What is a Conservative?

One question has become popular in this raucous and rowdy 2016 GOP primary: What is a Conservative? With too many candidates running for president in the party that lays claim to the ideology, attacking one’s ‘conservative’ credentials has become a common tactic.

The history of the term pre-1950 is too long and arduously detailed to fully explain here. The modern conservative movement was born in the 1950’s and was championed by several influential thought leaders. Over the years some of these movement leaders explained conservatism extensively in writing. Others, mostly politicians, have defined the ‘conservative’ ideology through their platform.

Consider this brief recap of those views, followed by a summary of what the word means as of today.

RUSSELL KIRK – Author of the Conservative Mind (1950) 

Kirk’s contribution is dense and philosophical. As time goes on and new characters contribute to the ideology the ideas become more specific and practical.

Kirk’s Six Truisms:

  1. A Transcendant Moral order. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.
  2. Reject uniformity, logicalism, and the utilitarian and egalitarian aims of most radical systems.
  3. Classes are necessary for an orderly society. Strive for equality in judgment before God and in courts of law, but equality in condition  means equality in servitude and boredom.
  4. Freedom and private property are closely linked.
  5. Distrust of ‘sophisters, calculators and economists (planned economy).
  6. Do not change just for change’s sake. Maintain traditions.

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR. – Founder of National Review in the inaugural issue, 1955

  1. It is the job of centralized government to protect the lives, liberty and property of its citizens. The growth of government must be fought relentlessly. This is the libertarian angle.
  2. There exists a social conflict between engineers who seek to adjust mankind to conform with scientific utopias, and the disciples of truth, who defend the organic moral order. This is the social conservative angle.
  3. The centuries most blatant force of satanic utopianism is communism, to which we find ourselves irrevocably at war and shall oppose any substitute for victory. This is the National Defense angle.
  4. The competitive price system is indispensable to liberty and material progress, threatened by Big Brother government and union monopolies. This is the Free market capitalism angle.

BARRY GOLDWATER– Arizona Senator and Presidential Candidate in 1964 

Barry_Goldwater_photo1962

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Signature issues: States’ rights, labor union reform, anti-communism, free-market principles and staunch fiscal conservatism. Libertarian on social issues (abortion and civil rights) which alienated him from the republican elite. In an interesting twist, he was a strong supporter of the environment, supporting legislation regulation corporations’ pollution of the air and water.

IRVING KRISTOL – Founder of the Neoconservative Movement

“The political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.” His own words

Signature issues: Cutting taxes to stimulate economic growth (but very little focus on reduction in spending). In neoconservatism, republicans join democrats in their embrace of big government. “The growth of the state is natural, indeed inevitable”.

Neocons share some common ground with traditional conservatives on issues of morality.

Perhaps chief among the neoconservative ideas is the infiltration of the concept that our ‘national interest’ extends beyond our borders. The might and power of our military backed up by our strong sense of American exceptionalism places upon us the duty to defend any democratic nation from attack by nondemocratic forces.

In something less than coincidence, the popularity of this brand of foreign policy would coincide with the creation of Israel and the ensuing wars between the Jewish state and their Arab neighbors.

George W. Bush would later greatly expanded on neoconservative foreign policy, and broaden the goal from defense of democratic nations, to actively spreading democracy throughout the world.

REAGAN ERA CONSERVATISM – Platform of President Ronald Reagan 1980-1988

Tax cuts, greatly increased military budget (in contrast to Carter-era spending), deregulation, a policy of the rollback of communism, and appeals to family values and conservative morality.

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So-called Reagan conservatism emphasized the libertarian angle less, and incorporated the neoconservative trend of heavy military spending, while introducing the term “family values” to encompass judeo-christian influence on the moral order concept.

TEA PARTY (No official leader)

The Tea Party, due to its informal nature and scattered organization, brought both positive and arguably negative developments to the conservative movement.

First the positive. The tea party reintroduced the constitution as the standard by which all brands of conservatism should be measured. The party ‘platform’ indicates a strong belief that judeo-christian values were embedded in, and inseparable from, our founding documents. Refreshingly the party re-emphasized the need to limit not only the size, but the scope of the federal government, arguing persuasively that a large central government is necessarily an oppressive one. The party emphasized the bill of rights including the second amendment right to bear arms and religious liberty, while conveying the sometimes exaggerated view that both of these liberties are under attack.

In contrast to these firmly grounded constitutional principles, the Tea Party muddied the waters by taking the ‘exceptionalism’ idea of neoconservatism, and molding it into a new form of nationalism hostile to all forms of immigration, free trade and diversity. As a result, rallies of constitutional conservatives were overshadowed by bigoted symbols and chants from those with no political views other than hatred for President Obama.

ugly tea party sign

CONFLICTS IN THE VARIETIES OF CONSERVATISM

Foreign Policy/National Defense – Early anti-communism conservatives and later neoconservatives translated ‘strong national defense’ into a policy of intervention and spreading the cause of freedom through nation building. Liberty-minded conservatives believe intervention and skyrocketing military spending are incompatible with fiscal conservatism, as well as ineffective and immoral, making the nation less safe.

Social Issues/Family Values – “Traditional” or “Moral Order” conservatives are willing to use the power of the state to enforce a judeo-christian view of morality, while liberty-minded and millenial conservatives leave morality to God and argue the state should distance itself from all judgments of virtue.

Size/Scope of Government – Neoconservatives and the most recent modern conservatives  propose liberal tax cuts with moderate or nonexistent reductions in spending. Liberty-minded conservatives prioritize reductions in government spending over tax cuts framing the issue as more than just a fiscal matter, but as consistent with reduction in the scope of the federal government’s role.

Nationalism – This conflict has only recently taken shape, and is illustrated perfectly by divisions in the current GOP primary race. The dividing lines are still being drawn. This is a topic all its own, which I will be writing about within the next week (What is Nationalism, and is it Compatible with Conservatism?). For now, I’ll just conclude that this is a hot topic of conflict among those calling themselves conservatives.

All of the forks in ideology described above follow a similar pattern: Virtue vs. Liberty.

What is a Conservative today? 

The movement has taken a long and windy road. As can be seen by the thorny conflicts described above, there are not only shades of conservatism, but incompatible factions. This may be how the republican party has ended up in the civil-war-like predicament in which it is currently mired.

Kirk and Buckley might be called the philosophical conservatives. Goldwater might have set the stage for the liberty-minded conservatives. Irving Kristol clearly drew up the vision for the neoconservatives, and arguably Ronald Reagan may have formed his own blend by walking the line between Goldwater and Kristol’s world view. Under the banner of ‘compassionate conservatism‘ George W.Bush ceded complete ideological sway over the conservative movement to the neocons, in what might be referred to as Neocon Turbo, which resulted in eight years of transformational liberalism through President Barack Obama, and finally, the Tea Party.

Now the many tribes of conservatism want their movement back, but they can’t agree on what it is. I believe there is a prevailing majority view that was explained quite well by Senator Marco Rubio in a recent debate.To be clear, this is not my view of what conservatism should be, nor do I believe Senator Rubio is as good at walking as he is at talking. However, he summed up very well what a conservative is widely accepted to mean in 2016:

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  1. Limited government. If it’s not in the constitution, it doesn’t belong at the federal level.

  2. Free enterprise. The only system that can make poor people richer without making rich people poorer.

  3. A Strong National Defense. The world is safest when America is the strongest nation in the world.

2016 Mainstream Definition of ‘Conservative’ as told by Senator Marco Rubio

Personally, I identify most with the Goldwater libertarian brand of conservatism. I don’t object to Marco’s modern definition of the movement, with the possible exception of the third prong. If it were my movement to define I would stop the statement in the third prong immediately after “Strong National Defense.” The emphasis on World Safety and the US responsibility for the same smacks of the global neoconservatism which has dragged the party away from the fundamental principle of limited government.

In my view, ALL definitions of conservatism must contain the following basic elements:

Limited government is a both a financial and a moral imperative. Limited Government means holding to the powers granted to the federal government by the constitution. It MUST involve drastic reductions in SIZE (headcount and dollars) and SCOPE (the breadth of issues the federal government controls). Standing alone, tax cuts are meaningless

Free markets create jobs. Risk takers and producers build things, not presidents or senators.

We are created (or born if you prefer) with individual rights. These rights are not granted by government. The government has no role in ensuring fairness or equal outcomes, only equality under the law. Individuals do not owe their labor or property to any greater good or cause.

We must have the strongest National Defense in the world, but we must put the capital D back in defense. The only objective should be to protect the mainland and overseas interests from imminent threat of harm.

In response to accusations of ‘not being a conservative’, I have heard some respond “what good have conservatives done for us?” Based on my definition, I would simply respond: “We haven’t tried one yet.”

Maybe the term is changing as we speak. I just want to be notified once it all shakes out.  If ‘Conservative’ comes to mean anything other than the my simple definition above, then I am eager to align myself with another word.

 

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Rand is Out. Now What?

Rand Paul has ended his presidential campaign to the great dismay of this writer and many like-minded libertarian leaning conservatives. For the first 72 hours or so afterward, I have observed many different reactions ranging from “Life is empty, nothing matters” (me), to “I’m voting 3rd party” and even “I guess it’s Bernie now!” (To the last person, you obviously have not been paying attention.)

It is difficult to make the transition. When you have been so convinced that you are supporting the right guy, it is easy to fall into a pattern of believing that everyone else is garbage. I am nowhere near as inspired by, or confident in, any of the remaining GOP candidates as I was Rand Paul.

cool rand
“I’ll defend the entire bill of rights.”

It is worth noting that Rand Paul intentionally decided not to endorse anyone and according to his campaign he will not do so during the primary. I’m not sure if this is a political move, or if he legitimately doesn’t believe in any of them. Realistically, a Rand Paul endorsement would likely be taken very seriously by his loyal followers.

Life must go on. In the following paragraphs I’ll lay out a few considerations for the Rand Paul supporter. I won’t suggest that there is a “right choice” for any of us, because as it stands I am truly disaffected. I am officially undecided at this point.

Let’s start with the Third Party idea. Jim Webb has been toying with the idea of an independent  bid, but most agree the time for ‘pondering’ has passed and that Jim Webb is highly unlikely to be able to raise even the $8M it would take just to gain 50-state ballot access. This leaves us with the Libertarian Party  featuring Gary Johnson as the probable nominee.  Ideologically, the Johnson option fits well with most libertarian leaning conservatives. Johnson is a republican leaning libertarian, mostly in line with Rand Paul on all major issues, with the exception of immigration.

The problem here is that it is difficult to inspire a large number of voters to back a candidate who candidly acknowledges he will not be elected. A vote for the Libertarian Party is a wish for the future. The party as it is currently positioned is not a serious player in the national political landscape. A visit to the party’s website reveals a solid platform built on the constitution and individual liberty. Truth and sincerity abounds. But why do all the candidate profile pictures look like selfies taken in the back of a comic book store?

There is something noble about voting in line with your principles, and being a part of the solution, and the dream of a better America. This must be balanced with the immediate reality: Either a republican or a democrat will be elected president this year. Is it more important to work towards meaningful long-term (very long-term) change by bringing the Libertarian Party mainstream, or to pick the already mainstream option likely to do the least amount of damage, or maybe even some good, in the short-term?

Ted CruzMany argue this is a clear choice for a Rand Paul supporter. Rand supported Ted Cruz in his 2012 campaign for senate, and the two, along with Mike Lee, have worked together many times on conservative initiatives including surveillance legislation and a successful filibuster which neutered the post-Sandy Hook gun control hysteria. But many Paul supporters are violently opposed to Cruz, attacking him viciously with allegations of being bought and paid for by banks, and missing the Audit the Fed vote.

Where Ted Cruz falls drastically short of Rand Paul, is in authenticity. Ted Cruz is every bit as smart and knowledgeable about the constitution, but he shifts shapes effortlessly  to conform to his environment, depending on the group to which he is currently pandering. This can be very unattractive. Ted has calculated precisely which buttons he needs to push in order to bring the right people to the polls. As a result, we have watched in horror as he channels Benny Hinn in front of the evangelicals, and emulates Dick Cheney to those who are convinced “the terrorists are coming!” and want more war. He is shameless in his analytics approach to capture the electorate.

To consider Cruz, one must be able to disregard what appears as dishonesty, and chalk it up to political gamesmanship. In reality, Ted Cruz’ conservative bona fides are legitimate and proven. There is a reason he is so deeply hated by the leadership of the party, who have actually warmed up to Trump out of sheer terror at the prospect of President Cruz. The Goldman Sachs canard is futile. A loan is not a donation. Ted Cruz owes Goldman Sachs interest payments, but there is no proof he owes them favors.

It has been harder and harder for me to admire Ted Cruz . . . to really’like’ him. He would probably be the most qualified in the field at filling SCOTUS slots, and he is likely to take steps toward reducing the size of federal government. On the other hand, he will not be able to address the issue of polarization, and would very likely be one of the most disliked presidents of all time. Isn’t there a better way?

Ben Carson – Ben is an admirable and respectable man. He is a conservative. He has shown a tendency to trip over his own feet when pressed on a question, or asked to elaborate on his position. In general, he does not display a lot of toughness, or sharpness. This is a problem. On foreign policy he has developed into a rather hawkish figure, and this does not play perfectly with a Rand supporter. There is nothing wrong with being a nice guy, but in the month long Donald Trump tirade where Ben was the butt of every joke, he failed to stand up for himself in any significant way. He never regained his momentum.

It was for these reasons that I called for Ben to drop out the day after Iowa, before I knew my own candidate would bow out first.

Conservative pickings are slim at this point, however. If our main concerns are the size and scope of government and the national debt, and the role of the executive in furthering those aims, Ben Carson is at least in the neighborhood, if not in the ballpark.

What we won’t get out of any of the remaining candidates

We can probably completely forget about dovish foreign policy, criminal justice reform, and bringing in new young liberty-minded conservatives to the party, with any of the candidates left running. These prospects died with the campaign of our good friend, the Senator from Kentucky I’m afraid.

So what if we can’t get comfortable with one of those three options?

 

If the three options above don’t pan out, I believe we have lost. I don’t mean ‘we the republicans have lost the election’. Republicans may very well win this year, up against the terrible, horrible, no good very bad democratic slate of candidates the political gods have bless us with. But as we have learned, putting a republican in the white house does not advance our cause. When I say ‘we have lost’,  I mean ‘we the libertarian-minded conservatives have failed to advance our cause.’

I don’t suggest abstaining from voting. I don’t suggest vowing “Never to vote” for any one candidate. In the end, there is some value in being pragmatic. Both Hillary and Rubio would expand the federal government and expand foreign involvement in conflicts. Is there a chance that Rubio picks better supreme court justices? I don’t know.

I plan on watching the New Hampshire debate this Saturday as a free agent. I expect it will be the last debate for at least 3 candidates, probably 4. Since I have seen them all before, I’ll be watching for different things this time. The intangibles. I know all of their positions. I’m looking for optimism now, and true leadership. I’m looking for the man or woman who I can proudly point to and tell my children, “that’s our President.

 

After Iowa

In my view, only two candidates should drop out based on the results of the Iowa caucuses: Ben Carson and Rick Santorum.

Why Ben Carson who landed in 4th place, ahead of my candidate of choice Rand Paul, you ask? It’s simple. Ben Carson has no room for growth. He is a faith-based conservative (as is Santorum), and if Iowa does anything, it decides the King of the faith-based conservatives. Cruz has taken this crown. (See past winners Huckabee and Santorum, both unsuccessful in seeking the nomination, but undoubtedly the evangelical leaders in their respective fields).

A strong argument could be made that Bush, Kasich, Fiorina, and Christie should also drop, because Marco Rubio is running away with the establishment. The reason I am not so confident in this idea is because I am not certain that it is only establishment republicans flocking to Marco Rubio.

There seems to be something very unique about New Hampshire. Kasich is in second place in many polls there, which is very odd considering he is a pariah anywhere else. I think it is fair to give Christie, Kasich, Bush and Fiorina their last chance to appeal to some random groups of undecided voters on February 9th in New Hampshire before officially calling it quits, which I assume at least three of them will do immediately thereafter.

Many are calling it a three person race now, because that is what they desperately want. It makes the story more fun to tell, and better for media not to have so many faces on the screen at once.

I see it differently.  Carson’s voters are likely to branch out in a number of directions. Cruz and Rubio would likely take the lion’s share, with everyone else in the field maybe making small gains. A 10% swing would have an impact on Trump’s seemingly insurmountable national momentum, and could benefit any number of candidates. Personally, and without contempt, I would like to see Rand Paul capture back some of the disaffected who have flocked to Donald Trump. This could happen.

carson

I have nothing negative to say about Ben Carson, or his followers. He is a true conservative, and a good man. His quiet, loving, thoughtful and compassionate demeanor does not work for him against the louder, bolder, sharp and confident man who has captured the attention of voters who place faith above all other criteria. I wish him the very best, and I don’t think this will be the last we see of him. But it is time to bow out.

New Hope for the Establishment

It will come as a shock to many that in this, the year of the outsider, the ‘establishment’ is still very likely to come out on top.

I said early on that despite his strongest protestations, Donald Trump is an establishment candidate. At that point I did not even realize the precision of my statement. I only meant that with his money, fame, longstanding political connections and easy access to the media, he was very much LIKE the establishment we have come to disdain.

Of course, Trump wants you to believe that any candidate other than Trump is the establishment, as if the mere fact that he is not currently holding elected office makes him a foreigner to the game. This isn’t because he finds himself necessarily ideologically bound to an outsider position, but because it is the position that he calculated would be his best possible approach to obtain the position of immense power he has been seeking now for over 28 years.

Yes, 28 years. Remember that Donald first pondered the idea of running for president as a republican in 1988, but when he realized his positions didn’t line up with the republican party at that time, he rebranded and took more serious steps in 1999 under a reform party platform. When his reform candidacy never produced any steam, he rebranded himself again into a left-leaning New York moderate until 2015 when he saw the perfect opening to further his quest to run the country. He held his famous July “they’re rapists” announcement speech, and BAM! he was rebranded as a straight-talking anti establishment outsider. Armed only with angry speech and lacking  foundation in any tangible principles, he was ultimately challenged in the outsider lane by Ted Cruz. Whether you think Ted Cruz or Donald Trump won the exchange (I have an opinion, but I prefer neither of these two), it is revealing that Ted Cruz stayed where he was, and Donald ran for cover in the most unlikely of places. This week, Donald has rebranded once again, and willingly accepted his new role as the establishment favorite.

It started early last week when Trump, facing polling pressure in Iowa, sounded his dog whistle to the establishment deal-makers, that he would not blow up the Washington game, but would join in, even if as referee. In an interview on Fox and Friends, Trump upped the ante on his attacks on Ted Cruz: “When you have somebody that can’t get along with anybody in Washington, you’re not going to get deals done,” he explained.  Finally, when asked how he would operate in Washington, he casually revealed how he will get those WINS he’s been promising us: “You get Congress, you get ‘em together, you get everybody together in a room, you cajole, you get along, you have dinner, and you make deals.”

deals

This is textbook Establishment operating procedure. In fact, on day one of Establishment orientation, on page one of the Establishment handbook, it says “We make deals.” The generally accepted conservative principle is that our elected leaders have done enough cajoling. We know what happens when they make deals. Gang of Eight was a deal. Omnibus was a deal. Obamacare was a deal. Politicians on both sides won. We lost.

Three days after the “Nasty” Cruz rant, Donald Trump put his dog whistle away and shouted from the bullhorn. This is a video of Donald Trump standing in front of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit (this is what the ‘outsiders’ call a special interest group) pledging his commitment to federal government subsidies while READING FROM A SCRIPT. He recites his oath at around 1:38. For the man who ‘tells it like it is’ and ‘won’t ever use a teleprompter’, certainly his supporters were disappointed to watch him read ceremonial words of loyalty to Iowa’s largest special interest, even though he claims to have written the words (“I wrote some stuff down”). On a discrete side note, in the furtherance of RFS, Trump puzzlingly assigned a large regulatory role to the EPA, one of two federal government departments he previously said he would consider eliminating.

In typical Establishment fashion, Trump’s pledge to the Corn people garnered a quick return. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We all win.” Within hours of his impassioned ethanol speech, one of the longest sitting pieces of GOP furniture in the nation with over 35 years in office, Terry Branstad, broke with longstanding tradition of pretending to be neutral, and publicly endorsed Trump. (Technically, he did not endorse Trump, he merely said Iowa needed to defeat Cruz), but in a race that has been all but narrowed down to Cruz/Trump, this is endorsement by default.

To pit establishment against establishment (Trump/Clinton) like we haven’t seen since Bush/Gore would be a tragic result in a year with several solid conservative candidates.

Even the Trump loyalists must admit he is a different candidate this week than he was three weeks ago. The scripted ethanol speech paints a clear picture. Donald Trump wants to win. He will say anything, and be anyone, to claim victory.

Ask yourself: who will he become if he wins the nomination?  To contend with Hillary, Trump WILL MOVE LEFT. Disagree with me?   What set of core principles has Donald Trump enunciated that you believe he will fall back on?

Meanwhile, Donald’s new friends in the hallowed halls of venerable GOP society have found another way to win.

 

 

Vegas Debate Recap

Perhaps it is because this primary season has been so long and overblown, I found myself a little bit less on the edge of my seat, and frankly slightly bored about halfway through last night’s debate.

Accordingly, I’m not going to dissect the finer points of the content or the storylines. I’ll just include a few takeaways about where I think we are now.

  1. We have seen enough of these candidates. It is definitely time for several of them to throw in the towel. I hate to suggest this, because many would argue that my own personal favorite candidate should be one of them due to his recent low polling. I disagree with that suggestion for a few reasons, but there are several candidates who have seen no momentum, or they peaked early and fell quickly. I don’t know why they hang on at this point. In my opinion, Fiorina, Carson, Kasich and the entire slate of undercard candidates should just walk away.
  2. Ironically, just three days after revealing my affliction with Trump Derangement Syndrome, I have been cured of it. I can’t quite explain it. Something about Trump was just less obnoxious to me last night. He was slightly less arrogant and he refrained from the playground attacks on his opponents. I still rank him pretty low on my list of options because I am looking for a more serious candidate, and one with a better understanding of the constitution and a stronger commitment to limited government, but I do not see him as a destructive force as I did before. At least for last night, I … almost … liked him. Maybe if he can go a few days without inciting violence I can start to take him a bit more seriously.
  3. Rand Paul had his best debate. In the past his eyes have been glazed over and he’s looked angry and quirky. In this debate he did not back off his position, he was clear, and his eyes were wide open. He rattled Rubio and demonstrated a masterful understanding of the lesson we refuse to learn. My concern is that voters in this election do not want to learn this lesson. I think I am starting to understand why people do not want to accept the reality, and I will write something about it very soon. That being said, I do not think Rand can expect to have a better showing. Therefore, if his numbers don’t see a spike, I don’t think it’s going to happen this time around, and we need to focus on a conservative education campaign for future generations. This is the man who can unite the country, bring in young thinkers to the party and restore the idea of individual liberty through limited government, if we could only get over our obsession with foreign entanglements. Let’s hope we see a #randrally.
  4. Bush and Christie were more of the same. Sadly, if I were going to pick an establishment candidate, I would pick either of these guys over Rubio. ‘The die is cast’ though. I didn’t include them in the ‘walk away now’ category, because statistically they did well in the eyes of their supporters last night and could see a spike, but I think they should walk away very soon.
  5. Rubio established himself firmly as the unashamed establishment neocon standard-bearer. He will carry on the proud tradition of GWB, Mccain, Graham, Cornyn and Mcconnell. It is ironic that so many see foreign policy as his strength. He is a slick little dictionary of rehearsed pseudo-patriotic platitudes. He all but promises war. In a Rubio administration, we would see an increase in the size of government and an expansion of our overseas presence, if we are lucky enough to avoid all-out World War III. There is likely to be no difference whatsoever between a Rubio and a Clinton presidency other than different shades of rhetoric.
  6. I have often considered Cruz my second choice, but he is really starting to annoy me with his fence-riding ‘analytics’ campaign, in which he tries to cover all bases and avoid making a single mistake.  I know that deep down he is a constitutional conservative, and perhaps the best equipped of all to select supreme court justices, but I am concerned about his authenticity. I will be writing something very soon concerning the ‘analytics’ approach to a presidential campaign.

That’s it for now. Simply put, not much changed after last night, except for, in my view, Rand Paul completing a hail mary pass to the end-zone. A shake-up is necessary. Let’s hope we see it soon.

Trump Derangement Syndrome, and a bit about Muslims

I want to talk about Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS).

TDS comes in two forms. The first form is embodied in the Trump idolizers. These folks adorn themselves in Trump apparel, use the term “cuckservative’ a lot, and type in all CAPS on social media. Those suffering from this brand of TDS (Type I) are likely to tell you that they will NEVER vote for ANYONE except TRUMP. If you are not on the TRUMPTRAIN then you must be a LOSER.

The second form of TDS (Type II) manifests itself in those who loathe Donald Trump to such a degree, that they are unable to utter his name without the involuntary formation and projection of spittle from the mouth. To the afflicted,  Trump is the anti-christ. They spend all day on social media firing off shots at Trump and engaging in long Twitter-debates with those afflicted with TDS Type I. They are hardly able to focus on any of the good candidates or any current issues because of their unhealthy obsession with Donald Trump.

I have to make a confession. This has gone undiagnosed for some time, but the results are in. I suffer from a rare strain of intermittent Type II TDS. It comes and goes, which is why I have been able to live with it undetected for so long. I’ve been suffering in the dark.

I learned this about myself about a month ago when I looked through a few days worth of my Tweets and realized they had taken on an uglier tone. I was spending more time lashing out at Trump than I was discussing my candidates of choice. I had undergone a 3-day TDS Type II bender. I’ve been trying to get clean ever since.

I’ve been able to take control of my condition. I’ve been focusing on the positive and spending time developing a few new hobbies. I am well on my way to recovery. The first step, they say, is admitting you have a problem. Right now, unfortunately, I’m having a relapse.

Donald Trump has suggested we ban muslims from entering the country. Let me clear one thing up very quickly. This ridiculous idea does not make me think Donald Trump is a racist. Fear of being labeled a “racist” or being “politically incorrect” is not what keeps me up at night.

Donald Trump, evokes hysterical populist pleas that rely on the same flaws in logic as the gun control, black lives matter and ‘Christians are evil’ factions. Relying on the most readily accessible and convenient group of scapegoats du jour as a prop (has anyone noticed Trump’s former targets ‘the mexicans’ seem to have gotten a get out of jail free card now that he has moved on to muslims?), while events are fresh in the populist psyche, Donald Trump, like most big government authoritarians, sends a message to the vulnerable base: You need me. You need the government. Only I am smart or strong enough to save you.

He even uses many of the same rhetorical devices that Obama frequently employs in his hand-wringing gun control speeches, drawing on themes of ‘common sense’ and ‘I told you so.’

He used the same method with the mass deportation scheme for illegal immigrants. When pressed, he did not back off his plan to deport all illegal immigrants, and he defended the idea at all of his rallies. “He won’t back down, he’s not afraid of anyone, he tells it like it is,” they said. No one bothered to take a look at his plan and see that the mass deportation of 11 million plus illegal aliens was NEVER in the plan.

His plan entirely dodges the issue of the illegal immigrants already in the country aside from the no-brainer deportation of the 76,000 illegal immigrants who have committed felonies. When you remove the key feature of his plan (which was never actually in it) you have a wall that Mexico pays for (a cheap gimmick), and aside from that you are left with an identical plan to  that of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and yes, even much of Marco Rubio’s dreaded Gang of Eight plan.

The tragedy is not that Trump actually believes we should ‘ban muslims’ from entering the United States. The tragedy is that he is simply pulling rhetorical strings and pleasing his crowd. Trump knows the idea is fantasy. We do not believe our government has the ability to properly vet refugees and immigrants, but we think we are going to be able to identify muslims?  Is there a blood test, or are we going with a polygraph? A Quran pop quiz perhaps?

There simply is no room for Trump to propose plans that would work. All of the candidates have reasonable, well-thought-out plans. Trump succeeds (in polls) because he proposes plans that could never work. He has given people permission to verbalize their innermost thoughts; the things that they’ve only been able to say quietly for the past 50 years.

It’s simple really. With each new wild idea, each one-upping the last, the stiff shirts condemn Trump with righteous indignation. Completing the cycle, the mob is energized and fueled by the perceived establishment conspiracy to stifle the ‘silent majority.’ Poll numbers see a quick spike. The longer Trump goes without saying something crazy, his numbers start to lag, so he rolls out a new shocker. He swings like Tarzan from outrage to outrage, while the sane and thoughtful voices from those with their feet on the ground cannot be heard above his jungle cries.

Forget practicality for a moment. Assuming it were possible, should we be banning muslims from the US?

I am a plain-speaking constitutional conservative. I do not believe in using cute and convenient words to avoid stating the obvious because it might be offensive to someone. I do not believe in the promotion of cultural diversity simply for diversity’s sake. I also like to think that I have the capacity to understand root causes of problems, and see through fearmongering belligerence. Above all, one of the most important values, in my mind, of a constitutional conservative, is an understanding not just of the mechanics of the constitution, but the underlying themes. Despite the frequent liberal (and lately, Trumpian) claims that the founders would not have understood the times we are living in now, these themes are timeless. One of these themes is absolute blindness to (not contempt for, nor promotion of) religion by the state.

If you do not apply your Constitutional thinking and rationale consistently, you lose an enormous amount of credibility. It is a simple document. If you resort to it when it protects your particular right of interest, then you must not explain away or minimize those provisions which would protect your wayward neighbor.

I always like to think of the principled constitutional conservative viewpoint as providing a rational response to many different types of social and political hysteria.

When a movie theater gets shot up by a college student and the gun control apparatchiks start warming up their bombast, the rational voice responds: You can’t blame guns or lawful gun owners for what this crazy kid did.

When a fundamentalist mormon in southern Utah is convicted of child molestation and polygamy, and the secular progressives decry ‘organized religion’, the rational voice responds: This is not representative of the Mormon Church. There are bad people in the world and this is one of them.

When a middle-aged man storms into a Planned Parenthood clinic and starts shooting, and before the bodies are cold there are politicians blaming other politicians, the  the rational voice responds: Opposing abortion, or government funding of abortion does not lead to murder. 99.9% of those who oppose abortion do not believe that abortion providers should be bombed or burned alive.

When a police officer in a major city uses a racial slur and fires 5 shots into the back of a criminal who is evading arrest, and kills him, followed by protests and claims of ‘systemic injustice’ and ‘institutional prejudice’ the rational voice responds: There are over a million police officers in the United States. 999,999 want to keep people safe. 999,999 care about everyone in their community, regardless of race.

What is our rational response to islamic terrorism?  The first is to realize that we are actually quite safe. Paris and San Bernadino notwithstanding, violent crime is at an all time low in the United States. Terrorism is  one of the very least likely ways that you might die. It is certainly one of the more frightening ways to go, but statistically speaking, you have  a better chance of slipping on a banana in your local grocery store and dying than being the next domestic casualty of ISIS. If our focus is to be on those preventable occurrences endangering American citizens, then the next three debates should focus squarely on drunk driving and the 10,000 people it will kill next year, as it did last year, the year before, and the year before.

It is the enumerated responsibility of our federal government to keep us safe from foreign threats, however. It is one of the few original purposes that has survived the expansion. So, do we have any good ideas from current presidential candidates on how to protect us from the foreign threat? Rand Paul has identified 30 nations with significant jihadist movements and suggested an immediate moratorium on visas from these countries (class and religion neutral), as well as longer waiting periods on those from visa-waver nations.

The merits of this plan, and whether or not and to what degree they pander to the base, could be the subject of debate. The point is, these are religion neutral, thoughtful actions aimed at keeping our nation safe from foreign threats. This action would be far broader than Trump’s muslim ban. The difference is it is less exciting to those who want their disdain for muslims (or anyone different from them) validated, and it stands on much firmer legal and constitutional ground. No one has suggested that it is inappropriate to put a school or government building on complete lockdown after an uncontrolled active shooter type situation, but school shooters tend to be white males. Can you imagine the reaction to a ban on white males from bringing backpacks to school?

Rand Paul is facing the very real possibility of being excluded from the next debate due to low polling numbers. A true political outsider, with constitutionally sound ideas concerning limited government is likely to be the next victim of this Trump phenomonen. Trump is claiming to be the man that Rand Paul actually is, and always has been, dating back to Trump’s Clinton/Obama days and before.

Trump does not even need to win the nomination to destroy the constitution. The impact he is having on this primary is nearly certain to lead to victory by Hillary Clinton and further expansion of government and, ironically, very Trumpian ideas on the role of government in solving all of our problems. Likewise, Trump does not need to win the nomination to strengthen the caliphate. There is one thing the liberals have right. National proclamations of contempt for members of a religious group are certain to promote a wave of radicalization.  Young muslims throughout the US, previously harmless, are hearing the national conversation. All young people are looking for a cause, and Trump is giving them one.

So I’m not apologizing for, or concealing my TDS anymore. I don’t hate Trump personally, but I am deeply concerned about what he is revealing about who we are and how we think. Most importantly, I’m concerned about who is being silenced, and cast out, in the process.

 

 

Annise Parker and the Two Egregious Fallacies of HERO

Houstonians voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to repeal a three-week-old law championed by Mayor Annise Parker, purporting to “secure non-discrimination protections for all hardworking Houstonians”. Houston is a highly diverse city in a very conservative state, and much was made of the diversity of the population in the chorus of sympathy and disbelief in the local media Wednesday morning. The local media can hardly make heads or tails of how a city that could easily elect and re-elect an openly gay mayor, could then “reverse course” and “vote for discrimination” as some have described it. While the advocates of the ordinance blame religious bigots and extreme conservatives for a deceiving campaign trying the ordinance to “men in women’s bathrooms”, Mayor Parker herself engaged in a deceptive campaign, conveying two egregious fallacies.

Fallacy #1. LGBT and other protected classes “lost” something as a result of this vote. In other words, classes of people were protected, and now they are sitting ducks without legal recourse in the event of discrimination.

Federal law protects employees of any organization with 15 or more employees against discrimination, so long as the employee is in one of eight enumerated ‘protected classes’. While sexual orientation and gender identity are not specifically listed as protected classes, the EEOC and Federal Court Appellate decisions have unambiguously reached consensus that issues of sexual orientation and gender identity fall under the category of “Sex”, which is an enumerated category of prohibited discrimination. The ordinance provided protections for other forms of discrimination as well, such as discrimination in housing. Thankfully, none of these protections are lost, because the Fair Housing Act has, and will continue to protect home buyers and renters if they are members of protected classes.

A sub-fallacy (if such a term exists) common to HERO advocates is that average ordinary citizens who are the victims of discrimination do not have the resources to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit in federal court. Luckily for those concerned, victims of invidious discrimination have traditionally been those with minimal economic means, which is why the processes for filing discrimination claims have been relegated to administrative agencies (EEOC for employment, HUD for housing) at low cost, and at convenient locations within the community. Public Assistance is also available a taxpayer expense to cover the costs for those who have the need.

Discrimination is the act of treating someone differently based on membership in a certain identifiable group, or due to a certain characteristic.Texas is an employment at-will state (aka “right to work”), which means that employers do not need to have a reason to end an employment relationship. In fact, an employer may lawfully terminate an employee, for no reason at all. This applies to all employees unless those employees are covered under other laws. What HERO would have provided, was more of those ‘other laws’.

Practically speaking, it is very easy for an employer to terminate employees for no reason at all, unless those employees are members of protected classes. The burden to prove that the employer’s motive was discriminatory is not on the employee, it is the employer’s burden to prove they had a legitimate non-discriminatory purpose.

Fallacy #2. The ordinance was not about bathrooms. This logical heresy has been perpetuated by two common brands of subterfuge:

“The word ‘bathroom’ is not even in the ordinance!” This is true. Neither are the words “church” or “newspaper” found in the text of the first amendment to the US constitution, or the word “gun” in the second amendment. This argument is simple and lazy deceit. Where did the idea that transgender persons would be free to use the bathroom of their choice come from? Annise Parker and her supporters would have you believe it came from the den of snakes that is the right wing media and religious zealots. Surely, only hateful bigots could disagree with her.

Or could it be that the original version of the bill expressly addressed the issue of transgender access to restrooms of choice, and was only removed to due to political pushback? The truth is bathrooms always were a key issue (though probably not the sole aim) even in the drafters minds. They simply realized they could not be open about this particular objective if they ever hoped to gain support for the ordinance. From that point forward they danced around the question of bathrooms with this next bit of elusiveness:

“It is already against the law to enter a bathroom for the purpose of causing a disturbance. HERO offers no protection for those who would commit crimes in restrooms.” 

Well thank goodness for that. In logical fallacy world, this is a double-whammy. This argument is a red herring offered up to defeat a strawman. You see, opponents of this ordinance (63% of those who voted, likely a higher percentage who stayed home) were not concerned with disturbances in the women’s restroom. They were concerned with the mere presence of adult males in the women’s restroom. Call them old fashioned, traditional, or living in the past. The vast majority of Americans, for the time being, appreciate the substantive and meaningful differences between men and women, and would prefer to maintain a degree of separation in an intimate area where adults and young people alike disrobe as a matter of course.

No advocate of this ordinance would EVER state that the ordinance would not protect a transgender person from using the restroom of the sex they ‘identify’ with.

Mayor Parker sent chills up the legs of her supporters after the defeat of the bill with this platitude: “No one’s rights should be subject to popular vote.” Sounds legitimate. Noble even… The reality is that no one’s rights were in jeopardy. The vast majority of Americans do not have discrimination protections. Those in protected classes (originally aimed at the injustices of slavery and second-class status for women, somehow modernly expanded to include sexual orientation, as if the plight is comparable) are still protected by federal law.

The “Bathroom ordinance” was defeated by a mass disinformation campaign, they said. The truth is, disseminating information to the public explaining ballot language on state or municipal ordinances has always been a messaging game. Each side must boil the explanation down to one sentence or less ( a few words is better ) in order for the message to land with disinterested off-year election voters. Given the dishonesty of Parker’s own messaging highlighted above, can she really complain about the tactics used by the other side, merely because they were more effective than hers?

The people of Houston did not discriminate when they overwhelmingly elected Annise Parker to run the city THREE TIMES. It turns out, most people really don’t care about a candidate’s sexual orientation. They believed in Mayor Parker, and evaluated her credentials aside from the fact she was openly gay. They thought, “her sexual preference has absolutely nothing to do with the way she would run this city”. Nearing the end of her third successful term, has she proven them wrong?