Friday, August 23, 2013

America's Leftward Drift and the Hidden Role of Extremism

Back in March, I responded to a New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial titled Christie Snubbed by CPAC,a Badge of Honor. Back then, the Conservative Political Action Committee conspicuously failed to invite NJ Republican Governor Chris Christie to its annual event. You can read about it here.

Occasionally, the comments section goes off-topic but is worth responding to. This was one of those instances. Below are my responses to some replies to my initial comments.

Correspondent Charles is responding to my observation that America has moved dramatically Left over the past half century:

Just over 50 years ago the top tax rate was 91% and Social Security was established way back in the 1930’s  Somebody needs to take a history lesson. 

Charles, I think you need to read what I wrote. I'm referring to political economy, not social issues. In many respects, we've made great strides since the Beaver; in racial equality before the law, reproductive rights, interracial and, to some extent, gay marriage. On the other hand, the almost unfettered economic freedom that existed a century ago has been steadily eroding. 

As to welfare statism: Yes, it got its foothold in the 1930s. But, as of 1960, it was not the dominant political "center," as it is today. Remember Kennedy began the trend toward lower marginal rates at that time. (Besides, that 91% was fictional. No one actually paid it, given all of the loopholes.) All of the trends were not Leftward, but the dominant one has been. Can anyone deny the monumental expansion of the regulatory welfare state since then?

Charles responded by citing the Reagan Era:

[F]or a quarter century since the election of Reagan in 1980 conservatives dominated our nation’s politics, especially on economic issues. That’s why even a Democratic President, Bill Clinton in 1996, felt compelled to declare that the era of so-called Big Government was over.
My answer:

Charles, my take is quite different. Yes, there was a rightward counter-trend from the late 70s into the 90s. But it was mild, and ultimately only slowed the statist march. After all, Reagan couldn't even abolish the fledgling Ed Dept., and gave us SS reform and EMTALA. And in 1997 the Repub congress gave us SCHIP. Then the Leftward lurch resumed in earnest under Bush's "compassionate conservatism," and accelerated under Obama. As further proof that the overarching trend has been Leftward, look no further than what thatfootisme notes below; ObamaCare is a warmed-over Repub scheme [RomneyCare]. No Republican would have ever proposed it in the mid-20th Century, yet Romney was their nominee in 2012. 

Another correspondent, thatfootisme, addressed the issue of extremism vs. moderation:

@Zemack - is cleaving unwaveringly to ideology or sneering at any hint of opposition something you find to be unique to Democrats or liberals? Because if it is, you should talk to some primaried Republican moderates like Mike Castle, Richard Lugar or Charlie Criss.

My reply:

Regardless, the Democrats have been unwavering in their commitment to their core philosophy for a century, while the GOP has been mostly dominated by me-too so-called "moderates". This is why the country has moved progressively toward statism. 50 years ago, welfare statism was far Left. Today, it is the political center. The whole spectrum has been and is moving Left. The reason is that the Dems are ideologically driven and the Republicans have not been. Consistency of purpose always trumps "moderation," for better or for worse. 
By the way, I don't consider "extremism" to be a vice (see my comments below beezerker). I also do not want to imply that I support the GOP's social authoritarian agenda, which is ideologically driven--by the religious and social conservatives. I don't. My comments refer to the Dem's economic authoritarianism, which I also oppose. My point is that the GOP really doesn't stand for economic freedom on principle, only rhetorically.

thatfootisme's return:
@zemack - As to whether consistency of purpose trumps moderation, I think that depends on how you define moderation. If you see moderation as simply being wishy-washy, sure, I don't want that, I want politicians to have core beliefs that don't change based on opinion poll results. But I think what most people mean when they use the term moderation in this context is the acknowledgement that we have a two party system and a diverse country. Moderation in that you need to be able to sit down with someone whose views differ and hammer out a solution, not just dig your heels in and refuse to budge...and that's what we've seen the Republicans doing since 1/20/09.

And while we might disagree on a few things, your last sentence is one of the truest things anyone has said on this site for a while.

And my reply:

thatfootisme, you're absolutely right to ask me to define my terms. By "moderation" I mean unprincipled compromise at any cost. I think the term "moderation" is a package deal, meaning two different things; principled compromise vs. compromise as the only absolute. The first is valid, the second isn't. When the first meets the second, the first will always win. 

As to the Republicans' refusal to "budge," the shoe has actually been at least as much on the Democrats' foot. The GOP did offer some alternatives to ObamaCare, for example. But the Dems were hell-bent on taking another huge step toward single-payer, their ultimate goal. Consequently, the GOP voted uniformly against ObamaCare, and the Dems uniformly for it. But, the GOP never presented an integrated free market healthcare alternative that clearly reduced government involvement in healthcare and expanded individual rights--i.e., "a choice, not an echo." No wonder; the GOP helped create the government dominated healthcare status quo. They really don't believe in free markets. 

Related Reading:

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

The Virtue of Extremism

Political "Left" and "Right" Properly Defined by Craig Biddle


Mike Kevitt said...

If we engage in principled compromise in an effort to regain our rights, wouldn't success require that the adversary engage in unprincipled compromise? If they, instead, engage in principled compromise while we do the same, there can't be any compromise, since the two sides stand on opposing fundamentals. If both sides stand on the same fundamentals, they can both engage in principled compromise. But if they're fundamentally opposed, compromise can come only if one side engages in unprincipled compromise, thus always surrendering its fundamentals.

If we stand on individual rights and egoism, we can compromise if it gets us closer to our goal. But that means farther from the adversary's goal. They can't do that, except by unprincipled compromise. If they aren't doing that, can we get them to do it somehow?

Mike LaFerrara said...

No, but we don't need the principled extreme Left, because the liberty/individualism side is right.

Remember, Mike, most people are in the mushy middle. They haven't had a political party situated on the Right to offer a fully consistent ideological opposition. So, the country moves, by default, to the Left.

We don't have to convince the hard-core, principled, collectivist ideological Left. We couldn't. We need to win among those who have some respect for the individual, such as social liberals. Let them see that their arguments for marriage equality apply equally to economics, education, etc.

Then, we have a shot at winning, for example, school choice through tax credits or a flat-rate income tax. Properly structured, they would move the ball toward more freedom and justice in education and tax treatment, while exposing the country to the "extreme" principled case for laissez-faire capitalism. (To date, advocates of school choice and flat taxes have based their arguments on collectivist/utilitarian premises. That must change for reforms to actually lead to more and more freedom.)

Of course, to get the better kinds of Republicans elected, we must not forget that the fundamental battle is cultural. We must continue to engage people on the individual level, through intellectual activism—online, personal conversation, letters to editors and legislators, any way we can. The battle can only be fought there, because the battle is a one-mind-at-a-time fight.

The principled Left has been winning because the Right has allowed them to frame the fundamentals of the debate according to their principles. We must reverse that to have any chance.