Saturday, October 3, 2009

Toward a Third Orthodoxy

Eric Scheie asks a perfectly reasonable question:

Has conservatism changed? Is it the kind of change that "change" produced?

I don't have to go along with Obama's form of change, I don't see any reason why I should have to go along with conservatism's form of change. If I don't like left wing Alinskyism, why should I like right wing Alinskyism? If I don't like left wing ends-justify-the-means, by-any-means-necessary dishonesty, why should I like right wing ends-justify-the-means, by-any-means-necessary dishonesty? If I don't like left wing identity politics, why should I like right wing identity politics?

Yes, this is getting repetitive. Change is tedious.

I should try harder to ignore it in the hope that it goes away.

Answer: it's not going to go away.

I've recently realized something about my self-selection hypothesis. It's true that you can get lots of little orthodoxies, but the real problem is that the big orthodoxies suck the air out of the conversation until there are only two of them left. They are, of course, the populist knee-jerk right and the populist knee-jerk left.

This is a paradoxical result, because it's still true that a plurality of us are somewhere in the middle. The problem is that, because we're centrists, we don't have an orthodoxy of our own. No orthodoxy, no air time. No air time, no way to break into the debate in a meaningful way.

The good news is that we still vote, and we are ultimately the arbiters of who gets to run the country. The bad news is that we're always forced to vote for some yahoo that has properly espoused one or the other of the knee-jerk orthodoxies. This causes highly undesirable system dynamics, where the plural center is constantly over-correcting between the left-wing idiots and the right-wing ones.

The only solution to this is a third orthodoxy, but that will be hard to achieve with people who like to make up their own minds. Cockeyed optimist that I am however, I would offer up the following platform:
  1. Smallish government, with more, not less, local control.
  2. Rabidly secular. Not anti-religious, just willing to check our moral stances at the door.
  3. Internationalist but not pacifist.
  4. Willing to be diligent about promoting moderate candidates for public office.
This is a coalition that I think a lot of people could get behind. But they've got to be willing to take all that nasty culture war crap off the table. I'm not suggesting that people shouldn't care about that. I am suggesting that it's not a fit topic for national politics. If you don't like what's happening to your state, your town, your neighborhood, go find a candidate at that level who agrees with you and support him. Just keep it away from the federal level.

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