Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

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.

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.

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. 

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.   

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. 

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.”    

 

 

In the spirit of this holiday, I suggest the following list of resolutions for Republicans for 2013.

Republicans must resolve to:

(1). Acknowledge that your party is not a “conservative” party.  Recognize, and then admit, that it is a neoconservative party.

(2). Come to terms with the fact that neoconservatism is almost as antithetical to genuine conservatism as is welfare-liberalism, socialism, and, in short, full-blown leftism.  And then realize that this is because neoconservatism is but another species of the latter.

(3). Disavow anyone among your ranks who prides himself upon being, say, a “Kennedy Democrat,” or a “Scoop Jackson Democrat.”  You should resolve to disavow such a person just as quickly as you should disavow a self-declared “conservative” who regards The Weekly Standard and Commentary as “conservative” publications.  Fortunately, these are two birds for which you will need only one stone, for it is a certainty that anyone who professes to be a Democrat in the mold of JFK or Scoop Jackson will think of these publications as conservative in nature.

(4). See “conservative” talk radio and Fox News for what they are.  If Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and others really are “alternative media” voices, as they are forever assuring us, this is only because they are an acceptable alternative.  And they are an acceptable alternative only because they are a scripted alternative.   

Our “conservative alternative media” unfailingly adheres to the Politically Correct script.  This is why the left has succeeded in not only maintaining, but actually strengthening its hold over our culture during just that period that our “alternative media” has exploded.

(5). Abandon all cult-like worship of all politicians—particularly those at the national level.  Few things are as inimical to liberty as this.  Republicans seem to have a glimmer of this insight whenever they speak to the phenomenon that Sean Hannity routinely refers to as “Obamamania.”  Yet when it comes to the boulder in their own collective eye, they are oblivious. 

Yes, the elevation of Barack Hussein Obama to the stature of a deity is both idolatrous and dangerous.  However, it is no less idolatrous or dangerous when Ronald Wilson Reagan is immortalized.  For that matter, it is equally idolatrous and dangerous to deify Abraham Lincoln and even “the Founders.”

This brings us to our next resolution.

(6). Eschew the deification of all politicians, certainly, but especially those who have championed, not just “Big” government, but Gargantuan Government. 

Indeed, it is without exaggeration that Republicans can be said to worship Lincoln.  Our 16th president they have canonized as a saint.  Yet there is no figure in American history who has done more to “fundamentally transform” the relationship between the citizen and the government than “Honest Abe.” 

Via four long years of the bloodiest war Americans, to the present day, had ever seen, Lincoln succeeded in revoking the Founders’ vision of a federalized, constitutional government rooted in states’ rights.  He was the stuff of which the anti-Federalists’ (and many of the Federalists’) nightmares were made. Lincoln established the precedent for the ever growing consolidation of authority and power that continues to unfold at neck-breaking speed today.

Stop worshipping Lincoln and start realizing that he was as perilous a threat to liberty that America has ever faced.

(7). Drop all talk of “the Reagan Revolution.” This is closely related to the last resolution. 

There was no revolution.  Federal debts and deficits ballooned under Reagan. No department, no program, was eliminated.  Taxes were cut, yes, but so too were they increased, and they were increased more frequently, and far more significantly, than they were reduced.

Reagan talked a good game—a great game, actually.  But he didn’t walk so well.

In practice, Reagan was every much a champion of Gargantuan Government as the Democrats with whom (he all too infrequently) did battle.

(8). Continuing this same theme, repent of the cover that you ran for George W. Bush throughout his presidency. 

Any politician who refers to himself as a “compassionate conservative” is neither compassionate nor conservative.  Government exists to see to it that justice is done.  Compassion is for individuals to dispense.  Bush was as gargantuan a spender of tax monies as any politician has ever been.  He increased the size and scope of the federal government.

Obama is our president today because Bush was our president yesterday.

(9). Concede the glaring inconsistency of simultaneously advocating “limited government” while calling for a larger military.  In other words, recognize that the military is government, that the larger the military, the larger the government.

If you are in favor of a smaller, less intrusive government, then you must favor a smaller, or at least not a larger, military.  If, on the other hand, you favor a larger military, then you favor a larger, not a smaller, government.

(10). Call out, by name, those self-declared “conservatives” who actually threaten the cause of liberty.  Even if this proves to be an endless task, which it undoubtedly will, it is a task that needs to be fulfilled.

Happy New Year!

On Monday, Christmas Eve, 62 year-old William Spengler set fire to his home in upstate New York.  When four firefighters arrived, he rained down a storm of bullets, killing two of them.  He also shot at the police before taking his own life.

That Spengler is now numbered among the dead is cause for rejoicing.  However, that his death came at his own hands, and that it didn’t happen years ago, proves that justice was denied her due.

You see, Spengler spent 17 years in prison for having beaten to death his own grandmother back in 1980. 

Evil there will always be, but if, as Americans insist, ours is a nation of laws, there can be no conceivable justification for the fact that Spengler continued to enjoy oxygen for one minute, let alone three decades, after he was convicted of this horrific murder.  It is nothing short of a scandal that he was released from prison after having served but a 17 year sentence.   

As the eighteenth century philosopher Immanuel Kant said, who ever “has committed murder, must die.”  

All of the associates of a civil association are related to one another in terms of laws. Unlike decrees, commands, and orders, laws do not tell us what to do.  Rather, they merely tell us how we must do whatever it is we choose to do.  Laws are the terms of self-governance, that which distinguishes persons from beasts, free agents from slaves and beasts.

Justice is the one and only virtue of a civil association.  It is the blood that courses through its veins.  Injustice—outlawry—is toxic to it.    

Every crime is an injection of poison into the bloodstream of civil association, an assault against each and every associate of whom the criminal declares himself an enemy. Thus, every criminal must be punished to the fullest extent of the law, as we say.

For the actions of the Spenglers of the world, though—the monsters among us—death is the only fitting response.

By way of executing murderers and the chronically violent, the members of civil association resoundingly, unmistakably, affirm their respect, indeed, their reverence, for the only thread that unites them into one body: the law. 

Mere imprisonment of heinous and pathological violators of the laws, even if it is supposed to be for life, is unjust.  As long as the murderer or the torturer remains alive, far from being vanquished from the association that he threatened, he now becomes its ward: if he lives 100 years or more, every moment of his existence will be courtesy of the associates that now have to subsidize him.

Justice screams for the death penalty, for the most egregious criminals deserve it and their victims—every law-abiding citizen—deserve that they should be subjected to it.

Murderers (and, I would add, torturers and other assortments of pathologically violent criminal offenders) must die.

Although every action taken by the government of a civil association in addressing crime (or anything else) should be motivated by the desire to do justice, it is both possible and desirable that our desire for justice be supplemented by our compassion for those directly harmed by predators.

Compassion and justice, ideally, form a seamless whole.  They need not be in conflict with one another.  In fact, more frequently than not, we see that our compassion extends most readily to those who have been denied justice.

Personally, my heart aches for those who have been ravaged by the savage.  I needn’t lose my three year-old son, wife, mother, or close friend to a murderous thug in order to empathize—genuinely, deeply, empathize—with those who have lost their loved ones.  And I needn’t go through any of this personally in order to feel to the depths of my soul the injustice of it all.

It pains me to know that our prisons are jammed pack with vermin who haven’t the slightest regard for human life. Such is my compassion for those who have been reduced to prey, such is my thirst for righteousness, that, in the proverbial “New York minute,” I would gladly offer my services, free of charge, in the capacity of the Hangman.

Many will doubtless recoil in shock and disgust at this.  But consider:

If I chose to enlist my resources in the service of killing enemy combatants in a war in which my country was engaged, I would be lionized for my patriotism and heroism. There would be hardly a place to which I could travel where I wouldn’t be “thanked for my service.”  Film upon film would be made glorifying my sacrifices and exploits.

Yet while some of the men who I would kill may very well be wicked, each would be doing exactly what I would be doing: fighting for the values of his people and his land.

In contrast, the bottom feeders whose lives I would extinguish as Hangman are the worst of the worst criminals. Unlike the Japanese and Germans in WWII, say, or the Vietnamese and the Iraqis in the Vietnam and Iraqi wars, respectively, they are not driven by any commitment to ideals and causes larger than themselves.

They are evil, and they pose a much larger threat to our civil association than any posed by Al Qaeda,Iran, or any other international entity.  But while I am just as much motivated by the love of country, by justice and fellow feeling, to volunteer to be a Hangman as others are to become soldiers, I will not elicit any of the respect or admiration of the latter.

If there was true justice in our world, it is the Hangman, not the Soldier, who would receive the thanks and the glory.             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As “the conservative movement” seeks to regain its bearings following Barack Obama’s reelection, its adherents should recognize, first of all, that its name doesn’t do justice to its true character.

That is, the conservative movement is actually a neoconservative movement.

With rare exception, virtually every “star” in the movement is a neoconservative.  From the personalities on Fox News to the shining lights of “conservative” talk radio, from “conservative” politicians to the most well known “conservative” writers, there is scarcely an intellect to be found that isn’t indebted to the neoconservative worldview.

Names must be named if constructive change is to occur.

Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin, no less than Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and Bill Bennett; Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, as much as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich; David Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Michele Malkin, like George Will, David Brooks, and David Frum, are all neoconservatives.

Translation: they are alike proponents of Gargantuan Government.

There is a superabundance of evidence, from their policy prescriptions to the politicians for whom they have offered endless cover, to substantiate this. But the most glaring exhibit is their veneration of Ronald Wilson Reagan.

To be more accurate, these are actually two exhibits.  The friends of liberty, real conservatives, revere no politician, however virtuous he may be. And they certainly don’t revere politicians at the national level.

The veneration of this politician, though, Reagan, is even more revealing.  Reagan was definitely likable—a fact that, being a Republican president in an era prior to the explosion of non-Democratic-friendly media outlets, speaks to his considerable talents—but he was no conservative.

Despite all of his “limited government” rhetoric, Reagan was as much of a champion of Gargantuan Government as anyone else.  He is heralded by “conservatives” as a tax cutter. However, his much touted “tax cut” of 1981 was more than offset by two tax increases that year alone, to say nothing of the multiple tax hikes for which Reagan pushed all throughout his eight years in the Oval office.

Federal spending—and, thus, the federal government—expanded exponentially under Reagan. Both the deficit and the debt rose astronomically throughout his two terms.

His promises to the contrary aside, Reagan singularly failed to eliminate a single government program, let alone an agency.

And liberty diminished.

The deregulation for which Reagan typically receives credit consisted of measures that Jimmy Carter implemented but which didn’t take effect until after the Gipper was already in office.

Reagan did nothing—nothing—to advance conservatism on the cultural front either.  It was the Reagan administration that launched a so-called “war on drugs.”  The idea of a local government rendering it a crime for an adult citizen to ingest a potentially harmful substance is sufficient to make any friend of liberty cock an eyebrow.  The idea of an ostensibly federal government doing so should make him recoil in horror. 

Yet Reagan waged a “war on drugs,” a war that continues over three decades later and that shows zero signs of terminating at any time in the near—or distant—future.

It is probably the case that, to some extent, Reagan’s tough talk and liberty-centered rhetoric contributed to the implosion of the Soviet Union.  Yet precisely because it was an implosion that befell the evil empire, Reagan was, at best, a catalyst that merely expedited a process of disintegration that had already been well underway.

If there really was a “Reagan revolution,” can someone please say what it accomplished?  It isn’t just that Reagan’s presidency did nothing to arrest, and much to assist, the progressive’s agenda of cultural transformation. Some libertarian-minded thinkers, like Murray Rothbard, for instance, have argued, quite convincingly, that Reagan actually arrested the rising tide of libertarianism that was gaining steam in the mid to late 1970’s by co-opting some of its elements while relegating others to the periphery.

Ronald Wilson Reagan was neither a conservative nor a libertarian.  Though our verdict on this score is irrefutable, there isn’t a mainstream “conservative” publication in America that would print my argument.  The deification of Reagan has assured this.

But it is just this elevation of Reagan to the stature of a god that discloses for all with eyes to see that “the conservative movement” doomed itself a long time ago.