I’ve long believed that people’s political views are more an expression of temperament than reasoned thought. We’re all a blend of liberal and conservative flavors and how liberal and how conservative we are depends on how much of each got poured into us at birth and what life has added to the mix or drained from it since. I’ve got enough conservative in me to make me worry about what I’ll be like when I’m old and cranky.
Older and crankier.
David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush speechwriter and now conservative blogger at the Daily Beast, has a good helping of liberal in him for as stanch a Republican as he insists he still is. The story goes that he let this side of himself show once too often and it got him frog-marched from the American Enterprise Institute. Frum himself denies that’s what happened. It was a simple salary dispute. He wanted one and AEI decided they did want to pay it. Whatever the case, it seems since he’s been blogging he’s felt freer to let his freak flag fly and while it’s more often the case that when I read his stuff I’m not out and out appalled, from time to time, and those times aren’t rare, I find myself nodding in agreement and even occasionally shouting out, “Yes! David! My man!”
Now, here’s the thing. Having a liberal streak doesn’t mean you necessarily endorse liberal policies. Nor does having a conservative streak mean you necessarily endorse conservative ones. It’s simply that you can see the other side’s point. But there’s more to it. It also means that you can see how a liberal policy can lead to a conservative goal or vice versa. An example of the former is same-sex marriage. Andrew Sullivan makes this argument forcefully and often. An example of the latter is Obamacare. It works like this.
The vast majority of us share two broad goals, defending the status quo and expanding opportunity, the status quo being a generally well-ordered, safe, and comfortable society, in which we’re reasonably free to shoot our mouths off, go where we want, and spend what money we have as we see fit, and expanding opportunity means giving ourselves and our fellow citizens more of stake in maintaining the status quo by letting more of us share in more of the benefits of living in this well-ordered, safe, and comfortable society, although that often requires changing the status quo.
Simply put, conservatives are more inclined to defend the status quo, even if that means denying some people some opportunity, while liberals tend to want to increase opportunity even if that means disrupting some aspect of the status quo if not the whole of it. The point is that the interests of conservatives and liberals are often the same.
So, yes, Obamacare preserves the health insurance industry and gives insurance companies a huge infusion of cash, but everybody’s insured, so everybody shares in the order, safety, comfort, and freedom provided by the status quo, which gives everybody a stake in preserving the status quo.
You can see where this is going, right? Most self-styled conservatives these days can’t. Many progressives can and they don’t like it.
The object of liberalism is to create more conservatives.
It should be obvious to conservatives that the fewer people with a stake in preserving the status quo the more people you'll have with reason to disrupt it. It is obvious to some conservatives. It just used to be obvious to most conservatives. In order to give more people a stake in defending the status quo, increase people's opportunities to enjoy the benefits of the status quo.
Conservatives used to see the good in spreading the wealth---in redistribution. Although Republicans have always been fond of their millionaires, they used to be almost as fond of the middle and working class. The object of economic progress wasn’t just to create and coddle millionaires. The object was to give more people the same stake in maintaining the status quo that millionaires have. Conservatives, generally, think---or thought---this was best done on the local level and by encouraging private enterprise. But it's why there are conservatives who support expanding civil rights, strong public schools, and even--- a shocker---progressive taxation. (That's where the 47 percent comes in, Mitt.) The point is that sometimes the best way to be a good conservative is to be liberal, and once upon a time most conservatives understood that.
Here's how liberalism and conservatism are mixed up in me. As a straight, white, middle class American male, I have always benefited from the status quo. But being a kind, decent-hearted, well-meaning, and generous guy, I want everybody to have what I have; however, being a selfish, self-protective, and greedy guy too, I figure that the more people who have what I have, the more people I'll have on my side if somebody tries to take it all away.
At the moment, the people who are trying to take it away are rich Right Wing corporatists and their political henchmen like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Seeing this doesn't make me a liberal. You don't have to be a liberal to see that Romney and Ryan are threats to the status quo.
Defending the status quo by default means defending established privilege and more and more over the course of the last several generations the conservatism of the Republican Party has degenerated into an angry defense of privilege alone. Any and all privilege. White privilege. Male privilege. The privileges that come from having been born straight, Christian, and a citizen. The privileges that come from being rich. Especially the privileges that come from being rich. The corporatist Right and the Religious Right and the Tea Party Right are united in a common defense of their privileges and don’t give a damn about expanding opportunity. In fact, they look at expanded opportunities as a form of theft. They see life as a zero-sum endeavor.
“Whenever you get something, I lose something. However your opportunity expands, mine contracts. Whatever you have, you’ve taken from me.”
The corporatists, the Christianists, and the Tea Party types have as their common goal a taking back of America, by which they mean a taking away of opportunity from those they perceive as having robbed them of their privileges.
This isn’t conservative. It’s reactionary. It’s destructive. And it’s just plain mean.
David Frum sees that and it bothers him. In fact, it infuriates him. And it’s the basis for my finding myself in agreement with him from time to time.
It’s why, from time to time, he can sound like a liberal…because he is being liberal.
Take for example his set of tweets last week on why he thinks Romney is losing, which includes this:
(4) How do you message: I'm doing away w[ith] Medicaid over the next 10 yrs, Medicare after that, to finance a cut in the top rate of tax to 28%?
And ends with:
(10) But voters do care about the q[uestion]: what will this presidency do for me? And "dick you over" is not a winning answer
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Neither my liberalism nor Frum’s conservatism are all that adulterated, so although I often find myself nodding in agreement, it’s usually the case that I see his point not that we’re seeing eye to eye. But one thing we do see eye to eye on, it turns out, is Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times.
Couple weeks back, in my post Shake every hand, kiss every baby, I mentioned, more or less in passing, how the “self-made” entrepreneurs who paraded up on the stage at the Republican Convention to congratulate themselves on their self-reliance and go-getterism and whine about how the President doesn’t appreciate their wonderfulness reminded me of Josiah Bounderby, the mill owner and banker in Hard Times who likes to boast about how he worked his way up from rags to riches all on his own while leaving out the part of his life story in which his mother beggared herself scrimping and saving to put him through school and give him his start in business.
Frum was reminded of Bounderby too and he’s devoted a whole post to the comparison and to Hard Times which he calls “a brilliant anticipation of this summer's debate over ‘you didn't build that’” and “reply to the still-recurring fantasy of ‘Going Galt’.”