A friend and I have been going back and forth on this. His claim is that much of the stuff I see now in campaigning will drop away when it becomes time to govern. The playbook is simply “just throw as much crazy stuff as you can at the opposition, get something to stick, win, and then respond to necessities.”
I wish things were that simple. I wish I could tell you that the everyday viciousness of campaign-style politics always grudgingly conceded to necessity. But I think those of you sympathetic to my political views probably feel like health-care reform broke not only the bank, but that “rule.” That’s mild compared to our side of the aisle, where one can see that many there want to exclude others, no matter what the cost – they don’t even care how they look publicly.
Truth be told, my friend is very complacent. He’s just assuming things will work as they “always” have. I see no reason for such faith – there’s no reason why factionalism can’t get uglier, more divisive, and even outright violent. We don’t live in a world where families and morals and making serious friends matter; the private long ago became defined by the libertine. And those of you in more religious circles know just how materialistic things are there – many simply want to go to heaven, not lead the best life possible, and so much time is spent on self-help or apocalyptic rhetoric that the latter is almost impossible to discuss.
I’m not blaming Right or Left here. And I am aware this account is a bit exaggerated. Point is, it’s also difficult to refute, moreso than simply thinking “everything’s going to be alright.” We need a more serious starting point.
1. When it comes to politics, the best starting points may not depend on insight. They may be statements that everyone can get behind, with a little persuasion, and that benefit as many as possible. In other words: the absolute truth isn’t a necessity here. A good – somewhat imperfect, to be sure – is.
So I’ll say two things as a whole have to hold for conservatism to have a future:
- Whatever platform ends up comprising conservatism, it has to be as inclusive as possible, acknowledging that America has a future as well as a past.
- A conservative policy has to deliver people some real good that they can enjoy in their lifetime. The character of that good is one most – if not all – Americans can acknowledge and celebrate.
2. You can see why I’ve picked these two principles. Anyone going “that’s Progressive, reaching out to other groups of people and asking for others to actually get something in this life,” is going to expose themselves as a bigot and an idiot. The principles are too general to be specifically ideological. Even the most anarchist libertarian can agree that a future society probably needs some degree of fraternity to survive, and that the good for as many as possible has been maximized in that society.
I don’t think the principles are radical. What’s radical is that I’m calling for the “reset” button to be hit on the current platform. I don’t see the current crop of issues as going anywhere. Let’s say a Glenn Beck type got what he wanted: we’re no longer fighting in Afghanistan, schools teach Creationism (god help us all) and dubious history about the Founding, the Federal Reserve comes to an end and Congress has direct control of the monetary supply, there’s an end to all sorts of taxes, we’re on the gold standard, etc. Does any of that stuff necessarily make America better?
You know the answer: no policy alone makes us all better, especially not the ones designed to respond to conspiracy theories (you know you want Nancy Pelosi in charge of the money supply – that’s what you’re asking for when you complain about the Federal Reserve). Once the “Fed” drops out of the conspiracy theory picture, then the Illuminati comes up in their minds again in some other way. What’s really shocking is that more prudent policies don’t necessarily make us better. Let’s say we end our border problems, lower taxes (like we should), cut federal spending, wage war more efficiently and defeat the Taliban – policies more in line (though not exactly in line) with what I want. Does that necessarily make us all better?
Of course not. All the low taxes and won wars in the world don’t solve a tenth of our problems. We’ll still have kids being shot execution style in Newark – maybe even more kids, since a lot of the money going there in the first place is aid from other taxpayers. And Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, is way more competent than most people. Beating back the insurgency in Iraq hasn’t given them a political system that’s united for the common interest of their country: remember, those people brave bombs routinely to go vote. Would you vote if people were certain to destroy the polling place with you in it? Forget policy: in terms of securing the good, it isn’t clear that virtue and prudence are enough.
3. That’s why the reset button has to be hit, and hit now. The conspiracy theory we see dominate contemporary conservatism is stemming from a larger failure: we conservatives never really had a vision of what this country should be. And even if some did, that vision excluded so many people and made no serious room for liberals that it was simply some bigot’s dream.
For me, a serious conservative platform would be something like what we working with now – pro-life, anti-tax, skeptical of regulation, for school vouchers, hawkish on defense and serious about foreign policy (meaning: foreign aid isn’t a waste of money), for entitlement reform (and eventually, some privatization), for budget cuts (I don’t know that we really need a federal Department of Education, for example, given the role of the states in education). But again, that “platform” solves nothing: it doesn’t really articulate a sense of value, where we’re going. It threatens to bring back the problems we’re facing now – when we elect Republicans, many of things we ask for are simply unrealistic given the way DC works, and then we go crazy and threaten other people as if throwing a tantrum is the essence of politics. So I want to suggest that no matter what platform we pick, we establish an issue that there is no compromise on, one that the other party should adopt because it is simply an obvious good for all involved. That becomes the “heart” of the platform, and we tie issues into that as they take a moral priority. I have two suggestions for that “heart:”
- Prison and judicial reform – it is estimated 1/3 of those in prison are non-violent offenders. Every day news emerges that people have been spending years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, if they haven’t been executed already. Given what goes on in prisons, you wouldn’t send someone who killed your whole family there. If we’re serious about being pro-life and spending money wisely domestically, this should be the heart and soul of our platform. Of course, there’s another issue we could and should put at the center….
- Rebuilding Native America. Yes, we stole the land from the Indians. There’s no way around this, and we aren’t really paying for that theft. They are, still – the drug and alcohol abuse rates among those communities are stunning. We’re the richest nation in the history of the world. We can’t do a little something better than throw money away at a casino, or whine incessantly while we give a few million here and there in “welfare?”
The “heart” is meant to encapsulate the two principles of inclusiveness and delivering on an actual good. Without it, we’re not really engaging in politics – we’re just in some form of factional warfare, where we routinely “beat” coalitions of other Americans. Again, if you think you’re paying the price because you’re paying higher taxes – and remember, I don’t want you to pay higher taxes – try living in East St. Louis for a week. We need to deliver on actual goods, routinely: how is a life not lived for others worth living?