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Never Trust Experts Faith and Politics

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Are Conservatives Dead or Resting?

by Christopher Chantrill
June 04, 2008 at 10:05 am


THE FIRST boss I ever had, in 1968, was a Nixon-hater. A Democrat from upstate New York, he kept a coffee mug emblazoned with a Nixon $3 bill, and he could recite the litany of Nixon’s red-baiting campaigns. First there was Jerry Voorhees in 1946, then there was Alger Hiss and the pumpkin papers. Then there was Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950. You can imagine that I was surprised when Nixon won the presidency that November.

We learned later that Richard Nixon’s victory over Hubert Humphrey in 1968 was the first victory of Nixon’s “southern strategy,” a deliberate attempt to woo Southern Democrats in the years after the passage of the landmark civil rights acts of the mid 1960s. “States rights” and “law and order” were racist code words calculated to appeal to the racist hearts of white Southern voters.

Over the years this meme seems to have become all-consuming and all-explaining for our Democratic friends. On the net there are hundreds of liberals for whom politics is defined by the Democrats’ support of civil rights versus the Republicans’ racist Southern Strategy. In Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America Rick Pearlstein tells us that today’s divisive politics is all the result of Richard Nixon’s cunning rise to power. We are the divided nation that Nixon created.

Even John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira in The Emerging Democratic Majority, a generally optimistic prophecy of future Democratic dominance, need to poke Republicans in the eye on civil rights.

After 1964, the Democrats embraced, and the Republicans rejected, the cause of civil rights. The new conservative movement took root in opposition to the federal civil rights acts of 1964 and 1965.

(In the Chicago Spring of Reverend Wright and Father Pfleger, the above statement is hereby declared inoperative.)

Now comes The New Yorker’s George Packer to expand on this in “The Fall of Conservatism.” Pat Buchanan and Richard Nixon, he writes, saw the potential for a right-wing coalition back in 1966.

“From Day One, Nixon and I talked about creating a new majority,” Buchanan told [Packer]... “What we talked about, basically, was shearing off huge segments of F.D.R.’s New Deal coalition[.]”

So off they went to sow division in the Democratic Party, using a politics of “positive polarization.” It “ensured that American politics would be an ugly, unredeemed business for decades to come.”

But now in 2008 “the movement that Goldwater began, Nixon brought to power, Ronald Reagan gave mass appeal, Gingrich radicalized, DeLay criminalized, and Bush allowed to break into pieces” is over. America is moving on into a new political era, for neither John McCain or Barack Obama got signed up in the Sixties for the culture war. According to David Brooks, “there’s just no driving force, and it will soften up normal Republicans for real change.”

It is certainly true that conservatives and Republicans feel disoriented and confused this election season. But it misses the point to say, as Packer does:

Now most conservatives seem incapable of even acknowledging the central issues of our moment: wage stagnation, inequality, health care, global warming. They are stuck in the past, in the dogma of limited government.

On the contrary, conservatives have rather clear ideas on the “central issues.” Conservatives have a cure for wage stagnation and inequality. It is called education reform. Conservatives have a cure for inequality. It is called Social Security reform and aims to get lower-income Americans onto the wealth creation ladder. But we can’t enact reform because Democrats won’t let us. We’d like to reform health care by curbing the wasteful third-party payment system, and we are making some progress under the radar with Health Savings Accounts. But Democrats are pushing one-size-fits-all top-down changes to health care policy instead.

If you look back over the last 30 years, back over the record of conservative reform, there is one thing that stands out. Conservative reform never had a chance unless there was a crisis. The Reaganomics of hard money and low tax rates only got done in the crisis of Carter inflation/recession. The Bush tax cuts only got passed in the tech meltdown. Welfare reform only got passed when Newt Gingrich put a gun to President Clinton’s reelection prospects in 1996.

The problem that today’s conservatives face is that things aren’t bad enough on the Social Security front, on the education front, or on the health-care front for the American people to be ready for “change.” So Republican primary voters sensibly nominated John McCain, a man to fight the war on Islamic extremism while holding the line on domestic issues.

If you want to be cheered up about conservative prospects, you need only take a look at the resurgent Conservative Party in England. Eleven years ago Tony Blair got elected as “New Labour” to improve public services, supposedly wrecked by “Tory cuts.” But after a doubling of health care expenditure and huge increases in education costs there is no improvement and the voters are hopping mad.

Now that he is 20 points ahead in the polls, what are the “central issues” for Conservative leader David Cameron? School choice, welfare reform, and police reform.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990

Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures

German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


[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


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh

Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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