April 24, 2004


What the Right Does Right: I may not agree with all their values, but at least they have them. (Knute Berger, 4/24/04, Seattle Weekly)

Virtually all of our most powerful elective leaders—Democrat and Republican alike—supported the recent multibillion-dollar Boeing giveaway. Of the major candidates for governor, only Democrat Phil Talmadge has come out swinging against the Boeing deal. But it’s interesting to me that the major player in Olympia demanding accountability was Bob Williams and his conservative government watchdog group, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. It led the way in getting the state to more fully disclose what we taxpayers are on the hook for, and how the deal came together. While I may not agree with the free-market philosophy of this group, their insistence on disclosure was a public service. And their doggedness grew out of a long-standing skepticism about public spending, tax policy, and the fundamental honesty of government—skepticism that is not misplaced and ought to be thoroughly bipartisan.

Education is another arena where conservatives are helping push the envelope. My children—both doing well in college—were homeschooled after grade school. That kind of education might not have been possible in this state were it not for the Christian right’s activism in getting our homeschooling laws liberalized and helping citizens regain the right to educate their own children. For that, I am grateful. The far right has also been active in fighting the proliferation of drugs like Ritalin in public schools. We’ve turned our schools into medicine cabinets, a trend that is symptomatic of an increasingly pharmacologically dependent society where drugs are prescribed by authority figures to regulate behavior in controlled settings (getting us ready for the chronic depression induced by the typical workplace, no doubt). One of the leading crusaders against the drugging of America’s youth has been cultural conservative columnist Phyllis Schlafly. More recently, conservatives have helped to keep the pressure on for charter schools that, I believe, have the potential to demonstrate important reforms for the rest of public edu-cation. Instead of fighting them, the state’s teachers ought to be embracing charters and the kinds of freedom, energy, and experimentation they represent. Their resistance is a result, I think, of the fact that they, too, are victims of a sick system.

Such grudging admiration is largely a function of how reactionary the American Left is become. All of the energy and ideas for improving American life now come from the Right, while the Left has nothing to say but: "Let's keep doing what we're doing but spend more money on it."

ALL QUIET ON THE HOME FRONT: The Democrats' focus on appearing 'electable' has
stopped them from winning arguments. (Alex Gourevitch, 4/22/04, sp!ked-politics)

principled consistency is out of temper with contemporary politics. Immediately after Dean's so-called screaming fit in the Iowa caucuses, his electoral fortunes took a turn for the worse. It seems that what he was really punished for was appearing to care enough about an issue to look like a zealot. In an odd way, Dean shares with Bush what seems to disconcert a lot of people: they are both accused of coming across as 'fundamentalists'. Bush has been criticised for being a 'crusader' or, as Kerry and many Democrats put it, 'arrogant'.

While people may find the Kerry's placid and empathetic style of politics more comforting, it is also a self-constraining and apolitical approach. (Even the 'Anybody But Bush' opposition has been criticised for appearing to express 'hatred' rather than the ostensibly more acceptable 'dislike'.)
When political passion is considered pathological, it is impossible to sustain a real political debate. After all, there is nothing reassuring or pleasing about principled politics - in opposition or otherwise. Moreover, masking true opinions behind a politically correct style means that even when you are right, you cannot take advantage of it. The more contemporary politicians line up behind today's 'anti-fundamentalist' ethos, the more difficult it is to know where they stand.

The irony is, what seems to be a strategy for making Kerry 'electable' prevents him from developing any coherent and consistent critique of Bush, or fully exploiting the many openings Bush's hapless presidency has left. That Bush felt the need to hold only the third press conference of his entire presidency last week was a clear sign that the administration knows something is amiss, and feels a need to try and reassure the public. Despite a poor performance, the tactic may have worked, if for no other reason than that it exposed once again the fact that the opposition had no meaningful alternative around which a public debate could polarise. After a month of chaos in Iraq, the opposition should have more to say about the current situation than that Bush is arrogant.

Nor can Kerry justify his strategy by hiding behind public fear and caution. Political leaders are supposed to do just that - lead. Appealing to the public's powers of reason and respect for principle by arguing steadfastly for one's own position would surely be more attractive than a campaign carefully tailored not to offend anybody. And people respond to what's put before them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2004 7:25 AM

All of the energy and ideas for improving American life now come from the Right

When you think about contemporary American conservatism broadly, you realize just how true that statement is. Sure, the socio-con faction debates the neo-con faction debates the small-government libertarian faction, but that's an internal debate (even if Pat Buchanan is just convinced every conservative who disagrees with him is just an evil, neo-con, Jew-lover).

Where are the liberal alternatives? No Vouchers and No Tax Cuts isn't really an alternative, is it?

Posted by: kevin whited at April 24, 2004 11:41 AM

It is an alternative, but it's essentially saying: "The 1970s forever!"

Posted by: oj at April 24, 2004 11:47 AM

"Placid and empathetic"? Kerry is shrill and doleful, all in the same breath. He tries so hard to be solemn that I think his face will crack in two. Nixon was more at ease with himself than John Kerry. But it is to be expected - Kerry seems to believe that the Presidency is his by birthright, and this stupid cowboy is standing in his way.

As Bruce Willis would say, "yippee-ki-yay, *^$#&&*@@#$%!".

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 25, 2004 12:27 AM

"principled consistency is out of temper with contemporary politics. "

Only among Democrats. Bush's "principled consistency" seems to working out quite well for him.

I guess it helps to actually have principles, and have them be principles that make sense.

Posted by: ralph phelan at April 25, 2004 12:45 PM