En Tequila Es Verdad/progressive conservatism/post/2009/01/14/0756

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January 14, 2009 7:56 AM - Woozle

Woozle said...

Ok, here we start to get into the meat... (My apologies for the relatively long wait; I got sucked into some other projects last night, and then I ended up ripping out a lot of things I started to write which I eventually realized weren't really on topic.)

So the difference isn't always money vs. strategy -- okay. (Certainly in the immigration example you cite, it's the conservatives who want to throw money at the problem while liberals are more inclined to say "what problem?".)

Disraeli distills it down to principles versus tradition and custom, and I think he may have hit the nail on the head. I've lately been saying that "liberals have principles, conservatives have rules"; to me, the choice is clear as to which one is preferable, but it sounds like you're essentially agreeing that conservatives prefer following rules (because they're based in custom and tradition) over following principles (because being entirely consistent with one's principles may require - gasp - breaking with tradition).

That being the case, "progressive conservatism" now strikes me as an oxymoron: how can you support change while also working to support static rules?

But perhaps I'm being too narrow-minded in my interpretation of "respecting tradition". Perhaps conservatives view "traditions" in much the same way liberals view "principles" -- as goals towards which the rules are intended to move us.

So then it comes down to the same question, again: what are conservative principles? What are these traditions that underlie everything?

You mention "the American way of life", which I gather represents at least a large chunk of the tradition-principles valued by (American) conservatives.

I'll confess to wincing when Superman said (in the first movie, 1978) that what he was defending was "truth, justice, and the American Way", but it also got me thinking about it: I had to reconcile Superman's essential goodness and innocence with this apparent allegiance to Americanism -- which (at the time) I associated with unpleasant conservative habits such as mindless flag-waving. religion, glossy pretense, and wars.

What I eventually came around to was this:

(1) Yes, there is a lot that's good about America. Innovation, tolerance, diversity, liberty, equal opportunity -- these are all American traditions I value. (Some exist more as respected principles than actual phenomena, but as long as the respect is genuine we can make progress towards realization.)
(2) There is also a lot that's bad about America. Poverty, our horrid medical system (the most advanced technology in the world, now available to fewer people than ever before), American imperialism, American litigiousness, violence, evangelism and fundamentalism, bigotry... these are all things which we seem to excel at. Other countries may have them too, but they seem to take root here first. (I'm mainly comparing us to other Euro-centric countries, for now; the whole Western Civ Uber Alles thing is a different debate.)

My point: things which are good about America aren't good just because they're American.

Larger point: traditions aren't always good.

How can we tell the difference between good traditions and bad traditions? I have my own answer, but I'd like to know how a progressive conservative answers this first.


Re abortion...

First, you define "progressive" as "seeking change", then you use this definition to justify revoking hard-won progress because that's "change". This argument strikes me as intellectually dishonest.

You can't just go back and forth between two states and call it "change". You can't push society back towards the middle ages and call that "change". We "changed" from a state of prosperity and debt-reduction under Clinton to a state of unprecedented indebtedness, economic crisis, and war under Bush. So Bush is a progressive?

In order to have progress, you have to have a goal. What's the goal of conservative anti-abortion activism?

If it's "reducing the number of abortions", conservative policy loses. Outlawing abortions doesn't reduce the number performed, it just makes them more dangerous (increasing the ultimate cost to society). "Abstinence-based education" increases the abortion rate, as does withholding contraceptives or requiring parental consent to receive them. (Does requiring parental consent for teen abortions affect the abortion rate? I suspect it doesn't help, but I don't have time to research it. Some numbers and sources would be helpful; I would think that the main effect would be to increase the teen pregnancy rate and the number of illegal abortions.)

If the goal is "reducing the number of unwanted children", conservative policy loses again for much the same reasons. Conservatives do put some effort towards improving adoption rates, but this is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount they spend on EPIC FAIL.

Progress towards compromising with people who are demonstrably wrong is not progress in the sense we are talking about.

I might be willing to concede the need for continuing to ban abortion in the 2nd and 3rd trimester, but I would need to understand how it is helpful.