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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Pragmatic Conservatism.

As I have mentioned before, I was raised in a conservative household by conservative parents. Now, I wouldn't read TOO much into that- we were always socially liberal, just fiscally conservative. My father has even told me that he is proud of having voted for Jimmy Carter. Then again, considering Carter was running against Gerald Ford, who made a better physical comedian than president, I'm mostly unmoved by my father's claims. Regardless, it wasn't that my family objected to equal rights, or women's liberation, or gay rights, or abortion- it was that it objected to expensive programs run by the government.

Despite the shrill rhetoric often emanating from the left, I think many conservatives fall into this category. Not all of them of course, I've had my own run-ins with conservatives who would like nothing more than to convert these United States into some sort of theocracy, but I do believe that many conservatives are not bad people. Quite a few of them are good people with worthwhile values who vote as they do out of genuine concern for this country and its citizens. Many individuals are what I would term "pragmatic conservatives." They vote conservatively because they are trying to defend the fiscal integrity of the country, not because they hate minorities or love an oppressive version of religious faith that should offend Christians, Jews, and Muslims everywhere.

So, you can imagine my lack of understanding when I discover that these people, including my own parents, have voted for Bush. Bush in many ways combines the worst of both the liberal and conservative worlds. He is socially conservative- even repressive- in his desire to force our laws to match the dictates of a millenia old religious faith that could not have foreseen the nature of the modern world. I do not necessarily mean that ancient religions cannot speak to modern problems, but rather only that fundamentalism is a bitter enemy of everything intelligent people hold dear. At the same time, Bush is fiscally liberal. He thinks nothing of spending vast quantities of money on highly dubious projects- which is itself an unpleasnt euphemism for a needless and thoroughly bungled war in Iraq. The debts that Bush has accumulated are so staggering that I have difficulty contemplating them without feeling nauseous. One might, of course, argue that liberal administrations have also accumulated mammoth debts, but there is a difference. Liberals have tended to accumulate debts through income redistribution within this country. While you may disagree with the act of redistribution, it is the case that the money at least stimulated consumption in a wide variety of industries. On the other hand, Bush's war is funneling titanic volumes of capital to weapons manufacturers, in essence revitalizing the military-industrial complex, which is nothing more than a back-channel implementation of trickle-down economics.

I am, thus, baffled by the adherence of these pragmatic conservatives to a Republican agenda that is conservative to the exclusion of pragmatism. They would seem to be voting an end to religious tolerance, to ethnic inclusion, and to sexual liberation. They would seem to be supporting an attempt to rewind the United States to look more like our sepia-tinged memories of the nineteen-fifties when men were men, women knew their place, and children were seen but not heard. Of course, the fact that the characteristics of this period are more an article of faith than an accurate recollection seems to matter little, much less that many of us prefer our men to be something other than mindless beefcakes, and our women to be more than decorative ornaments. Further, our pragmatic conservatives seem to be voting for this massive experiment in social engineering (And expriment it is, since the theocratic stance advocated by social conservatives is composed of untested, or previously invalidated, hypotheses about social problems) with the full knowledge that it will be expensive on a scale undreamt of. How can we possibly resolve the contradictions of pragmatism and conservatism?

Well, I can think of one way. To be pragmatic is not to be immune to temptation, and short-term gain is often more apparent than long-term loss. The Republicans have bought the support of many, and in the process the pragmatic conservatives have sold their souls. This may sound radical, or even overly-harsh, but the pattern is consistent, and I am hardly the only one to have noticed.

If this is what pragmatism truly means, the surrendering of principle to the lure of illusory gains, then I shall be proud to call myself a hopeless idealist.


Blogger Benjamin said...

One of my college professors and a couple of the books I have read lately have commented on the fact that people in our culture define themselves by the things they own. It also seems to me that people's relationships in our society are defined by money. A good example of what I'm trying to say is my relationship with my roommate. I spend more time communicating with this person, being around this person, etc. than anyone else on the planet. We get along fine, but that's because I pay my rent on time and we respect each other's space. She even told me once in a conversation that she "doesn't have an emotional investment" in our relationship. Most people will probably read this and think "well, of course she doesn't." And I'd have to agree. Our relationship is based on money, so the person I end up having the most social contact with is someone who, after all is said and done, doesn't give a rat's ass. Am I the only one who thinks that this is really "messed up"?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005 3:59:00 PM  

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