Why the GOP Can’t Criticize Itself

Ted CruzJonathan Bernstein made a funny, but we both know it is very serious. He compared two articles. First, Alex Massie‘s attack on Russell Brand’s “all those liberal politicians are really conservative” game. Second, Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry‘s attack on the “radical” wing of the Republican Party. He wrote, “One of them was about ‘an adolescent extremist whose hatred of politics is matched by his ignorance’—want to guess which one?” The joke is that although it was a description of Brand, it could easily have been a description of Ted Cruz or any number of other Republicans.

Bernstein’s article is about how it is good that Ponnuru and Lowry are calling out the Republican crazies, but that it is being done very gently. As he notes, “Indeed, Ponnuru and Lowry’s five-screen attack on the radicals is packed full of ‘on the other hand’ and ‘to be sure’ qualifications, so much so that at times it’s hard to tell whether the point is convincing convincable conservatives or if it’s to do just enough to be able to claim credit for being on the side of sanity.” My question is why this is. Why is it is that liberals have no problem calling out their own extremists but conservatives never do it.

I think I know the answer: conservatives agree on the essentials whereas liberals have a fair amount of disagreement as to where they are headed. Put another way, the Republicans have an extremely small tent and the Democrats have an unbelievable large tent. I get tired of pointing this out again and again and again. Republicans disagree about urgency. They disagree about tactics. But they do not disagree about goals. And those goals are stunningly archaic.

In a time and place where all land is owned and a man literally cannot make his own way, they want to ossify social positions because they think that they are currently about right. As I quoted social psychologist Paul Piff before, “Let’s imagine that you’re invited to a game of Monopoly. And you arrive at this game to find out that all the property’s been divided up. All of the money has already been handed out. But you’re told, ‘Hey: go ahead and sit down. Play the game; we’re going to give you a chance to play just like everyone else.'” That’s the way all Republicans want the world to be. That’s how they define “equality of opportunity.”[1]

In contrast, Democrats really do disagree about where we are going. This ranges from people who want only what we have now but with perhaps a slightly stronger safety net to people like Russell Brand who want guaranteed minimum incomes. (I’m guessing; I don’t really follow or care about Brand.) But with all of our breadth, what we don’t have are extremists like the Tea Party folk. On the left, that would be equivalent to people calling for the workers to own the means of production. The catastrophe of the Soviet Union long ago scared liberals away from those kinds of ideas. But strangely right wing military dictatorships (eg Augusto Pinochet) have not scared the right away from their path.

It is tiring to see people like Ponnuru and Lowry applauded every time they write articles that make the gentlest of criticism of the conservative movement. Do you know what Rich Lowry was talking about the last time I wrote about him? How Ted Cruz would flummox liberals because he was a smart Ivy Leaguer who thought like Sarah Palin. Ponnuru, of course, is a good critic of his own side. But he is careful in the extreme. And when he talks policy, he is as foolish as most other conservatives. The main thing, though, is that both men agree with Ted Cruz and company with regards to what they want. They would just like these crazies to be smarter about getting to their promised land where all the poor will get their just, painful, but brief death.

Don’t be like Russell Brand: they can only win if you do not vote. Election day is 4 November 2014!


[1] This is clearly not the case for someone like Josh Barro, but even I have a hard time calling him anything but a good old fashioned liberal. And most Republicans would balk at this description of their goals, but this is what the policies that they want would produce. In May of this year, Avik Roy wrote that “equality of opportunity” was nothing more than simply not having laws forbidding people from doing something. In other words, as long as you don’t live in a caste system, you have equality of opportunity. So it isn’t like I’m being hyperbolic here.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Why the GOP Can’t Criticize Itself

  1. Although this is quite off topic, I have both learned and benefited from the wealth of information provided on "Frankly Curious," and also an older website in which you’ve written articles on. Upon reading every article on the latter website (especially in the subcategory entitled "Angry"), I have come to realize that Libertarianism is the most ideal governmental paradigm. Before reading your articles, I was not exceedingly involved in politics, as I am involved in healthcare; however, I commend you for entitling the political section of your former website as "Angry," as this is my view on current politics. More importantly, I wanted to ask your personal opinion of how the average citizen (me)could promote Libertarian politics, with the ultimate goal of one day (probably far off in the future)living in a Libertarian society. Besides spreading information to others, what other types of actions would you recommend the to layman to help bring us closer to a Libertarian society? I know this question is rather broad, but you seem to be a genius (as seen from your opinions and knowledge) in promoting Libertarian philosophy. Any suggestions, comments, or feedback is entirely welcome. Keep up the good work!

  2. @David – Thanks for the compliments. You are correct that in my earlier days, I was very much a libertarian. But my thinking has evolved. I still greatly respect the libertarian impulse, but I don’t think it works on a practical level. You can check out what I’ve written more recently about [url=http://franklycurious.com/index.php?amount=0&blogid=1&query=libertarian]libertarianism[/url]. Let me just clarify things from a practical perspective.

    Even when I was knee deep in it, working with the actual Libertarian Party, it bothered me that 95% of the other libertarians really only cared about guns and taxes. The stuff I cared about was just an add on [i]at best[/i]. What’s more, they were [i]only[/i] concerned about government power. The idea that corporations might wield comparable power was not even considered. They would make the lamest of arguments, "But a corporation can’t have an army and so can’t [i]force[/i] you!" As though the only way to coerce is via a gun.

    In addition to this, I found that more mainstream candidates might [i]talk[/i] libertarian, but they [i]governed[/i] conservative. In the end, I found that libertarianism was little more than a pleasant sounding cover for taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

    One can find reasonable libertarians. There is, for example, at least one writer at [i]Reason[/i] magazine who is pro-union. Most libertarians (in fact, every other libertarian I have ever met) [i]hate[/i] unions. There is nothing in libertarian ideology that should lead one to think that workers should not have the right to organize themselves. Yet 99% of all libertarians are against unions. Why? Because libertarians are mostly a bunch of privileged people who work in management or some other well paid professions where unions haven’t be necessary. If libertarianism is a viable political movement it would include workers, not exclude them.

    Looking back, I understand my attachment to libertarianism. In theory, it is great and I’m a pretty theoretical guy. Plus, I truly believe that people should just leave each other alone. But as a movement, it is 90% about taxes and I did not and do not think that reasonable levels of taxation are a big deal. Last year, I paid a higher percentage than Mitt Romney did. I did not complain. BTW: if you look at all taxes, our tax system is fairly flat. But libertarians still call for a flat federal income tax. This would make the overall tax system regressive. Why are libertarians for that? Some of it is ignorance, but mostly it is just what I said before: pure elitism.

    There [i]are[/i] what are called "Bleeding Heart" Libertarians. People like David Weigel. If I were involved in the movement, I would look into them, because that is what I was. I think it is more or less a libertarian who entered the movement from the left. It’s a small group–as I said, about 5%.

    But there is a much bigger problem facing the US right now: an explicitly theocratic proto-fascist Republican Party. The Democratic Party is hardly ideal. But while the Democrats may raise your taxes by a couple of percents, the Republicans [i]really[/i] want to limit your freedom.

    There is no doubt that the rhetoric of the Republican Party is more libertarian. But the [i]policies[/i] of the Democratic Party are far closer to the libertarian ideal.

    My ultimate advice is to not worry about parties and work to destroy the surveillance state. That’s the biggest long term threat to all of us. And that’s true even if what you really care about is taxes. Because I assure you that eventually those powers will be used to pick your pocket and give the money to the elites. It will also be used to stop you have taking the drugs you want and sleeping with the people you want. These systems never sit around unused and there are only so many terrorists.

    Good luck!

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