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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Understanding Republicans’ Reaction to Chuck Hagel

posted by Jack Kerwick

Neoconservative Republicans are none too pleased by President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to the position of Secretary of Defense. 

Anyone who has been listening to neoconservative talk radio for the last couple of days, or reading such neoconservative publications as The Weekly Standard and National Review, is all too familiar with the litany of charges of which Hagel is presumed guilty.  When it comes to foreign policy, Hagel is an “appeaser,” “naïve,” and “no friend of Israel.”

These allegations may or may not be true.  What is true is that Hagel’s accusers haven’t even come close to substantiating any of them.

Mine is an attitude of indifference toward Hagel.  To his credit, he was a trenchant critic of the Iraq War.  However, he had none of the prescience of those of the war’s opponents who resisted it from the outset, for Hagel initially voted for it. The point, though, is that it is his opposition to this war that first rendered him persona non grata to his fellow neoconservative Republicans who aggressively advocated on its behalf.

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They will not publicly admit this now, obviously.  After all, as the elections of 2006 and 2008, to say nothing of poll after poll, proved beyond a doubt, it has been quite some time since the majority of the nation has decided that the Hagels of the world were correct about the war while the Kristols, Krauthammers, Hannitys, Limbaughs, and Bennetts were sorely mistaken.  

The Iraq War was a foreign policy disaster of epic proportions.  This is how most people view it today—even if Hagel’s neoconservative critics refuse to do so.

The neoconservative’s reaction to Hagel’s nomination is as revealing an indication as any that the Republican Party has not amended its ways.  To put it another way, it proves that America’s neoconservative party is as committed to its ideology as Obama is committed to his.

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Every election season neoconservative pundits are quick to chastise as “single issue” voters those “social conservatives” who express reluctance to vote for candidates who they believe are, say, insufficiently “pro-life.”  Yet these same pundits show none of the tolerance, patience, or flexibility of those to whom they preach, for there is one issue on which they will not compromise.

Of course, that issue is “foreign policy” or “national security.” 

And for the neoconservative, this means the following:

First, any politician who isn’t determined to spend even more public monies on the military must be depicted as an “appeaser,” “naïve,” and, invariably, “no friend ofIsrael’s.”  

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Second, any politician who suggests the need for reductions in military (“defense”) spending must be characterized as an “appeaser,” “naïve,” and “no friend of Israel.”

Third, any politician who refuses to paint any Islamic militant as a “terrorist,” “radical Muslim,” or “Islamist” must be described as an “appeaser,” “naïve,” and “no friend of Israel.” 

Fourth, any politician, like Hagel, who makes a point of reminding his colleagues that they have been elected to represent the people of America, not of Israel, must be smeared as an “appeaser,” “naïve,” and “no friend of Israel.” 

Finally, any politician who opposes efforts to enlist the American military in the service of fundamentally transforming the planet into a bastion of Global Democracy must be decried as an “appeaser,” “naïve,” and “no friend of Israel.”

The key to understanding the neoconservative’s reaction to Hagel—as well as to understanding everything else that  does—lies in understanding his foreign policy vision and the all-importance that he attaches to it.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Conservatism’s “Patron Saint,” Edmund Burke, and the GOP

posted by Jack Kerwick

As the members of America’s “conservative” party struggle to get a hold of themselves following this past election, they should revisit—or visit—the thought of modern conservatism’s “patron saint,” Edmund Burke.  

If anything distinguishes conservatism from other brands of political thought it is its affirmation of tradition.  This Burke makes clear.  This attachment to tradition, in turn, is inseparable from its disavowal of “metaphysical abstraction.”  Radicals of all types think that they can surmount their cultural traditions—their civilization—by bringing them before the tribunal of their own intellects.  Burke is having none of it.

“We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason,” Burke famously wrote, for “we suspect that this stock in each man is small [.]”  Human reason, far from preceding tradition, is actually dependent upon it. Thus, rather than rely upon their own reason, individuals “would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages”—i.e. tradition.  

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This lofty conception of Reason for which radicals are known—F.A. Hayek called it “the fatal conceit”—gives rise to a morality of ideals or principles.  For example, the radicals of the French Revolution upon whom Burke set his sights touted the ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.  Radicals in other times and places have centered their attention on Human Rights, say, or Virtue, Piety, Democracy, and the Will of the People. 

There is nothing wrong with ideals and principles as such.  The problem sets in when they are treated as if they were timeless and self-evident truths that can be effortlessly grasped by people everywhere.  It is when we ignore the fact that these ideals and principles are meaningful only within the context of the specific traditions within which they developed that trouble promises to ensue.   

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As Burke says, we must guard against “the metaphysic sophistry” and “delusive plausibilities” of radicals who would divest our ideals of “every relation” so that they are left standing “in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction.”  We must take care to remember that it is “circumstances” that “render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.”

Those who follow a morality of ideals aspire to be something like “citizens of the world.”  Those who recognize that morality is rooted in tradition, however, know that “charity starts at home,” as we say.  They recognize, in other words, that it is our families, churches, and local communities—our “little platoons,” Burke called them—that make us into the moral beings that we are.

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Given that the family is the quintessential “little platoon,” it is with the imagery of the family that Burke chose to drape the relationship between the citizen and his state.  The English, he wrote, “claim and assert our liberties,” not as deductions from abstract principles, but “as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity [.]”  

Burke explains that in giving to “our frame of polity the image of a relation in blood,” the idea of an inheritance conjoins “the constitution of our country with our dearest domestic ties” while “adopting our fundamental laws into the bosom of our family affections [.]”

The turn from a morality of ideals toward a traditional morality that Burke urged has been heeded by many a conservative.  The same, unfortunately, can not be said of Republicans.  Neither do they seem to share his skepticism of Reason.

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But if the members of America’s “conservative” party did listen to Burke, maybe they would realize a few things.

First, because the best intentions of even the brightest of folks often have wildly unpredictable consequences, top-down societal schemes for which Big Government is known must be resisted at every turn.

Translation: a genuinely federal, or constitutional, government of the sort mapped out by the Founders must be the goal for which every conservative works.

Second, national defense is one thing.  International crusades or wars for Freedom or Democracy or any other ideal are something else entirely.  Every conservative must recognize them for the utopian, and inevitably destructive, fantasies that they are.   

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Third, massive third-world immigration of the kind that America has been promoting for nearly a half-of-a-century conservatives must strive to end.  The morality embodied by our institutions generally, and our constitutional institutions particularly, is culturally-specific.  That is, it is Eurocentric.  The vast majority of today’s immigrants are strangers to Western moral norms, when they aren’t outright hostile toward them.  And in any event, not only are there no institutional arrangements in place to encourage them to become literate in our ways.   The spirit of our times encourages non-Western immigrants to resist assimilation.

Familiarity with Burke is necessary if the members of our conservative party are going to start acting like conservatives.      

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

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A Party of Moderates

posted by Jack Kerwick

In his most recent piece, the widely respected Thomas Sowell remarks upon the GOP’s decades long insistence upon nominating “ad hoc moderates”—like Mitt Romney—as their presidential candidates—even though these moderates unfailingly “get beaten by even vulnerable, unknown or discredited Democrats.” 

Sowell expresses what appears to be the consensus among many in talk radio, to say nothing of the rank-and-file of the Republican Party. 

Sadly, far from shedding light on the GOP’s woes, this consensus is a reflection of them.

When Republican voters decry “ad hoc moderates,” it is to “Republican-In-Name-Only” (RINO) types that they refer.  That is, it is Republican liberals for whom they reserve their disdain.  But this grievance implies that there is a meaningful distinction to be drawn between Republicans who are “moderates” and those who are not.

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The truth of the matter is that no such distinction exists.

In other words, with few exceptions, the vast majority of Republican politicians are “moderates.”   In practice, if not always in rhetoric, they are liberals, Big Government tax-and-spenders.

Doubtless, the widely shared perception among those on the right that Mitt Romney is, as Newt Gingrich referred to him in the presidential primaries, a “Massachusetts moderate,” is correct.  Seldom noted, however, is that Gingrich himself is no less of a “moderate.”  In fact, Gingrich is actually more of a “moderate” than the former Massachusetts governor.

From his support for “spreading” Democracy around the planet, foreign aid, and an individual “health care” mandate, to his support for a ‘flex fuel” mandate, Medicare D, the bank bailouts of 2008, and everything in between, Gingrich is as avid a proponent of Big Government as there is.   

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Yet Gingrich isn’t the only “conservative” alternative to Romney from the primaries who isn’t conservative. Rick Santorum is another.

The United States government currently has its military personnel in some 160 countries or so. Santorum wants an even stronger American military presence. He also never renounced the “Compassionate Conservatism” that he once avowed, an ideology of Gargantuan Government that lead Santorum to call for greater government involvement in the life of civil society—including its religious institutions.

In 2005 Santorum gave a speech to the Heritage Foundation in which he claimed: “If government is to be effective,” then “charities, houses of worship, and other civil institutions” have to be, not just “respected,” but “nurtured” (emphasis mine).  Among the things that he wanted to see done is for the federal government to “dedicate a larger percentage of” its “GDP to foreign aid” and to abolish “genocide, international sex trafficking and the oppression of minority groups… around the world [.]”

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George W. Bush, in spite of winning two terms and presiding over a Republican-controlled Congress for 75% of his time as president, was at least as much, and probably much more of a “moderate,” than Romney or any other RINO. 

The federal government continued to swell under Bush and his Republicans.  His “Compassionate Conservatism” did absolutely nothing to advance anything that can remotely be called “conservative” and much to retard it. Not since Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society has federal spending increased to the extent that it did under Bush’s watch. 

It isn’t just these much touted “conservative” stars and veterans of the GOP who are indistinguishable from the “moderates” who self-styled conservatives disdain. While it borders on blasphemy to suggest it, the truth is that no less a figure than Ronald W. Reagan was also a “moderate.” 

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In other words, Reagan, though brilliant at articulating a vision of liberty, did not govern as a conservative. 

The federal government ballooned during Reagan’s eight years as president. He succeeded in eliminating not a single government program, let alone an agency.  Taxes were cut in his first year as president, yes, but they were increased many times after that.  Spending far exceeded even Jimmy Carter’s wildest forecast, we “cut and run” after more than 200 of our Marines were killed in Lebanon, and millions of illegal immigrants were granted amnesty—all during Reagan’s tenure.   

The Republican Party is not divided between conservatives and “moderates.” It consists of varying degrees of “moderates.”  Until this is grasped, until, that is, we realize that conservatives’ ticket to winning future elections is to make sure that they are, well, conservative, Republicans will continue to lose ground with the American public.     

 

 

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More “Conservative” Blindness

posted by Jack Kerwick

In his most recent piece, the widely respected Thomas Sowell refers to the GOP as “the 8th wonder of the world” for its uncanny ability to continue “repeating the same mistakes for decades on end [.]” The Republican establishment, Sowell complains, persists in nominating “ad hoc moderates”—like Mitt Romney—as their presidential candidates—even though these moderates unfailingly “get beaten by even vulnerable, unknown or discredited Democrats.” 

This, Sowell thinks, is because these “pragmatic moderates…feed pablum to the public, instead of treating them like adults.” When it comes to conveying a “coherent argument, instead of ad hoc talking points,” Republican politicians generally fail abysmally.

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Given the admiration that I always had for Sowell, it pains me to confess that his analysis—which has been echoed by many others in “the conservative media”—reveals the depths of the mess in which the mainstream right is mired.

In other words, it is Sowell’s mentality that accounts for why Republicans are “the 8th wonder of the world.”

When Sowell decries “ad hoc moderates” he means to refer to “Republican-In-Name-Only” (RINO) types.  That is, it is Republican liberals for whom he reserves his disdain.  And when he criticizes their penchant for “ad hoc talking points,” as opposed to “coherent argument,” it is their inability or unwillingness to explain to voters the rational and moral superiority of their positions to which he speaks.

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There is more than one problem with this reasoning, but the one problem that is most glaring—and most serious—is the assumption that lies at its heart.  It is the assumption that there really is a meaningful distinction to be drawn between Republicans who are “moderates” and those who are not.

Sowell lambasts Mitt Romney for being an “ad hoc moderate,” but during the presidential primaries he endorsed Newt Gingrich.  How, we must ask, is the latter any less a “moderate” than the former?  If anything, from their respective stances on immigration to foreign policy to Big Government generally, the case can be made that Gingrich is actually more of a so-called “moderate”—i.e. liberal—than Romney. 

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And what is true of Gingrich is no less true of Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, and virtually every other Republican who is widely heralded as a “star” of “the conservative movement.”

Most tellingly of all is that it is also true of the god of the movement, Ronald W. Reagan.  If a “moderate” is a Republican liberal, and the latter is but a champion of what I have elsewhere called Gargantuan Government, then, in practice, even if not in rhetoric, Reagan was as much of such a champ as anyone.

The federal government continued to grow and grow and grow during Reagan’s two terms in office. He succeeded in eliminating not a single government program, let alone an agency.  Taxes were cut in his first year as president, yes, but they were increased many times after that.  Spending far exceeded even Jimmy Carter’s wildest forecast, we “cut and run” after more than 200 of our Marines were killed in Lebanon, and millions of illegal immigrants were granted amnesty—all under Reagan’s watch.   

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Neither Sowell nor most people would say that Gingrich was inarticulate—and no one, at least nowadays, would say anything of the sort about Reagan.  For that matter, neither is Romney, Santorum nor any number of other Republican “moderates” incapable of talking a good talk.

But in the end, their feet failed, as they always fail, to synchronize with their lips.

Can it be, not that Republicans fail to convey their message, but that they fail to implement it when they have the chance to do so?  Can it be that they have ruined their credibility because their walk never meshes with their talk?

It is true that Republicans have a more difficult time making inroads with the American public given that much of the media remains under the control of Democratic sympathizers. Yet it never seems to dawn upon Republican politicians and commentators that they have made their rivals’ work that much easier by repeatedly professing their commitment to ideals that are conspicuously remote from the real world, ideals that they never come near to fleshing out. 

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For example, Republicans go on and on about “limited government” and “lower taxes,” say, but everywhere Americans look, all that they experience are burdensome taxes and an omnipresent government. Such is the case whether Republicans are in or out of power.

Republicans, in short, all too easily come across as insincere.  They can even be seen as more, not less, power-hungry than Democrats because of this.

Until Sowell and others on the right understand that conservatives’ ticket to winning future elections is to make sure that they are, well, conservative, Republicans will continue “repeating the same mistakes” for more “decades on end.”    

 

 

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