Saturday, February 16, 2008

I like Frank, too, but here's why I'm not a Conservative...

OK I have to fess up that I probably dumped pretty hard on Frank Knotts over at Delaware Politics [honest, Dave, I like the new look, but I liked the old title better] in one of his recent posts on why drifting left has never helped the Republican Party. Like Frank (and virtually everybody else in the DE blogosphere) I have been occasionally excoriated for some fairly thoughtless over-the-top comment that sounded great when I wrote it, but didn't come across the same way when it faced public scrutiny.

And what Frank is trying to do with Conservatism is trying to work out his personal philosophy and its implications right in front of God, donviti, and everybody else.

I can sympathize. That's what I'm trying to do with Libertarianism.

We're not very far apart on a lot of issues.

To begin with I agree with his definition of a Conservative with a big C, although I do think you can use the little "c" on some sub-issues. That makes it a lot easier to read this:

That being said , I don’t believe that one issue makes you a conservative. I get a little tired of hearing , ” I’m a fiscal conservative, but a moderate on social issues” or “I’m pro life but believe government should do more for the people even if it means higher taxes”.

In “MY” view conservatism is a package deal, you can’t shop it a’la carte.

So, Frank, to start with (so we can communicate clearly)--I'll use Conservative for someone who matches the totality of your definition, and conservative for a specific issue-oriented stance ("fiscal conservative").

Thus, I'll agree that being a Conservative is a whole set of interrelated beliefs--social, political, and fiscal, just to cover the biggest three.

[Unfortunately, as I write this, Dave's new site organization is preventing me from accessing Frank's original post, so forgive me I'll have to proceed from memory (any misrepresentations, Frank, are completely unintentional and you're welcome to correct them).]

So by Frank's definition and my own, I'm not a Conservative. I'm with him on fiscal issues, partly there on political, and almost completely at odds on the social/culture thing. That's why I'm a Libertarian.

Frank's point is that the Republican Party, in order to recover its soul, has to become (or possibly go back to, but I think he's pursuing a mythical past) a Conservative alternative to a Liberal (big-L) Democratic Party. I think that Frank genuinely believes that this will (a) give the Party back its integrity and--as a practical matter (b) attract more moderate and non-aligned voters allowing it to win elections.

In other words, moderates (who are always small-M by definition), when presented a choice between true Conservative and true Liberal will tend to choose true Conservative in significantly larger numbers.

I don't think he's right. I think this view oversimplifies the spectrum considerably, and forces too many people with strong views that don't fit easily into the two pigeonholes to either sit out or make really unpalatable choices.

More importantly, I think that political parties in America have never really been (at least when successful) about ideologies, per se; I think they are about alliances. The original Goldwater to Reagan Republican alliance was between social conservatives and libertarians, both of whom shared common ground in fiscal conservatism. William F. Buckley built this in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the theme that freedom from government interference was simply a license to go morally crazy without strong cultural values to control our choices. To this, Reagan added the strong defense people and the early politically active evangelicals. But the libertarians, throughout the 1980s, were accorded a co-equal senior partner status with the social conservatives.

During the 1990s the social conservatives got the upper hand in the Party, and in 2000 they got control of the government.

Then they discovered what Liberals have always known: it's fun to have the reins of power to use legislation and other people's tax money to redirect society into your vision of how things should be done.

Which has essentially cost them the allegiance of us Libertarians.

Frank would argue that true Conservatives want limited government and lower taxes, but that's just not really true. If to be a real Conservative I also have to be social conservative, then I will spend like a drunken liberal when I've got the purse strings--just on different crap. My evidence: 2001-2008.

So my problem, Frank, is that you've actually carved a lot of true fiscal conservatives out of the Party, because some of us happen to believe in equal rights under the law for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, or happen to believe in abortion rights (I refuse to equivocate by saying "pro-Choice"), or differ strongly on other social issues.

Which means that fiscal conservatism in the sense of limited government and lower taxes is doomed as a major political force in American politics unless we can find some vehicle for it besides the Republican Party.

Obviously I'd like to think that vehicle is the Libertarian Party, but realism prevents me from saying so with a straight face, as I watch the Libertarians disintegrate in the same sort of "pure" versus "reform" tail-chasing argument that Frank is making for the Republicans.

So I don't know what the answer is.

I'm unwilling to surrender my views about social issues; so is Frank. Rats.

I'm unwilling to surrender my views about fiscal issues; so is Frank. Thank God.

The Democrats (as a party, leaving aside the Obama phenomenon for a moment) are willing to surrender almost any philosophical or ideological point to win elections (or Hillary wouldn't still be in the running).

So they're going to continue to stomp the shit out of Frank and me until we find some way to make common cause over our agreements and keep each other at arms' length otherwise.

Ironically, I agree with him that the Republicans cannot duplicate the Dems' big tent, and shouldn't try. The old three-legged stool was not a big tent but a functional Mexican standoff.

I truly wish this post had a decent finish, but since I haven't figured out an answer yet, that's unlikely, isn't it.

1 comment:

Brian Shields said...

There are many 'one-issue voters' out there, and those are the swing voters at each election. This year it's healthcare and change (Iraq without saying Iraq). The last election it was national security and terror (terr).

The main problem is that nationally we can't get the media coverage needed to express our libertarian views on the economy, Iraq, and healthcare reform (if there even is one for healthcare reform).

I hate to say it, but it looks like building from the ground up is where we need to start. We need to steal voters from both parties using our values that both parties say they have, but don't really represent on the state level.

Fiscal and free market conservatives on the right, socially and environmentally aware voters on the left.

You can even try to spin some evangelicals with a "charity is better than government handouts, charity cares" message.

If we rob both sides of their needed voters and leave them with their core, it will create a viable third party that has to be worked with.