Sunday, February 26, 2006

Conservatism's Legacy

Mcjoan at the DailyKos says:

As exemplified by the moment Dick Cheney said the United States would be "greeted as liberators" in his March 2003 interview on Meet the Press, never in the history of U.S. governments has an Administration been as consistently and wildly wrong and incompetent.

While most Democrats and other thinking people would undoubtedly agree with this statement, the fact is that the administration's "wildly wrong" judgments and "incompetent" managing doesn't come from anyplace strange.

Consider the recent comments by Arnold Schwarzegger at this weekend's California Republican convention:

One of the biggest rounds of cheers came when he reminded the delegates that he had blocked efforts to allow illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses. And going forward, he promised, he would show "bold" leadership, invoking Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower and, naturally, for the California crowd, Ronald Reagan.

"We Republicans have a history of boldness," Mr. Schwarzenegger said. "I love that. Abraham Lincoln struck down slavery. Teddy Roosevelt fathered the environmental movement. Dwight D. Eisenhower built the Interstate highway. And Ronald Reagan tore down the wall and defeated Communism. This is a time in California's history that calls for similar boldness."

First, consider the line that got the most applause at the convention (according to the article): driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. If the high point for conservative Republican government has been reduced to preventing people from getting driver's licenses, than conservatives, and thinking people everywhere, might reasonably question the movement's usefulness, intellectual heft, and democratic motivations.

Second, the governator reaches into the past for examples of Republican "boldness" and comes up with ending slavery, "fathering" the environmental movement, building the interstate highway system, and defeating Communism. Of the four, the first three of these are "bold" only in the sense that they are clearly, liberal, progressive policy goals and accomplishments. The institution of slavery resided in what was then, and remains so today, as the nation's most violently conservative region. Slavery's defenders included the most reactionary conservative elites in the country, namely the South's wealthy plantation owners and the Christian Church. The ending of slavery was that era's most radically liberal and progressive initiative; and conservatism's vision ultimately lost.

The second, "fathering" the environmental movement, is, needless to say, anathema to today's conservatives. Supporters of maintaining the environment that enables life, such as Al Gore, are regaled by conservatives of nearly every stripe today as "fanatics"; the science of global warming denied and ridiculed as "loony" and anti-business. In some quarters, environmentalists are the de jure "terrorists of choice" for the media and the right when fires consume new housing developments, for example (the fires in southern Maryland were found to have been initiated by dis-satisfied racists wanna-bes).

Meanwhile, "internal improvements", such as interstate highway systems are equally blasphemous to movement conservatism. If you think I'm wrong, consider this comment by a conventioneer:

Mr. Schwarzenegger defended his plan to spend $222 billion on public works, including highways and schools, as an example of bold leadership.

But conservatives have criticized the plan as costly spending, and Jon Fleishman, a former state Republican Party executive director and editor of the widely read Flashreport blog, said, "I thought the speech was a safe double when he could have hit a home run." Mr. Fleishman called it short on specifics and a missed opportunity to say he would fire the chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, and roll back his public works plan.

The only item of the four that could be considered a genuine conservative aspiration is the "defeat" of Communism. Although most thinking people and students of history would point out that Soviet Communism fell on its own accord, and that U.S. "containment" policies such as the war in Vietnam and the toppling of the Iranian government (among other interventions against democratically elected regimes) were spectacular failures that, particularly in the latter case of Iran, have spawned decades of Islamic revolution and international terrorism, it should at least be conceded that the ending of global communism was a genuine conservative goal.

But in any event, one out of four ain't very good.

Moreover, Schwarzenegger would undoubtedly have enjoyed being able to claim other examples of bold leadership over the past two centuries of American politics--the dramatic expanding of the voting franchise, first to propertyless whites in the nineteenth century, than to women early in the 2oth , the establishment of Social Security, college student loans, Medicare, Civil Rights, and Voting Rights protection for blacks, for example, he can't very well point to these because these were not only Democratic initiatives, they were extremely liberal ones to boot.

The governator could have mentioned Theodore Roosevelt's trust-busting policies, but that would have been another "liberal" policy goal I'm guessing his crowd would just as soon not recall.

Fast forward to the present, it shouldn't be surprising that, having been wrong about virtually everything else over the past two centuries, conservative Republican leadership, elected in substantial part by regressive elements of the American body politic, would soon make short and catastrophic work of the budget and international terrain.

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