"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Silence of the Regular Guy, Explained

I've not been blogging much lately after the election, in part because of work, in part because of a boredom with continuing to flog the same dead or dying news stories (Fast and Furious... who cares at this point?   Benghazi... who will care a month from now?), in part out of frustration and sadness that the country appears to be sliding down a slope toward Greece or Spain (except with a lot more weapons and an angrier, more entitled., and more "diverse" -- be careful what you wish for -- population.   Also in part out of a feeling that most of what matters in life doesn't and shouldn't involve politics -- family, church, marriage, home, sports, art, literature, music.   The feeling I have is something like "going Galt" in the cultural sphere... it's not that the most productive economic members of society will quit working, as in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, but that conservatives will simply withdraw into private life.  

Anyway, emerging from my cocoon, the question appears to me to be:  "What parts of contemporary conservatism need to be re-emphasized, and what parts need to be de-emphasized or jettisoned altogether, in order to put conservatives in position to win national elections?"  I don't know that the answer isn't "nothing," because the problem wasn't conservatism, but a weak (in retrospect) candidate and a failure to articulate a principled conservative position.   But I'm going to set myself the task of thinking through the issues with an eye toward offering arguments that will convince people who aren't already on our side, as opposed to preaching to the converted, which is what political parties tend to do.

As an appetizer, let me get past three issues that many pundits have noted as issues that conservatives need to change on.   The first is important, the second and third are mostly symbolic.  

1. Illegal immigrants.   I'll hopefully give a fuller argument on what to do about immigration in general, but first let's talk about illegal immigrants -- the 10-12 million or so people who are already here.   Conservatives have talked, correctly, about cutting off illegal immigration by building a fence along the border, and by increasing enforcement along the border with Mexico.   Conservatives have talked, correctly, that the winking acceptance of illegal immigration weakens the rule of law and respect for the law.   All of this is true.   But, with regard to 10-12 million illegal immigrants already here, what conservatives have not said is what they would do.   Are we really going to deport 10-12 million people?   How would we do that logistically?   How would we do it without massive civil unrest and potential violence?   How would we do it without -- and this is blunt -- a massive fascistic police state replete with concentration camps and cattle cars and barbed wire and machine guns, etc.?   It's not going to happen, and conservatives who dream of deportation are chasing a fool's errand.   More to the point, deporting millions of immigrants who came here because we did wink at the laws because we did want cheap labor would be immoral.   Conservatives can't say we believe every life is precious, which it is, and then say that 10-12 million people who are living among us can be subjected to what could only be a massive cruelty.  

The upshot:  conservatives need to get out front of a reasonable amnesty plan for illegal immigrants who can demonstrate that they've been here for X number of years, along with a reasonable timetable for them to gain full citizenship.   They can't move in front of legal immigrants in the line, but they ought to be able to get there in a generation.

Needless to say, this must be coupled with serious border enforcement, and serious entitlement reform, and serious economic reform so that new Americans can be legal and productive citizens.

2.  Gay marriage.   Again, I'll hopefully give a fuller argument on what to do about the family and marriage in general, but conservatives need to realize that the boat on gay marriage has sailed.   As a Catholic, I obviously do not believe that the "marriage" between two men or two women is a marriage in the same way that my marriage is.   But so what?   Just because I believe that it's not the same doesn't mean that I should care whether people use the same word in describing the relationship between two men or two women, or that the law should treat them differently.   And, while we shouldn't bow to the popular culture, the reality is that Americans are increasingly in favor of gay marriage, or at least not opposed, and that trend is going to increase, not decrease.  

And how exactly would we counter that pop culture narrative?   It's easy to find horror stories to support a pro-Life position -- the abbatoirs of Planned Parenthood spring to mind.   But it's hard to find horror stories to support opposing gay marriage.   What would they even look like?   When there's no immediate downside to point to, opposition to gay marriage comes across as meanness to people who aren't harming anyone.   Conservatives shouldn't be about sacrificing individual freedom and happiness for abstract ideas about the Family or Marriage or Normalcy.

The upshot:  I think I'm a Dick Cheney conservative on this one.   If you have friends or family who are gay, you have a much harder time thinking that something they want that would make them happy should somehow be denied to them because of an abstract principle or an attenuated causal chain that might lead down the road to weakening the family writ large.  

3. Marijuana legalization.   Again, this boat is sailed.   Why should we devote any resources at all to investigating or prosecuting as crimes the sale or use of something that most people view as a harmless vice, perhaps marginally worse than alcohol, but not much?   And, why should we morally be prosecuting some people rather than others, when the vice is distributed so widely through society?   It becomes arbitrary and capricious and, I suspect, somewhat racist at least in the outcome.   Does anyone really believe that a suburban kid selling marijuana in his high school will get the same treatment as a black kid selling downtown?


On all three of these issues, Republicans should change their positions, not because they would gain politically from doing so, but because their current positions involve them in hypocrisy.   Does anyone really propose to deport 10-12 million illegals?   No.   So why should we act like we would?   Does anyone really propose to criminalize homosexuality?   No.   So why should we act like there's anything wrong with it, at least in terms of public, as opposed to private or religious, morality?   Does anyone really think that smoking marijuana should be a crime that can subject you to jail time?   Really?   So why should we act like it?

We should be the serious party.   We shouldn't expend energy making symbolic stands when we aren't committed to the consequences of our positions.

More to come.

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