What Conservatism Is–and Isn’t

By Colin J Cutler

Much of what is now called conservatism is nothing but right-wing liberalism. Conservatism is not opposition to homosexual marriage or abortion or premarital sex or post-modernism or socialism. It is not fundamentalism, six-day creationism, Republicanism, or even the commitment to spread democracy. Conservatism is not reactionary””it is traditional, but not for tradition’s own sake.

The idea of conservatism is something much greater than any one of these things, or even of any combination of them. It is an idea that not only can be spread across the globe, but actually does exist in every culture to varying degrees. In fact, it is that idea most natural to a sufficiently humble, sane man. It is not concerned primarily with politics, but with the polis. Conservatism is essentially the realization that the individual is a part of a world larger than himself, a member of a community of other individuals, and within a flow of time that extends in both directions past his own existence, with the conclusion that he thus owes something to his world, his community, and to those who have preceded him and those who will succeed him.

I have accused modern “conservatism” of being liberal in actuality, and this did not refer to the Republican Party’s steadily paced side-stepping to the left of the political spectrum. Rather, it refers to the much more fundamental issue of underlying philosophy. Conservatism looks both back and forward, prizing the cultural treasures that have been handed down and using them to maintain society’s stability as it progresses into the future. Liberalism looks forward, trusting in man’s innate ability to progress, whether it be technologically, theologically, or morally. When it looks back, it is usually with disdain and self-preening.

The great divide between conservatism and liberalism as here discussed can be roughly located at their view of the individual: is he autonomous and thus committed to any situation only by his own volition, or is he organically a member of the polis (or the kosmos) and thus has an innate duty to that? The former is Enlightenment liberalism (derived through Renaissance humanism); the latter is Burkean conservatism, a continuation in many ways of the medieval world-picture.

A philosophical conservative will respect tradition as passed down to him and look forward to the results his actions will have on his successors, combining the two in taking care to pass on what he has received to others. He will, in Augustine’s words, “believe in order to understand” (crede, ut intelligas) accepting the traditions given him in order to understand himself and his place in the world before seeking to analyze and criticize his world. He will not seek to judge until he has submitted himself and his ideas to their judgment.

Philosophical conservatism is not reaction against innovation, although it does demand that innovation be subjected to proof against the tried and true. Nor is it simply subjection of the individual to the order of his society””it rather gives the individual a telos within the greater context of his society and history, just as universals give order and meaning to particulars. Political or theological conservatives could object that political or theological liberals could approve of this definition of conservatism and align themselves under it, but it must be responded that having more in common at the philosophical level will result in more fruitful discussion on both sides, as they have common ground upon which to argue.

Philosophical liberalism concentrates its energy on preserving the freedom of the individual. Importance may be given to tradition and succeeding generations, but it is based on the rational implications for the individual. One implied tenet, for example, is social contract theory, which places the foundation of government on the consent of the individuals. The liberal reverses the order of Augustine’s dictum, seeking to understand before belief (often resulting in skepticism if he takes this to the logical extreme and questions even himself). He subjects the world and the ideas of others to his own judgment and considers his judgment, as an individual, equal to that of all other individuals. Much of the Christian right, in their support of freedoms and liberties and morality established and advocated by the Lockean American Founders, fail to realize that the social contract theory advocated by the Founders and the founding documents (especially the Declaration of Independence), does, at its extreme, result in exactly the vicious pluralism now in American culture.

Conservatism is not essentially a polemic: it is first an exposition, a metanarrative of existence based upon actual lived existence and common practice. Liberalism, on the other hand, is revolutionary and thus subject to the constant vagaries of demagoguery and public opinion. Conservatism will often oppose radical innovations such as abortion and homosexuality, but this is as a result of tried practical understanding of the world combined with centuries of cumulative thought on human nature. It is a balance of the universal and particular opposing the purely abstract individual speculation or dogmatism of liberalism. The strength of conservatism lies in its integration of particular and universal, abstract and concrete, individual and society, fact and meaning. Conservatives seek not to create a world, but to understand that which has been given them. When “conservative” objections are based either purely on unanalyzed tradition or on “pure reason,” their ground is cut from beneath them, and they have become fundamentally liberal. Conservatives seek to understand the reasons behind traditions, but give deference to those traditions because their predecessors have proved them and seen fit to pass on their acquired knowledge.

The misconception is that the parts of conservatism are conservatism itself””but conservatism itself would reject this. The conservative seeks to understand ideas in their entirety, and in their full cultural and intellectual context, not divorcing parts from the whole, nor making the whole merely a conglomerate of the parts, but rather having the parts integral to the whole, and receiving their telos from it. In this way, true conservatism holds a much fuller view of life and the world than does liberalism, whether right- or left-leaning.

We who call ourselves conservatives should not distinguish ourselves from liberals only by the propositions which we hold, but first by the reasoning and first principles ultimately behind them. This is where the fundamental difference lies, and we should understand these terms within the context of their historical usage by our philosophical predecessors. We would do well to subject ourselves to these, our teachers, and seek to understand and preserve, not what we think of them, but what they have to say of our world””and of us. That is, after all, what “conservatism” is all about.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to LinkedIn Post to Reddit

Posted by at 07:32 | Posted in Measure 37 | 78 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Jerry

    Conservatism in common sense – the kind you get when you pay your own way.
    Liberalism is taking money from people who work and giving it to people who don’t.

    • Dave

      Are you sure it’s that simple Jerry? You make it sound so simple it’s almost like you haven’t given it any serious thought.

      I’m not necessarily a Lib or a Conservative, but I am extremely upset to see the US falling apart because of too many people yelling when they should be listening.

      • Jerry

        Our country is falling apart due to one thing and one thing only. Mr. O and his purposeful destruction of capitalism.
        There – is that simple enough for you?

        • Kurt

          You are absolutely correct, sir. An astute observation. Pernicious political puppetry has mangled this once great country, and to think it has only taken one year!

          /sarcasm

          Seriously. You’re pool of knowledge is very shallow.

        • Dave

          Umm, no. It’s not simple enough for me. What scares me is that it’s simple enough for you, and that we can hardly even finish our first sentences without insulting each other.

          I think we’re both pretty smart people, and maybe there are some things that we could put our heads together on to (start to) figure out what the problems really are. That seems like the only way to straighten this mess out. One thing I’m sure of is that Obama and the Leftists (which, by the way, Obama is not) are not the only reason for America being in the shape it’s in. I’m also sure that Bush and the GOP are not the only reason either.

          Hopefully we got that out of the way now.

    • Charlie Mingas

      Pfff! What junk!

    • Lotfi Frigi

      That’s deep Jerry! Really deep! Nuggets such as the one you delivered confirm that the divide is getting bigger, that the indoctrination we have been and are being fed is working and that the path to true recovery is going to be arduous more so today than it was yesterday… What a shame!

  • Anonymous

    almost great, expect an opening line blew it: conservatism IS an opposition to socialism.

    • Colin J. Cutler

      Is conservatism an opposition to socialism? I’d agree that it opposes socialism, but is (or should) it be DEFINED in terms of what it opposes? All those things I said conservatism’s not are generally things that it opposes, but this is different from saying that it is defined in its essence by such opposition. When anything is defined in terms of its opposition, it is reduced to the same level, and you lose the level of universals.

      Again, conservatives would do well to get back to first principles, not merely the outworkings. The root, not the branches.

      Puritan, great point, and thanks for bringing that out.

      • Anonymous

        You can define something by what it opposes. Freedom opposes tyranny.

        My beef is that we all have changed and perverted the meanings of so many political terms that they no longer have meaning.

        Liberal, conservative, left, right, center, moderate, extremist, republican, democrat, libertarian, socialist, marxist, communist, facist, progressive, radical, reactionary… none of them really mean what they used to mean or what people think they do or should mean now.

        It really all comes down to freedom and tyranny. For us or against us. We. They.

        • A. Perry

          It is exactly this “We” vs. “They” concept I’m pretty sure the author is attempting to depose.

          I consider myself both conservative and liberal – and with the definitions this author maintains, in that each need not necessarily be defined by the other – it is quite a comfortable view to have.

          What this means in practicality… I want solutions to problems that work – whether they be based in tradition, or novel and experimental in nature.

          The real crime is tearing people, institutions, and even your own government because “We” are not like “They”. To late I fear, when we’re all bleeding red you’ll see we have been they the entire time.

    • Rick

      Not true – conservatism is at core a basic definition. Among those who have lived a long time under socialism, there are Conservatives, who advocate keeping socialism basic and as practiced to now, as opposed to “progressives” who want to democratize. America is founded on the tenents of Liberalism – that the individual has rights and a place in their own governement. Within the American Liberal System, a Federal Democracy (Democratic Republic), Libertarians are actually Conservative Liberals, Republicans (Neo-Cons) are Reactionary Right Liberals, Democrats are Progressive Liberals, and Socialists are Radical Liberals. Neo-Cons and their automatic anti-liberal bias is such a false notion it is laughable.

      • Northern Oberserver

        bang on.

  • Puritan

    Thomas Sowell’s book A Conflict of Visions, Revised Edition (2007) I think does a great job in describing that the free market and conservatism go hand in hand. There is one thing missing though is that individuals fundamentally are prone towards evil is a bedrock to understanding what conservatism is.

  • valley p

    If I read this right, then I think you are saying that conservatives have to reject radicalism, especially populist radicalism. If true, what does this say about the Tea Party movement?

    • Rupert in Springfield

      Assuming your assumption of what this says is true, what in the tea party movement is radical?

      Warning – citing a poll saying the majority of Americans want socialized health care and then saying the tea parties opposition to such is radical wont cut it.

      • Anonymous

        What in the tea party movement is radical? Really?

        Really?

        • Rupert in Springfield

          Ahh, the old “If you cant see what I see then you must be blind” theory.

          Thanks, but the question was for Dean. If you have something constructive to add that’s great. If all you want to do is the junior high routine, you’re on your own.

          • Anonymous

            I have nothing to add, Rupert. I am not at all surprised by your self-deception, but please save the high and mighty routine for someone else. It was a rhetorical question and needed no reply.

          • Rupert in Springfield

            Well, maybe next time you can be a little better prepared with some examples of what you are talking about.

          • Scott

            Yikes.
            A true “rhetorical question” isn’t simply a question that needs no answer.
            It’s a question that implies it’s own answer.

            Asking “Really?” twice implies only that you have nothing to bring to this discussion other than your dissent.
            Mere disagreement does not equate radicalism. Otherwise you’d be branded a radical yourself without having even voiced a single intelligent argument.

          • Anonymous

            Wow! Oregoncatalyst.com is such an interesting place, so full of individuals who fancy themselves masters of language and its use…

            A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in the form of a question posed for its persuasive effect without the expectation of a reply (ex: “Why me?”) Rhetorical questions encourage the listener to think about what the (often obvious) answer to the question must be. When a speaker states, “How much longer must our people endure this injustice?”, no formal answer is expected. Rather, it is a device used by the speaker to assert or deny something.

            DICTIONARY: n. A question to which no answer is expected, often used for rhetorical effect.

            IDIOMATIC: A question asked without expecting an answer but for the sake of emphasis or effect. The expected answer is usually “yes” or “no.”

            LITERARY” a question asked for the sake of persuasive effect rather than as a genuine request for information, the speaker implying that the answer is too obvious to require a reply, as in Milton’s line:

            “For what can war but endless war still breed?”

            GRAMMAR: A question posed without expectation of an answer but merely as a way of making a point: “You don’t expect me to go along with that crazy scheme, do you?”

            SARCASTIC: See SNL’s Weekend Update with Seth Meyer and Amy Pohler.

            But since you both seem to take my silence/lack of interest as evidence of some kind of ideological victory, I will bite. But first I will remind you that to be critical of Descrates’ Meditations does not imply a lack of faith. Anyway, back to the original question, “What in the tea party movement is radical?” Aside from the obvious criticisms: misdirected anger, wild ignorance of political theory, violent rhetoric, etc. I regard the “Tea Party” as a garden variety anti-government group masquerading as a populist movement. You want one example of radicalism? How about threats of secession? Is that radical enough for you?

    • Steve Plunk

      Please point out what particular element of the Tea Party you consider radical. Without such information it’s difficult to respond.

      • valley p

        Its hard to point at “specifics” when it is not a real party, lacks a platform, and lacks elected representatives. But what I find radical about the movement that bills itself as the tea party is that it rejects science, rejects expertise, shouts down people it opposes, disrespects our president, rejects moderation, and dances up to the edge of advocating open rebellion. Bringing guns to Presidential speeches is not radical?

        It is the angry rejectionist tone that is radical. “Conservatives” would take a more quiet, deliberate approach to political opposition. I don’t think Goldwater or Reagan would take to the streets do you?

        • Rupert in Springfield

          >Its hard to point at “specifics” when it is not a real party

          No its not. The tea party portests have been really widely televised. You are the one who used a specific term – radical – to describe them. On what basis did you use the term?

          If you don’t have any specific examples on policy its hard to see where you come up with the idea they are radical. Their ideas might be radical to you, but that does not make them radical in a general sense.

          Nevertheless, lets look at some of the non specific things you list.

          Rejecting science? News to me, I havn’t heard them reject science. Tell us what science they have rejected.

          Rejects expertise? In what? Thats a little vague. What expertise has been rejected? Can you refine that a bit?

          Shouts down people it opposes? Good lord, that’s manners, not policy. Al Gore’s most famous line is “the debate is over”. I dont think anyone is accusing him of being a tea party member.

          >I don’t think Goldwater or Reagan would take to the streets do you?

          Goldwater? The man who said “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice?

          Wait a second, let me get this straight, are saying Goldwater was not a radical but tea party people are?

          Look, this really sounds to me like you saw some tea party events, which are political rallies and thus always of a raucous nature, and somehow extrapolated that tea party members are always running around with protest signs and whooping it up. Just because you disagree with how an idea is expressed, or even the idea itself does not make it radical.

          Unless you can come up with some specific examples of tea party positions that are radical its hard to see what you base your notion on.

          • ChrisP

            Agreed, wholeheartedly.

            The Tea Party is seen as radical by anyone who see’s something wrong in questioning one’s own government..

            The endless list of quotes from Jefferson, and the like, advocating rebellion and other such measures of ensuring liberty come to mind..

            Loved the article, although I don’t necessarily know which definition of liberalism to even subscribe to anymore.. Moreover, you must’ve known that people were going to read this article and either purposely misconstrue it or simply be unable to comprehend your reasoning. Fair enough, you should be able to enlighten them – I haven’t the patience ;]

          • GirlinDaytona

            What is radical is the concept of totally rejecting an election. Tea Party supporters would certainly expect–demand–that every citizen acknowledge the elected President and offer THE OFFICE, if not the man, respect.

            From demanding that the President provide to each and every Tea Party member a copy of his birth certificate rather than accept the ruling of Hawaii officials that the copy on file is legitimate, to almost literally rejecting the election results, the Tea party members are radical. Radical is insisting that the President is a “socialist ideologue”. He, in fact, is a liberal ideologue just as you are a conservative ideologue. Why can’t “liberal” be enough? Radical is always having to demonize because you know that the average Tea Party supporter doesn’t know what an ideologue is and will interpret the word in the most negative way. Aren’t your people sufficiently intelligent to base their beliefs on civil recourse? Do you always have to exaggerate and demonize? Tea Party leaders insist that the movement is made up of independents and moderate conservatives but independents and moderates would never use such radical terms.

            Radical is blindly supporting pure Capitalism and blindly rejecting ANY form of “socialism” then going to the public library, accepting the concept of police and fire departments, and demanding that no one mess with their Medicare. Radical is demanding pure Capitalism, then supporting corporate welfare in the extreme.

            Neo conservatism is radical. Tell me that former Senator Santorum’s proposal to privatize the National Weather Service while making the government still pay the costs of gathering the data but allowing Accu- Weather to sell it back to us Americans is not radical! But the vast majorty of the Tea party members support Neo-Con principles.

            Radical is rejecting ANY compromise on virtually anything. Money trickles. It trickles up and it trickles down but Conservatives refuse to accept that it trickles in any direction other than out of the hands of the wealthy and down to the wasteful and unworthy hands of the middle class. Radical is not supporting compromises and using the filibuster to the extreme.

            Radical is refusing to compromise and working to totally stop the duly elected President’s every effort even on issues that clearly work to the benefit of the country that the Conservatives pretend to love. Radical is voting against one’s own self interest because of one’s misguided self image. You may think you are John Wayne, but you aren’t John Wayne. You may think you’re rich, but few in the Tea Party movement who I know are even financially “comfortable.” Radical is having a self image that is often totally out of touch with reality.

            Radical is threatening to take your State and leave the Union (Rick Perry of Texas on April 15 at a Tea party rally). Radical is opposing abortion then supporting capital punishment. Radical is encouraging others to kill abortion doctors, the ultimate “ends justifies the means” philosophy. Radical is thinking that Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are mainstream. If you think this is true you need to get out a bit more.

            Radical is proposing a literacy test to vote. I have studied the literacy tests given in the 1960’s and few Tea Party members could pass them, I guarantee. What the Tea Party leaders mean is “segregation” and taking the vote from minorities.

            Radical is having a name like Tancredo or Russo or Wierzbicki or Felkel or Farah or Aminoff or Perez and being a Tea Party member (these people are its leaders) opposing any form of immigration as a knee jerk reaction to your frustration. Radical is having a name Tancredo but always using the President’s middle name to make him sound less patriotic.

            Radical is using the Boston Tea Party (Taxation without representation) as your model but embracing Citizens United vs the Federal Election Commission court ruling that essentially makes individual citizens powerless.

            Few people including liberals disagree with most of the core principle concepts of the Tea Party. It s the implementation and corruption of those principles that bothers many. What bothers me is that the Tea Party members have allowed themselves to be used by the Neo-Cons for purposes that are ultimately contrary to what the Tea party stands for. Ron Paul is an extreme Conservative without the Neo-Con influence and for this reason he has been rejected by the Tea Party’s behind the scenes string pullers–the Neo-Cons whose goal is for corporations to control the country even more tightly than they already do. That’s radical. No, actually, that Fascist.

            If you don’t see that the Tea Party is radical then I probably won’t convince you.

          • Mike

            +100

          • DefiantDragon

            @rupert in springfield

            In the hallowed words of my most ancient and respected ancestors:

            Dude, you just got owned.

            By a girl.

            Thank you GirlInDaytona, you just made my week.

            Interestingly enough, ever wonder why so many Americans are anti-intellectual? It’s because of browbeaters like you, rupert.

          • Walrus417

            So if we reverse your argument:

            Radical is the concept of totally rejecting an election. Liberals say Bush stole his election from Gore but never gave his office any respect. Even with a complete unbiased recount they still insist that Bush did not win.

            Radical is calling Bush a war-mongering tyrant even though we was just doing what he thought best to protect his country (even if some of the things were misguided). Can’t we just call him a simple guy that did the best he could with the information he received? Why do liberals have to demonize?

            Radical is blindly supporting socialism even though every effort to enact socialism in the history of time has failed. Look at Europe, they are looking to scale back their socialism. Liberals are always bringing up police and fire departments as examples of the glories of socialism, but they leave out the part of these entities being locally supported. People can easily petition a local municipality to make changes to local programs. How easy is it to petition for changes to federal programs like Medicare? Basically people have to sit down and take what ever the government gives them and sit there while the government takes their income to pay for it. Bloated federal government programs are the target of the Tea Party Movement.

            Radical is thinking you can make people better off by taking money from productive people and giving it to unproductive people. This will only cause the productive people to become less productive and give the unproductive people no reason to become more productive. Thus reducing overall productivity and growth. Thus making everyone worse off

            Radical is thinking that MSNBC and the New York Times are mainstream. They are both as bad as Fox News.

            Radical is ignoring the fact that half the country does not agree to your ideals but forcing them upon those people simply because of an arrogant misconception that you know what is best for them.

            Radical is busing people to voting booths not out of civic duty but because the people on the buses will vote for your side.

            Radical is thinking that everyone who disagrees with you is intellectually inferior.

            Radical is criticizing people’s opposition to Roe v. Wade because the Supreme Court is infallible but at the same time rallying against Citizens United v. FEC (I personally do not agree with the either).

            Radical is wanting to kill unborn babies while at the same time wanting to save the most violent and disgusting people in our country.

            Radical is the goal to have the government control more and more of our lives. From what food we eat to what light bulbs we can own to what cars we can drive. That is truly radical. No, this is fascist.

            Radical is generalizing every person in a movement

            If you don’t see that liberalism is radical then I probably won’t convince you.

            (Note: Although I stand by my remarks, the purpose of this post was to point out that anything can be considered radical. I do not consider myself a member of the Tea Party Movement)

          • Kevin

            Radical is believing that a full and accurate recount was even allowed to happen in Florida. That was the whole point of Bush v. Gore. But radicals believe reading something for its actual meaning is secondary to making a bumper-sticker bullet point.

            Radical is believing George W Bush was simply acting in the best interests of the country when he broke laws, violated treaties, and requisitioned completely bogus legal justifications (all of which have since been fully discredited), all in the name of expanding executive power. It’s called the unitary executive theory and it was referenced thousands of times in signing statements…look it up and tell me it isn’t the most radical constitutional theory imaginable (ie. one branch gets to unilaterally make decisions).

            Radical is blindly supporting capitalism even though every capitalist society in the history of time has failed. All societies fail. It is the way of things. Trees fall, grass grows, shrubs grow, trees grow, then trees fall again. It has much less to do with the system of government than it does human nature and inherent lack of accountability within any system.

            Radical is thinking you can make people better off by giving money to those who already have it expecting it to trickle down in the form of jobs and innovation while simultaneously thinking that the middle and lower classes are “unproductive”. Hey idiot, poor people are the most engines of economic growth…they spend nearly every dime they make. They put the money into the economy faster, and more frequently than others…making them ideal candidates for stimulus money.

            Radical is thinking that any one media outlet is “good” or “bad” as opposed to in business for themselves. Try a little context, and you’ll find good info and bad info in every medium. Comparing FoxNews to the NY Times in terms of quality, however, is reaching. The NY Times has always been renown for recruiting the best and brightest.

            Radical is ignoring the fact that half the country does not agree to your ideals but forcing them upon those people simply because of an arrogant misconception that you know what is best for them. Yeah, exactly! Pro-lifers, anti-gays, religious nuts who quote the bible yet never seem to read it, culture warriors who think there is a war on Christmas because Sears won’t put a nativity scene in the front lobby, etc. etc. etc.

            Radical is intentionally showing up (bussed in) to every event with the express intention of making a media circus and intentionally misleading people about the other side’s motives. (God hates ____).

            Radical is thinking that everyone who disagrees with you is intellectually inferior.

            Radical is criticizing people’s opposition to Citizens United v. FEC because the Supreme Court is infallible but at the same time rallying against Roe v. Wade (I personally do not agree with the either).

            Radical is calling abortion “killing unborn babies” while having zero expertise in the field of medicine, nor having examined a patient. It just “feels” like murder because God says so. Hey, how about Deuteronomy 22:13-21? Why pick and choose your holy mandates out of temporal and social convenience? Because you’re a hypocrite and a follower.

            Radical is the goal to have the government control more and more of our lives. From what we’re allowed to put in our bodies (war on drugs, etc.), to how judges are allowed to decide individual cases which are all different (minimum sentencing guidelines and no tolerance). That is truly radical. No, this is fascist.

            Radical is generalizing every person in a movement and calling “liberals” socialists while calling religious morality police “conservative”.

            If you don’t see that you are a f’ing idiot, then I probably won’t convince you.

          • Walrus417

            You have only proved my point. Anyone can look radical through the eyes of the opposing viewpoint. Although I find liberalism flawed and myopic, I do not consider it radical.

            My post was simply to show the the original post has no merit. People are hung up on the idea that “If you think something different than me then you a a radical loon.” Proper debate and argument is gone in the world. No one can expect the fact that both sides have valid points of view. Our only aim is to discredit them, as you have tried to do to me. Name calling and cursing do not help your position.

            I would like to point out a few things about your post though. The government of the USA is the longest standing government in the history of the world. Only a few changes have been made since the inception of the Constitution. The founding fathers knew what they were doing.

            My views on abortion come from being a father, not some religious zealot. Although I think abortion is murder and one of the most disgraceful things someone can do (health issues and rape aside), I do not think they I have any right to force those beliefs on anyone. I disagree with roe v. wade, yet I do not think it should be reversed. I am also not a hypocrite my wife would still be living even with a strict interpretation of the Bible.

            And for the record, I do not think you are an idiot, only misguided.

          • Kevin

            You use satire then don’t understand it when someone else does? In exactly the same format even?

            Look, I’m not sitting here discrediting anything other than the idea of someone sitting here trying to discredit someone from a supposed “ideological” perspective.

            But both of our posts had a few things to say about issues. And I’ll just say this: the idea that something is “radical” is all in the eye of the beholder.

            You’re assertion that our government hasn’t changed since its inception except a few small things (I assume you mean civil rights, suffrage, etc.) then you are dead wrong. The constitution itself may not have changed, but the way we interpret and use it has been revolutionary in its scope and effect. Income taxes, the standing military, the definition of “interstate commerce”, the treatment of corporations, commercial law, even the way the branches of government balance each other out (judicial review, ethics rules, signing statements, etc.) have all changed nearly 180 degrees since our founding. Please don’t get high and mighty about “the good old days” unless you actually know what those are.

            I think you’re intentionally ignorant. Please, pick up the Times and at least read the Science section.

          • Walrus417

            Sorry for my misunderstanding. It must have been you calling me a “f’ing idiot,” “idiot,” and a “hypocrite and a follower” that made your post seem more like a flame than satire.

            So I am “intentionally ignorant,” eh? Well, knowing just about nothing about you I think I can safely say that you are pragmatically oblivious.

          • PhiLLyinDaLLaS

            She nailed it perfectly!!!

            I have no problem with opposing viewpoints from my own….but I will not respect someone who doesn’t respect my view, nor can have an intellectual conversation to find a middle ground in our beliefs.

            Conservatism for the most part, is dying.

            And these “Tea Parties” have such smart supporters/speakers, I can give you a great example: SARAH PALIN! She is a theocracy waiting to happen and should NEVER be allowed in politics (state/religion are supposed to be separate) Anyone that supports her trashing Obama because he’s “charismatic and uses a teleprompter”, but then gives her a pass for WRITING NOTES ON HER HAND, is a hypocrit. Anyone that supports Rush Limbaugh saying: “There’s nothing wrong with calling someone a retard, if in fact, they are a retard” but then was all over Rahm Emanuel’s case, are HYPOCRITS! It’s ok because it’s satire?????? She’s so full of sh1t it’s not even funny. That’s why I’m happy Stephen Colbert roasted her: Sarah Palin is a f**king retard!! It’s all in satire =)

          • Anonymous

            I think the problem here is that no one has defined radical. Your point is based on particular notions of a political event. Radical, something that is at the root or fundamental, does not lend itself to your criticisms. First, there is what the author called the philosophical understanding of such things. In this case the philosophical supposition that man must get to the root of a thing in order to understand it Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau do this in the state of nature. Machiavelli describes man’s actions in a radical fashion. The Tea Party, insofar as it believes to be returning to ideas which are less statist, is not actually radical. They do not seem to hold any philosophical views which develop from radicalism. They are more strictly political in this sense. Their superficial albeit insistent reliance on the founders points to a populist form of conservatism. They do not reject all principles before, as in the French Revolution, but are trying to restore previous standards of government. Radical, then, is not the correct word to use for criticizing the specific cases. Uneducated; erroneous; frivolous; pedestrian. Those are even more helpful than radical. The problem with mass culture, which defines us all, is that no one cares about the importance of language and what words convey. What you say is untrue, not because it is malicious and intentionally false, but it is misleading due to inaccuracy. Partisanship and factiousness might better convey what you wish to get across. But as it concerns the broader debate, which political junkies are apparently incapable of maintaining due to a overstimulated mind and under-exercised attention span, this holds not water. Your point is valid in some argument, but not this one.

  • Richard

    You spoke truly but miss the point that conservatism is on shade different in collectivism than modern liberalism
    “Conservatism is essentially the realization that the individual is a part of a world larger than himself, a member of a community of other individuals, and within a flow of time that extends in both directions past his own existence, with the conclusion that he thus owes something to his world, his community, and to those who have preceded him and those who will succeed him.”

    Ah yes the problem is if the world (IE institutions) are greater than the individual the individual becomes insignificant; just another clog in the collectivist machine. (I speak in secular terms). I can give a few example Marriage and Family (I support traditional marriage but I see the need for government to have a neutral position protecting and separating gay demands form my right to disagree on biblical grounds). As fro family I remain single and childless by choice; I not live with others. Why must I be forced, by conservatives, to support schools and families with my tax dollars. Why must the rich and singles pay more taxes except for the conservative mantra there are things bigger than the liberty of the individual like the family?

    • Travis

      So poor people wouldn’t be able to afford children? What about accidental pregnancy? I guess you could always not send your kids to school, that sounds awesome.

      I’m single too and I don’t mind paying for other peoples kids to go to public school. I wouldn’t want to live in a country or state where free public school wasn’t available. It sounds very bad for the economy and crime as well.

      Hopefully this was an example of what an extreme libertarian might support and not a policy you’d like see implemented. In either case you should realize these systems exist for many reasons, many of which benefit you directly or indirectly.

      • Anonymous

        The poor do not pay taxes

        “Hopefully this was an example of what an extreme libertarian might support and not a policy you’d like see implemented. In either case you should realize these systems exist for many reasons, many of which benefit you directly or indirectly”

        I see no benefit in legalizing theft for the so call benefit of others. Both the looted and the recipient lose. The only benefit is to the looter. Yes this is my view and if is extreme to you, I pity you.
        What benefits me is I keep my own money and I decide not you or the state to decide school I support.

  • d
  • Calvin Jae

    But realizing that you are part of a community does not require that you owe them anything. You are assuming the implication holds, but I don’t see evidence for that.

    The article is well written, but solid references would help make the argument clearer.

  • Jim

    I wish some of this were true. I myself am an atheist and a liberal and agree that quite a bit of this post is rational and reasonable. This post describes someone who is willing to listen to human discourse, public opinion and sees the wisdom of democracy and the fact that pluralism is the breeding ground for new and better ideas (though traditional trumps reason – which I find offensive and archaic). If this truly were conservatism, there could be discourse and the end of staunch partisanship; though I am certainly not claiming that the loony left is any more capable of communicating than the loony right. Leadership lies in reason and discourse, not in being right.

    • Steve

      I agree it is nice to discuss things rationally. How can we here encourage this to happen more often?

  • Amador

    You guys going at each other’s throats and unable to agree on the most basic principles is the most accurate definition of conservatism.

    Uuuuh, “it’s not conservatism, it’s right wing liberalism”. Author: you must fancy yourself very intelligent, but let me tell you that tagging everything you don’t like with the name of the ideology opposed to you is the most childish and cheap form of sectarianism.

    • ed

      Yes, that’s the first thing I thought when reading this article. I generally consider myself conservative except that I agree with almost nothing Republican. I was hoping I could use this article’s description to see if maybe my idea of conservativism was somehow different from everyone elses. But as I read, all I saw was that everything the author considered “good” was conservative and everything that disagreed with those good values was liberal.

      The underlying idea is that the only good position is conservative and everything bad is liberal. Really? You cannot imagine a good person might have values that favor the liberal side. Nothing liberal is good? Nothing conservative is bad? I thought you were trying to get past the labels that are obscuring the real deeper definitions of conservative (and liberal).

      Clearly you cannot say that an individual’s rights are always more important than society’s needs but also society’s needs cannot always trump an individual’s rights. That is my idea of the liberal/conservative argument and I was hoping to see a good definition of those differences.

      You can’t compromise with an opponent unless you know where they actually stand.
      You can’t defeat an opponent unless you know where they actually stand.
      You can’t even build emotional caricatures of your opponent to be used against them unless you know where they actually stand.
      But of course hand waving misdirection always works…

  • CoconutMonkey

    Well, that was… abstract and wordy.

    I’ll stick with Webster’s definition. Thanks anyway.

    • Gregorio

      I’m gonna agree with Coconut Monkey. A word is a word. Conservatism is “The disposition to preserve what is established; opposition to innovation or change.” Looking back at history, true and pervasive conservatism would have (1) endorsed the continuation of feudalism, (2) endorsed the continuation of slavery, (3) resisted the industrial revolution, and (4) pretty much stopped all of modern medicine. It is an inherently INVALID mode of political philosophy in all situations except an ideal universe because it innately assumes superiority of the current state over any possible change to that state. It is only valid in the setting of rational consideration of new data and continual re-evaluation of old data. To throw out all previous knowledge without trying to reconcile it with new knowledge would be foolish, but equally foolish is to hold onto the past without an honest and committed evaluation of its validity at each venture into the future.

      Approach life with whatever political philosophy is abstractly described above, but I would recommend you hesitate to really label it “conservatism.”

  • espian2

    I admire the philosophy, but don’t understand the label. What has the author done besides give his belief a name with which he is comfortable? Change the word ‘conservative’ to ‘liberal’ throughout, and visa versa, and nothing really changes. The philosophy has to take precedence over any label.

  • rickeysays

    Holy cow are you full of crap.

  • Bob Tiernan

    *valley p:*

    If I read this right, then I think you are saying that conservatives have to reject radicalism,
    especially populist radicalism. If true, what does this say about the Tea Party movement?

    *Bob T:*

    It doesn’t say anything since the Tea Party movement is not radical.

    No wonder you’re having problems understanding things. Heck, you
    think a tax cut means a return to free markets.

    Bob Tiernan
    Portland

    • valley p

      “It doesn’t say anything since the Tea Party movement is not radical.”

      So calling for a return of literacy tests for voting is not radical (see Tom Tancredo speech at tea Party convention)? Claiming Obama was secretly born in Nigeria is not radical (see Joseph Farah speech )? Calling for a theocracy is not radical (see Roy Moore speech). Bashing homosexuals is not radical (see Rick Scarborough ‘prayer session at convention)?

      I guess you are right Bob. these are mainstream Republican ideas, so they are not radical. Fortunately they are minority views.

  • Jerry

    Sadly, these athiest libs are somewhat lost.
    Clueless when it comes to anything having to do with government.
    Why don’t they send more of their money in if they think government needs it so much?
    Because they are weak, selfish, hapless persons vainly searching for meaning in their lives.
    Good luck with that.

  • Chris Cree

    Throughout most of history, and in much of the world today, liberals have advocated change towards individual liberty while conservatives sought to maintain the existing order of the authoritarian state. As such the founding fathers of the USA were fairly radical liberals in that they fought tyranny to promote individual liberty.

    It is a weird twist of history that because of the system and traditions our founders established a couple hundred years ago we’re in a place here in the US where the labels have been reversed. Those who wish to preserve that American system the founders originally built to promote individual liberty are now called conservative and those who favor change in the direction of much more government authority and responsibility are called liberal.

    Looking at it in that perspective exposes arguments like Gregorio’s above for the fallacies they are. If by conservative we mean simply, “maintaining the existing order” then yes it’s true those who endorsed the continuation of slavery (to use one of his examples) do fit that definition. However, when conservative is used in the American sense of “holding to values and traditions of individual liberty that the founders fought to create” then it becomes apparent that those who currently wear the label of conservative in the USA obviously find the idea of slavery repulsive.

  • Bob Tiernan

    *Jerry:*

    Sadly, these athiest libs are somewhat lost.
    Clueless when it comes to anything having to do with government.

    *Bob T:*

    I never said anything about atheism.

    Bob Tiernan
    Portland

  • Pescarojo

    I am not an American, but I am fascinated by your politics. The problem is what anonymous said up above:

    “My beef is that we all have changed and perverted the meanings of so many political terms that they no longer have meaning.

    Liberal, conservative, left, right, center, moderate, extremist, republican, democrat, libertarian, socialist, marxist, communist, facist, progressive, radical, reactionary… none of them really mean what they used to mean or what people think they do or should mean now.”

    This is very true. In the US you guys don’t have a true ideological debate going on. It’s been so twisted and abused by the various factions that it is almost impossible to actually discuss ideas.

    You do not have democracy. You have gang warfare. Red vs. Blue. Bloods vs. Crips. Dems vs. Repubs.

    Political parties are a bad thing. No-one thinks anymore, they just parrot the talking points issued by their gang. Be an independent. Reject both of your flawed options.

  • Henry Groover

    An interesting and thoughtful piece which to me highlights the semantic differences between conservative as an adjective and conservative as a political affiliation.

    Politics in the US tends to get distilled down to the barest bipolar renditions that will fit in 10-second sound bytes on the news. What I find alarming is the freewheeling redefinition of terms. It’s all about polemics, and since that’s what sells (and make no mistake, news is about what sells advertising, not what best portrays reality) the popular perception is that’s all that people care about.

    The concepts of liberal and conservative have shifted and rotated in so many ways they might as well be called Ogdrum and Gildnorf, to pick two arbitrary terms. Every time the terms translate, more voters shift, either into apathy or to whatever the other party is.

    Liberal used to mean something more like libertarian, and conservatives used to mean those who are more interested in preserving the status quo. But when economics are factored in, liberal politics is more like social democracy (where the social in social democracy means a shift towards welfare-state policies – while not actually socialism, social democracy puts the collective needs of the people above any perceived need to keep free enterprise wide open).

    Social democracy in some form or another is the norm in much of Europe, where taxes are higher, restrictions on businesses and individuals are greater, but basic necessities such as housing and education are more easily accessible. The problem is that America started out as a rebellion against European monarchy, and we Americans have an inbred mistrust of big government as benign. The aggressive and insular politics of past leaders like former President G. W. Bush cause many of us to cringe, and one could argue that he and one putative successor have done for President Obama what Microsoft did for Apple with the introduction of Windows Vista.

    But this article is not as much about political ideology as a way of thought, conservatism as an individual approach. How do you translate that into politics? We have come up with a political system which is bipolar and leaves voters with either choosing to believe in one candidate who will surely let them down in the future, or choosing the lesser of two evils. In my case it is nearly always the latter, and I don’t see much chance of things improving.

    The truth of the matter is that sometimes the most effective politicians are crooked ones, and the honest ones aren’t able to get much done. Google Laloo Prasad Yadav for a good example. But when vested interests and blinkered ideologies are allowed to dictate the course of American politics, we can see the most dangerous result of all – an inept rodeo clown in the Oval Office. Hopefully that has been enough to scare us into our wits so we will say “never again” and demand higher standards from our elected leaders, and be realistic in our expectations.

    But the biggest question I like to ask when I hear the term “conservative” used in politics is this: doesn’t the term imply conservation of natural resources and the general state of the world we live in, or just conserving the wealth of those who already have it all and want more?

  • Bob Tiernan

    *Henry Groover:*

    But the biggest question I like to ask when I hear the term “conservative” used in politics is this: doesn’t the term imply conservation of natural resources

    *Bob T:*

    No.

    *Henry Groover:*

    …and the general state of the world we live in

    *Bob T:*

    Not really. Change is not incompatible with conservatism. If you knew what you’re
    talking about you’d know this already.

    *Henry Groover:*

    or just conserving the wealth of those who already have it all and want more?

    *Bob T:*

    No – that would be corruption, anti-free-market, whatever. Besides, that definition you just used describes the Kennedy family (they pay very, very little in taxes but want poor schmucks
    to pay their share). So then, what does it mean now?

    Bob Tiernan
    Portland

  • Anne Williams

    This is about the best piece I have seen on the web in a decade. Colin Cutler needs a RAISE now! What a fabulous perspective and writer! I am in San Francisco, and call myself a Conservative Democrat, but wonder sometimes, what the hell do I mean????? Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, and please Colin, dip your pen and give us MORE!!!!!

  • RT Carpenter

    Coconut Monkey and Pescarojo – you both miss the point. Citing Webster for the definition of Conservatism, I like that! Dictionaries conserve the language. It used to take decades for words to evolve, for jargon to come and go. Currently dictionaries have it down to several years. The words that retain meaning relate to shared truths. I for one do not believe that “the internet” or “the 24 hour news cycle” are causing a dilution of language. It’s the damned chemicals and medicines. But, I digress…

    Powerful concepts resonate the truth with people who really think about the world. People who don’t really think about it don’t know the meaning anyway; the mob deals in simpler concepts. The concept of conservatism itself may be moving, like all language, but how much can it actually change? I agree with the assertion that Conservatism “as a political movement” ought to be more thoughtful and – dare I say – progressive. I also think that it’s simply not true as stated: conservatism is fundamentally reactionary, that’s the nub of it.

    Colin, can you really identify the philosophy you espouse as conservatism? The critical thinking you imply seems to be short-circuited by the slant towards precedent. Again, as in all things, this is a matter of degree.

    Admit it man – you are a frustrated progressive traditionalist!

  • John in Oregon

    I have to disagree, at least with some particulars. With respect to the United States I tend to the view of Ronald Reagan and Mark Levin. That said, some of the “classic” definitions of conservatism may be factually true and functionally false.

    To understand any particular it is necessary to understand the spectrum. Perhaps the appropriate counter point is the progressive movement. Outlined below are some of the comments of founding progressives.

    1] “The Promise of American Life is to be fulfilled … by a large measure of individual subordination and self-denial.”
    2] “The individual has reigned long enough.”
    3] Individualism is “one of the historic mistakes of humanity.”
    4] “[I]ndividualism is the characteristic of simple barbarism, not of republican civilization.”
    5] “[I]ndividualism means tyranny.”
    6] “National Government must step in and discriminate … on behalf of equality and the average man”

    John Dewey’s definition of democracy: “that form of social organization, extending to all areas and ways of living, in which the powers of individuals shall … [be] directed” — by the State, which can justly be described as the god of Progressive belief.”

    A good progressive reference is Walter Lippmann’s Phantom Public.

    Note, progressivism is not the same as socialism though some progressives include “equity” aspects of socialism.

    Contrast progressivism with Classical Liberalism. I include this extraction from Wikipedia for its public visibility. Here Classical Liberalism is defined as “committed to the ideal of limited government and liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly, and free markets.”

    Indeed JFK spoke of tolerance, open-mindedness, defense of the individual, and the active defense of liberty. He encouraged the voluntary public support of the United States as a country. JFK cut taxes dramatically and encouraged free market capitalism.

    The contrast of the Liberalism of JFK and the “Progressive Liberalism” of Ted Kennedy is a subject best left to another venue.

    Suffice it to say that Anonymous’ comment that > *”My beef is that we all have changed and perverted the meanings of so many political terms that they no longer have meaning”* is a point well taken. The “progressive – liberal” of today is the progressive of 70 years ago. Classical liberals, if they are not actually extinct, are indeed well hidden.

    Today the classical liberal finds him self compelled to seek the umbrella of conservatism in order to flee the debasement of the term liberal by the modern progressive.

    I also concur with Anonymous that > *”It really all comes down to freedom and tyranny.”* Although I would likely use the phrase Liberty and Tyranny.

    These two words, freedom and liberty serve to illustrate a difference between classic liberals and conservatism. The classical liberal believes in individual freedom to act. The conservative in Liberty, the freedom to act while accepting responsibility for ones actions.

    I like the comment of Chris Cree, > *Throughout most of history, … liberals have advocated change towards individual liberty… As such the founding fathers of the USA were fairly radical liberals in that they fought tyranny to promote individual liberty. It is a weird twist of history that … Those who wish to preserve that American system the founders originally built to promote individual liberty are now called conservative…*

    The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution produced by America’s founders are remarkable documents. Together these two founding documents advanced new unique ideas. Among these

    1] The rights of the people are granted directly to the people by God’s Natural Law
    2] The proper role of government is to defend the rights of the people
    3] Government exists by the consent of the people.
    4] The power of government is delegated by the people to that government.
    5] The Separation of Powers divided amongst the four branches of government. (I know, I know, read on later.)
    6] Specific delineated powers and retained powers.

    In the founders view government like fire as a useful tool and a terrible master. By granting only specific and limited federal powers which the founders divided between three co-equal branches, the founders sought to limit and control the tendency of government to grow, strangle, and punish the people. The founders retained all other powers to the people and the fourth branch of government, the states.

    So it has fallen to conservatism to defend these attributes of our government and of American Exceptionalism. As usual the best understanding is illustrated by events. For the Progressive, America is an imperialist colonial power.

    From Selwyn Duke. ‘When in England at a fairly large conference, Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury … if our plans for Iraq were just an example of empire building’ by George Bush.’

    Powell (a progressive Republican) ‘answered by saying, “Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young people into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.”‘

    *’You could have heard a pin drop.’*

    ‘In 1966, Charles de Gaulle President of France declared that France was pulling out of NATO. French motives were simple: they did not want to be seen as the 2nd rate power they had become in the shadow of America. De Gaulle announced that _all_ American troops on French soil must leave so as to _eliminate any trace of US military presence.’_

    ‘President Lyndon Johnson, (a progressive Democrat) had his moments of honor. He also had a better grasp of history than most politicians and protesters. Remember that this was the same France and Charles de Gaulle that had been liberated largely by American troops in two costly World Wars. Many thousands of US KIA’s were buried throughout France.’

    LBJ simply asked “Does your order include the bodies of American soldiers in France’s cemeteries?” de Gaulle cooled his rhetoric knowing what the Normandy US military graveyard represented to the French people.

    Forty-three years later another American Progressive President would apologize to France for American arrogance and decline to join French president Nicolas Sarkozy at Normandy on the anniversary of D Day.

  • Lea

    The Declaration of Independence gave us the vicious pluralism that is in the American Culture today? The Declaration of Independence gave us the most free, most wealthy, most civil society the world has ever known. The last fifty years of undermining that foundation has given us the pluralism and class envy that we see today. Without religion and morality freedom is not possible, because we will devour one another.

  • Bob Tiernan

    *Gregorio:*

    A word is a word. Conservatism is “The disposition to preserve what is established; opposition to innovation or change.”

    *Bob T:*

    Nope — that’s not accurate, either. A conservative can support change provided it’s well thought out and still passes a soundness test, and/or is implemented slowly so that it gradually gains wider acceptance and gets well integrated into the system. A free marketer, on the other hand, won’t support taking one step towards a lot of things that a conservative will. That’s because the free marketer has a philosophy to stick to, for good reason, while the conservative does or does not depending on other views (his religious, economic, or social views etc). Conservatism itself determines very little except the speed of the change.

    Bob Tiernan
    Portland

    • valley p

      So you are distinguishing between a “free marketer” and a “conservative?” Interesting. I tend to agree with the distinction. What gets confusing (to those of us who are neither) is when the two get conflated. An ideological free marketer is functionally a radical because they want to overturn long established institutions as quickly as is politically possible. This makes Limbaugh, Beck, and the tea Party movement radical and not conservative. A conservative can’t be a radical for reasons stated in the initial post. But they can, as you say support change as long as it is very well reasoned and gradually implemented.

  • Bob Tiernan

    *jon:*

    As a white American, I am concerned about a movement that consists of only white people.

    *Bob T:*

    It doesn’t consist of just white people, but so long as idiots like Tancredo show up it
    might very well become pure white.

    *jon:*

    The idea of making people take a test to be able to vote has been done before, only as a way to keep minorities from voting and keep the power with the rich white man. Learn your history people!

    *Bob T:*

    Why don’t *you* learn history? In the South, most of the people implementing the
    controls you describe were low income working class whites who could hardly be described
    as people supporting any kind of pro-business, pro-rich person policies.

    Bob Tiernan
    Portland

  • John in Oregon

    VP I intentionally wanted to consider other comments on this thread. For example, Ed asked > *Really? You cannot imagine a good person might have values that favor the liberal side. Nothing liberal is good? Nothing conservative is bad?* That’s an extremely interesting and intelligent question that Ed asked. I think my comments up thread are not in conflict with his question.

    However. You do have the anti tea party talking points down. Your mischaracterizations demand a response.

    Last March, eleven months ago, I observed here that an anger was growing with big, non-responsive and intrusive government. You ignored that movement.

    You are correct that the tea party – 912 movement is > *not a real party, lacks a platform, and lacks elected representatives.* In other words individuals coming together and expressing the will of the people.

    You then proceed to tell us the principals of this movement without a platform. Let me translate some of those for you.

    *rejects expertise* rejects government meddlers who know best how the individual should live their lives.
    *shouts down people it opposes* the Tea Party people should sit down, shut up, do as they are told.
    *disrespects our president* disagreeing with policies is disrespectful.

    Of course Nixon was tricky and dumb, Ford was a klutz and dumb, Quayle is just dumb, Reagan was old and dumb, HW is dumb, GW is dumber, and Palin is dumber yet. So name calling is respect?

    About the man with the gun who was no where near where the president was located, let alone at a speech.

    > *I don’t think Goldwater or Reagan would take to the streets do you?*

    Actually that IS what Reagan did. He just chose a venue larger than a street corner and taller than a soap box. He chose a microphone. He chose MORE speech.

    But the diminishment of the Tea party and 9-12 people failed. So mocking, sneering and ridicule was next with sexual slurs like tea bagging.

    And about that speaking up thing. > *It is the angry rejectionist (sic) tone that is radical. “Conservatives” would take a more quiet, deliberate approach to political opposition.* Translation. Stop objecting, sit down, shut up, and go along. Follow the advice of James Carville? Or better still, David Frum, David Brooks the go along to get along guys. The way for Republicans to succeed is to act like Democrats? The way for Conservatives to flourish is to agree with progressives?

    The insults and ridicule failed. Now the progressive plan is to fight the tea party. TheTeaPartyIsOver.org, lots of SEIU funding. Can’t have citizens taking back the political power that rightfully belongs in the hands of “progressive” elites can we?

    Who are these tea party people? They are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. They are man and women. They are fathers, grandmothers and grandsons. They come from all parts of the world for the Liberty of America. And Jon wonders > *I am concerned about a movement that consists of only white people.* Jon, you might ask Lloyd Marcus about that.

    Who are these tea party people? Lets ask Mark Davis a columnist for the Dallas Morning News.

    “[A]t Dallas City Hall, I looked out over a sea of attendees at one of several national gatherings that launched the Tea Party movement.”

    “let’s review what Tea Party passions are – and what they are not… The Tea Party movement is not a nascent third party. Most tea partiers know that splitting the voters looking for less spending and lower taxes is a guarantee of more domination…”

    “The Tea Party movement is not “anti-tax.” It is against confiscatory taxes, outlandish taxes, excessive taxes – choose your adjective. But this “anti-tax” nonsense is the same kind of obnoxious slander as calling people who favor strong borders ‘anti-immigration.'”

    “The Tea Party movement is not driven by social conservatism… [T]he Tea Party engine is driven first and foremost by a desire to return government to its proper constitutional limits and run it with a lot less money. Anyone driven by that passion is welcome in any roomful of tea partiers, no matter what views they may hold about God and gays.”

    “Finally, the Tea Party movement is not some subculture of bug-eyed lunatics… [T]he insulting tone of much of the coverage of the movement would have you believe that these are fringe extremists who could snap at any moment.”

    “Well, the truth is, they have snapped already. The sound we are hearing is the proverbial camel’s back breaking after years of reckless spending, punitive taxation and usurpations of liberty that have crippled every citizen’s opportunity… ”

    “The people drifting toward the Tea Party movement are not extreme. They are, in fact, fighting extremism – the extremism that has brought us a government that takes far too much, spends far too much and runs our lives far too much.”

    Consider Paulette. A Tea Party activist introduced to us by Carol Peracchio.

    ‘Paulette is 66 years old. She and her husband are retired,,, She babysits her granddaughter and checks on her 92-year-old father in Florida every day. She told me she’d never been politically active, “except for voting, of course.”‘

    ‘But all that changed… Health care reform, with its 500-billion-dollar Medicare cuts, scared her out of her wits… [S]he started calling [Carol] periodically last summer. [Paulette said] how discouraging it was that no one in Washington is listening, or even seems to care. Paulette, like so many of us, felt frustrated and helpless.’

    ‘Then Senator Kennedy passed away, and a political activist was born.’

    ‘Paulette described her first meeting with Scott Brown. She rushed over to the office and signed up that day to work. “I told Scott Brown that we are going to win this.” “I knew we would win because I lived there. Then she added, “I just couldn’t take any more.”

    ‘So Paulette went to work. She staffed the office several days per week, answering phones and handing out signs and literature. She knocked on doors all over her neighborhood. She visited shut-ins and helped them request absentee ballots. She helped organize volunteers to drive voters to the polls.’

    Sunday, with a staggering 56 percent unfavorable rating Rep. Patrick Kennedy said he is not running for re-election. Progressive Republicans are equally in trouble. Progressive Republican John McCain faces a primary challenge. Progressive Republican Charlie Crist meet Marco Rubio.

    Tea party candidates are everywhere. In the Wall Street Journal, Glenn Reynolds tells us about Les Phillip:

    ‘He is running against Republican Parker Griffith in Alabama’s fifth congressional district. Mr. Phillip, a black businessman and Navy veteran who immigrated with his parents from Trinidad in his youth, got his start in politics speaking at a tea-party protest in Decatur, Ala., last year.’

    ‘Somebody had to speak,” he told [Glen], “so I stepped up.” He did well enough that he was invited to speak at another protest in Trussville, Ala., after which things sort of snowballed. Of the tea partiers, he says, “Their values are pretty much mine. I live in a town in North Alabama where there are plenty of blacks driving Mercedes and living in big houses. Only in America can someone come from a little island and live the dream. I’ve liked it, and that’s what I want for my children. [But] I saw the window closing for my own kids.”‘

    VP you used a term “free marketer”. Another slur.

    About those tea party people. The free marketer’s. Our founders had a name for them. Simple and elegant.

    ….. The People. …..

    • valley p

      “In other words individuals coming together and expressing the will of the people.”

      The will of what people John? How many members do they have? How many don’t they have? Isn’t it a bit of a stretch to characterize ANY protest movement as “the will of the people?”

      “Of course Nixon was tricky and dumb, Ford was a klutz and dumb, Quayle is just dumb, Reagan was old and dumb, HW is dumb, GW is dumber, and Palin is dumber yet. So name calling is respect?”

      I don’t know anyone who thought Nixon was dumb. As for the rest….less intelligent than the job demands is probably more accurate than “dumb.” Though in retrospect Reagan may have been a lot smarter than we on the left believed. Is it disrespectful to question the intelligence of our President, or those who aspire to the office? I suppose so, but it is also patriotic. But if other presidents or aspirants were or are disrespected, does that make tea party disrespect, which verges on disdain, more defensible? Does it make questioning Obamas’ legitimacy based on an unsubstantiated suspicion about where he was born appropriate? Does it make characterizing him as a fascist within bounds? I advise owning up to the rhetoric of your movement, not deflecting it to past grievances. Blaming others for ones own faults is what little kids do.

      “About the man with the gun who was no where near where the president was located, let alone at a speech.”

      There were multiple instances. And there has been a clear implied threat to Obama’s life bordering on treason. The Tea Party has not denounced this behavior. Nor have you.

      “Actually that IS what Reagan did. ”

      Confusing street protests with running for office and giving speeches is beyond my comprehension. Reagan took a conservative route to power. He ran, he governed, he moved up and ran again. He never led a street protest, and in fact he denounced protesters in California and elsewhere as a rabble.

      “Translation. Stop objecting, sit down, shut up, and go along. ”

      Correction: do whatever you like within legal and ethical bounds. Just don’t confuse this with conservatism. I have no particular problem with street protests, but they are not conservative.

      “The way for Republicans to succeed is to act like Democrats?”

      You see, now that is funny. It has been Democrats, or at least the left, that has used mass street protests and anti-establishment rhetoric for decades. It started with the Civil Rights movement, spread to the free speech movement, then into anti-war, pro gay rights, pro women’s rights, and so forth. We were the rabble. Sometimes this tactic worked, but it also backfired and led to the fracturing of the Democratic coalition and the Reagan presidency. So by adopting left tactics, the Tea Party is in fact emulating those it most hates. It will be interesting to see if it fractures the Republican party.

      “Who are these tea party people? They are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.”

      You might find a stray Democrat among them. Not many.

      “They are man and women”

      Well duh John!

      “let’s review what Tea Party passions are – and what they are not… The Tea Party movement is not a nascent third party. Most tea partiers know that splitting the voters looking for less spending and lower taxes is a guarantee of more domination…”

      That completely contradicts your prior claim. They are either an independent movement not affiliated with a party or they aren’t. They can’t be both. Which is it?

      “The Tea Party movement is not driven by social conservatism…”

      That is contradicted by key speakers and attendees at the convention. Sarah Palin is not about social conservatism? Since when? She is the darling of the anti-abortion movement. Judge Roy Moore is not a social conservative? Then what was the 10 commandments thing all about? Wake up John. The Tea Party is going nowhere with only libertarians. That is the core problem of the right. The two are joined at the hip, and also with military adventurists.

      “The people drifting toward the Tea Party movement are not extreme. They are, in fact, fighting extremism – the extremism that has brought us a government that takes far too much, spends far too much and runs our lives far too much.”

      They are fighting perceived extremism with counter extremism. The paranoia they express, particularly through the likes of Beck, is John Birch territory. And lets recall the John Birchers denounced President Eisenhouer as a communist. Obama should not feel so bad. He is only being called a socialist.

      “‘But all that changed… Health care reform, with its 500-billion-dollar Medicare cuts, scared her out of her wits…”

      That encapsulates the issue better than anything I could write. She is against big government and does not want Medicare cut. So she supports a guy who voted for the same health care plan in her state. What more can I possibly add to that?

      “I told Scott Brown that we are going to win this.”

      I make few predictions, but I will predict this. Scott Brown will turn out to be closer to Olympia Snowe than he will to Jim Demint. By the time he runs for re-election in 2 short years, the tea party, or what is left of it, will have denounced him as a hopeless moderate compromiser.

      “VP you used a term “free marketer”. Another slur. ”

      Then put the blame where it belongs, on Bob Tiernan. I was merely quoting him.

    • John in Oregon

      You said a lot of words. And if I feel it’s worth my time I may respond to specifics.

      Your apparent only personal experience to “protest” is International ANSWER and Code Pink.

      The right of the people *peaceably to assemble,* and to *petition* the Government for a *redress of grievances* appears quite beyond your frame of reference.

      Beyond that the two may be prompted by anger, the two are quite different. You might consider researching Lech Walesa or the Iranian resistance to arrogant government power.

      Further you might consider the following quote.

      First they ignore you
      then they laugh at you
      then they fight you
      then you win.
      Mohandas Gandhi

      • valley p

        “Your apparent only personal experience to “protest” is International ANSWER and Code Pink.”

        Maybe you are a bit younger than I am. When I was a kid in Chicago MLK and thousands of civil rights protesters marched up Kedzie Avenue right past my grandmothers place. I watched the white folk curse at them, throw stuff at them, and threaten them. A few years later there were hundreds of thousands in the streets of Chicago peacefully protesting the Viet Nam war and Democratic convention. Mayor Daily (dad of the existing mayor) unleashed the riot police on them, and I got to watch hippies get beat up. A few years later was Kent State. and 4 peaceful, unarmed protesters were shot dead. All protests from the left. I was a conservative at the time, but these experiences began to change my politics.

        So no John…my reference is not Code Pink. I have no argument with peaceful assembly or petitioning the government. The Tea Party is welcome to protest all they want. But its still not a “conservative” way of doing things, which is the point you keep missing.

        As for the Gandhi quote, you win if you don’t give up and if you are in synch with the march of history. In my view, the Tea Party is a reactionary movement that is trying to hold back the march of history. If I’m right then that makes it a losing proposition. Time will tell.

  • Jeffrey

    What a great resource!

  • John in Oregon

    VP you have been saying it won’t last for 18 months now. You told Rupert that the outrage against government intervention was a silly flash in the pan. You thought I was silly when I talked bout what they were trying to do and why at least some of the political class thought it was a bad idea.

    You use the derogative, a “free marketer” is functionally a radical because they want to overturn long established institutions.

    An Alice through the looking glass transformation, free market capitalism is radical while the long march of authoritarian despotism from the Egyptians onward are long established institutions.

    *Milton Friedman disagrees:*

    “The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. … In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about … they have had capitalism and largely free trade. … So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear: that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.”

    As for your thought that the Tea Party is a reactionary movement that is trying to hold back the march of history.

    *Washington Post:*
    “Two-thirds of Americans are “dissatisfied” or downright “angry” about the way the federal government is working, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. On average, the public estimates that 53 cents of every tax dollar they send to Washington is “wasted.” … Despite the disapproval of government, few Americans say they know much about the “tea party” movement, which emerged last year and attracted voters angry at a government they thought was spending recklessly and overstepping its constitutional powers.”

    *Rasmussen Reports:*
    “Most voters think the country would be better off if the majority of the current Congress wasn’t reelected this November… A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 63% of likely voters believe, generally speaking, that it would be better for the country if most incumbents in Congress were defeated this November… The Political Class strongly rejects these views, however. *While 78% of Mainstream voters say it would be better for the country if most of the current Congress was turned out of office,* 89% of the Political Class think it would be better if most were reelected.

    *Larry Kudlow:*
    “According to the Washington Post, voters want smaller government and fewer government services by a large 58 to 38 percent margin. Pollster Scott Rasmussen reveals that 61 percent of voters believe tax cuts help the economy, that 59 percent think tax cuts are a better job-creation tool than increased government spending, and that another 59 percent believe higher deficits hurt the economy. Rasmussen also reports that a full 83 percent of Americans blame the deficit on the unwillingness of politicians to cut government spending. And get this: In a whopper of a poll result, the New York Times reports that 75 percent of Americans dislike Congress.”

    “This is why there’s a political revolt out there. Washington just doesn’t get it.”

    “Inside the Beltway, Democrats are sending a profoundly pessimistic message that only government knows best. But out there in the heartland there is an optimistic message that We the People know best. And that heartland optimism will not be stopped.”

    Who, exactly, is holding back the march of history?

    This is what I mean by your distorted frame of reference. > *A few years later there were hundreds of thousands in the streets of Chicago peacefully protesting the Viet Nam war and Democratic convention.*

    Not the same SDS, Weather underground and Red Army Faction I remember.

    *PBS:*
    “In October 1969, hundreds of young people wielding lead pipes and clad in football helmets marched through an upscale Chicago shopping district, pummeling parked cars and smashing shop windows. Thus began the “Days of Rage,” the first demonstration of the Weathermen, later known as the Weather Underground… [T]his group of former student radicals waged a low-level war against the United States government through much of the 1970s, bombing the Capitol building, breaking Timothy Leary out of prison and finally evading the FBI by going into hiding.”

    Compare and contrast. On 9-10-09 between 1 and 2 million gathered on the capital mall in Washington DC. Capital police mingled freely with the crowds with many thanking the officers for their service. The dawn of the next morning very little cleanup was required unlike the days of effort required to remove tons of trash just 8 months earlier.

    Those tea partyers and 912ers are effective.

    *Politico:*
    About the push back the Indiana GOP is giving the NRSC for anointing former Senator Dan Coats as the presumptive GOP nominee against Evan Bayh. Folks in Indiana aren’t pleased, inside or outside the party.

    “One day after Coats announced his interest in the race, a Huntington, Indiana, Tea Party group circulated an e-mail with the subject line, “NO to RNC/Coats for force feeding us this crap sandwich,” while Emery McClendon, a Tea Party organizer, has distributed an e-mail to activists declaring that the push for a Coats candidacy “is the Republican Party’s way of slapping we the people in the face.”

    “For Indiana Republican Party leaders, who are aware of fierce anti-establishment backlash from grassroots conservatives in states like Florida and Kentucky over NRSC involvement in contested primaries, the early warning flares from grassroots conservatives have not gone unnoticed… “They view it as Washington insiders disregarding the ‘voice of the people,’” Pete Miller, a state committee member, wrote in one note.”

    There is a lot more, but that makes the point.

    • John in Oregon

      correction
      On 9-12-09

  • Jed

    > Conservatives seek to understand the reasons behind traditions, but give deference to those traditions because their predecessors have proved them and seen fit to pass on their acquired knowledge.

    I’m curious to what extent you apply that. It’s also contrary to “understand that which has been given them.”
    What traditions are “proved”? It’s not because something is a tradition that it has been proved, it’s because it’s been vetted with observation and reason that we ourselves can observe and repeat.

    It might be a nice essay, but don’t contradict yourself (which I’m sure you didn’t intend, ergo, I think you give less deference to tradition, in and of itself, than you claim to).

  • Leftist Historian

    “This is where the fundamental difference lies, and we should understand these terms within the context of their historical usage by our philosophical predecessors. We would do well to subject ourselves to these, our teachers, and seek to understand and preserve, not what we think of them, but what they have to say of our world—and of us. That is, after all, what “conservatism” is all about.”

    So your claim is that anyone who uses history to learn about ideas or evaluate ideas is a conservative? So that means that all history teachers are conservative and that Marx and Engels was a conservative scholar (dialectical materialism).

    Or maybe your just trying to claim that people who disagree with you are all ignorant of history or have a contempt for it. In which case you are just an empty polemicist.

Stay Tuned...

Stay up to date with the latest political news and commentary from Oregon Catalyst through daily email updates:

Prefer another subscription option? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, become a fan on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Twitter Facebook

No Thanks (close this box)