Must You Be Out Of Touch With Reality To Be An Economic Conservative?

The answer to the question, of course, is no but you certainly have to look beyond some right wing writings to appreciate this. Yesterday I quoted Will Wilkinson’s views on libertarians and liberals. Wilkinson belongs to the growing number of people who have liberal views on social and civil liberties issues along with free market views on the economy. This group ranges from fiscally conservative liberals to libertarians such as Wilkinson who reject the conservatism of many libertarians who have seen Republicans as their natural allies.

The current left/right divide is now primarily over social issues, civil liberties, and one’s position on the Iraq war, with economic issues no longer providing a clear delineation between left and right. The left/right continuum has increasingly become based upon two parameters: support for liberty on the left in contrast to the authoritarianism of the right and support for science, reason, and a reality-based view of the world on the left versus the reactionary opposition to modernity, science, and reason from the right. This division can be seen in Robert Stacy McCain’sresponse to Wilkinson’s views on liberal/libertarian fusionism:

Most of the Will Wilkinson types are intellectuals who are embarrassed by what Hunter S. Thompson called the “Rotarian” instincts of the Republican Party. That flag-waving God-mom-and-apple-pie stuff just doesn’t light a fire under the American intellectual class, which is not now, nor has it ever been, enamored of religion, patriotism and “family values.”

As a political impulse, the sort of libertarianism that scoffs at creationism and traditional marriage wields limited influence, because it appeals chiefly to a dissenting sect of the intelligentsia. It’s a sort of free-market heresy of progressivism, with no significant popular following nor any real prospect of gaining one, because most Ordinary Americans who strongly believe in economic freedom are deeply traditionalist. And most anti-traditionalists — the feminists, the gay militants, the “world peace” utopians — are deeply committed to the statist economic vision of the Democratic Party.

In expressing this belief in creationism, McCain already demonstrates a limited ability  to either think rationally or to coherently comment on the issues of a twenty-first century world. The degree to which he is out of touch with reality also comes from the manner in which his views of liberals comes from a Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity promoted stereotype as opposed to anything which exists in the real world.

The typical liberal is just as likely as most conservatives (and more likely than Rush Limbaugh) to be in a traditional marriage, go to work every day, and abstain from drug use. The difference between liberals and social conservatives is not as much life style as the toleration of other life styles. Many of us live a basically conservative life style but do not feel the drive seen among conservatives to use the power of the state to impose their life style and personal choices upon others.

Fortunately it is not necessary to hold these irrational views to be a supporter of the free market. Of course McCain might view this differently as, despite their rhetoric, the economic policies backed by the right often have little to do free market principles. Republicans have given us wage and price controls under Richard Nixon, Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force, The K-Street Project, and the Bush deficit. As Wilkinson noted, “the great success of the GOP over the last eight years has been to destroy the reputation of free markets and limited government by deploying its rhetoric and then doing the opposite.”

The other difference between free market liberals and the flat-earthers of the right is a willingness to consider facts as opposed to making decisions based upon a perverse combination of extremist ideology and hyper-partisanship. While the extremists might see the free market as something which exists in a pure state of nature with perfect regulation by Adam Smith’s invisible hand, most people realize that markets work because of a certain degree of necessary regulation. While many of us would philosophically prefer to see a minimum amount of government involvement in the economy, we also recognize that there are certain functions which the market does not handle well, and that there are certain times when more drastic action is necessary to avert disaster.

McCain also sees a combination of liberal and libertarian beliefs as having little prospect for electoral success. A discussion of which views are right and which views can win elections are two different things, but McCain is also wrong here. There is a growing number of people under variety of labels who fit this description. In the past they were sometimes called liberal Republicans until the Republicans drove them out of the party. More recently they were called Starbucks Republicans or South Park Republicans until they began to vote Democratic.

Obama’s victory was an example of the emergence of socially liberal and economically conservative or pragmatic voters as we had a significant impact in both the Democratic primaries and the general election. All of us affluentwine and latte drinking liberals who enjoy and understand the virtues of the free market are still around despite all the opposition from both the Clintonistas and Palinistas. Our views may or may not win in future elections, but we have become a force to counter both the views of the big-government elements of the left and the authoritarian right.

In a two party system there is a wide range of voters supporting a major party candidate, but many of us were attracted to Obama based upon the combination of his social views along with the Chicago school influences on his economic beliefs. Of course rabid right wingers who repeat the Limbaugh/Hannity line that Obama is a far leftist or even a socialist are too out of touch with reality to see this.

In their desperate fight against modernity and thier clutching to beliefs such as creationism they are missing how America is changing. The current economic crisis might accelerate such changes as the country increasingly becomes divided between the productive cities dominated by educated liberals and the Republicans become a primarily regional party of the south and Mormon belt dominated by those who are intellectually unprepared to live in the modern world.

Update: McCain responds here. I would normally respond to his post, but a discussion such as this was well beyond anything his world view could handle. He has nothing of substance to say in response to any of the actual points.  It is just another example of how many on the far right are not able to handle the issues of the twenty-first century and  lack of understanding of respecting the rights of others. This probably explains why the attacks on liberals from this element of the right are nothing but repetitions of Limbaugh/Hannity stereotypes. They have no ability to even understand the beliefs of others. Instead, as seen a previous time when McCain replied to one of my posts, his world view is limited to trying to figure out what God wants and then imposing this view upon others. Such a limited world view hardly leaves one capable  of giving a coherent response to this post.

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  1. 1
    Teh Sadly says:

    The ‘fighters against modernity’ thesis comes ultimately from postwar attempts to explain the popular appeal of European fascism — Theodor Adorno, Ernst Nolte, Eric Hoffer, Reich, et al. I think at this point it has limited use in explaining American conservatism.

    Much more useful as a basic fraqmework, IMHO, is Bob Altemeyer’s work on the authoritarian personality type, although I think Altemeyer misses a lot by seeing wingnuts as driven by fear and anxiety — as avoiders of things such as modernity — when in the wild, as it were, they behave much more like thrill junkies, actively seeking out occasions for outrage and conflict in order to maintain a kind of emotional high. Wingnuttery seems to be a psychosocial phenomenon not unlike addicton to horror movies or porn, except directed politically.

    Anyway, Ron, I don’t see that today’s wingnuts are inherently attracted to conservatism at all, and suspect that they would  have been quite at home in certain charismatic leftist movements of the 19th-20th C.  The key, I think, to the success of the contemporary American conservative movement is its skill at cultivating this floating constituency, at stimulating the base emotions that motivate them. Basically, in providing drama to these  drama junkies through what amounts to a day-to-day soap opera of outrage, triumph, self-sympathy, and spite.

    To the disadvantage of the GOP, once you become the vicarious champions of the wingnut caucus, it becomes very hard to reconnect with reality and governance.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    The authoritarianism, as well as reaction to the modern world, along with the other factors mentioned, are not mutually exclusive. It probably takes multiple factors to explain wing nuttery.

    Providing drama and playing the victim is also a part. Then add the belief that they have exclusive information about how the world really works. They take some basic economic principles and apply them whether they work in a specific case or not and pat themselves on the back  with a belief that they “understand” economics while believing liberals do not.

    They have their own news outlets which tell things which the mainstream (or to them liberal) media does not. Any objective source of information is a product of liberal bias to them and is ignored, both reinforcing their lack of connection to reality and adding to their drama.

  3. 3
    Teh Sadly says:

    One of the reasons I’m suspicious of the anti-modernity thesis is that it assumes ‘modernity’ as a place of ever-advancing social and economic progress — something that Adorno and that whole crew would have believed implicitly as Marxists, but that we never assume anymore except when we’re comparing ourselves to conservatives.

    If you flip it around and assume that ‘modernity’ is an ever-expanding, ever-freer market capitalism (which we tend unconsciously to do), then it’s even less clear who’s on the side of progress, and who, as the old line goes, is standing athwart it yelling ‘stop.’

    But basically, I just see wingnuts (or ‘pseudo-conservatives’ ) as more constant over time than people give them credit for. They’re not against progress or change per se, but as a historical type, they can’t stand the idea that anyone might be getting a better deal than they had. They’re against progress for the better.

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