Andrew Sullivan on conservatives and wingnuts

“An actual conservative will learn from [experience] and adjust. The raving loons in the GOP base – precisely because they have no serious thinking behind them – will double-down on their fantasies, empowered by partisan hatred. And that’s why the GOP needs to be defeated this fall. For the sake of an honest conservatism.”

In reaction to Posner’s “goofiness” comment, Sullivan offers the best short summary of current conditions:

An actual conservative will learn from [experience] and adjust. The raving loons in the GOP base – precisely because they have no serious thinking behind them – will double-down on their fantasies, empowered by partisan hatred. And that’s why the GOP needs to be defeated this fall. For the sake of an honest conservatism.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

17 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan on conservatives and wingnuts”

  1. I think my thinking going into the 2008 election was something a lot like this: that confronted by defeat at the ballot box, the Republican party would reconsider the ridiculous and disastrous Bush years and come to its senses. Instead my impression of the last four years is that something like 95% of conservatives have become less reasonable instead of more. Why should I expect another Obama victory to produce something different?

    Outside of the short list that he provides (“Posner or Greenspan or Bartlett or Frum”) how many “actual conservatives” according to Sullivan’s definition are there out there?

    1. That the GOP might not learn from defeat is a problem for Sullivan, but not for me. If they don’t want to learn, I’m perfectly happy for them to keep losing elections. I’d like the country to have a responsible, honest, sane conservative party to whom power could occasionally be entrusted when it’s time for a pause in the march of progress, but it’s not really essential. Denying power to the batch of crooks, liars, and loons currently running the GOP is really essential.

      1. unfortunately they keep winning about half the elections on the national level. progress is almost on a geological time-scale. i live in texas. while most of the republicans i know are sick of rick perry, they want him replaced with another far-right republican, not a democrat.

      2. Yes, a GOP loss is definitely preferable to a GOP win and it’s nice to see that, at this point, even more conservative people are capable of realizing this.

        But I thought Sullivan was being overly sanguine in his post though and I think you might be as well. I’d say that currently something like 30% of the Republican party has gone seriously insane (“seriously” being an important modifier here with another 40-50% being mildly insane). If four years from now that fraction has increased to 60% then, especially given the fact that these things are not uniformly distributed geographically, I’d expect some very nasty consequences. In short, any “actual conservatives” out there had better get a fucking move on or we’re in big trouble.

  2. An “honest conservatism” would lead, proudly and forthrightly, with the only idea that conservatism has ever had: that there should be groups of people whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside other groups whom the laws binds but does not protect.

    Those of us who deem this idea inherently dishonest are, I take it, beyond redemption.

    1. I don’t think this is right. The basic conservative truth is that institutions and customs need to be maintained and defended, and it’s no less true than the basic progressive truth that institutions and customs need to adapt to changing conditions and to be constantly cleansed of their corruptions and purged of their injustices.

      Remember, when progressives demand respect for the Constitution, they’re maintaining the Rule of Law, which is to say respect for established norms and forms. That’s a conservative idea.

      It’s too bad that “conservatism” has come to stand for oligarchy and plutocracy, but that’s not its only, or its primary, meaning.

      1. Mark, “The king can do no wrong” — or, if you prefer, “if the President does it, that means it is not illegal”. Conservatism defends institutions and customs only insofar as, and only because, they reinforce two-tier citizenship as I described above. In terms of the past two millenia of European tradition, conservatism and aristocracy are precisely synonymous; it is only in the very latest blink of historical time that the notion of the Rule of Law has emerged as more than an theory, but as something that might conceivably be put into practice. There is nothing conservative about it; it is the most profoundly disruptive idea that has ever emerged from human minds. Conservatism requires (and accepts) the law only in the sense that I describe in my original post: as a sword with two asymmetrical edges. The asymmetry is the whole point.

    2. Conservatism=aristocracy is, I believe, an oversimplification. Even to the extent it is true, its implications are rather complex. The Canadian Red Tory movement was simultaneously aristocratic and progressive, as I believe the Fabians might have been. (Many contemporary US Democrats are similar.) Bismarck invented social security. The conservative parties of the early 19th century were terrified of the democratic process, but have learned to accommodate themselves to it, and even flourish.

      And I’m not sure that it is true, although it certainly contains some grains of truth. Margaret Thatcher, whom most would view as a conservative, despised the aristocracy and worshipped parvenus. Lee Kuan Yew trampled over the local aristos of his time in pursuit of economic growth. Cultural conservatism is very weak among aristocrats, and almost invariably is strongest amongst those who have a little to lose, but not much.

  3. I had an email exchange with him a few years ago after some misleading comments he made about flat taxes and fairness. (I don’t bother to read him any more.) Anyway I made the rather obvious point that marginal utility, which has been understood since at least the time of JS Mill, means that the value of an incremental unit of money drops and drops quickly as wealth increases. Which means that under one definition of fairness — namely, that it cause equal pain — a tax must be progressive to be fair; a flat tax rate is, actually, unfair.

    His response was, roughly, yes, but people will work harder.

    “Clever,” maybe. But not honest.

    1. Not really clever, either, and clearly wrong empirically as well as theoretically.

      I was a young adult when the top income tax bracket was over 90%. That was in eight years of a Republican presidency (Ike) and four years of a Democrat presidency(JFK/LBJ.) That, of course, was Federal income tax only; then there were state taxes on top of that.

      I don’t remember the rich guys slacking off because high taxes were a disincentive to trying to earn even more.

      1. Not quite as old as you, but I do remember stories of the rich guys slacking off — entertainers not doing all the concerts they could, moguls and bankers taking glittering vacations. Thing is, that turns out to be a good idea. The law of decreasing returns says that when the richest are ever pursuing that last extra dollar (which they are more likely to do, the more they can keep) the chances of them doing some really stupid things increase.

    2. We don’t really even need to get into marginal utility of wealth or deadweight losses or any of that other relatively high-powered stuff. A quick google finds Sullivan (who I make a point of not reading for reasons which this exercise confirms) touting the simplicity of the flat tax. If someone does not find it apparent within ten seconds of thought that the difference in complexity between a flat tax and a progressive tax (with the same deductions) is negligible then the probability of them having anything worthwhile to say is exactly zero.

      If the word “postcard” is involved, then it actually becomes negative, even though that violates the axioms of probability. Such is the power of the stupidity.

  4. The alternate theory is that Mitt must win. Why? Because it would be vindication of the moderates. I mean I know Mitt talks and talks super conservative. But does anyone honestly believe that? I don’t. I think he is just playing the game the way it was meant to be played. Suckering the base and running for the middle.

    So everyone knows this. So a moderate conservative running against a moderate liberal. Same health care plan and all. So wouldn’t Mitt winning vindicate the moderate conservatives over the radicals? I mean if it were Santorum running this would be different. Man sometimes I wonder if Obama proxies were trying to push Santorum to the front…I told you guys Mitt was the nominee almost a year ago.

    1. Mittens isn’t a moderate conservative. He isn’t anything discernible: he’s been on every side of every issue over his political career. For me, that is the most frightening thing about him. There is no telling what he really believes or what he will do if he somehow wins election.

      1. Not quite right. We can count on him to work hard to reduce taxes in regressive ways (i.e., benefiting the wealthiest the most) and to change laws and their enforcement to make it easier for those who are wealthy to increase their wealth, both absolutely and relatively. Beyond this, he will do whatever he thinks will increase his political support since that will allow him to do more with regard to the first point.

  5. Gotta destroy the village in order to save it.

    In the case of this particular village (the GOP), I’m willing to proceed.
    If it turns out we can’t save the village, well, OK.

  6. Andrew Sullivan is the last person to talk about an honest anything. He’s a phony huckster, as Larry Birnbaum pointed out upthread.

Comments are closed.