The Right’s Betrayal of Conservatism

Three controversies in recent years describe how the Right in America has betrayed conservatism.

In the first, the Terri Schiavo controversy, Rightists attacked marriage and family in their attempt to have the government to regulate medical care.

Int the second, the Kelo eminent domain controversy, Rightists attacked the power of the government to allocate resources in order to further economic growth.

In the third, the Henry Louis Gates controversy, Rightists attacked the Constitution in an effort to spread class warfare.

I don’t know when this strain of anti-conservative, anti-family, anti-growth, anti-liberty Rightism infected the conservative movement. Certainly it has perverted it. The sooner that anti-conservative, anti-family, anti-growth, anti-liberty Rightists are marginalized in American politics, the better.

19 thoughts on “The Right’s Betrayal of Conservatism”

  1. So called Conservatives would argue they were “on the side of life” for the Schiavo controversy and “protecting private property rights” for the eminent domain case.

    The Gates arrest is just more evidence of the increased racialization of American politics (which will only get worse in the future). Don’t even try to kid yourself that this had anything to do with class. The politics of class ended in America officially when Obama came into office but has been deteriorating ever since the 60’s. The reaction we saw from the Right was purely a reaction to the Establishment’s insistence of blaming white America for all problems involving Black America.

    This is where much of the frustration of the white working and middle classes comes from. Every day they turn on the news they hear about how terrible they and their forefathers are and how all the world’s problems lay squarely on them for being born. More and more their anger grows as they’re told “its not enough” to give up jobs, schools, communities, and historical narratives to make up for “past injustices.” They sit and watch as a man gets elected President with a history of opposition to their interests while elite newspaper editorialists celebrate their demise.

    What we’re seeing on the Right is the beginning of the white working and middle class’s (WWAMC) explicit entry into identity politics.

    So called “Conservatism” is over.

  2. Dan,

    There was a time when I would have labeled you on the Right, but the Far Right is so so far to the right that now I wouldn’t know what to label you. Of course this brings up the persistent question of whether “right” and “left” are of much use anymore; not to mention, various permutations of “conservative,” “liberal,” and even “libertarian.”

    For instance. Those you mention as being on the Right, if we are seeing the same group, seem increasingly to be operating from a perspective of being personally victimized:

    Religious Far Right: courts, media, culture are trying to strip away their right to express their beliefs in speech and/or action.

    Racist Far Right: African-Americans have succeeded in using history and their own persistent claims of victimization to acquire special privileges, quotas, protections which the Racist Far Right (who are mostly white) suffer from not having themselves (any more).

    Homophobic Far Right: See the previous two above.

    Poor/Mediocre Far Right: Hollywood celebrities, professors at prestigious Universities, and sundry others with wealth and influence get to play the so-called “Privilege Card” — whether for getting out of doing time in jail or using eminent domain — whereas the Poor/Mediocre Far Right would never be able to do those things or gain the things the well-off may gain.

    Everywhere you look, the Far Right are beset with danger and an encroaching hostility. The MSM — dirty liberal bastards — control the airwaves and print media. The irreligious control the country. Etc. Etc.

    These feelings of encroachment, of being victimized, lead many on the Right to actions not based on any rational, coherent philosophy. It’s fight-or-flight.

  3. I suppose I should add, relative to your main point, that I’m not sure a coherent and viable “conservatism” exists anymore in the public sphere. I myself no longer am sure what it is. I suspect we might see a severe backlash against Obama’s governance philosophy (which isn’t 100% clear either) if major negative outcomes result from his term. If so, the outcome will depend on who takes up the banner after him: those Rightists or some form of “Conservatism”.

  4. I don’t get your characterization of the Kelo case. It was an action of the government taking private property (in active use) and giving it to another private group.
    The constitution says that the taking must be for a public use and up until the 1940’s public use by most people’s (and legal) definition meant infrastructure. In the 1940’s, it was the advent of large public housing blocks that led to the Supreme court allowing private property to be taken if it was ‘blighted.’ (That case lead to large areas of SW DC to be raised, including many functioning businesses and homes, displacing thousands). Later court cases pretty much gave each state the blank check on what it declares ‘blight.’ This measure differs state by state.

    Now as to a ‘conservative’ position. A large strain of the Conservative movement since the late fifties has been the idea of restraining the government’s power because a) it is less efficient than the private sector and b) more government power creates a greater chance for corruption. One particular reason conservatives are generally wary of abuse of eminent domain is that its abuse undermines property rights.

    Governments make poor economic developers and often development decisions made by governments are based upon supporting a particular constituent (like construction unions or a developer friend).
    What galled so many about Kelo was that it was an example of the local government helping a private developer achieve what it could not achieve in the private sphere. Since the developer could not buy what it wanted, it got the government to take it for them. How sound are your property rights when someone in the government who doesn’t like you or is friends with someone who doesn’t like you can take your business and give it to someone else. [This has happened. A profitable strip mall in Minnesota was declared blighted, taken and the land given up for a Target.]

    I’m just not sure how you get to the idea that “the power of the government to allocate resources in order to further economic growth” is a Conservative position. It is certainly a rightest position in many nations and clearly a statist position, but not something that a Goldwater, Reagan, or a Buckley would support.

    The right in general has always been pro-growth. However, with-in the right there has often been a strain by those who support big business and those who champion small business. (the interests of the two do not always align). I, and others, have thought that the Bush administration was a clear ebb of the Conservatism of the past because of its embrace of big government.

    As for the Shiavo case, you left out the clear abandonment of the Federalism by national rightest politicians in an effort to inject themselves upon that case. This too is something I couldn’t see Goldwater or Reagan supporting. (I don’t recall what Buckley had to say).

  5. A wise professor once told me, “America has conservatives, but no Right; liberals, but no Left; we are the luckier for that.”

    The emerging anti-conservative Right is attempting to overthrow that system.

    It is grievance-based, against constitutional rights, and seeks to use the government to extract economic and social “rents” from other groups, rather than to earn rewards themselves.

    I thank Curtis is a bit unfair in his characterization of the “Racist Far Right,” as the phenomenon the RFR complains about is obviously occurring. For a number of reasons, including the intellectual triumph of W.E.B. DuBois over Booker T. Washington, the American black community’s political leadership largely abandoned the philosophy of self-help and instead looked to “rent” collecting as the surest way to prosperity.

    Rather, as Seerov implies, the anti-conservative Right that we see operating among some extreme commentators in this thread [1] is a mirror image of the anti-conservative Left that we are more familiar with.

    I want to thank ElamBend for pointing out the anti-federalist implications of the Schiavo case as well.

    However, ElamBend is incorrect in his history of eminent domain in the United States. Railroad companies, for instance, have had the power to condemn land (that is, eminent domain it) for more than a century). This case [2] (with the title, “Union Pacific Railroad Company v. 174 Acres of Land Located in Crittenden County, Arkansas, et al.”) includes a brief history, going back to the 1880s, of this practice.

    [1] http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/8425.html
    [2] http://openjurist.org/193/f3d/944

  6. Dan,

    In using the term “Racist Far Right” I would distinguish them from others on the right, or from conservatives, who can make a rational justification for their position while suggesting rational corrections.

    In other words, the fight-or-flight impulse of the Racist Far Right causes them to focus on “anti-white bigotry” as the only motive and result of the problems they and others see relating to race-relations and racial politics. While it is true that over-active “rights seekers” in our culture may be seeking what appear to be special privileges, the odyssey of those seekers is primarily one of self-interest: to gain things for themselves. But the RFR see it as bigotry and hostility directed at their own white race, and from that sense of persecution reaction in irrational, racist ways.

    There is a large difference between methods of “correction” of injustices. In other words, the reactionary impulse may be either rational or irrational, and the Racist Far Right trend toward the irrational.

  7. Plus, you make my point that distinguishing left, right, liberal, conservative, libertarian is becoming so difficult in American contemporary politics. If the RJR devolves to being like their opponents on the Far Left, how can we distinguish them other than by their membership in some polemic tribe?

    I would also add: the fight-or-flight irrationality is indeed leading to a type of tribalism, in which Religious Far Right, Racist Far Right, Homophobic Far Right, Poor/Mediocre Far Right, etc., are not exclusive, but members of any group hold many opinions of the others in that tribe. So…making a rational argument becomes difficult, since one is unable to discern, and they themselves are unable to discern, between arguments that are class-based, race-based, economics-based, and religion-based. Someone may be arguing economics when mentioning “privilege card” but really have a racist reason, etc.

    And therefore: the Far Right has been trying to co-opt “conservatism” and the GOP to expand their tribe, but they have been muddying up conservatism in this process. I think maybe this gets back to your point.

  8. Dan,
    The railroads gained their power and treated it much as utilities. Furthermore, the case you noted actually is more interesting for it’s history of diversity (whether or not a case is germain to a particular jurisdiction) and whether a corporation is a citizen of a particular state. Railroads were traditionally treated as a public good. While it is true that they were in essence private actors given the e.d. power, the argument for why was fundamentally different from the Kelo argument. The railroads were viewed as simply another version of roads.

    The roots of the Kelo case and the legal basis for the supreme court’s ruling came from a completely different strain of the law based upon those earlier cases I wrote about above, specifically Berman v. Parker [1] (which was 1954 not the 1940s). See the “History” section here:[2]
    Many states had been down the road already. During my time in law school I did a study on a very similar case decided in the Illinois supreme court. In that case, the court decided against the use of eminent domain for a purely private purpose and opted for a more narrow reading of the definition of blight (though it is still quite vague).
    Because the use of eminent domain is a police power reserved to the individual states, limited only by the fifth amendment, this narrow reading of the law still stands in Illinois, despite Kelo. Indeed, many states passed laws in the aftermath of Kelo to narrow the use of eminent domain withing their boundaries.

    Finally, and more importantly to your overall point, I still don’t see how an expanded use of eminent domain falls within any strain of conservatism that has arisen in the last 50 years. If “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem;” then how is an expanded use of eminent domain a conservative plank?

    [1]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berman_v._Parker
    [2]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelo_v._City_of_New_London

  9. ElamBend,

    The railroads gained their power and treated it much as utilities. Furthermore, the case you noted actually is more interesting for it’s history of diversity (whether or not a case is germain to a particular jurisdiction) and whether a corporation is a citizen of a particular state. Railroads were traditionally treated as a public good. While it is true that they were in essence private actors given the e.d. power, the argument for why was fundamentally different from the Kelo argument. The railroads were viewed as simply another version of roads.

    This paragraph, especailly it’s last sentence, is profoundly confused.

    The highway system, in most parts of the country, are owned, operated, and paid for by the State government or a constituent government out of revenue collected through the tax power.

    The railroads, in most parts of the country, are owned by shareholders, operated through professional management, and paid for by customers.

    It is simply false to say that regulated companes are ‘viewed’ as simply another version of the government, unless you use the word ‘viewed’ so broadly that it means nothing.

    In both the railroad cases and in Kelo, the government used the eminent domain power to take (with compsensation) land from one legal person and give it to another, in the aim at creating economic growth & public goods.

    Of course, oOe may well be good policy and the other bad.

    Finally, and more importantly to your overall point, I still don’t see how an expanded use of eminent domain falls within any strain of conservatism that has arisen in the last 50 years. If “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem;” then how is an expanded use of eminent domain a conservative plank?

    The question is not ‘expanded use’ or not (which, in this case, seems to refer to nothing more than a policy criticism of the way in which eminent domain is used). Rather, the question is the attempt to artificially create a federal-level individual right where none existed before (the right to not have one’s land taken for public use with just compensation, if the public use is one the individual objects to or includes what some individuals may find to be a politically unpopular ability for profit capture by other legal persons), and in doing so deprive a state of one of its reserved rights (eminent domain).

    Curtis,

    Just as the right and the left are indistinguishable in the moderate center, where the party identification of a Joseph Lieberman or a John Chaffee appears to be little more than a historical accurate, they also become indistinguishable in the radical center, where both are united in their antipathy to an existing regime. [1]

    In the context of American politics, the far Left (ACORN, etc) and the far Right (Shannon Love, etc) are united in their opposition to the Constitution when it interfers with their broader goals of class warfare. In this context, the identification of ACORN as Left and Love as Right is merely a historical accident that has little bearing on what they believe or how they behave.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_center_(politics)

  10. For the sake of argument, I’ll concede the points about the history of E.D. What I am more interested in is how you arrive at the conclusion that the use of any government power is a ‘conservative’ position, given the emphasis on the rights of individuals versus the collective (including government federal or state) that marks the so called Conservative movement?

  11. ElamBend,

    Thank you for your comment.

    What I am more interested in is how you arrive at the conclusion that the use of any government power is a ‘conservative’ position, given the emphasis on the rights of individuals versus the collective (including government federal or state) that marks the so called Conservative movement?

    There’s a lot to unpack here, and I’m tired, so I apologize if I do so clumsily. I will try my best.

    I am not sure what you are thinking of when you say speak of ‘conservative.’ The use of the police power to throw a violent criminal in jail is clearly a conservative position, for example, because it protects life, liberty, and property. Sure there is the prison’ers individual desire not to be in jail, versus the collective peace of the community, but only a confused anarchist would be upset over the existence of jails and call it un-conservative!

    Indeed, the night watchman state [1] is a conception tradtionally linked to conservatism, and celebrates the ‘use of [certain] government power[s]’!

    Another example if the State’s ability to criminalze acts which are legal under federal law. By the term you use this would be a non-‘conservative’ state of affairs. But federalism and subsidiarity are often associated with conservatism!

    In other words, I think by ‘conservative’ you talk about something close to anarchist, and may mean something close to libertarian.

    The Conservative position is to support our Constitution, including its limitation on polcie powers, its limitation on the federal government, its limitations on the branches of government, etc. Conservatism is not some götterdämmerung of the State [1] at the hands of the individual. Rather, it is a system of restraint based on the Constitution, which creates multiple sovereigns, some of which have rights and one of which has only powers, each of which have multiple branches.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_watchman_state

  12. “For instance. Those you mention as being on the Right, if we are seeing the same group, seem increasingly to be operating from a perspective of being personally victimized” (CGW)

    White identity politics fall on a continuum. They can range from Conservatives who argue that affirmative action and open borders are unconstitutional to revolutionary white nationalists who see the creation of a North American white ethno-state as their goal. The use of “victimhood” as a strategy is used for various reasons by all ethno-identity groups. In the case of Latinos and black Americans, its use is mainly to secure political rents for perceived injustices. For white identity political actors its purpose is to motivate other whites into recognizing these issues as significant. Whites really can’t gain anything from their cries of victimhood while non-whites can and have gained much in their victimhood strategies.

    As politics in America becomes more ethnic in nature, politics will be less about “issues” per se than whether something is good for the tribe. In reality this is what politics has been for the last 40 years for non-whites, in the future whites will do the same. This will especially intensify if America turns away from free market capitalism. If resource allocation becomes political, then individualism will become liability.

  13. I cannot emphasize enough how important free market capitalism is for the health our country. People need to focus on working, inventing, creating, and to a lesser degree; consuming. These activities give people a healthy outlet for competition, but most importantly, its the fairest way to allocate resources. Work also provides people a non-ethnic identity.

    People need to focus on material goals and capitalism provides American citizens with the most opportunity to achieve their material goals. These goals can be more than just a bigger house or a better mousetrap, they can include charity as well.

    Nations need goals too. Lately I’ve been re-reading Tom Barnett’s ideas and have concluded that the Gap shrinking idea is important for America for a wide variety of reasons. Shrinking the Gap will give America the opportunity to expand its influence, it will provide mythology and identity for Americans (The America is a force for freedom narrative), and it will serve as an outlet for motivated Americans through our foreign policy institutions (military, diplomatic, business).

    We also need to implement a serious Space program.

  14. On the Right’s attempt to co-opt conservatism and the GOP:

    We see a little of the reverse lately, with Obama co-opting some aspects of conservatism with rhetoric if not in fact policy. The many speeches on “personal responsibility”, the overtures to black fathers to become responsible fathers, and even perhaps the strategies in Latin America and elsewhere play into the idea that people must be allowed to develop personal responsibility for their own environments.

  15. Curtis,

    Agreed.

    In politics, the moderates of one side are natural tactical allies with the extremists of the other. In other words, the Democratic Party wants to incorporate moderate Republicans into its orbit, and thus fracture the GOP into an unelectable rump of extremists and another batch of ‘Obama Republicans’ (or whatever).

    By leading the purge against the Objectivists and the John Birch Society, Buckley was able to prevent this from happening. Indeed, the reverse happened, as the GOP was able to makes understandings with various moderate factions of Democrats to make them the natural Presidential party, while the Democratic Party’s noisy Left has been a liability from the 1960s up to the present day.

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