Sunday, October 26, 2008

To a "conservative" concerning empty labels

In answer to my query, your reply was interesting, but if left- and right-wing mean anything more than labels, like blue and red in a dodgeball game, it was meaningless, because on every issue Republicans and Democrats exist on both sides.

On abortion and homosexual rights, for instance, Republicans range from Giuliani, once the Presidential front-runner and a hearty supporter of the current ticket, to Sarah Palin. Democrats range from Kate Michelman to Bob Casey and beyond.

On war and empire, Republicans range from Ron Paul and Walter Jones to Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh. Democrats range from Cynthia McKinney and Dennis Kucinich to the Clintons, Madeleine Albright, and Barack Obama, who wanted to attack Pakistan when even Bush didn't want to go there.

On big government, which you have said you oppose, Republicans range from Ron Paul to George Bush and his companions, who have made government bigger by far than anyone in either party up to now has ever imagined. Democrats likewise range from disciplined small-state governors to the many in Congress that have eagerly supported Bush in his expansion of government over the past 8 years, and even have ideas of their own.

As far as socialization of the economy, it's hard to exceed the reach of the Federal government under Bush, a Republican, who is now nationalizing banks and insurance companies.

I trust that it is clear that if left-wing and right-wing mean Democrat and Republican, all will see that these "wings" are just empty words describing nothing specific. Unlike in some other nations, Democrats and Republicans are not now, and have never been, parties based on ideology or political principles. They are aggregations of interest groups, often having nothing real in common. Was it ideology that included Dixiecrats and northern blacks in FDR's coalition? Does ideology put the likes of James Dobson and Rudolf Giuliani together?

You also spoke of liberals and conservatives. What exactly do these mean? There was a time when "conservative" meant wanting to conserve things. A conservative wanted to stick close to the Constitution, strictly interpreted; he didn't want to spend money if he didn't have to; and he generally took the position that things were more easily broken than fixed, so that preserving even the imperfect was generally a better idea than breaking it in the expectation of engineering a bright new world. Apparently, you consider the Republican party today "conservative," as exemplified by Bush and the McCain-Palin ticket.

What is conservative about these people? Bush on good authority has described the Constitution that he has sworn to uphold as a "goddamn piece of paper," and if you read that document you'll find that he has certainly acted on that belief in many ways. McCain proposes the same in a variety of ways, being on record in favor of the President being above the law and even free to torture anyone he likes, after opposing that at one time. They have acted as though war is the answer for every problem, when every conservative from Sun Tzu up has understood that war is the most radicalizing unpredictable thing you can do - witness World War 1 or the consequences of the Japanese invasion of China in World War 2, if other examples nearer to hand are too close for you to see them.

And then what is a liberal? It used to mean free market fundamentalists like Adam Smith. Now it means other things, but not so easy to define. Even after World War 2, it was liberals that pursued world domination and more and more armaments, while conservative Republicans like Taft and Vandenberg resisted for a while. Even as late as the 1960s, it was liberals like Kennedy, Johnson, and Nelson Rockefeller that wanted more and more for the Pentagon, while conservatives like Everett Dirksen ("A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money") hung back. It's clear that Eisenhower would never have countenanced Johnson's adventure in Vietnam, because he declined his own chance to jump in in 1954.

Even today, it is conservatives like Paul Craig Roberts, Bob Barr, and Pat Buchanan - that is, people anxious to conserve what's right in the past - who most consistently oppose the reckless, spendthrift adventurism of the "conservatives" that you support. I think they have their problems, and I'm not quite one of them, but I do like the idea that the word "conservative" should have something to do with conserving something. Asperger's pickiness about the dictionary, perhaps.

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