Repelled by Liberals, Repelled by Conservatives

Last election cycle I voted mostly-Democrat–joylessly. I expect I will do the same this November, holding my nose and gagging as I vote Democrat again. While I grew up mostly voting Democrat, I switched to (sort of) Republican back in the 1990s because of how convincing I found many conservative arguments and thinkers, and out of a certain disgust and disillusion I had with American liberalism and with the Democratic party. In recent years, however, what’s become of the conservative movement has left me increasingly disturbed and alienated from them too. I’ve defaulted to a “vote for whoever repels me the least” mentality, which I suspect describes how most people vote anymore.

I can no longer consider myself to lean either Republican or Democrat, because–really, truly–both parties disgust me. But not in the “Democrats are nowhere near liberal enough for me” way, and not in the “Republicans are nowhere near conservative enough for me” way either.

I view liberalism and conservatism as both extremely important, vital voices that need to be heard and have much to offer. Which is why I view the current state of affairs in our politics with dismay. Perhaps it’s always been like this and I was just too blind to see it, but I don’t think so. What often passes for liberalism today still repels me. Yet what often passes for conservatism also now repels me.

In years past I wrote any number of essays on why Democrats and so-called “liberals” (often really just closed-minded reactionaries) angered and disappointed me. I’ve tried hard to give up on anger–it’s usually a futile emotion–but I haven’t really lost much of my disappointment with liberals. Maybe on a few things, but only in the sense that if you’ve gone ten years without changing your mind on anything it probably means you’ve been playing in the shallow end of the thinking pool for way too long. I still think Democrats have squandered much of the goodwill they once had among voting blocs that were once reliably Democratic, and have often betrayed the very people (society’s lower classes) that it’s pretty much their job to look after. And don’t even get me started again on their continued tendency toward Political Correctness and the appalling habit of seeing racism and sexism in everything.

But in recent years, the conservative movement has been disgusting me as well, with what appears to be an axiomatic, a priori assumption of “government is evil and/or incompetent,” an appalling reverence for wealth accumulation, and an apparently complete lack of any sense of responsibility or duty to community and country, with the pompous, self-indulgent (or self-hating) “work harder you lazy bum” mentality which denies that the rest of society, including the government that is an inseparable part of it, had anything to do with anyone’s hard work leading to their own (or anyone else’s) success.

Liberals and conservatives, you both drive me nuts, and you libertarians manage to annoy me with your easy “the market can fix everything” magic mentality too. None of this is exactly a great thing to say if you want to win friends and influence people, but it’s how I’ve come to feel: you’re all driving me nuts.

Still, I’ve written so much about why liberals annoy me, I would be remiss in not saying that I agree with almost everything E.J. Dionne says here. This part in particular really struck home with me:

In other words, until recently conservatives operated within America’s long consensus that accepted a market economy as well as a robust role for a government that served the common good. American politics is now roiled because this consensus is under the fiercest attack it has faced in more than 100 years.

For most of the 20th century, conservatives and progressives alternated in power, each trying to correct the mistakes of the other. Neither scared the wits out of the other (although campaign rhetoric sometimes suggested otherwise), and this equilibrium allowed both sides to compromise and move forward. It didn’t mean that politics was devoid of philosophical conflicts, of course. The clashes over McCarthyism, the civil rights revolution, the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Great Inflation of the late 1970s remind us that our consensus went only so far. Conservatives challenged aspects of the New Deal-era worldview from the late 1960s on, dethroning a liberal triumphalism that long refused to take conservatism seriously. Over time, even progressives came to appreciate some essential instincts that conservatives brought to the debate.

Yeah, they did. I certainly did. Yet now it seems that conservatism has turned to a very ugly side. Not of racism (the cheap liberal answer to everything), but of making an enemy of our own democratically-elected government. To seeing our President and our elected officials of being incapable of doing anything that isn’t evil and/or dishonest. I have multiple self-declared conservative friends who can speak of the government as nothing but an enemy, and who can see no good of any government program other than perhaps the military. One of them recently said to me, in all seriousness, “Government is always the problem. Reagan proved it.”

Dude. That’s madness.

Anyway, read the whole thing and then come back here and tell me what you think Dionne gets wrong. Or what I get wrong. Or right. If you’re so inclined.

* This post will remain “sticky” at the top of this blog for a day or two. Look for other materials to appear beneath it. *

*Update: Post unstuck*

  • Ruth H

    Dean,
    Read this Roger L Simon post AND all the comments, maybe that will help. I used to be very liberal myself and as they say, the older I get the more conservative I get, yet I find myself appalled at some actions of some conservatives, a personal pique I suppose.
    Here’s Roger….
    http://pjmedia.com/rogerlsimon/2012/05/29/changing-minds-in-crunch-time/?singlepage=true

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/cityofbrass Aziz Poonawalla

    I’m sympathetic to your moderate impulse to blame both sides, I really am. But here we have clear evidence of the mainstream of one side going batshit crazy, and further doing so almost completely in reaction to the election of a single person. By any reasonable metric (I prefer the number of cloture votes in teh Senate, or the sales of ammunition nationwide), ODS is off the charts worse than BDS ever was.

    You invoke crazy lefties to support your insistence that its both sides, but you’re nutpicking from the left fringe. Thats selection bias if there ever was any.

    You really are on the same page as I am, to be honest. But I’m not clinging to the need to avoid appearing biased myself. I *am* biased, against craziness.

    The best screed from like-minded folks as us is from Charles Johnson:

    http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/35243_Why_I_Parted_Ways_With_The_Right

  • http://www.deanesmay.com Dean Esmay

    Reading the links from Ruth and Aziz gave me a bit of a sense of intellectual whiplash. I get that a lot, reading both left-wing and right-wing sites, and reading comments. I know the Dean’s World commentariat still mostly leans right, although the most hard-core have mostly gone away (which I’m not unhappy about). But just in going through my blogroll over the last few days, there were some lefty voices on there that I looked at (and removed) that made me feel a little sick still. (And yeah I’ve been pruning a lot of crazed righties too and, by the way, I’m only down to “M”)

    Like Roger Simon, I left the Left, and the Democratic Party. Unlike him, I know why. There’s a whole list of specific reasons which I won’t bore you with, but they were lengthy and they were things I was quite angry about; I’m no longer angry (it’s a wasted emotion) but my disappointment is still palpable.

    I left the Democrats some 20 or so years ago, but, when I look at the reasons I walked away from the Democrats back then, most of the reasons are still there, and in the areas where they’ve changed, well, they’ve managed to add a new one or two.

    Just looking at Charles Johnson’s list, for example, I see several things I agree with but at least a few where I’m repelled (“Climate Change Denialism” and “Throwing women into the dark ages” huh? Yeah whatever Charles, thanks for reminding me why I’m still an ex-Democrat, and will stay one for the foreseeable future).

    I don’t need to appear to be neutral. I really *am* neutral. I’m pretty much of the opinion that McArdle’s Law is right: In American politics, the party in power in the White House tends to be smug and arrogant, and the party out of power in the White House is *insane*.

    The outcome I’m really hoping for in November is that Obama is re-elected but Republicans wind up in control of both House and Senate. I’m thinking that’s the optimal result. The second most optimal–maybe even a better result–would be for Romney to win but Democrats to take control of the House and Senate, but that looks mathematically nearly impossible.

    I also can’t even really affect that: I like my Congressman, Republican Thad McCotter, a lot, so he will get my vote. Our Senator Debbie Stabenow, on the other hand, is a Democrat who’s up for re-election and I think she’s a simply *awful* Senator, but I’m probably going to have to vote for her because Republicans look set to nominate a lunatic to try to replace her.

    I firmly believe still in American democracy. I think we need fundamental electoral reforms we’re not likely to get any time soon though.

  • Ruth H

    I quit reading Charles Johnson some time ago, about the time he went off that cliff, I think. I do not know what happened to him but he sounds very, very bitter. That is a terrible thing to do to yourself and those around you. Your politics do change over the years but really, he seems to still be in some sort of derangement syndrome and it isn’t Bush, it is everyone apparently.
    If I were Aziz I would not put myself in that category. Aziz seems to have actual points to make and they don’t all list the same. Aziz, do not invoke Charles Johnson, you can list bullet points much better.

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  • deadrody

    Dean, you completely ignore the fact that government IS generally incompetent and is to be TOLERATED to do the things it was intended to do. NOT to be the be-all, end-all of problem solving in every American life.

    You also ignore the possibility that maybe we’ve actually reached a point of government saturation. That the necessary functions of government have long since been established and now we are just adding nonsense upon nonsense.

    The government’s primary job is supposed to be ensuring freedom. Period. If what the government is doing is NOT ensuring the freedom of its people then there is a problem there. In my view, there is no more legislation to be enacted, nor any agency of any government at any level in this country where that is necessary to ensure anyone’s freedom. Instead, we are proceeding to make the people of this country LESS free at every turn. It is time to stop and dismantle the regulatory state that has been erected and continues to be erected.

  • http://www.deanesmay.com Dean Esmay

    I do not believe government is the be-all, end-all of problem solving in every American life. I do believe, however, like Thomas Paine, that government is the wheel around which all our common interests revolve. I also believe it is the primary thing, possibly the only thing, that makes civilization possible.

    Finally, I believe that if government’s primary job is to protect rights, then we should remember that, as Edmund Burke said, the restraints upon men must be counted as among those rights.

    I do not ignore the possibility that we’ve reached a point of government saturation. I understand the possibility just fine, just like I understand the possibility that the moon is hollow: possible, just not likely.

    I would suggest you consider the possibility that we do not suffer from a “saturation” of government, but rather, far too much government in some areas and far too little in others.

    I also suggest you consider the possibility that it is not government which is currently the greatest threat to our freedom. I, for one, don’t think it is. Although in some areas Government is clearly a threat, I think corporate America and the financial industry are the greatest overall threat to our freedom, not government. And, although their incestuous relationship with government does not help, “smaller government” is not the answer to that problem.

    I would, finally, suggest you consider the possibility that you’re proposing the wrong answers to the problem, because you’ve identified the problem wrongly.

  • TMLutas

    Fundamentally, either the communists were right that government orders life more efficiently or they were wrong and it does not. The idea that they were all a bunch of incompetents just doesn’t cut it with me.

    To me it is self evident that they were wrong and if the most dedicated anal retentive pro government people on the planet couldn’t ever get it right after a century of trying, then it’s just not going to happen.

    There are profound real life consequences to this question and, sadly, the Democrats seem to be delusional about them. If you are given two ways of organizing to solve a problem and every time the private one beats the pants off the government one when you give each a fair shot at solving things, this should lead to some changes in default assumptions. Democrats in general and Obama in particular do not do that.

    When looking to solve real life problems, try to work with the paradigm that has the best chance of success, private organization, competitive solutions, emergent behavior and systems. Government is a fall back, a failsafe that is there for the stuff we haven’t figured out how to do in the generally more efficient and effective private way.

    The above paragraph looks an awful lot like the GOP on its good days and looks nothing like the Democrats which is why I don’t vote Democrat. That being said, there are a lot of brain dead Republican pols out there.

  • http://www.deanesmay.com Dean Esmay

    TM: Fundamentally, communists believed that government would fall away and disintegrate as an irrelevancy as private action would completely replace it. If you don’t believe me, read Marx.

    In this the Marxists are much like the Libertarians: both believing in an ideal state of human existence which has never existed and likely never will–although it’s fascinating to contemplate that the ideal (fantasy) universe of both the Marxists and the Libertarians looks almost identical.

    Government has repeatedly proven it does some things much worse than private action, but has also repeatedly proven it does some things much better than the private sector. But one of the most effective approaches of all is to have government and private action in partnership.

    Indeed, on that last part, it’s arguable that this has been the real way it’s worked all along, since no free market has ever existed without government regulation anyway; free markets need government like you need your skeleton.

    On their best days, Democrats recognize all that, although they so often express it poorly it’s maddening.