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The “purity” cop-out

The “purity” cop-out

Who demands purity and wants chaos?

Harry Reid who refused to bring House bills to a vote in the Senate? Nope.

Obama, whose Treasury Secretary took to the airwaves to proclaim that Obama “absolutely” was willing to go over the cliff if tax rates were not raised? Nope.

It’s never them.

It’s always the Tea Party for refusing to give in to Obama’s demands.

I’m sick of that narrative, particularly when it comes from our own side.  Why is it that we are the recipient of these inflammatory accusations, not the Democrats?

John Podhoretz, Conservatives gone wild:

The most passionately anti-Obama Republican politicians and activists consider themselves the truest and purest of conservatives, and often unleash their scorn and fury on others who also call themselves conservative but differ on strategy and tactics.

But in the realm of philosophy, “conservatism” from Thomas Hobbes onward is a worldview dedicated to order and tradition and the proposition that disorder is dangerous and deadly.

Thus, it is the opposite of “conservative” to embrace chaos instead of order. It is the opposite of “conservative” to embrace crisis rather than accept unpleasant realities.

And yet, over the past week, that is exactly what many conservatives have done. They have violated fundamental conservative precepts.

In so doing, they have turned on other conservatives — people who agree with them on substance — and accused them of impurity and corruption for refusing to march their party and their movement over a political cliff.

It’s not a question of “purity.” That’s a convenient word to use to diminish the opposing view without addressing the merits.

Let’s look at those merits.  There was no reason for Obama to threaten to go off the cliff if marginal tax rates (as opposed to revenue) were not raised, other than an attempt to punish and to create conflict within the Republican Party.  Why is it a test of “purity” to refuse to give in to an economically irrational, purely political demand?

And how would it create “chaos” if tax rates rose on everyone?  You may not like that outcome, but it’s not chaos.  To the contrary, it might have been a wake up call to the American population that the cost of big government cannot be borne by the top 2%.  You want big government, you pay for it.  That’s not chaos.

There also was no certainty that such an outcome of taxes rising would happen.  A lot more backbone, and a willingness to call Obama’s bluff, just as likely would have resulted is a better economic deal consistent with restraining the growth of government.  And if it didn’t, it was just as likely to be a pox on both parties’ houses as it would be a political cliff for Republicans.

Nor does it violate some conservative principle to say that raising taxes is not the answer, and to focus on controlling spending and reforming entitlements.  We proposed an entirely rational method of preserving economic order.

Podhoretz also complains that some Republicans opposed Boehner’s reelection:

What they did was what leaders do — or rather, what leaders of those who are in a losing position do. The best they could.

The problem is that conservatives seem to think there were other choices, other ways, other possibilities — when all those choices, ways and possibilities had been exhausted.

And so many of them are literally embracing chaos. Though they oppose raising taxes, by voting against the tax bill on Tuesday night they effectively voted to raise taxes on 98 percent of Americans…

In so doing, they came close to handing Boehner a humiliating and entirely destructive defeat — forcing a second ballot and leaving their own party leader critically injured. They seemed to crave disorder.

This is how people who are more comfortable on the margins than in the middle of things behave. This is cannibalism, not political combat. This is unreason, not reason. This is temper, not temperament.

This is anarchism, not conservatism.

There were other choices which were presented to the Senate, but Harry Reid refused to allow a vote, even to amend it and send it back to the House.  The House, if it had creative leadership, could have crafted other alternatives such as a short term postponement of the cliff to allow negotiation of a “grand bargain.”

There were alternatives, except that the House leadership fell into the trap of viewing the choice as going off the cliff or not.  It was a failure of nerve and a failure of creativity coupled with an announced willingness of Obama to go off the cliff, which resulted in horrible legislation which Senators did not even read prior to approving it.

Given the failure of leadership, why was it a “purity” test and a wish for “chaos” to decline to vote for the leader?  Why have a vote at all, if Yes is the only answer.

To dismiss the criticism of the tax rate rise and the abysmal failure of the Republcian negotiating strategy as a “purity” test and desire for “chaos” is a cop-out which just encourages further unreasonable demands from Democrats.

For Republicans to make the accusations against the Tea Party without justification is just icing on Obama’s cake.


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For Republicans to make the accusations against the Tea Party without justification is just icing on Obama’s cake.

Bingo. I went independent in ’92 when Lee Atwater “opened the tent” to proaborts. Just what are establishment Republicans trying to “conserve” anymore?

    n.n in reply to JerryB. | January 6, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    That was a mistake. American conservatism is not a simple philosophical tradition. It is well defined in the national charter, The Declaration of Independence, and the organizational document, The Constitution. In the first, our unalienable rights are endowed from “creation”. In the second, our right to life cannot be deprived without due process. American conservatism is incompatible with pro-abortion and pro-choice (i.e. tolerate elective abortion) ideologies.

    If Republicans want to represent Americans, defined by our charter, constitution, and supporting traditions (principally Christian), then they must remain true to their principles.

Freddie Sykes | January 6, 2013 at 7:54 am

The fact remains that the Republicans would not be running the House without the Tea Party. Then they could settle into permanent minority status and enjoy much better press coverage.

..and often unleash their scorn and fury on others who also call themselves conservative but differ on strategy and tactics.

Jennifer Rubin is a tea-party member? oh, wait…

That sound you hear is the Republican wing of the Ruling Class losing its influence with us lumpen-proletariat types. They are going to lose.

    radiofreeca in reply to gettimothy. | January 6, 2013 at 8:59 am

    I think they already did. When your foe is dictating terms, and you’re taking them – that’s called having lost.

I love the “quagmire”. The founding fathers intended to put the brakes on “Change”, the progressives’ mantra. Where would we be if the Democrats were still running things unopposed?

As for purity, any complaints from the lamestream media when some liberal kook (say Bernie Sanders) has never voted against the liberal party line? No? Thought not.

The problem is the media when and as long as they are democrat Flying Monkeys ….we at best will only achieve a tie usually we lose even on issues where we are 100 % right ….like the 16 trillion plus deficit ….everyone knows its going to kill us ….the media even admits it ….but when a republican says so and proposes an action to reduce spending then he or she wants to kill old folks or starve children ….* SHRUG *

Professor Jacobson, thank you for addressing one of many false narratives out there right now. I, too, am sick of them, but have faith in the power of your blog to continue to rectify. Happy New Year!

RINOs, in seeking approval of their Liberal Masters, strike out at those who dare tell them they are Obama’s lapdogs.


As much as R’s comment about D’s getting castigated for straying from the narrative, R’s are just as quick to do the same thing to their own. Toe the line or be called disruptive and a party traitor. Screw ’em. I’m an Independant that votes an R ticket from necessity, not some kind of party loyalist.

Bravo Professor!!

It is the tea party that brought Boehner to power in 2010. It is the tea party that brought Republicans Governors like Scott Walker to power. And it is the tea party that is fighting for this country.

I think quite a few Republicans in Congress need to remember they took an oath of office to uphold and Constitution, and to protect the country from foreign and domestic enemies. They need to start fighting on all levels to uphold the 1st amendment, the 2nd amendment, the constitutionally mandated annual budget etc. The tea party will help them fight, but they have stop fighting the tea party and the citizens of the country.

NC Mountain Girl | January 6, 2013 at 10:25 am

I think we need new labels. Breitbart was on to something with his use of the Big label. Street is also a useful term, as in Main Street, Wall Street and K Street. If one works for a major organization and spends most of their time talking to Washington insiders one is likely to have a different perspective than if one spends most of their time talking to little guys west of the Hudson and the Potomac.

I have long thought it was no coincidence that the federal government began to skyrocket in importance once air conditioning meant that our elected officials an senior bureaucrats stayed in Washington,DC almost year around instead of abandoning the place to the mosquitoes from mid-May through September.

Americans are struggling just to keep our heads above the flood of regulations, taxes and dreck that spews forth from Washington, D.C. Only ‘professional politicians’, ‘news readers’, and ‘pundits’ seem to have the time to sway people’s minds. Each of these ‘Elites’ looks down from their Olympian palaces and pass judgment upon the struggling, squirming mass of humanity they rule.

It seems ‘We The People’ have advocated our RESPONSIBILITY to ensure we elect men and women of high moral character. What we have now are poseurs, wolves in sheep’s clothing and anti-Americans running the show.

This is one American Veteran who refuses to not hold those people we elect convert to representing The PARTY uber alles. I hold to our Constitution and honor the men and women who have died carrying the flag that represents what that Constitution stands for.

It is only when fighting the Tea Party that the “Establishment” Republicans have been effective. They become strangely inept when dealing with Democrats. Wake up People! The enemy is already in our camp. Call them wolves in sheep’s clothing, double agents, or Rino’s. We have been sold out and they have been working for the other side.

You already recognize that no President can be as bad for America as Obama has been unless it a deliberate plan to destroy our foundations. Now recognize that no Party can be as inept as the “Establishment” has been unless they are already working for the other side and are “bought and paid for”.

The vast majority of the dumbed-down public lost touch with reality quite some time ago so the idea of conservatism will lie at the side of the road until the final collapse… At least I think that is the way it is going to go.

Podhoretz is rather selective in his appeal to Hobbes.

Babbitt–an American Conservative in the Burkean tradition (that is to say, in REAL Conservatism) had this to say about Hobbes:

“The Nemesis, or divine judgment, or whatever one may term it, that sooner or later overtakes those who transgress the moral law, is not something that one has to take on authority…it is a matter of keen observation.”

With Hobbes, this negation of morality enters English political thought, and we continue to suffer from it poison. (Interpolation by Kirk)

In other words, Hobbes was merely a Pragmatist. Principles were of no significance to him or his followers.

Is that the brush with which Podhoretz wants to be painted?

1. On the merits, going over the cliff might be the best thing for the country. Maybe all the political/monetary maneuvering in DC is an attempt to avoid unavoidable pain. Maybe we’d be better off biting the bullet.

2. That said, afaik the polls are unambiguous that the public backs Obama. There was an election. Republicans should have won. They lost. Vae victis.

3. It’s true that Obama took a serious problem and made it worse, but the financial system crashed under Bush. I wish I’d seen conservatives bitching about Bush 10% as much as they do about Boehner. I suspect that similar thoughts cross the voters’ minds.

4. It is essential to the Tea Party that it learn to play coalition politics. So far it is being outmaneuvered by RINOs; worse, it is not taking responsibility for the outcome. To repeat, the point is, without forfeiting essentials, to have your partners feel better off inside the coalition than outside it.

5. I’ll repeat my suggestions for the GOP coalition:

a. Social issues should be defederalized & left to the states.
b. The welfare of the free market is more important than the welfare of big business.

    SmokeVanThorn in reply to gs. | January 6, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    “I wish I’d seen conservatives bitching about Bush 10% as much as they do about Boehner.”

    I;m glad you came out of your coma, but you have some catching up to do.

    JerryB in reply to gs. | January 6, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    a. Social issues should be defederalized & left to the states.

    Rephrase: Tea Partiers must allow for baby slaughter in some states.

    Answer: No. This is where I walked out before. Am I ruining your life? You and Podhoretz?

      liesel409 in reply to JerryB. | January 6, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      Personally, I am pro-life and prefer to refer to the “other side” as pro-abortion. That principle has nothing to do with being a T.E.A. Party member. Taxed Enough Already, as the name/acronym implies, is a group organized around fiscal issues. It’s not about gay marriage, abortion, or many other issues that many of us may care about very deeply, and even on some issues even more than the fiscal nightmare our country is suffering.

      Leaving those issues up to the states is exactly what is envisioned by the 10th amendment. Right now, abortion is legal in all states. You’d seriously reject allowing each state to take another look at that federal law? And you’d also reject the TEA Party if they don’t delve into social issues?


        JerryB in reply to liesel409. | January 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm

        You’re pro-life and you’d agree to either of the following:

        1) The Feds will make no law on abortion
        2) States are free to decide to murder their children (actually, this is the same as no. 1)


        If a candidate simply says, “I will overturn Roe v Wade,” he gets my vote. If he says, “It’s up to the states,” then probably not. The latter is acquiescing to killing.

          dad29 in reply to JerryB. | January 6, 2013 at 7:58 pm

          Now, Jerry, you see what Russell Kirk meant with the comment I posted above.

          The Pragmatists–the ‘Economics Firsters’–are the legacy of Hobbes (and a few others.)

          Not Conservative in the least.

          JerryB in reply to JerryB. | January 6, 2013 at 9:25 pm

          dad29: Good point, but I’m still not sure exactly what they’re pragmatic about.

      1. Am I ruining your life? You and Podhoretz?

      You overestimate your ability to ruin lives.

      I don’t delude myself that my snarky mini-jeremiads at LI are changing a lot of minds. However, I don’t want the self-anointed (on both Left and Right) to claim they weren’t warned when or if the chickens come home and the bills are due. More to the point, if I’m still around, I don’t want to admit I didn’t even speak up.

      2. Rephrase: Tea Partiers must allow for baby slaughter in some states.

      Solely for the sake of argument and contrary to my actual attitude, I’ll presume that all abortion is murder.

      a. Murder has been a state crime. Only fairly recently, in historical terms, have pretexts been developed to federalize it.

      b. America in its present form is not going to outlaw abortion. Fuhgeddaboudit. If anything, the trend is the other way.

      c. In the spirit of federalism and the ‘laboratories of democracy’ concept, I floated an intra-conservatism compromise on abortion and other social issues, i.e. leave it to individual states. Consider a hypothetical anti-abortion absolutist who rejects the compromise. In some states there will be abortions which would not have happened under the compromise. In effect, the absolutist’s intransigence facilitates those abortions. J’accuse. What will the spirits of the unnecessarily aborted testify at the absolutist’s Judgment?

      3. Once upon a time long long ago, a teacher I’ll call Sister Mary Retribution hoped I’d grow up to wear a Jesuit cassock and advance popery in America. Her wish did not come true but the foregoing casuistry is dedicated to her formidable memory. (So get you gone, Von Hügel, though with blessings on your head.)

      4. IMO the fissures in the conservative coalition cannot be swept under the rug any longer. They should be resolved, or not. We have exhausted the electoral line of credit which Reagan left us. Afaic saying we want to roll back federal power, except to enforce our side of a divisive national controversy, does not work at the national level.

      5. I’m not saying that mine is the unique compromise which might enable/restore/preserve a governing conservative coalition, but it’s the best I can think of.

        JerryB in reply to gs. | January 6, 2013 at 5:21 pm

        Snarky: Sorry to come off that way. The thread is about Podhoretz’s troubled life.

        Murder has been a state crime: Let a state try to decriminalize murder.

        J’accuse: I address this in reply to liesel409. It’s a false argument, gs. You say if I agree to “states rights,” fewer babies will be killed. But then, the ones who are murdered can say to me, j’accuse, and they will be correct because I agreed to it. It can be easier to see if one substitutes “slavery” for “abortion,” e.g., should slavery should be a states-rights issue?

        Yes, the whole country is fractured. The Left’s non-negotiables for decades have been abortion and sodomy, and all the Right has done is acquiesce. Now they’re waffling on fiscal sanity, and Podhoretz wants them to acquiesce on that, too. Those of you who confront me on abortion are doing the same as Podhoretz.

          1. Jerry, I’m with liesel notwithstanding your response to her.

          2. It can be easier to see if one substitutes “slavery” for “abortion,” e.g., should slavery should be a states-rights issue?

          Afaik that’s close to how the Founders compromised. For the sake of the federal union (to use Andrew Jackson’s words), they decided to kick the can down the road. Some or many of them hoped slavery would fade out of its own accord. I won’t say they were wrong. They could not foresee the cotton economy, so their call seems entirely reasonable given the information available.

          Kicking the can down the road is criticized in hindsight when it fails. It’s not praised equivalently in hindsight when it works; it tends to be taken for granted.

          Your analogy with slavery is exactly what I had in mind.

          3. The Left’s non-negotiables for decades have been abortion and sodomy, and all the Right has done is acquiesce.

          IMO the Right misplayed its hand on these issues (as part of its general loss of electoral standing) so badly that the Left got away with overreaching.

          4. Now they’re waffling on fiscal sanity, and Podhoretz wants them to acquiesce on that, too.

          Per my original comment, going over the cliff might be the best thing for the country, but I doubt that the Right or the GOP, in their present form, have the political skill to persuade the voters of that. As for Boehner, I’ll only say I’m very happy not to be in his shoes.

          My concern about the Right is that we are charging off on another unnecessary suicide mission after barely surviving the last one. (Continuing my quest to influence people without winning friends: is this a Scots-Irish thing?) IMHO we should reassess our coalition and our strategy and our tactics before repeating the same behavior with the intention of different results.

          5. Thomas Sowell is not making quite the same argument I am, but I’ll quote him anyway:

          Thus there are no “solutions” in the tragic vision, but only trade-offs that still leave many unfulfilled and much unhappiness in the world.

    JerryB in reply to gs. | January 6, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    P.S. I never voted for Dubya. I sat it out and would again.

    I’d take him back in a heartbeat now!!

    SmokeVanThorn in reply to gs. | January 6, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    gs – we get that you don’t really care about anything other than short term political advantage.

When there is involuntary exploitation (e.g. taxes), then it should be neither progressive nor regressive. The consequences of this exploitation should be meted with equal proportion to all individuals. If people want “free” products and services, then they must pay for them.

It is dissociation of risk which causes corruption. It is dreams of instant (or immediate) gratification which motivates its progress.

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