Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Extremists vs. the Moderates: Why the Left Keeps Winning, and the Right has been Powerless to Stop It

There is no question that the Tea Party Movement has been and is a non-partisan phenomenon. And as I’ve said before – and this still holds true – it is leaderless ideologically. It is wracked with mixed premises, but with perhaps a common denominator embodied in the Revolutionary War-era Gadsden Flag demand: “Don’t Tread on Me” – a blow against authoritarian government. The Movement is almost as vehement in its opposition to the Republican Party as it is against the Democrats’ rampaging statism, especially the policies of the previous Bush Administration.

Despite its non-partisan nature, the Republican Party is becoming the political outlet of the Tea Party. This is not a paradox. A cultural movement must eventually find its political voice. In a two-party system, that means one of the major parties. The GOP is becoming it. But it is not in harmony with, but in spite of the established Republican leadership that the Tea Party is expressing its political voice. The GOP leaders and their neoconservative mouthpieces have been rebuffed time and again by primary defeats of their favorite candidates by Tea Party upstarts.

The tension between the Tea Party and the leadership has prompted an emerging Left/Democrat electoral strategy: paint the GOP as Tea Party “extremists”. Then, hold the Dems up as the “moderate” political middle. Here are a few examples:

In a recent article, Mike Castle's defeat -- and the end of moderate Republicanism, EJ Dionne laments the past “two decades in which moderates fled a [Republican] party increasingly dominated by its right wing.”

“[Rep. Mike] Castle's [Delaware GOP primary] defeat at the hands of Christine O'Donnell … does indeed mark the collapse of the Republican Party not only of Nelson Rockefeller and Tom Dewey but also of Bob Dole and Howard Baker.

“But the larger question is whether the country is ready to deliver a majority to a Republican Party that now holds problem-solvers like Castle in contempt.”

In a snippy little piece, Republicans Under a Spell, Richard Cohen ties the Tea Party to “witchcraft”, and declares the GOP under its “spell”. After a sprinkling of context-dropping insults against Christine O’Donnell and Newt Gingrich, he adds this:

"Similarly, only a spell can explain why much of the Republican Party insists on calling Obama a socialist. To apply this label to the very man who saved Big Finance, who rescued Goldman Sachs and the rest of the boys, who gave a Heimlich to the barely breathing banks, can only be explained by witchcraft or voodoo or something like that. It has caused the GOP to lose its mind. Obama did something similar to the American auto industry, saving it from itself. He did not let it fail or nationalize it, as a socialist would have done, but pumped cash into it so that -- this is me speaking -- it can fail later on."

Cohen goes on to attack the constitution and the Founding Fathers, and that deserves serious scrutiny. But, that is a subject for another day.

The Left-leaning NJ Star-Ledger says:

The tea party-anointed winner in Alaska wants to do away with Social Security and Medicare and the one in Nevada talks of the possible need for an armed revolt against the federal government. Much of the same ideological excess is evident, in varying degrees, among tea party winners in other GOP races.

The tea party [supplies] much of the energy in the GOP revival. Trouble is, they risk driving away moderate Republicans in November and bringing independents back to the Democrats. (Editorial, 9/16/10)

And when boiled down to sound bites, tea party ideas make sense to many Americans: limited government, reduced spending (and, in turn, lower taxes), balanced budgets, self-reliance and free-market capitalism.

But beyond those phrases are policy positions that, in normal times, would scare most voters: privatizing Social Security, dismantling big parts of the federal government, trashing the health care and Wall Street reforms, reconsidering civil rights laws and outlawing abortion even in the case of rape.

That may be emerging as the Democratic strategy for this fall’s congressional elections: Label tea party candidates as loonies, then link, by association, the rest of the Republicans… (Editorial, 9/21/10)

The Star-Ledger doesn’t say how “outlawing abortion even in the case of rape” – which means government violating a woman’s individual rights - jives with “limited government, self-reliance and free-market capitalism”, the system based upon the recognition and protection of individual rights. Though that is somewhat beside the point of this essay, it does highlight the Tea Party’s mixed premises I alluded to early on.

The common thread running through these examples – Dionne’s “extremism”, Cohen’s “spell”, the Star-Ledger’s “craziness” – is the fear that what may win in November is the emergence of an “extreme” set of ideas – a consistent ideological agenda that at this time is still lacking in the GOP.

The Left loves moderate, bi-partisan Republicans, and it is important to understand why. They provide an ideological vacuum through which to advance its agenda.

Though both parties talk about the political “middle” as the great electoral prize, the fundamental battle in America is between two extremes – collectivism vs. individualism, and their respective political manifestations, socialist statism vs. free market capitalism. The first holds that the individual, his life, and his property belong to the state, while the second holds that the individual owns his life, and the state is limited to protecting his unalienable right to live it.

The Left has always been fully consistent – i.e., extreme – in pursuing its agenda. For the past century, it has relentlessly upheld its collectivist ideology, as is evident in all of its rhetoric. Notice how the Left frames the issues. The “public interest”, the “common good”, the “good of society”, etc., are standard rationalizations for all manner of statist policies. They are collectivist terms, implying the superiority of the group or collective over its individual components. Tax issues are framed on the premise of whether or not “we” – meaning the state - can “afford” cuts or not. Earnings are implicitly presumed to be the property of the state, which determines how much of it private citizens who worked for it are allowed to keep. Their calls for personal self-sacrifice are manifest. To what end?: for the sake of some “public good” like a stronger economy, as if the economy is a separate entity apart from the economic activities of individuals, and which can thrive on private sacrifice rather than achievement. “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”, implored JFK in one of the most famous collectivist political statements in American history. The “country” is held to be an entity onto itself - you must sacrifice for the group, not the other way around, obliterating completely the individualist concept of doing for yourself. Collectivist fundamentals are everywhere and at all times embedded in the Left’s rhetoric. And they mean it.

The Left will certainly compromise legislatively, such as Obama giving up on the “public option”, so long as the ball is moved toward its ultimate totalitarian socialist goal, as with ObamaCare. The Left will gladly forego the political first down on the first play, knowing that the GOP’s “problem-solvers like Castle” will compromise on a three or four-yard gain. But the first downs will keep coming on four-yard gain after four-yard gain, as the drive toward the collectivist goal line continues. The Democratic Left represents one extreme, collectivism, and proudly and openly stands on those principles. It has never been “moderate” in regard to its ideological essentials.

The GOP, with rare exceptions, has abandoned the other extreme, individualism (if it ever really embraced it). It has no principles, no ideals, no understanding of the capitalism it is supposed to stand for. It’s not that the Republican Party embraces bad ideas. The truth is much worse. It stands for nothing: except moderation, bi-partisanship, and compromise as the only absolute. Not only do they evade any principled stand on any issue, they often openly accept the Left’s basic premises - or embrace them by default.

The Left knows, or at least seems to sense, that the only thing that can reverse its century-long statist march down field is the emergence of a principled defender of individual rights, government’s proper role as a protector of rights, and a moral defense of both – which means, capitalism. This is why, as we approach Election Day, the Left strives desperately to protect its best secret weapon – those ever-dependable moderate Republicans.

Never mind that “the center of the political spectrum” is where most Americans “live”. The center, or middle, is only a mixture of the two main contradictory premises – some collectivist, some individualist. But the American people, by and large, have always leaned to the Right, toward individualism – the fundamental premise of capitalism. Yet, the past 75-100 years has been a steady drift toward totalitarian socialism. So far toward collectivism has America traveled that challenging the socialist sacred cows - “privatizing Social Security, dismantling big parts of the federal government, trashing the health care and Wall Street reforms” - is considered “crazy”: and “limited government, reduced spending, balanced budgets, self-reliance and free-market capitalism” are mere “sound bites”.

How could this be? The reason: the Dems have been far more consistent - read, extreme - in cleaving to their collectivist “ideological purity”. Socialism has had a loud voice in the Democratic Party, but capitalism has yet to find its political voice. The two ideological extremes are the primary combatants. The Left knows it. The Right doesn’t. The result: The political "middle" keeps moving Left.

Socialism, not surprisingly, is winning. I’ve included that bite by Cohen above, partly as evidence for the Democrats’ reigning socialist underpinnings. Cohen’s denials notwithstanding, what exactly does it mean for a government to have “saved Big Finance…Goldman Sachs and…the barely breathing banks [and doing] something similar to the American auto industry”? “He did not let it fail or nationalize it,” Cohen continues, “as a socialist would have done”. Really? Those actions are precisely the kinds that a socialist would have taken. “Why need we trouble to socialize banks and factories? We socialize human beings,” declared Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist Workers (Nazi) Party, in 1933 (Page 231-232). Socialism comes in many guises, ranging from communism to fascism to Nazism to welfare state mixed economies, but its essential nature is always the same. Obama is no Hitler, but he is a socialist. Socializing human beings is Obama’s vision, and only a clear understanding of the collectivism/individualism divide can dramatize that fact. A moderate, middle-of-the-road opposition will always keep that truth safely obscured for the Left.

The Tea Party Movement - though still a fractious, ideologically leaderless phenomenon which contains its own statist baggage such as the social authoritarianism of the Religious Right – has the potential to evolve into the kind of powerful movement that the Left fears: a principled defender of the opposing extreme. I should note at this point that I don’t regard "extremism" to be a vice, as it is popularly regarded today. In the philosophical sense – that is to say, in the field of abstract ideas – extremism means a consistent, uncompromising adherence to a coherent set of principles. Barry Goldwater’s famous line in his 1964 GOP presidential nominating speech, in which he defiantly stood up against the same Democrat smears, makes the point:

And let our Republicanism so focused and so dedicated not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels.

I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

Today’s Democratic tactics are once again designed to keep the Republicans’ firmly in the “fuzzy and futile” mode. The Dems have been successful, over time, in implementing their statist agenda because that strategy has almost always worked. Right or wrong, good or bad, the philosophical extremist is a thinker – and a driver of human events.

But, America is ripe for a turning point, and the Left seems to sense it. The Tea Party phenomenon, despite some bad ideas such as outlawing abortion, carries a strong underlying cultural theme – a realization that we are losing control of our lives to a central planning elite, and a readiness to roll that power back. But it has yet to find its explicit ideological voice. It has not yet coalesced around a consistent philosophical framework, like the collectivist Left. Without it, the movement will ultimately fail. But, the massive lurch toward authoritarianism over the past decade, capped by Obama statism, has been a wakeup call for most Americans, I believe. The individualist element of “the center of the political spectrum” is the ascendant force in American politics today, and I believe that the time is right for a principled, pro-individual rights, pro-capitalist challenge to the Left’s collectivist ideological monopoly. I also believe that the Left knows it, and fears it. Smear tactics are an admission of desperation to avoid an intellectual challenge.

In today’s Tea Party environment, the Dems emerging strategy could backfire big time – if the expected Republican rout is backed up with some ideological backbone. The consequences of welfare statism are now too obvious to ignore: It is hampering the productive economy, bankrupting the country, and destroying our freedom. The reactionary Democrats are on the ropes, and their welfare statism is vulnerable as never before. The question is: Is the GOP up to the ideological task? Or, will the coming Republican dominance be just another meaningless interlude to be followed by another Democrat first down.

The Republican Party needs to become what the Left is claiming it is, what it fears, but which it still isn’t – the Party of the capitalist “extreme” Right. It must do some serious soul searching, to discover why it has been retreating steadily in the face of the collectivist onslaught. It must stand up for individualism, with all that that implies. The strategy will be risky, and could cost them many seats. But one election cycle is not the big prize. Turning the country around is, and a principled electoral stand today is a philosophical investment in future elections. A delayed win on principle trumps the big immediate sweep based upon the fog of moderation. A moderate GOP majority will only serve to consolidate the big recent Democrat legislative gains, and pave the way for their next big statist assault. This has been the recurring pattern of the past century or more.

Now, more than ever, is the time for a meaningful political fight over fundamental ideas. The Democratic/collectivist Left has moved the ball past midfield, and the socialist goal line looms not far downfield. Our time continues to run out.

-Mike LaFerrara

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