Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Speak Of The Devil

I didn't realize as I was blogging yesterday that Rush Limbaugh had addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Sunday. Rush's speech prompted a firestorm of responses (The New York Times editorial blog has a good roundup here), ranging from the obvious liberal dismissals to conservative applause, to the rebukes of moderate Republicans and some conservative intellectuals. Also intriguing is the desire of some on both the left and right (including some in the Obama administration) to paint Limbaugh as the face of the Republican party.

Reading through the speech, it's not as terrible as some make it out to be. There are some nods to limited government, individual freedom and free markets, but just as I was saying yesterday, far too much time is spent on the dastardly plans the Obama administration has for all of us. Like it or not, the public image of conservatism and the ideas of free markets and limited government were severely damaged during the Bush years and to harp on politicians and politics when your belief system is in danger of becoming insignificant is like pointing fingers on a sinking ship rather than spending the time to patch the hole. Yes we've seen the "Tea Party" reactions to higher taxes and government spending, but these sorts of spontaneous grassroots reactions are insignificant if they can't be placed in a larger ideological context. The Boston Tea Party would have been a bunch of assholes wasting a lot of tea if not for the intellectual ingenuity and brilliance of Jefferson and the rest of the founding fathers.

The thing about Rush is that he's got ammunition in his intellectual arsenal. He can name drop Hayek and he can make reference to the great conservative arguments of the last 30 or 40 years and yet there were more references in his speech to Democrat politicians than conservative intellectuals. And there was more on how Obama wants to punish achievement and other questionable socialist slurs than there was on how free markets and limited government actually make our lives better.

In the American Conservative, John Derbyshire has a somewhat fortuitous piece from just a week ago or so on How Radio Wrecks The Right, basically worrying that the domination of this sort of lowbrow conservatism actually does cost conservatives a market share so to speak of those individuals who could be persuaded by intellectual conservative arguments. Some conservatives respond to this argument about dumbing down conservatism by pointing to the left, but that type of response is exactly the problem here. It's been years since a mainstream conservative figure actually laid out the ideological basis for a conservative agenda and the consequence is the anemic state of political discourse that exists today.


Anonymous rose said...

The biggest difficulty is that freedom and opportunity to prosper is taken for granted by many and that makes the conservative message difficult.

I think the biggest struggle is that capitalism succeeded to such an extent from the nation's birth and then re-accelerated its success since Reagan, that the fruits of capitalism are so taken for granted.

If you were born in 1984 in suburbia in the US, you've lived in heaven on earth relative to world history. Your economic freedom has rarely been visibly impeded. And the opportunity for prosperity is a given if you simply had a reasonable head on your shoulders and a work ethic.

So many in our generation don't understand that these benefits have come from the victory of the free-market over the government. Things have been so good for so long that prosperity and freedom are taken for granted and that capitalism is now viewed by many to be the impediment to equality and prosperity, which is sick.

With opportunity and freedom taken for granted and w/ no understanding of what led to them, the focus then is on inequality.

The key for republicans is to demonstrate how measures to reduce inequality usually undermine capitalism and actually increase inequality and hurt those that you aim to help. And it is gonna be hard to do because people our age don't get that opportunity for prosperity is not something that has always existed and it can be destroyed and has been repeatedly throughout history because of excessive government.

I think this is the message that you've somehow got to convey to people, but I'm not sure there's much appetite for the message. It took LBJ's expansion of government and the lost decade that followed for people to embrace Reagan. Was Reagan that much better than Goldwater? Or did a lost decade caused by the growth of government prepare the people for Reagan?

3:18 PM  
Anonymous rose said...

I guess what I'm trying to say is that capitalism is too easy a target to pin blame on when shit goes bad, regardless of what caused the problems.

Because of that, when conservatives are in charge of the country, they have a duty to not negotiate. You can't go half-way and allow Fannie and Freddie and CAFE standards and the Federal Reserve etc. to manipulate the market. Because even though none of these things are consistent w/ conservatism, the ease of blaming GREEDY CAPITALISTS guarantees that capitalism itself will take the blame.

You just can't put yourself out there as a conservative and allow unconservative things to occur while you're in power because it is too easy to manipulate public sentiment against capitalism.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous rose said...

Sorry. And to your original point about message. I think public sentiment has turned. The public really wants to try something new. And I think that until that something new fails, there's nothing you can say to win sentiment back on your side. I wish that came out a bit more concisely, but do you get what I'm saying?

3:47 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

I think you're right about people wanting something new, but politics and ideology is so muddled now in the public mind that what we ended up with was Obama. Politicians have grown so far removed from real governing ideology that people have forgotten what it sounds like.

I don't think anyone's been sold on Obama's big government liberalism, at least not in an ideological sense. The time is ripe for real intellectually-based opposition and those ideas are exactly what you need when this administration's ideas fail, as you say.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous rose said...

An emerging story is that the dems appear quite happy to increase the profile of Limbaugh and portray him as the head of the republican party and obviously Limbaugh is on board w/ anything that increases his profile. Republicans seem split on the matter for obvious reasons.

I get that the majority of non-listeners do not like Limbaugh and that if you can put his image on the party w/ out increasing his listenership, then that is a good thing for dems. But they are w/ out a doubt growing his listenership by talking about him so much. I can't imagine that exposing more people to Limbaugh is a good thing for dems. New listeners might not like Limbaugh any more than they used to, but he is bound to have an effect on some people's opinions on Obama.

It's an interesting strategy the dems are using, but I'm not sure its intelligent.

10:38 AM  

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