Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Wounded Inner Conservative and What He Tells me About the Current Mess


I do have a conservative side. I hate to admit it after having been a Marxist and having published an academic journal about Marcuse and the Frankfurt school. I do have a wounded inner conservative. The meaning of the term "conservative" has been lost in modern politics. Most people think of it as right wing, really something more like a libertarian (which in my political glossary just means "confused"). The true meaning of the term was defined for me by the late Gavin Hambly a historian of some note from Cambridge for whom I was teaching assistant for a year. He said it was the influence of Rudyard Kipling who brought the concept of conservatism into focus. The original idea was a kind of nostalgia, a fond feeling for a time or the way things used to be and the desire to order events in an attempt to bring back that way.

This fits with Webster's second and third definitions of conservatism:

Definition of CONSERVATISM

capitalized a : the principles and policies of a Conservative party b : the Conservative party
a : disposition in politics to preserve what is established b : a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change; specifically : such a philosophy calling for lower taxes, limited government regulation of business and investing, a strong national defense, and individual financial responsibility for personal needs (as retirement income or health-care coverage)
: the tendency to prefer an existing or traditional situation to change

Although that institutionalizes what Hambly felt was a nostalgic feeling.I would suggest that that definition is flawed. It has the right idea about established order and resisting change but all the lower tax stuff is not really part of conservatism. That's the mark of the modern era, what conservatives have become. The original concept was less about preserving institutions and more about ideals. It was about honor, a revererence for the past, trying to hold on to things that were worth holding on to, but they were intangibles. Both sides have lost thier ideas, that's the problem. conservatives have traded in their penchant for honor and vlues for a tax revolt. Every nation of earth, even the most conservative, the Dutch of the 17th century for example, had some form of welfare policy. Even the puritans in American had some means of looking after those who could not take care of themselves. While liberals have lost thier ability to fight and mistake stuborn refusal for political fighting.

When I think of it from that point of view I am reminded of the politics of my childhood. The time when first began to take note of political issues I was in grammar school, it was the 1964 elections, Johnson vs. Goldwater. My parents being good Democrats and good Texans were totally behind Johnson. They were so staunchly Texan and Church of Christ they voted for Johnson ni place of Kennedy in 1960 elections. They wrote in his name even though he was the VP candidate with Kennedy. Of course they would have voted for a yellow dog before a republican, which is why I have that yellow dog in the upper right side bar. That particular dog looks almost exactly like my old dog "Mutt," (1969-1985).

Yet one feature of politics in that era that is totally absent from today's politics is that there were statesmen on both sides and Republicans and Democrats respected each other. Goldwater (1909-1998) was painted as a nut case by the Johnson campaign but he was actually a fine statesman. He was extreme some ways, but being irrational and ready to bomb the Viet Kong with nuclear weapons was not one of them. Geroge McGovern (07/19/1922--still living), who got the Goldwater treatment form Nixon in the 1972 campaign, the major arch liberal of the era, characatured as the liberal nut case, was a good friend of Goldwater's. You could not find two more diametrically opposed political opponents yet they were good friends. Everett Dirksen
was the minority leader (republican) in the 1960s. I would never vote for him,but even today I feel a sense of reverence just looking him up. He was a statesman. He was the kind of guy would you would not feel bad about leaving in charge in an emergency even though you may not agree with his views.

We don't have that today. Today we have raving lunatics who can't agree on anything. We have a segment of the Republicans who seem bent on playing "rule or ruin." The idea of closing tax loopholes on the rich is off the table and the tea party guys are still not willing to compromise. They know that if the economy goes down the tubes totally Obama will be blamed regardless of his current willingness to compromise. That means they are willing to ruin everything just to score political victory. We know there are equal inflexible Democrats but they are kept in check by Obama to some extent. Obama has given up the tax the rich centerpiece of his campaign several times now and we have yet to get a major concession out of the tea party nucleus of the Republicans. How many old and disabled people have to go without their ability to buy food and pay rent and bills next week to satisfy the tea party need to ruin Obama?

My nostalgia is for a day when politics made sense. There was a time when there were honorable people on both sides. This is what we have to get back to, a time when we are willing to tolerate disagreement. I think it's our selfishness that has put us here. We are not wiling to tolerate the other side becuase we are so desperate to get what we crave (the American dream, or just a secure situation) that everything else must take second place to that. The media panders to the situation becuase that builds viewers or readers. The nature of American politics has imploded, and is feeding off itself.


Kristen said...

The whole "ideology over individual" philosophy of the tea party (and fundamentalism in general)seems to me now to be reminiscent of the utopian thinking of the early 20th century. I think the Tea Party believes that if they can just get their ideology fully in place, we will enter into a Christian utiopia, their version of a kingdom of God (only it's really their kingdom, not God's) on earth where there will be a proper place for everyone, and everyone will be in their proper place. The country will be ruled by white male evangelicals, and the rest of us will have to do as we're told. This is their utupia. The nature of utopianism is that it jettisons the value of the individual for the sake of a desired future of so-called universal good. This is what was wrong with Marxism/Stalinism too, and where it went wrong.

There is no utopia to be had on this earth. The best we can do is a balance of power. The Tea Party is working to forsake that balance, and they don't seem to care who gets hurt, as long as their ideology is supreme.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Good comment Kristen. I agree. Except they seem to be a hodge podge of religious views that run the gamut from Christian fundie to witchcraft.

I have trouble believing they really care about their religious views. It seems to me they are opportunists who are willing trade on people's desperation, but they do seem really believe that all answers are simple.