Conservatives, Pseudoconservatives, and Governing

Maha has an interesting post about whom she calls pseudoconservatives (italics original):

Through most of our lives we’ve witnessed a right-wing faction take over the Republican Party and, eventually, the government. But if you think of pseudo conservatism as a philosophy — I personally think it’s more of a pathology, but let’s pretend — it’s important to understand that it was never a true governing philosophy. It is better understood as an agitating philosophy. Pseudo conservatives are no more capable of responsible governance or building democratic consensus than they can fly. (Or tell jokes.) They smear, they hector, they ridicule, they propagandize, they kick all rules of ethics out of their way to gain power. But govern? Please.

When they finally got their hands on both houses of Congress and the White House, they had no idea how to actually run the country. That’s the plain, observable truth.

So instead of governing, they looked for more power. It’s all they know how to do. They became obsessed with politicizing and dominating the judicial branch, for example. And their pseudo-conservative chief executive, who is too incompetent to use the power the constitution gives him, usurped power the constitution doesn’t give him.

I often agree with Maha, but in this case I really disagree. The problem isn’t that pseudoconservatives fail at governing. It’s that they are using government to achieve the society they would like. What she sees as failure, they see as success. The pseudoconservatives fundamentally reject the New Deal consensus, which is something neither Nixon nor Eisenhower ever did.

The problem with calling conservatives who reject the New Deal consensus pseudoconservatives is that it provides conservatism a patina of respectability it should not have. When William Buckley claimed the conservative movement “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it”, the history he was trying to stop was the civil rights movement (which he referred to as the Negro Revolt). He was also trying to turn back the clock on Social Security, arguably the best anti-poverty program ever devised, as well as the Great Compression, which reduced economic inequality and led to the most economically secure middle class in U.S. history.

That is what conservatives stand for–or more accurately, stand against. I would argue that Nixon and Eisenhower both were essentially the right wing of the liberal consensus, and not conservatives as conservatives themselves understand conservatism. Conservatives are a different kind all together.

This entry was posted in Conservatives. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Conservatives, Pseudoconservatives, and Governing

  1. coturnix says:

    You are right on this 100%. What is in the White House (and talk radio) is the true face of conservatism, something that GOP managed to hide for decades by putting forward the liberal planks of their program which people actually liked.

  2. tng says:

    You’re spot on with both Eisenhower and Nixon. Eisenhower was frequently derided as a “Communist” or accused of aiding and abetting Communist by the John Birch Society. Eisenhower established the interstate highway system, continued all the major New Deal programs, broadened Social Security and created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. And who can forget Eisenhower warning us of the military-industrial complex in his farewell address?
    Nixon has been termed by no less than Noam Chomsky as “perhaps the last liberal President”. Nixon also supported a guaranteed income in the form of a negative income tax, established the Environmental Protection Agency and supported a war on drugs where 2/3 of the money went toward treatment programs rather than law enforcement.
    These men were not conservatives as we think of them today. Both were fiscal conservatives, both were caught up in the red scare, Nixon was a paranoid with a strong need for “law and order” but both men enacted quite socially progressive legislation as well.

  3. bigTom says:

    The right has very succesfully used language -especially the right to modify the meaning of words to great effect. Perhaps it is time to push back in the same way. Perhaps we should allow “conservative” to mean a political philosophy that would seem reasonable to Eisenhower, and not to the radical neocon/theocon stuff we got today. Then those who aspire to having the title “conservative” applied to themselves (it means good person to them), they will start changing their ways to be more like Ike.

  4. My family was split for generations along Liberal/Conservative lines. My father’s father was a classical Horatio Alger case who arrived as a penniless immigrant with little English, whose first job was sweeping up at a haberdashery, and worked his way up to great wealth, founding and running a stock brokerage.
    My mother was a left-Liberal Democrat, who helped found West Brooklyn Independent Democrats. My paternal grandfather and his son (my father) were old-school Wall Street Conservative Republicans. What they wanted to conserve included the values of civilization, and the Constitution.
    My father died literally cursing George W. Bush, whom he held had betrayed the Republican Party, the Conservative cause, and the United States of America.
    What do any of these words mean anymore? All that matters remains the big questions:
    (1) What is the universe, and how does it really work?
    (2) What is a Human Being?
    (3) What is the role of a Human Being in the Universe?
    I don’t want to hear propaganda about “Compassionate Conservatives.” I just want to see actual compassion applied to solving problems for actual people. Letting a great city die is a horror as great as invading a country and killing hundreds of thousands. It’s Katrina every day now. It’s Baghdad every day.
    Emperor Bush II has pulled down the house of cards built by neglige and evil people. I don’t care who sweeps up. A new broom sweeps clean. Let the healing begin.

  5. One tiny typo to correct: “neglige and evil people” should be “negligent and evil people.”
    The “neglige people” are just along for the ride because, as Henry Kissenger said: “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

Comments are closed.