2007-10-24

Bush - wrecker of American Conservatism

From the department of straying-from- basic-principles:
Once again, major fissures in American conservatism have appeared. Leaders of the Christian right, appalled that a pro-choice, thrice-married candidate, Rudy Giuliani, is leading in the polls, have threatened to lead a mass defection from the GOP ranks and support a third-party presidential bid in 2008. Few expect them to make good on their threat. If they leave, they'll cost the Republicans the election; loyalty will almost certainly prevail. But the real issue isn't the loyalty of the hardcore religious right, who may never find another candidate so congenial as Bush to their fundamentalist beliefs and reactionary agenda. It's the inexplicable loyalty of that majority of American conservatives who are not driven solely by biblical fervor. The real question is: After seven years of George W. Bush, why would any genuine conservative still support his party?

...

Bush's unprovoked war on Iraq provided a satisfying catharsis for American conservatives, an opportunity to play Winston Churchill and fight the good fight against Evil. But the satisfaction of urging on a Manichaean struggle from one's armchair should only go so far before reality kicks in. Just as most conservatives during the Cold War realized that attacking the Soviet Union was not in America's interests, so one would think that today's conservatives would realize that Bush's "war on terror" is not only unwinnable, but both unnecessary and counterproductive. By now, it's obvious to all but myopic ideologues that attacking the Arab world to teach it a lesson was like kicking a vast wasp's nest while wearing a Speedo. We want to win the "war on terror," not strike heroic poses while being stung to death. No one disputes the virtue of moral clarity, but without intelligence, moral clarity is useless. Where is it written that conservatives have to be stupid?

In the age of Bush, even the conservatives' much-vaunted moral clarity does not always bear close inspection. A Pew poll taken in March found that only 18 percent of self-described conservative Republicans believed that torture was never justified. Who was it who said, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all ... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"? It must be one of those damn liberals.*

Of course, it isn't surprising that those who hold a given set of political beliefs, whether liberal or conservative, will support the party and leader that purports to represent those values. Party loyalty is based on a willingness to support even a flawed leader and party in the interests of a higher goal. But there can be times when that leader and party are so injurious to one's deepest moral values and beliefs that it becomes irrelevant what banner they march under. At such moments, those who think for themselves, who are guided by principle and not mere expediency, who are true conservatives -- or liberals -- and not just partisan hacks, will break with their leaders. They will rebel.
As Beamer has pointed out, it wasn't just Bush that did it but the entire Republican party. Bush, however, was the real icing on the cake to my mind. Even with a corrupt Republican controlled congress, a competent and judicious Republican president would have garnered the respect of both grassroots Republicans and independents. More than that, it would also have gained the grudging respect of Democrats, whose history is not exactly spotless either.

As Kamiya points out in the article (which I commend to your reading), the complete disregard for basic conservative principles amongst supposed conservatives has shown how hollow the movement really was.

American politics has a structural flaw - it is a system that rewards confrontationalism, nepotism and corruption. It afflicted the Democrats in the decades prior to 1994 and it afflicted the Republicans since 1994 and it will continue to afflict the Congress of the future no matter which party prevails. If Americans are heartily sick of the way politics runs (and I would assume that most are), then they need to come up with some constitutional amendments that will reward bipartisanship, judicious decision making and long-term planning.

These would include:
  • Abolishing the Electoral College and determine who wins the presidential election by popular vote alone.
  • Incorporate a Preferential voting system for the election of local, state and federal representatives, senators and executive candidates (President / Governor / Mayor)
  • Ensuring that the conduct of elections is controlled by the body being elected. Thus the manner of voting around the country is uniform in nature.
  • Letting bureaucrats determine electoral boundaries based upon statistical and mathematical rules, rather than having one party or another determine these electoral boundaries.
  • Term limits on Senators and Representatives.
  • Abolish mid-term elections and have elections every four years (thus giving Representatives a four year, rather than two-year, term)
  • Determine membership of the Supreme Court by randomly selecting Federal Judges to sit a four year term there (who then return to lesser duties when their term is up).
  • Giving statehood to Washington D.C., and either statehood or independence to Puerto Rico.
  • Seriously consider Demarchy as a means of determining politicians instead of elections.

11 comments:

BLBeamer said...

Neil - You're dead wrong. Most of your suggestions are not just wrong-headed, but dangerous. Our Founders had a healthy distrust of centralized government and "mob rule", too.

But not all of your suggestions are wrong:

Letting bureaucrats determine electoral boundaries based upon statistical and mathematical rules, rather than having one party or another determine these electoral boundaries. I personally favor, and many states have used, a panel of judges to determine voting district boundaries. This would eliminate the notorious gerrymandered districts which are created solely to preserve a party or specific incumbent's seat.

Term limits on Senators and Representatives. Some states have passed this law. I have voted for it. Getting the Congress to amend the constitution and deprive themselves of graft, however, is probably impossible.

Giving statehood to Washington D.C., and either statehood or independence to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico (and Samoa, Guam and the Virgin islands, etc.): . Washington, DC: no.

In addition, if gerrymandering was eliminated, then the 17th Amendment could be repealed, too. That would be sweet. Make those Senators actually have to work for re-election!

One Salient Oversight said...

The founders had a pretty good constitution... for the 18th and 19th century. The electoral college is one of those things that should be eliminated - let popular vote do it.

Why would that make corruption less endemic?

Why would a Democrat candidate even consider going to, say, Nebraska when the electoral college votes are going to the Republicans. Or why would a Republican consider going around Vermont?

Instead, the two candidates travel to swing states like Ohio and Florida, promising much to the people there in order to get their electoral college votes.

The electoral college encourages political activity only in swing areas. Safe places (like Nebraska and Vermont) are ignored, allowing a form of cultural partisanship to develop there, while opening the door for corruption and dirty tricks in swing areas.

That's one at least.

One Salient Oversight said...

Washington DC has more residents that Alaska. Certainly many people travel to DC from adjoining states, but there is still a huge resident population there that is being taxed without representation.

One Salient Oversight said...

And why no preferential voting? I can;t understand why that would be bad. We have it here in Australia and it makes a whole lot more sense than first-past-the-post.

BLBeamer said...

I love my wife and appreciate her patient forbearance while I type these notes.

Mrs. Beamer follows our conversations and she has asked me to say that your interest in the US is a little creepy, rather like Mrs. Kravitz' interest in the Stephens household.

While she thoroughly supports your right to hold any damn fool opinion you please, she wonders if maybe your opinions would be more informed and useful if you made a trip here, and spent some time among the fascinating yet repellent Americans. She also believes that your comments do not always display a spirit of charity and edification, but she does very much appreciate your civility and refusal to resort to name-calling as too many leftists in this country do.

She also hopes you spend at least as much time, talent and energy working to improve your own fine country and making it a better place.

Does Mrs. Oversight ever look over your shoulder while you write? Mrs. Beamer has been tempted to join in, but so far has resisted.

With that, Mrs. Beamer informs me that I must bid you good night and join her for the rest of the evening.

One Salient Oversight said...

Warmest regards to your wife Beamer.

There are a number of reasons why I have an interest in the US, and why I have taught myself much about your nation.

The first is that in the English-speaking internet world, Americans dominate the discourse. Australians, like the Brits, the Irish and New Zealanders, cannot move very far on internet discussions without bumping into Americans. In order to smooth over the cultural transition, I, along with many other non-Americans, have been forced to understand your nation's history, culture and politics. This process of learning has not been without pain, but it has generally been quite agreeable.

The second is that America is the most powerful nation on earth and so the decisions and the thinking that goes on in your country is of vital interest to me. What goes on in my country is also of interest to me, but it is naturally of no interest to you since your life won't be affected much by decisions that take place here.

The third is that the values enshrined in the US Constitution have been highly influential in the development of other nations, including my own. The separation of powers, the rights and freedoms of individuals and other important tenets of modern democracies have their basis in the US Constitution. How America uses and abuses its own constitution is important for other nations to learn what can go on.

The fourth is that America, for all its power and influence, has been unable to progress in democratic thinking because there is no "two-way street" between America and other democracies. Modern Democracies like Australia have gained much from America's political discourse, yet America seems unable to learn from us. However, since the internet has been able to bridge the divide between nations in some respect, dialogue between the peoples of various nations has meant that all political structures - America's, Australia's and more - can be open to examination from a new perspective.

The good news is that I have been to your esteemed country (and there is no sarcasm there because, despite my ranting I do hold the US in highish esteem). The bad news is that this was over 15 years ago. The badder news is that it was for only a week (I was on my way to Britain) and the even badder news is that I spent that week entirely in Los Angeles. In retrospect I should have spent longer in your country and travelled further. I would have visited New York, New England and the Pacific Northwest (and Canada too).

I know it is hard to say this over the internet, and also considering the criticisms I often make about your nation... however there is much in America I do love and respect. I was horrified by the events of 9/11 and wept at the suffering that you guys went through. Moreover, there is a debt of gratitude I have towards American troops who kept my country safe during World War II.

As for me - at this present moment in time I would declare myself reasonably liberal in my politics but that is only compared to politics in the United States. Yet there is much in me that I would label as "conservative". Despite the statist solutions I bring up I never lose sight of personal responsibility - moreover I think it is mad to toss out much of what we have learned in the past in the name of progress. Some laws, beliefs and attitudes are timeless.

Personally, I appreciate every comment you make here Beamer. I would like to meet you one day and if you and your wife decide to visit "Down under" you are welcome to stay with my family.

BLBeamer said...

The electoral college encourages political activity only in swing areas.

On the contrary, straight popular vote elections would guarantee that candidates spent nearly all their time and treasure in cities or states with high populations. This would guarantee small states like Alaska, Wyoming or Vermont would be ignored. The Electoral College offers the opportunity for even a small state like Vermont to be a swing state, given the right circumstances.

It also assures that a candidate wins a national victory, which is important for the President.

BLBeamer said...

Washington DC has more residents that Alaska. Certainly many people travel to DC from adjoining states, but there is still a huge resident population there that is being taxed without representation.

I can tell you that taxation with representation is no great shakes, either. It has been awhile since I read of the legislation that created the federal district out of Maryland and Virginia, but I believe there may be significant issues related to making it a state.

But my primary argument is that the national capital should be national, and not under the sway of any other government body.

BLBeamer said...

Why would that make corruption less endemic?

The Electoral College, elimination of gerrymandering and repeal of the 17th amendment in combination would significantly diffuse corruption. Where it is less concentrated, it is less likely to make a significant difference.

Right now, all we have is the Electoral College.

BLBeamer said...

More than that, it would also have gained the grudging respect of Democrats, whose history is not exactly spotless either.

Highly unlikely. There was so much animosity and rancor stored up by the Clinton impeachment and 2000 election, that the Democrats would not have respected any Republican, even if he had won by a landslide.

Recent history also has shown us that the only Republicans offered even grudging respect from most Democrats are dead ones.

BLBeamer said...

Neil, thanks for your kind words and warm invitation. I have no idea if we will ever make it to Australia. But if you ever make it to the Pacific NW, do let us know. You are welcome here, too.

I hope my wife's words were not interpreted too harshly. I was trying to put her comments into words while she was distracted watching "Dancing with the Stars". Any harshness was strictly my fault due to my feeeble skills in transcribing her comments.

I thought the Mrs. Kravitz bit was funny, though.