After years of half-despairing about the state of US politics (I pretty much believed that The Walking Dead was a documentary about American conservatism) I'm beginning to feel cautiously optimistic, having discovered the nascent "Reformicon" movement. Let's take a closer look at it.
I'm basically conservative, as I keep on telling you all, but as law blogger Scott Greenfield has pointed out in a post bewailing the loss of Supreme Court judge Antonin Scalia,
It was also a different time in politics, where there was still some hope of overcoming partisanship for the greater good. Politics has shifted since then. A moderate conservative then would be deemed too liberal today. A moderate liberal then would be deemed too conservative today. The extremes have gotten far more extreme, often joining at the other side of the circle. If you’re part of the extreme, you won’t be able to see this, because of your certainty that you’re right. People are like that.
Is America Moving Leftwards?
Well our American friends have noticed that the Right hasn't got any answers for the hard-pressed workers in the low-to middle-income groups because it's stuck in a neoliberal/corporatist rut in which only lowering taxes and "shrinking government" can
They need to break out of see-saw thinking
Americans are very prone (on both sides of the aisle) to choosing a side in an argument and sticking to it like grim death, utterly refusing to accept the merest possibility that their cherished position might be wrong. I'm glad to say I've met a few who don't conform to binary thinking norms but they're not as common as I wish they were. The trouble with binary thinking is it offers but one choice: "My way or the highway." There's nothing else.
Read this piece by whistleblower Peter Van Buren on the horrors of living on the minimum wage in America. It's economic serfdom.
Now read this piece by David Frum, on Charles Moore's paean to Margaret Thatcher. The way he tells it, she was the Second Coming of Boudicca, a butt-kicking super-heroine determined to make Britain great.
Now read Jim Geraghty's piece in the National Review in which he asks why people are skeptical of "reformicons."
Can you see what the problem is yet? People are suffering but the Right have nothing new to offer, just the same turd as before, but this time with more polish. And why? They're afraid to be seen to be breaking away from what is now considered conservatism.
They need to decide what "conservatism" means
In my blog post, "What Does The Right Have To Offer?" I took a long hard look at conservatism as it is defined today and found it wanting in terms of delivering on its promises of
- prosperity for all if we just work hard enough
- guardianship of public moral and ethical standards
- guardianship of tradition and religious freedom
- sane and sober stewardship of the public purse
It is impossible to deliver on those promises by cutting taxes, cutting social services, and demanding that private enterprise fill the gap. It can't, and more often than not, it won't. And the reformicons can only provide a weak sauce effort at solutions to our economic woes if they insist on using the same ideological positions as a launchpad from which to make policy. I mean, it's all well and good to offer tax credits to the working poor but if you're cutting taxes on the rich in the vain hope that they'll create jobs, you're reducing revenues so who the heck is going to pay for this? They're taking other people's money to subsidize industry. Anyone who cries "Socialist" can have that one, they're all about subsidies. And all of this nonsense can be laid at the door of binary thinking. Will somebody please tell these numbnuts that an evidence-based approach is the best one whether Team A or Team B like it or not? That the other side expresses a preference for a policy position shouldn't poison the well where that is concerned, but that's where binary thinking takes you. Let it go. Conservatism should never mean "The opposite of what the other guys are doing."
They need to be more realistic in their approach to events
That our government here in the UK is conservative is not due to their being popular but being considered less of a liability than the Labour party. The Liberal Democrats got smacked in the last election because they were more interested in holding power than in serving their country. As a result they broke all of their promises (don't make unrealistic ones, then!) and at best acted as a brake on Tory excess.
In America where politics is more polarised Donald Trump is a serious contender for the presidency when he should have been laughed off the stage. Meanwhile, the petrodollars America relies on via the Saudi regime and its hefty contracts for armaments, security services, and surveillance might not be around for much longer: apparently Saudi Arabia seems likely to implode at some point. Mind you, Russia and China might go first as they are also kleptocracies engaged in war without end. The point is that the US might not see this coming until it's too late. And why? Ideological blindness.
They need to take the goggles off and think for themselves but the rugged individuals tend to be afraid of breaking away from the home crowd. This means facing up to realities they don't like instead of just blaming the other side for it. It also means taking personal responsibility at an individual level instead of telling others to do so. It certainly means understanding that religious considerations should not trump proper healthcare.
Which way is the political wind blowing?
All indications show a gradual shift away from the far right in the urban majority. See this tweet by Nick Hanauer castigating entrepreneur Justin Keller for being fed up of seeing homeless people walking around like regular people. None of us like to see the kind of thing Keller complains about but he seems to want poor people to shut up and accept their poverty with dignity, or be shunted off elsewhere:
What are you going to do to address this problem? The residents of this amazing city no longer feel safe. I know people are frustrated about gentrification happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society. The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day. I want my parents when they come visit to have a great experience, and enjoy this special place.
I am telling you, there is going to be a revolution. People on both sides are frustrated, and you can sense the anger. The city needs to tackle this problem head on, it can no longer ignore it and let people do whatever they want in the city. I don’t have a magic solution… It is a very difficult and complex situation, but somehow during Super Bowl, almost all of the homeless and riff raff seem to up and vanish. I’m willing to bet that was not a coincidence. Money and political pressure can make change. So it is time to start making progress, or we as citizens will make a change in leadership and elect new officials who can.
There might be a revolution
The part that gets him called a sociopath is in the first paragraph:
The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day.
He's aware of their pain, struggle, and despair but has no desire to do anything to alleviate it, he just wants them out of sight and out of mind. No one has ever earned the right to be shielded from the realities that their avowed political positions have helped to create, and that's what he is saying here. His sense of entitlement reaches its peak when he declares that there will be a revolution. Anyone would think he was part of a majority but he's not. When the revolution he speaks of comes, he may well find he's not a beneficiary.
There will be change
The shift from the far right, then, is due to the policies of the far right. Once people realise they're being conned, they start to push back and one of the results of this is a desire to address inequalities in income, in housing, in education, in opportunity, and in the way they are treated in an increasingly biased legal system that favours the rich because they can afford better counsel. At this point they start to look at the wealth they create and complain that they're not really getting their fair share of that. Redistribution, they have noticed, is going upwards. To demand higher pay and better treatment, then, is not to take money from other people who have worked very hard for what they have, it's to receive a fair share of the wealth their hard work has created. You can't expect to live in a peaceful, orderly society while inequality reigns. Either create conservative solutions that work in actual practice or watch the Left move in and effect change.
The American Right is angry and resentful at being seen as conspiracy theory-prone buffoons, at losing the culture wars, and being increasingly outnumbered by the influx of economic refugees they've created via trade agreements such as NAFTA and their interference in their neighbours' politics. They've also been reaping the consequences of confusing corporatism with conservatism as if they're the same thing. They are not, hence their consternation that tax cuts have not wrought the economic miracle we were promised.
Some of them are beginning to realise that something needs to change but I worry that they won't have the guts to do what is actually necessary: bin ideological considerations and work from the evidence out to rebuild the economy from the community outwards instead of relying on the rich to come in from the outside to create jobs.
I'd like to think they're finally waking up but it seems to me that so far they have just rolled over, troubled in their neoliberal dreams again.