.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}


news & opinion with no titillating non-news from the major non-news channels.


I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


I welcome all opinions.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

   The Efficacy of the Conservative Movement

I have been responding and reresponding to criticisms on the soundness of the conservative movement.


Blogger Jay Cline said...

The original Ten Questions from Ross Douthat:

1) Conservatives have controlled both houses of Congress for the better part of the last decade. Since the 1996 Welfare Reform was passed, name a major legislative accomplishment other than the Bush tax cuts that made you proud to have a conservative majority in power.

2) Do you believe in small/limited government? If so, are you pleased with the growth in federal spending during the last six years of nearly-undivided Republican control?

3) Do you believe in effective government? If so, are you pleased with the federal response, four years after 9/11 supposedly "changed everything," to the challenge posed by Hurricane Katrina? Are you pleased with the ability of the federal government, four years after 9/11, to effectively patrol our southern border?

4) Do you think that the caliber of conservative intellectual discourse has declined at all in the last decade? If not, which conservative book of the last four years would you compare favorably to (choose one, or all): Losing Ground, The Closing of the American Mind, The Naked Public Square, or Modern Times?

4) Which of the following represents a triumph for conservatives? Choose one: the Highway Bill; the Energy Bill; the Medicare Bill; the failure of Social Security reform.

5) Do you feel that having a conservative majority has fundamentally changed the culture of cronyism and influence-peddling in Washington D.C.? Please explain with reference to 1) Jack Abramoff, 2) Ralph Reed, or 3) Michael Brown.

6) Are you a social conservative? If so, do you feel that conservatives are "winning" on (choose one, or all): the cloning debate; the stem-cell debate; the gay-marriage debate? Do you feel that American popular culture has grown more or less coarse, puerile, and sex-obsessed during this era of conservative dominance?

7) Do you think that the liberal media has been brought to its knees by conservatives? If so, please explain your thinking with reference to the average daily audience for 1) the most popular conservative blogs, 2) Fox News, 3) CBS Evening News, and 4) The New York Times.

8) Would you trade Fox News, NR and TWS, all the major conservative think-tanks and the entire blogosphere for Hollywood, every major university, every network news program, most of the nation's largest foundations, and most of the country's major daily newspapers? If not, why?

9) What does being a conservative mean to you, beyond supporting the invasion of Iraq and the electoral fortunes of the Republican Party? Please explain, ideally without reference to the American Revolution.

9/15/2005 1:16 PM  
Blogger Jay Cline said...

My first Ten Point Rejoinder:

A little open debate, a little honest criticism, and the opposition cries, AHA! THEY'RE FIGHTING AMONGST THEMSELVES! SALVATION IS HERE!

Give me a break.

The liberal elite in charge of the Democratic Party apparently believes a little internal friction is an inevitable precursor to total dissolution. That can be the only explanation why the Dems have lost their way. They still haven’t recovered from the loss of the Reagan Democrats.

I doubt if Ross Douthat actually read the two articles. Douthat, like the rest of the liberal intellectual elite, is in denial. After a decade, the conservative movement has accomplished much, but after 60 years of fraud, waste and abuse, it is gonna take some time. Time that the electorate has been willing to give in every two year Congressional cycle since. Oops, there is an oblique reference to the American Revolution...

The seminal event in the recent conservative American revolution was the Welfare Reform. It must be. Douthat tries real hard to prevent any discussion on the subject. The conservative movement has been all about fighting the corrupt Democratic party machine.

Corrupt you say? In the late 1800s, the policy of staffing the federal bureaucracy with party loyalists was thrown out and a system of independent bureaucracy (or as independent as it could be) was instituted. In the wake of FDR's New Deals, the Democrats found they could maintain power by extending entitlements into perpetuity. It has taken 60 years to put even a dent into that corrupt machinery. Douthat implies that the conservatives have been in charge for ten years and have accomplished little.

Excuse me. The first four years of Douthat's timeline included a Democratic President and a Congress where the Republicans did not have sufficient power to override a veto. Conservatives didn't have the kind of power that Douthat alludes to.

Yet, Clinton signed the Welfare Reform. Why? Because the ever consummate politician understood that even though a veto would have held, the Democratic Party wouldn't have survived the next congressional cycle. Newt Gingrich's conservatives had effectively made the point about the Democratic corruption of the entitlement system and the American People were listening. And so was Billy.

So, with that as a backdrop, allow me to address Douthat's Ten Questions, in all their disingenuity

A) Sorry, I am not a political junkie, not yet. I have not kept pace with all the arcane activities of Congress, so I guess that disqualifies me for anything other than voting every two years. But the Welfare Reform would be at the top of my list of successful conservative social reforms. Not only the stated welfare reform of 1996, but the still-ongoing efforts towards Social Security and Medicare reform and the whole entitlement system. As for tax cuts, I'd rather see the budget directly slashed and programs that entrench Democratic Party power restructured, but if tax cuts are the only viable method to limit the funding Congress spends, then so be it. And the American electorate keeps sending them back.

B) I believe in limited government. But allow me the pleasure of returning the volley, in true Ben Franklin fashion. If, as the Democrats maintain, that government spending on social services have been drastically cut, where has the increase come from? If you take out the spending on the War on Terrorism as the single largest factor in increased federal spending, then where is the increased federal spending going to?

C) 9/11 did not "supposedly change everything"; 9/11 DID change everything. The federal government in the past six years has been very effective on the War on Terrorism. Unless you discount eliminating two state sponsors of terrorism as negligent. Oops, I forgot. The enemy is al Qaeda, not those providing logistic support. International terrorism sans international support devolves into a few disgruntled and powerless anarchists. And as Napoleon said, an army marches on its stomach. Most of the electorate understands that.

Regarding H. Katrina, FEMA had prepositioned the Coast Guard three days prior to landfall. In the two days after, the CG rescued 3000 people. At the same time, the infamous Governor of Louisiana was just getting around to mobilizing the Guard. It takes 72 hours to mobilize (that‘s three days to those raised on New Math). I appreciate she may not be familiar with military affairs, but isn't she accountable to staffing people around her to manage her responsibilities? If not, then is Bush responsible for FEMA Director Brown?

D) If the caliber of conservative intellectual discourse has declined, then what has happened to Kristol, Friedman, Buckley, Novak, Jaffa, Bork, Kagan, et al? Was there a major airline disaster that I didn't hear about?

Maybe we should likewise judge liberal intellectual discourse by the likes of Franken and Moore.

D??) Welfare Reform was a triumph. When Social Security Reform is done, when Medicare Reform is done, when the War on Terrorism is done, I'll add them to the list.

E) Another disingenuous question. Do you feel that having a liberal presidency fundamentally changed the culture of cronyism and influence-peddling in Washington D.C.? Please explain with reference to 1) Slick Willy, 2) Monica Lewinsky, 3) that congressman from Chicago (what was his name?)

F) No, I am not a social conservative, with regard to the issues listed. Does my Red ID Card get revoked now? Zell Miller lost his Blue ID Card for supporting the War on Terrorism.

G) Liberal MSM has suffered greatly at the inroads that conservative media outlets have made. Of course, that portion of the electorate that have supported this movement is not relevant, are they? I mean, they just don't get it, right? Let's ignore the more direct measure of electoral support for the conservative movement and just disregard the gains made by conservatives in the past ten years at every two year congressional cycle.

Sour grapes pervades Douthat’s piece.

H) Yet another disingenuous question. The implication is that 1) entrenched liberal institutions should be heeded because they are, well, entrenched and 2) that those institutions have been chosen by the electorate to represent them. I seem to remember hearing that newspaper subscription has declined by 2% every year for the past couple decades. And "EVERY major university"?? Ignoring the hyperbole in that statement, I didn't know that universities were political institutions.

I) To me, being a conservative means understanding that the American Revolution (sorry, I never voted Douthat as moderator for this discourse) was all about anti-Tyranny and protecting our liberties and protecting our lives. It was not about entitlements or the now-discredited economics of Marx.

Being a conservative means understanding this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Darn it! Yet another reference to intellectual giants 200 years dead.

Sorry about that.

9/15/2005 1:18 PM  
Blogger Jay Cline said...

Counter response and rejoinder #1:

Let's limit consideration to the past 4 years, shall we? All three branches of the federal government have been in the hands of the GOP.

Iraq. Katrina. GWOT.

Anyone willing to fall on a sword to defend the way that Iraq or Katrina were managed? Anyone willing to go out on a limb and say that response to a terrorist attack on a major city would be managed better? As of this morning, not even GWB will, and he's the CEO POTUS.

Americans will judge the conservative movement on competence, not on ideological purity, fundraising prowess, ability to stay on message, not even on pork-barreling and corruption. Competence is what counts. The government in the hands of conservatives is now less competent than when Clinton was in charge, if that can be imagined.

Americans no longer trust conservatives to deliver on the one issue that conservatives used to own: National Security. Can't blame liberals for this one, the GOP did it to themselves.
# posted by Anonymous :: 2:06 PM

No, let us NOT limit the discussion to the past four years. Douthat's only authority on restricting the debate is to the extent that he can delete what he pleases.

Anonymous does not have even that authority, and I will not yield it.

The conservative movement is more than four years old. To allude to the fact that the GOP has had majority power in the past four years not only belies that point that it is not an absolute power, but, they in fact, have had majority power for the past four years.

Who gave them that power? Was there a coup (like the airplane crash I mentioned) that no one told me about? How can any rational person say that "Americans no longer trust conservatives" when the American electorate gave them the majority, and has yet to take it back?

But, to the last four years.

Fall on a sword? What sword? Is Saddam in power or is he in prison? Is there not an Iraqi plebiscite in October to vote up or down on a democratic constitution? Who gave Anonymous the judicial power to decree that is a bad thing? As far as the question that the President allegedly won't answer, have you asked him?

Katrina? I will let someone who is actively involved in the recover efforts weigh in on that:


Yes, "Americans will judge the conservative movement on competence", and that judgement will take the form of an election. As the Democrats and Clinton's true legacy was judged in 2000.

Wait for the election before reporting on the results. The previous elections, the ones that still have standing in the electorate, gave the GOP a thumbs up.
# posted by Jay Cline :: 11:42 AM

9/15/2005 1:21 PM  
Blogger Jay Cline said...



A) Welfare reform, for better or worse, happened under a Democratic president. Would it have happened under a Republican one? Maybe, but the past six years don't exactly give me much hope.

B) The largest increase in spending has probably been the Medicare bill, but the new energy and highway bills are giving it a strong run for the money. Did you miss the Cato Institute's report that of the 115 (I think) government agencies the Contract with America promised to eliminate, some 95 are not only still in existence, but their aggregate funding has increased faster under Bush than Clinton?

C) Technology is inherently democratizing. Consider suicide bombers-- it used to be a fairly expensive proposition to build a bomb that both reliable enough to go off only when wanted, and still be dangerous enough to cause sufficient (to the minds of the bombers, anyway) damage. Now it's a relatively cheap process, requiring only technicians, not demolitions experts, to put together. You still need to get the people, I'll concede, and that isn't always cheap.

My point? States used to be required to sponsor terrorism, but no longer. Terrorism is cheap enough now that it can be supported reasonably well by private donors, and the damage that can be done at that level will only increase. I'm largely ambivalent about Bush's actions here-- while he has eliminated two major state sources of terrorism, he's done so in a way that seems to have virtually assured the continuance of private support, which I believe to be more dangerous in the long term.

D) Ross' very point was about the intellectual dynamism of conservatism-- if there is no new guard to take over from Buckley, Friedman, et. al, then wither conservatism when they die?

D, part 2) Welfare Reform, again, happened under a Democratic President. Now, I'm not claiming that Democrats are inherently poised towards reform or any silliness like that, nor that they're in favor of smaller government payouts. I'm simply pointing out that the only major accomplishment you mentioned didn't happen when the Republicans controlled the government as completely as they do now. I rather suspect it was an artefact of the divided government, more than anything else.

E) The point here is not to be disingenuous, but rather to point out that if conservatives are going to get all bent out of shape about Democratic excess, how about a touch of ethical rigor here and getting upset about those same excesses in the Republican party? Isn't it more important to police one's own house?

F) Eh, I'm not a social conservative in regards to those either. So we both lose, I guess. Time to go shopping for a black beret and some clove cigarettes.

G) Frankly, I'm very disappointed by the so-called "conservative" media, which seems to me to be on the whole a good deal more populist than conservative. Your call to look at the gains in the electorate, however, side-steps the question entirely.

H) I saw no such implications. The question, as I read it was simply: are the conservative organs listed any better, as a whole, than the liberal ones. Clearly Ross disagrees; I'm not sure I do. Certainly NR has published more than a few articles of worth, but then, there have been more than a few good movies made of late, so on the whole I don't know that I could convincingly argue that the conservative media is any better, as a whole.

I) I agree that you can't really come up with an exegisis of Americanness without invoking the Declaration (though I'd concentrate more on the Constitution, myself). To be specific, in my case, I'd define conservatism as identifying, with Constitutional support, what specific ways the Federal government is allowed to affect our lives, and getting rid of everything else. It's about maximising the ability of people to live life the way they choose by getting rid of the governmental impediments to same. It's about cherishing our social institutions while remaining open to the possibility that they are improvable, and about harboring both suspicion and respect for authority.
# posted by Eric :: 2:14 PM


a) Welfare reform, for better or worse, happened under a president who was a consummate politician not, as I indicated in my preamble, a Democrat. Can you honestly argue that a welfare reform act, proffered, debated and passed by the legislative opposition GOP would have even been signed by a true Democrat?

"Would it have happened under a Republican one? Maybe, but the past six years don't exactly give me much hope."

Why? Because the GOP has been unable to push Social Security reform, yet? A lot of legislation, both from the left and the right, got sidetracked by the necessities of dealing with 9/11. Doesn't mean it ain't gonna happen. Bush and the GOP, despite Thomas Friedman's premature eulogy, still have three years.

b) Until those who would raise the accusations, that the GOP has failed to reduce the government, start coming up with facts and fiqures, I am not going to do their research. Probably? Is that the best you can do?

c) State sponsorship is still required. Basic military science dictates that you can't fight a battle strictly from the front lines. You need rear echelon support to train, equip, plan and resupply. The only effective al Qaeda attacks since 9/11 have been Spain and England. And that was with resources that have effectively been in place since 9/11. The fact that it took several years to implement is telling.

Because of the lack of effective state sponsorship, al Qaeda is cutting into the meat of their organization, meat that cannot be replaced without a rear echelon.

As far as private donorship to al Qaeda, the bulk of their money, from rich Saudis, essentially constitutes a form of quasi-governmental support, and official Saudi embarrassment has drastically dried that up in the wake of 9/11.

d) Again, I didn't know that the current crop of conservative intellectualism is in danger of withering away, any more than liberal thought.

Douthat used a plethora of hackneyed populist conservative writers as proof. All I did was turn the tables with Moore and Franken.

That is what makes the allegation disingenuous.

d, part deux)The Democrats are not the champions of the Welfare Reform of the mid90s. I have already answered that, and have seen no rational counter to that argument.

But, you are contradicting Douthat. He alleges that the GOP had the authority in the 90s; you say not.

Which is it?

e) True, "the point here is not to be disingenuous", yet it still quacks like a duck. I agree absolutely about ethical rigor and policing one's house. But to use it in a slanted argument to criticize one party over the other, well, is disingenuous.

g) Cool.

h) The call to the electorate does not sidestep the issue. But again, if we are going to make muckraking (again, I agree with you on this) a partisan issue, as Douthat has, then nothing is accomplished.

Again, the word disingenuous comes to mind.

I like the way you posit the question, much better than Douthat. But while you're making good commentary, Douthat is sniping.

i) I agree that there are more documents that should be examined in understanding conservative (or more properly classical liberalism). But that paragraph from the Declaration of Independence is a touchstone of mine.
# posted by Jay Cline :: 12:49 PM

9/15/2005 1:25 PM  
Blogger Jay Cline said...

My original response to a second thread on the same blog:

I guess Douthat hasn't yet read my response to his Ten Questions. In short, conservatives, Republicans, whatever, have more than a successfully prosecuted war to judge the conservative movement's progress in the last ten years.


Modern conservatism existed before 9/11, and was strong then. Conservatism was, and is, a response to Democratic efforts over 60 years to create an permanent underclass, through perpetual entitlements, beholden to the Democratic Party. The welfare reform of the mid 90s was only the opening salvo. But it did change American perception on the sanctity of entitlement programs. Entitlement programs, or more properly subsistence programs, should be used to lift people up, not enslave them.

The metaphor of feeding someone with a fish versus teaching them how to fish has always been a cornerstone of the conservative movement.

After ten years, social reform in Social Security, Medicare, etc, is still a work in progress. After ten years of big wins at the biannual congressional accounting, the conservative movement still has the full faith and confidence in the American public. The fact that Dems put Screamin' Dean in charge of the Dems' efforts for the next election only shows they still don't get it.

How many bloody noses will it take?
# posted by Jay Cline :: 1:51 PM

9/15/2005 1:27 PM  
Blogger Jay Cline said...

respons and rejoinder:

The metaphor of feeding someone with a fish versus teaching them how to fish has always been a cornerstone of the conservative movement.

Well, conservatives are certainly against giving fish to hungry people these days. I'm still waiting to see the "teach them to fish" part in action, personally.

After ten years, social reform in Social Security, Medicare, etc, is still a work in progress. After ten years of big wins at the biannual congressional accounting, the conservative movement still has the full faith and confidence in the American public. The fact that Dems put Screamin' Dean in charge of the Dems' efforts for the next election only shows they still don't get it.

How many bloody noses will it take?

The fact that you're confusing clever tactical moves which resulted in Congressional victories with a wholehearted endorsement by the public of conservatism tends to make me question the rest of your analysis; the fact that you honestly don't seem to think the Republicans don't have great deal to worry about in '08, especially after Katrina, suggests that you may be thoroughly wrapped up in the very triumphalism Ross is cautioning against.
# posted by Anonymous :: 2:11 PM


(in response to a posting in a separate thread that should not have been separated..)

Teaching them to fish -- Putting the money back in the pockets of individuals who are better able to decide how to spend it. Putting the emphasis on education, via school vouchers, back in the hands of those who need the education and thus putting control of educational content in the hands of local sovereignty.

"you're confusing clever tactical moves ... with a wholehearted endorsement by the public of conservatism". Stupid me. I forgot the full faith and credit of the electorate, upon which this Republic stands, is grossly misplaced.

I, for one, resent being called stupid for not casting my vote for your candidate.

As for Katrina, no, I don't believe Thomas Friedman of the New York Times or Ruth Conniff of the Progressive, who believe that H. Katrina is Bush's epitaph. However, as I have reprinted above, it may be Louisiana Governor Blanco's epitaph.

And, just because Douthat says that the 10 year triumph of The Weekly Standard is misplaced, don't make it so, Joe.
# posted by Jay Cline :: 1:09 PM

9/15/2005 1:28 PM  
Blogger Jay Cline said...

Consolidated response and rejoinder:

Steve Sailer,

(in response to a posting in a separate thread that should not have been separated..)

"What conservatism needs in part is an intellectually elitist sector that subsidizes the best brains."

Um, here is a list of a couple dozen various conservative think tanks...


or you could just try Google.
# posted by Jay Cline :: 1:13 PM

9/15/2005 1:29 PM  
Blogger Jay Cline said...

Final (thus far) rejoinder:


(in response to a posting in a separate thread that should not have been separated..)

Ross is wrong on in his final comment about Iraq. "Conservatism" is not increasingly identified with one's position in Iraq. It just happens to be the single most important issue of the day, and conservatives have been winning elections on their stance to the whole enterprise.

Have I used the expression 'sour grapes', yet? That, apart from anything else, has characterized the Democrat's response to just about everything.

Start listening to the Zell Millers and the Joe Leibermans and you might start winning back the hearts and minds of the electorate.
# posted by Jay Cline :: 1:18 PM

One final comment before I sit back and await the responses to my counterresponses;

With regard to Douthat's commentary on Ferguson's criticism of the dearth of recent conservative intellectual output, I refer all to Edward Feser's blog RightReason (I guess neither Douthat nor Ferguson actually read the conservative blogs that they so ardently criticize)...

# posted by Jay Cline :: 1:37 PM

9/15/2005 1:31 PM  
Blogger Notes From Dixon said...


Your friend Ross Douthat asks questions that are pre-slanted by his liberal thought process. Regardless, you attempted to answer them from a your more reasonable political position, and you did so quite well.

It troubles me that despite years of evidence and mountains of proof, the radical liberal leftist Democrats continue to shoot themselves in the foot. They insist on staying with failed programs and policies, then wonder why they are no longer leading the nation.

Certainly a more Conservative approach was needed to correct so many failed liberal activities generated by the Democratic left. After years of stupidity they now want to criticize the more Conservative Republicans because the problems haven't been fixed fast enough.

And for some reason these people still admire Bill Clinton. Unbelievable! Old Bill is a charming scamp without morals, ethics, or reverence for the office of President. He burned his bridges thoroughly and will not hold elective office again. Why do the liberal Democrats stay in his corner? Or Ted Kennedy's corner? Or Nancy Pelosi's? I think I will never understand.

Anyway, keep up the good work - and your blog is great.


9/21/2005 5:18 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home