Friday, March 29, 2013

Separating the conservative men from the libertarian boys on the marriage issue

The rate at which conservative leaders are abandoning their principles on the marriage issue is astounding—and instructive. David Frum, Karl Rove, Sen. Rob Portman—the list goes on. In politics, as in physiology, there is clotting mechanism that eventually slows such things, but there is definitely a realignment in progress, and this realignment is separating the conservative men from the libertarian boys.

It is hard to determine how many of these people are really abandoning their principles and how many of them never really held the principles they claimed to hold in the first place. It may sound uncharitable to limit the possibilities to only these two, but it is hard to justify any other explanation.

The timing alone is evidence for the charge of political opportunism. When someone changes his  mind on an issue when it is not popular to do so, we are much more likely to believe that it was a real change of heart. But when it is done at a time that makes it the politically convenient thing to do, we should be suspicious.

To defect to the other side in battle when the battle is going your way may indicate that you really think that you are on the wrong side. But to do it when the enemy is winning on all fronts is prima facie evidence of lack of original commitment--if not sheer cowardice. We'll go with the former. 

Remember, we're trying to be charitable.

George Washington is said to have been disgusted at the lack of fortitude of his troops early in the Revolutionary War because of their penchant for fleeing at the least hint of opposition. The conservative movement is now having the opposite problem: Right now conservative troops are being trampled by their own officers who, having abandoned their posts in the culture war, are running as fast as they can from the front.

When it comes to the Roves of the movement, it seems pretty clear that they never held any other principles than political opportunism.

In the case of the Frums, we are looking at people who have principles, just not the ones they once pretended to have. There was little to prevent them from turning tail and running in the first place. They are libertarians. They're just reverting to ideological equilibrium. They are like conscript troops from conquered territory: Once the balance of power shifts back the other way, their native loyalties reassert themselves--the aggravating factor, of course, being that the Roves and Frums were not conscripts: They were volunteers.

They were never conservatives to begin with. And it would have been nice to know before the shooting started.


Lee said...

Despite William Buckley's best efforts, there is no conservative movement. There are only a group of factions who are united only by the fact that they opposes some part of the liberal agenda.

We have traditionalist conservatives, the heirs of Burke and Russell Kirk.

We have the free market/libertarians such as the late Milton Friedman and to some lesser degree the Randists.

We have the religious Right.

We have the law & order conservatives.

We have the national-defense conservatives, notably the neo-cons and the pro-Israel lobby. (I don't mean that to sound pejorative. I'm pro-Israel myself.)

We have constitutional conservatives.

We have the big-government conservatives such as GW Bush and the writers of the Weekly Standard.

We have the Republican Party, whose only set of principles seems to be what's good for the country-club set.

I'm sure there are others.

Problem is, they're not united. In fact, many of them despise each other. Libertarians hate Christian conservatives. The GOP is weary of them too, and also of free-marketers. The libertarians want to legalize pot and drugs, which the law & order guys won't support. The traditionalists and libertarians don't want an activist foreign policy. The big-govt conservatives and the GOP don't mind high taxes and over-regulation.

Each faction has its pet institution. Liberalism attacks all institutions all of the time. But libertarians don't care if the church is under attack. Big-govt conservatives and GOP loyalists don't care if the constitution or the family is under attack. And nobody but the libertarians care if the free market is under attack.

Each little conservative conclave cares only about its pet issues.

David Frum is a neo-con. Karl Rove and Ron Portman are GOP establishment. They could not possibly care less than they do about the concerns of the religious Right or the traditionalist conservatives.

That's how liberals win. Divide and conquer. It worked for Philip of Macedonia. It worked for Bismarck. It works for liberals.

KyCobb said...


In parliaments with proportional representation, multiple parties slice up thin slivers of the electorate. They can represent very narrow minority interests and still get leverage during the coalition building process when the parties try to patch together enough votes in parliament to form a majority. In America there have historically only ever been two major political parties at a time, and for the last 160 years its been the Republicans and the Democrats. In our system, coalitions are formed within the parties, and then each party tries to get at least over half of the vote of the electorate. Social conservatives are the largest bloc of GOP voters, and are critical to its success, but they are not enough by themselves to win a national election. The battle against marriage equality is lost; polls show a majority of Americans now support it, and the overwhelming majority of young voters. Your side is going to have to engage in triage. If the GOP insists on taking a stridently anti-gay stance, it will lose badly in 2016. This doesn't mean that the GOP has to endorse marriage equality, but its suicidal to actively oppose it. Is this one issue really so important that you are willing to allow the Democrats a third term in 2016 so they can continue to appoint Supreme Court Justices and promote every other issue important to them? Are you actually clinging to the hope that you can somehow convince young voters that LGBT people are dangerous, despite the fact that all of your rhetoric over the last decade has failed to move them? What could you possibly say that you haven't already said to try to change their minds?

Lee said...

Keep giving the advice, Ky, it's working. The GOP takes seriously the advice of anyone who wishes it were dead, and not at all the advice of someone who might actually vote Republican.

KyCobb said...


The problem is the GOP has to expand the universe of people who might vote Republican. GOP presidential candidates have gotten half or more of the vote only once in the last six presidential elections. Obama has done it twice in a row. I have yet to hear from anyone how the GOP is going to improve its standing by stridently opposing gay rights when over 80% of voters under thirty support marriage equality. Heck, even most young Republicans support marriage equality now.

Lee said...

> The problem is the GOP has to expand the universe of people who might vote Republican.

I agree. The question is how to do that. You and the GOP leadership seem to believe that will happen when the GOP moves even further left. They've been doing that since Reagan. How has that been working out?

They might try an alternative approach -- actually engaging liberals on the issues and, you know, defending their positions and maybe even going on offense a time or two.

How can we know whether the ideas themselves are to blame when nobody actually defends them?

There was a recent poll that showed that a majority agrees with Republican ideas and ideals -- until they find out they're Republican ideas and ideals.

To me, that suggests not bad ideas, but poor salesmanship.

Lee said...
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Lee said...

> Heck, even most young Republicans support marriage equality now.

Even I support marriage equality. Everyone has an equal right to marry someone of the opposite sex.