Presidential elections have a way of re-defining what the Left and Right sides of the American political spectrum mean. It’s increasingly difficult to use the term “liberal” for the American Left without irony, because there’s nothing liberal about them at all – they’re rigid totalitarians who think compulsive force is the answer to every question. They’re not even paying lip service to the ideal of free speech any more.
Likewise, the term “conservative” is becoming an uneasy fit for the American Right.
The right-wingers are the liberals these days, seeking to liberalize numerous areas where individual choice has been restricted, and challenging social-consensus groupthink at least as calcified and oppressive as anything the Sixties generation rebelled against. The Right is the counter-culture now.
Also, it’s time for conservatives to do some hard thinking about what they’re trying to “conserve,” and how they plan to defend it. Every conceivable answer to that question either is, or soon will be, under sustained attack. It’s not good enough to wave off these attacks as the work of fringe loons. The past few decades have illustrated the power of loons to relentlessly shift the center of social gravity until they’re not the fringe any more. Determination is the key to making big changes. It takes time, and unflagging effort. Those who are swiftly intimidated by setbacks change nothing.
The dominant media culture loves to define everything it doesn’t like as “right-wing,” from milquetoast center-right U.S. politicians to North Korea. Somehow people who aggressively make the case that American government is too large get sorted into the same end of the political spectrum as the biggest and most oppressive governments of all. Certain out-and-proud socialists of the past century are caricatured as “right-wing,” even though they put “socialist” right in their Party name.
That’s because the Left is very uncomfortable with admitting its addiction to the use of force. It wants government to be seen as consensus, rather than command. Nothing makes leftists more uncomfortable than pointing out that every law, unfunded mandate, and tax ends with the implied threat of deadly force against those who resist.
If the general media concept of “Left” and “Right,” liberal and conservative, is facile, then how do we go about defining those terms? It’s not quite the same question as asking what will be in the Democrat or Republican platforms next year, although it’s a related question.
Neither party has ever been, or will ever be, a perfect reflection of Left or Right thought. Both are ideologically distorted by electoral concerns, and pressure from interests that aren’t easily defined as Left or Right. (That’s currently causing a bit of discomfort among Democrats, who are slowly realizing they have become the Party of the Rich, no matter how much socialist rhetoric they feed to their rank-and-file voters.)
International comparisons between Left and Right are silly, because each nation is so different. A very recent example was Bernie Sanders drooling over Denmark as an example of left-wing paradise in the first Democrat debate. Denmark is actually moving toward what Americans would define as the Right at present, and its mix of policies include items an American Democrat would denounce as extreme conservatism; it ranks higher on the economic freedom index than the United States. Many of the European welfare states Democrats claim to idolize finance those benefits with government policies and social practices a Democrat would denounce as completely unacceptable.
Meanwhile, over in the Republican camp, conservatives had to reach for the Pepto-Bismol as they digested Donald Trump’s view of eminent domain. Ben Carson had to refine his thoughts on gun control a bit. Jeb Bush can be denounced as a progressive saboteur, a moderate squish, and a right-wing extremist on the same day, from different media angles. The more lively, and often rougher, discourse on the Right is appropriate, because – as the Democrat “debate” should have made clear – the Left is far more unified on what it wants, its political party is more relentless about plugging away until they get it, and the political center of gravity has been pushed and pulled very far to the Left over the past few decades.
Regrettably, a lot of the pulling happened under George Bush, and then Obama had a rare moment of uncontested Democrat power to give a mighty push. If you think free American citizens should be in control of their own health care, you were a centrist in 2005, but you’re a right-wing extremist in 2015. The Left has always been far more aggressive about using government power to force dramatic social change.
Now that Democrats have managed to fill a stage with candidates who agree socialism isn’t a bad idea, the only interesting ideological battles remaining on the Left concern nationalism vs. internationalism. Frankly, even those battles aren’t terribly interesting. There’s not much passion in them. We’ve got President Obama pushing a trade bill with Republican help while Hillary Clinton flip-flops from hailing it, without reservation, as the “gold standard” to opposing it, because union bosses told her to. That’s not an ideological struggle, it’s two groups of Democrat special interests having a factional squabble. Rank-and-file Democrat voters will have nothing to do with the outcome.
What’s left for conservatives to “conserve?”
We’re fighting on dangerous ground. We’re down to defending capitalism itself. We’re the only ones left in America who care about freedom of speech or religion. (Qualified, nuanced defense of “free speech” is meaningless, because it makes the freedom of expression negotiable, and violence is increasingly treated as acceptable currency in the negotiations.)
Conservatives are also fighting to defend citizenship, which is under crippling assault. That struggle is not just about illegal immigration, although certainly it’s a major element of the debate, and the one that gets all the heated press coverage. Citizenship is also about the duties and responsibilities of every citizen, regardless of where they were born. The Democrats’ welfare-dependency schemes, their very aggressive quest to turn middle-class people into government dependents, will redefine citizenship as surely as open borders. Indeed, given the enthusiasm for handing out taxpayer-funded freebies to illegal aliens at the Democrat debate, it’s painfully obvious these topics are linked.
Another sign of such linkage is the stirring of nationalism on the Democrat side, most forcefully expounded by Bernie Sanders, who spends a lot of time railing against predatory foreigners. That won’t go far, because his campaign is only a vaudeville sideshow designed to set up Hillary Clinton’s comeback narrative – surprise, Sanders supporters! – and she’s mostly an internationalist… except for the unions prodding her to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.
Left-wing dogma holds “nationalism” to be a supreme evil, a species of the “selfishness” they constantly denounce, and an obstacle to the international spread of collectivism they have always desired. (The Left is confident that trans-national governing bodies will always skew leftward, because their true purpose is to elevate power beyond the ability of subject-citizens to oppose it through elections. American citizens don’t get to vote against United Nations diktats, for example.)
Somehow citizenship has become the nearly exclusive concern of the Right – and it’s often portrayed as an issue of the “far Right” at that. For instance, a recent Politico article on the possibility of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) running for Speaker of the House asserted that “his adversaries on the far right want to discredit his campaign before it even begins — and they’re using Ryan’s extensive pro-immigration record as their key weapon.”
The article goes on to praise Ryan for his “lengthy history of pushing for an overhaul that runs counter to the most conservative wings of his own party,” and claims his “business-centric approach in favor of boosting legal immigration and letting undocumented immigrants ‘get right with the law’ are anathema to the far right.”
Of course, the truth is that all the “far right” wants is respect for the rule of law and American citizenship. They want the laws on the books taken seriously and enforced. High praise for legal immigrants is common among pundits and politicians who take citizenship seriously. There’s nothing “far right” about it at all – the vast majority of the American people are, and always have been, opposed to the deliberate weakening of America’s borders, and the granting of amnesty to illegal aliens. That’s why slippery parliamentary tricks and dishonest rhetoric are the meat and drink of the open-borders crew, which routinely excises the word “illegal” from discussions of immigration, to create the impression there is no fundamental difference between legal immigrants and illegal aliens.
We should take the prevalence of dishonesty and bullying tactics from open-borders advocates as a sign of their weakness, and an opportunity to connect with the American people, who generally dislike being lied to. Take virtually any broadside from an open borders advocate, accurately insert the word “illegal” before every mention of illegal immigrants, and their rhetoric will strike the vast majority of Americans as completely absurd.
This highlights a major difference between Right and Left: the former believe that power must be tempered by responsibility. Enforcing citizenship laws is something the Ruling Class views as a deeply unpleasant task with little political or financial upside for them, so it’s a duty they feel free to shirk. The Right should be united by its belief that politicians don’t get to choose which laws they enforce to suit their own convenience.
If the Right wants to get into fighting shape for 2016, it should focus on the importance of vigorously defending capitalism and citizenship. Teach the American people how they are both indispensable components of liberty and prosperity.
If we lose capitalism, we will not long remain free or independent in any meaningful sense, and poverty will grow from a social problem into a deadly cancer. If we lose citizenship, we will surely lose capitalism, because capitalism presumes both individual responsibility, and government subservient to the people – all of the people, not just individuals with good connections and groups with organized political muscle.
Make the true definition of the Right clear, and the true nature of the Left will inevitably become clear. It will still have supporters, but not enough. If the majority of free people really supported the ideas of the Left, they wouldn’t need so much compulsive force to impose their ideas. That’s the dirty little secret revealed when a good conservative candidate asks his liberal opponents how they plan to pay for their big-spending wish lists. It’s the card that can win every election, if it’s played with a steady hand.