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crypto and public policy

Conservative Politics and Radicalism

Filed under: General — October 22, 2003 @ 3:59 pm

Aaron has an optimistic piece about political marketing. He thinks most people are liberals, and if only liberals changed their political image, they’d win elections. I wish I could agree. I wish a simple Madison Avenue rebranding campaign could make Democrats more palatable.

We’re entering an era of increased conservatism by some and dangerous radicalism by others, religious or otherwise. Sure, there’s the obvious: Muslim radicals calling for war against Infidels. But we have our own fair share in this country. We have judges who display the Ten Commandments in their courthouse and defy federal judgments, and dozens of people who hold vigils to support that position. We have Congress members who want to keep religious references intimately tied to our government (let’s see what the Supreme Court eventually says…). We have high-ranked military generals talking about a “war against Satan”. We have a majority of Senators criminalizing a perfectly legitimate medical procedure and overruling the opinions of doctors in a thinly veiled anti-abortion campaign that uses bogus medical terms to further a conservative agenda.

No, it’s clear, not everyone’s a liberal. In our lasting climate of post-9/11 fear, people are getting more conservative, and the already-conservative are getting more radical.

It is everyone’s responsibility to fight this radicalization of our society. Judeo-Christian radicalism is just as bad as Muslim fundamentalism. Politics should remain agnostic in order to treat people of all religions fairly and equally. Finally, and most importantly, it behooves the moderates of each movement to not only distance themselves from their radical members, but to actively fight them.

It’s going to take more than a makeup job to fix this.


  1. Aaron Swartz:

    It’s obvious that the governments are controlled by conservatives — thus the need for rebranding — but what evidence do you have that the public is getting more conservative? I think it can be mostly chalked up to a lack of liberals in the public debate. (Reminiscent of how the president in The American President saw his poll numbers fall dramatically when he refused to respond to his opponents.)

  2. Wendy:

    If I may – Aaron, personally I don’t need hard evidence to tell me that the public is getting more conservative. All I have to do is look around. See who’s getting elected (Massachusetts is a good example of this). Talk to people I meet. It is extremely clear to me that fear and bad leadership have driven this country in a conservative direction, even just since 9/11 as Ben mentioned.

  3. Aaron Swartz:

    My claim is that your anecdotal evidence is wrong. Conservative people are getting elected because liberals are too timid to mount a good challenge. People you talk to spout conservative ideas because they’re scared and they’re not hearing any other proposals. The country is going in a bad direction, but that doesn’t mean the people are.

    Here’s the quote from The American President (it’s much more impressive when Michael J. Fox says it, though…):

    Lewis Rothschild: You have a deeper love of this country than any man I’ve ever known. And I want to know what it says to you that in the past seven weeks, 59% of Americans have begun to question your patriotism.President Andrew Shepherd: Look, if the people want to listen to—Lewis Rothschild: They don’t have a choice! Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking! People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.

  4. Wendy:

    OK, I love Aaron Sorkin’s work as much as the next person. But they were talking about the President having a girlfriend, not about destroying the way that the entire world views America, which is what is happening right now. My anecdotal evidence may or may not be wrong, but I think you’re missing the point. Fifty percent of people who voted in the last election *did* vote for Bush. We screwed up as a country. And now, since we’re (not me, but a larger we) so scared by what’s happening in the world because Bush and his cronies have told us so many lies, we don’t want to stick our necks out in any way, we just want to hide and put our money under our mattresses.

    If that’s not getting conservative, I don’t know what is.

  5. Aaron Swartz:

    “Fifty percent of people who voted in the last election *did* vote for Bush.”

    But was that because they agreed with his policies or because he seemed more accessible than Gore (and the media did a hatchet job on Gore)?

    I may be an insane optimist, but I believe that if we elected a strong liberal leader capable of phrasing things in strong terms and beating back the opposition, this country would go liberal so fast the Republicans wouldn’t know what hit them. National health care, eradication of homelessness and hunger, strong campaign finance law, media regulation, no taxes for the poor, less taxes for the middle class. The public would go wild: a strong president, who was actually doing things that made their lives better! And once you had the momentum and the public’s support you could keep going farther and start pushing through more controversial things: marriage for gays, drug legalization, repealing laws against porn, drug paraphernalia, and circumvention devices, etc.

    And the Republicans would be waving their hands, trying to get people upset, but the population wouldn’t care because here was a strong, likable guy — one of their own — who was in the Oval Office helping them out.

  6. Wendy:

    I don’t think you get what I am saying. I’m saying that *because* of the bad leadership we have gotten conservative. So I agree with you to a certain extent, people will open up again if we get a nice liberal President, etc., hopefully sooner rather than later. But it’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to be as widespread as you hope. People don’t open up nearly as quickly as they shut down, particularly when it means taking risks regarding the welfare of their families.

    On another note, I, personally, think that a lot of people voted for Bush because they forget that sons and fathers are different people.

  7. Ben Adida:

    I agree with one of Aaron’s point specifically referencing the Michael J. Fox Line in The American President: we need much stronger leadership. But that’s quite different from and vastly more difficult than a rebranding campaign.

    It’s not that Democrats didn’t pitch their ideas correctly, it’s that they really do shy away from leading (giving Bush full authority on Iraq, giving Bush $87B with no real end in sight, etc…). They’re not saying the right thing the wrong way, they’re just saying and doing the wrong thing altogether. So it may be that people are getting more conservative and some more radical because there is no strong liberal leadership. But that doesn’t change the fact that the people are getting more conservative and more radical because that’s the natural tendency in our current environment and no leader believes strongly enough in a better, more enlightened path.

    Strong liberal leadership would be most welcome, and I think it would go a long way to solving the problem. Strong leadership of our country, strong leadership of the various religious groups whose radical elements bring shame on us all, strong leadership in our local communities, strong leadership from anyone who has to be a leader, no matter how local or global. We need leaders to “do the right thing.” I agree.

    I just think it’s very very hard, much harder than just putting on a new face. It requires a fundamental change in attitude.

  8. Erin:

    I don’t love the term “radical” for right-wing extremists. I prefer “extremist” or “reactionary” or “sociopathological” or “insane.” This is mainly because I associate “radical” with the far left. It has a possitive connotation for me.

    In terms of whether or not this country is shifting right or left, I think it’s shifting toward disenfranchizement. It’s a different question altogether. The electorate is shrinking, and the Democrats still can’t figure out that it’s the un-voters, not the swing voters, that win them elections. That, and I can’t seem to get inspired by anybody anyway. Even the most left-leaning Democrats stand on platforms against gay marriage and for the death penalty (in some cases). It doesn’t inspire confidence.

  9. Arjun Sanyal:

    here’s a article that talks about the recent rise of conservative thought in the media and the rise of “South Park conservatives”.

    Ben: I think you have to be careful to distinguish between the hard right social conservatives and this (new?) form of conservatism. The top two bloggers in this field, Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan could hardly be called social conservatives. In fact, they call them “paleoconservatives”. Hey, Arnold just won in a landslide in the state with the most electoral votes. I know you make this distinction, but all of your examples are from the hard, religious right.

    I think that the greater popularity of conservative talk radio, tv, and blogs, shows that the country leans more to the right than Aaron thinks. I hardly think it’s due to liberal messages not getting out. Isn’t it as easy to listen to Rush as NPR? Or read The Nation as The National Review?

    But is this just due to situational factors? If there was a strong liberal leader who “does the right thing”, would this trend reverse? Or is the liberal message seeming not resonating with the not already liberal segment of the voting public (i.e. national electability)? If so, re-branding or a strong leader or a shift to the left probably won’t cause the sea-change of latent opinion that Aaron feels is waiting to happen.

    There is quite a bit more to talk about here, but I have to get to work.

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