Sunday, November 16, 2008

The New, Improved Conservative Movement (can a leopard change its spots?)

There has been a clarion call of sorts among conservatives to redefine the GOP and return to the basics of a Reagan type conservatism. They want to win the hearts and minds of those Americans they lost during the rather negative and dirty presidential campaign of 2008. So I have been cruising around the conservative bloggerhood, leaving comments (you know me, rockync, commenter extraordinaire) but mostly just observing what form this new improved movement would take.

Over at Conservative Convictions a new blog effort by my respected conservative friend, Robert and the equally engaging Jennifer, there has been a lot of activity and some very interesting posts. Alas, a comment thread under the post for “Part II – Approaches to the New Administration” that is quite lengthy concerning Bill Ayers, the Weather Underground and President-Elect Obama shows how easily distracted people can get by unproductive arguments. I don’t think most Americans are unduly impressed with this fragment of a conspiracy theory cut from whole cloth. They said this by their vote. Beating this dead horse will do nothing to win the hearts and minds of Americans.

Much has been made by conservatives about the unpatriotic-ness of criticizing our government and current president but over at The Liberal Lie, The Conservative Truth we find this post: “BARACK OBAMA - SHOULD WE WANT HIM TO SUCCEED ? - THE SUNDAY COMMENTARY.” You can go read the complete post for yourself but this paragraph sums up the gist of it:
As an American I support the office of the President and respect the position even when I disagree with the office holder because he still is the leader of this Nation and the Commander in Chief of the greatest military in the world. But from a stand point of principle, core beliefs and supporting a policy that I have almost no agreements with is asking anyone to disregard personal and political philosophy just to wish success for someone who is polar opposite of what I believe and stand for.

The post goes on at length attempting to make a rational argument for abandoning the former stance of “criticize President Bush and you are unpatriotic”, becoming, “criticize President Obama and wish him failure ONLY because you have the best interests of your country at heart” and, somehow, that now makes you patriotic. When liberals made this type of argument they were called unpatriotic. The conservative movement will have to make up their minds; which is going to be?

There are other blogs, and other examples, but I’m supposed to be writing my first-ever blog post, not my first online novel!
While I recognize that there will be a period of disappointment and bitterness over the outcome of this election and it will be reflected in the various blogs, I hope the conservative movement will not get too mired down in their own distractions, thus losing this window of opportunity to enact the positive changes many conservatives crave.


  1. Hello rockync, great post. At least in philosophical terms, the foundation of the GOP used to be a concern for individual liberty and a predisposition against the encroachment of governmental authority into people's daily lives. I think that orientation retains its appeal, but the Republican Party has long been heavily invested in the so-called religious right, which does not find old-fashioned libertarianism at all acceptable. The religious rightists want a theocracy, period. Then too, the Party seems to have bought the notion that capitalism, which has its flaws just like any system devised by human beings, is somehow perfectly self-regulating and inherently conducive to a moral, just society. The position some Republicans take on our economic system is profoundly ahistorical and misguided. It is not Democrats, but rather certain delusional Republicans, who constitute the greatest threat to the survival of the more or less "free market" society in which we live: they have no accurate conception of why it works in the first place and no clue as to what must be done when it seems about to go off the rails from time to time.

    So I'd say the GOP's path back to viability is to reject both the holy rollers and the ultra-capitalist ideologues amongst them and return to the philosophical orientation I described above, even if it means losing a couple of elections. At the moment, what I hear coming from the big news outlets is mostly whiny right-wing extremists complaining that they lost because they didn't advocate the most mean-spirited, bloodthirsty policy positions loudly enough. They've got it exactly wrong: McCain's war record and the remnant of people's good will towards him for past political stands is probably the only reason the GOP ticket got even as many votes as it did in 2008. A more traditionally conservative Republican at the top of that ticket would probably have received far fewer votes.

  2. Thank you, bloggingdino and I think you make some very good observations as to the problems within the Republican party. I myself am not adverse to a smaller, less invasive government, but no regulation of industry and services has obviously been a disaster. There has to be SOME kind of oversight.
    Probably the biggest threat to the Republican party is the religious right which goes too far for most people's comfort zone. I have no objection to people pursuing their religious beliefs, teaching it to their children or even proclaiming it from the rooftops. But in a land of such diverse peoples and beliefs, injecting religion into our politics is never going to fly.

  3. Rocky, how do you like it from the publishing side of things?

    Thanks for the mention, I think. I first want to make the point that is was a reader who brougth up Ayers. I made no mention of him n my post. I want to mention one thing about the Bill Ayers thing, since that was your first comment critical of conservatives. We all associated at some time with someone who eventually went to jail or cheated on his wife, or did something we find distasteful. No one is perfect, and I am not guilty by association when my acquaintance beats up his wife.

    This situation is different, and it is a justifiable discussion when evaluating the character of the man who would be President. Either Obama is a bright man and understands history, particularly Chicago history and the Days of Rage, or he is a moron who doesn't have any idea the back ground of the people for which he writes book reviews.

    My point is that Obama did not repudidate Ayers and find his methods disgusting until he ran for President. McCain, when given the opportunity to be released from a Vietnamese prison camp and return home, refused to do so when there were no cameras, no reporters, no rewards. He was returned to hell for a couple of more YEARS. He made that decision when no one was watching. I think the two events provide an illustration of character.

    I wish you luck over here! They will treat you nicely, at least until the get hungry.....

  4. Hello Robert,

    I've lapped my morning gallon or two of coffee (from the Jurassic coffee pool hard by the game trail, of course), so I won't bite.

    On the Ayers business, I would suggest only that the left, right, and center might as well allow for a complex model of judging character, one that owes something to, say, Montaigne's fine essay, "Of the Inconsistency of Our Actions." Few people are all good or all bad. Politics is a dirty business, and nearly all politicians mix with individuals who may be (or may have been) up to no good. It's also fair to suggest that most politicians, if you look closely enough at their rise to prominence, have done a few things in their public lives (and their private lives as well—it's difficult to separate them at times) that nobody in his or her right mind would be proud of. These high-powered characters are ambitious and probably somewhat vain: anybody who actively seeks power is liable to exhibit a dollop of those two traits. As the old joke goes, "I used to want to be president. And then I grew up."

    No need to go into many details—I think we are familiar with the main ones about recent presidents and candidates. To some extent, all that stuff goes towards assessing a person's character. Key examples: McCain's military record says something very good about him: he's a tough, courageous and patriotic man. And sure, his willingness in 2008 to hire some of the same people who trashed his character in 2000 to rough up Obama says something about him, too. The question is, what is that something? You can inflect it a number of ways: maybe he doesn't much respect Obama and figures treating him that way is fair game; maybe he figures politics is a rough game and you do what you have to do, etc. I don't think it means McCain is a dreadful person. Rather, he's complex. To keep perspective, I generally choose to view him in light of his best, not his worst, moments. Of course, it's easier to do that now that the election is over.

    The same should apply to Obama: sure, he mixed with some old radicals and a shady political operative or two, went to church all those years with Rev. Wright and probably listened to some fiery sermons, and so forth. The fellow was once a mentor to him, wasn't he? My interest is mainly in the sort of person who emerges at the end of this history: he seems to me to be a very bright man with genuine ideals that go beyond the merely self-aggrandizing desire to get and wield power. So there's potential for much good in him, and he may turn out to be one of our best presidents in a long time.

    I believe the right will gain little traction this time around if they harp on the past, try to stir up investigations, and so forth. (The comment isn't aimed at anyone in particular; I mean it as a general observation.) The times are too dire for that – we need to let our politicians make major decisions as best they can without our constantly bringing up who they've slept with or had lunch with or maybe even kicked around a few radical ideas with years ago. (Academics are used to kicking ideas around a lot—and Obama used to be an academic, so I'm sure he can entertain an idea without endorsing it.) To sully the individuals in charge of the political process is to drag the process itself down because in spite of our ideal about having "a government of laws and not men," at some level the people and the process can't be kept entirely separate.

  5. You leave me little to address except to comment on the apparent desperation of the effort to make sure old acquaintances are not forgot. Working together on a project for the public good is not served by denunciations, to say the least, nor would it be considered to be the Christian thing except by those more suited to be Mullahs than disciples.

    The room was very quiet when it came time to denounce anti-abortion violence, and discussions of the enormity of the death and destruction caused by the Vietnam war are absent when judging the wrath of the American people against a government that refused to end it, year after year after year until perhaps 2 million people were dead and countless others maimed and our economy in shambles. And yes, it too was a war based on lies and yes, we had a government that talked about "victory" and "honor" while burning civilians alive and torturing prisoners. No one who condemns Ayers and not the demons who perpetrated that war deserves to be listened to.

    It's hard to make anyone care much about Bill Ayres or that Obama didn't throw some tantrum and refuse to sit on the same board as him, because it's the losing party that obsesses about sainthood and marble heroes on marble horses and glorious victory parades, not the rest of us.

    Frankly, I see the nattering about Ayers and Wright to be absolutely hypocritical. I've listened to more "Christian" sermons berating the Jews than I care to recount and I've been the only one to walk out on one I know of. So what if Wright said "God Damn America." I've been damning our cooperation with evil deeds and evil men all my life. Yet, not even the lambs are more silent than the Republicans when it comes to Pastor Muthee paying people to shoot at old women and their "witchcraft."

    I'm quite sure Obama does not endorse the 40 year old bombings of the Weathermen and I'm sure that the cumulative damage done to the US by the still current administration is so huge as to be unworthy of comparison. I'm sure that the unwillingness to denounce it in the extreme is far more reprehensible than anything they can use to pollute Obama's reputation and I'm sure that most Americans know it at this point.

    It's about bitterness, and meanness and pettiness not about principles. Whether or not extremism in defense of liberty is or is not a vice, extremism in defense of the things Republicans so often defend and defend still, is no virtue.

  6. Excellent comments, all. I would prefer to see a more reasoned and relevant tone in "statesmen" and far less "politics" in thepeople we send to Washington. Hyperbole i a useful tool when debating things of reasons, absurdity such as suggesting that Obama is a al-Qaeda mole is something else.

    I don't oppose referencing anyone's associations, as the decision to elect the leader of the free world should be done amongst a totality of the circumstances as opposed to a single line of thought. I do oppose the level of ad hominem attacks and the way in which extremists of any political ideology approach conversations about opponents.

    I would prefer that we act as statesmen, debate the issues and the recommendations of our opponents, and leave the dirt-digging to the press.

  7. As always I remember something I wanted to say as soon as I click the submit button. I yearn for the days of youth when I could remember what i had for dinner the night before...

    I just wanted to insert a comment about my position on the Lewinsky/Clinton affair. I was embarassed and disgusted that it happened. Clinton did indeed lie under oath, and that is a terrible thing indeed. However, had the GOP not engaged in this absurd and ridiculous line of questioning, it would not have happened. It should have never become an issue, but was a manufactured one as it was completely irrelevant.

  8. Robert - Thank you for coming over and commenting on my first ever blog post. I'm not sure how I feel yet on this side, but since (o)ct(o)pus was so gracious as to invite me here, I thought perhaps I would get my feet wet in the Swash Zone - but I guess I better watch out how far I wade in at feeding time! :)
    I think you are a sincere and intelligent man who makes well-thought out, well researched coherent presentations on your posts and even though we may be "across the aisle" on some issues, you do make me ponder and assess my own views and that is always a good thing for personal growth. I cited your new blog to make a point, yes, but I hope others reading this post will click on over to see what's happening at your place. It's important for us to share ideas, present opposing arguments, etc. How else will we learn to live together unless we understand each others' minds?
    I know you did not bring up Ayers and my point was not to rehash the merits/demerits of that whole issue, but to point out how easy it is to become distracted and get off track.
    Perhaps someday we will get a chance to sit down face to face and discuss, explore and argue the ancient history that was my youth, but it is old news and should not be allowed to detract from presnet issues.
    BTW - I too was disgusted with Clinton's behavior and his lies, but, again, old news that has the potential of distracting conservatives from their new "mission" to revamp their movement.
    I have no desire to see the GOP fade away. We need at least a two party system, although I'd like to see changes to the whole political system that would allow even more parties to be viable. We need the checks and balances this provides.
    So, let me reiterate; the point of this post is a cautionary word to those who desire a new, improved conservative movement - don't stray off the course you have set for yourselves or you could become lost and mired in obscurity forever.
    capt fogg - The Vietnam era was a time of complex issues and government betrayals that spawned so many protest groups amongst the baby boomer generation. It is a "you had to be there to understand" kind of time. It's hard to convey all the upheaval, pain and anguish that was as much a part of our lives as the concerts, love-ins, etc.
    Again, rehashing all this ancient history can only serve to distract us from the very real current events we must deal with. The past is ancedotal and we can make note of it and learn some things from it, but we should not relive it over and over again. It is the past - it's time to move forward.

  9. Hey Rocky!!!! Great post. Welcome to Blogtopia.

    As for the discussion here, I would just like to point out that I'm pretty tired of that old canard about McCain being so bloody honorable because he refused early release. He didn't do it out of some noble impulse. The way I hear from other POWs, that was part of the rules. That's not to denigrate his service, just to point out that he wasn't any more heroic than the other POWs were and many who were lesser connected, suffered more than he did. I'm all for giving him credit, but let's not deify the man for doing what everyone did. I think it's insulting to the other survivors.

  10. Libby,

    Welcome. One criticism -- I don't see anybody's posts here "deifying" McCain or even coming anywhere near that. I think it's fine to give credit where it is due, provided that it doesn't lead to giving someone a free pass on his public record and policy positions. I occasionally found the McCain campaign's frequent references to his military service "a bit too much" (as if they thought it rendered him immune to criticism on any matter whatsoever) but what the heck? I expect politicians to use their assets. I don't presume to know McCain's motivations. Anyhow, people don't seem to vote on these things--Bob Dole had an impressive war record, too, and he lost pretty badly. Seems that such things get a candidate at least some consideration, but they're not dispositive of the outcome.

  11. Hey BDino, I was actually responding to Robert's comment on that point. Sure sounded a bit like deification to me, and I'd note you also seem to reference his military service as something exemplary. I don't think it was, at all.

    That's not to say he didn't serve honorably, but nothing he did was exemplary or particularly admirable and if you look at the full details of what he did, he was actually a hotdogger who refused to follow the rules and only got away with it because he was an admiral's son. I mean he crashed three planes and I've seen some credible evidence that he got shot down because he was flying too low.

    As I say, I believe overrating McCain's contributions does a disservice to those unheralded soldiers who followed the rules and were much bigger heroes than McCain was. Just a little pet peeve of mine. Nothing personal.

  12. Libby,

    I don’t know that his actions were “exemplary” if by that word you mean “far beyond what others would have done in the same circumstances.” I rather think that most people in the armed services would have done more or less what he did: get through the ordeal and acquit themselves well. But it’s best to be generous rather than too strict in such matters.

    I didn’t use the term “hero”—I think that’s perhaps an overused word, sort of like “tragedy.” (Oedipus Tyrannus and Macbeth are tragedies; a fatal bus plunge that kills twenty people is not. It’s just an awful, stupid thing that sometimes happens, causing great pain and anguish.) But if one uses such a term, some distinctions might help. First, there’s an extremely active kind of heroism: say, Hector and Achilles fighting each other in single combat on the battlefield before Troy. Second, there’s what might be called situational heroism, as when somebody survives a plane crash and then helps others escape the wreckage. It’s the kind of thing we might not do if we had time to think about it, but at the moment, we “just do it.” And third, there’s what could be termed “passive heroism” wherein the agent can’t do much but survive and not betray others. This latter sounds like McCain’s case, whatever the exact circumstances in which he got shot down.

    Only the first kind of heroism is likely to earn one’s actions the title of “exemplary” in the sense I delimited above. The other two best suit “everyperson,” so to speak: they reinforce the ordinary person’s sense of the fine things many of us might be capable of when challenged.

    That’s why I respectfully reject what I take to be your demand that McCain’s action be “exemplary.” It need be no such thing. In his situation, it was sufficient that he not fail and betray others. He was entitled to “use” the experience to his credit during the campaign, as indeed he was by no means shy about doing. I think most voters took the experience into account in his favor, but they disagreed with what he said he wanted to do in policy matters, disliked his running mate intensely, or had some other bone to pick with him. All of which was fair.

    What I have found genuinely disturbing is some members of the press’ unseemly adulation and their refusal to criticize McCain about anything for fear of being labeled “unpatriotic” or “jealous” of his macho image. But not all recognition of service rendered need be put in those anxiety-based categories.

  13. Few people would fit completely into the "saint" or "satan" mold.
    There are those small handful of Ted Bundys who seem to be the exception to the rule and in recent times it has come to light that even Mother Teresa had doubts about her faith and her mission in life.
    No, most people fall somewhere in between where they do things they are proud of and maybe a few things they wish they could have done differently and maybe a thing or two they are really ashamed of.
    Give credit where credit is due - John McCain was shot down while in the service of his country, he spent years in hell as a POW along with many others. I commend him for enduring and surviviing and for returning home to lead a productive life. Those of us who came of age in those years knew many men who went to war and they too deserve recognition. I had an uncle who did three tours in Vietnam. For years after he returned home, just the smell of cooking meat would send him running to vomit in the nearest toilet. He paid a terrible price for his sense of duty but he also never complained. In fact he tried to hide his suffering; I found out by accident.
    But there is a danger in focusing on this one aspect of a man without looking at the whole package. My uncle was much more than a soldier and so John McCain is more than a former POW. And Barak Obama is more than an aquaintance of Bill Ayers. Associations? I don't imagine McCain is real proud of his associations in the Keating savings and loan fiasco.
    I think it is sort of expected that conservatives won't particularly care of Obama as it's expected that liberals aren't very fond of McCain.
    All in all, I still see it as a distraction we can't afford to become mired in.
    Folks, we got bigger fish to fry...

  14. I am with you Rocky, but I have to add something to this discussion.

    I am a Marine, and a combat vet. My brother is a Marine and a combat vet. My father, a Marine and a combat vet of two wars. I say that not to place myself above anyone, but to frame the following comments.

    Leadership means something distinctly different to those in uniform than it does to those in the civilian world. A leader is expected to give himself no relief or no special treatment unless his men also recive like treatment.

    So being a POW. In North Vietnam, it meant torture and abuse far beyond what is even imaginable to most. Rice with worms three meals a day. Labor with little respite. Beating for hours and days on end. The fact that he was given the opportunity to leave and did not, places him with consequences. Exercise leadership and be abused and possible killed over the concept of honor, or go free and see my family again and live to tell about it. Fortunately, I can only hope that I would have made the same decision because I was not burdened with the situation.

    He did so in the shadows. No televison cameras, no reporters, no promotion board. He did so because he loved those men and it was the right thing. Deify? Hardly. Undying respect and admiration? Yes, unashamedly.

  15. Robert, that makes perfect sense to this civilian – my own comment was about the “everyman” dimension of fortitude in suffering, but you frame the matter best: McCain lived up to the high standard set for an officer, and he deserves praise for it. I’ve read some unflattering stuff about all this from the left – things like, “oh well, he knew his political career would be over before it started if he went home, etc.” But would somebody lying in a little cell not far from a torture chamber be thinking in such a measured way about his shiny political future? Somehow, I doubt it. I love old Dr. Johnson, but his famous remark about how the certainty of being hanged on the morrow concentrates the mind sounds like bunkum. Sheer terror would be the more “logical” response to such a situation, so doing the right thing entitles a person to much respect.

    This “ancient history” is mostly what I will remember about McCain – not the 2008 campaign. This history is a part of who McCain is that nobody can ever take away from him, whatever their opinion about the Vietnam War itself. (I think it was deeply wrong.) We should judge people mindful of the best things they have done.

    So in spite of some bad feelings that developed on the campaign trail, Demos had a worthy opponent, one who shouldn’t be diminished or torn down as we await the new president.

  16. Congratulations, Rocky on your first post, and a lively one at that.

    (And you thought 8pus done disappeared on you. Actually, I just returned from a camouflage conference and was practicing some new job skills … very much needed these days.)

    When an elephant is about to die, it is said, its mate tries to arouse and revive the expiring beast with one last go at sexual intercourse … a noble attempt just short of necrophilia.

    If the boring old men of the GOP keep romancing the extreme right wing of their party, then I hope the beast suffers a loveless and lonely death.

    Conservatives say they value freedom and liberty. Hells bells, I would be more than glad to call myself conservative because I too believe in freedom and liberty.

    However, what I see is a GOP that turned away those who suffered bigotry and oppression. On civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, equal opportunity, and equal protection under law, the GOP has been on the wrong side of history. Why is that? Can anyone explain this to an unhuman 8pus?

  17. I too see the contradiction between what is being posted on conservatives blogs and the GOP party line. Over at Robert's place, I suggested the consider starting a new party with possibly a sea creature as the new mascot. Robert thought that might be a consideration but he offered up sushi as a mascot. :(

  18. he offered up sushi as a mascot

    In the Socratic scheme of things, the concept of (O)CT(O)PUS is immutable and immune to sushi.

    It occurred to me earlier today that there are two reasons why there are fewer "moderate" Republicans left:

    1 -- The extreme right wing drove many of them from the party (Consider Christie Whitman's book It's my party too where she laments the increasing rightward tilt of the GOP)

    2 -- Democrats drove others from office (in the 2006 election, moderates like Chafee lost seats to Democrats suggesting that moderate Republicans are much more vulnerable to election losses than the hard right)

    Tis a pity. The GOP would fair much better if they returned to the more centrist politics of Eisenhower, Javits, and Rockefeller; but this seems unlikely with neo-cons and theo-cons holding the party in thrall.

  19. I do not eat octopus...nor eel, nor a few of the other "exotic" types of sushi. I am quite content with my California Rolls and Tempura shrimp and Salmon, etc.

    Thank you BD, for the affirmation. Just as the cliche that there are no aethiests in foxholes, the combat environment changes perspectives. Besides, having come from a long line of U.S. navy Admirals, I have to imagine that his thinking at the time was more in the line of Admirals Stripes, not politics. Either way, logic seems to dictate that staying a dying in a prison camp would end whatever post-Navy career he may have been considering.

    I asked of some misguided conservatives to day whether they really think that trotting out a war hero would really matter to the voting pool anymore. It is no longer considered by the masses to be the thing of hnor it once was, and most anyone under 30 can't even tell you which decade goes with which war.

    I don't agree that the GOP should be come more moderate, but I think we are talking about the same concept with different words. I think conservatives should stop the infighting over abortion and social issues, and concentrate on returning to responsible, conservative government. That is my aim, anyway, to find commonality of purpose and not concentrate on aged, tiresome issues.


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