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Monday, January 17, 2011

WAITING FOR THE FIRST ACT TO BEGIN

The nation is waiting; some patiently, some in frustration, while the media subjects us to never ending analysis of the Tucson shooter's demented mind and seeks political explanations for his amoral act. The wait is today compounded by the annual blizzard of platitudes that this same media and its commentators, as well as politicians of all stripes, feel is necessary to explain why the message of Martin Luther King Jr. has "still not been fulfilled". Again, the political component of these messages is hard to conceal.

But wait we must until the 112th Congress finally gets to work. Even then, when the gavels fall and the sessions begin in earnest, pro forma political posturing is first on the agenda. The new Republican majority in the House will stage a debate and a vote, entirely symbolic, to repeal the Obama/Pelosi/Reid health care reform bill passed in the previous Democrat controlled congress. While public support for such a repeal is strong and even some Democrats like Charles Schumer (D-NY) agree that some revisions are appropriate, the Democrat majority in the Senate and the Democrat in the White House make passage of actual repeal an obvious impossibility, but the new Republican House majority must make its statement.

Then there is the issue of increasing the legal debt limit for the nation. Republicans, especially newly elected representatives associated with the Tea Party movement are vowing to oppose such an increase. Some seem to actually believe that is a viable position. Whether that position is based on ignorance of the international financial system and basic macro-economics or simple ideological intransigence, it will, in the end, be rejected by wiser Republican leaders in the Congress. While opposition may to some Republicans, be just a negotiating strategy to gain a commitment from Democrats to make large spending cuts, few members of Congress of either party believe that the debt limit, which has already been reached, cannot be increased without severe damage to the economy, so it will be increased. The time to limit further increases after this is now, not when the new limit has been reached. So the nation will continue to wait for details and legislative action on significant spending cuts and yes, "revenue enhancement" a.k.a. tax increases. Republicans, especially the Tea Party wing will dig in their heels in opposition to any tax increases but the long term solution to the stratospheric annual deficits and the $14 trillion plus federal debt simply cannot be found without a combination of the two. Tax "adjustments", "reform" or whatever euphemisms that will be applied, may have to wait until after the 2012 elections but their simply is not enough spending on the discretionary side of the budget to make cuts the sole remedy.

All these efforts are complicated by the Left-Right, Conservative-Liberal, divide in the country and the Congress as well as the internal divisions in the Republican Party in Congress as it struggles to define itself. It should be easy or at least intellectually comforting to be a political "conservative" today. Conservatives are buoyed by the success of the Republican party in the November, 2010 mid-term congressional elections and the dungeon level approval ratings of liberal Democrat leaders in the Congress. Republicans in Congress have specific, although broadly defined, public policy goals. Liberals, self styled "progressives" and other elements of the Left are in disarray and are fighting amongst themselves over who is liberal enough and what strategies should be followed to bring about a "progressive" resurgence.

Still, the conservative political side of the electorate is divided and is exhibiting flaws that describe a potential vulnerability and all too often an embarrassing nuttiness. The basic precepts of conservative philosophy are clear and easy to comprehend and defend: maximize individual liberty within a context of basic social responsibility as opposed to liberalism's philosophy of maximizing social collectivism at the expense of individual liberty and the dominance of government; ensure that government remains the servant and not the master of the people which means clear lines of transparency and accountability. This manifests itself in terms of limiting the regulatory structure and powers of the government. It also inevitably must address the size of government and the taxing authority that govt. uses to sustain its bureaucratic reach.

Conservatives believe that the first responsibility of government is to provide for the physical and economic security of those it governs, thus a conservative government would emphasize national interests over certain concepts of internationalism which come into conflict with national interests. In keeping with the emphasis on individual liberty, conservatives support a free market economy, including its flaws, as the best system available for economic growth, social mobility and high standards of living.

These few, clear concepts should need little defense, especially in the context of the economic and social meltdowns in the more advanced welfare states of Western Europe, the historically rapid acceptance of free market conversion in the socialist states of Russia, China and Vietnam and the four decade old collapse of the socialist experiment in Cuba. But political/economic conservatism in the American context is different. The prominent voices of U.S. conservatism contain elements of extremism, ignorance and intolerance that offer easy targets for the liberal opposition. The significant "independent" voting constituency, which currently stands at 38%, exceeding both the liberal Democrats and the conservative Republicans, while itself conservative leaning in principle, is seeking practical, common sense solutions to the nation's problems, not heavily ideological prescriptions which have an aura of intolerance, self-righteousness, and disdain for all opposing thought, that is also commonly exhibited by the far Left.

Simply put, who should be the face of conservatism in America? Fortunately, the most intolerant and self-righteous voices of the politically organized "religious right" seem to have diminished in the public arena but the question remains. Should it be the array of talk show hosts, who by definition lack any kind of accountability except ratings, which seem to have a positive correlation to the level of inflammatory rhetoric spewed forth by the hosts? This phenomenon is indicative of the entertainment factor in political punditry and falls into the category of those hockey fans who go to the games more for the fights than the athletic prowess of the players. Political pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Glen Beck and of course the simple minded slogan queen herself, Sarah Palin, have to preserve ratings and readers by adopting uncompromising and often simplistic or even factually inaccurate and hostile approaches to political issues.

To be sure, the Left has its own entertainers and provocateurs in Keith Oberlmann, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, and columnists like Frank Rich, and the permanently hand wringing Bob Herbert, who can't seem to comprehend that the American public has actually rejected their collectivist philosophy. But conservatives seem to take the role of their media interlocutors more seriously than do the liberals. The result is a more extreme and less informed conservative electorate that is a captive to slogans and name calling.

Conservatives, who don't accept the lowest common denominator posturing of the Limbaugh-Palin nexus, are branded "Republicans in name only" or "RINOs" but conservatives and conservative leaning Independents do not need to be Republicans to be "conservatives" if the party is going to allow itself to be defined by these "pay for my thoughts" pundits.

So the nation must wait. Wait for the Republican Party to define itself; wait for a sensible agenda to be offered in the Congress; wait for a credible effort to sell that agenda to the voters and maybe, wait for 2012.
 
 
 

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