Friday, September 12, 2008

Now that the Conventions are over, let's discuss some substance

I want discuss neo conservatism because Senator Obama is desperately trying to tie Senator McCain to President Bush, who is often called a neo conservative, and his policies. Senator Obama’s arguments fail because of the fact that that Senator McCain is, and has been, a true neo conservative, while the President has made only partial efforts.

Douglas Murray, one of the world’s most promising minds, has said that a neo conservative looks at the world with a blend of idealism and realism; that they look at the world as it is but act in the world to make it as they would like it to be. This is different from a conservative who likely will cling to the status quo, which they see as irrevocable, and different from liberals who see the world as they want it to be, and then act on the basis that it is that way.

President Bush can harbor neo conservative ideals, though in practice he is not always neo conservative. His wishy-washy neo conservative record is illuminated in his dealings with Iran and Russia. You see neo conservative twitches that are fatally not allowed to manifest themselves in action. This practice sends all kinds of wrong signals, creating terrible results, and through that creation misrepresents and undermines the reputation and capabilities of neo conservative policy.

What this distinction sets us up for is a debate on the virtues of neo conservatism and liberalism, stemming from the public’s misunderstanding that America’s policies over the last 8 years have been neo conservative in nature and practice, which they most definitely have not been.

Neo conservatives have goals for our country and the world, and these goals are scantly different, in details only, from that of the liberals: security, equal opportunity, a strong economy, heath care for all, and religious and personal freedom, to name a few. Policies may differ, such as the debate over affirmative action, but make no mistake: both sides want a system that gives anyone who desires an education an unbiased path to achieve it. Demonize as you may wish, but per capita conservatives (to include neo conservatives) give more money and volunteer more time via private charity than liberal demographics to support such “racist” and “exclusionist” issues as food, clothing, and shelter for the poor and inner-city education programs. This takes much more true, pure concern and effort than stumping on increased government programming and shows actual willingness to actively participate whereas liberals tend to support increased spending on government programming, often times sourced from increased taxes collected mainly from other people, which is a solution that requires little effort from them.

Motivations, likewise, do not differ in any significant way. Two examples: 1. Security: a homeland where people feel safe going about their daily lives, and 2. Equal opportunity: from birth, everyone should have the opportunity to achieve the heights that they dream of, meaning the foundation of a k-12 education, the ability to apply for college, and subject to job hiring processes based on merit and aptitude, and all this free of racial, gender, ethnic, religious, etc, bias.

Take the issue of health care. Both sides would prefer a situation where everyone has health insurance. Liberals project this vision on the world and come away with the attitude that because it is desired, it is only a matter of enacting government policies to make it happen – a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy doomed to failure. The liberal plan outlines a high-risk “all” strategy that, should it fail, delivers a corpse of the current program. Neo conservatives take this goal, look at the country, see its budget deficits, its incredibly complicated health care systems and laws, its high costs of providing good care, the dearth of trained nurses and doctors, and realize that government-provided health care at this time simply cannot be, for better or worse, and they develop realistic alternatives that help immediately and lay the foundation for a more comprehensive program when circumstances permit. Neo conservatism delivers a partial solution with a potential for more, far better than the inevitable nothing delivered by an idealized and unrealistic universal proposal.

When Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Ranch asked Senator Obama about his position on abortion, the Senator responded:

“I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade, and I come to that conclusion not because I'm pro-abortion, but because, ultimately, I don't think women make these decisions casually. I think they -- they wrestle with these things in profound ways, in consultation with their pastors or their spouses or their doctors or their family members.”

This is no doubt a liberal position, and that is not a judgment in itself. This author is pro-choice, and is happy the Senator is as well. Nonetheless, his point here is not wholly reflective of reality. A good number of women get abortions precisely because they do not have the support systems in place – they do not have pastors, spouses, a doctor, or a family. To say women considering an abortion consult these sources that comprise sound personal support structures is to selectively choose a self-serving sample set comprised of the ideals that embody the Senator’s hope that “women [do not] make these decisions casually” rather than a representative set including the substantial group of those who do not inhabit his world.

Let’s compare responses on whether we should give teachers performance-based pay from Senators Obama and McCain:

Senator Obama:

“I've said this publicly, that we should set up a system of performance pay for teachers…teachers are underpaid, so we need to pay them all more, but -- and create a higher baseline, but then we should also reward excellence.”

Senator McCain:

“Yes, yes, and find bad teachers another line of work.”

Senator Obama’s answer focuses on pay raises for all, and bigger raises for those that perform at an “excellent” level. This presupposes that all teachers are good teachers, or without so much as a mention dismisses bad teachers as insignificant to the problem, or both. Conversely, while Senator McCain agrees that performance-based pay for teachers is a good thing, he also points out that an integral systemic problem is bad teachers, a perspective reflective of reality, thus producing a solution based on reality with a more systemic focus.

The opposite of neo conservatism is relativism. Relativism is the idea that one thing is relative to and dependant upon other things. This thought leads to statements like “one culture cannot be judged by the standards of another.” Relativism accepts ideas like hate crime designation; neo conservatism rejects them. Relativism is to Senator Obama what neo conservatism is to Senator McCain: embraced. Let us examine a situation that hits the Jewish home: the Arab-Israel conflict.

Relativists argue that Islamic extremists such as Hamas aim to hurt Israel because Palestinians are, as claimed, forced into poverty (among other reasons) by Israel. It is not difficult to illuminate upon the ignorance of this claim. One is more likely to become an Islamic extremist if one is educated or middle or upper class. Harvard and RAND, hardly bastions of Israel support, conducted a review of all terror attacks in Israel between 2000 and 2005 and concluded that educated and wealthy Muslims were responsible for the most devastating attacks, largely more successful in their attacks than uneducated and poor actors, and targeted for recruitment because of their higher likelihood for acting smart, leading to maximum terror while not getting caught. Omar Sheikh, the man responsible for the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, was a middle-to-upper class citizen of London and a graduate of one of the world’s most prestigious universities, LSE. Nearly everywhere, the planners and executers of terror are educated, not poor, and often times privileged members of both their world (like the law school graduate Hanadi Jaradat of Palestine) and ours’ (Mahmoud Abbas got his graduate degree in Moscow). To say that these actions are motivated by poverty and lack of opportunity is to project an ideological version of truth as actual truth, to see the world as it is wanted to be seen, to see the world as a relativist and liberal.

Why would some idealize the world, distorting reality? Certainly this is not the goal of the liberals. It is due to an overwhelming sense that it is not right to criticize one side when you yourself have committed wrongs, that rights and wrongs are relative. When relativism reaches the end game, this moral equation leads to exclusion of guilt and implicit support of evil. In the aftermath of the July 7 Tube bombings, the relativist mayor of London entertained Sheik Yusef al-Qaradawi, who is well known as one of the greatest inspirations to jihadists and suicide bombers. Relativism allows for groups that threaten to murder, torture, and destroy us if we do act, and threaten to murder, torture, and destroy us if we do not act, because in some way we have generated a source of their hatred, as if it is supposedly avoidable and excuses their actions and our tolerance of them (not only is our freedom, our fair treatment of women, our secular institutions and governments, our freedom of the press, and our freedom of speech unavoidable, but they are desirable and should never be compromised because people hate us).

When one receives threats over inaction, and from the same people receives threats over action, it would be illogical to entertain these people’s opinions. Yet that is the liberal policy, because no one’s voice should be discounted. We’ve heard Senator Obama reiterate this in as many words throughout his campaign. Neo conservatism has none of this. The realization that people who hold double standards are not reliable partners is extremely clear to neo conservatives, yet it eludes liberals. The realization that goals are often not achievable in their entirety is evident to neo conservatives, and that this has implications, is not seen by liberals. And what’s more, the idea that a goal is achievable simply because of its virtuosity is a far from a satisfactory reason for putting its solution in motion, though that never seems to stop liberals.

Goals and aspirations are fundamentally necessary for good leadership. I have no reason to doubt Senator Obama’s intentions are well placed, and I take him as a patriot. Yet to believe in his policies, to see them not only as plausible but as preferable, is to see the world through a relativist eye; that is, to allow oneself to fall into dementia. Neo conservatism is the tool box with which to properly address our world’s decrepit state, and Senator McCain gets this. It provides a clear vision of the world as it is, with no revisions or alterations, and in so doing establishes the accurate baseline on which to respond. It guides us to solutions that provide the best odds of working. The world is not as a liberal paints it, but as a neo conservative sees it. You cannot achieve your goals if you do not know where you are starting from.

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