Posts tagged with: conservatism

Perhaps the most striking theme of Associate Justice Clarence Thomas’s autobiography My Grandfather’s Son is just how many obstacles Thomas had to overcome to reach the high judicial position he currently holds. Thomas was born into poverty, abandoned by his father, and was raised in the segregated South all before achieving the American Dream. At the same time, it was Thomas’s poverty-stricken circumstances that would help propel him to a world of greater opportunity. Because of his mother’s poverty, when Thomas was seven, he and his brother were sent to live with his grandfather Myers Anderson, a no nonsense and self-disciplined man who announced upon their arrival, “The damn vacation is over.”

While I have never been a big fan of autobiographies, Thomas’s story is one that absolutely needs to be told, if for no other reason than to fully respond to the damaging allegations made by his former colleague Anita Hill. But there is so much here to think about, especially for somebody like myself who attended school at Ole Miss, an institution wrapped in the consciousness of race. In a Southern Studies class in college while discussing the history of lynchings, the professor asked if we could cite examples of any modern day lynchings. I immediately remembered Thomas’s quote about his confirmation hearings being a “high tech lynching” and offered Thomas’s name. Of course I knew this was perhaps the last name the professor wanted to hear, which is why I offered it, thereby getting out in front of and spoiling her liberal moralism of the day. She casually made a snide comment about Thomas and said “that doesn’t count.” I only smiled as I knew I had successfully pointed out that Thomas was in fact one of the few black men allowed to be aggressively attacked by white liberals in academia.

Growing up, his grandfather made sacrifices so Thomas and his brother could attend Catholic schools, this allowed him opportunities he might never have had coming out of the public school system. Thomas later turned his attention to studying for the priesthood. As a seminarian Thomas declared:

It seemed self-evident to both of us that the treatment of blacks in America cried out for the unequivocal condemnation of a righteous institution that proclaimed the inherent equality of all men. Yet the Church remained silent, and its silence haunted me. I have often thought that my life might well have followed a different route had the Church been as adamant about ending racism then as it is about ending abortion now.

After leaving seminary, Thomas transferred to College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts and experimented in left wing politics. Also Thomas found New England to be far less honest about race than in the American South, declaring, “I bristled at the self-righteous sanctimony with which so many of the northerners at Yale glibly discussed the South’s racial problems.” He also pointed out that it was in Boston, not Georgia, that he was first called a deeply offensive racial slur. Thomas left Yale Law School with a negative view of his alma mater. His intention at the time was to return to South Georgia to practice law.

Thomas however ended up on the staff of Missouri Attorney General and former U.S. Senator John Danforth in Jefferson City in 1974. Danforth, an ordained Episcopal Priest, who went on to become a U.S. Senator, would become a life-long mentor and a valuable ally during Thomas’s Supreme Court hearings. The stories Thomas tells of his own drinking problem and financial indebtedness are all fascinating. His first marriage turns out to not be successful, but he goes into little detail, which may be commendable just in keeping a private matter, just that.

Thomas also delves into the Anita Hill fiasco, describing her by his own account as a less than average employee, and somebody who virtually nobody liked. The chaotic nature of the hearings pushed Thomas back even closer to his faith and he noted:

The more hopeless things appeared and the more vulnerable I felt, the more I turned to God’s comforting embrace, and over time my focus became primarily God centered. The words of the Apostle Paul were not far from my mind: ‘Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.’

He decides to end his autobiographical account during the day he is sworn at the U.S. Supreme Court, which might be disappointing to some of the more policy wonkish readers. After reading his unique account I was left with a couple profound thoughts. I had another professor in college who said to the class while we were reading Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick and Mark the Match Boy , that the stories were not really believable, but rather bad capitalist propaganda. The novel immediately came back to me after reading Thomas’s account, here is a man who overcame even so much more to rise to the very top of his field. Few stories can better personify the American dream, and very few stories provide better imagery of defying the odds.

Thomas’s book is at times inspiring, sad, yet ultimately triumphant. He had a very fractured relationship with the grandfather who raised him. Not until his grandfather’s death, did he ultimately appreciate the lessons, love, and discipline Myers Anderson taught him. It’s by only reading this book will you understand how somebody with a third grade education taught a Yale Law School graduate and Supreme Court Justice so much about life, and yes even conservatism.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, October 16, 2008

In the wake of the global financial crisis, stories from the pundit class and blogosphere abound proclaiming the imminent death of the conservative movement. This is part of a longer and broader discussion with roots in the post-Reagan era of American politics. (As you’ll see in my comments below, I’m not so inclined to think that a move toward particular kinds of populism is necessarily a move away from conservatism.)

Writing in the American Conservative earlier this month, Claes G. Ryn argues that our recognition of the corrupting nature of power shouldn’t make us abdicate all forms of government and authority:

Without some people governing others, basic social order could not exist, to say nothing of effecting desirable change. The prejudice against power-seeking has left politics too much to people with the wrong kind of ambition, most of whom desire power as an end in itself. Yet wanting power need not be immoral. Pursuing it can be a means to good.

Ryn is professor of politics at the Catholic University of America and chairman of the National Humanities Institute. He notes, in agreement with the older liberal tradition, that,

the old American constitutionalism is inseparable from the moral-spiritual culture that gave it birth. Limited government and liberty were made possible by people who, because of who they were, put checks on their appetites, ran their own lives and communities, and generally behaved in ways conducive to freedom under law. Restoring American constitutionalism would presuppose some kind of resurgence of that old culture. Americans would have to rearrange their priorities and start acting differently, placing more emphasis on family, private groups, and local communities. They would have to want to take back much of the power ceded to politicians far away. Is that likely to happen? If not, the Constitution may not be salvageable.

Ryn discusses what he calls the “coup from within,” where under the guise of conservatism, “People of great ambition who want to exercise the power being abdicated by Americans are trying to make us accept and even welcome the final disappearance of constitutionalism and its culture of modesty and self-restraint.”

I’m not as pessimistic as Ryn about the seemingly inevitable outcome of the crisis and the government interventions and consolidations of power, at least in the economic sphere. He says of those perpetrating the coup, “Their response to the crisis, which they have aggravated, will hasten the crumbling of the American constitutional order. Their prescriptions contain the outlines of tyranny.” He may well be right about that, and Ryn’s concerns shouldn’t be limited to the American scene but apply to the international scene as well. As John Witherspoon said, “A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.”

But despite all this, common sense folk are realizing again that virtues like frugality, thrift, and self-discipline are necessary parts of a broader view of stewardship. This is in part why the bailout has had difficulty finding any serious measure of popular support…it is a plan that is counter-intuitive on so many levels, and despite the media’s best efforts to sell the bi-partisan scheme, the American citizen isn’t convinced. In fact, the concept of stewardship is a pretty good model for Ryn’s view of the appropriate pursuit of power.

It is certainly an uphill battle to practice traditional virtues against a government and a culture that tells us to spend all we can on credit. We have just about maxed out the credit borrowed from the moral and cultural capital of previous generations. In response to those pushing the expansion of federal and executive power, it’s time to, as Ryn says, “expose their false solutions to what are real problems and to explore by what measures the best of our civilization might, despite daunting odds, be given a new lease on life.”

The impending death of conservatism might just be the kind of big-government conservatism that is virtually indistinguishable from big-government liberalism on the scope and size of the government. If that’s the case, then let us celebrate: “Conservatism is dead. Long live conservatism.”

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shaped by the conservative movement since childhood, publisher Alfred S. Regnery offers an insider’s take on the influence of conservatives in Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism (2008). Regnery’s father Henry started the company in 1947 and published conservative classics such as God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley Jr., and The Conservative Mind by Russel Kirk.

Regnery covers just about everything including think tanks, publishers, candidates, religious conservatives, financial donors, the courts, the Constitution, and free markets. He does an excellent job at explaining the merger of traditionalists, anti-communists, and libertarians in to one political force due in large part to the writings of William F. Buckley, Jr. and other intellectuals,
grassroots activists, and the emergence of Barry Goldwater. Regnery also traces how conservative leaders were able to separate themselves from some of the more radical conspiracy minded leaders like Robert Welch of the John Birch Society. Russel Kirk responded to Welch’s charge that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was an agent of a world communist conspiracy by quipping “Ike isn’t a communist. He is a golfer.”

While Eisenhower was a disappointment for conservatives, Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy unified and excited the conservative movement on a national scale. Regnery notes:

Not only did people donate their time to Goldwater in record numbers, but they donated their money, too. Until the 1964 campaign presidential elections were financed exclusively by large contributions from wealthy contributors, corporations, lobbyists, and other special interest groups. In 1960, twenty-two thousand people had contributed $9.7 million to Kennedy’s campaign and forty-four thousand people had contributed a total of $10.1 million to Nixon’s. LBJ’s money largely came from labor unions and fat cats. But over one million middle-income people contributed to Goldwater’s campaign. When the campaign was over, Goldwater had the names, addresses, and history of over five thousand donors. He showed that candidates could actually raise more money in small amounts from large numbers of people, and thereby gain financial independence from the GOP establishment.

The Goldwater candidacy failed at electing a conservative to the highest office, but it allowed for its leaders and activists to learn valuable lessons for the future. The emergence of Ronald Reagan and “The Speech” was undoubtedly the greatest triumph of Goldwater’s unsuccessful presidential bid.

Regnery also incorporates succinct and effective arguments on why conservatives opposed Great Society programs, wage and price controls, and new government agencies. He also identifies Richard Nixon’s vast expansion of government power through regulation as another key building block for statist policies.

Another intriguing study by the author is an analysis of neoconservatives, the new right (religious conservatives), and Phyllis Schlafly and the rise of the grassroots.

Regnery demolishes the myth that the conservative movement was largely funded by Texas oil tycoons with briefcases of money or big corporations. In fact, he points out that many big businesses and corporations opposed conservatism because of corporate desire for regulation and less competition in the marketplace. “The right has never had the sort of money available to the left. During the early years of the movement, from 1945 into the mid-1970′s, no more than about a dozen foundations were willing to give money to conservative causes, and most of those were small, family charitable organizations,” says Regnery. The author discloses fascinating stories of notable donors who gave out of concern over the rising decay of free market principles. One example being William Volker, who purchased an academic chair for Frederick Hayek at the University of Chicago. (more…)

The keynote speaker for the Right Online conference tonight was conservative columnist and political commentator Robert Novak. Talking about his latest book Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, Novak declared that if you want to know why they call him the Prince of Darkness in Washington it’s because he supports limited government, low taxes, and freedom in the economic sphere, and that’s “enough to make you the Prince of Darkness in Washington.”

Novak called Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama a “true and smart politician” for pivoting to the center in the general election campaign. Novak said that chief executive officers of leading industries come away from private meetings with Obama saying they “can live with an Obama presidency.” Novak said recent Democratic presidential candidates couldn’t count on such passive support in previous elections.

Novak also called Ronald Reagan “the only successful president in his lifetime,” and he criticized the Republican minority leadership in Congress. Novak also lavished praise on the fair tax. Novak ended his engaging speech on politics by declaring Calvin Coolidge the other successful 20th century president.

Novak also answered a large number of questions at the end of his address, much more than the usual you may find at a keynote address at a major venue like the one we had here in Austin. Novak is a Roman Catholic convert and called himself “a great believer in prayer.”

One question we didn’t get to ask Novak was how much the support of the religious left, consisting of organizational leaders like Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, and Brian McLaren, will be a strength to Obama’s campaign. We can get a sense of how Novak might have answered from a recent column, “McCain’s Evangelical Problem.” McCain is much more reticent to talk about faith while stumping on the campaign trail, and that certainly seems to open additional opportunities for Obama to pick up votes from young, impressionable, and starry-eyed evangelicals. Look for that demographic to be an important swing vote in November.

Update: See also, “McCain’s Lead Among Evangelicals Smaller than Bush’s in ’04.”

The PowerBlog is well-represented this weekend at the Defending the American Dream Summit in Austin, Texas. Ray Nothstine and I have made the trek to Texas to engage and learn from a variety of organizations seeking to bring the power of new media to bear on the conservative movement.

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation and RightOnline are the major sponsors of the Texas summit, which features keynote addresses from Barry Goldwater Jr. and Robert Novak, as well as talks by John Fund of the WSJ, Erick Erickson of RedState.com, and Michelle Malkin.

One of the purposes of the summit and a special focus of the Sam Adams Alliance is to get state policy thinktanks in touch with local bloggers, as part of an effort to get tap into the dynamism of grassroots web media. If all politics are local, than new media efforts of thinktanks need to connect to the particular knowledge and insight of state and local bloggers.

Last night the Texas Public Policy Foundation hosted a barbecue social. I talked with David Guenthner, director of Media and Government Relations, and he told me about a tool they had developed, TexasBudgetSource.com, to make government expenditures across the state more transparent. This is a remarkably powerful concept that has the potential to be duplicated in other states to galvanize attention to issues of government spending, accountability, education reform and more.

Also happening across town is the annual Netroots Nation, a large gathering of progressive and liberal new media activists.

I stumbled across this article at David Thompson’s blog, where he notes that the article’s author, Jay Rayner, is pondering “…the whereabouts of dramatic radicalism in an age of state subsidy”:

The actor Julian Fellowes, who wrote the script for the Oscar-winning country house whodunit Gosford Park and the book for the stage musical of Mary Poppins, is a good place to start. He’s professionally posh. He has a son called Peregrine. His wife is a lady-in-waiting to Princess Michael of Kent and a descendant of Lord Kitchener. He is, unsurprisingly, a Conservative Party supporter, and like all good Conservatives he takes the long view. ‘Very simply put,’ he says, ‘after the Second World War the avant garde became the establishment. That meant that no one was poking fun at the establishment any more because they approved of it.’

So is it a conspiracy? ‘Absolutely not. I don’t want to give the impression that there’s some plot going on. It’s just become impossible not to be a socialist within the artistic community these days.‘ He recalls emerging from drama school in the Seventies and realising he didn’t fit in. ‘Suddenly being young meant being left-wing, because if you were to the right you were a boring old fart.’ And that, he says, has not changed despite changes in government. The problem, he says, isn’t too much theatre from the left: it’s a simple lack of it from the right. ‘There’s something profoundly non-intellectual about it. Any reasonably free society must allow for a range of views, and we don’t have that.’

Interesting stuff. And reminiscent of an article penned earlier this year by David Michael Phelps for Religion and Liberty:

But here we reach a very crucial point, the point where we see that handing ideas to the Artist is not the same as handing them to the Propagandist. For the Propagandist, the message is the focus, the party line is towed without falter, and as a result, the Propagandist seldom produces Art of lasting persuasive power. For the Artist, the vehicle of the message – that is, the Art itself – is the focus, and this is precisely why Artists are so much more convincing in their work than Propagandists: Propagandists so concentrate on the water that they attend less to the holes in the bucket. Artists concentrate on making great buckets, often concerning themselves less with the contents.

Likewise, conservatives may be more apt to produce propaganda when they attempt to create Art because their ideas are often more sound than the liberal (in the modern sense) alternative and they have less need for – and therefore less incentive to learn – Story. Liberals can indulge themselves in shoddy Syllogism, because they make up for the lack with good Storytelling. But this doesn’t excuse conservatives from falling off the other side of the horse.

There a popular saying that suggests “If you are a liberal when you are young, you have no heart. If you aren’t a conservative when you are old, you have no head.” But I see no reason why must we lack one to have the other. We should have, and must communicate with, both. We must add Story to our Syllogism, adding emotional punch to our reason. After all, Socrates taught with syllogisms, and Jesus with parables.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Friday, February 9, 2007

Our religious and political rights are uniquely bound up together. Most young Americans, and far too many older native born American citizens, have little or no idea how important this truth really is.

The central idea behind this unique relationship in American political understanding is limited government. This is really what classical liberalism understood and fervently practiced. Modern liberalism has little or nothing to do with this understanding, preferring to stress ideologies that are neither truly liberal nor limited.

The founding fathers fervently believed that we were all created equal, with inherent rights to life and liberty given to us by God. This belief was rooted in both Judeo-Christian beliefs and some elements of Enlightenment philosophy. The securing of these rights was the very basis for a limited government. And a limited government was based upon the understanding that true power arose from the governed who were willing to consent to a just government.

There were some very big differences of opinion among our founding fathers, such as two very different views of America’s future as represented by Jefferson and Hamilton. In some ways these two distinct views clashed in the Civil War, as North and South came to represent these two differing positions. But regardless of these early differences what clearly united the founders was a deep respect for individual rights and for limited government. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 16, 2007

One of ABC’s new dramas, Brothers & Sisters, features Calista Flockhart as a hard-hitting conservative pundit named Kitty Walker.

Despite its title, the show is not all that family friendly (although it has not yet been rated by the Parents Television Council). But for this post, I won’t be focusing on the questionable social and sexual mores of the show. Instead, I’m going to focus on an aspect of the show’s portrayal of politics.

“Politics is about the privilege and the honor of taking care of people.”

In the most recent episode, “Sexual Politics,” Kitty has taken a job as a political adviser to Sen. Robert McCallister, played by Rob Lowe. McCallister is a young and handsome political star from California and is styled as “a John McCain-style Republican.”

Here’s a speech he gives to a group of ladies and donors (My comments are in brackets. The full episode is available for viewing at ABC.com here by clicking on the Brothers & Sisters graphic and selecting the episode marked 1/14/07. McCallister’s speech begins at approximately the 01:22 mark of the show):

I barely left the house most Sundays [not even to go to church?!]. My mom would cook elaborate dinners for neighbors, friends, and sometimes people we barely knew. By ten I could whip up a perfect meringue, to glaze a pan, dress chicken [these last two may be terms for particular dishes and I probably have not gotten them right].

But by the time puberty rolled around I’d had enough. Football, friends seemed more important. So I told her I was done. I was a guy, I didn’t want to spend Sundays in the kitchen with my mom. And you know what she said? She told me that someday I would realize that taking care of people is not masculine or feminine. It’s a privilege and it’s an honor. And she was right.

And one day I realized that politics is about the privilege and the honor of taking care of people, of making certain that the weak are protected, the poor are sheltered, and the hungry fed. My mother passed away six years ago, but I work every day to honor her memory in politics and in my kitchen. Thank you very much.

This captures pretty well the spirit of big government conservatism, as represented in real life by some other California Republicans. In such a view, it is the task of government to “take care of people,” periphrasis for a nanny State if I ever heard one. Indeed, politics are about sheltering the poor and feeding the hungry, taking care of people who obviously can’t take care of themselves. It’s not about empowerment but about infantilization.

Contrast this with a rather different view of politics, as portrayed in the words of Lord Acton, one that doesn’t arrogate politicking to the status of the highest possible human endeavor:

There are many things the government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce. It must leave them to the enterprise of others. It cannot feed the people. It cannot enrich the people. It cannot teach the people. It cannot convert the people.

In Acton’s view, the highest purpose for the government is to promote and protect liberty, which is itself only a precondition for virtuous living.

“There are many things the government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce.”

This leaves room for a vibrant civil society, represented in McCallister’s speech by the kitchen image. But do you see how in McCallister’s speech the role of the kitchen was subsumed, or rather consumed, by politics? Politics is the nanny, but the kitchen is the mommy.

I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the Pledge of Allegiance, and would find it highly difficult to square such a pledge with Christian doctrine if the qualifier “under God” were removed.

But the concluding words of the pledge do get one thing right and that is the necessary relationship between liberty and justice. You can’t have one without the other, for justice grows from the foundation of liberty. And indeed the ideal of this nation is the realization of “liberty and justice for all.”

Blog author: jmorse
posted by on Sunday, December 3, 2006

If we are ever going to make progress in reforming the education system, we have to find ways to appeal to at least some members of the education profession. Often, teachers, administrators and school boards have distinct strategies. If we can appeal to a subset of educators, we have a better chance of success. Put another way, no school reform can possibly succeed, without the support of at least some members of the education establishment.

Here is a story that made my blood boil, as a parent. But it illustrates the point that there may be possibilities for reforms that appeal to at least some educators.

Bong Hits for Jesus was written on the banner produced by a high school student in Alaska. He held it up for the TV cameras when the Olympic Torch passed by. His principal saw the banner, ripped it down and suspended the student for ten days. As parent and an educator and a person of common sense, I applaud the principal for disciplining this kid. Naturally, a lawsuit happened:

(The student) was off school property when he hoisted the banner but was suspended for violating school policy by promoting illegal substances at a school-sanctioned event.

The school board upheld the suspension, and a federal judge initially dismissed Frederick’s lawsuit. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the banner was vague and nonsensical, and that Frederick’s civil rights had been violated….

The appeals court said even if the banner could be construed as a positive message about marijuana use, the school could not punish or censor a student’s speech just because it promotes a social message contrary to one the school favors.

And for her trouble, the principal, Deborah Morse, (no relation) may end up facing fines.

The court is expected to hear arguments in the case in late February. In addition to the First Amendment issue, the court also will consider whether Morse can be held personally liable for monetary damages.

Morse, now the district’s coordinator of facilities planning, said, “I think it’s important for school administrators all across the country to have some guidance in how to enforce school rules at school activities without risking liability.”

So here is what some smart conservative advocate of school reform should suggest: come up with legislation giving immunity to school administrators from lawsuits. In any other profession, the professionals are given the room to make judgments and use their discretion. In education, professionals have the courts breathing down their necks, second-guessing their decisions and generally interfering with their ability to do their jobs.
This kid has no civil right to advocate drug use. A 10 day Suspension is not that big of a deal. Kids need to have limits set on their behavior. This adult was trying to do her job.

If conservatives could come up with a legal strategy to protect school boards and administrators from these frivolous lawsuits, it would be VERY attractive to that group of education professionals.

(Cross-posted at my personal blog.)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 13, 2006

In an op-ed last week, Acton senior fellow Jerry Zandstra argues that in Michigan, even though the GOP lost, conservatives won. In “GOP loses, but conservatives win in Michigan” Zandstra explains the phenomenon that “Conservative positions won in the ballot initiatives but Republican candidates lost.”

Some more evidence that Republicans have generally abandoned conservative economic principles comes from Cato@Liberty’s examination of the voting records of ousted GOP lawmakers (HT: AmSpec Blog).

The conclusion? “The great majority of losing Republicans were economic moderates or liberals. Few of the losers were above the 70th percentile in their votes on economic issues.”