One of the most tiresome and repeated tricks I see in political discourse is right-leaning moderates using Edmund Burke’s name in justifying big government conservatism. The latest to use Burke’s name to justify political moderation is Peter Berkowitz in his book Constitutional Conservatism: Liberty, Self-Government, and Political Moderation. Here’s a blurb from the book.
The first entrenched reality is that the era of big government is here to stay. This is particularly important for libertarians to absorb. Over the last two hundred years, society and the economy in advanced industrial nations have undergone dramatic transformations. And for three-quarters of a century, the New Deal settlement has been reshaping America’s expectations about the nation-state’s reach and role. Consequently, the U.S. federal government will continue to provide a social safety net, regulate the economy, and shoulder a substantial share of responsibility for safeguarding the social and economic bases of political equality…..the attempt to dismantle or even substantially roll back the welfare and regulatory state reflects a distinctly unconservative refusal to ground political goals in political realities.”
And here’s a blurb from Harvey Mansfield.
Peter Berkowitz makes a match between Edmund Burke and the American Founders to give ‘political moderation’ a good name on our partisan battlefield. A short, effectual book with shining prose, a telling argument, and a lasting message. –Harvey C. Mansfield, Harvard University
Jeffrey Lord takes on Berkowtiz as well as Jennifer Rubin, Joe Scarborough and others who are preaching the value of
capitulation moderation. As usual, Lord does a fantastic job of eviscerating the case for moderation. First, addressing the blurb quoted above, Lord writes:
So the New Deal is now the Founding principle of America? And attempts to “dismantle or even substantially” roll back the New Deal “reflects a distinctly unconservative refusal to ground political goals in political realities”?
Even Bill Clinton waxed Reaganesque when he said in that famous 1995 State of the Union message that “the era of Big Government is over.”
Berkowitz’s thinking — which Rubin shares — is a pluperfect example of what led a couple generations of American leaders to believe the Soviet Union was here to stay. Those were the folks rolling their eyes in their supposed sophistication when President Reagan insisted the Soviets were headed to the “ash heap of history.” Only to watch astonished as the Berlin Wall came down followed shortly thereafter by the Soviet flag over the Kremlin. Precisely as Reagan predicted.
Lord further examines how this bedrock principle and the programs created by the New Deal are crashing around us. As he writes:
The fact of the matter is that the New Deal is imploding all around us. With all manner of experts repeatedly warning the U.S. is being relentlessly driven towards a financial cliff, with entitlement spending on track to eventually consume first the defense budget before polishing off the entire federal budget. The fact that Democrats are tying themselves to the equivalent of an unexploded political IED is their decision.
But what, pray tell, is moderate, Republican or conservative about accepting the idea that America is headed irrevocably to bankruptcy and chaos?
There’s much more at the link as Lord explains how the social consensus keeps moving the left. “Moderation,” therefore, will only lead to more government control and, eventually, less freedom.
Jeff Goldstein also discusses Lord’s article and has more insights as well.
Lord and Goldstein both do great jobs of explaining the problems with Berkowitz’s position, but I want to focus on the admittedly more academic point, and that’s Berkowitz’s misappropriation of Burke. Continue reading
In yet another effort to remain relevant to our political discourse, David Frum is partnering with William Galston to launch a new project that is sure to to revolutionize politics in much the same way the New Majority Frum Forum has. It’s called “No Labels,” and I’ll let Frum describe it:
On Dec. 13, more than 1,000 citizens from the 50 states will convene in New York to change the odds. They are founding a movement – No Labels. Among them will be Democrats, Republicans and independents who are proud of their political affiliations and have no intention of abandoning them. A single concern brings them together: the hyper-polarization of our politics that thwarts an adult conversation about our common future. A single goal unites them: to expand the space within which citizens and elected officials can conduct that conversation without fear of social or political retribution.
Their movement rests on the belief that the real American majority wishes to reassert control over a political system mired in brain-dead partisanship. Those traveling to New York are going at their own expense. No Labels is gaining a thousand fans on Facebook each day. Citizens across the country are asking how they can get involved.
Frum is discouraged by our current political discourse and wants to turn things around:
Our political system does not work if politicians treat the process as a war in which the overriding goal is to thwart the adversary. At a time of national economic emergency, when Americans are clamoring for positive action, our government is routinely paralyzed by petty politics. Through the summer, as the economy teetered between recovery and stagnation, the Federal Reserve lacked a quorum because a single Republican senator took it upon himself to block Obama’s appointments. Republicans were only doing unto the Democrats as the Democrats had done unto them: In January 2008, as the country geared up for an epoch-making election, the Federal Election Commission lacked a quorum because one Democrat had put holds on President George W. Bush’s nominees.
Nor does the political system work if politicians treat members of the other party as enemies to be destroyed. Labeling legitimate policy differences as “socialist” or “racist” undermines democratic discourse.
Frum is understandably concerned. Continue reading