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Scarred for Life After Blair: Conservatives Mumble About Welfare State Reform

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Seizing the Moral High Ground for Reform

by Christopher Chantrill
May 06, 2007 at 4:10 pm


LAST WEEK Mitt Romney cracked jokes with Jay Leno and mildly corrected Chris Matthews about the propriety of a Mormon advising Catholic bishops on church doctrine. But he got his Three Strongs message in: Strengthen America’s military; strengthen America’s economy; strengthen America’s families.

Mild mannered Mitt was careful not to frighten the horses on anything so controversial as reform of the welfare state so it was John McCain who got branded the “cranky warrior” for getting angry about Iraq.

Rule One for conservative candidates in twenty-first century America is: Don’t get defined as the mean-spirited candidate.

Of course, it’s grossly unfair. The Rev. Al Sharpton can base an entire career on rage: “No Justice, No Peace!” Well-born feminists can swoon with outrage at the gender-based equivocations of ex-Harvard president Larry Summers. Media mavens can puff their important chests out like pouter pigeons over the edgy comments of former radio shock-jock Don Imus.

When conservatives try moralizing they get stigmatized as “mean-spirited.”

And it’s not just in America. Ever since the 1997 general election blowout the Conservative Party in Britain has been tagged as the “nasty” party. They hardly mention uncontrolled immigration, the failing National Health Service, and the “bog-standard” government school system without being labeled as “nasty.”

Nicolas Sarkozy, the next president of France, had to watch his mouth in last week’s pre-election debate with the socialist candidate Ségolène Royal lest he be judged too negative. But it was OK for Mme Royal to rip into him to her heart’s content.

The reality of conservatism was described Sunday in the British Telegraph. Maurice Saatchi, an associate of Margaret Thatcher, called for a conservatism of “practical idealism.” He invoked the spirit of Ronald Reagan in his 1982 speech to the House of Commons. Then he wrote:

[It is] an error to think of Conservatism in terms of "practicality" and "efficiency". True Conservatism is practical idealism. Its motives, instead of being merely mechanical or materialistic, are idealistic to the point of being Utopian.

Why then do practical, idealistic conservatives get castigated as “mean-spirited” or “nasty?” It’s simple.

If you try to reform government pensions, you are accused of throwing granny out into the street. If you try to reform government health care you are accused of snatching granny’s medicines away. If you try to reform government education you are accused of blaming “our” teachers (usually women) and of not caring about kids.

Notice the common factor here? You cannot seize the high ground when you propose to reform a government program that benefits women. This is not because we have put women on a pedestal, oh no. In the twenty-first century we are past all of that.

In the post pedestal age, the problem is how to reform programs that benefit women without being stigmatized as nasty and mean-spirited. After all, everyone recognizes women as more caring, more responsible, and more deserving than other humans.

You reform the programs with women leading the charge. It was conservative women who grasped that the Equal Rights Amendment made the relationship between the sexes into something “merely mechanical or materialistic.” It was conservative women who understand that abortion on demand reduces sex into something “merely mechanical or materialistic.” And it is conservative women with their moderate sisters who will lead the nation against a welfare state that makes the journey and meaning of every well-lived life into something “merely mechanical or materialistic.”

The vision of socialism and the welfare state was to free people, women and workers especially, from a life of drudgery to live a full, creative life. Wrote Leon Trotsky at the end of Literature and Revolution:

The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.

But the cult of creativity is a chimera. Very, very few people are truly creative and indispensable, can ever hope to be, or ever will be. The reason we know this, writes Spengler, is that people on the cutting edge of research rush to publish before someone else gets there first. Obviously such people are in a horse race with other equally highly trained thoroughbreds, unlike Johann Sebastian Bach, a flat-out genius who had the field all to himself.

There is another way to build a life of meaning.

In the world of faith there is quite a different way to be indispensable, and that is through acts of kindness and service. A mother is indispensable to her child, as are husbands, wives and friends to each other.

Best of all, you don’t have to be a genius.

It is when a critical mass of women begin to articulate this incandescent truth to America that conservatives will reach the Promised Land of moral superiority. And then we will begin to reform the welfare state.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican

Racial Discrimination

[T]he way “to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,” Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District

Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State

Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050

Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values


Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization

Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph

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These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self

Drang nach Osten

There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion

Government Expenditure

The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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