Well, we still haven’t managed to get Jean Yarbrough SIGNED UP as a regular contributor. So I have to pass on her email messages to me to you about my post on Jim’s election book:
I want to offer a somewhat different formulation: Obama did not offer conservatism in the precise sense. What he served up was archaic progressivism, clinging to the entitlements of a bygone era AS IF they were part of the original constitutional settlement., even as they fundamentally seek to replace it. In the precise and distinctively American sense, there is nothing conservative about this, if what you mean by conservatism is fidelity to the principles of the founding. of course, these principles need to be adapted to present exigencies, but a true conservatism would use them as a polestar.
You are right to describe the rest of Obama’s message as libertarian progressivism, meaning acceptance of liberal mores, especially on matters pertaining to sexual freedom, but I think our Jim frames the matter correctly as a choice between two competing set of principles.
Our Pete, much like Bob Patterson, directs his efforts toward policies more than principles. Somehow, we need to connect the two. I have found Pete’s posts provocative, but I think he goes too far in disparaging the job creators and the moderately wealthy. The big bucks always find a way to shelter their wealth from taxes. it is the upper middles who get hammered. Romney may have been tone deaf, and I think he was, but I would not simply dismiss the idea that it is easier to support taxes ON SOMEONE ELSE to pay for benefits to you. There is that old adage, not from Tocqueville, but from some Scot whose name now escapes me, that democracy can last until the majority figures out that it can tax the minority for its own benefits. This is majority faction of the sort Madison warns against.
Somehow Republicans have got to find a way to appeal to the hard working middle and lower classes while also strengthening the case for freedom. As things now stand, the increased taxes go far too often to support a dependent clientele, much as Rome did in its declining days of the republic.
So I have to respond that ARCHAIC PROGRESSIVISM is oxymoronic. Yuval has talked about REACTIONARY PROGRESSIVISM now and again. Conservatism in the precise sense, I think, is being on the defensive. Progressivism is offensive—animated by A TRANSFORMATIONAL VISION. Obama talks like that sometimes, of course. But his actual appeal to the voters is that I’m the guy who will protect the entitlements you have now—from, for example, VOUCHERIZATION. Now if conservatism means fidelity to the American Founding, then I guess I’m wrong. But that’s not conservatism in the precise or nonpartisan sense. To be a reactionary is to take a position against HISTORY, to defend futilely what’s destined to wither away. From a nonpartisan view, in a strange way Rand Paul is now a PROGRESSIVE—he certainly is campaigning with the confidence that HISTORY is on his side. He’s not a BIG GOVERNMENT progressive, but an individualistic progressive. He can be understood to echo Reagan in some ways.
I think it’s reaching to integrate libertarian progressivism on the “social issues” into a narrative that includes big-government progressivism. Justice Kennedy is actually more coherent in lurching toward being libertarian across the board, wanting to strike down both ObamaCare and marriage laws as offenses against our ever-emerging understanding of liberty. So the consistent PRO-CHOICE agenda can be understood to depend on a progressive understanding of history, but history understood as the withering away of all legal restraints on the sovereign individual.
It’s hard to be a LIBERTARIAN POPULIST, because the withering away of the safety nets is good for our COGNITIVE ELITE but not so good for the ordinary, struggling guy, the guy whose life is getting more pathological. He can’t believe that doing away with the programs that encourage his dependency could actually be good for him. Now there are Southern libertarian populists who believe that rights are a point of honor, and it’s impossible not to admire them. But single moms are often too sensible to put honor over calculation about what’s best for their own.
This is all just for fun, to get Jim and Jean and all the rest roused up.
Meanwhile, I’m 62 today. That means I could get SOCIAL SECURITY, and the odds have shifted in the direction of me being around for MEDICARE. Not only that, I aggressively employed my AARP membership on my recent vacation. So it would certainly be in my self-interest for me to get more conservative in the precise sense on the entitlement front.