Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It’s Sad to Watch an Elephant Die

It fills me with a tinge of sadness, seeing the Republican Party as it tries to spin the defection of Arlen Specter. It’s like watching an elephant die— literally. It was exactly six years ago this week that I, too, made an abrupt switch and turned my back on the Republican Party and conservatism because it no longer made any sense to me. Last night as I watched The News Hour on PBS, everything about that decision came flooding back to me.

Reporting from St. Louis, PBS anchor, Gwen Ifill, was interviewing local citizens in the nation’s heartland to get their thoughts on Obama’s first 100 days in office. Not surprisingly, the liberal slant of PBS had generated a rather rosy picture, and so to offer some balance, she interviewed an unabashed young supporter of George W. Bush. He said, “I don’t trust the government to solve the nation’s problems. The government should just get out of the way and let the American people do what they do best. I trust the American people.” He actually sounded like Ronald Reagan. If his words are taken at face value, the stupidity of what he said is simply unbearable. Bernie Madoff is an American person. Trustworthy? Not on your life. And all those CEO tycoons of Citigroup and AIG— along with the other American people on Wall Street who devised subprime loans and credit default swaps— presumably these are the American people we should trust to solve our economic problems. There are more than 13 million American people currently unemployed and looking desperately for a job. I wonder if they would like for the government to just get out of the way and let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I doubt it.

It all comes down to this— conservatism today is nothing more than a systematized nostalgia for the 1980s of Ronald Reagan. Back then, conservatism worked. We had a clear enemy, The Soviet Union, so Reagan could denounce big government and get away with it because he could create millions of jobs by pouring billions of dollars into the military budget for defense projects. News flash to Reagan conservatives— the government and the military are the same thing.

In Reagan’s 1980s, America still had the world’s largest manufacturing base for durable goods. Not so anymore. In the 1980s, Islamic fundamentalism and global warming and the outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries— all these problems were off the radar screen. The 401K was only invented in 1982, so almost all American jobs offered the potential for a retirement income as a fringe benefit. As a result, only a comparatively few people were heavily invested in the stock market, and for the most part these were wealthy people who actually knew what they were doing when it came to finance. And as for China— the word that best described China in the 1980s was “quaint.”

This is the world that modern conservatives want to recreate. I, too, yearn for those days, and if the world could go back to the way it was then, I would be a conservative Republican in a heartbeat. But things change, and the days of Reagan are as gone as Hugh Hefner’s virginity. Modern conservatism is best defined by its champions. There are the raving egomaniacs like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter who are easily dismissed, but there are also reasoned, brilliant men like George Will and David Brooks. I personally admire George Will and David Brooks, but with all due respect to these men, I personally believe that conservatism today is mostly for the weak minded and the overly nostalgic. It’s sad to watch an elephant die.

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