- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Why I Am a Conservative Leftist

[The May/June issue of The American Conservative featured Jonathan Bronitsky’s review [1] of Daniel Oppenheimer’s new book Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century [2]. This article is the first in an exchange between Bronitsky, Oppenheimer, and Samuel Goldman. Be sure not to miss Bronitsky’s “Who Are the Ex-Conservatives? [3] [3] and Goldman’s [4]The End of Political Conversions? [4]]

Dear Jonathan,

Before I respond directly to your thoughtful review [1] of my book [2], I want to begin by recognizing the possibility that I may someday look back on this exchange as my very own entry into that small genre of essays written by soon-to-be-ex-leftists just before they decisively break from the left.

These essays tend to be anxious productions, with affection mixed uneasily with notes of aggression, betrayal, and loss. If only the left could change in these ways, it would deserve my continued loyalty. If only it would ‘fess up to its past mistakes. If only it would temper its utopianism with a pinch of pragmatism. If only, if only.

Advertisement

David Horowitz wrote a classic essay of this type in The Nation in December of 1979, as he was on his way out of the left. Max Eastman wrote many such pieces before finally letting go of the left. The one I write about in my book is “Russia and the Socialist Ideal [5],” which Harper’s published in 1938. It made leading Trotskyist intellectual James Burnham so angry, and uneasy, that he wrote “Max Eastman As Scientist,” [6] which was both a really nasty attack on Eastman and also, it became apparent in retrospect, evidence of his own increasing ambivalence. Two years later Burnham would publish a parting letter to Trotsky, “Science and Style [7],” that’s one of the more fascinating documents of socialist disillusionment.

Christopher Hitchens never wrote an essay that pleaded with the left to reform itself so that he could remain loyal. He wasn’t much on pleading. He did, however, write two of the canonical “Goodbye to All That” essays, another type I’ve recently identified and begun cataloguing. These pieces are published just after the decisive break, and tend to be rather nasty.

The first of these from Hitchens was published in the Washington Post, in late October 2002. In it, just to give one of many tart examples, he wrote of how much he “despise[d] a Left that thinks of Osama bin Laden as a slightly misguided anti-imperialist.”

A few weeks later, in an exchange in The Nation [8] with Katha Pollitt, he went on:

I am against aggressive totalitarian states and I am resolutely opposed to religious fanaticism. I am also sickened by any attempt to call these hideous things by other names. Most especially in its horrible elicitation of readers’ letters on the anniversary of September 11, The Nation joined the amoral side. It’s the customers I want to demoralize, not just the poor editors. I say that they stand for neutralism where no such thing is possible or desirable, and I say the hell with it.

I don’t think I’m on my way out of the left, but I would be a sorry chronicler of the left-to-right journey if I didn’t point out that what I’m about to do, which is articulate some of the ways I’m not comfortable on the left, seems like the kind of thing people do when they’re working themselves up to leaving the left.

Also, and this is what I really want to engage, your review makes the case that my whole book, unbeknownst to me, is an argument about the dangers of utopian left illusions. You write that it “radiates the core philosophical thrust of the right, a solemn warning about the audacity of schemes that endeavor to recreate heaven, in all its perfection, here on earth.”

I’m not sure if that’s the core message of the book, or that I was entirely unaware of the currents of conservative subtext in my writing, but you’re on to something. As I was researching and writing, and going as deep as I possibly could into the minds of my subjects, I became more viscerally persuaded of the genuine dangers of the utopian imagination. I developed a real disgust for the Soviet Union, and a greater frustration with the left’s recurring bouts of sympathy for totalitarians and authoritarians who espouse the right Marxist principles. I tried to put myself, imaginatively, in those moments and places when the left’s actions and ideas seemed to most warrant that “solemn warning about the audacity of schemes that endeavor to recreate heaven, in all its perfection, here on earth.”

What would I do? Would I turn? Would I stay in line, out of fear of alienating friends and comrades? Would I chart a more idiosyncratic course, like some of the early neoconservatives like Sidney Hook and Daniel Bell, who parted ways with the Marxist left but never really became conservatives?

I honestly don’t know, but in trying to answer those questions I also came to reflect on some of the ways in which I’m temperamentally fairly conservative. On a gut level I care a lot more about my friends and family than I do about the masses. I view with skepticism people who want to preach to me, from on their high horse, what I should be thinking and doing in the name of justice. I see our political system as being, on balance, one of the more half-decent ones that history has produced, and I’m somewhat horrified by radicals who think that its very real and deep flaws and sins justify tearing it all down. I think human societies, like human beings, are flawed, imperfect, frail things, and as such deserve both idealistic prods to be better than they are and some measure of tolerance and compassion for the many ways in which they’ll inevitably fail.

These are all perspectives that fit comfortably under the rubric of “conservative.” Yet my overt politics are democratic socialist.

At the most conscious, explicit level I would like for the U.S. to move (democratically, with moral urgency but not haste) in the direction of those lovely Scandinavian countries, or at least my fantasy of them, where a vibrant market economy co-exists with high taxes, a generous welfare state, strong unions, tough but well-engineered regulations, appropriate urgency about climate change, egalitarian views about sexuality and gender, and a general aversion to war and imperialism.

One question this raises is whether there’s an internal inconsistency between those explicit policy preferences and my more conservative instincts and dispositions, and if so, is the tension great enough that it may one day resolve itself in political conversion? Am I holding on to a political identity, in other words, that doesn’t fit anymore?

I don’t think so. What it seems to me, and I think this is another core argument of the book, is that our basic disposition doesn’t pre-determine our political identity. What it does, instead, is shape the way in which we inhabit the political identity that we end up choosing, or that ends up choosing us. And it does so in conversation with all sorts of other dynamic factors, including the lessons of experience, other theoretical frameworks and insights we acquire, our assessment of the current political balance of forces, and so on.

For me, right now, that all adds up to being what one might call a conservative leftist, or what the great critic George Scialabba once called a “25th century utopian,” someone who’s hopeful that someday as a species, if we don’t screw things up, we may acquire the wisdom and structures to live in a genuinely beautiful and just world, and that not screwing things up entails both the cultivation of a utopian vision and caution that we’re not too reckless in our rush toward it.

I’m attracted to progress, but wary of too much disruption. I’m attracted to a more equitable society in no small part because it seems like one that would bring more stability and social harmony than our current economic arrangement does. I like unions because although I believe that a certain amount of hierarchy and authority is natural and ethical in human arrangements, I resent the often unchecked tyranny of the workplace. Unions seem like a good, democratic means of enabling more dignity and autonomy in the workplace.

I’m also just someone, viscerally, who is averse to certain types of political personae that populate the left and right to differing degrees. I don’t like a certain type of unreflective campus radical (score one for the right). I don’t like a certain type of corporate/finance type who thinks his expertise in the business world translates to a universal wisdom about politics and history (score one for the left). I don’t like people who think that politics just needs to be rationalized (take that, libertarians and neoliberals).

I could go on, but the point I’m trying to make isn’t that you should adopt my politics and peccadilloes, but rather that if Exit Right [2] is indeed a warning about the dangers of the utopian imagination, I hope it’s also an argument about how incredibly difficult it is, as a human being, over the course of a lifetime, to keep all of these impulses, insights, and considerations in proper perspective and in fruitful conversation with each other.

By ending most of my chapters when my subjects left the left, and not spending much time with them as fully developed conservatives, I may have left certain more obvious examples of this point on the table. The focus was on the delusions and flaws of the left. But just to be clear about it, I think some of my subjects massively overlearned the lessons of their misspent leftist youths. Their political imaginations became so consumed by their critiques of the left that they became unable to see how complex the American left can be, how many different currents and types of people it can contain, and how can it change over time. You say it rather wonderfully in the review:

Howling about the Democratic Party’s ‘socialist’ policies more and more resembles Aesop’s boy who cried wolf. Social welfare has been around for decades in America, and a gulag archipelago has yet to manifest in the Alaskan icebox. Further muddying the situation, a significant swath of self-professed conservatives back jacking up taxes on the rich and expanding public programs. Plus, while radicalism was once scary, it’s so downright goofy today it’s almost adorable. Credit for that goes entirely to its foremost champion, Bernie Sanders, a wobbly, wild-haired altacocker from sleepy Vermont for whom, as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog put it, a ‘Super Tuesday’ is having to visit the bathroom only once in the middle of the night.

This 21st century American left, which I suspect is on the rise, and will wield more influence over the next few decades than it has in the past few decades, is one I feel comfortable supporting. I think it’s a far better bet, in terms of humanizing and stabilizing American society, than the right, and felt that way even before the right attached itself to Donald Trump, who truly scares the bejesus out of my conservative self. I can imagine a future in which the left becomes powerful enough, and indulges its worst instincts enough, that I’d turn against it, but to my eyes that isn’t now. As we go forward I’ll just have to do my best to remain flexible enough in my thinking, and secure enough in myself, that I can ally with the right side, whatever that side is.

What do you think, though? What is the challenge the current moment poses to conservatives, in terms of reconciling all the warring parts of the conservative soul. You end your review with a fascinating sentence that I’m not totally sure I understand. After pointing out that socialism is no longer an enemy worthy of conservatives’ full intellectual attention and assault, you write: “Lacking a blatantly dangerous target to explode, the task before us is rediscovering not what we stand against—that’s obvious—but why exactly we’re opposed to what we stand against.”

What is the obvious thing that you should stand against? And can you elaborate on what you mean with that closing question? What is the task of rediscovering what you’re opposed to what you stand against? I feel like you’re on to something really profound, but I’m not yet sure what it is.

Best,
Dan

Daniel Oppenheimer, the author of Exit Right [2], is a writer and short documentary filmmaker. His articles and videos have been featured in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Tablet, and Salon.com.

[Read Jonathan Bronitsky’s reply. [3]]

29 Comments (Open | Close)

29 Comments To "Why I Am a Conservative Leftist"

#1 Comment By KD On July 22, 2016 @ 9:25 am

Something I find interesting about the Left is the idolization of the political systems in Scandinavian countries. Don’t get me wrong, there is much to be admired about Scandinavia.

But the Left seems to miss two points about Scandinavia: Scandinavian countries are small, and ethnically homogenous.

In contrast, America is large, and ethnically and racially diverse. This makes a Scandinavian welfare state adminstratively cumbersome, and means attempts at the politics of redistribution will always devolve into the politics of racial division.

Many Leftists criticize the New Deal for making express concessions to Southern Segregationists and White Supremacists–without recognizing that those concessions made the New Deal politically feasible.

I think the only feasible way of creating redistribution on the scale of Scandinavia in America could only be through a totalitarian state like the Soviet Union and Maoist China. From my perspective, this is curing the cough through decapitation.

So I find the modern Left a curious thing: advocating for Scandinavia on one hand, yet opposing secessionist movements and doing their best to manipulate the national demographics in way that probably makes the limited American welfare state unfeasible in the long term. That is to say, they advocate an end and they employ a means that is contrary to that end.

So I have to conclude that the modern Left has no real interest in socialism or economic equality or trade unions, or any of that business. It is primarily identity politics, and the main thing sought is an increase in civil rights laws so the government and the courts can micromanage employment and rental housing. This also creates cushy jobs for federal bureaucrats and “consultants” and university administrators, but is about as “radical” as a public golf course.

So I find your comments very interesting, and I wonder how much the Left is actually self-conscious about their political agenda, and the contradictions between means and ends that characterizes it. Surely some are just cynical looking for patronage, but I get the sense there are a lot of “true believers”.

#2 Comment By Thomas Kaempfen On July 22, 2016 @ 10:44 am

KD: “America is large, and ethnically and racially diverse.”

America is racially diverse, but not ethnically so. That is, there is a single American ethnicity, an American cultural nation, and almost everyone here belongs to it. It’s defined by American vernacular, common folkways, and shared history. Americans are a people, a nation, no less so than the Swedes or the French or the Japanese.

There are, of course, those on the left and the right who see national belonging in terms of race or religion or biological descent. But they’re just plain wrong. Ethnic identity is a function of culture, not blood.

And race is only a fiction anyway. It has no scientific or objective reality. It’s long been a horribly destructive fiction (and to that extent it resembles a reality). But it’s the continuing belief in this fiction that makes identity politics – of the leftist kind, as practiced by SJW’s, or the rightist kind as manifest in Trumpism – such a danger to us all.

#3 Comment By KD On July 22, 2016 @ 11:00 am

The other thing to point out, 50 years into liberal social engineering, is that there is little evidence that any of this civil rights legislation has accomplished much of anything.

If you look at Black/White IQ gaps, educational attainment gaps, wealth gaps, etc., they have barely budged, despite Head Start, civil rights laws in education, employment and housing, voting rights, etc.

Sure we have a Black President, but we had a Black Supreme Court Justice during the days of Jim Crow.

So for all the expense and restrictions, we have little bang for the buck, and it is unclear that the marginal expansions of the centralized bureaucratic over private spaces and private property, while perhaps making some people feel good temporarily, is going to accomplish anything, either.

If you quit with the “back in the bad old days” narrative, and actually look at housing segregation in 1950 and today, racial wealth disparities in 1950 and today, etc. etc., you can see there has been almost no progress at all. Its been an almost total waste of time, political capital and treasure, which could have been put into something else.

#4 Comment By KD On July 22, 2016 @ 11:04 am

should be “centralized bureaucratic control over private spaces and private property”

#5 Comment By Anthony M On July 22, 2016 @ 11:25 am

Great read, especially because I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I’m a conservative leftist as well. I think incremental change is desirable for many reasons, and I see no core conflict between liberty and a more activist (little r) republican government. I started out as a Republican because I thought the party stood more for liberty, but the lessons of 20th century American history pushed me away from the idea that we can live in freedom without collective government rules to protect the more vulnerable.

So I see the arguments about dismantling social welfare programs so that the private sector can take over as naive idealism just as much as I see Sanders et. al. as naive idealists for pushing for a radical healthcare reform so soon after we have begun a new status quo. That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with him… I do think it’s where we will end up eventually, and I’m eagerly awaiting that day, but change has to come incrementally for people to buy in.

#6 Comment By Roland Kayser On July 22, 2016 @ 1:03 pm

I’ve just found a new term to describe my politics, conservative leftist. I used to say I’m an Eisenhower Republican, and in the contest of today’s politics that makes me a liberal, but conservative leftist works better.

I agree that we can’t replicate Scandinavia, we should aim for somewhere between Canada and Germany.

#7 Comment By KD On July 22, 2016 @ 1:58 pm

Thomas Kaempfen:

I am not sure if you are making assertions of religious faith, or whether your assertions are intended as empirical description. If you are expressing views that are unfalsifiable, then there is nothing I can say.

However, Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fisher discusses some of the diverse folkways originating in the British Isles and how they played out in America. Also, Eric Kaufmann’s The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America discusses the ethnic history of the United States.

Of course, if you read any history from the 19th and early 20th century at all, you will see the Irish and the Italians and the Anglo-Saxons (in White Hoods) kicking it up with each other, not to mention African-Americans during that period.

America is ethnically diverse, and getting more so by the day. Moreover, many of the old ethnic patterns (and differences) persist as regional differences in America.

As far as race being “socially constructed” or not, you realize it doesn’t matter so long as deficits in education, income and wealth are perpetuated inter-generationally? Especially since no one has come up with a solution that actually works for “socially deconstructing” those differences.

It has been mostly confined to ignoring the elephant in the living room or explained as some kind of cosmic ethnic conspiracy theory.

What is interesting to me is that the Left has been unable or unwilling to change, despite ongoing evidence that its pet blank-slate anthropology is almost certainly hogwash.

#8 Comment By Donald Pretari On July 22, 2016 @ 3:29 pm

I’ve been a Libertarian, Republican, and Democrat, at various times since 1975. Currently, I’m a Democrat. However, since about 1980, I’ve had the same political positions. Every position I have comes from Burke, Adam Smith, Bagehot, Jevons, Hayek, Milton Friedman, Frank Knight, James Buchanan, Michael Oakeshott, Henry Simons, and Keynes. Not one do I consider a leftist. So, Narrow Banking, a Guaranteed Income, serious Inheritance Tax, Progressive Income Tax, serious anti-trust enforcement, small military and against interventions, Second Amendment, etc. Other heroes are Bolingbroke, Clarendon, Disraeli, John Randolph of Roanoke, Lincoln, and Ike.

Obviously, I disagree with various of their positions as well. As a shorthand, I tell people that Milton Friedman had self-described Pragmatic Positions and Utopian Positions. I generally follow his Pragmatic Positions. Curiously, most American conservatives and libertarians favor his Utopian Positions.

I’ve never been able to get much from lefties to righties, largely because they seem to go from one extreme to the other, a journey that doesn’t interest me. Their path seems to be psychologically driven, which is fine, because maybe I can’t be other than pragmatic and sort of centrist. That’s just our personalities. But, whereas I might expect them to understand their former comrades and help bridge the gap between their old and new positions, they seem to tend towards despising their old friends. I don’t get that.

I don’t find most American conservatives to be Burkean, for example, in any meaningful sense of the word. For example, you can’t despise compromise or be an ideologue and follow Burke, since he detests such positions. If I were to pick a conservative, it would be Wendell Berry, who might veer left. Nevertheless, Berry strikes me as a conservative.

One exception to from lefties to righties…Chambers…Witness is a very good book.

#9 Comment By Mac61 On July 22, 2016 @ 3:31 pm

Yes, a good read. From experience, may I say that when you fall out of line and risk alienating your leftist cohort of friends, the majority will stay your friend and just see you as crazy. They will still call you once a year and friend you on Facebook. Over the decades, there may be less and less connection. But I think on some level they are glad to know someone reasonable and thinking who is in some way conservative. They can argue with you and be puzzled at the same time. Oft-repeated line: “Well, you seem thoughtful, so why don’t you deal with all those crazy people who think like you do???!!”

#10 Comment By Colorado Jack On July 22, 2016 @ 4:32 pm

Sweden was once ethnically homogeneous, but not any more. From Wikipedia: “As of 2010, 1.33 million people or 14.3% of the inhabitants in Sweden were foreign-born. Of these, 859,000 (64.6%) were born outside the European Union ” Sweden’s percentage of foreign born is actually a tad higher than the US’s. It’s giving them some problems, from what I read, but it also looks like they are tackling the problems pretty intelligently. The current realities of the Scandinavian countries resemble ours, and I for one hope they can provide us a good model.

#11 Comment By Chris D. On July 22, 2016 @ 5:32 pm

Hey. Let’s not rehash the old Scandinavia argument here. It’s got nothing to do with size or homogeneity one way or the other. Look up the 2013 article on this site (The Nordic Mirage) and/or the more recent article at NewGeography(dot)com (Challenging Nordic Myths). Both are very good and worth reading.

#12 Comment By bayesian On July 22, 2016 @ 6:21 pm

@KD
Colorado Jack beat me to it, although one should note a few things in the interest of intellectual honesty:

1) Sweden does indeed have a significantly greater portion of foreign born than the US, but none of the other Nordics do, although Norway is coming fairly close (Norwegian statistics model is different, in that they group Norway-born children of two immigrant parents in the “immigrant” cluster; that overstates Norway’s immigrant population compared to e.g. the US).

2) You (KD) made reference to “ethnic diversity”; the non-immigrant population of Sweden has relatively little ethnic diversity, since large scale immigration to Sweden is pretty recent (nothing really noticeable until after WW2, and it didn’t really take off until the mid-Sixties). US situation is rather different in that respect.

3) Yep, there have been what I would call statistically significant (versus random outrage bias) assimilation problems along multiple axes with Somalis in Sweden. From the statistics I have seen, the problems really seem to cluster with Somalis, not with Muslims in general (i.e. not with Iraqis, Syrians, Iranians, or Bosnians, all of whom outnumber Somalis). Hard to say in particular in the case of the Syrians who tend to be quite recent immigrants for obvious reasons.

4) My time in Sweden is limited to Stockholm and surrounding cities (Norrköping and Västerås); in particular I’ve never been to Gothenburg. That said, my anecdotal experience was that those areas were pretty well integrated based on well known visibly mixed groups at bars and restaurants index :), plus the relatively rarity of apparently monoethnic islands. I didn’t get around enough to have much confidence in those measures, but it was strikingly different from e.g. Germany or France.

#13 Comment By JAJB On July 22, 2016 @ 6:34 pm

This is fascinating, first because—like many of the other readers here today, it seems—I’ve at last found a political name I feel I can call myself. “Conservative leftist.” I like the sound of it.

But the more important work of this article is that it splits the familiar old political right-or-left question into a more complete picture. Deeper down, a political identity has valences on two spectra. There’s a spectrum of temperament , on which a conservative leftist is conservative (as opposed to, I’d say, aggressive), and there’s a spectrum of value , on which a conservative leftist is leftist (as opposed to rightist).

Value is a voter’s ideological belief as to what goal politics should pursue. Leftists envision the robust and effective government that Daniel Oppenheimer here attributes to a Scandinavian ideal. Rightists envision a minimalist government that encourages maximal individual and economic liberties. Centrists think we’ve got it more or less right the way we have it right now. It’s all a spectrum, so there are varying degrees of leftism and rightism going on depending on the features of your own particular ideal goal.

Temperament , on the other hand, is a voter’s factual belief as to the best way to achieve that goal. Conservatives believe in a measured approach, caution, the democratic process, and the avoidance of haste; their biggest fear is that we ruin our chances at achieving the ideal if we push too fast or too unsustainably. Aggressives (they really aren’t necessarily “liberals”) believe that their ideal requires all haste and any means possible; their biggest fear is that without sudden, sweeping, powerful change, nothing will ever happen at all. Like value, temperament is a spectrum, and you can fall more or less along its line.

So it’s not particularly odd to be a conservative leftist—that just means you’re at a leftward place on the value scale and a cautious place on the temperament scale. In Oppenheimer’s words, it’s “both the cultivation of a utopian vision [leftism] and caution that we’re not too reckless in our rush toward it [conservatism].” I think what makes it seem strange is that recent American politics has simply offered more and more of a mouthpiece to speakers of more aggressive temperament, whatever their value valence. In other words, what looks unique about conservative leftism isn’t the combination of the two beliefs, it’s that conservatism is one of those beliefs at all.

How’s that for a theory?

#14 Comment By Thomas Kaempfen On July 22, 2016 @ 7:24 pm

KD:

I meant to present an alternative to the common, dreary understandings of American nationhood (democratic universalism, nativism, etc.), but I believe it’s also a compelling understanding: America is a nation like any other (e.g. Sweden), but like in any other identity is based on culture, not blood. I’ll sidestep the demands of academic precision and just say that if one finds useful the concept of ethnic nation as applied to peoples such as the French or the Poles or the Kurds, then there’s no reason not to apply the same concept to Americans.

Our nation was founded by British Protestant colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries, but it has (obviously) changed a lot since then, mostly through massive immigration. At the beginning American-ness was thought to be exclusive to British Protestants, but as other groups arrived and assimilated to American culture the understanding of that culture was expanded to include all white Christians (and maybe Jews). That didn’t mean, for example, that blacks weren’t part of the American nation, only that they were incorrectly perceived as not being part of it. And later it became clear to many that people of other races were as American as anyone else. But it was that cultural assimilation, what used to be known as the melting pot, that made those immigrants and their descendants into perfectly genuine Americans.

As for Fischer, I think he supports rather than undermines my view. His theory is that each of the four main regional American sub-cultures was settled by a regional sub-culture from Britain. So New England was settled by East Anglian Puritans fleeing Stuart persecution in the 1630’s; the Tidewater South was settled by Cavaliers fleeing Cromwell in the 1640’s; etc. Further, once a regional culture was established it stuck; it maintained itself for centuries after, even with the addition of outsiders (who eventually assimilated to that sub-culture). The point is that each of the four regional sub-cultures was established by a British sub-culture that has lasted to this day. That means that the vast majority of the country retains its British stamp. So we’re all still British at base; we have one basic culture.

Race is a fiction that we treat like a reality and therefore give force. It needs to be directly addressed for its destructive effects, sure. But we also need to be clear what a foolish fantasy it is, and how much better off we would be if we gave it up. Maybe that’s unrealistic, but it’s probably the only way out of the nightmare into which identity politics is leading us. If it’s unrealistic then I fear that continued American success is just as unrealistic.

#15 Comment By Thomas Kaempfen On July 22, 2016 @ 8:19 pm

I should add that most of my position is taken from [9] by Michael Lind. That book really changed my thinking about American identity. And, BTW it was Lind who introduced me to Fischer.

#16 Comment By Gaius Gracchus On July 22, 2016 @ 10:41 pm

I have morphed into a conservative leftist for lack of a better term. Ike Republican might work.

But I prefer Whig, since I look back to the policies of Henry Clay.

I am nationalistic. I favor internal improvements. I have long favored tariffs, the position of all the parties to oppose Democrats until the Cold War.

I especially favor the rule of law, both high and low. I don’t mind high taxes on the rich and efforts to reduce their exorbitant wealth, largely the result of chance and cronyism and illegal and unethical practices.

I oppose immigration. I oppose speculation. I would prefer if Wall Street was boring and lacking in power like in the 50s.

I don’t want to police the world and have 800 military bases outside the US.

The ideas I support are not available in any party today. But I believe they are the best for the country….

#17 Comment By Neal On July 23, 2016 @ 8:58 am

I don’t know the author, but I’m guessing he thinks of himself as part of some political class whose policy preferences and ideology are worth paying some attention. That’s fair. I suppose we all wish someone in power would pay attention to us…. But they don’t.

We all have our utopian “if I were dictator” fantasies about how the world should work and there is certainly no harm in writing or talking about them. Let us, however, be honest with all for just a moment. No one cares what we think and no one cares how we vote. Polls say Americans want all sorts of things for their country that aren’t even on the table. I want criminals to stop committing crimes and police to stop harassing people. I want the US military to come home and stop killing people who, I think, pose no threat to me. I’d like for my employer to pay its workers better and I’d like workers to be more engaged. I’d like people to be more responsible in their personal relationships and I’d like people to stop obsessing about who other people love. I’d like people to stop using drugs and I’d like them all to be legal.

But no one cares what I think and no one is going to change any of these things. My political identity doesn’t matter. What matters is how I interact with the people around me every day.

If we all just start treating each other with respect all the other problems can be solved. Live and let live. Easy to say, hard to do. It’s not a conservative or a liberal thing… It’s a decency thing.

#18 Comment By Johann On July 23, 2016 @ 11:22 am

When Sweden’s social welfare program became unsustainable in the 1990s, primarily due to immigration, they had relatively little problem restructuring (code word for reducing benefits) the program to be sustainable once again. Germany did the same when they unified. Do you think that would happen here? We can’t even seem to do that with our old age pension system that we call Social Security. No, we don’t have the fiscal discipline to be like Scandinavia or Germany. We will remain in fiscal denial and become one big Greece. Our people and politicians are like southern Europe, not northern Europe.

#19 Comment By Rossbach On July 23, 2016 @ 12:13 pm

“And race is only a fiction anyway. It has no scientific or objective reality.”

This statement is objectively false. Any practicing health care professional knows this, and that is why race and ethnicity are a part of every patient’s medical record. Race and ethnicity play a critical role in epidemiology. When data analysis is controlled for other variables, race and ethnicity are significant risk factors for a number of serious diseases.

There are other issues with this kind of reality denialism. If race is fictional, why do government agencies use it as a criterion to hire and promote people? If race is fictional, what is the value of diversity?

#20 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On July 23, 2016 @ 5:10 pm

KD wrote: “So I find the modern Left a curious thing: advocating for Scandinavia on one hand, yet opposing secessionist movements and doing their best to manipulate the national demographics in way that probably makes the limited American welfare state unfeasible in the long term. That is to say, they advocate an end and they employ a means that is contrary to that end.”

This very well said and quite true.

#21 Comment By KD On July 23, 2016 @ 7:48 pm

Thomas Kaemphen:

[Computer issues]

I completely agree with you on the social construction of race. For example, is Obama white or black or mixed race? You tell me, its an arbitrary line in sand. In fact, speaking of sand, the boundary between the shore and the ocean is also socially constructed, high tide mark, low tide mark, storm surge? Its totally socially constructed, but that doesn’t mean that we can ignore hurricanes.

The problem I see with race is the following: despite all the laws and programs established, the deficits in education between black and white have barely budged. We are more segregated than we were in 1968. The wealth gap is larger than when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. FBI crime stats show Black homicide rates persisting at between X6-x10 White homicide rates (over decades). You can look at violent crime rates and behavioral problems in schools.

Two things stand out: Blacks cannot show much in the way of social progress despite all the promises made to them by the Civil Rights Establishment. Second, if the true cause of the gap was exclusionary/ethnocentric behavior by Whites, empirically speaking, we should be witnessing (at least) a convergence in social outcomes, as those behaviors are outlawed and the cause of severe civil penalties, as well as socially stigmatized. This suggests that either White ethnocentrism was not a significant cause of the discrepancies, so further expansions of those laws will have no significant benefit either. In the alternative, even if it is the cause of the discrepancy, civil rights legislation has then totally failed in attacking social disparities, and expanding is unlikely to accomplish anything except marginal non-improvement.

So you have a group who feels promised something that liberals cannot and will never be able to deliver, and who is rightfully pissed off. At the same time, you have a political establishment that will never be able to deliver. And where will that frustration be directed?

#22 Comment By Joan On July 25, 2016 @ 9:29 am

In my youth, in the 1970s, the term was “soft leftist.” On campus, the major groupings were the hard leftists (Marxists who believed in The Revolution and admired Russia, China and Cuba), soft leftists (who admired English and Scandinavian socialism and believed in change through democratic means) and liberals (who were mainly about personal freedom and the democratic process and very little concerned about things like alleviating poverty). There were also rightist groups, Objectivists and Young Republicans and self-described patriots (whom the rest of us called war-mongers) and so forth, but we of the left paid very little attention to them. We were totally sure that they were on their way out. The Reagan Revolution completely blindsided us.

#23 Comment By EL On July 25, 2016 @ 6:06 pm

I too am a “leftist” who has considered abandoning ship.

I am currently doing a Ph.D. in American History and plan to follow that with a JD. Perhaps it is location, or perhaps it is academia, or perhaps it is the country’s employment culture, but I have never experienced sexism quite as unabashedly as I have since entering into the foray of contemporary American history. While I study history of economic thought and public policy, I find that I am routinely excluded from reading groups, I am treated with suspicion of being a “Sherly Sandberg feminist” from the get-go by the absurd “broscialist” culture at my university, and that dare I mention “women” in any context, such as studying ways in which past economic theorists have conceptualized women’s domestic labor, my work is considered trivial or is ignored. I know several men in this program who live in a completely delusional state of class-reductionism, and basically promote the very culture they say the abhor in their fanaticism of studying capital in such a myopic manner.

Then, there are “liberals,” who I define in a separate category from “leftists.” I do not like how saying “sexist” or “racist” has become terms used to shut down conversations or to mass publicly-shame individuals. I think there is a culture that it is okay to make fun of the poor, of men, and of white individuals, with a bite that would be unacceptable if applied elsewhere. I believe in treating all people with respect, not just certain categories that we’ve come to perceive of us protected.

Moreover, I am Jewish, and I think that BDS and the leftist all-out assault on Israel is highly anti-semitic. Do I think that Israel has some awful practices? Absolutely, and I am all for working with Palestinian peoples and leaders. However, do I think of Israel’s crimes against others as worse than, say, Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, or China’s treatment of minorities, or even the US’s wars abroad? Leftists, and sometimes liberals, feel able to hold the sole Jewish state to a level that is completely unaccepted from other, and oftetimes worse, regimes. We selectively choose our outrage – Israel can be boycotted on campuses, but not countries that perform female genital mutilation, for example.

Finally, in the academy of American history, I see that historians are far too willing to frame their narratives as stories of downfall or even conspiracy. We are quick to be wary of “public-private cooperation” or “structural adjustment programs” or any other number of ways of mixing business and government in a way that is out of sync with the supporters of such programs. I find that we have constructed our own world of right and wrong, and only talk amongst ourselves. We do not tell a story of how such endeavors can be seen as a success.

With all of that, why am I a “leftist?” Largely out of the areas that I consider simply pragmatic. I believe in working towards universal health insurance – it simply makes more sense to have a larger risk pool, we fragment risk far too much in this country and therefore everybody pays more for less. I am also a “leftist” because I think that corporations can wield just as much, if not, more power than “government.” I do not really believe in thinking in terms of an arbitrary divide between “public” and “private,” and I see people on the right as far too ready to buy into a line of thinking that I consider almost magical, attaching as fantastical a power to “the market” as the broscialists do to their little utopias. In fact, I often think that invocations of “the natural law of the market” in some ways are reminiscent of the “divine right of kings.”

However, the absolute main reason to why I have not jumped ship is abortion. I care highly for women’s bodily autonomy, and I consider “pro-life” to be essentially state-enforced rape. It disgusts me to my very core that somebody could force me or others to use our bodies against our will, or to dictate to us how to perceive “life” and the world around us. Again, I am Jewish, and in my religion, we do not believe that a fetus (or unborn child, if you will) has a soul. Regardless, my religion has ruled that even if we did, it would be considered “self-defense” to terminate a pregnancy. The right values property rights and self-defense to such a large degree for men, yet seems to throw those ideals out the window for women. They seem to promote a culture that views pregnancy as somehow “holy” and “natural” rather than as something very physically traumatic that can permanently alter your body, not to mention that our post-natal care and maternal mortality levels are pretty awful in this country. Likewise, myself and my fiance are carriers for a very rare Jewish genetic disorder – we have one relative who has the cognitive development of a 6 month old and who is blind, deaf and has very little mobility. We have decided that, were our future pregnancy to test for this rare genetic condition, we would terminate the pregnancy and try again. I cannot vote Republican because I cannot vote for somebody who would force me to put my body through physical agony only to give birth to someone who is hardly aware of the world around them and who will live in a facility for her or his own life, at our financial expense and lifelong emotional expense. We want to have a happy, healthy family and pregnancy, and Republican dictates on women and state religion scare me. At least the “broscialists” just ignore me or deny me funding rather than force me to use my body against my will for some state-based religious aims that my own religion does not even agree with.

#24 Comment By Thomas Kaempfen On July 26, 2016 @ 7:05 am

KD:

The Civil Rights laws of the 1960’s were primarily designed to end the explicit and legal racism of Jim Crow. They gave blacks access to public facilities, to voting, to open housing, etc. They removed the legal structures that were created specifically to prevent economic and social equality between the races. But it was certainly naïve for anyone to think such laws would easily lead to complete equality.

[10] the social dysfunction in the black community is a function of three things:

1. Continuing white racism. Of course, this is a huge and hugely contentious topic. But there is [11] that it still exists, unconscious and otherwise. The resulting combination of lessened economic choices and social disdain hinder individual chances for success.

2. Dysfunctional black culture. There is much in black culture that undermines success: irresponsible attitudes toward sex and parenting, glorification of violence and machismo, disparaging getting ahead as “acting white”, etc. This largely results from:

a. The social and cultural legacy of slavery and segregation. As [12] so nicely put it:

“The argument is that structural conditions shape culture, and culture, in turn, can take on a life of its own independent of the forces that created it. It would be bizarre to imagine that centuries of slavery, followed by systematic terrorism, segregation, discrimination, a legacy wealth gap, and so on did not leave a cultural residue that itself became an impediment to success.”

b. Liberal embrace of identity politics. Liberals foolishly romanticize black culture as more authentic, more emotionally connected that white bourgeois culture and encourage blacks to remain culturally separate rather than more thoroughly assimilate to the broader, more successful culture.

3. Structural factors left over from Jim Crow. These include huge disparities of family wealth, lack of connections, etc. It also includes the movement in recent decades of good manufacturing jobs from inner cities.

That all makes for a good recipe for social failure. There are other explanations of a more biological nature circulating around out there, but their very existence and continuing influence only demonstrate how much factor number 1 listed above still holds power over black lives.

#25 Comment By KD On July 26, 2016 @ 12:20 pm

Thomas Kaempfen:

I think you make a mistake if you make an absolute distinction between culture and biology, just as much as if you make an absolute distinction between behavior and genetics.

Behavioral genetics is one of the fastest growing fields in science:

[13]

As far as the argument that America represents “structural White Supremacy” or “unconscious racism”, I find that thesis rather strange. If we had “White Supremacy” in America, I presume that the benefits would accrue to the historic white ethnicities, especially WASP’s. But in fact, Indians followed by Jews have the highest income by ethnicity, and Asians out-earn Whites. So I don’t know that the system is so much pro-White as anti-Black as far as I can tell.

I mean, perhaps the Indians are in some kind of conspiracy with the Jews to keep all the rest of us down, but that doesn’t seem to be the Leftist narrative, does it? But empirically, it is the Arya-Semitic groups who benefit the most from the status quo, not French Canadians or Scotch-Irish or Irish Catholics or even old-school WASPs?

As far as white ethnocentrism, you have a history of Jews being denied admittance into Ivy League universities in the early 20th Century, and you have the Japanese internment (and property grab) and yet these groups are doing pretty well today. Once again, why is white ethnocentrism only omnipotent when it is focused on African-Americans?

Further, plenty of research on wealth gaps, and the reality is that low status groups who get economic windfalls regress back to the mean in a generation or two:

chrome-extension://oemmndcbldboiebfnladdacbdfmadadm/http://www-personal.umich.edu/~hoytb/Bleakley_Ferrie_Intergen.pdf

I imagine if the government gave each and every Black citizen $100K in reparations for slavery, while it might be the kind of Keynesian stimulus that would get the global economy going, one has to wonder if wealth disparities would re-emerge in a generation or two. You could also look at what happens to people who get large personal injury settlements.

So while I agree with many of your points, I think you are missing the boat.

#26 Comment By KD On July 26, 2016 @ 12:26 pm

Here is the link to the Bleakley and Ferrie article:

[14]

#27 Comment By MasonR On July 28, 2016 @ 4:00 pm

There cannot be equality in America anytime soon because of Blacks and Hispanics.

Too many of them will continue to drain the system, and the Whites who pay the taxes can’t afford it.

The US is already in debt and you want it to become Sweden?

#28 Comment By Mr. Libris Fidelis (my real name) On July 28, 2016 @ 4:36 pm

I have been saying for a little more than a decade now (about since 2005) that Republicans *are not conservatives* because:
“Republicans are not “conservatives”… they are the most destructive anti-US Constitution and anti-Democracy infection of a mainstream political organization that has ever afflicted our United States of America. To “conserve” means to preserve and protect, as in our traditional national values. To “conserve”, meaning to ration something, also means to preserve and protect something, such as a supply of food. HOWEVER, what the Republicommunists advocate that “conservativism” means to them is to castrate our government at all levels, so that government cannot interfere with the wealthy elite’s vestment into mega commerce that itself infiltrates and sabotages government, thus taking Democracy away from society and installing commercial communism that not only rules our country, but also which invades and corrupts other societies the world-around. The usurpation of other societies’ political and economic systems for globalization capitalism is the primary goal of pseudo-conservatives, who have torn our US Constitution to shreds and urinated on Democracy as they dump our traditional national values in the trash basket and start wars of economic conquest.” — Libris Fidelis 2009, rewritten from Ronald Kinum 2005

#29 Comment By anarchris On July 30, 2016 @ 10:55 am

absolutely (positively!) everyone-
is an individual. everyone has their own evolving unique way of understanding and expressing spirituality and ideology. so no surprises that the writer sees himself as a bit o’ both cuz everyone is and does. and everyone therefore sees themselves as tragically misunderstood because they the contrast between what’s supposed to be true and what is actually true of them but too seldom extend this dynamism to their thinking of ‘the other guy’.