive case against the conservative’s support for President Obama’s re-election. Nor will an effective case be made by attempting to demonstrate that his policies are contrary to certain principles (free-market, big government, etc) which are inherently conservative, at least not in an American sense of the term; nor is it sufficient to argue (however effectively one does make the argument), that in certain instances he has been an advocate, instigator or ally of policymakers or policy proposals that are contrary to alleged tenets of traditional culture (e.g., religious freedom or individual rights in the example of the health care reform bill): cherry picking is left for the fruit, it does not belong in a philosophically abstract or an empirical argument against a case for the re-election of President Obama.

The responses the economic crisis, the policies of reform, and the foreign policy that President Obama has pursued and implemented during his first term in office, point to a candidate for re-election who chooses to maintain a steady course and extract a limited amount from the circumstances given to him. That is to say, his presidency has been a conservative one. Stories of his past notwithstanding, he makes a poor example of a radical liberal, and an even poorer boogeyman of conservative critique, analysis and alarm. President Obama has governed with restraint; he has pursued policies with an eye toward the possible and not just purity of principle; he has behaved in a way that conservatives can and should recognize to be in resemblance to the doctrine, tenets and canons of conservatism. It is easy to understand why that is the case if one disregards the rhetoric and emotion that are expended in response to President Obama, and consider for a brief moment the policies he has actually pursued and realize that he is a conservative (or at least a run-of-the-mill Democrat, who is, nevertheless, probably more conservative – in a non-ideological understanding of the term – than most Republicans or self-described conservatives are at this point in our political history).

At the end of the day, the conservative is not left wondering why he should support President Obama in 2012; rather, he is left to wonder why he should not.

Categories: 2012, Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Are Democrats a Clan of Vampires?

Yes, according to this guy.  BuzzFeed asked 25 college Democrats and 25 college Republicans to describe their political opponents in 3 words.  He responded, “Incompetent, malkavian, weak.”  Malkavians, according to Wikipedia, are a video-game vampire clan.

The Democrat’s responses are here.  The Republican’s are here.  It is worth reading if you (1) need a laugh or (2) want to get rid of that pesky notion that civilization can ever be saved.  Malkavian is one of the nicer words used.  Others use the words “ignorant,” “asshole,” and “shithead” a lot.  But don’t forget–college is a place where young people learn to open their minds!

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