Conservative Extremism versus Bipartisan Solutions

After three successive posts which show the insanity of the current conservative movement, via Memeorandum I came across yet another item which demonstrates my point. To the extremists who now dominate the far right consideration any ideas from others is a sign of treason to the movement. Robert Stacy McCain attacks David Brooks for his occasional lapses from their true belief.

Some on both sides of the ideological divide are upset that, as Ezra Klein put it, David Brooks has become the White House’s Favorite Columnist. I find it perfectly understandable that the White House would seek to obtain understanding of their positions, and hopefully favorable comments, from a conservative at a paper with the stature of  The New York Times. While at times Brooks does fall into repeating conservative talking points to bash Democrats, at other times he really does provide meaningful and open-minded analysis.

Robert Stacy McCain objects to Brooks’ recent column on Obama’s school reform policies. While I frequently make a point of including posts showing that not all conservatives and not all Republicans hold the extremist views of the conservatives I frequently criticize here, to McCain it is not possible for a liberal or Democrat to be up to anything besides evil. On school reform he writes, “To a Democrat, the policy object of school ‘reform’ is full employment and higher pay for members of the teachers’ unions.”

While perpaps true of some Democrats, McCain probably cannot conceive of the fact that for most Democratic voters the goal is improving education, not pleasing the teachers’ unions. To the degree higher pay is seen as desirable it is because of a reasonable belief that paying more can lead to attracting  higher quality teachers.

Most problems are not solved by either the far left or far right but require a consideration of views from all sides. This has been missing for several years as polarization has increased, especially with Republicans substituting simplistic talking points for any meaningful policy ideas. When they take the attitude that those looking for solutions are actually up to something evil there is no grounds for bipartisan cooperation. Of course bipartisan cooperation is not something which is desired by extremists and McCain makes this clear:

The Democratic Party is a conspiracy whereby liars advance the cause of evil with the assistance of fools. Republicans who “reach across the aisle” to cooperate in the implementation of the Democratic agenda are therefore agents of evil.

Fortunately bloggers such as McCain do not officially speak for the GOP, but unfortunately the extremism of this section of the conservative blogosphere is closely reflected by the Republican Party.

Conservative Distortion on Stem Cell Research

There’s more right wing nonsense froma right wing site which has been repeated by the usual suspects in the rightwing blogosphere today with regards to Obama’s policies on stem cell research. It is not really worth reading or discussing, but if you have encountered it and are interested in the facts Kevin Keith has reviewed this at Sufficient Scruples and Lean Left.

Conservative Irrelevance on Economic Policy

In the previous post I discussed the inability of conservative Republicans to provide a meaningful opposition  due to the excessive ties between the American right and religion. Their claims of support for small government do not resonate when they actually support a stronger, more authoritarian, government which would impose their religious views upon others. Conservatives also suffer by their rejection of modern science, their weakness on civil liberties issues, and by the neoconservative foreign policy. Their extremism and lack of a basis in reality on economic issues has also weaken them as a viable movement.

The extremism of the far right which dominates the GOP and conservative movement often drowns out more rational voices on the right.  Alan Stewart Carl, writing at Donklephant, presents the center-right objections to Obama’s policies, beginning with quoting Megan McArdle. McArdle complains that Obama’s economic policies have been more to the left than she expected during the campaign but also sees the problems with the Republican opposition:

It’s therefore frankly more than a little disappointing that the free marketers are represented by Grover Norquist, who trots out conservative boilerplate to the effect that we’re all going to hell because of EFCA and marginal tax rate increases.  Republicans will not fight delusional accounting by demonstrating that they’re still tangled up in the Laffer Curve.  Growth can still hit 1.2%–or even 3.2%–if EFCA passes.  But it manifestly cannot in the middle of an ugly recession.

I think it is premature to assume a permanent leftward tilt to Obama’s economic policies and do believe we would be seeing far more of the influence of the Chicago school on him if not for the current economic climate. While he might be right or wrong, it is reaonable to expect more him to behave differently in response to current conditions.

Unfortunately it has become necessary so soon after taking office for Obama to remind people of the dire conditions he inherited upon taking office. The  article at The Washington Post which points this out is correct in its assessment that such remindersare contrary to what Obama would prefer to be dong but misses the point that this has been forced by repeated right wing attacks which attempt to place the blame on Obama for problems created under Republican rule.

In contrast to conservatives who try to place blame on Obama  Alan Stewart Carl does seem to have considered the effect of the current economic situation and does consider the possibility that Obama could be right at present, when criticizing the lack of a coherent oppositon policy:

This is not to say Obama’s plans will fail. McCardle’s concerns, like my concerns, might be misplaced. Maybe a leftward agenda, rather than a non-partisan agenda really is the best course. Or maybe it’s the complete lack of a coherent fiscally conservative solution that’s making it too easy for the administration to stick to leftward ideas and/or politics as usual.

As I’ve said before, it’s far too soon to assume Obama’s first 50+ days will define his entire presidency. He has inherited a huge mess and is still learning how to manage congress and present his ideas to the public. Still, those of us concerned with the direction so far can’t keep quiet. Obama needs some nudging from those to his right who share his hopes if not, as of yet, his economic ideas.

I remain an agnostic as to whether Obama’s stimulus plan will work, but unlike some conservatives I certainly hope that it does work. I never saw any point in spending much time worrying about or blogging on the topic. There was little doubt that the Democratic plan would pass, and the Republicans had no coherent proposals of their own. There was no coherent alternative on the table for (non-extremist) economic conservatives such as myself. Reasonable center-right alternatives might be of value but the Republicans continue to ignore economic reality and offer little more than simplistic solutions such as seen here.

Religion and The Decline of Conservatism

Ross Douthat has contrasted views expressed by both Jon Chait and Charles Murray that their ideological positions will ultimately be proven by empirical fact or by the science of human nature. I agree with Douthat’s main argument here that one’s ideology is important in making political decisions and that scientific advances are not going to “tilt the argument dramatically” in one ideological direction. (I have also discussed Douthat’s earlier post on Chait’s article here.)

Where I disagree with Douthat is in how he frames the choices between left and right. A problem with the traditional left vs. right divide is that it tends to give two polarized alternatives with neither necessarily being desirable or really representative of the views of many of us. In reviewing this post where Ross Douthat discusses The Case For Small Government I hopefully  am not misrepresenting his views when I equate his criticism of European models of government with where he perceives the American left of heading.

Douthat breaks the views into two choices:

How much do you prize equality and ease of life? The more you do, the more you’ll favor a European approach to the relationship between state and society. How much do you prize voluntarism, entrepreneurship, and the value of lives oriented around service to one’s family, and to God? The more you do, the more you’ll find to like in the American arrangement.

Are we allowed to choose none of the above as being representative of our views. Can we not support voluntarism and entrepreneurship without being tied to seeing our lives as oriented around service to God? I have no objection to Douthat or any other individual orienting their life around personal service to God. The problem is that the right wing has translated this politically into using the power of the state to force others to obey the rules which they believe come from their God. While Douthat claims to fall on the side of small government, you are not supporting small government when you allow the government to intrude in decisions which should be left to the individual.

This mindset is one reason for the weakness of American conservatism. As I discussed a few days ago, European conservatives are far less likely to embrace the extreme social conservatism and dominance of religious thought seen in American conservatives. As I noted earlier in the week, the American Religious Identification Survey has shown a decline in religious identification in America. Steve Benen discusses this survey in his This Week in God feature today and concludes:

The more Christianity becomes associated with evangelicals and the religious right, the more, I suspect, Americans are disinclined to consider themselves Christian. And as more people express no religious preference, the more socially acceptable it becomes, which in turn makes it easier for others to make the same shift.

The American right also has additional problems beyond the religioius influence on politics. While I began by agreeing with Douthat that science will not provide the answer to such political decisions, the view of science itself does provide a significant difference between the American left and right. The current conservative tie to religious dogma often means rejection of science with many conservatives denying evolution, along with other branches of science which contradict a strict interpretation of the Bible. Denial of science is not even limited to religious belief, such as with the right’s denial of the scientific consensus regarding climate change.

The probems faced by many Republicans extend to other areas, including their support for the Iraq war, their acceptance of restrictions on civil liberties under Bush, and their backing of  breakdowns on the checks and balances on government power. They also are having problems on economics which I will discuss in the next post.