September 25, 2004

a few paces into the jungle...

Our friend Dave often jogs me out of my rut by posting strange things. This post, quoting David Niewert on how Republicans are morphing into some sort of Gatoraide fascism, is particularly interesting. But I'm afraid I have little future as an intrepid explorer hacking through jungles....The first paragraph was all I could manage. Here are some thoughts... [Not just pot-shots for fun, this does tie in with some other things I've been writing about]

[O]ne only needs review the current state of affairs to recognize that the "conservative movement" -- especially as embodied by the Bush administration -- has wandered far astray from its original values. Just how "conservative" is it, after all, to run up record budget deficits? To make the nation bleed jobs? To invade another nation under false pretenses? To run roughshod over states' rights? To impose a radical unilateralist approach to foreign policy? To undermine privacy rights and the constitutional balance of power? To quanitifably worsen the environment, while ignoring the realities of global warming? To grotesquely mishandle the defense of our national borders?
Mr Niewert seems to have absorbed some DNC talking points, labeled them "conservative original values," and is now complaining that we are fascists for not following them!

"To run up record budget deficits?" Conservatives have often supported budget deficits, especially in wartime. Reagan used them to splendid effect, to both revive our economy and bring the Soviet Union to its knees. And those paid off so handsomely that the debt that was incurred during the Reagan years is now a trifle compared to our much-enlarged economy. Also, the current deficit is only "record-breaking" in absolute numbers of dollars; it's historically unexceptional as a percentage of the GDP. That's a deceptious argument, typically Niewertian, and calls into doubt his whole project. If making your point requires telling tricky lies, why should we pay attention?

"To make the nation bleed jobs?" That's untrue, just more Democrat-campaign BS. We always lose jobs in recessions, but the recession is now long over and our economy is growing strongly, including employment. But even if it's TRUE, what "conservative principal" is involved? Guaranteed employment? Protectionism? Those are conservative ideas? Gimme a break. Conservatives have generally supported Free Markets, and guess what—sometimes that means economic pain, and loss of jobs.

"To invade another nation under false pretenses?" That's Kerry's argument. Most American conservatives disagree with him. I disagree with him. And the legalistic "International Law" pettifoggery that underlies the argument has never been a conservative principle. Nor has the type of thinking that usually accompanies such arguments: Saddam should be treated with respect, America should be treated with suspicion and doubt. That's exactly how America-hating "anti-war" activists think. That's how Jimmy Carter thinks. Never conservatives.

"To run roughshod over states' rights?" That one has some validity; most conservatives are more federalist than the administration. Though it doesn't make them "cupcake-fascists" any more than any of his arguments. Liberal Democrats have been long-been strongly anti-States Rights, so why aren't they "fascists?" Why isn't that worrisome?

"To impose a radical unilateralist approach to foreign policy?" So, now Jaques and Kofi are conservatives? American conservatives have traditionally been unilateralists. We hated the UN from the git-go. And there's nothing particularly radical about unilateralism, (or about preemption) at a time when rogue nations can build nuclear bombs. (I'll bet Niewert doesn't even want to know about all that Iraqi Uranium recently transported to Oak Ridge.)

"To undermine privacy rights and the constitutional balance of power?" Now the ACLU is conservative? We've reduced privacy during every war, and current items are trifling compared to past wars. Conservatives accept trade-offs in these things, we are not absolutists. It's the "theorist" types, such as socialists and libertarians, who can't flex when circumstances warrant.

"To quanitifably worsen the environment, while ignoring the realities of global warming?" Now Al Gore is conservative? If Niewert actually knew what he was talking about, or cared, he would know that conservatives have been arguing against global-warming pseudo-science for decades, and against the anti-capitalist agenda that pushes it. And he would know that the administration has a good environmental record, (except in the minds of collectivists.) If Niewert actually bothered to check with some conservatives, he would discover that we care about the environment as much as the general run of Americans do, though we strongly reject the anti-human-being and nature-as-pseudo-religion arguments of environmental extremists.

"To grotesquely mishandle the defense of our national borders?" One can argue the merits of the current border policy, but it would NOT be a clear question of conservative values, which are conflicted here. Many conservatives treasure our openness to immigrants and visitors, others would like to bar the doors. But more importantly, a more vigorous defense of our borders would certainly involve reducing privacy and freedom, increasing government spending, and increasing the power of Federal bureaucracies. And Niewert thinks were are trending fascist because we are NOT doing these things? That's cuckoo.

Anyway, that's what I think of the first paragraph. Neiwert has obviously decided on his thesis, then gone looking for any argument that might support it. I'd feel foolish to have wasted this amount of time on it were it not that this is a very good example of what I've been talking about in my writings on the 70-Year Cycle in American politics. When the two parties exchange majority/minority status, many who didn't see it coming are left shell-shocked and bewildered and bitter. The world they grew up with is suddenly gone. They embrace cranky theories. Many Republicans talked just like Niewert in the 1930's, though in their case they thought FDR and the Dems were communists. And Lincoln seemed equally menacing and dangerous to many, (and, to push the argument back another 70 years, so did the Founding Fathers.)

Also, some of the things complained about are actually the Republicans now assuming positions that have always belonged to the majority party in our country. For instance, from the 1860's to the 1930's, the Democrats were the party of limited government and States-Rights, and they were the deficit valetudinarians! Seems hard to believe, but it's true. Then, during the 1930's, the Republicans took over those roles, and held them until recently, while Dems embraced active government. Now we are flipping positions again. It seems monstrous if you don't understand what's happening.

Another point that should be made. There is not, and never was, any such thing as "fascism." It is a mythical beast. Those "fascist" regimes famous in history were actually just socialism tricked out in a few scraps of conservative and nationalist and militarist rhetoric. Both types of socialism have found it hugely useful to pretend to be protecting the world against the other type. Neither have anything to do with principled conservatism.

The funny thing is, when he's not riding his hobbyhorse Mr Niewert is a lucid and compelling writer. I remember a previous essay he wrote, where he discussed delightfully the near impossibility of defining the term fascism. He explained how philosophers and scholars have spent entire careers trying to pin it down, without success. Guess why, folks.....

Posted by John Weidner at September 25, 2004 1:55 PM
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