Mike the Mad Biologist

A Bit More on Pseudoconservatives

Maha responds to my previous post about pseudoconservatives. I don’t really have much to add to what she said, but I want to make several additional points and clarifications:

1) I agree with maha that it’s difficult to figure out what conservatism is, even for conservatives. In large part, this stems from what she correctly describes as antagonism. Being opposed to something is not the same as philosophical coherency–a point I’ve made about the ‘progressive’ movement.

2) I think we also agree that the modern conservatives are running the U.S. into the ground. Increasing income inequality, declining infrastructure (physical and mental), and ‘faith-based’..well…everything are all disastrous. However, if you happen to be on top, it’s one hell of a ride. I also think it can take many decades for a powerful, prosperous nation to go off the rails. If we start the clock at midway through the Carter administration, I figure we’re about halfway there.

3) I still think the primary divide is between pre-New Deal conservatives (and their descedant ‘throwback’ conservatives) and post-New Deal conservatives, who, to a considerable extent in policy terms, can be considered part of the New Deal consensus. To use an analogy, while I don’t think merit pay is the best way to improve science education in the U.S., I share the same goal with most of the ‘centrist’ Democrats who support merit pay: making science education better. We fundamentally disagree with the theopolitical conservatives (i.e., creationists), who want to ‘improve’ science education by introducing sectarian dogma into the classroom. This is a fundamental difference in kind. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t strongly and vehemently disagree with the merit pay supporters (I do); however, they are not batshit loony.

4) The role that racism plays in all of this is interesting (and utterly despicable). Ironically, many people who were part of the New Deal consensus (albeit on the more conservative end) abandoned it due to racism. They liked municipal swimming pools, library, and schools as long as these institutions were ‘whites only.’ Sadly, maintaining American apartheid was far more important to them than the notion of community (and common) goods and services (Kevin Kruse, in White flight : Atlanta and the making of modern conservatism makes this point far more eloquently than I ever could).

I don’t want to create a mountain out of a molehill here: I think maha and I agree: what passes for conservatism today is a disaster. But as tng noted in the comments:

Eisenhower was frequently derided as a “Communist” or accused of aiding and abetting Communist by the John Birch Society. Eisenhower established the interstate highway system, continued all the major New Deal programs, broadened Social Security and created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. And who can forget Eisenhower warning us of the military-industrial complex in his farewell address?

Nixon has been termed by no less than Noam Chomsky as “perhaps the last liberal President”. Nixon also supported a guaranteed income in the form of a negative income tax, established the Environmental Protection Agency and supported a war on drugs where 2/3 of the money went toward treatment programs rather than law enforcement.

These men were not conservatives as we think of them today. Both were fiscal conservatives, both were caught up in the red scare, Nixon was a paranoid with a strong need for “law and order” but both men enacted quite socially progressive legislation as well.

We’ll definitely never say that about Bush or the modern conservatives.

Comments

  1. #1 Rose Colored Glasses
    August 17, 2007

    If you want to understand the conservatives right now at the top of the game, think of Caligula. Excess is a hell of a ride if you don’t lose your nerve.

  2. #2 cuchulkhan
    August 17, 2007

    What about the Lake Wobegony ‘No child left behind’? or spending on endless programmes at its highest level since Johnson? Amnesty for illegals? Bush is the epitome of big government conservatism.

    re racism: for whatever reason blacks didn’t behave like whites, overall, when it came to the welfare state. within two generations the system of free money for single mothers produced a black single mother rate of 70%. the welfare state corrupted white morals as well, but not to the same astronomical extent. something had to be done.

    re white flight – it is usually necessary, lagriffe proved that the blacker a neighborhood becomes, the probability of the last remaining white residents being violently attacked eventually rises to 100%.

    http://www.lagriffedulion.f2s.com/hood.htm

  3. #3 HP
    August 17, 2007

    I am more and more convinced that the single defining aspect of conservatism is being a conservative. Conservatism is not an ideology, it’s an identity.

    It’s always going to be difficult to define conservatism in terms of a consistent ideology, because consistency is not a defining aspect of conservatism.

    Conservatives will believe (or at least claim to believe) anything that is required in order to be considered conservatives. Because the most important thing is to be part of the group. Ideology is subsidiary to identity.

    Also, to cuchulkan: I’m just guessing here based on the one comment, and correct me if I’m wrong, but you smell bad and you’re a big dummy and nobody likes you.* †

    * Note that this last comment is completely civil and appropriate by current conservative standards, because it does not use obscenities.

    † “Oh, oh, I’m sorry, but this is Abuse.” –M. Python

  4. #4 HP
    August 17, 2007

    Hmmm… Did you know that your preview pane defaults to Unicode UTF-8, and your page view defaults to Western ISO-8859? Hence the weird character displays.

    † = †

    You might have the Seed webmeisters rejigger your templates.

  5. #5 Chief
    August 17, 2007

    When conservatives remain in the minority, they can act like a ‘sea anchor’ on the majority. With their arguments and ammendments they can keep the majority from going to excess. And that isn’t all bad.

    Neo-cons(ervative)s are not conservative. A lot of the william bulkeley, george will and barry goldwater ideas sound pretty good when discussed in a theoretical, say classroom, setting. It is when those ideas are put into play, such as tax cuts, smaller government, less regulation of business for a decade or two, that we can see the business community cutting corners, firing workers et al and we can’t see the connection from Reagan to Stickler.

  6. #6 Griff
    August 18, 2007

    HP,
    You are right. It’s “us vs.them”. “We” are the chosen, for whatever reason. We work harder, are more moral, we make the world better, etc.
    That’s why religious and racist fundamentalists tend Republican these days. It’s an identity. they are unitd in their hatred of uncertanty and change.
    Griff

  7. #7 Rev. Bob
    August 18, 2007

    Part of the reason we’re seeing people who used to call themselves conservatives trying to run away from that name might have to do with a recent Rasmussen report:

    The term conservative is considered positive by 61% of Republicans, 15% of Democrats, and 24% of those not affiliated with either major party.

    [ridiculous URL, hover to verify it isn't a porn site]

    Outside the Republican party faithful, “conservative” is about as attractive to voters as “pedophile.”

    Let’s make sure that when we see folks trying to run away from that identity that we don’t let them get away with it. I do not want somebody who calls himself a “traditional Republican” getting elected and then governing like the same old Christofascist, xenophobic, gay bashing, racist empire builders. We need to be ready to say, “Hey, remember when you called Congressman Murtha a traitor? We do.”

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