Conservative writer Michael Fumento explains his discomfort with the “extreme right” in Salon. While I think portions of his essay are overstated, I generally agree. Further, like Professor Bainbridge, I found this passage worth repeating:
Civility and respect for order – nay, demand for order – have always been tenets of conservatism. The most prominent work of history’s most prominent conservative, Edmund Burke, was a reaction to the anger and hatred that swept France during the revolution. It would eventually rip the country apart and plunge all of Europe into decades of war. Such is the rotted fruit of mass-produced hate and rage. Burke, not incidentally, was a true Tea Party supporter, risking everything as a member of Parliament to support the rebellion in the United States.
All of today’s right-wing darlings got there by mastering what Burke feared most: screaming “J’accuse! J’accuse!” Turning people against each other. Taking seeds of fear, anger and hatred and planting them to grow a new crop.
That the other side may or may not have done it first is no excuse. If civility and tolerance are virtues — and I believe they are — than one should be civil and tolerant, without regard to what one’s opponents do. More Fumento:
Incivility is hardly the domain of the new right. American society grows ever coarser. But this is cold comfort. Conservative ideology demands civility of conservatives; demands, yes, self-policing. Let others act as they will, bearing evidence of the shallowness of their positions. It also demands respect for official offices, such as the presidency. When our guy is in office, you give him that modicum of respect – and when your guy is in office, we do the same. The other party is to be referred to as “the loyal opposition,” not with words the FCC forbids on the air.
Fumento also suggests this approach can get in the way of meaningful reforms, and I think he has a point here too.
The new right cannot advance a conservative agenda precisely because, other than a few small holdouts like the American Conservative magazine or that battleship that refuses to become a museum, George Will, it is not itself conservative. Pod people are running the show. It has no such capability; no such desire. I find that disturbing for obvious reasons. But, based on my own conversations with liberals, I think – nay, I know – that if more of these allegedly godless, treasonous people understood real conservatism a lot would embrace many conservative positions.
Thus everybody realizes government spending has lost its airbrakes. But while the new right screams the most about big government, it nonetheless supported President George W. Bush as he presided over the largest expansion of government spending since uber-liberal FDR and left us with a massive debt before President Obama was sworn in. Why? Silly rabbit! Because the left opposed him.
It is often said that politics is the art of the possible. The problem with too many politicians is not that they compromise, but that they have no principles to guide them. The American political system is structured to make dramatic change extremely difficult. Major reforms take time, and must often be achieved step by step. Blind ideological rigidity, such as to an anti-tax pledge that would prevent Congress from repealing ethanol subsidies, is no help, and is certainly not conservative. This is not a call for moderation, but for prudence. One can seek dramatic, even revolutionary, changes in the size and scope of government without resort to the tactics Fumento finds so distasteful.