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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why Some Conservative Politicians Talk a Good Game, But Don't Really Mean It

We see it every election. The conservative candidate gets up and spells out everything wrong with the liberal position. And then he gets elected, and tosses it all to the wind. The same problems continue and actually get worse. The behavior seems irrational, because even the candidate is a hypocrite, it seems as if would be safer in a cost-benefit analysis to follow through on his promises, than to abandon them.

There is however an unfortunate split between conservative politicians who view liberal policies as an existential threat and those who view them as a political threat. Conservative politicians who take the existential view believe that those policies are actually dangerous to the long term survival of the country. By contrast Political Conservatives, who view those policies as a political threat, see the situation in terms of political survival only.

A democratic system requires that politicians cultivate voter bases. And the easiest way to cultivate such a base is by pledging to fight an ongoing problem that a great many people care about. But eliminating that problem would also risk eliminating the base that they're depending on. Which means that the key to political success is to keep the problem, while pledging to fight it. This way both sides can come back to their base on election day and demand their help. And then rinse and repeat every other election day after that.

Such deliberate political stalemates are often cynically cultivated in order to "farm" a given voter base. In America, abortion is a case in point, with politicians on both sides using it on election day, while generally doing their best to see that once in office the football doesn't move either way on the issue. But while this sort of political cynicism is obnoxious enough, what happens when only one side is committed to the stalemate? Essentially the same thing that happened to the French, the Poles and the Russians in WW2. Blitzkrieg.

Imagine one army is aggressively looking to conquer, while the other army is mainly interested in dressing up in uniforms and putting on a show for the folks back home. That is what's been happening to the conservative side on a lot of issues, as conservative politicians put on their shiniest medals and brassiest uniforms, blow horns and shot out a lot, and then retreat on the signal, and repeat the same thing again the next day. Because they're not really interested in winning. They're interested in putting on a good show for the folks back home.

Many conservative politicians see liberal policies as a political threat because they risk seducing away their voters. And so they fight a political war to hold on to a base, rather than an existential war to protect the country from the result of those policies. These politicians are also usually the first to emphasize "moderation", when they downshift from being firebrands, and to utilize "steal their thunder" solutions, in which they essentially propose watered down versions of those same policies. Because they don't actually want to alienate anyone. And they view ObamaCare in he US or immigration in the UK, as a political problem, not an existential problem.

The lack of forward momentum and new ideas, is among the most obvious characteristics of political conservatives. Because they're not interested in moving forward, but in farming the base. Occasionally they will try to steal the other side's thunder by co-opting their ideas and rebranding them in order to appeal to younger voters. That is the limit of their reach, and it is once again an attempt at political survival above all else.

They excel at telling voters what they want to hear, and doing it sincerely. But their goal is political success, either for themselves or for the party as a whole. They see their niche as catering to voters suspicious of change and eager to hear that someone will fight it. They just don't mean it, because as they see it, if they actually succeeded, they would find themselves out of a job.

These men and women are not necessarily stupid. Some are rather smart, though some are idiots who have just memorized a checklist of what they think voters want to hear. They are not necessarily hypocrites, though many are, often they just see elections as zero sum political contests in order to hold an elected office that runs on compromise. They're not entirely wrong about this, but they are out of touch with the dramatic and dangerous shift in the First World, from the political to the existential. We have gone past the time of political arguments, into an age where our very survival is at stake. And that is something that too many merely political conservatives refuse to believe.

And so they keep on saying things they don't really mean, because it's safer than saying the things that they do mean. Which is that they believe most problems can be solved with some good old fashioned horse trading, that both sides are basically the same, and that most politics are absolutely meaningless. They will often say these things in their memoirs when they retire and no one is paying much attention to them anymore. And that's the problem.

Politics without substance is fine as entertainment, when nothing real is at stake. There are times we can afford it, and laugh at the spectacle of corrupt politicians denouncing each other. But there are times when big things are genuinely at stake. When it's not just about swapping pork, personality clashes and a government car-- the usual things that so much of politics boils down to. There are times when the world itself, or at least the country is at stake. And survival means shaking up the corruption and getting serious about fighting back. It means sending away the shiny medals and gorgeous uniforms, and putting on khaki, and fighting the unglamorous battle against an existential threat.

13 comments:

BetsySpeicher said...

It is inaccurate and unjust to lump all "conservatives" together and to criticize them ALL for failings not all self-described conservatives possess.

SOME understand the nature and importance of individual rights and have been tireless and outspoken defenders of our rights. Paul Ryan and James Inhofe come to mind.

Our future depends of FINDING such men and women and SUPPORTING them morally and financially. If we are to be saved, it is such politicians with understanding and integrity that will save us.

Betsy Speicher

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

I didn't lump them all together

The headline specifies "some" and the article distinguishes between conservative politicians and political conservatives

Mikec said...

To say what you don't really mean is a form of lie.

To indicate that you intend to do something when you have no intention of doing it is a lie.

It is these lies which will bring down our democracies, because democracy becomes pointless if elected representitives lie.

Lies give short term advantage, but long term disaster.

There was a time when a politician caught out in a lie resigned. This was neccessary to preserve the democracy...

Anonymous said...

As usual Sultan.... a good read. I hope people take your article to heart as voters don't owe the pols anything but our scrutiny. There's an old saying (M. Twain?) about supporting ones country always, and ones government when it deserves.

~Ecosse

Lmore said...

or is the real problem the idiots that vote and let this happen over and over?

DP111 said...

DG wrote: It means sending away the shiny medals and gorgeous uniforms, and putting on khaki, and fighting the unglamorous battle against an existential threat.

The existential threat is there. It has been obvious to any with eyes for the last ten years. And yet, no one in real political power will even mention it, with the exception of Geert Wilders. In fact, in America, we have a situation in the West, that can be termed as 'insane'.

The problem we face is a very tricky one.

Problem re-stated

How do we deal with the existential threat without destroying our claim to be a civilized and tolerant society.

It can be solved in a violent manner - civil war. Bad method, as it would cause great harm to us - materially, morally and spiritually. Civil wars are the very worst of wars.

It can be solved via an external war. But this requires finesse and time - both are required over long periods, for this war at any rate. The Western method of democratic change of horses every so often, does not help.

I thought we were going along quite well, then to my astonishment, America dealt itself a 'joker'.

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis of why we are doomed.

Anonymous said...

DP111-
You really think things were going "quite well" with George Bush?

Anonymous said...

Good article and perfect pictures to accompany the writing. If I have to hear one more conservative mention how Obama is a "good man with good intentions" or "Nancy Pelosi is a good person", I'm going to scream.

Are these people even aware we are in a fight?

Look at what Charlie Crist is doing in Florida. It's a disgrace. John Mccain, Lindsay Graham, Michael Steele(loved the race card). All of them jokes. Add Scott Brown to the list.

Usually when I'm asleep and my guards are down I find myself waking up in the middle of the night, really afraid of what is going on with this administration and where we are headed. We have someone who has whitewashed their background, has never produced a birth certificate(fighting it in court) and noone can say a thing without being smeared as a "right wing nut" by people on the right!

When you can't ask someone sitting in the highest office for a basic document required by law, one must think the fight has already been lost.

Lev said...

Daniel, may be you are right, may be not, but if you have anything against Mike Huckabee Or Mit Romney you have to say so directly and prove your accusations.
Lev

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

I've talked about them during the 08 election. I'll talk specifically about them if they run again.

Anonymous said...

you're not one of those Bush Republicans are you? That's insane and not current with the state of the country...no longer will Republicans stand by as the elites take a pass on their duties to the middle class Americans...if that is Mike huckabee pictured this is one of the worst articles you have written for Mike is an upstanding person and a great backer of Israel and decidedly not a part of the "establishment"...the establishment? you know those fools who couldn't tie their own shoes and who only out for their donor base and their own hold on power

Anonymous said...

as far as I'm concerned Huckabee should have been the nominee...he repeatedly hit the nail on the head with his comments but he was already decided upon by the electorate as being a wasted vote...the Republican comment sections were filled with admiration for the Huck...I followed Huck closely during the campaign and you're DEAD wrong...he was the most articulate of a good group of candidates..he also has strength of conviction...it pains me for you, who I respect almost like no other, to attack him..he was out front against the left...and for Israel...it was no accident that Fox news gave this talented gentleman his own show

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