Friday, April 26, 2013

Message to conservatives: innovate or die

Jennifer Rubin, conservative blogger and columnist for the Washington Post, has just written a wonderful and brave editorial.  It is so needed for conservatives to say what she said, not just for the sake of the Republican Party but for the country and the world.  The Republican Party is quickly becoming obsolete, and we need two good parties for this country to run. 

Her primary message is in her headline:  “Tear down this icon: why conservatives have to get over Ronald Reagan.”

Her main point is the one I have been making ever since I started blogging over three years ago:  Reaganism was needed in 1980, but new thinking is required over thirty years later. 

How to find the "new" conservatism?  

Isn't the heart of conservatism the empowerment of individuals?  Isn't it about empowering the middle class?  What is all this guff about taxes or gay marriage or contraception or abortion or high capacity spray guns or immigrants or endless wars in the Middle East or .. or .. or all of the things that so enrage or frighten the permanently enraged and frightened?   

Or for that matter what has an ever smaller government to do with conservatism?  

In 1979 Reagan was right when he said government was the problem.  Back then the country was over-regulated and over-taxed.  But now, after a near worldwide financial meltdown as a result of an under-regulated blood thirsty financial industry, that is no longer true, no longer true, no … longer … true.  How does the government empower the individual by being eviscerated?  How does the individual become empowered without the context of civilization that can only be created if it includes the essential factor an effective government? 

I switched my registration from Republican to “Declines to State” in California about four years ago.  My history is that I voted for: Cleaver, McGovern, Carter, Reagan, Reagan, HW, Clinton, W, W, Obama, Obama.  The Rigid Right drove me from their ranks, which I am sure is exactly what they wanted to do.  I am certainly not one of them.  Thank goodness.  But I am not a Democrat either.   

When I changed from liberal to conservative in 1980 I was aflame with the new ideas of conservatism.  It was conservatives who were coming up with creative new ideas, and it was liberals who were trying to relive the glories of FDR and LBJ.  The liberals were worn out, and had nothing much to offer other than the same old same old.

But, the creative and innovative thinking of today is now coming from the left.  All Rush and Glenn and DeMint and the '80s crowd are doing is hitting the replay button - old, old, old, tired, tired, tired, lazy, lazy, lazy, regurgitation.  I recently heard Rush say his job was ideological purity.  How true.  Simple job.  Thinking not required.  All he is is a replay button on the old jukebox.  All that is missing is the revolving mirrored ball with the Bee Gees playing for the dancers on the floor. 

Republicans need to innovate or die, to find the real heart of conservatism and create from there. 

They should start with empowering the individual and the middle class.  The Democrats have figured out the middle class part.  It’s now up to the conservatives to come up with better ideas to get that done by focusing on the individual empowerment part.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The TNT within terrorists’ minds that leads to “heroic” killings of … us

I celebrate the killing of one and the capture of the other young murderers who tried to terrorize the country by killing and maiming people in Boston.  At this point it appears that they were “self-radicalized” rather than operatives of al Qaida or some other transnational terrorist organization.  The older brother apparently spent months overseas before his attack, and I am sure that he completed his indoctrination in that environment, but I doubt that he and his younger brother will be discovered to be part of an organized campaign or some larger terrorist organization.  I could be wrong, but that’s what it looks like so far. 

We will find out more as time passes I am sure.

But, the big question to me is, who becomes a terrorist?  And why? 

Shortly after 9/11/2011 I thought the answer to that was pretty easy – I thought terrorism was a religious tenant of Islam.  There were many quotes from the Koran and from terrorists that proved to me that radical Islamists were on a religious mission to destroy Western Civilization and impose an Islamic Caliphate on the world. 

But, Chritopher Dickey, Paris bureau chief and Middle East editor for Newsweek and the Daily Beast, has written an article that makes sense to me.  He says that there is an explosive combination of three elements that go into the makeup of a terrorist – TNT.

First, is as in Testosterone.  Nearly all terrorists are young men.

Second, is N as in Narrative.  Here he says:

“This is perhaps the most important and most misunderstood element in the shaping of a terrorist’s thinking.  It is often confused with ideology, and, in the case of Islam, with religion.”

What is actually in the minds of the terrorist is a Narrative, one where he is the hero who identifies with “a People” suffering repression by Others. The terrorists are often not victims of suffering themselves, but rather see themselves as Holy Knights “righting epic wrongs.”  Theirs is the narrative of a selfless hero, a martyr to a great cause, brave knights changing the course of history.  He gives examples of terrorists as the Irish under Britain, Jews in Palestine before 1948, Palestinians in Israel since then, Tamils under the Sinhalese, Latin American peasants under oligarchs, and Islamists under “Jews and Crusaders.”

The Islamist religion apparently can be twisted to provide the Narrative that cries out for a Brave Knight to battle the Oppressor Dragons, but by now it is pretty clear to me that bloody, brutal, killing jihad is not really fundamental to Muslim religion.  It is the motivation of men with personality problems who are manipulated by men with political aims.

And third, is as in Theater.  They need their terrorism to be on a huge world stage, seen and feared by the Oppressors, seen and admired by those they are “saving.”

This is an explanation that makes sense to me.  Testoserone  plus Narrative plus Theater creates a terrorist.  Treat them like low life criminals, not like heroic knights storming our castles.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Letting the terrorist attack fail to terrorize us

I have been out of the country on business, and as a result have been less tuned into the news cycle than normally.  I am very saddened by the attack on innocent people at the Boston Marathon.  I don't know how people are reacting in the States, but my sense is that the country is not reacting with excessive shock and rage.  Certainly nothing like our reaction to the 9/11/2001 attack.  

My feeling is that our justice system is fully capable of finding, capturing, and prosecuting the attackers. 

What I hope the most is that the terrorists are unsuccessful in throwing the country into a state of terror.  The point of terrorism is to terrify a country, and if we can absorb this attack, respond decisively against the terrorists without overreacting and letting it absorb our entire national consciousness, and carry on with our lives, we will effectively defeat the purpose of the attack and of the terrorists themselves.  

We can refuse to become terrorized.  We can treat these people as low life criminals rather than monstrous threats to our way of life.

Or so I hope.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Liberals also don’t want to compromise (or negotiate, or commit politics)

I’ve been pretty critical of the rigidity of extreme conservatives on the right recently.  But I also know that there is also a very rigid wing of extreme liberals on the left.  The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, center right editorialist, makes note of their calls to refuse to negotiate with Republicans, and attacking Obama’s budget as containing unacceptable compromises with conservatives. 

From Socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont, to the AFL-CIO, NOW,, Campaign for America’s Future, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, and National Committee to Preserve Social Security, they all are appalled at Obama’s budget proposal that includes cuts to Social Security and Medicare. They apparently staged a protest yesterday against Obama's budget.

The key take-away to me from his article is that he posed a mirror image question to these folks from the Republican presidential campaign.  Remember that eight Republican candidates for president were asked if they would raise taxes evin if it had $10 of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increases?  And all eight said no, that under no circumstances would they raise taxes at all?  Well, Milbank writes that

“…At Tuesday’s protest, I put the reverse question to participants:  Could they accept a dollar of cuts in Medicare and Social Security benefits for every $10 of taxes on corporations and the wealthy?  All those I asked said they would decline.”

So much for the idea that only one side of this debate is unwilling to negotiate.

There is a difference between the two parties, however, I believe.  And that is that the Republican Party has been in the iron fisted grip of their non-compromisers, whereas the Democratic Party has iron-willed non-compromisers but isn’t totally in their grip. They are on the margins of the party.

My hope is that the 2012 election has gone at least a little way toward moving the Republican Party away from the right wing non-negotiators and into a place where they can actually do some politics and come to some agreements with the Democrats, i.e. the federal and state governments can actually start functioning again. 

The key is to have the voting public see the extremists as being in the margins  rather than in control.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A tribute to the Iron Lady

I have no doubt that the actress Meryl Streep is a liberal in good standing in Hollywood.  She brilliantly portrayed ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a couple of years ago and won an Oscar for that performance. 

Today, she made a very gracious statement to the press on the occasion of Margaret Thatcher’s passing due to a stroke at age 87.  Although Ms. Streep didn’t agree with Ms. Thatcher’s politics, she highlighted what was most important to her, and to young girls, about the Prime Minister – she was a model for women to be powerful in the world in a way that has nothing to do with their gender.  I think Meryl managed to highlight one of Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievements – her own success against stunning odds. 

 “Margaret Thatcher was a pioneer, willingly or unwillingly, for the role of women in politics.

It is hard to imagine a part of our current history that has not been affected by measures she put forward in the UK at the end of the 20th century. Her hard-nosed fiscal measures took a toll on the poor, and her hands-off approach to financial regulation led to great wealth for others. There is an argument that her steadfast, almost emotional loyalty to the pound sterling has helped the UK weather the storms of European monetary uncertainty.

But to me she was a figure of awe for her personal strength and grit. To have come up, legitimately, through the ranks of the British political system,class bound and gender phobic as it was, in the time that she did and the way that she did, was a formidable achievement. To have won it, not because she inherited position as the daughter of a great man, or the widow of an important man, but by dint of her own striving. To have withstood the special hatred and ridicule, unprecedented in my opinion, leveled in our time at a public figure who was not a mass murderer; and to have managed to keep her convictions attached to fervent ideals and ideas- wrongheaded or misguided as we might see them now-without corruption- I see that as evidence of some kind of greatness, worthy for the argument of history to settle. To have given women and girls around the world reason to supplant fantasies of being princesses with a different dream: the real-life option of leading their nation; this was groundbreaking and admirable.

I was honored to try to imagine her late life journey, after power; but I have only a glancing understanding of what her many struggles were, and how she managed to sail through to the other side. I wish to convey my respectful condolences to her family and many friends.”

Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister when I was changing my politics from liberal to conservative, and I still think she gave Britain and the world what was needed at that time.  Now, I think the time for Thatcherism has passed in Britain just as the time for Reaganism has passed in America.  But both leaders stood for what they believed was needed and were able to implement their visions.  And I believe that both leaders saw what was needed for their time.

Time passes and new visions are being hashed out in the messy arena of politics.  The world could do a lot worse than having new leaders arise with the integrity and strength and ability of Margaret Thatcher.  I honor her and her passing, and I thank Meryl Streep for a gracious eulogy for her.