July 16, 2009

“Malaise” malaise

Since we?re on the topic of Jimmy Carter?s conservatism , let?s not forget another historical leader who?s been unfairly demonized by Rush Limbaugh and the official movement, a leader who turned his country away from pie-in-sky globalist doctrines, reversed a dangerous slide into unfettered capitalism, and bravely banned abortion at a time when such a move was unpopular with his party.

I?m, of course, referring to Joseph Stalin, the erstwhile Orthodox Christian seminarian who revived a sense of ?place? and ?limits? in his adopted homeland?Crunchyness in One Country, as it were. His was a front-porch socialism, and a brand of politics worth a second-look as we, much like Uncle Joe, recognize?perhaps too late?the failures of capitalism and a society ruled by soulless greed.

Parody aside, I admire Andrew Bacevich a great deal, but I had little use for his ?Carter revisionism? in The Limits of Power, as well as Sean Scallon?s echo in The American Conservative.

It is true that Reagan has some glaring weaknesses as a conservative icon, and we should be looking for new heroes. Were The Gipper actually as devoted to minimal government and rugged individualism as his leftist detractors and the official movement say he was! In the end, Reagan?s ?libertarian? rhetoric, alternately soaring and hokey, amounted in practice to the kind of ?low-tax liberalism? LP candidate Ed Clark promised voters in 1980. Reagan didn?t actually reduce Big Government one lick?and he installed neocon tools like Bill Bennett in departments conservatives once said they wanted to abolish.

Offering tax cuts without spending cuts, Reagan set America off down the road to debt-financed consumption, and eventual economic ruin, described well by Addison Wiggin and Bill Bonner in their fantastic book, Empire of Debt, which, I’d add, is a much more thoroughgoing and economically informed analysis of the disastrous implications of American foreign policy than Bacevich?s most recent effort.

With regard to the Carter revisionists (and the McGovern revisionists, for that matter), the central problem, as I see it, is that they latch on to a specific program or a politician?s turn-of-phrase without grasping the ideological framework within which it?s articulated. The rest is wishful thinking.

Stalin didn?t outlaw abortion due to a sudden upsurge of ?moral clarity?; he did it so he could enslave more Russians in state-run factories. Carter didn?t warn of an ?inordinate fear of Soviet Communism? in some Rothbardian attempt to undermine the warfare/welfare state and Military Industiral Complex; it?s far more likely he bought into the then-popular ?convergence theory? that held that a slightly-less-murderous Soviet Union and an American welfare state creeping towards socialism would soon meet somewhere in the middle; as Time put it in 1970, there?d soon be ?a new form of society, blending the personal freedom and profit motive of Western democracies with the Communist system’s government control of the economy.?

Nor does Carter?s waxing malaise-y mean that he was eager to revive an America, as Scallon wishfully puts it, based on ?hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God.? To the contrary, Carter?s actual political programs are in the tradition of various statist band-aides-on-cancer, following Nixon?s price and wage controls and Ford?s endorsement of the ludicrous Whip Inflation Now campaign following the U.S.?s departure from the gold standard. Carter is a right-winger about as much as Stalin is a pro-lifer.

(And one can turn this around and look at the ways the Religious Right and pro-life movement have been articulating their opposition to abortion in terms of leftish ?values,? like ?anti-racism? and ?civil rights,? as Patrick Ford pointed out this weekend.)   

The collapse of the stock market has elicited loads of ?conservative? sounding rhetoric from liberals, many Republicans, and establishment papers like Time and Newsweek. The recession, we are told, is good for us morally, and shall bring us closer to Mother Earth to boot. These counsels for ?restraint? and ?limiting one?s desire? have been accompanied by calls for the welfare state to go hog-wild, providing us with all kinds of new federal goodies and throwing money at favored social groups and causes.

The Right needs new leaders, yes, but we?re not going to engender them by making ?the conservative case? for the same old liberal crap.   

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