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George Bush: Hatchet Man
July 3, 2006 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Is George Bush to Stalin as Irving Kristol is to Trotsky? When will we start hearing these sorts of claims from the right?
posted by stemlot (108 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Washington Monthly article previously mentioned here.
posted by stemlot at 8:41 AM on July 3, 2006


No.
posted by jne1813 at 8:43 AM on July 3, 2006


But from just about everyone else, on the right as vehemently as on the left, the verdict has been rolling in: This administration, if not the worst in American history, will soon find itself in the final four.

I guess he's just making a sports metaphore, and obviously he's talking about Nixon in there. But who else? Harding? Mabey LBJ? Coolage or Hoover?
posted by Paris Hilton at 8:48 AM on July 3, 2006


Sounds like every poli sci professor I've ever known.
posted by tadellin at 8:55 AM on July 3, 2006


Fucking hell, if you're a right wing nut who DON'T you compare to Stalin?
posted by Artw at 9:09 AM on July 3, 2006


Hitler
posted by blue_beetle at 9:17 AM on July 3, 2006


An FPP should never include a Google search page. Most of those results having nothing to do with "those sorts of claims." Note that if you move the quotation mark, "communism never truly existed" yields zero results.
posted by beagle at 9:20 AM on July 3, 2006


You know who else yielded zero results?
posted by Gator at 9:27 AM on July 3, 2006


Fucking hell, if you're a right wing nut who DON'T you compare to Stalin?

Barry Goldwater? George Wallace?
posted by blucevalo at 9:27 AM on July 3, 2006


Contemporary conservatism is first and foremost about shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. This mission, let us be clear, is an ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world problems.... It stems, rather, from ... libertarian conviction

This is a critical insight (which I am not surprised to find on these pages).

Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.

And this is a brilliant insight.

There's a further step, though.

Incompetent government serves conservative ends, by proving to the people that they must do for themselves, because their government cannot be trusted. Thus Katrina.
posted by dhartung at 9:34 AM on July 3, 2006


beagle: I refute your latter point by noting the existence of the present perfect tense, and of the various grammatical elements that can be inserted between the subject and verb of a sentence.
posted by stemlot at 9:36 AM on July 3, 2006


Hey! I'm a right wing nut, and I compare Hitler to Stalin all the time!

Is George Bush to Stalin as Irving Kristol is to Trotsky?

No, George Bush is to Stalin as cheese is to Thursday.

Next?
posted by Slithy_Tove at 9:38 AM on July 3, 2006


From the conclusion to the Wolfe article:

Americans may have elected a Republican president and Congress, but they are unlikely to go back to a world in which one illness can devastate their last years or one storm can destroy their lives.


Oh yeah? Now that the Bushies have successfully flushed the Clinton surplus down the toilet and driven us so far into debt it's hard to see how we'll climb back out, how exactly are we supposed to avoid such a world?

Is George Bush to Stalin as Irving Kristol is to Trotsky?

Nah, I'd say George Bush is to Molotov as Irving Kristol is to Kamenev. Or maybe George Bush is to Alexander III as Irving Kristol is to Katkov... say, this is fun!

posted by languagehat at 9:41 AM on July 3, 2006


Metafilter: As Cheese Is To Thursday

Mmmm... cheese...
posted by jonp72 at 9:42 AM on July 3, 2006


Mmmmm, Thursday...
posted by Elim at 9:45 AM on July 3, 2006


I for one welcome our Cheese Overlords
posted by Hands of Manos at 9:46 AM on July 3, 2006


Incompetent government serves conservative ends, by proving to the people that they must do for themselves, because their government cannot be trusted. Thus Katrina.

The tragic irony in all this of course being that "government" is really just a mechanism "the people" invented as a collective tool for doing for themselves (using their own money, even, in the form of taxes)... So do all the Bush administration's policies really just boil down to a massive strawman argument against government?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:47 AM on July 3, 2006


"But who else? Harding? Mabey LBJ? Coolage or Hoover?"

Probably not (and that's "Coolidge", btw) . Ulysses Grant and Andy Johnson were both notoriously awful presidents. Wikipedia has a page on presidential rankings that shows a few others as even worse, though.
posted by adamrice at 9:47 AM on July 3, 2006


Now that the Bushies have successfully flushed the Clinton surplus down the toilet and driven us so far into debt it's hard to see how we'll climb back out, how exactly are we supposed to avoid such a world?

Exactly. This is what I loathe about mainstream intellectuals. This administration and its business cronies have looted our treasury and destroyed any chance for a reasonably less than dim future, and all people like Wolfe can do is argue about the color and fabric of the curtains.
posted by psmealey at 9:54 AM on July 3, 2006


Nixon, Grant and (Pierce | Buchanan) I'd guess.
Bush fits right in.
posted by bashos_frog at 9:57 AM on July 3, 2006


Imagine a beowulf cluster of cheese powered by Thursdays...

I hear Stephen King is dead.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:00 AM on July 3, 2006


I guess he's just making a sports metaphore, and obviously he's talking about Nixon in there. But who else? Harding? Maybe LBJ? Coolidge or Hoover?

Some popular 19th c. contenders, listed chronologically: John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, U.S. Grant. Basically, Pierce and Buchanan by various means helped bring about the Civil War while Johnson screwed up its aftermath. Tyler was a contrarian who alienated everyone, and Grant was just way out of his depth. Thanks to the timing of his Presidency, I'd also go with Johnson as the worst of the lot and probably the worst ever, but it would be hard to go wrong with any of them.

You could also add William Henry Harrison and James A. Garfield, both for dying after a few months on the job. Though they fall (like the immortal Millard Fillmore) into the category of "ineffective Presidents" rather than actively damaging ones.

We had some real clunkers there for a while.
posted by nflorin at 10:03 AM on July 3, 2006


To those of you arguing that Nixon was worse -- where's Bush's China moment? Also I for one can't imagine Bush matching wits against Kruschev without a team of handlers telling him what he should say next. He looked absolutely pathetic debating against Kerry in 2004, and Kerry isn't exactly known for the energy and verve that Kruschev was fond of demonstrating.
posted by clevershark at 10:11 AM on July 3, 2006


Is this question going to be on the SAT?
posted by hattifattener at 10:13 AM on July 3, 2006


Al Gore is Kerenskij
posted by matteo at 10:32 AM on July 3, 2006


Also I for one can't imagine Bush matching wits against Kruschev

This all seems to assume that Bush is the one in charge. You'd probably benefit from spending more time looking at our co-president.
posted by rxrfrx at 10:37 AM on July 3, 2006


rxrfrx writes "This all seems to assume that Bush is the one in charge. You'd probably benefit from spending more time looking at our co-president."

Meh. I can hardly even imagine Dick emerging from his "undisclosed location"...
posted by clevershark at 10:45 AM on July 3, 2006


In any case... this is a pretty good post (the first link anyway), but I don't get how the headline is supposed to connect to it.
posted by clevershark at 10:47 AM on July 3, 2006


If Bush were an honorable fellow he would just perform seppuku to save face for the country. There'd be a lot of it going on. In D.C. the gutters would look like a giant water tower full of cherry slurpees had just exploded. Where's Fellini to paint a scene the way you see it in your mind?
posted by Sir BoBoMonkey Pooflinger Esquire III at 10:50 AM on July 3, 2006



I'm referring only to the Trotsky article, as I can't be bothered to read the first link at the moment...

And this article reflects a superficial, third-hand understanding of Trotsky's role in Russian politics, if that. While it is interesting that more than one neoconservative is a former Trotskyite, and that subject is certainly worth exploring in-depth, one facile analogy does not a profound analysis make.

It's also worth noting that the neoconservative preoccupation with exporting social democracy abroad through war and mercantilism reflects the original split between Trotsky and Stalin. Trotsky argued that there could not be "socialism in one country" but rather that the revolution had to be truly international.

Well, yes, but that was not out of any imperialist militarism or desire to create a Soviet superpower. Trotsky was in line with the rest of the Bolsheviks at the time in realizing that the success of the revolution in Russia depended on the proletariat taking power in Western Europe in short order. The material conditions in Russia were extremely backward, thrown back decades due to the ravages of WWI and the brutal Civil War. Marx said that the lowest stage of communism, ie socialism, would still be more advanced than the highest stage of capitalism -- after all, social equality and the resolution of class conflict requires a land of prosperity and plenty, which Russia decidedly was not... it was still very much a medieval peasant society with an unnatural transplant of foreign industrial capital. Therefore all of the Bolsheviks, from the beginning, acknowledged the absolute imperative of European revolution which would come to the assistance of the Soviet regime -- a little too much Marxist sense of historical inevitablity gave them confidence in this, and that's why they thought Russia could skip the bourgeois-capitalist period and jump right to preparing for socialism, a decidedly un-Marxist view.

After the failure (or rather, sabotage) of the German Revolution in 1918, reality started hitting home and Stalin, in his bid for power during the struggle to succeed Lenin in the 1920s, began declaring that socialism was in fact possible in one country and in fact in Russia. Politically this was very smart because he was appealing to the classic Russian nationalist chauvinism and to its age-old sense of having a special, messianic place in history, and it also helped solidify his ideological appeal with the vast bureacracy amassed under his control, who, by their very nature, wanted a guarantee of conservative stability especially after years of famine and bodies piling up in the street. Meanwhile there was Trotsky, still banging his fist on the podium, with the altogether correct but hopeless insistence that socialism would not work in Russia if it was surrounded by hostile capitalist powers.

As Lenin's right-hand man and an extremely articulate and clear-headed critic of the actual conditions around him, not to mention a brilliant writer whose histories of the period are remarkably objective, Trotsky could simply not be suffered any longer in the land of the Stalin the Red Tsar, and he was exiled and eventually assassinated.

Whatever neoconservative's sympathies with Trotsky, it's a childish analogy to suggest that they are somehow playing his role to Bush's Stalin. His influence or appeal among neoconservatives could only be based on the later tendency of Trotskyite sects in the United States to be mired in insufferable dogmatism, which was perhaps the natural defensive posture in the face of even worse dogmatism and unending persecution from the US Communist Party which was run by Stalinists, as well as the fait accompli of Soviet power on the Stalinist model.

There is no analogy to Trotsky in present day politics. If we had anyone with the same command of the language, the babbling mechanisms of this senile matrix would be in a day destroyed.
posted by bukharin at 10:56 AM on July 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


You could also add William Henry Harrison and James A. Garfield, both for dying after a few months on the job.

James A. Garfield was actually a brilliant scholar, who spoke Latin and Greek and could write both languages simultaneously with either hand. He was easily the smartest man ever elected president of the United States, and had he lived, history might have been quite different.
posted by Faze at 10:57 AM on July 3, 2006


President Bush has a zesty combination of incompetence, criminality, and mendacity that's hard to beat. Other presidents have been fuckups or lied us into a war; he's done both. If you could combine Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin deceptions with Nixon's Watergate, you might come close.

Not one of these guys:
We are the mediocre presidents!
You won't find our faces on dollars or on cents
There's Taylor, there's Tyler, there's Fillmore and there's Hayes
There's William Henry Harrison, "I died in thirty days"
We are the adequate, forgettable,
Occasionally regrettable
Caretaker presidents of the USA!
Benjamin Harrison was the last guy to become president while losing the popular vote:
The most perplexing domestic problem Harrison faced was the tariff issue. The high tariff rates in effect had created a surplus of money in the Treasury. Low-tariff advocates argued that the surplus was hurting business. Republican leaders in Congress successfully met the challenge.
...
Long before the end of the Harrison Administration, the Treasury surplus had evaporated and prosperity seemed about to disappear.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:09 AM on July 3, 2006


As much as I consider Dubya's administration a failure of epic proportion, he is outdone in most rankings by several others.

For sheer stupidity, he's near the top, but Tyler was arguably worse, and Buchanan probably the worst. Bush created a war, and watched a ballooning deficit and a looming diplomatic shitstorm, just leaving it for the next guy -- but Buchanan just watched secession happen, leaving a fractured nation for the next guy (luckily for us, the next guy was Lincoln).

For corruption, Bush is probably not even in the top 10, let alone top 5, between the notoriously corrupt administrations in the late 1800s and the top dog Coolidge.

And for moral vacuity, Bush can't hold a candle to Nixon.

As far as crappy presidents go, Bush is among the worst, but it's always a bit of a shrill argument when I hear people bandying about "worst ever" when there are some real nuggets in the shitpile of US presidencies.
posted by chimaera at 11:09 AM on July 3, 2006


You know, he may not be the wost in any single quality, but he's among the worst in so many qualities, and that's what makes him special.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:12 AM on July 3, 2006


Excellent point, Astro Zombie. The value of the integral of Bush's dipshittery curve is quite possibly the highest among US presidents.
posted by chimaera at 11:19 AM on July 3, 2006


clevershark and bukharin:

The analogy is this: Ever since Stalin took power, communist intellectuals (of which Trotskyites are a large number) have insisted that communism has never really been implemented -- i.e. that governments purporting to be communist are in reality just authoritarian power-hungry regimes, and that if only a real communist government would ever come to power, people would see how totally awesome it is (obviously, I'm oversimplifying this argument to a ridiculous extent).

So, it's funny that conservative intellectuals, many of whom happen to be ex-Trotskyites (perhaps this wild vacillation is simply due to their predilection towards ideology as opposed to pragmatism), now seem to be in the same position: the ideas in which they have invested themselves have only led to monumental failure when implemented in the real world. So do they abandon them, or do they claim bitterly into old age that real conservatism has never truly existed?

(I admit, the analogy to Trotsky in particular is not very apt, but I'm using him both as synecdoche and because of the connection between him and the neoconservatives)
posted by stemlot at 11:19 AM on July 3, 2006


I dunno. He may not be the most corrupt or the most incompetent, but being responsible for 100 000+ civilian deaths is pretty hard to top by any amount of corruption or incompetence.
posted by uncle harold at 11:19 AM on July 3, 2006


"...There is no analogy to Trotsky in present day politics. If we had anyone with the same command of the language, the babbling mechanisms of this senile matrix would be in a day destroyed."
posted by bukharin at 1:56 PM EST on July 3


Whoa, big fella. Congratulations on your historical insight, and eloquence, but give some credit where credit is due: Al Gore's in training for the American Trotsky slot.

And while this FPP is all well and good, as far as it goes, it's based on articles which don't smack, head on, the central problem of American conservatism, which is, that capitalism is an economic theory, not a political system, and that markets are by nature imperfect, and thus indefinitely and constantly require both artificial support and governance.
posted by paulsc at 11:20 AM on July 3, 2006


Just to get back to the original article, how do we deal with what might be styled the "conservative paradox?" There can be no question that government needs to be smaller, taxes need to be lower, and the power of free markets needs to be unleashed for the good of humanity. But clearly, conservatives cannot carry out this agenda, while at the same time enacting their knuckle-dragging social agenda, and building their own personal fortunes out of the main chances governing provides.
The Bush presidency more or less proves that conservatism doesn't work. Libertarians, well, you can't trust, and I'm sure they don't particularly want to be the trustworthy type.
I call for all Republicans to move over to the Democratic party -- en masse -- and reform it from within.
posted by Faze at 11:22 AM on July 3, 2006


(not that, bukharin, I'm trying to claim that I have anywhere near the amount of knowledge about socialist history that you do -- I'm just trying to make a broad, but perhaps not 100% accurate, claim about the inevitable descent of the ideologue into curmudgeonry)
posted by stemlot at 11:25 AM on July 3, 2006


There can be no question that government needs to be smaller, taxes need to be lower, and the power of free markets needs to be unleashed for the good of humanity.

Eh? Since when has the "free market" been good for humanity? What on earth makes you think taxes are high? And while government should be smaller, I doubt it should be smaller in the ways you're likely to think so.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:35 AM on July 3, 2006


There can be no question that government needs to be smaller, taxes need to be lower, and the power of free markets needs to be unleashed for the good of humanity.

I have questions about all of these.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:37 AM on July 3, 2006


"... There can be no question that government needs to be smaller, taxes need to be lower, and the power of free markets needs to be unleashed for the good of humanity."
posted by Faze at 2:22 PM EST on July 3
.

Sure, there can be questions about any and all of those assertions. I'll question them all, right here, right now.

Governments need to be smaller only if our problems are going to be manifestly less complex, or we get massively better at resolving them in a unanimously satisfactory way. To dispute and misunderstand is human, to resolve and enforce takes politics. The fact is, we live in a highly complex technologically dependent society, not a Jeffersonian agrarian democracy, and we increasingly depend on specialist knowledge and resources for planning and control that are orders of magnitude greater than belong or are wanted by commercial or private entities. That's why we have to hire folks to build B2 bombers at a $2 billion a copy.

Taxes need to be proportional to the services provided by government, that can't be paid for by other voluntary means, like use fees. Taxes and tax rates need to remain amenable to change, as circumstances dictate, and financial systems developments warrant.

The "power of free markets" has done remarkably little to help the people of Somalia, Darfur, or most of the third world. There the rifle rules, and the gun has accomplished nearly all it can. Markets only come into existence where reasonably stable conditions of exchange can prevail. The first thing that dries up in any great civil emergency is people's willingness to take cash for tangible goods.

Discuss.
posted by paulsc at 11:40 AM on July 3, 2006


have insisted that communism has never really been implemented -- i.e. that governments purporting to be communist are in reality just authoritarian power-hungry regimes

I believe this to be true, and I am not even a Marxist.

In Trotsky's words:

The material premise of communism should be so high a development of the economic powers of man that productive labor, having ceased to be a burden, will not require any goad, and the distribution of life's goods, existing in continual abundance, will not demand... any control except that of education, habit and social opinion. Speaking frankly, I think it would be pretty dull-witted to consider such a really modest perspective 'utopian.'

As for authoritarian regimes legitimizing themselves with a thin, ever-shifting ideological screed and the receding, touched-up memory of revolution, could not the same be said of present "liberal democracies," who hid behind Enlightenment ideals to justify the creation of say, the United States, which for over a century permitted the most widespread barbarisms of bondage and suppression?

As for Al Gore, that's a good point, although I don't think he's going to solve anything by encouraging us all to keep buying, only buy "responsibly," buy a hybrid car! That'll fix it. He's no revolutionary, he's just trying desperately at the last minute to steer a blind paradigm away from the abyss.
posted by bukharin at 11:40 AM on July 3, 2006


(I admit, the analogy to Trotsky in particular is not very apt, but I'm using him both as synecdoche and because of the
connection between him and the neoconservatives)



Not to nitpick, but...well, yes, really, to nitpick... in what way is the word synedoche appropriate in this context?

syn·ec·do·che Audio pronunciation of "synecdoche" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (s-nkd-k)
n.

A figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole (as hand for sailor), the whole for a part (as the law for police officer), the specific for the general (as cutthroat for assassin), the general for the specific (as thief for pickpocket), or the material for the thing made from it (as steel for sword).
posted by stenseng at 11:41 AM on July 3, 2006



I also learned that reading Isaac Deutscher's three-volume biography of Trotsky, one of the great literary masterpieces of all time, inspired Tony Blair to become a statesman. Too bad.
posted by bukharin at 11:43 AM on July 3, 2006


So, Seymour Hersh is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn?
Jack Murtha is Pyotr Grigorenko?

I’m not buying Michael Moore as Vladimir Voinovich.

We don’t seem to have a Roy Medvedev or Yuri Orlov.
(That’d be nice though)

I’d call Bush closer to Konstantin Chernenko in part ‘cause of all the surveillance and wiretapping, in other part because I like to think of Nixon as Brezhnev, but also because ‘Stalin’ might be, y’know, a slight overstatement.

What the hell is “Contemporary conservatism”? ‘Cause if wolfe is thinking “NeoConservativism” I’d say some of this is accurate.

But then who is on the ‘right’? Why are all of their ideas wrong?
So it’s only liberal ideas that have any validity?
That idea is certainly true if one uses ambiguous terms such as “contemporary conservativism” or recasts conservative ideas to suit the argument: “ This mission, let us be clear, is an ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world problems...”

Buckley for example in criticising the war in Iraq said conservativism "except when it is expressed as pure idealism, takes into account reality... it is absolutely to say that conservatism implies a certain submission to reality; and this war has an unrealistic frank and is being conscripted by events.”

...but I guess he isn’t a “contemporary conservative.”

And how is it conservatives “fear a centralized power” and are “anti-federal government” but want a “strong national government” and are somehow monarchists?

And ‘shrinking government’ with respect to the war in Iraq means what? Less spending, etc. etc. It wasn’t so long ago that many conservatives (wrong or right) were isolationists.

“Because liberals have historically welcomed government while conservatives have resisted it...”
The argument over how FEMA worked aside (odd how many ‘liberals’ screamed about Ashcroft’s plan to intern ‘enemy combatants’ but no one mentions the camps set up by FEMA were created under the Clinton administration) I’d argue from the “A Man for All Seasons” position.
- Sir Thomas More was confronted by Will Roper who said that he would cut down every law in England to get the devil.
More's response was: “And when the last law was down and the devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? ... This country's planted thick with laws from coast to
coast ... and if you cut them down--and you are just the man to do it--do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”

Argument from a liberal position that oversimplifies these matters is no more valid than an argument from a conservative position that does the same.

If one is to critically address the ideas of another, than one has to honestly represent those ideas - which I don’t think Wolfe has done.
I would argue the ‘true conservativism has never existed’ = true communism, etc. idea is a false analogy.

Communism was a method of governance, conservativism is an ideology -and a mixed one at that.

From the above position on Sir Thomas More - the dilemma there is the rule of law and good governance.
I think Wolfe misrepresents the conservative position (if indeed he’s even trying to with the variety of terms he employs) to mean conservatives support bad government.
They do not.
Neither do liberals. In fact, I don’t believe anyone (the corrupt DeLay types aside) does.
There are people who adhere to either ideology in question who are acting in good faith and out of good conscience and those who are not.

One can't assert that those who are not are acting from conservative values anymore than one can assert the same with liberals.

One of my strongest disagreements with liberal thought is that liberals tend to believe (among many other things of lesser or greater validity) that truths are transitory, relative. That social progress is predictable and that social and individual differences that are not predicated on external rationality are objectionable.
Does everyone who calls themselves a liberal believe that?
Does this apply to everyone on ‘the left’?
Does this translate into all aspects of acts the democratic party?
Can we apply this to all groups within ‘the left’ or are there differences?

I think Wolfe does a great disservice to many valid criticsms of this administration, certain individuals, and of neocon thought by blurring the terms he uses to paint all non-liberal thought with the same brush.
This is a tactic commonly criticised by a variety of people when it’s used by pro-administration pundits.
(And it’s nice to see it criticised here.)


/A doctor is trying to determine if three old guys sitting in a home are senile. He asks the first one: “Who is the president of the United States?” The first guy says “Stalin.” He moves on to the second guy and asks him “Who is the president of the United States?” The second guy says “Hitler.” Doctor asks the last guy: “Who is the president of the United States?” The guys says: “Bush.”
The doctor says: “Exellent!” The guy says “What’s the big deal? All I had to do is subtract Cheese from Thursday.”
posted by Smedleyman at 11:45 AM on July 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


Communism was a method of governance, conservativism is an ideology -and a mixed one at that

False dichotomy there. Conservatism is very much a method of governance. Starving government programs of tax revenue to destroy them. Letting cities fend for themselves in case of Katrinas. Deregulating industries so that corporations can charge whatever they like at any terms like they like and merge into ever more powerful conglomerates. While neo-conservative foreign policy seems to run afoul of traditional small government, its the inevitable result of a continual need for more raw materials and global domination of markets. In Lenin's words, imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism.
posted by bukharin at 11:48 AM on July 3, 2006


The value of the integral of Bush's dipshittery curve is quite possibly the highest among US presidents.

That just made this whole thread worth it. Thank you, chimaera. You owe me paper-towel for the one I used to clean the coffee off my screen.
posted by generichuman at 11:49 AM on July 3, 2006


Faze -that's what I love about you... you're never afraid to paint with BIG BROAD STROKES, buddy.

"There can be no question that government needs to be smaller, taxes need to be lower, and the power of free markets needs to be unleashed for the good of humanity."


Certainly there can. Lots of people, reasonable people, question each of those assertions. Making broad generalizations and claiming there can be no debate makes you sound like a moron.

The last twenty years have shown us that if anything, government needs to be neither smaller or larger, but simply more effective, less entrenched, and less prone to the corruptive pork of corporate good-ol-boy politics.

Taxes, meanwhile, need neither be higher, or lower, but more fairly proportionate, and less regressive in structure.

And "free markets?" Please. If anything we've seen the "power of free markets" unleashed to the detriment of large swaths of humanity.
posted by stenseng at 11:53 AM on July 3, 2006


Governments need to be smaller only if our problems are going to be manifestly less complex, or we get massively better at resolving them in a unanimously satisfactory way.

What problems? Since when are our problems so terribly complex? Life has never been better for more people in places on earth. Compared to a century ago, the earth is a virtual paradise. Governments convince us that we have problems (like the threat of gay marriage, poverty, or flag burning) that only government can help us with. Government thrives on manufactured crises. How bad is your life?
posted by Faze at 11:55 AM on July 3, 2006


Cut the loghorrea.

Can't you deal with the success of the conservatives?

They said government was destructive, incompetent, and corrupt. They said if elected, they could prove it.

And they did.
posted by hexatron at 11:56 AM on July 3, 2006


Duck and cover, Faze. Duck and cover.
posted by rob paxon at 11:58 AM on July 3, 2006


George W. Bush is one of the two worst American presidents, and he has a surprising amount in common with his only competition: Jefferson Davis.
posted by jamjam at 11:59 AM on July 3, 2006


“False dichotomy there....In Lenin's words, imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism.” - posted by bukharin

Argh! - you’re right. Hoisted by my own mental shorthand petard. The system under the Soviet Union commonly (mis)referred to as communism was a system of government. Conservativism is not however a system of government, it is a philosophy within the Republic system we have. And doesn’t = capitalism (though in many cases supports it).

“Compared to a century ago, the earth is a virtual paradise.”
- posted by Faze

I agree with your gist, but I’d call strategic nuclear weapons (and their apparent impending use) the snake in that paradise.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:05 PM on July 3, 2006


"...Life has never been better for more people in places on earth. Compared to a century ago, the earth is a virtual paradise. ..."
posted by Faze at 2:55 PM EST on July 3


Faze, the line for afternoon medications starts juuust about where you're standing, now....
posted by paulsc at 12:07 PM on July 3, 2006


Coolage or Hoover?"

(and that's "Coolidge", btw)


No, Calvin "Coolage" Coolidge used to hang out with Pauly Shore a lot, back when they were both starting out (Calvin in Republican county committees, Pauly at the Comedy Store). "Coolage" was Pauly's main "weeze" and they were constantly hunting for "fundage for the grindage."
posted by jonp72 at 12:14 PM on July 3, 2006


Smedleyman writes "And how is it conservatives “fear a centralized power” and are “anti-federal government” but want a “strong national government” and are somehow monarchists?"

Conservatives today claim to “fear a centralized power” and be “anti-federal government” while conservatives in the days of the American revolution wanted a “strong national government” -- as represented by the King of England. Which made them monarchists. All things considered you should get points for deliberate obfuscation here...

Smedleyman writes "I think Wolfe misrepresents the conservative position (if indeed he’s even trying to with the variety of terms he employs) to mean conservatives support bad government."

Wrong. He's making the point that a true small-government conservative is unable to support good government, and that's miles apart from your mischaracterisation of the issue. If you believe that it is immoral for the government to provide services to the people then you have no business being in charge of a government that provides services to the people because you just cannot do the job. It seems very simple really.

Smedleyman writes "And ‘shrinking government’ with respect to the war in Iraq means what? Less spending, etc. etc. It wasn’t so long ago that many conservatives (wrong or right) were isolationists."

I don't know what point you're trying to make here, but the article is pretty clear in asserting that Rumsfeld's small-government obsession is what led to the US deploying less troops than would have been judged appropriate by others, as well as for the complete lack of planning on what to do after the invasion. That being said, reality refused to play along with Rummy's bout of mental masturbation, and that's why Iraq has become so messy and expensive. Rumsfeld refused to recognize that if you clean out one government you'd better be prepared to have another at the ready, and that "no plan" is often the most expensive and complicated plan you can have.

Smedleyman writes "One of my strongest disagreements with liberal thought is that liberals tend to believe (among many other things of lesser or greater validity) that truths are transitory, relative."

Scientific truths are "transitory" because constant experimentation and observation sometimes reveal that hypotheses are flawed and need to be revised. It's perfectly natural for someone to say that the sun rises and sets -- yet we know that the sun does no such thing, it merely sits there while our planet revolves around it. Were it not for liberal thought we'd still think that Aristotle's ideas about the stars in the sky merely being holes in a sphere that hovered around earth allowing the divine light to shine through was all that and a bag of chips.
posted by clevershark at 12:21 PM on July 3, 2006


Synecdoche.. it even sounds nice. Lovely.
posted by econous at 12:30 PM on July 3, 2006


Our planet revolves on it's axis causing the apparent setting and rising of the sun, you must be thinking of the seasons clevershark.
posted by econous at 12:37 PM on July 3, 2006


Remove the apostrophe with your mind.
posted by econous at 12:38 PM on July 3, 2006


Were it not for liberal thought we'd still think that Aristotle's ideas about the stars in the sky merely being holes in a sphere that hovered around earth allowing the divine light to shine through was all that and a bag of chips.

How romantic, clevershark.
posted by rob paxon at 12:40 PM on July 3, 2006


liberals tend to believe that truths are transitory, relative."

Nonsense. Everyone, of every stamp believes that truths are universal until they get in their own way. Conservatives think killing is wrong unless the victim was convicted of a serious enough crime, or is trying to get into your house, or is in the way of whatever our military is trying to do. A liberal is much more likely to think that killing is wrong all the time. (If we can for the sake of simplicity and avoidance of derail accept their position that abortion does not kill a person. Please don't derail if you don't believe this, I'm setting out a position without advocating it.)

As for truths being transitory, a century ago, balls-out exploitation of oil for the improvement of our lives made a lot of sense. It makes far less now. Conservatives think that if unrestrained, unmeasured energy consumption fueled our rise to better health and being better fed and living longer with more leisure time (which it surely did), then continuing to do so will produce equally benign results in the future. But the "truth" that it represents has run its course: we have used our vast energy reserves to bootstrap ourselves into a better way of life -- we can exploit our immense technological gains to transition to sustainability, and preserve all those gains. The time to start doing it was 40-50 years ago, when consequences started to become apparent. But we did not, because of insistence from certain quarters that what was a good thing to do yesterday will always be a good thing to do.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:45 PM on July 3, 2006


Conservatives think that if unrestrained, unmeasured energy consumption fueled our rise to better health and being better fed and living longer with more leisure time (which it surely did), then continuing to do so will produce equally benign results in the future.

Mr. Spigot, I can't see how the petroleum economy of the last century has been in any way "benign." Automobiles desecrated our beautiful country, split up and scattered cities and small towns and destroyed our communities in the process. How many have died from health problems caused by vehicle emissions? Yes, petroleum has led to remarkable medical advances so that the wealthiest people can cling to life beyond their natural expiration date. And the "green revolution" was really a petroleum revolution, allowing many millions more people to live on this earth than the earth can actually sustain. Geostrategic concerns to secure unhampered extraction of oil created the conditions in the Middle East that may very well usher in nuclear apocalypse, and at the very least, a regional conflict (already starting) that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives. If that doesn't do the trick, global warming will.

Now what kind of benign results are we talking about here?
posted by bukharin at 12:56 PM on July 3, 2006


"...Life has never been better for more people in places on earth. Compared to a century ago, the earth is a virtual paradise. ..."
posted by Faze at 2:55 PM EST on July 3

Faze, the line for afternoon medications starts juuust about where you're standing, now....


You jest, but Faze is right. Most of the good things in the last century have arisen from market forces. A couple of the bad things too, but libertarians aren't the ones promising Utopia.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 1:12 PM on July 3, 2006


The "power of free markets" has done remarkably little to help the people of Somalia, Darfur, or most of the third world.

I think it is arguable that free markets is precisely what has caused the problems in those countries. Wholly unregulated industry has been allowed to do anything it wants — including the hiring of mercenaries and bandits to force troublesome villagers to disappear from the development scene — and that, in turn, has allowed for massive human rights violations that are, in a word, sickening.

The best industries are those that are closely regulated in the best interests of the stakeholders: shareholders, yes, but also the consumer, the worker, and the overall social and natural environment.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:16 PM on July 3, 2006


Most of the good things in the last century have arisen from market forces.

No. Most of the good things in the last century have arisen from politicians and political movements that have demanded change.

Market forces did nothing to improve human rights. Women's right to vote, minorities rights to equality, universal healthcare, schools, abolishment of slavery (both child and black)... it's all because people have rallied together to demand the betterment of society.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:18 PM on July 3, 2006


“All things considered you should get points for deliberate obfuscation here...”
Uh huh, and those things relate to Wolfe’s overall assertion that (by your restatement) conservatives claim to be anti-federal government, yet have massively expanded government power (under Bush) how? I see the connection between monarchism and Bush’s ideology, but not conservativism (with it’s strong individualist ethic) and those things.

“If you believe that it is immoral for the government to provide services to the people then you have no business being in charge of a government that provides services to the people because you just cannot do the job.”

If elephants negate the forces of gravity through their trunks than they can fly. Equally logical and quite simple.
I can’t remember hearing a conservative position that stated that the government providing services to people is immoral.

“I don't know what point you're trying to make here,”

Yet you are capable of refuting it?
Smaller government = less defense spending, less interventionalism. Rumsfeld /= small government thinking. Rumsfeld, et.al. - by their actions believe in private privilege from public utility. Which is exactly opposite to small government philosophy.

“Scientific truths are "transitory" because...”

Feel free to continue arguing with whomever else it is you’re arguing with. Perhaps you’re thinking of those dullards who like to argue in favor of creationism.
Scientific truths are not human truths (watch, I’ll get an argument on this) they are empirically derived data - which - as you say - are updatable.
Liberal thought is responsible for all scientific achievement since Aristotle? Wow.
That aside I didn’t address science, merely the externally justified and perspective driven nature of reason when applied to social and human issues. I’m greatly in favor of empirical knowlege in government and justification of social policy based on prior experiance. By definition, conservative.

The very nature of your argument - “Were it not for liberal thought we'd still think that Aristotle's ideas...” the politicising and subjgation of empirical knowlege by a political ethos, a body of reason, proves my point and my disagreement with my previously stated position on (one aspect) of liberal thought.
This is not to say I like it any better than when (self-styled) ‘conservatives’ do it. And of course I’m willing to concede people make mistakes in use of terms and such (hell, bukharin pointed out I made one of exactly the kind of thing I was arguing against).

But there is a difference between a mistake and doing it deliberately. I recognize (as econous did) your Earth whizzing around the sun once a day comment as an error. I bring it up not to criticize your argument, but to differentiate that from what I take to be your position which is (other than a strawman argument against my position) that it is the nature of the beliefs regarding government that matters. (“If you believe that it is immoral for the government to provide services... liberal thought...” etc.)
I disagree.
I prefer the foundation of government policy be derived from experiance (albeit with measured changes, but driven mostly by society, not vice versa) which is a fundimentally conservative position - however Wolfe casts the terms.

Anyone can argue against dogma. That’s simply the lack of allowing for any variation from established principles at all. That’s orthodoxy, not conservativism.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:20 PM on July 3, 2006


/I’d add that, it is orthodoxy and privilege desired by this administration and other self-styled ‘conservatives,’ particularly neo-conservatives.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:21 PM on July 3, 2006


Universal healthwhat?

I have heard such a thing rumored, but am told it would be too expensive.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:21 PM on July 3, 2006


Remove the apostrophe with your mind.

But I am not the Amazing Randi! Whatever shall I do?
posted by Gator at 1:23 PM on July 3, 2006




Yeah, let's see... market forces sought to perpetuate slavery, fought against child labor laws, 8 hour day, 40 hour week... market forces have militarised the United States to the point of no return, so that it almost *has* to be an an aggressive force in the world to provide an outlet for these very market forces while at the same time directing the nation's wealth away from the people, maintaining corporate welfare at the expense of social welfare... Market forces have allowed manufacturing to almost completely abandon this country in order so they could flee unions and find cheaper slave labor in China and elsewhere, leaving the American middle class shit out of luck and pensionless... Gee..
posted by bukharin at 1:26 PM on July 3, 2006


"... Most of the good things in the last century have arisen from market forces. A couple of the bad things too, but libertarians aren't the ones promising Utopia."
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 4:12 PM EST on July 3


I'll do better about controlling my snickering about this comment when Bill Gates and Warren Buffett make plans to get new day jobs...
posted by paulsc at 1:28 PM on July 3, 2006


“Nonsense. Everyone, of every stamp believes that truths are universal until they get in their own way...”

Like Leo Strauss? Like Jean Paul Sartre ?

(I otherwise get your point, but not everyone believes truths are universal from first principles)
posted by Smedleyman at 1:29 PM on July 3, 2006


Smedleyman writes "Smaller government = less defense spending, less interventionalism. Rumsfeld /= small government thinking. Rumsfeld, et.al. - by their actions believe in private privilege from public utility. Which is exactly opposite to small government philosophy."

You are completely intellectually dishonest here. Did you even read what I wrote about this? If you did, how in the world could you possibly come back with this non-retort? You completely misread my statements about Rumsfeld, and I just don't think you're stupid enough to have concluded that from what I did write.

Smedleyman writes "Feel free to continue arguing with whomever else it is you’re arguing with."

What the fuck? Maybe I was wrong about your being dishonest. Maybe you're just schizophrenic and unable to understand the argument put to you.
posted by clevershark at 1:31 PM on July 3, 2006



I'll butt in a little bit on the concurrent discussion about liberalism and relativity... I would agree that relativism and subjectivism has somewhat obscured our vision, and is political suicide, really, especially in times of great change, when people want clarity and certainty. In linguistic terms it allows the right-wing to take the upper hand, because they can always frame the debate if they've got the wood and nails. Makes one long for Trotsky's unbridled optimism for what could be, compounded and qualified by a critical and clear vision of what is...
posted by bukharin at 1:32 PM on July 3, 2006


leaving American middle class shit out of luck...

Get out of here. The American middle class is the fattest, happiest gang lucky goofballs every to occupy the planet earth. If you don't wake up every morning singing happy Carpenters songs, hugging your family and pets, and loving your life, you are some kind of sick whiny bozo.

Market forces have allowed manufacturing to almost completely abandon this country

Is that why America is still the world's leading industrial nation -- by a large factor? And who told you to go back in time and save us from slavery and child labor? Do you think the slaves (imported to the U.S. under conditions bearing no relationship to what we call government or market forces today), care whether or not you are weeping for their sake? If they are looking down from heaven, they are saying: "Why aren't those assholes enjoying their happy American lives?"
posted by Faze at 1:37 PM on July 3, 2006


Life has never been better for more people in places on earth. Compared to a century ago, the earth is a virtual paradise.

Why stop there? Why not go all the way back to being naked in caves without fire? That comparison would definitely make poverty seem like a manufactured problem on par with gay marriage and flag burning.
posted by effwerd at 1:46 PM on July 3, 2006


“You completely misread my statements about Rumsfeld, and I just don't think you're stupid enough to have concluded that from what I did write.” - clevershark

Ok then:


“The article is pretty clear in asserting that Rumsfeld's small-government obsession is what led to the US deploying less troops than would have been judged appropriate by others,”

I disagree the article is clear on that. I disagree with the assertion that Rumsfeld’s thinking is along the lines of traditional ‘small government’ philosophy (as I stated above).
I agree however that Rumsfeld’s thinking (whatever the label) did lead to the US deploying less troops...etc.

“reality refused to play along with Rummy's bout of mental masturbation, and that's why Iraq has become so messy and expensive.”

Agreed. Pointless to take up space saying it, but since you asked....

“Rumsfeld refused to recognize that if you clean out one government you'd better be prepared to have another at the ready,”

Agreed. Ditto the above.

“and that "no plan" is often the most expensive and complicated plan you can have.”

Agreed. Ditto the above.

“Maybe I was wrong about your being dishonest. Maybe you're just schizophrenic and unable to understand the argument put to you.” - clevershark

So...what....you wanna ‘step outside’? Seriously, what is it you think you’re going to accomplish with that kind of argument?

“In linguistic terms it allows the right-wing to take the upper hand, because they can always frame the debate...”

Agreed. I’d say the right wing has sacrificed much of it’s principles and commonly related philosophies (conservativism among them) with it’s focus on unity. But the strength of the left is that it is diverse*, it just hasn’t played to that strength because of the Democratic party and the focus on getting elected.
(Not that the Republicans don’t, but the focus on unity within the right works for them in that)

*“It is probably true quite generally that in the history of human thinking the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet.  These lines may have their roots in quite different parts of human nature, in different times or different cultural environments or different religious traditions:  hence if they actually meet, that is, if they are at least so much related to each other that a real interaction can take place, then one may hope that new and interesting developments may follow. “- Werner Heisenberg
posted by Smedleyman at 1:49 PM on July 3, 2006


bukharin - Note what George_Spiggott says near the end of his comment :

The time to start doing it was 40-50 years ago, when consequences started to become apparent.

I would argue that most of the negative effects that you mention have only started to rear their ugly head in the past 40-50 years.

For the record, I agree with George_Spiggott. The petroleum energy economy has enabled pretty much every advance that we've made in the last 100 years. However, we should have started transitioning away from it as soon as we could.

Right now, energy is seen in terms of economics - oil is cheaper then nuclear or solar or what-have-you, so logically, we should continue to use oil. However, it is my fervent hope that people will start to see energy in terms of geopolitics - our relentless pursuit of oil will lead us to war and catastrophe. Unfortunately, in the immediate term, this would mean people paying more for energy, and people are notoriously shortsighted. This is where it would be nice to have some genuinely farsighted political leadership. The fact that we have only been able to elect people who encourage us to think in the short term is either a failure of the American people, or of the American political system. I haven't quite decided which.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:49 PM on July 3, 2006



Faze, chill out. The loss of millions of manufacturing jobs in the last thirty years is evident to anyone who isn't a retard.

Afroblanco, I didn't say I wasn't in general agreement with Mr. Spigot's conclusion, I was just challenging the "benign results." And it's not that the less than benign results have been only just now rearing their ugly head, it's that Americans are only just now getting their heads out of their rears.
posted by bukharin at 5:02 PM on July 3, 2006


Bush has an policy sympathy for the nanny state and a personal affinity for those to the manner born. All of this is reflected rather grimly in his education policy, his failure to oppose domestic pork-barrelling, and the treatment of the upper middle class in his tax policy.

However, as distasteful as this may be, it may well have been that a Republican made of sterner stuff simply couldn't have been elected or re-elected. And, with the appointment of one more Supreme Court Justice, we may actually see full representative democracy restored in this country, which will enable more orthodox conservatives actually to govern when their turn in power arrives.
posted by MattD at 5:12 PM on July 3, 2006


There was a concerted effort to move away from the Petroleum economy decades ago, and that move was called Nuclear Power.

Between the predictable errors and failures of an early/immature technology, rampant NIMBYism, and a strident campaign by the environmental groups, nuclear power was, basically, stillborn.

Of course, it was to be expected: the downside of the petroleum (and coal) economy is cumulative, pervasive, and nasty. The downside of nuclear power may be relatively local, but negative events are spectacular, but in a holistic sense, no more nasty.

It's sadly ironic that some of the very environmentalists who fought nuclear power back in the day have finally come around to supporting nuclear as a petroleum/coal alternative, but decades too late. They won the battle against nuclear too well, and quite possibly permanently, and we're all living with the consequences.
posted by chimaera at 5:35 PM on July 3, 2006


Between the predictable errors and failures of an early/immature technology, rampant NIMBYism, and a strident campaign by the environmental groups, nuclear power was, basically, stillborn.

Revisionist bollocks. All blame on the NIMBYs and enviros, none on the industry and the AEC? The public was right to reject those early plant designs -- they were a horror. Not a global catastrophe in waiting like Chernobyl, but quite bad enough. And speaking as someone who lives downstream of the Hanford waste site, which has been losing its funding for cleanup and containment due to budget cuts made necessary by massive deficit spending AND as someone who has interviewed Navajos on the res where mining practices have resulted in leukemia and cancer rates far above the national average I say, bollocks. NIMBYism and environmentalism are the only thing that's protected us from far worse, because the government has always acted in the interests of the nuclear energy and never in the public's interest. If they had pursued it responsibly rather than going hell-for-leather trying to jam it down everyone's throats because of a hard-on for nuclear supremacy and support for nuclear infrastructure, it might have been quite different. As it is, it wasn't the enviros who poisoned that well, it was the industry and the their government flacks who did it to themselves.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:54 PM on July 3, 2006


Did you miss the part of the quote that you included where I said "between the predictable errors and failures of an early/immature technology," George?

The designs were bad, and waste management was poor, but Three Mile Island is a classic example of a potential disaster averted because things worked the way they were supposed to. The utility of the reactor was ruined, but there was no release of radioactive material.

What happened was the discourse over nuclear power was dominated by the extremes on both sides, creating in the minds of the polity an artificial dichotomy: reckless slipshod development looking for maximum profit with minimum oversight, and the other side which wanted no nuclear power whatsoever.

If opponents to nuclear power had proposed rational and cautious development rather than fearmongering, I have a feeling things would've turned out quite differently.
posted by chimaera at 6:31 PM on July 3, 2006


there was a release of radioactive material at Three Mile Island--it's documented.
posted by amberglow at 6:43 PM on July 3, 2006


chimaera, no, I didn't miss that, but early/immature technology by definition isn't ready to foist on the public when the stakes are that high, and that was what I was driving at. To see what happens when a government-sponsored nuclear program gets its way without having to be responsible to the public, take a quick peek behind the iron curtain. Chernobyl is the glowing tip of the iceberg, but there are lower-level nuclear horrors all over Russia and Eastern Europe.

And was it really up to the opponents to propose rational and cautious development? Wasn't that more up to those who controlled the technology and the government agencies paid out of our taxes? I also think you've got a cart/horse inversion here: if it had been persued responsibly perhaps the vehement opposition wouldn't have occurred at all. "No nukes" didn't become a major force until the 60s, and the government had been pushing nuclear energy since the 50s. It was the scary reality that got everyone going, and sure: the protestors weren't nuclear physicists, how could they be? The problem was that the government watchdogs -- which did have access to all the nuclear physicists -- weren't protecting the chickens from the foxes, they were sitting down to a chicken dinner at the same table as the foxes. This left the environmentalists to represent their own interests, and naturally, being a mob, they're not going to make sense all the time. Things work a lot better when the government does what take our money to do, rather than take our money without a thank you and go straight to work for somebody who doesn't necessarily want what we want. Which reality persists even unto this day.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:44 PM on July 3, 2006


i hate george bush. he is evil and is the cause of 90% of my problems.
posted by obeygiant at 6:59 PM on July 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


Life has never been better for more people in places on earth. Compared to a century ago, the earth is a virtual paradise.

Go jump off the Washington Monument. The first 554 feet of your fall could well be the most fun you have ever had in your life.

When the six billion becomes ten billion and then crashes back down below two billion, come tell me about "virtual paradise."
posted by jamjam at 7:53 PM on July 3, 2006


amberglow, I lived in Harrisburg during the time of the TMI incident. It was a frightening time, but it was vastly over-dramatized, and thoroughly studied, for years afterward. The feds went so far as to buy up rolls of unexposed photgraphic film from retailers all over the area, and had it developed and checked for streaking and fogging, in order to get accurate monitoring data from thousands of offsite points throughout the Susquehannah Valley. For several weeks, it was pretty tough to find a roll of 35mm film anywhere west of Hershey, PA or east of Carlisle.

The result? The total released radiation from the TMI accident was utterly meaningless in relation to the natural background radiation in the area, for all residents of the area. From the report summary you link:
"... Estimates are that the average dose to about 2 million people in the area was only about 1 millirem. To put this into context, exposure from a full set of chest x-rays is about 6 millirem. Compared to the natural radioactive background dose of about 100-125 millirem per year for the area, the collective dose to the community from the accident was very small. The maximum dose to a person at the site boundary would have been less than 100 millirem."
posted by paulsc at 7:59 PM on July 3, 2006


I stand corrected, amberglow. Perhaps it would have been better to phrase it as the NRC page says, which is that the average dose to the nearest 2 million people was approximately 1/6th that of a chest x-ray.

I would contend that that would qualify as a very small amount, or even negligible.

And George, while I disagree on the conjectured efficacy of rational debate rather than fearmongering (even when the other side is not debating rationally), you make some good points, though I still respectfully disagree on the general issue. Furthermore, I think it a false analogy to compare what would have happened in the US to eastern Europe and Russia, as even the overzealous developments had designs far superior to that of, for example, Chernobyl. No US or Western European reactor was just put in an unshielded building, and to my knowledge, the government never proposed such a thing.
posted by chimaera at 8:00 PM on July 3, 2006


There are two major problems with the first article. They are a)Believing that the Bush administration genuinely holds to a small government ideology and b)Believing that this ideology is modern American conservatism.

As for what Bush and the administration believe, I obviously can not say for sure. It doesn't appear to me, however, and it has never appeared that what they truly valued was a smaller government. There's a little lip service to the idea during campaigns, but it has never seemed to be a major aspect of the administration's policy platform. The idea that there is nothing for a small government ideology to do in the Federal government is obviously wrong-headed. The role of that ideology would be to eliminate those functions believed to be inappropriate and, even if this is not the case in practice, it theoretically just as easy to advocate abolishing a program as it is to propose creating it. The administration has never been vigorous in this direction(with the exception of the tax cut), and has focused on other policy positions instead. The logical explanation for this is that any smaller government beliefs that Bush might hold simply aren't as important to him as other beliefs.

Furthermore, it seems far more likely to me that the explanation for the administration's failures is simple incompetence. They practice cronyism, there's some level of corruption, etc. It doesn't take a grand rejection of their ideology to explain it, and their failure does not indict their beliefs, anymore than the corruption in the Harding Administration reflects on his ideas about the tariff.

The other question to ask is, "Does the kind of small government ideology the author has in mind represent conservative thinking in America today?" Clearly some people who call themselves conservatives hold to these beliefs, but do these stem from a "conservative ideology?"

I would say that they don't and, indeed, they can't, since conservatism, properly defined, is distinctly non-ideological. Conservatism holds that the past provides the best guide to the future, and that we should keep faith with as much of the legacy of our ancestors as possible. This is fundamentally a non-ideological position. A political ideology is a set of principles outlining how society ought to work. It is a kind of blueprint for the ideal society, a set of principles around which the state should be organized.

Conservatives believe that we should hold to those aspects of society that do work, and be careful when changing anything for fear that the system will stop working. This is a position grounded in experience, not ideology. It is not a vision of an ideal society, but rather of a functional society. If smaller government is part of what a conservative believes should be preserved, then that is based on experience, not ideology. If someone holds an ideological belief that government should be as small as possible(a libertarian) they are not a conservative, even if they agree with them.

This last point is especially important for the article's author because of the need his argument has for conservatives to be both mindless traditionalists and ideologically blinded to reality. Sure, there are plenty of conservatives who could stand to think more critically about the traditions they defend and how they might be changed. On the other hand, that person is very different from someone who believes that the free market is a model for an ideal society, one is conservative the other is not.

With regarding to some issues, especially foreign affairs, I think this administration is far too ideological. Whether you think that the ideology driving it was imperialism or a desire to spread democracy, it seems clear that the Iraq War was an ideological venture, not a practical one. In this way, the administration's ideology might have failed, but conservatism not to blame.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:43 PM on July 3, 2006


You are all wrong and that's all I got to say about that.
posted by zackdog at 12:25 AM on July 4, 2006


well said Bulgaroktonos
posted by Smedleyman at 2:28 AM on July 4, 2006


to the manner manor [I believe] born
posted by five fresh fish at 8:00 AM on July 4, 2006


to the manner manor [I believe] born

Nope. A common and understandable error, but an error nonetheless. OED:

to the manner born: (originally) familiar from birth with a given custom, role, etc.; (now usually) naturally suited for, or taking readily to, a given role or task.
1603 SHAKESPEARE Haml. I. iv. 16 Though I am Natiue here, and to the maner [1623 manner] borne, It is a custome, more honourd in the breach, Then in the obseruance. 1792 S. WHYTE Poems (ed. 2) 25 Forbid it, justice, to reproach or scorn, Worth native there and to the manner born. 1874 T. HARDY Far from Madding Crowd I. ii. 16 If occasion demanded he could do or think a thing with as mercurial a dash as can the men of towns who are more to the manner born. 1893 Times 26 Apr. 9/5 Yankee experts to the manner born. 1922 J. JOYCE Ulysses 287 Then did you, chivalrous Terence, hand forth, as to the manner born, that nectarous beverage. 1963 Observer 1 Dec. 21/1 John F. Kennedy was to the manner born. Nothing became him so much as the White House. 1996 Guardian 31 May (Review section) 21/1 They wear their knighthoods and dameries to the manner born.
posted by languagehat at 9:06 AM on July 4, 2006


Bulgaroktonos: As for what Bush and the administration believe, I obviously can not say for sure. It doesn't appear to me, however, and it has never appeared that what they truly valued was a smaller government.

No? I thought Wolfe provided clear evidence that the Bush administration doesn't believe in big government, that they adhere to "rugged individualism" ("The government doesn't have to help poor people, because they are lazy") and that their preference would be to dismantle existing government agencies and regulations.

The FEMA example: "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management," Allbaugh had testified before a Senate appropriations subcommittee in May, 2001. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level." There was the conservative dilemma in a nutshell: a man put in charge of a mission in which he did not believe.

Or, as Wolfe puts it: Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.

That said, at least one counterexample to Wolfe's argument comes to mind: didn't George H. W. Bush do a reasonable job of governing, both in foreign policy (managing the end of the Cold War, building alliances to fight the first Gulf War) and in domestic policy (raising taxes to balance the budget)?

I suspect the root problem isn't conservatism, it's ideological purity and blindness to reality.

I would say that they don't and, indeed, they can't, since conservatism, properly defined, is distinctly non-ideological. Conservatism holds that the past provides the best guide to the future, and that we should keep faith with as much of the legacy of our ancestors as possible. This is fundamentally a non-ideological position.

This is an entirely different meaning of "conservative." (I'm a conservative in this sense.)

Wolfe is describing a radical political movement which currently controls the White House and Congress. Its radicalism extends to both foreign policy and domestic policy. It calls itself "conservative" because it views the New Deal reforms and the existence of the welfare state as fundamentally illegitimate, and seeks to reverse them. In foreign policy, the movement takes unilateralism to an extreme, vilifying alliances and institutions which impose any restrictions on American power whatsoever. This movement is indeed ideological.
posted by russilwvong at 3:13 PM on July 4, 2006


An example of conservative thinking on fiscal policy: tax cuts are more important than balancing the budget. See also. And also.
posted by russilwvong at 3:29 PM on July 4, 2006


languagehat: Huh. I am surprised, but not disappointed.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:02 PM on July 4, 2006


“This is an entirely different meaning of "conservative." (I'm a conservative in this sense.)” - posted by russilwvong

I dunno russilwvong. That’s how I see it. That’s the fulcrum of many points of agreement I have with local political folks. I think there are a lot of people who think of “conservative” that way and often are lied to by people with ideological agendas who call themselves “conservative.”
Post today on some christians putting up a statue of liberty bearing a cross. None of the christians I know around here would do anything like that. Indeed, most would be disgusted by it. Same sorta thing.

“Wolfe is describing a radical political movement which currently controls the White House and Congress” - posted by russilwvong

Indeed he does. My position (before I got sidetracked) was that he improperly uses a wide variety of labels - from “right wing” to “conservative,” etc. etc. to address that radical political movement. I’d’ve thought “neoconservative” would cover that, as well as “Bush Administration.”

I think many of Wolfe’s criticisms are otherwise accurate.

I don’t want to get too far afield debating conservative thought on tax cuts/balanced budget. There was a push for a balanced budget amendment, but politicians being politicians that didn’t get far. The concept is keeping money in people’s pockets rather than in government coffers. There is a wide variety of disagreement even among conservatives as how best to execute that.

And I’m not really disagreeing with you per se, just clarifying some nuances from your excellent comment russilwvong.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:06 PM on July 5, 2006


Indeed he does. My position (before I got sidetracked) was that he improperly uses a wide variety of labels - from “right wing” to “conservative,” etc. etc. to address that radical political movement.

Not sure. After all, they call themselves conservatives, not neo-conservatives, and I believe they're being sincere. I'm not just thinking of the Bush administration itself, but of its supporters. Take a look at this page, for example. These are people who want tax cuts, smaller government, rugged individualism.

I think most people who think of themselves as conservative also want these things. (After all, the modern welfare state is a relatively recent creation.)

What really distinguishes the Bush administration and its core supporters--the conservative "movement"--is just how ideological and extreme they are.
posted by russilwvong at 4:17 PM on July 5, 2006



I’d argue that people who call themselves christians who want to kill gay people are also being sincere.


“What really distinguishes the Bush administration and its core supporters--the conservative "movement"--is just how ideological and extreme they are.” -posted by russilwvong

See, but that’s part of the problem, and your post illustrates it. (RINO) The ideological part of this disagreement is over the term “conservative” and the meaning itself. And that is part of the demand for unity on the terms of that extreme ideology or destruction. You are a “Republican” only if you belive ‘x’ ‘y’ and ‘z’ in the same way ‘we’ do. You cannot be a Republican if you believe in everything we do except for (say) pro-life (or in your post example paygo).
You have a group of very religous, very extreme individuals attempting to rigidly define the terms and narrow the scope of the discussion.

A similar situation would occur if, say, an extreme environmental group came out saying “We’re liberals and you’re not a liberal if you don’t bomb bulldozers.”
Clearly there would be an issue. Also clearly the left’s current ownership/identification with environmental issues would render them vulnerable to this kind of co-option if they didn’t distance themselves from that position. But then how to do that without sacrificing the position?

Which seems to be the situation many on the right faced. But their extreme groups didn’t come out and say “bomb” anything. They said “We’re just like you” and then they went out and bombed things. And came back and said “What are you talking about? We’re just like you.” Then did it again, and again. And it seems to have gotten to the point where they’re wearing the colors but acting entirely contrary to the meaning of “conservative” yet conservatives have not been able to extract themselves from this morass.

In part, I suspect, because some goals are being reached. But there are always folks who will cede their principles, reason, their very identities for power.
I favor tax cuts as a matter of course. The “rugged individualism” is predicated on the government having a light foot - not supporting you when you don’t need it, but catching you when you fall. Which means they don’t take much money from you.
This works swell, if the government then doesn’t go out and spend like a drunken sailor on leave - whatever the end - but most particularly on war, which reaps benefits only to a select bit of the private sector.

I think your Bush supporter statement is apt.
It does not however apply to me, nor to many people here anymore who are conservative.

I’m conservative. I don’t support Bush. I’m not a Republican. (I do sometimes vote Republican, but to support the Democratic party in Chicago is to support corruption - typically I’ll vote 3rd party or cast a protest ballot)
This is very similar to how many righty pundits describe themselves. Are their positions even remotely similar to mine? No.
Yet they use the same terms to describe themselves.
Calling yourself something doesn’t make it so.

I’m an astronaut. I have been to outer space. I have flown on 7 shuttle missions.
Does my stating any of that or even thinking it make it true? No.

Or, more apt - I’m a pure Kantian. I believe in Kantian values. Like Kant, I think it’s every man for himself.

Obviously false.

Do I agree with you that the political reality is that those people have co-opted the label?
Yep.
But I’d argue those same people are the ones who co-opted the term liberal and made it nearly political suicide to call oneself a liberal.

You seem to be looking at the issue from that perspective - group ‘x’ uses term ‘x’ ergo they are ‘x-ians.’
From my perspective it is group ‘x’ acts in accordance with ‘x’ principals ergo they are ‘x-ians.’ (And if they don’t, they are not).

I don’t think either of our perspectives are invalid, or even incompatible.

If we fit Wolfe’s assertions into your perspective than indeed, that is the case.

But Wolfe’s indictment is of the entire body of thought, and he operates from the acts of this group of BushCo and supporters. It’s a tautological argument.
That is to say - people who call themselves conservatives are doing ‘x’ therefore ‘x’ is a conservative thing to do.

That it ignores how many other people who think of themselves as conservatives act. Indeed, it ignores many concepts within conservativism.

Wolfe himself, I would argue, is guilty of the same thing - narrowing the scope of the argument and making the conflict over the labels.

I’d rather argue over the concepts and principles, which works, which doesn’t. Much as you and I are obviously NOT doing. Which is my major criticism of this piece. Were some of the acts Wolfe presents in the piece bad ideas? Yep. Do I ascribe to all of those? Nope. And yet, I’m a conservative, or at least I call myself one. So either I’m lying and want to waste my time here, or Wolfe’s labeling is not correct. Had he used the term “Republicans” it would have been far harder to condemn, because, for one, Republicans go through various incarnations.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:37 PM on July 6, 2006


“But I’d argue those same people are the ones who co-opted the term liberal and made it nearly political suicide to call oneself a liberal.”
To clarify - I don’t buy into doing that either. It is like nails on a chalk board to me when the usual suspects issue blanket “you liberals all” statements. For a variety of reasons, in part because in many cases, the ideas under attack aren’t at all liberal.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:43 PM on July 6, 2006


I favor tax cuts as a matter of course. The “rugged individualism” is predicated on the government having a light foot - not supporting you when you don’t need it, but catching you when you fall. Which means they don’t take much money from you.

Right. To me this seems like ideology--not to say that it's right or wrong, just that it's not so closely connected to the idea of conservatism as based on tradition and experience. The New Deal dates back to the 1930s, long enough to have become a tradition in its own right by now.

I think it'd be fair to say that most people who consider themselves "conservative" would agree with what you just said (again, not to say that it's right or wrong). Bush and his core supporters just push this to an extreme level: tax cuts no matter what.
posted by russilwvong at 12:53 AM on July 7, 2006


“The New Deal dates back to the 1930s, long enough to have become a tradition in its own right by now.”

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there russilwvong. I generally concede arguments to the new deal as it is the status quo - also because at heart one of the reasons conservatives want small government is so it cannot be used to bolster private concerns (as it so typically has under this administration).
I’d go further - Jefferson for example. Many people who argue “christian values” and other such tripe call themselves conservative. Any modern conservative should strongly oppose any non-secular force within government for a multitude of reasons, one of which being the argument whether we were founded on “christian values” is moot when one of the foundational principles of the country is to absorb a variety of values in the first place. The first amendment is a dead givaway.

“Bush and his core supporters just push this to an extreme level: tax cuts no matter what.”

But you see this is what I’m saying. This is similar to the post with the statue of liberty bearing a cross, etc. You have the words, the symbols, etc. Those words and symbols are then fetishized and recast into an ideological frame of reference.

I suppose as an analogy - Bush & supporters are idolaters of conservativism.

The structures of our arguments could be similar if we were talking about Buddhism or Zen for example. There are those who meditate and hold to the core concepts that are not ideological, but are founded in good practice. And there are those who take those concepts and assert them in ways other than intended. I’m thinking the folks worshipping that kid who was sitting under the tree. Ok, maybe he IS Buddha reincarnated - so?

There is a difference between practicing something like conservativism - avoiding change for the sake of change - avoiding swift change based on a certain perspective (whether ultimately wrong or right as in the case of the new deal) and fetishizing the trappings of that body of thought into the constants of an ideology.
We practice less taxes as a matter of course, because, on the whole, it’s better for people to have more money in their pockets because this leads to greater self-determination.

But it’s not an absolute as Bush and his supporters have made it. It is not a “should” as they ideologically assert but a general principle aimed at achieving a goal. That goal being stability and predictability because of the constancy of experiance. Something that doesn’t work towards that - in this case, say the tax cuts, should be cast aside. It should bend to what we know from experiance - that is, spending more money while reducing your income is stupid and harmful.

So I think you’re exactly right in a sense, conservativism is not an ideology - but BushCo has made it into one.

But again, this does not make them conservative any more than a dashboard Jesus makes a trucker into a disciple of Christ.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:46 AM on July 7, 2006



Re: the new deal - I’m skipping a vast discussion there - Carnegie, Teddy Roosevelt, etc. etc. - there was a long history of selected private concerns benefiting from the public commonwealth. Anathema to a conservative position (it can be argued from within a liberal position that some private concerns should be given public help to guide society in a certain direction). Obviously execution depends on the situation, but a conservative position would derive a course of action based on how to preserve existing patterns and institutions. A liberal position would derive a course of action based on new interpretations of those existing patterns - change the order of things to fix the problem.
That’s simplistic of course, and it’s relying on Bulgaroktonos’ Foucaultian interpretation of “ideology” but that’s the gist.

And a conservative would be suspicious of new government programs such as the New Deal, etc.
But I agree with you, once they are proven, there is no reason to oppose them other than to change the order of things, which is ultimately not an ideologically neutral or traditionalist point of view.
I would argue it’s within the liberal perspective to go back and change the new deal - since it’s an existing instiution. But it’s outside what we normally term as ‘liberal,’ so it’d take up a whole lot of space to make that connection reasonably and my meaning clear.
We could call it ‘neoliberal’ - since that term has been connected to Reagan and Thatcher, et.al. -
(Conservativism isn’t incompatable with classical liberalism.)

All this to say - it makes the use of terms and definitions all the more crucial to make clear what it is one is critical of.
I liked Reagan for example. I am very critical of more than a few of his policies however.
Education, for example, is a strong institution in the US which should be preserved.
Reagan made cuts in education and did other things to increase the influence of corporate culture (manifestly so if you remember the ‘go-go 80’s’ yuppie thing) and big biz in general.

Not, I think, a conservative move. But were I to criticise him on it I wouldn’t argue that it’s a failure of everything connected to Reagan. I would point out where he deviated from conservativism. Where the conservativism he employed did not work, etc. etc. etc.
I would not condemn everything he did as an utter failure of ‘the right.’

There are many liberal ideas I agree with. There are some crucial ones I don’t. This does not mean I think it is impossible to govern from a liberal position. Nor would I assert that because the liberal position favors limitations of state power and that Herbert Spencer and Gustave de Molinari were liberal thinkers that liberals being anarchists cannot govern, therefore John Kerry can’t govern because of the extreme anti-statist position within liberalism.

And again, I agree with some of Wolfe’s criticisms and most of yours. But it’s as much an error to shout “conservatives” at everything done by someone even tangentially related to the concept as it is to shout “liberals” in the same way. And there are myriad examples of that from Coulter to Limbaugh, etc.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:53 PM on July 7, 2006


We practice less taxes as a matter of course, because, on the whole, it’s better for people to have more money in their pockets because this leads to greater self-determination.

But it’s not an absolute as Bush and his supporters have made it. It is not a “should” as they ideologically assert but a general principle aimed at achieving a goal. That goal being stability and predictability because of the constancy of experiance. Something that doesn’t work towards that - in this case, say the tax cuts, should be cast aside. It should bend to what we know from experience - that is, spending more money while reducing your income is stupid and harmful.


Right, this seems completely reasonable to me.

I think where we still disagree is that I think there is such a thing as a conservative ideology--low taxes, small government, individual responsibility--and that the Bush administration and its most vocal supporters can be described as conservative ideologues, despite the fact that this contradicts the more philosophical definition of conservatism. They're conservative extremists.

I agree that Wolfe's argument goes too far in saying that "conservatives can't govern"--Bush I did a reasonable job. Conservative ideologues can't govern. But I think the problem is that they're ideologues who are blind to reality, not that they're conservative.
posted by russilwvong at 2:10 PM on July 7, 2006


"I think where we still disagree is that I think there is such a thing as a conservative ideology" - posted by russilwvong

No, I'd go with you there. There is a 'conservative ideology' I'd just say a conservative ideology is not conservative. In seeking to preserve, you have to, by nature bend to what IS. I don't favor "low taxes" devoid of context. Given informality of speech - I favor not raising taxes from what they are now. I would say the same from before the tax cuts made by Bush. But low taxes aren't an end in themselves. Which is what these people have done - made the trappings, the ritual, the watchwords, their ideal. So it's not surprising they can't govern, they're nihilists. Like any idolaters.

I think we're deriving the same conclusions through different thought processes (using occasionally different terms).

But those are the hazards of English I s'pose.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:44 AM on July 8, 2006


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