Yes, a conservative party would be good to have

Vice President Thomas R. Marshall famously said, “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.” Which is debatable.

Less questionable is what Tom Friedman asserted in his latest column, in which he argued that what this country could really use is an actual conservative party. I agree. (In fact, it’s sort of what I’m getting at when I talk about my Grownup Party.)

Nowadays, what was once a home for conservatives has been almost completely commandeering by radicals, he says, and he’s right. Conservatives, true Tories, don’t despise and tear at the basic fabric of civil society. On the contrary, they defend and maintain institutions (of which government is but one). They don’t attend rallies waving snake flags. That’s what revolutionaries do, which is where these latter-day folks got their flag, and the name of their movement. That’s fine if you want to be a revolutionary; it takes all kinds to make up a world. Just don’t call yourself a conservative. And don’t label actual conservatives as “in-name-only.”

Friedman suggests that a real conservative presence in our politics could help us deal meaningfully with the four great issues of the day, which he deems to be “the nexus of debt, taxes and entitlements…[;] how to generate growth and upgrade the skills of every American in an age when the merger of globalization and the information technology revolution means every good job requires more education; how to meet our energy and climate challenges; and how to create an immigration policy that will treat those who are here illegally humanely, while opening America to the world’s most talented immigrants, whom we need to remain the world’s most innovative economy.

He notes that there are real conservatives out there, with useful ideas to contribute with regard to these issues. Such as our own Bob Inglis, so recently ridden out of his party on a rail:

Imagine if the G.O.P. position on energy and climate was set by Bob Inglis, a former South Carolina Republican congressman (who was defeated by the Tea Party in 2010). He now runs George Mason University’s Energy and Enterprise Initiative, which is based on the notion that climate change is real, and that the best way to deal with it and our broader energy challenge is with conservative “market-based solutions” that say to the fossil fuel and wind, solar and nuclear industries: “Be accountable for all of your costs,” including the carbon and pollution you put in the air, and then we’ll “let the markets work” and see who wins.

I told Bob last time I saw him that a new party, a way of running effectively for office outside of the present ideological madness, is exactly what this country needs, so that we can elect more people like him. He listened politely enough, but I fear he’s had his fill of electoral politics for awhile.

Anyway, Friedman definitely is onto something here.

37 thoughts on “Yes, a conservative party would be good to have

  1. Bryan Caskey

    Brad, I think you did the thing again where you don’t link the article you’re discussing.

    The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me.

  2. Phillip

    I didn’t see Friedman’s column, and I don’t think you linked to it here, so maybe he already mentioned this…but to me the lack of a “truly conservative” party is really about the GOP (and conservatism’s) selling its soul to the most extreme of the social conservative wing, the fundamentalist element, the medievalists.

    For example, there’s no reason that basic conservatism (a preference for limited government and a laissez-faire approach to the markets) need be linked to a devaluation of science and empirical knowledge (e.g., the degradation of curriculum in Texas, the ostrich-head-in-the-sand denial of climate change), not to mention the medievalist attitude towards women of which Todd Akin’s comment was simply the most inartfully expressed, from their point of view. Though it is to the credit of Romney and many in the GOP to have cut Akin loose so to speak, the truth is that basic GOP policy is not all THAT distant from Akin or his mindset, as Andrew Sullivan points out today. Sullivan puts it succinctly: he hopes that a decisive Obama victory will “destroy the fundamentalist insanity that has effectively destroyed any American conservatism worthy of the name.” Though I’m a social democrat and not an economic libertarian, I would look forward to an American conservatism, or a Republican Party, that could articulate its favored approaches to national and global problems, shorn of this element with whom they have made their terrible bargain. Inglis is a great example because he understands that being a conservative does not equate to denying reality, and if we are to tackle this enormous problem of climate change, for example, it’s going to take the input of many ideas from all sides of the political spectrum.

  3. Brad

    Phillip and Bryan — sorry, the link is working now.

    Phillip, I don’t think it’s about social conservatives. What you speak of is two different phenomena. You’re conflating social conservatism and anti-intellectualism. You may think those are the same thing, but they aren’t. Todd Akin is a stupid, ignorant man. That doesn’t arise from being socially conservative, nor does it cause his social conservatism.

    Anyway, the extremism that concerns me is the radical individualism, which seeks to fragment civil society. You can have a good society that is filled with social conservatives. What you can’t have is a good society that is filled with people who don’t believe in society.

  4. Steve Gordy

    Brad, what is “social conservatism?” I recognize that our perceptions are affected by being in the South, but if “social conservatism” is a term with any meaning, I think we must note the extremely strong influence of religious fundamentalism. This leads to the requirement for de facto loyalty oaths: “Global warming is a hoax”; “Evolution is just a theory”; “Tax cuts always increase revenue.” And don’t get me started on the loyalty oaths from other end of the political spectrum.

  5. Mark Stewart

    As long as social conservatives believe in things like home-schooling, “personhood” from conception and prison over providing children with a chance in life then I think Phillip’s definition is more accurate. Plus, I like that term Medievalist.

    The other problem is that the better description is probably progressive conservatism – and that’s just a bit improbable sounding.

    But there certainly is a place in civil society for social conservatives. Tea Party floundering? Not so much. Funny how populism and its rants is so often the opposite of what is best for the majority.

  6. Doug Ross

    “What you can’t have is a good society that is filled with people who don’t believe in society.”

    Your definition of society does not sync with mine. Yours is the society of establishing limitations on people via government.

  7. bud

    What you can’t have is a good society that is filled with people who don’t believe in society.

    And you can go way to far the other way and completely take away freedoms selectively to the point where EVERYTHING is subjegated to the will of the society (blue laws are the prime example). I ere on the side of personal freedom but acknowledge there does need to be some sense of society.

  8. bud

    Phillip, as usual, articulated this very well. Mr. Akin expressed his pro-life extremist views in such a ham-handed manner that the GOP heirarchy felt compelled to throw him under the bus. As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night Akin’s comments were seen as an opportunity to shore up the GOPs moderate cred by feigning outrage at the comments. So far it hasn’t worked since Paul Ryan and others have been outed for similar extremist views on abortion policy (although without the crazy anti-science screed). In effect their attempts to appear moderate by comparison has failed. They really, truly and undeniably ARE the party of extremists.

    As the Republican party squirms to try and distance itself from Mr. Akin their best bet is to simply stop talking about the issue completely. Mitt Romney started that effort by moving on to energy yesterday. The problem with that strategy is it will likely show their extremist nature on yet another issue. There very best bet is a couple of really bad jobs numbers. Otherwise Mitt Romney is toast.

  9. Brad

    Folks, there are distinctions that y’all are failing to make, and they are very important. In fact, they go to the core of what my blog is about.

    In our hyperpartisan world, we are so accustomed to looking at things in a binary fashion — the left and the right, the black and the white, the good and the bad, etc. — that we fail to distinguish concepts that are completely different.

    Americans tend to forget that each of the sides in this artificially bifurcated universe is actually an amalgam of unrelated concepts, confederations of people with very different ideas who have banded together in order to approach an electoral majority.

    This is one of the things I find most offensive, and most alienating, about parties — they force people into off-the-shelf boxes that contain entire sets of values that are not necessarily connected, and are sometimes contradictory. It would be one thing if everyone who calls himself a Democrat or a Republican, or a liberal or a conservative, would say, “OK, I agree with you on these several things, but not on those, but in this instance at this moment I’ll go with you because the things I agree with you on are of particular importance right now.” No, instead they surrender their faculties for discernment and buy the whole package, because (at least I GUESS this is why) they feel more comfortable being part of a team, and feeling like there is a group of people with whom they always agree.

    So… to address the example at hand… they look upon every characteristic that exists on the OTHER SIDE as being the same thing. Social conservatism equals anti-intellectualism equals neoconservatism equals economic libertarianism and so forth. When these things are all quite different.

    Even very smart, critical thinkers fall into this habit. There’s no one on this blog I respect more than Phillip or Mark Stewart, so it alarms me when y’all fall into this rut of lumping things together carelessly.

    For instance, Mark writes: “As long as social conservatives believe in things like home-schooling, ‘personhood’ from conception and prison over providing children with a chance in life then I think Phillip’s definition is more accurate. Plus, I like that term Medievalist.”

    OK, let’s see… I don’t believe in home schooling as some sort of philosophical preference; I am a huge advocate of public education. At the same time, I think for some children with particular needs, it MIGHT be a good option. I don’t rule it out.

    “Personhood” from conception. Well, “personhood” is a goofy-sounding, awkward coinage, which is (I suspect) why people who disagree with the concept like to say it. But do I believe the life of an individual begins at conception? Absolutely. There is no other logical point at which to start that clock running. Regardless of the political ramifications of such an assertion, I don’t see how intelligent people can possibly embrace any other starting point. That is, I know intelligent people do (or they dodge the issue by refusing to believe there IS a starting point), but I don’t see how they rationalize it. Any alternatives I’ve ever seen advanced (such as the old “quickening” standard, which actually resulted from the inadequacies of observation available at the time) just seems entirely arbitrary. But as I say, I recognize that intelligent people DO disagree about it.

    As for “prison over providing children with a chance in life,” well that is certainly the opposite of my point of view.

    So… As you see, I only agree with one facet of what Mark is defining as “social conservative” views. But then, I would also assert that that is the only one of the three that fits within the rubric of “socially conservative.”

    (And at this point, I’ll further confuse things by saying it’s always seemed ironic that the pro-life position is seen as “conservative.” It’s always seemed to me that those of us who want to protect the most vulnerable people of all, the unborn, are the ultimate bleeding-heart liberals. It’s more because of the coalition of unlike philosophies — in this case, the wedding of feminism to modern liberalism, and feminism to the free availability of abortion, neither of which seems to me intellectually inevitable, but which everyone has come to accept — that the “pro-choice” position has come to be seen as essentially liberal. Of course, it IS the more libertarian position, and therefore in line with classical liberalism, so what the heck. Let’s call it “liberal.”)

    But I don’t see the other examples Mark gives as fitting within the concept of “social conservatism.”

    Take home schooling. There are many different kinds of home-schoolers, and each of them can be motivated by a variety of reasons. Some are simply parents who are SO into being parents that they want responsibility for every facet of their children’s upbringing. Some (and this WOULD fit within social conservatism) react against the court-ordered secularism of public education — which puts them within a very, very long tradition of seeing education as inextricably linked with religious formation. Some are among those radical economic libertarians who hate public schools because they hate government. Some are racists, or cultural chauvinists, who don’t want their children going to school with THOSE people. A wide variety of reasons, which only occasionally intersect with social conservatism.

    Then, “prison over providing children with a chance in life.” Well, of course, there’s no one who consciously embraces that. That is an assertion (with which I agree) that that is what you get when you don’t provide the young with opportunities. This is a combination of factors, including the economic libertarianism (which, of course, is self-defeating because it does cost more to put them in prison), anti-intellectualism (the failure to recognize the consequences just described), racism (I don’t want my money going to help THOSE people) and radical individualism (everybody should pull themselves up, not receive any boost from society), which is related to, but not exactly the same thing as, the economic libertarianism.

    But nowhere in the sort of outlook that leads to prison-over-opportunity do I see anything that looks like social conservatism — which to me means (about time I defined it, eh?) an adherence to traditional values, whether religious, cultural or philosophical.

  10. bud

    This is one of the things I find most offensive, and most alienating, about parties — they force people into off-the-shelf boxes that contain entire sets of values that are not necessarily connected, and are sometimes contradictory.

    Ok, I’m with you. Then why did you spend so much time and effort endorsing ONLY a DEMOCRAT or a REPUBLICAN. This statement completely contradicts your entire life as a journalist. (I know your answer but just repeat it for those who don’t know so they can have a good laugh).

  11. bud

    Regardless of the political ramifications of such an assertion, I don’t see how intelligent people can possibly embrace any other starting point.

    I generally agree with you on that point BUT you come across as condescending when you say an intelligent person can’t believe what you believe.

    Let’s turn this to something I find as given. To me someone who is intelligent can’t find the Iraq war something we should have done. That kind of thinking is inconceivable to me. You’ve gotten me to think so in light of this comment I may re-think my own rigidity.

  12. bud

    Mark is using the term “social conservative” as we have come to define it today. Brad is trying to maintain the traditional meaning of the term. I’m afraid Brad is fighting a losing battle. Probably just time to join the rest of the world and accept the term the way everyone currently accepts it.

  13. Mark Stewart

    Hmmm. Agreed. So how about that progressive conservatism angle? The breakdown comes when conservatives – social, political, economic, you name it – stop evolving values and start calcifying them in reactionism. That’s what usually happens.

    I picked three galvanizing social issues and presented them in a prickly manner. I wasn’t trying to define the ideal of social conservatism, but instead the typical cultural representations that have been globbed onto the term here in our country. In other socieites the issues would be very different.

    I have nothing against home schooling as a parental choice. The concept is, should be, neutral. But the home schooling movement isn’t about educating children, it’s about religious fundimentalism. That’s why I also called out “personhood” for fetuses. I was trying to separate the politics of fundimentalism from the real and serious philosophical debate about how society is going to view this evolving medically-supported issue. My last point was stated to highlight what happens when more focus is given to lightening-rod populism.

    My point is that one, multitudes in fact, can hold fast to social conservatism as the vessel of traditional values. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is a good thing. Yet this is very, very different from accepting a calcification of thoughtfulness. That’s reactionaryism. That’s bad for society. Especially when a significant percentage of people indulge in it as we have here around us.

    Life moves onward, the seasons change, evolution takes place. Believing that time (society) can be made to stand still is what I was referring to. Social Conservatism must still embrace the benefit of change and improvement – even if s-l-o-w-l-y.

  14. Brad

    Mark, I’m gratified that we see eye-to-eye on this as much as we do.

    Allow me to get pedantic about your very last point: “…must still embrace the benefit of change and improvement…”

    I don’t think “change” and “improvement” necessarily go together. Change is a constant, but I reject the idea that it is always for the better.

    I’m generally an optimist, but there is one area where I don’t share the rosy outlook of progressives — I can’t buy into their assumption that the attitudes and values prevalent today are automatically better than those of 30 years ago, or a century ago, or a millennium ago.

    In each change, there are things gained and things lost, and I don’t buy into the Panglossian notion that the “for the better” universally outweighs the “for the worse.”

    Steven mocks the length of my previous comment — but I was holding myself back (by the way, I may go back and turn this conversation into a separate post). I didn’t even touch on the “Medievalist” part of your comment.

    I get defensive on behalf of Medieval people when modern folk use the term as a pejorative. I don’t believe that modern people, with their up-to-date attitudes, are necessarily better, more moral people than those poor benighted folk who lived in the Middle Ages. People are born into a time and make the most of the hand they’re dealt, and I’m not going to look down on a person because of the era in which he lived, and the attendant values and outlook.

    Some of us feel an affinity for the present day, others for other times. When I was young, I felt a connection to Rome in the time of the Republic. Then in college, I really got into the late 18th century, in this country and Britain. (I used to joke I’d prefer to live then, if only indoor plumbing were more prevalent.) More recently, I’ve extended that slightly to take in England in the first decade or two of the 19th — mainly because of the formal civility (among the middle class and lower gentry, at least) I read of in Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen.

    But the time that I’ve felt calling to me more than any other, my whole life, is about a decade before I was born. I often feel I’ve been yanked out of the early 1940s and dropped out of my proper place in time.

    Modernists have a way of trying to shame people out of thinking this way. They pick something on which we have made progress — such as racial justice and equality, to pick one favorite — to condemn that earlier period completely, and make a moral person feel guilty for feeling an affinity with that time.

    Well, guess what — every period has terrible flaws. I do NOT like the 1940s because Jim Crow was still in place. One of the many things I DO like about it is that it was a time of rapid change in which the stage was being set to do away with Jim Crow. In that same decade, the military was integrated and Jackie Robinson joined the Major Leagues. Similarly, it’s so easy for us to condemn Jefferson and the rest for owning slaves, and therefore condemn that time — ignoring the fact that that was the time in which (at least in Anglo cultures) the movements that overthrew slavery for good were taking hold, from Wilberforce in Britain to leaders like John Adams in this country. As Lincoln correctly said, that was when the process started that ended slavery more than four score years later.

    Bottom line — as one who loves history, and loves fairness more, I hate to see an era unfairly maligned.

  15. bud

    I can’t buy into their assumption that the attitudes and values prevalent today are automatically better than those of 30 years ago, or a century ago, or a millennium ago.

    Maybe not automatically but generally that is true. I know you don’t agree but I find the more progressive attitude about opening businesses on Sunday a giant leap forward. Offhand I can’t think of too many changes that have made us worse off culturaly.

  16. Brad

    Well, we all have our prejudices. For my part, all I have to do to convince myself completely that our culture is degraded today is say the words, “reality TV.”

  17. Brad

    But… not to start us off on that again… the fact that we ARE a society that won’t even think of taking a day off from commerce is a function of a lot of modern trends that I think make life worse.

    The utter relentlessness of the pace of modern life is something that I believe is very bad for human beings. Not having slow, sleepy Sundays any more is but a small subset of the wide range of ways in which the world is too much with us, ever second of every day.

    Wordsworth decried this trend in 1802. If he spent a few minutes in 2012, his head would probably explode.

  18. Mark Stewart

    Great! But let’s not malign the future in the yearning for the past.

    As you said about Lincoln’s observation; what we do today will lay the foundation for the future.

    Societies can only, in the aggregate, do two things: they can grow or they can atrophy. They cannot be what they were, only what they are to become. I think that’s how our Founding Fathers’ thought of it – how will the decisions we make today impact the future? That’s my definition of social conservatism; making the choices, and sacrefices, today that will be best for the future.

  19. bud

    The 1940s? What a horrible time that was. Death and destruction on an epic scale. Jim Crow was alive and well. The start of the cold war. Terrible movies (with a few exceptions) and worse music. I guess if you were a white, American male who wasn’t crippled or mentally traumatized for life and who liked sappy movies and cheesy music it was a great time. But for 98% of the world’s population that was a bleak era of struggle merely to survive.

    Now the 1970s. That was the best of the best. Jim Crow was gone. Movies and music were the best. The avant garde clothing was the bomb. That was a liberating, fun time with an optimistic fervor that never existed before and so far has not existed since. Too bad that wonderful decade could last forever.

  20. Brad

    The 70s? Yikes! It was a great time for me personally — getting married, having my first children, starting my career, being young. But the overall culture surrounding me? It was a time of cultural stagnation and political decay…

  21. Brad

    And it’s also when both liberalism and conservatism went off the rails, both becoming things to which I could not subscribe….

  22. Kathryn Fenner

    Cultural stagnation unless you were a woman finally allowed to work alongside the men….

  23. Brad

    To address this question: “Then why did you spend so much time and effort endorsing ONLY a DEMOCRAT or a REPUBLICAN?”

    I didn’t. We chose among those candidates who were offered. Very seldom, we were faced with a candidate from outside. Among that small subset, very few offered anything that made us seriously consider them. In fact, they usually didn’t get to the point of being interviewed.

    All of that said, I recall endorsing 2 candidates who weren’t running as Dems or Repubs. One was independent Bubba Cromer. No regrets on that one; he was a good rep.

    The other was (shocker!) a Libertarian who was running against Bernice Scott. I never really felt good about that one. The endorsement was a measure of our extreme displeasure with the incumbent.

  24. Mark Stewart

    So you are saying the school is 8-44 in predicting presidential elections? Not bad, but hardly the perfect you hoped to convey.

    That’s like Brad saying SC primary voters had to pick Romney to keep the streak alive.

    All streaks are finite. That’s just life.

  25. Brad

    Without even following that link, I don’t believe anyone who thinks EITHER candidate “loses badly.” I think we’re going to have another close one, unfortunately, with half the electorate going around ticked off for the next four years.

  26. Steven Davis II

    Funny Mark, considering they just started using their instrument in 1980, they’re actually 8-0. If you read the article, you’ll see that their results even included the Bush – Gore election where it predicted Gore would receive more popular votes but less electoral votes. This is a little more scientific than an watching an octopus decide which hole to go into.

  27. Steven Davis II

    So Brad, you’re discounting it just because you disagree with the title. I guess that’s fair, that’s pretty much how I read news articles and why I rarely read editorials.

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