Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Winning Elections

Floating around blogland, I came across this comment from a conservative on the Kinky Friedman for Governor site [via Sisyphus Shrugged - it's worth reading this linked post on Friedman]. It's the comment that struck me as interesting. It is written to Friedman.
As someone who signed your petition the very first night it was possible to do so, I am very disappointed that you accepted the invitation to the Bush shindig in College Station. I know that you have known the Bushes for years, and that they are very kind and hospitable towards you. In fact the Bushes are very good at being "down to earth" and friendly towards people in general. But that doesn't change the fact that their political machine has done a lot of tremendous harm to this state, the nation, and to the world as a whole. They are corporate fascists, or neo-fascists. They are not true conservatives in any sense of the word. I am a lifelong conservative who has become disgusted with the GOP and the Bushes. I was hoping for you to be a true Independent. But I understand that there are several well connected Republican donators from Houston to your campaign. I'd be very careful about the GOP making inroads into your campaign. I'm sure Papa Bush is well aware of his well heeled friends supporting you. John McCain is not the maverick he likes to PR himself as being, by the way. Lately he's reached out to Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones University, who worked to defeat him in 2000. Remember the South Carolina primary? McCain learned his lesson well: Don't go against the ultra-fundamentalist Christians in the GOP. And he's been a staunch supporter of the war from the beginning. He's cozied up to the Bush political machine over the last several years.
This is the type of conservative the Democrats ought to be appealing to. This appeal can be done with sincerity since there are plenty of values packed into the above comment that are shared across at least the middle of the political spectrum. Bush is unpopular, period. I've said since about 2002 that intelligent conservatives should also be pissed at Bush for betraying their causes. But ideological party-commitment blinders have for years diluted the rejection of Bush. Now that it is clear to anyone not boozed up in a party hat that the Bush administration's policies - across the board - are a mess, that dilution no longer works. The fragile edifice of lies built upon lies is collapsing, even for the party faithful. That's the problem with faith - when the world repeatedly works against the doctrines of faith, you start to doubt your faith.

Yes, we live in a world and country with many of blind faith and manipulative strategies. But everything is a faith in the end, including atheism and liberalism. No philosophical or political position has absolute justification. Contingency and fallibilism rule eternity. There are simply better and worse positions based in reasonable and intelligent arguments, practical concerns and effective solutions, and the relative well-being of people. This goes for liberal, lefty, atheistic, radical, etc. beliefs as much as it does for conservative religious beliefs. It's easier to pick on the latter because they tend to be absolutist about it all.

There are a few other lessons here, generated by the above comment:

1. Much as I think religion can be as (or more) deluded and destructive a force in the world as constructive, many of the values underpinning religion are nonetheless commonly shared if rearticulated. While there are intransigent and probably unresolvable differences on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, much of the overall difference between progressives and religious conservatives is based in political rhetoric and gaming (regarding evolution, for example, or international assistance) rather than philosophical differences. We're just not all that far apart in the US. In my less cynical moments, I think there's great possibility for conciliatory dialogue here.

I do not buy the commonly accepted trope that the religious conservatives of the wacky Bob Jones/Falwell stripe rule the day on the right. Oddly enough, my sense of this comes from living in Texas for many years. Many Texans are knee-jerk wingers, but there are also many who retain that older conservative mix of some progressive values, combined with a faith in God, and a mythologized independent streak. Those voters ought to be tapped. They're the ones attracted to Kinky Friedman. (Incidentally, Texas wasn't always bonkers. The state gave us Ornette Coleman, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, the Butthole Surfers, Lightnin' Hopkins and Blind Lemon Jefferson, Willie Nelson, the Kashmere Stage Band, Katherine Ann Porter, Lyndon Johnson, Ann Richards, etc. - they may be exceptions, but there are a lot of exceptions). At any rate, this conservative middle-route is not monolithic.

2. Nobody trusts John McCain (except the media). And for good reason. Making political choices based on how personable or "likable" the candidate is ridiculous. Hollywood celebrities have less-managed and packaged images than political leaders. McCain is no exception - one need simply compare the "straight-shooting maverick" with his policies. The commenter above notes the connection with the ultra base. We also learned our lesson with Bush... I hope. This warranted mistrust of McCain has yet to be tapped.

Note in the comment above the separation of church and state (heehee). That is, the separation made between the rote, atavistic "the Bushes are nice people" sitting side by side incoherently with "that doesn't change the fact that their political machine has done a lot of tremendous harm to this state, the nation, and to the world as a whole. They are corporate fascists, or neo-fascists." At a certain point, that's just not being personable and nice. This disjunction has to be clarified, called out, made very public. In the end, I think all well-intentioned citizens are against this kind of politics, regardless of political stripe.

3. People are tired of money in politics. It's not going away, of course. The big-money figures, however, have both the money to overcome the problem and the problem raised by having that money. This costs more money with diminishing returns. McCain is one of these figures, but he has it worse because he's the campaign finance reform guy. Keep track of his contortions in getting around his own rules. They're starting already. Once he is tagged with a big one, he's done. A well-positioned friend at the libertarian Cato Institute told me years ago that McCain is a demagogue and his demagoguery would come back to haunt him....

4. One thing that "realists" in foreign affairs do is maintain that morality doesn't matter in politics. This is part of the reason why some have moved back towards realism after flirting with neoconservatism. But that's a reactionary move. The fact that the neocons have a distorted and execrable view of morality does not mean that ethics and moral values are not important in international relations. It simply means that the neocons have gotten it wrong about the content of that discourse. A commonly repeated false dichotomy is that the main vanguard positions are either neoconservatism or Wilsonian-style idealism. Given the supposed invalidation of both doctrines in Iraq (assuming for sake of argument that there was any idealism involved), we're supposed to return to some form of realism. This doesn't logically follow, especially not when there are not only three options. Realism typically rejects moral considerations in international politics and claims that the international sphere is shaped by states acting in their own interests where the only real rule is the principle of state sovereignty. To do so today, however, is to miss much of what is happening in the world, including the rejection of current American foreign policy for moral reasons!

5. Finally, my point in this rather loosely-strung discussion is not that progressives (or whoever we are - me, I suppose I'm a progressive philosophical pragmatist [see also here] with an absurdist streak) ought to look towards a politics of reconciliation above all else. It is rather that we ought to look towards those little things we share with our erstwhile opposition in order to put ourselves into a position in which we can make better decisions - both because we are in office and because we then know better what people want and need. This requires intelligent dialogue and collaborative deliberation.


StopKinky said...

nice blog

helmut said...

Thanks. I'm curious about your affiliations. Are you funded? By whom?

In the interests of mutual disclosure, I'm a prof who is hardly funded at all.

barba de chiva said...

That old conservative Texas progressive libertarian figure has always been one of my favorite things about this state. This kind of person--who, in my experience, has generally been a really old man, like the fiddle teacher I had in Bryan years ago--has always struck me as having a refreshing ease with his own values (even as he understood them as his own) and a willingness to acknowledge that things can be complicated.

Does that even make sense?

Interestingly, Strayhorn--the state comptroller, also running as an independent--is in many ways this figure. I like her a lot, and I'd be happy if she were elected.

At this point, however, it looks like we're stuck with Perry.

StopKinky said...

I'm flattered that it would even cross your mind (if even for just a second) that I could possible get funding for a half-assed blog like http://stopkinky.blogspot.com.

I'm just a Texas voter. I'm an "Independent" if that means someone who has never voted straight ticket and someone who typically votes for at least one Democrat, at least one Republican, and at least one third party candidate on every ballot.

I am not a fan of Gov. Rick Perry. My motivation for my blog and how it evolved from my dislike for Perry to an interest in spreading information about Kinky is an issue I discussed here.

helmut said...

Sorry, Stopkinky. I live in DC, where everyone has some funding behind them,... except professors.

That makes sense, Barba. But you might have had to have been there.