I spend a lot of time writing about the problems with the conservative message, and there is much to be criticised, just as there is with an extreme socialist message. The conservatives that I target are extremists on the right who refuse to compromise with anyone that they perceive as being outside their political embrace.
I believe strongly that a nation like the United States needs strong and unified parties on both right and left of the political centre. When we have politicians that recognise that the arguments on the opposing side have merit, we are able to cooperate to make sure that both sides receive something from negotiations. That is the essential nature of good compromise. People come together to solve serious problems.
When that tension between the liberal and conservative groups becomes too taut, the social contract breaks down because people are no longer speaking to one another. This happens in any relationship, including the marital relationship, where, if neither party will cooperate, the marriage breaks down and eventually ends either in divorce, or tragedy.
That is what concerns me with the political relationships building up within the United States and much of the Western world. In Europe, those that advocate austerity refuse to see any path to recovery other than cutting back on social programs, and reducing the size of government. This intransigence is leading to slowing economic growth in countries like Britain, social discord and massive unemployment in Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
In the United States, the political dynamic is worsening with each passing week. The Tea Party, a seemingly homogenous group of people, almost entirely white, religious, older, mostly from southern states, is pulling the Republican Party ever further to the right.
The central philosophy of the Tea Party is to never compromise with anyone, ever, under any circumstances. Regardless of what the message is, if it comes from someone who is not part of the Tea Party group, refuse to compromise, refuse to cooperate in any way. In this way, this Congress has become the laziest, least productive Congress in history. They seem incapable of working together with anyone that does not adhere strictly to their message.
Conservatives that do not hew to the extremist wing of the Republican Party are targeted by Tea Party apparatchiks in the primaries, which terrifies the moderates. They feel that unless they move their ideology further to the right to accommodate the extremists, they will lose their seats in Congress. This results in more obstructionism, less cooperation, and a Congress that cannot function or help govern the country.
The coalition that seemed to weld the conservatives together for almost thirty years, from Reagan through George W. Bush appears to be fracturing. I don’t believe that ultimately this is good for either the party, or for the country. The country needs a strong opposition, but one based on sound, sane, rational ideas. This conservative party is becoming ever more removed from reality, and from the very real problems that we all face, regardless of our political affiliation.
Democrats seem to relish the idea that the conservatives are in disarray, seemingly unable to produce a coherent ideological voice. The Democrats have been, and still are in this position. The Democratic coalition is very fragile, combining some very disparate groups, with very different ideas, from communitarians, socialists, humanists and liberals.
I think that liberals are united in opposition to the anti-government, anti-social views on the right. Without that unifying force, the liberal coalition would fray very quickly. Democrats believe that if they just keep out of the way, the conservative coalition will splinter entirely.
The solidarity shown by the right-wing in South Africa remained strong for almost forty years before one wing of the Nationalist Party proposed a tricameral parliament to allow Colored people (in apartheid euphemisms, those of mixed race) and Asians a say in government. That split the coalition into the far right “bittereinder” (bitter-end) Conservative party and the more moderate National Party.
In Germany in the 1930’s, there were almost a dozen different political parties that tore the Weimar Republic apart. What held the Republic together were the Social Democrats, probably loosely correlated with todays Democratic Party in the U.S. The other Parties continually attacked democracy and the Reichstag.
On the right, the National Socialists, and Nationalists created social discord and disrupted elections. On the left, Communists did the same, although the Communist wing never managed to muster the large numbers of the right. The Trades Unions attempted strikes, often unsuccessfully.
We should beware in the United States that the same anti-government, anti-democratic forces do not take hold, or we could face similar social and political stalemate and social breakdown as happened in Germany, and in a number of other countries around Europe at the time, including Spain, Italy, Hungary, Portugal and others.
The vitriol emanating from the extreme right-wing is not healthy for our democracy, or for the Republican Party. As much as I love to see Democrats defeat Republican candidates in elections, just as Obama did in November, I would far rather have a strong, centre-right Republican Party than the dysfunctional Tea Party we see today.
Tea Partiers continually threaten their own members with primary challenges if they do not obey the extremist platform. What this does is to pull the entire party, and increasingly the entire country to the right, just to placate the indomitable obduracy within their party. Moderate conservatives are increasingly being forced out of their own party, creating an even more dogmatic extremism that may threaten this republic at some point.
The Tea Party, just like the parties of Europe in the 1930’s, is becoming a party of absolutists, run by zealots, in which no criticism of the official ideology will be tolerated. This is how the Soviets ruthlessly rooted out any dissent from their ranks. Similarly, the National Socialists eliminated or neutralised any opponent, which made them extremely successful.
The Tea Party is nowhere close to implementing the ruthless policies of the European parties yet, and I would never say that there is any direct comparison. There is, however, the very real danger of the country sliding into that situation. Another recession, perhaps caused by financial disruption, another terror attack, or a war in the Middle East or Asia could well be what tips the country into social breakdown.
There is much about conservatism that I think merits a good look. Government can be inefficient if not properly monitored. There are many ways for money to be wasted on spurious, unnecessary projects. However, where I differ from average conservatives is in the details.
I believe that wars are wasteful of a nations resources, and seldom deliver any tangible long-term advantage. Far too many victories are Pyrrhic, in which the cost of waging that war in terms of men and resources outweighs any strategic advantage.
Investments in infrastructure, education, and research are not indicators of wasteful spending, they are the essential means by which a country advances its place on the world stage.
Expenditures on subsidies to profitable companies, such as the oil industry, agriculture, mining, forestry are wasteful spending. As a fiscal conservatives, I believe that these are far better places to cut back than cutting programs that benefit the majority of the people. From this perspective, I think that conservatism is a no-tax, but spend anyway ideology.
There are certainly people who benefit from social programs that do abuse the system or use it to their advantage, but I am of the belief that the good that these programs do far outweighs the abuse. Any system can be abused, just as the wealthy abuse subsidies, tax laws and use free speech laws to justify lobbying activities. In most countries, the American abuse of lobbying would be counted as political corruption.
Conservative concern about the abuse of abortion has some merit, especially when it is used repetitively as the primary method of contraception. The problem is that they try and justify ending all access to abortion, regardless of the reason, which causes enormous suffering among the female population. If only conservatives and liberals could come together and draft common sense proposals to prevent abuse, the situation might resolve itself.
Conservative concern about taxes being too high are also valid, but a policy of absolutely no taxes under any circumstance is just not realistic. Almost 25% of corporations, which are making huge profits, are paying no tax. These corporations use the public roads, electric grid, land, water, mineral resources, all of which are paid for by hard-working people. They should be paying their fair share of taxes.
Bobby Jindal of Louisiana recently called for Republicans to stop being the stupid party. Then he promptly put his party back on the intellectually challenged track by saying that “we should not moderate, equivocate, or otherwise abandon our principles”. It is clear that Republican policies need not just a face-lift, but a serious review, to move back to the center from the extreme right.
You cannot ask the people to sacrifice by cutting social programs, when they can see that the wealthy are getting a free-ride. If there is to be sacrifice, the wealthy must pay their fair share, or more, since they take far more from society, in terms of natural resources, human resources, subsidies and political attention than the poor and Middle Class. It is only when conservatives recognize that basic fact that the Republican Party can make its way back to the center-right where it belongs.
I despair for the environment, the economy, the poor, the young, the elderly, the undocumented, for women, for the most vulnerable among us if conservatives continue their slide to the right.
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