The Political Battle over Modernity
Part III: THE ROUTINE RHYTHM OF LIBERAL SELF-DESTRUCTION
We have seen that radical conservatives studied hard during their time of exile, after having been pummeled and battered by previous miscalculations. While they languished in the wilderness, banished from government, a clade of conservative thinkers spent this time studying, analysing, learning their political lessons well. Gradually, they refined a set of political tools. These ranged from what a decent person might find admirable to deplorable. But taken together, the ensemble integrated toward a single, practical goal.
In the last section we discussed one of the most potent methods that they picked up, which is superficial ideological inclusiveness. A willingness to accept anyone into the great Big Tent of Conservatism, given even the slightest excuse to do so.
This has proved a powerful technique, allowing GOP leaders to gather a vast menagerie of political types -- many seemingly incompatible -- into a huge and winning coalition. Abetted by leftist radicals who were only too willing to help the process along, by taking the opposite tactic... one of fierce ideological exclusivity, driving away anyone who might deviate from standard liberal doctrine, even by a single litmus test.
No doubt some liberals will object, claiming that they don’t do this sort of party line exclusion. And yet, it’s easy enough to test. Just take a set of divisive issues from both sides of the horribly insipid but standard left-right divide. For example, a person might believe in:
* Every woman’s total right to abortion . . vs Parental notification for minors
* Support for public schools and teachers . . vs Vouchers for private schools
* Generosity over immigration . . vs Tight control of borders
* No drilling in Arctic Wildlife Reserve . . vs test drilling in ANWR
* Supporting Unions & minimum wage . . vs Letting the market decide wages
* Repealing the PATRIOT Act . . vs Greater powers of vision for the FBI
* Limiting foreign intevention . . vs Active exercise of Pax Americana power
* Restoring taxes on the wealthiest . . vs Letting the market solve deficits
* Complete separation of church/state . . vs Schools/kids need faith-based morality
* Concentrate on conservation/no nukes . . vs Restart the nuclear power program
Of course this list is incomplete, it might go on and on, reciting one oversimplified conflict after another. But I just didn’t have the heart to write any more, so deeply do I loathe these standard and rigidly calcified positions, which seem designed to make negotiation impossible. So, let’s make do with what we’ve written down so far. I think you’ll agree that these ten dichotomies between “left and right” suffice to make a point.
Now, squint and imagine a person who holds all of the positions listed on the left side of the list. Sounds like a stereotypical liberal, hm? (A dismal scarecrow of a sterotype, but one that too many Americans buy into.) So far, it’s all party line. And obvious.
Okay. But now imagine just one out of these ten positions switching, abruptly, to the other column. Pick any one. Only make the switch strong. Opinionated. Vigorously felt and passionately pursued.
Can you honestly picture such a person being welcome at any gathering of liberals? Probably, you have anecdotes of your own, illustrating what happens to anyone who has one or two quirky, off-list points of view. In fact, so strong is this impulse on the left, that activists routinely disparage the moderates in their own movement, disdaining them as “light” conservatives.
This dogmatic/purist tendency goes back a long way. In Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell describes the self-destruction of the left amid bloody infighting, during the Spanish Civil War. Moreover, it continues doing harm today. In a very direct way, the obstinately indignant candidacy of Ralph Nader -- based upon pointless ideological nitpicking -- inarguably helped to usher in the Bush Cheney Era.
In contrast, you won’t see that kind of self-imolation on the other side. Look back at that list of ten standard political positions. Again, envision a person who holds nine views on the left side but one strong and vociferous view on the right. Haven’t you seen plenty of “conservatives” who are just like the person you just pictured? Despite holding a mish mash of indiosyncratic beliefs, some classic left, others classically right, and some truly unorthodox, aren’t they -- more often than not -- defined by whichever personal tenet happens to be on the “right”?
And then, doesn't that sense of definition, or identification, have great influence over how they vote?
Please, none of this means that the right is less inherently ideological than the left. It is, in fact, rife with some of the most towering dogmatic lunacies. Or that arch conservatives are more reasonable than lefties. Certainly not!
Moreover, there are exceptions. As described by one blog-correspondent: “... if you're in South Dakota, the Democrats are much more moderate and inclusive than their Republican counterparts. The SD Democratic party will gladly welcome a pro lifer, an anti-guncontrol NRA member, or a fiscal tightwad as a candidate -- whereas you'd be hard-pressed to get on the ballot as a pro-choice, pro-gay, or pro guncontrol Republican.”
Indeed, if you look back to the era of greatest liberal power and success, stretching from FDR to LBJ, coalition-building was a key element of Democrat success, with various groups tolerating each other for the sake of overall party success.
What this pattern does demonstrate is that pragmatism has switched sides. Despite the fact that many on the right are ideological in the extreme, they have schooled themselves to live and work by one iron rule:
Power comes first.
Make alliances with anybody you have to. Make promises and deals. Give lip service to every contradictory dogma.
But take power.
That is the strength of inclusiveness. And it shows just how loopy and self destructive leftist activists have been, in their addiction to the opposite path. The path of righteous, indignant and perpetual defeat.
...next... More Weapons in the Neocon Arsenal...
or: Return to Part 1: Ideas for Rescuing Modernity