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Ramblings

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Ramblings

Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

Anarchy and Conservatism: Two Contradictory Philosophies in Danger of Collision

The original post-World War II conservative movement asked the basic question which the 19th century British Conservative Benjamin Disraeli said was essential. The first thing a conservative must ask, he declared, was what it was he meant to conserve.

What these original modern conservatives sought to conserve was the American political tradition that embraced principles upholding constitutional government, division of powers, freedom of speech, press, and religion, and a respect for individual rights that, they believed, came from the Creator.

Today, some who call themselves conservatives have developed elements of an ideological cult, embracing a series of apparently non-negotiable "principles" which take it far from the sensibilities of those in whose name they speak. A contemporary "conservative," it seems, must reject evolution, must deny climate change, must oppose any restriction on gun ownership, even for the mentally ill, and must reject almost any role for government in American society. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) recently said of government, "We need to shut the damn thing down." To reject any element of this virtually religious creed is to be a "RINO" (Republican in name only). What would Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, or Ronald Reagan think of such an enterprise?

Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who served in the last three Republican administrations, notes that:

Conservatives are rightly proud of our Constitution, yet many of them are disdainful of our government. But the Constitution created our system of government, and our goal in political life should be to reform that government back into one we can be proud of again. Understanding government in this way, and taking the steps necessary to enable it to work better and therefore regain the trust of the American people is a worthy calling. And a deeply conservative one, too.

What early conservatives rejected was ideology - Nazism, Communism, fascism, and socialism - that made a wasteland of the 20th century. The American political tradition, from the beginning, was not against government, but was against its abuses, and wanted it to be limited so that freedom would be preserved. In the Federalist Papers, James Madison makes this clear:

It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Russell Kirk, whose book The Conservative Mind, really launched modern conservatism, believed that the major problem faced in the 20th century was its commitment to "ideology."

In his book The Politics of Prudence (1993), he commends political prudence, one of the four "classical virtues," as opposed to "ideology," a word that signifies political fanaticism. In the initial chapters, some of which were delivered at the Heritage Foundation, he outlines the principles of conservative thought, summarizes important conservative books, and offers brief accounts of eminent conservatives, among them Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Sir Walter Scott, T. S. Eliot and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The book, he tells us, is meant to be a "defense of prudential politics as opposed to ideological politics." He hoped to persuade the rising generation to set their faces against political extremism and utopian schemes by which the world has been afflicted since 1914:

"Politics is the art of the possible," the conservative says; he thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice, and freedom. The ideologue, on the contrary, thinks of politics as a revolutionary instrument for transforming society and even transforming human nature. In the march toward Utopia, the ideologue is merciless.

The ideologies which have been so costly in our time - Communism, fascism and Nazism - are, Kirk points out, really "inverted religions." But, he notes:

. . . the prudential politician knows that "Utopia" means "Nowhere"; that we cannot march to an earthly Zion; that human nature and human institutions are imperfectible; that aggressive "righteousness" in politics ends in slaughter. True religion is a discipline for the soul, not for the state. . . . It is the conservative leader who, setting his face against all ideologies, is guided by what Patrick Henry called "the lamp of experience." In this 20th century, it has been the body of opinion generally called "conservative" that has defended the Permanent Things from ideological assaults.

Conservatism, Kirk writes:

. . . is not a bundle of theories got up by some closet philosopher. On the contrary . . . the conservative conviction grows out of experience: the experience of the species, of the nation, of the person. . . . It is the practical statesman, rather than the visionary recluse, who has maintained a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of freedom. . . . The Constitution of the United States, two centuries old, is a sufficient example of the origin of conservative institutions in a people's experience . . . . (T)he Constitution . . . was rooted in direct personal experience of the political and social institutions which had developed in the Thirteen Colonies since the middle of the 17th century, and in thorough knowledge of the British growth, over seven centuries, of parliamentary government, ordered freedom and the rule of law.

The triumph of ideology would, Kirk notes, be the triumph of what Edmund Burke called the "antagonist world." This, in Kirk' s view, is:

. . . the world of disorder, what the conservative seeks to conserve is the world of order that we have inherited, if in a damaged condition, from our ancestors. The conservative mind and the ideological mind stand at opposite poles. And the contest between these two mentalities may be no less strenuous in the 21st century than it has been during the 20th.

The basic difference between conservatives and the advocates of the many ideologies which clutter the intellectual landscape, including extreme forms of "libertarianism" which often border on anarchy, and "neo-conservatism" which are often confused with conservatism, relates to the nature of man himself:

Man, being imperfect, no perfect social order can ever be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent - or else expire in boredom. . . . To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says, "We are not made for perfect things." All that we can reasonably expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in mankind breaks loose. . . . The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the 20th century world into a terrestrial hell.

Russell Kirk advised the new generation to explore the past, discover the roots of our civilization, and work to restore its sensibility. He concludes:

Time is not a devourer only. With proper use of the life-span allotted to us, we may do much to redeem modernity from vices, terrors, and catastrophic errors.

Many who now claim to speak for conservatism, among them glib radio talk show hosts and partisan politicians, have forgotten Disraeli's question about what it is that conservatives really seek to conserve. If it is the American political tradition, embodied in our Constitution and in the thinking of the Founding Fathers, contempt for government and belief in virtual anarchy is no place to be found. Neither is adherence to a form of political orthodoxy enforced by inquisition-like tribunals. Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison would find little they would recognize as an American political tradition in such phenomenon. Many of those who proclaim themselves most loudly to be "conservative," are, in reality, something quite different.

"White Racism" Is the Scapegoat in Baltimore, Not the Culprit

Unrest in Baltimore, and legitimate questions about the death in police custody of Freddie Gray, a young African-American, have produced the usual charges of "white racism" and comparisons with the death of another young black man in Ferguson, Missouri several months ago, as well as similar incidents in North Charleston, South Carolina, and Staten Island, New York. Each of these cases is different, and characterizing them as part of a single pattern of police behavior may be missing the reality of what is, in fact, taking place.

In Ferguson, for example, it was pointed out that the community was majority black and the police force was largely white. In Baltimore, however, the mayor, City Council president, police commissioner and nearly half of its 3,000-member police force are black. It is unlikely that young black men are being unfairly targeted by black city officials on the basis of race.

What we see in Baltimore's inner city - a breakdown of family life, massive unemployment, drug use, and school drop-outs - has not been created by "white racism." There are many, far more complex causes.

Baltimore was once a city where tens of thousands of blue-collar employees earned a good living in industries building cars, airplanes, and making steel. Thomas J. Vicino, the author of Transforming Race and Class in Suburbia: Decline in Metropolitan Baltimore, points to major manufacturing facilities operated by Bethlehem Steel, General Motors and Martin Marietta. In 1970, about a third of the labor force in Baltimore was employed in manufacturing. By 2000, only 7 percent of city residents had manufacturing jobs, and losses have been continuing.

Dr. Vicino, a professor at Northeastern University and a Maryland native, argues that:

We need to reframe the problem more broadly than racial profiling and police brutality. . . . The bigger context is the globalization of the economy, technological change and de-industrialization. This is a double whammy for poor black people left in the city. They are not in a position to share in the development downtown and, with the loss of manufacturing jobs, they are left, at best, with access to relatively low-paying service jobs. This, in turn, creates a spiral for those left behind, damaging families and devastating neighborhoods.

Professor William Julius Wilson of Harvard, who teaches a course based on "The Wire," the HBO show set in Baltimore, says:

Regular employment provides the anchor for the spatial and temporal aspects of daily life; it determines where you are going to be and when you are going to be there. In the absence of regular employment, life, including family life, becomes less coherent.

Globalization, as embodied at the present time by the Trans-Pacific Partnership, promotes what it calls "free" trade. Yet some critics, both on the right and left, argue that trade which is not also "fair," puts Americans at a great disadvantage. American corporations must pay a minimum wage, obey OSHA rules about worker safety, follow environmental regulations, and deal with labor unions. None of this is true for companies in China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, or India, among others. Is such "free" trade really "free"?

Beyond all of this is the very real breakdown of the black family in our inner cities, where 72 percent of babies are born to single mothers. We know that children with absent fathers commit more crimes and are more likely to drop out of school. In his book The Best Parent Is Both Parents, David Levy, who served as president of the Children's Rights Council, reported that neither poverty nor race, but the fragile structure of the family, is the primary cause of crime.

Douglas A. Smith and G. Roger Jarjoura published findings in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency analyzing victimization data on over 11,000 individuals from three urban areas. They discovered that the proportion of single-parent households in a community predicts its rate of violent crime and burglary while poverty level does not. Furthermore, the percentage of non-whites in an area has "no significant influence on rates of violent crime."

Because so many Americans have, in large numbers, abandoned the responsibility of child rearing, many young people are particularly vulnerable to the inducements of the drug culture. Dr. Lorenzo Merritt of Project Heavy West, a nonprofit counseling center in Los Angeles that tries to help children stay out of jail, said that they join gangs and the drug culture:

. . . fundamentally because of a need for acceptance and identity. It generally means an absence of a cohesive . . . family life where there is a sense of belonging and respect.

If black men are committing crime out of proportion to their numbers, it is important to consider the reason. According to a recent report issued by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, by age 17, only 17 percent of black teenagers live with two married parents. Professor Orlando Patterson, a Harvard sociologist who is black, has published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education lamenting that "fearful" sociologists had abandoned "studies of the cultural dimensions of poverty, particularly black poverty," and declared that the discipline had become "largely irrelevant."

Patterson asks:

Why are so many black men in jail? Is it because cops, prosecutors, judges, and juries are racist because they are turning a blind eye to white robbers and drug dealers? . . . . I don't think so. If it were so, that would be easier to address. . . . The percentage of young men not working or not enrolled in school is nearly twice as high for blacks as it is for whites. . . . Young people in those neighborhoods too often inherit a legacy of crime and prison, and with that inheritance they become part of the police officer's life and shape the way that officer, whether white or black, sees the world. Changing that legacy is a challenge so enormous and so complicated that it is, unfortunately, easier to talk only about the cops. And that's not fair.

In Baltimore, 25-year-old Freddie Gray, whose death in police custody has led to the growing unrest in the city, grew up in Sandtown-Winchester, one of Baltimore's most impoverished and crime-ridden communities. It has the highest incarceration rate in the state, an unemployment rate of over 50 percent for males ages 16 to 64 and a medium household income of under $25,000, according to research from the Justice Policy Institute and the Prison Policy Initiative.

Gray's rap sheet was a long one. His criminal history started in July 2007 with an arrest on charges of "possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute." Overall, he had more than a dozen arrests, mostly drug-related. The latest was in March on a charge of "possession of a controlled dangerous substance." Drugs are a major reason why police patrolled Gray's neighborhood. David Simon, creator of "The Wire" and a former Baltimore Sun journalist, says that:

. . . the drug war . . . was transforming in terms of police/community relations, in terms of trust . . . the drug war was as much a function of class and social control as it was of racism.

The real issues in Baltimore go beyond questions of racism and police behavior. Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Legislative Office of the Fraternal Order of Police, says that:

The real issue is poverty and lack of quality education, lack of economic opportunity, a decaying city infrastructure, lack of sound parenting and mentorship. These kids, the odds are against them from the time of their conception, and it's a very, very convenient political outlet to blame the police for things that go on in the inner cities. But the fact of the matter is that these are problems that generations of bad elected leadership has resulted in.

The Baltimore Police Department has numerous outreach programs that connect police with underprivileged families and give communities a chance to communicate directly with officers. It holds monthly council meetings throughout the city where community leaders can express concerns over issues in their neighborhoods. Some community leaders have even been placed on boards that determine executive promotions within the police departments.

There have been some hopeful signs amidst the chaos in Baltimore. After rioting, residents by the hundreds cleaned debris from streets and stores that had been looted. Churches organized food drives for neighborhoods hit by rioting and teachers, who knew that closed schools meant children would go without meals, set up food stations in churches. Police and firefighters, the targets of rage when rioting began, were inundated with cakes, pies and thanks for their service. Church, community and political leaders took to the streets to urge calm and help enforce the curfew.

Events in Baltimore highlight the crisis being faced in our inner cities - from a variety of causes, from the de-industrialization of our urban areas due to globalization to the breakdown of the black family and the absence of fathers in the home. No problems can be confronted or resolved if they are misdiagnosed. The charge of "white racism," in reality, is the scapegoat for the problems in Baltimore and other urban areas, not the real culprit.

What Hillary Clinton's Attempt to Re-create Herself Tells Us About American Politics

Hillary Clinton, in announcing her presidential candidacy, is now engaged in an effort to re-create herself. The unusual commercial she used to introduce her campaign has received critical reviews, from liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats. Liberal columnist Richard Cohen wrote that:

It looked like one of those Vaseline-lensed dog-food commercials, so lacking substance that I wondered if I had summoned the wrong video from the Internet. . . . All I can remember is a bunch of happy people and Clinton saying something about being on the side of the middle class. . . . I think it is no mere coincidence that the Clinton campaign now has the services of Wendy Clark, a senior marketing specialist from Coca-Cola. Maybe Clinton will "teach the world to sing."

This announcement video was followed by Clinton's strange van ride to Iowa, complete with video of her ordering a burrito bowl at Chipotle. She did this while wearing dark glasses, as did her aide Huma Abedin, which produced security-camera pictures making if appear that they were traveling incognito. She said that she would be an advocate for people like "the truckers that I saw on I-80 as I was driving here."

Perhaps appealing to authenticity would fail in Mrs. Clinton's case. After losing to Richard Nixon in 1968, the Democratic Party candidate, Hubert Humphrey, conceded that his effort to be authentic, his real self, might have done him in:

It's an abomination for a man to place himself completely in the hands of the technicians, the ghost writers, the experts, the pollsters and come out only as an attractive package.

After all of her years in public life, no one really knows where Hillary Clinton stands on any issue. The one constant is her desire to be president. In a cover article "What Does Hillary Stand For?" The Economist declares:

For someone who has been on the national stage for a quarter-century, her beliefs are hard to pin down. On foreign policy, she says she is neither a realist nor an idealist but an "idealistic realist." In a recent memoir, she celebrates "the American model of free markets for free people." Yet to a left-wing crowd, she says, "Don't let anybody tell you, that, you know, it's corporations and businesses that create jobs.". . . Some candidates' views can be inferred from the advisers they retain, but Mrs. Clinton has hundreds, including luminaries from every Democratic faction. Charles Schumer, her former Senate colleague from New York, called her "the most opaque person you'll ever meet in your life."

In The Economist's view:

Skeptics raise two further worries about Mrs. Clinton. Some say she is untrustworthy - a notion reinforced by the revelation that she used a private server for her e-mails as Secretary of State, released only the ones she deemed relevant and then deleted the rest. The other worry, which she cannot really allay, is that dynasties are unhealthy, and that this outweighs any benefit America might gain from electing its first female president.

The Clinton candidacy tells us a great deal about the current state of American politics. We often forget that public opinion is usually carefully manipulated, in the present era by an army of public relations consultants. Discussing the start of a campaign some years ago, David R. Altman, chairman of the Altman, Stoller and Weiss advertising agency, assessed the influence of advertising upon American politics this way:

The annual exercise in political irrelevance has begun. Once again, the American viewing public is being subjected to a barrage of flashy thirty- and sixty-second spot announcements urging votes for this candidate or that. TV has become the most destructive political force we have known. It is an open invitation to the demagogue, a path to elective office for the incompetent but glib candidate, and it is a definite deterrent for the brilliant but full office seeker. It has changed the rules of the game of politics from "let the better candidate have a chance to win" to "let the most appealing candidate win."

Mr. Altman charged that:

For the most part, political ads on TV perform what I consider to be a massive confidence game on the American people. Why? Because political commercials do not as a rule inform the electorate. They stimulate the emotions. They arouse passions. They polarize people on different sides of the political street. They use trickery - trick lighting, trick makeup, a full gamut of Hollywood special effects - and occasionally candidates have been known to tell lies on television. What has been the result? We consistently elect candidates who later "surprise" us - who turn out to be different from the image perceived during the campaign.

The well-known political consultant David Garth once said, "You've seen one of my campaigns, you've seen them all." His technique was to put together cinema variety clips of his candidate and show them on television. Illustrative of his technique was the 1969 reelection campaign of New York City Mayor John Lindsay, when Lindsay was an unpopular mayor. He won a second term in large part because of Mr. Garth's advertising campaign in which Lindsay repeatedly told voters, "I made mistakes." This approach, Garth recalled, was highly successful.

Now, Hillary Clinton is trying to become a person different from the one all of us have come to know, realizing that victory in the presidential race requires such a radical make-over. Is this really going to be a successful enterprise? Former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, who is considering a presidential run of his own, says that "people are looking for leadership they can trust" and that Americans would like to go back to the party of Harry S. Truman and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Webb states:

Think about Harry Truman, what he would be saying to someone who told him he needed a consultant to show him how to dress or a lifestyle consultant to tell him that he needed to go to Wal-Mart. You know, we need people who will, in politics, lead the same way that they live.

Enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton's candidacy is difficult to find among the liberal commentators who might be expected to be a bit more supportive. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote that:

The choreographed launch was over-thought, over-produced and, in the scheme of things, not terribly important in details. Everyone already knew she was running.

Hillary Clinton's candidacy tells us a great deal about contemporary American politics, none of it good. *

Read 1768 times Last modified on Saturday, 10 December 2016 18:13
Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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