Thursday, December 02, 2004

Rebuttal

Here is my good faith summary of S. Hamlin’s “reply” to my column. (1) The sovereignty of the people is good, but “large centralized power” is bad because liberals (for example, James Madison) did it. (2) Individuals are good, and different, and shouldn’t belong to groups. (3) Pluralism is bad because “diehard liberals” (FDR, LBJ) like government spending. (4) Reform is good as long as it doesn’t involve a “large federal bureaucracy.” (5) A free society is good because it is by definition a just society, regardless of what Irving Kristol, the founding father of neo-conservatism, argued in 1978, in dissenting from von Hayek and Friedman.
In sum, then, conservatism is good and liberalism is bad, even though conservatives don’t know what they’re talking about—not even when they invoke conservatism.
Oh, I almost forgot, Dr. Livingston must have missed the election because conservatives are clearly winning the culture wars. They whine about losing “just to combat complacency.” Sure they do. Solid majorities now support civil rights (and civil unions) for gays and lesbians, equality between women and men (which presupposes birth control, abortion rights, access to the job market, and Title IX), and, most important, equality across the color line. Conservatives have already lost all three battles. Where exactly can they win?

Reply to my Column for The Centurion

Here is the reply to my last column in The Centurion, by one S. Hamlin. I have not changed it except to break up the once-solid block of prose into paragraphs. My rebuttal will follow in this space if I can figure out how to insert it; if not, see the next post. Pretty depressing, all of this, not least because my rebuttal is so exasperated and angry. Maybe even mystified. Might as well be on "Crossfire."

THERE ARE SOME BASIC VALUES in America that breach the political divide. Most Americans believe in freedom, democracy, equality, and choice. How these values get applied is the major fissure in the political landscape between the left and the right. It is in this application where Dr. Livingston’s well-intentioned points fail. First, Dr. Livingston argues eloquently that liberals are for the “sovereignty of the people not the party, state or government.” To buttress this argument he pulls on James Madison. While much of James Madison’s goal is “the sovereignty of the people” his goal mutates into a large centralized power. While conservatives are far from being anarchists, they believe that a small government is best to achieve the greatest amount of liberty. Conservatives feel that the government should be smaller because they feel that the American people know how to spend their money better than the government. (Hence the tax cuts) In that regard, the people have more control over their destiny in a conservative paradigm. This concept of the people knowing how to spend their money better than the government refutes his argument about individuality.

Even if you do not necessarily agree with this point, lets take a gander at how Dr. Livingston defines individuality. Simply, he argues that individuals are only individuals so far as they belong to a group. By Dr. Livingston’s own assumptions, there really is no individual without a group. That is the negation of the meaning of individuality.

His next defining characteristic is equality. He feels that conservatism does not provide for equality because it fails to recognize and cope with the differences in situations of people. What you see consistently in conservatism as an ideology is the affirmation in the individual. Conservatives recognize that there are differences between people, but in the end those balance out. We all have hardships and burdens to overcome. What conservatism tries to accomplish is the empowerment of the individual by removing the yoke of big paternalistic government.

His next descriptive quality of liberalism is that it affirms pluralism. This he defines as meaning that certain groups will be able to get together and get some representation, place stress on distance from Washington. In the words of Richard Nixon from the 1960 debates, "lets look at the record." The biggest expansion of government spending was done under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Another gigantic spender was Lyndon Baines Johnson. Both men were diehard liberals. After they left office, it was clear that the state governments had lost significant amounts of control and the government had become more centralized. This is a major theme one notices in the history of liberalism: state centralization. State centralization in the end eventually kills the power of the small groups that Dr. Livingston affirms the value of. (Just ask yourself the question: who holds more power? the federal bureaucracy or a small urban uplift society.)

Reform is his next area of focus. This however is not simply an issue of liberalism over conservatism. Reform is the mistress of the party out of power. More than that though, the record will show that both reform and corruption follow in the foot steps of an expanding government and centralized power for two reasons: the corrupting influence of power and the patronage system. To accomplish many of the goals Dr. Livingston lays out requires a large federal bureaucracy. This has been the consistent legacy of liberalism, from James Madison to FDR. When this happens, to satisfy political demands of running the party many positions are given out to party loyalists. The paternalism of liberalism mutates into a dangerous and corrupt patron-client relationship, the very same relationship that reform is supposed to dissolve.

The last hurrah of Dr. Livingston’s explanation of liberalism is the claim that conservatives believe that liberty and equality are incompatible, that liberals believe in a more “just” society. This however is not really representative of conservative ethos. What conservatives believe is that people are inherently equal as human beings and they should have the freedom of choice to do with their lives what they want, not have a large, centralized, out of touch federal government give them orders.

The end of Dr. Livingston’s article really captures the major flaw with current liberalism, how really out of touch it is with the American people it claims to represent and how blind it is to the result of it’s own conclusions. He claims that the left has “won” the culture wars and that conservatism is a “losing proposition” in cultural politics. Apparently Dr. Livingston was out of commission this past Election Day. A gigantic part of George W. Bush’s campaign was on the conservative view on culture. And many pollsters and pundits have claimed that the conservative “moral vision” on the family and culture was a major factor in his reelection. While conservatives may claim to be losing the fight, that is just to combat complacency. If liberals derive anything from their defeat it is the need to get back in touch with America and rewrite a plan for its future rather than claim false victory.