Let's get back to business... the latest serialized essay. This time about the pragmatic nuts and bolts of waging war against a pragmatic civilization...
The Political Battle over Modernity
PartII: CONSERVATIVE INCLUSION VS LIBERAL EXCLUSION
Keep remembering, throughout this study, that our topic is political methodology. While I make no effort to conceal my preference for one side over another in today’s dismal dichotomy, that preference is not the issue at hand.
(In fact, the thing that I object to most strongly is the secretive monopoly of power by elements that seem determined never to allow accountability to flow again. If the other side ruled under these circumstances, I hope and pray that I would be as loud.)
No, we are not here to compare the relative merits of liberal or conservative worldviews. Rather, the matter that now concerns us is the profound difference in strategy and tactics that have been employed by left and right, during the last two decades of political struggle.
It is in this area of methodology, planning and skilled execution that one side has become utterly dominant simply because, in the purely Machiavellian sense, it deserves to be. Because the right-wing has rationally come up with all of the best moves -- both licit and illicit -- in order to grasp control over this civilization’s reins of power.
Meanwhile, the left seems bound and determined to do everything it can possibly do, to lose.
Take the example we touched upon in Part One. In contrast to the liberal trend of ideological exclusion -- creating lists of rigid positions that any decent liberal must hold --- the greatest Republican accomplishment has been coalition building -- something that Democrats once prided themselves upon.
Indeed, the current GOP leadership has impressively managed to unite dozens of disparate forces that have very few values in common. These groups range --
* from apocalyptic fundamentalists to atheist-libertarians.
* from traditionally reticent isolationists, all the way to aggressive neo imperialists.
* from protectionists and nativists, all the way to those who want our borders thrown wide open, exporting mid-level jobs while importing cheap undocumented labor.
* from budget balancers, all the way to wastrels who bring astounding new heights of chutzpah to pork barrel chicanery.
* from those who define healthy entrepeneurialism according to the rate of small business startups, all the way to those who judge capitalism healthiest when it maximizes the bonuses of top corporate CEOs.
The unification of all these contradictions - and so many others - under a single Big Tent is a remarkable accomplishment and testimony to consummate political skill. How was it achieved?
The answer is remarkably simple. To every possible interest group, the leaders of the right say this:
“You hold one opinion that may loosely be called ‘conservative.’ Therefore please feel free to consider yourself a member of our camp -- and vote with us -- no matter how many other, contradictory opinions you might also maintain.”
Think about how different this is, from the reflex on the left.
“You hold one opinion that doesn’t fit what we call ‘liberal.’ Therefore you must be a conservative, no matter how many other, progressive opinions you might also maintain.”
This point cannot be reiterated often enough. It has suited elements of the left to define “liberal” rigidly, while leaving the word “conservative” vague, encompassing everything they dislike. This tendency has suited their opponents just fine.
Take, for example, the renowned futurist and former Jerry Brown advisor, Stewart Brand, who recently called for progressives to re-evaluate four crucial positions that (Brand contends) have become obsolete in a new century. Among these four flawed but ‘politically correct’ positions is the near-automatic reflex to oppose nuclear power, even as a stopgap to help fuel economic growth and fight poverty while reducing emission of greenhouse gases. Brand contends -- with supporting evidence -- that much good might arise from new uranium-cycle plants that are made in America -- and which will therefore be subject to intense scrutiny -- rather than letting the nuclear power design standard be established in less open societies. Yes, many problems would have to be overcome. But careful application of fission technology might offer a possible bridge to the true, long-term solution -- sustainable, renewable energy sources combined with high efficiency and conservation. (see: http://www.heatisonline.org/contentserver/objecthandlers/index.cfm?id=5232&method=full)
You can well imagine how this proposal was received on the left. Even though Brand’s goal remains as progressive as anyone could ask, he was excoriated as a tool of the establishment. This only illustrates that, to many on the left, any deviation from a standard list of requisite opinions must automatically mean that you are on the other side. (e.g. http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2005/5/12/17722/5888)
Ironically, this reflex has suited the GOP leadership, just fine. It allows them to be just as inclusive as liberalism is exclusive. The result, as we have seen, is an incredible coalition of contradictory factions that now classifies themselves - and reliably votes -- as Conservatives.
(Note that this coalition is maintained, despite the fact that half of these “conservative” constituencies never get a single thing that they actually want! At best, the budget balancers and prudent internationalists, the supporters of small business and responsibly-managed borders, have been paid lip service. Even the hardcore anti-abortion community, loudly cheered by the Bush entourage, has yet to receive a single tangible and effective action from the neocon leadership. Not even one, after five years of totally monopolized power. And yet, they remain loyal, partly because lip service is satisfying and partly because no other camp will welcome them.)
How did supposedly smart liberals allow such a lose-lose situation to develop? One in which political suicide is the order of the day?
True, it can be personally satisfying to disdain and reject those who disagree with your party line. (See: http://www.davidbrin.com/addiction.html) And yet, how can any smart person not have noticed how politically self destructive this has been?
Alas, the neoconservative game plan appears ready to play out successfully, yet again, next political season, as the most active and vigorous elements in the Democratic Party left eagerly repeat this “gift” to the right.
,.. next... The routine rhythm of liberal self-destruction...
or return to Part 1: Ideas for Rescuing Modernity