What is Conservatism?

November 12, 2008

I’ve been hearing a lot about where this country is politically and I have to confess that I do not understand much of what is being said. Yesterday I heard a Republican say that “America is right of center.” I sincerely do not understand what that means. I presume that it was intended to mean that Americans support the Republican agenda, but the election offered little to support that position and polls uniformly show that the majority of us support the political issues advanced by so called “liberals” such as opposition to the Iraq war, health care revision, regulation of financial institutions, and establishing a trade balance.

It seems to me that the notions of conservative and liberal are indistinct to say the least with conservatives proposing dramatic changes to the society at least over the last eight years (I’m thinking tax reduction during a war, the “Bush Doctrine” which permits attacking other countries that might be a threat in the future, domestic warrantless surveillance, rendition, Guantanamo and the related human rights issues, abdication of federal oversight of financial institutions, stuff like that) and liberals advocating a return to a balanced budget and trade balance, and rolling back many of the recent changes implemented by the administration.

Another instance of this confusion about what is conservative and what is liberal is the recent Supreme Court case, argued Tuesday, in which the Court heard arguments about the FCC’s right to penalize “fleeting profanity.” The FCC for example fined PBS for airing interviews with old blues men who sometimes used the “s” word.

During oral argument it appeared that the “conservative” judges favored upholding the FCC’s right to control the use of any bad words, while the liberals seemed to disfavor this relatively mild form of censorship. In the courts conservatism is not marked by a philosophical opposition to governmental intrusion into our lives, as conservative judges tend to favor this type of censorship, to favor expansion of the police power and generally to disfavor using civil rights to limit the powers of government. At least in cases involving these competing interests the conservatives are more likely to be on the side of the government. On the other hand when government interferes with business, they are more likely to be on the side of business and the limitation of government.

This reminds me that when the constitution was adopted there was no bill of rights, to Thomas Jefferson’s great disappointment. The conservatives, who generally had opposed the inclusion of a bill of rights, coalesced into the Federalist Party which favored a strong federal government. Federalists were also much more pacifist than Jefferson’s following. I guess the conservatives on the bench take inspiration from John Adams and the Federalists at least in part. The conservatives of that era were for radical changes in the government to centralize and strengthen the power of the federal government.

The just finished presidential election illustrates the blur between conservative and liberal, as these terms are commonly used. McCain could not effectively distinguish his policies from those of Bush. McCain could not identify any bright lines that distinguished his policies from Obama and appealed to the voters. Eventually he seemed to stake his campaign on “character” issues, which to some degree is a euphemism for personal attacks. He did this is substantial part because he could not find the “right of center” where Republicans say most of us reside.


Where is the Money Going, Part 2

September 26, 2008

I do not think that anyone knows where the money is going.  The Democrats do not seem ready to undertake that analysis, bending to the administration’s cries of urgency.  I myself am not prepared to surrender reason to threats of disaster just yet.  The Washington Mutual takeover after was conducted by the administration the moment it unexplained plan bogged down.  The timing is not above suspicion, but unquestionably WaMu was in serious trouble.

Congress has put restraints on this massive corporate welfare program by insisting that the money be paid in installments (almost entirely to corporations who claim they are in trouble because home loans are not being paid, so why not help with those payments instead?) and with Congressional oversight.  Still nobody knows where the money is going which seems to have become a theme of this administration since the Iraq invasion.

Marie Cantwell and Joe Lieberman issued this press release quoted below.

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) sent the following letter to Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Representative Boehner, Senator Dodd, Senator Shelby, Representative Frank, and Representative Bachus, asking them to ensure there are clear mechanisms for long-term transparency, accountability, and reform in the current financial recovery package.
“Any financial recovery package that Congress enacts must put transparency and tough rules in place to make sure consumers are protected,”said Cantwell. “While the financial markets need emergency surgery today their long-term health is dependent on prevention. We need to establish a robust regulatory regime capable of overseeing today’s complex global marketplace.  We also need to determine what went wrong, hold bad actors accountable and apply the lessons learned to prevent future financial market meltdowns.
In addition to protecting homeowners and taxpayers and holding Wall Street executives accountable, it is critical that the financial rescue package jumpstart the process of fundamental reform of our financial markets so that we never again find ourselves in this position.  Under our proposal, in four months, the National Commission for Financial Regulatory Reform will provide Congress with a specific plan for comprehensive reform of the financial system that will strengthen the stability of our financial infrastructure and protect the long-term interests of American taxpayers, investors, and businesses.  With the Commission recommendations in hand, the next Congress will be able to immediately begin moving forward with the fundamental reforms we desperately need,” said Lieberman.
This does nothing to explain where the money is going and admits that we do not know how we got here.  There being no explanation of where “here” is it appears that Congress may be almost as much in the dark as we are.
It remains unclear why just paying off the $112 billion of troubled home mortgages, or loaning enough to keep them current, would not solve the problem.

What Bush Himself is Doing

September 19, 2008

Here’s a report on the activites of Bush.  His reaction in this time of crisis is much like his reaction to being informed that we were under attack on September 11, 2001, when he kept reading a children’s book to kindergardeners.  So far he has been able to wrestle out of his schedule time for a two minute Rose Garden speech.  That’s it.  Otherwise he hasn’t been out since early August.  We’re at the point now where no one seems to expect more of him.


The Economy: Pouring Gasoline on Fire?

September 18, 2008

The United States does not have enough money to sustain its own activities.  For reasons that I did not understand, nor apparently Alan Greenspan, rather than curb our country’s excesses we went into historic levels of indebtedness.  Our foreign debt has more than quadrupled and our total national debt is over three trillion dollars.

This previously unknown level of debt quite predictably caused the dollar to weaken.  As the dollar fell we have made a variety of efforts to prop it up but the weight of our debt has been too much for the interim measures we have undertaken.

While our leaders were focused on a war we entered into for reasons that have never been adequately explained by our leaders, they did not mind the store at home so that reckless lending practices were allowed to metastasize.  This certainly artificially sustained the economy for a while and just as certainly these practices were unsustainable over the long haul.  They were doomed to fail with fluctuations in the real estate market and like all houses of cards a tremor would be ruinous.

For reasons the Bush administration can best explain we were caught unprepared.   We have been forced to take measures that will be hard for our economy to endure if they are successful in stemming the current disaster.  At a time when we are borrowing money almost as fast as we can, the government is committing its resources to propping up its financial and insurance institutions.  This diversion of funds that are already inadequate to meet expenses will add to our sorry state of indebtedness.

The second measure that we are taking is to print more money.  Yesterday the Federal Reserve announced that it will be dumping $56 billion into the economy.  When you print the stuff that is pretty easy to do. This however will contribute to the downward spiral of the value of the dollar.

I have commented, after reading Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine,” that the United States really has been taking on the attributes of many South American countries.  It has a diminishing middle class; the polarization of wealth distribution is greater than it has been since the beginning of the industrial age, before the first timid implementation of the restraints complained of by Republicans.

Like our neighbors to the south we have promoted the power of the executive to a greatly heightened level. We have reduced oversight of private financial activity while loosening restraint on governmental activity with respect to its citizens.  Like South American countries we have gone deeply in debt and our financial institutions are not stable.  Similar to them our currency is falling.

The current measures to cure the crisis are not the smoke and mirrors approach that we have adopted in the past. At the same time if they avert disaster they will leave us with an economy in worst condition than we thought it was in before the crisis.  In short we will bring the crisis in the wings that we already knew about a few steps closer to center stage.


Government Fight Against Post 9/11 Safety Standards.

September 11, 2008

I recently wrote about building code revision being presently considered. Perhaps the most important issues relate to an extensive study done by the National Institute of Standards and Technology following 9/11. This led to specific recommendations about how sky scrapers could be made safer in the event of catastrophes, which in turn led to a battle between public health officials and real estate executives.

The issues are discussed in this New York Times article but suffice it to say that the conclusions of the several year long study make sense. The General Services Administration oversees the operation of federal government buildings. It is in effect a landlord.

On this anniversary of 9/11 it is odd to think that the government is actively fighting against public health officials and the results of the study that it funded. It is trying to get safety standards rejected that would save lives in the event of another nature or man-made catastrophe. For me this makes the lofty sounding speeches of government officials seem a little hollow.


Bush to Say McCain Learned Lessons of 9/11

September 2, 2008

Let’s see what were those lessons.  We should have kept a cabinet anti-terrorist chair?  We should have given our anti-terrorist czar access to the National Security Adviser?  We should pay attention to what our anti-terrorist czar tells us?  We should heed warning from the FBI of an immanent attack involving planes?  That we should avoid hasty statements like McCain’s that we should invade Iraq and the war would be over in a short time.  That we should avoid quick judgments like McCain’s that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction?  That we should equip our troops better? That we should better respect U.N. inspectors and their reports?  That we should have better ability to care for our injured troops?  That our military adventures can result in the increase of terrorist activity and preparedness?  That war can drive us into debt and hurt our economy?


Rift Between Republicans and Conservatives: The Senate Conservatives Fund

June 25, 2008

Many people who have always called themselves Republicans will no longer vote for that party. Five people have told me this and I was interested to see that this attitude has caused the Republican Party to restrategize fund raising for senate races.

The people I’m talking about do not call themselves social conservatives, just conservatives. They tend not to be social conservatives as that term is commonly used. They tend to support women’s rights and civil rights in general. Abortion and school prayer are not their foremost interests. They are not followers of extremist right wing radio shows. They do not feel that Democrats are evil. They are well educated and keep up on politics, usually from a variety of sources.

Like Alan Greenspan in his recent autobiography, they feel that the party led by Bush has abandoned its fundamental principles and in the process deserted them. Some are rather bitter.

The concerns expressed to me are Bush’s disregard of the need for a balanced budget, a concept that was treated as hallowed by Republicans during Clinton’s administration, then abandoned as soon as Bush got into office. Related to this is the Republican’s disregard of the mounting national debt, a sore point among my friends. The gaping trade deficit, something Republican used to be concerned about, still concerns many people.

The corruption and mismanagement of money associated with government contractors deeply shocks some conservatives, as did the political scandals that have characterized the administration. These people also do not support the jingoistic militarism that the Republican Party seems to stand for.

Finally Bush’s apparent dishonesty about the war, with regard to the Plame leak and now blaming gas prices on the Democrats while urging acceptance of off shore drilling as a solution, knowing full well that that it does not offer a solution (well, maybe one or two percent in fifteen or twenty years) and that oil companies have tens of millions of acres of undrilled land that they choose not to use at this time. They are shocked at the administration’s suppression of science and diminishment of the E.P.A.

They ask: What traditional convservative value has been respected by the Bush administration other than lip service to family values? The business of government has not been on conservative tracks. Clinton’s administration was far truer to conservative principles than the current administration.

Anyway I was surprised to see that this attitude is shared by so many Republicans that the Republican Party is having a hard time with fund raising. People are refusing to give money to the Republican Party PAC that raises money for senatorial campaigns. To do an end run around this obstacle, the Republican Party is creating a PAC that does not collect money for the party but for conservative candidates.

It seems that to some degree the Republican Party may have lost its base in the course of catering to Bush’s base.