A Philosopher's Blog

A Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 28, 2009

President Clinton was recently asked whether the “vast right wing conspiracy” that allegedly plagued his administration is still around or not. His view is that it is not as strong as it was, but is still virulent. Naturally, one might wonder whether there is such a vast conspiracy or not.

People do love conspiracy theories of this sort.  The left has this “vast right wing conspiracy” while the right has its own favorite: the liberal media conspiracy.  Such theories are very appealing to folks. First, it is appealing to the ego to think that your are so important that a vast conspiracy has risen up against you (or your cause). Second, it provides a useful scapegoat in case of failure (“it wasn’t me, it was the vast conspiracy”).  Third, conspiracy implies secrecy, so it is a difficult thing to disprove.

Fortunately, the application of a little reason can help sort out the matter.

First of all, the conspiracy cannot be all that vast. After all, if it were truly vast, then Obama would not be in office. Of course, it could still be fairly large (just not large enough to stop Obama or the Democrats).

Second, most right wingers seem to be very open about their dislike. If they are conspiring, they don’t seem to get the idea that a conspiracy is supposed to be secret.

Third, the idea that the conspiracy is vast certainly implies that it is a unified movement. However, the right wing does not seem to be unified to the degree required for it to count as a vast conspiracy. Sure, there are folks that are right wing and are up to various sneaky things, but I would not consider this a vast conspiracy. If the right were so well organized and unified that it could maintain a vast and secret conspiracy, it seems unlikely that the Democrats would stand a chance against it.

Does this mean that there are not well organized right leaning groups that act in secrecy against the Democrats? No, not at all. Clearly there are such groups. Just as there are left leaning groups that act in secrecy against the Republicans. However, there seems to be no vast conspiracy on either side. Or perhaps they are so good at conspiracy, that they have been able to hide their vastness and amazing abilities behind the illusion of smallness and fallibility.

The Fall of Conservatism?

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 6, 2008

The death of William F. Buckley depleted both the ranks of American conservatives and American thinkers. This event has lead many, including Newsweek to claim that conservatism is crumbling and adrift. While this seems correct, the crumbling of American conservatism is nothing new.

To discuss the alleged fall of conservatism  requires defining conservatism. This is a somewhat tricky manner. Often, in the United States, there are but three political options: liberal, conservative, and the fringe (left or right). Hence, the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are forced to cover a broad range of views-some of which are not exactly consistent with each other.

The stock definition of conservatism includes four main aspects: limited government, fiscal responsibility, strong defense both foreign and domestic, that is-military and police), and traditional moral values. Naturally there is vast disagreement about the particulars. But, for the sake of simplicity, I will take that to provide a general picture of conservatism.

Conservatism does seem to have taken a beating in recent years. Republicans claim, in general, to be conservatives and their political fortunes have taken a downturn in recent years (losing Congress to the Democrats being the main example). They have also been rocked by scandals too numerous to mention.

Some might blame the weakened state of conservatism in America on their dire enemies-the liberals. While a case could be made that Al Gore, MTV, Myspace, texting and Tila Tequila helped deal serious blows to the conservative values of America, much of the blame can be laid to rest on the self-proclaimed conservatives.

While Buckley presented a well thought out and consistent form of conservatism while living in accord with his ideals, many self-styled conservatives (most of which were labeled as “neo-conservatives”) acted in ways directly contrary to their professed values.

In terms of fiscal conservatism, Bush and the Republican congress presided over a massive growth in the deficit. Ironically, it was a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who handed them a surplus.  Obviously, people began to notice this and this helped put cracks in the conservative movement,

In terms of defense, the conservatives were more consistent-they pushed for a stronger military and took action to defend America. While their strategy can be questioned (specifically the invasion of Iraq) their commitment to pouring money into defense cannot be doubted. Of course, the unpopularity of the Iraq war has helped to damage the conservative movement.

In terms of limited government, the opposite has occurred. With alleged conservatives at the helm, the government has suffered from severe bloat. While people do love programs that benefit them, they tend to resent those that merely benefit others or provide no apparent benefit. This has also helped to damage conservatism.

In terms of traditional values, moral scandals have been all too common among those professing to be keepers of such values. Further, basic rights have been shunted aside and the most basic America value of all, rule of law, has been ignored on numerous occasions. The alleged defenders of morality have failed time after time to live up to even the most basic moral values, let alone the values they profess. These often hypocritical moral failings have done perhaps the most serious damage to the movement.  When someone claims to be a champion of what is right, people expect them to (at the very least) be morally decent.  The numerous moral failures by so many self proclaimed conservatives has tarnished the movement.

As many have claimed, the death of Buckley has left America without a great and true conservative intellectual. There are, of course, competent and true conservative thinkers out there-but Buckley was such a giant that he has left a massive gap in the ranks. It remains to be seen if someone will emerge who is strong enough, wise enough, and good enough to restore American conservatism. I certainly hope someone is up to the task. Meanwhile, we’ll have to just endure the usual shallow and contentious banter from the speakers of the right and the left.

Some might be surprised about my hope-I have often been accused of being a liberal. This is not the case, but merely the result of the rather unfortunate three label system that has plagued the political discourse.  I suppose that my views would push me more into the liberal camp, but many of my views would also place me in the conservative camp. I try to believe what reason best supports-so it is no surprise that I, like many people, don’t neatly fit a stock political label.

With Enemies Like This

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on February 13, 2008

I’ve known for some time that the right wing media elite have a great deal of hatred for McCain. The latest (February 18, 2008) issue of Newsweek presents some of what these folks have said about McCain. These folks include James Dobson, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck.

Having followed Dobson, Coulter and Limbaugh for years, my view of them is that they seem to be, in general, morally mistaken and masters of mere rhetoric. I do suspect that they grasp the basics of logic but know that they realize what I tell my students: poor logic and fallacies tend to have far more persuasive force than good reasoning. Of course, all that I’ve just said can be seen as an ad hominem (a favorite tool of Mr. Limbaugh).

Since I regard the so-called conservative media elite as reliable indicators of the false, the fact that they hate McCain with such venom seems to provide good inductive support for the claim that he would make an excellent President. After all, the plans and policies supported by people like Limbaugh and Coulter seem to be paradigm cases of bad ideas.

Of course, the points of dispute with McCain should be given due consideration.

The first point of contention is that he supported campaign finance reform. While all politicians must avail themselves of the money of others, the right wing Republicans seem to take great umbrage at any attempts to reduce the peddling of influence. However, the effects of such campaign finance seems to be corruption of democracy in favor of the rich. This is not what democracy should be about. Hence, McCain seems to be in the right.

The second point of contention is that McCain supports a compromise on illegal immigration rather than the seemingly xenophobic view endorsed by the right. While the United States needs to reform how it handles immigration and the problem with illegal aliens, the solutions offered by the right are not, in fact, solutions. Walls are ineffective and many of the proposed polices seem to to simply fail to address the reality of the situation. Once again, McCain’s position seems more rational and practical than that of the right.

McCain has also been accused of opposing tax cuts for the rich. Presumably, the fear is that he might actually require the rich to pay more taxes. From a moral standpoint this seems reasonable. The rich generally benefit more from the government (Thoreau has an excellent argument about the rich and the state in his discussion of civil disobedience) and hence should pay more for what they receive. Further, the basic principle of contribution is that if you have more, then you should contribute more. Tax cuts for the rich do help the rich-but the state of the economy shows that they do not benefit the rest of us.

Another major point of contention is that McCain is opposed to prisons like Guantanamo as well as torture. I have argued in a column that torture is morally unacceptable and hence hold that McCain has the correct position on this issue. I also disagree morally with places like Guantanamo. The United States is founded on the notion of the rule of law as well as a commitment to fundamental rights. Places like Guantanamo and the events associated with them are a clear violation of our founding principles. Some right wingers contend that we need to do such things to survive. But, I am with Socrates on this matter. Death will claim us all in the end, we have no choice in this. What is in our power is the choice between good and evil. It is true that survival is the first basic law of nature as Hobbes and Aquinas argued. But, mere life is not enough and it does not profit a man to sell his soul, even to gain the entire earth. I will not purchase my safety through injustice and evil deeds and will never support or tolerate those who would do so. Hence, I think McCain is in the right here.

It is also interesting that none of his detractors have served the country as he did-enduring years of torture and pain as a prisoner of war. He has earned the right to greater respect than they have given him. Apparently it is not part of the ideology of the right to honor those who have truly made sacrifices for America. Rather, they seem devoted to the rich, the xenophobic, those who embrace torture and those who seem content to throw away justice, right and liberty.

I don’t agree with everything McCain believes, but the hatred of the rabid right just improves my opinion of the man. If they hate him, he must be doing something right.