Friday, May 18, 2012
Ideology and "what works"
Like The "Progressives" of the early 20th century, President Obama and many of his fellow Leftists these days are quite fond of making the claim that they are simply motivated by "what works" and are not driven by ideology the way conservatives are. The philosophical emptiness of such claims is thoroughly amusing and I have always seen it as just too shallow to be worth a reply. Just how empty the claim is can be shown by a simple question: "How do you define "what works"?" -- or -- "When do you know that something has "worked"?"
The inevitable answer to that has to be in terms of ideology: "Whether something leads to greater economic equality", would certainly be a common Leftist answer to my question. But that simply shows that the Leftist subscribes to an ideology that economic equality is desirable.
In his latest book, however, Jonah Goldberg is marginally more respectful of the claim. He first documents the claim at some length but instead of wiping it off with a simple question, he devotes a whole chapter to refuting it. And his conclusion is that both Left and Right have ideologies -- but ideologies that are different.
Jonah does note however that in the past it was in fact conservatives who abjured ideology and customarily pointed to Leftists as ideologues. And I think that view is essential to understanding conservatism. In his book Inside Right, Ian Gilmour, once Lord Privy Seal of England under Margaret Thatcher, offers an historical study of conservatism and concludes that conservatives are "trimmers": People with ideas that change with circumstances without much in the way of pre-established doctrines or policy consistency.
In my own historical study of conservative thought I noted many instances of such claims from conservative thinkers and concluded that conservatism can only be understood as a psychological disposition -- a tendency towards cautiousness -- and that different policy responses may be generated by that underlying psychological conservatism from time to time -- though a desire for individual liberty is a common outcome of that psychological disposition.
So I side with the earlier conservative thinkers and say that it is conservatives who are the non-ideological ones. The Leftist claim on that distinction becomes mere trickery. They think that by claiming to be something that is really true of conservatives, they can gain some added respectibility for their policies and deflect attention from whom the real practical people are. It is a sort of reverse-projection: Instead of seeing their own faults in others, they see the strengths of others in themselves.
So I see Jonah as too kind to the Left. They are just crooks who will say anything if it will get them power. Conservatives should not let the Left get away with stealing our clothes. And the best way to do that is to keep asking them my questions above.
Conservatives don't have to make broad claims about standing for "what works". Rather we just deal with individual issues as they arise and point out what the consequences of a Leftist response to those issues is likely to be. The track record of socialism is so dismal that that is not hard to do. If anything engenders caution, it is socialism
Monday, May 07, 2012
An interesting difference between the Left in Australia and the USA
Australia and the USA are unusually similar countries so it tends to be the differences between them that are surprising. And one huge difference between the two countries has just emerged. Australia's LEFTIST government has just announced that it will be bringing down a SURPLUS budget tomorrow night.
Where Obama borrows 40% of every dollar he spends, the Australian government will not only fund every cent of its expenditure from taxes - it will also leave a small amount over to reduce existing debt.
Yet despite their many differences of detail, the tax burden in Australia is not particularly more onerous overall than it is in the USA. Standards of living are similar and the Australian rate of unemployment is much lower -- at about 5.2%.
Be that as it may, however, the important point is that the Australian government is hiking taxes only by a small amount, with the surplus to be achieved mainly by spending cutbacks -- defence, of course, but also welfare cutbacks. And the defence expenditure cutbacks will be achieved without reducing the numbers of the defence force.
So how come? It fits with my perception that Australian Leftists are much less loony than the American Left. Nancy Pelosi's comment that you'll have to pass the Obamacare legislation in order to find out what's in it summarizes the American Left for me. I cannot imagine that being proposed in any other democracy. Russia maybe.
So how have the Democrats become so detached from reality? I think it is because they can. They have such large and "rusted on" blocs of minority supporters that they don't need to be reasonable. With block votes from blacks, Hispanics and Jews, they can largely do no wrong. There is also among the majority population a subset who will always vote Left, come what may. Put those four blocs together and Democrats only have to seem vaguely reasonable for them to govern. Even amid America's great economic woes those groups have ensured that Obama's popularity remains strong. Romney will struggle to defeat him. In any other country, disastrous economic stewardship such as Obama's would utterly doom an administration.
So minority votes are responsible for the many follies that the Democrats have unleashed on America and may ultimately lead to American decline. Democrats have to seem reasonable to only a small part of the majority population because the addition of rusted-on minority votes will get them into power. Around half of the American electorate is not making any real evaluation of the candidates, thus undermining a basic assumption of democracy.
Since someone is bound to raise it I will say a few words about the fact that the Australian Leftist government has legislated a carbon tax. Is that not extreme? It is extreme but it is not what the governing Labor party wanted. They in fact went to the polls promising not to introduce such a tax. They reversed course only because they needed the Green party in order to form a majority government. Unlike the USA, but like most other countries, the Australian electoral system does give some power to third parties and the Greens in Australia had votes in parliament that the Labor party needed. But the price of those votes was a carbon tax. So it was a Green rather than a Leftist enactment.
The surplus actually brought down turned out rely heavily on accounting tricks so is more apparent than real but the point remains that the Australian Left did at least try to budget responsibly -- at a time when the American Left refused to bring down any budget at all
The fact that a surplus was even attempted is fairly remarkable in the annals of Leftist politics. I believe that some of the Clinton budgets featured surpluses but that was the product of Clinton's "triangulating" with Republicans who controlled Congress