Reactionaries


Spiro_AgnewI grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, raised by liberal, politically- active, borderline- hippie parents. (Borderline- beatnik might be more accurate.) So growing up, I heard the word “reactionary” thrown around a lot.

And I never really understood it. I got that the word meant “very conservative” or “hard right wing” — but apart from that, I never had a sense of what “reactionary,” specifically, meant.

I am beginning to understand.

Like a lot of people, I have been watching the flailings of the Republican Party with a combination of repugnance, entertainment, and unholy glee. Like a lot of people, I have noticed that the Republican Party essentially has little or nothing to offer in the way of actual ideas or constructive suggestions. And like a lot of people, I have noticed that the only thing the Republican Party currently seems capable of doing is reflexively saying “No!” to anything Obama and the Democrats say or do. (Imagine that “No!” in the Ted Stevens voice.) If President Obama and the Democratic Party were to put forth a statement declaring that puppies are cute and apple pie is delicious, the GOP would be on the cable news shows within the hour, denouncing this as the vilest piece of rabid socialism and government invasion into our private lives, an intolerable insult to cute kittens and chocolate chip cookies, destined to destroy our moral foundation and undermine everything that is good and right about our great nation.

All they’re doing is reacting. They aren’t even reacting against specific ideas they disagree with. They are reflexively reacting against every single idea to come out of the Obama White House and the Democratic Congress.

In other words:

They’re reactionaries.

Gladstone_debateNow, as entertaining and deeply satisfying as it is to watch the GOP repeatedly shoot itself in the foot, there’s an odd way in which I find the spectacle disappointing. I actually think political disagreement and debate is a good idea. I think our ideas are sharpened and clarified by criticism from smart people who disagree with us. And it’s not like I think every idea coming out of the Obama White House and the current Democratic Congress is a good one. (Boy, howdy, do I ever not think that.) I’m probably going to disagree with 95% of the ideas generated by conservative Republicans… but I’d still like to see them generate some.

Take a classic Democrat/ Republican debate point. Take government spending. Now, on this issue, I’m even further to the left than the most liberal Democrat in Congress. I am that variety of “tax and spend/ big government liberal” known as a social democrat. When conservatives scream that liberals are trying to turn America into France, I’m one of those people who replies, “You say that like it’s a bad thing.” I think government is — or should be, and could be, and often is — the central means by which a society pools some of its resources to make life better for everyone… and weirdly enough, I think this is a good idea, and that we should generally be doing more of it.

But I also think that, when it comes to any given government program, it’s useful to have a serious debate about whether it’s a good idea. I think it’s useful for smart people to debate whether this particular program is the best use of our pooled resources: whether it will be effective in accomplishing its goals, whether some other program might accomplish these goals better, whether some different goals might be more important, whether these goals are even worth accomplishing. And I think having some people in politics who are generally excited about action and programs and change, and other people who are generally more cautious and want to put on the brakes, is not inherently a terrible idea. It keeps society adaptive, without being chaotic.

BoehnerWe’re not getting that. We’re not getting Republicans who are saying, “Hey, this particular government program is a bad idea, and this is specifically why, and here’s what we propose instead.” Instead, we have Republicans who are reflexively reacting against all government programs, against the very idea of government programs, of any kind, ever. (Begging the question, “So why did you get into government, anyway?” But that’s a rant for another day.)

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I think I’m just trying to say this: If people are arguing against political changes, I don’t have a problem with that. I mean, obviously much of the time I’ll have a problem with the specifics of it — but I don’t have a problem with the basic principle.

But that’s not what I’m seeing in the GOP. They’re not against this change, or that change. They’re against change. They’re against the idea of change. No matter how bad things are, now matter how horrible the status quo is for the vast majority of Americans, they’re against the very concept of change.

And they’re not arguing against it. They’re reacting to it.

They’re reactionaries.

Comments

  1. says

    I think government is — or should be, and could be, and often is — the central means by which a society pools some of its resources to make life better for everyone… and weirdly enough, I think this is a good idea, and that we should generally be doing more of it.

    That’s typical statist thinking Greta. That’s why you can’t see deeper than the left/right, conservative/liberal, Republican/Democrat paradigm. That’s the kind of brainwashing you get in public schools and universities. And unfortunately very many atheists (including myself at one point of my life) were brainwashed with statist propaganda.
    In reality there politics is simpler – more of a straight line. Either you are for more government or for less government.
    (Totalitarian) (Anarchy)
    Have you ever read any Ayn Rand? She was a rabid atheist and defender of capitalism. Even in the good old days (1966) Alan Greenspan was a believer in free markets, but he sold his soul to statism. When our dollar went off the gold standard, we experienced the economic turmoil of the late 70s with high inflation resulting in higher prices in food, energy, medical care. Government spending is a stealth tax – it robs one set of people to benefit another set of people usually resulting in unintended consequences. Since money is controlled by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury, the government spending money to pay for social services creates a lot of beauracracy and results in lower quality and higher prices rather than letting the free market come up with better solutions. FEMA was a tragedy in the aftermath of Katrina. All those resources went to waste thanks to the incompetence of big government.
    Alan Greenspan is the one largely responsible for the economic mess we are in today. Actually it starts back with the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. The irony is that we don’t have true free market capitalism, but corporatism/crony capitalism.
    Think of it this way. What is money? Today it is a piece of paper that americans have blind faith in – the US dollar. It is also called credit – punching numbers in some computer to give you money to buy shit on credit cards and have mortgages. What did people do before money existed? They traded goods and services.
    Ayn Rand was ardent in: Check your premises! If your premise is faulty then your conclusions will be faulty. Everything you believe that is good about gov’t is based on your faulty premise of what money is.
    Have you been paying attention to Ron Paul? He’s a republican from Texas that’s been fighting for more individual liberty – getting rid of the Federal Reserve, IRS, military occupation, beauracracies. He’s the most anti-statist politician in Congress trying to change things for the better. Many atheists despise him via guilt by association (creationist, pro-life), but you need to really examine his ideas of the free market, property, and individual liberty.

  2. Anonymous says

    @Wally Real
    I’m sorry I think everyone with half a brain stopped listening when you mentioned Ayn Rand.

  3. llewelly says

    Have you ever read any Ayn Rand?

    Why yes, I have. And she was so batshit insane that citing her as an authority greatly reduces your creditability in my eyes.

    Have you been paying attention to Ron Paul? He’s a republican from Texas that’s been fighting for more individual liberty …

    And one of his favorite ideas for “individual liberty” is promoting the use of Supplements, Complementary, and Alternative “Medicine” (SCAM).
    Enabling con artists does not increase anyone’s liberty.

  4. says

    @Anonymous and llewelly:
    Sorry but even Micheal Shermer of the Skeptics Society would disagree with you. Actually there are plenty of people, a lot of them atheists that have been influenced by Rand. Dan Barker founder of the Freedom of Religious Foundation is one.
    Ayn Rand was very smart woman and accomplished. The problem that I saw with her was very similar in Shermer’s critique of her philsophy: The Unlikeliest Cult in History
    Notice how Shermer gives proper credit to her while criticizing her.
    Ironically it was a sex scandal that brought Rand down much like televangelists and clergymen have experienceddin the last few years. In Rand’s case it was due to non-disclosure and her double standard on affairs. (If she was polyamorous then that scandal probably wouldn’t occur)
    So for the Ayn Rand critics out there, what specifically do you have a problem with?
    @llewelly: SCAM as you call it is part of the free market. That means freedom allows people to make bad choices. Even if that means smoking crack cocaine till they die or accidentally overdosing on ibogaine to cure their heroine addiction.
    BTW we already have a bureaucracy enabling con-artists. It’s called the FDA.

  5. says

    Readers: For the sweet love of Loki, I beg you: Do not let this thread to turn into another pointless atheosphere debate about Ayn Rand and libertarianism. I don’t have the stomach for it. Thanks.

  6. Solar Hero says

    Non-statists are funny.
    There would by no internet without the state.
    No roads, fire companies, schools.
    But here’s the funniest part: “markets” don’t exist without the state.
    And they treat markets like, oh, should-I-say, GOD?

  7. says

    Greta your response is sooo reactionary. *chuckles*
    Well then what’s the point of blogging about government (or the lack thereof) if we can’t have a “serious debate”?
    Pot calling kettle black.

  8. David Harmon says

    I suspect that the GOP is simply trying to shut down the Obama Administration. They lost formal control of the government, so they’re trying to reclaim control and power, with threats — “do what we say or else”.

  9. says

    Don’t feed the trolls, folks, especially not the libertarian ones.
    The thing that angers me the most about the Republicans is that they’ve now started to filibuster everything, creating a de facto requirement for a supermajority to pass any legislation whatsoever in this Congress. (I’m almost as angry at the Democrats for meekly acceding to this, rather than, at the very least, shouting and raising holy hell and making the Republicans actually stand and talk if they want to filibuster.)
    The filibuster is intended to protect the rights of the minority party, but this is abuse. Under President Bush, who won both elections by extremely slender margins, it was legitimate for Democrats to use it as a check on his power (and again, they didn’t filibuster every single thing he wanted). The Republicans have been swept out of power in a massive wave, their party is at historically low levels of popularity, but rather than accede to the will of the people, they’re still bent to their last breath on denying the Democratic majority the ability to accomplish anything at all.

  10. ToppHogg says

    You ask why Republicans become part of the government if they hate it so. You miss the forest for the trees.
    Republicans are in government to protect those who pay their exorbitant campaign costs from having to pay taxes and fair wages and benefits. It’s a great paying job, or else these millionaires wouldn’t take a mere “low-wage” job in the Congress! And when you leave the Congress, if you did a good job protecting the elites from the consequences of their actions, you more than make up the shortfall in your income (e.g. Phil Gramm as he left the Congress after removing the legal restrictions on banking).
    The Art of War says that the victorious warrior knows his adversary at least as well as he knows himself, and the Republicans know the Democrats better than the Dems know the Reps. Just because the contest is political doesn’t weaken the precepts of this book. It just requires some translating into current-day American.
    The D’s won’t change until their supporters do, and it could begin with you!

  11. says

    Well then what’s the point of blogging about government (or the lack thereof) if we can’t have a “serious debate”?

    Just to clarify, Wally: I didn’t say that I didn’t want a debate. I said that I didn’t want a debate about Ayn Rand and libertarianism. I have seen approximately eight hundred thousand debates about Ayn Rand and libertarianism in the atheosphere: they hijack threads, they’re never interesting, and they never, ever go well. I didn’t, and still don’t, want this thread to go there.
    There are a lot of things to debate in my post: whether it’s fair to call the GOP reactionary, whether it would be good or bad for progressivism to have a strong and articulate conservative opposition, why the GOP is acting like this. I encourage debate on all of these topics, and many others. I am simply cutting off one particular line of discussion, as I have no reason to think it will be fruitful.

  12. says

    Republicans are in government to protect those who pay their exorbitant campaign costs from having to pay taxes and fair wages and benefits.

    :-)
    I said that the question of why Republicans went into government if they hated the basic idea of it was a rant for another day. But now I don’t have to, ToppHogg — since you pretty much ranted my rant for me.
    I thoroughly agree. I don’t think it’s universally true across the board — I think there are a handful of Republican Congressbeings who have some integrity. (Olympia Snowe leaps to mind.) But yes, I do think that for the reflexive “all taxes are bad/ all regulation is bad/ all government programs are bad” crowd, the prime motivation is cutting taxes on the rich, deregulating big business, putting the kibosh on decent wages and working conditions, etc.
    I doubt that that’s what they tell themselves, though. There are very few people in the world who are willing to think of themselves as consciously evil and corrupt. So while I think we have our finger on the pulse of their real motivation, I am still puzzled as to how exactly they justify it to themselves.

  13. says

    This is really pretty simple. And I’m not interested in debating this point. It’s merely my own observation.
    Those with a strongly emotional response to life’s events tend to be reactive.
    This tends toward a fear of change, or in a crisis situation, change for change’s sake.
    Those with a strongly mental response to life’s events tend to be proactive.
    This tends toward a contemplation of change, or in a crisis situation, change based on either prior experience or gut-level instinct.
    And those who tend toward the middle tend to be — you guessed it — in the middle somewhere.
    Either side can use its tendency (somewhat nature, somewhat nurture) in a manipulative manner. As can those in the middle.
    You can search on Jung or Myers-Briggs if you want to dig any deeper. Personally, I wouldn’t bother.
    –Bill, http://www.LitBoy.com

  14. says

    @Bill Brent: that sounds way too simplistic to me, as well as dividing the world overly neatly into ‘emotional’ and ‘mental’ types and rather privileging the latter, which hardly seems reasonable. Everyone is driven by both emotion and cognition, and separating the two is extremely difficult.

  15. Donna Gore says

    This idea has crossed my mind at times. Have a section on the income tax form where each citizen can vote on which programs they want to support with their tax dollars. It would seem “fair” but……would it not work because (a) most people are too dumb to know what they need, and therefore must have others make the decision for them (b) it would be too difficult to actually carry out (logistically). Any thoughts?

  16. Fastthumbs says

    @Donna
    I’ve always toyed with the idea of modifying how many votes each citizen has in electing congress (or at least the house). Basically, each citizen has 1 Vote and gets an ADDITIONAL vote per $1000 paid in federal income tax filed the year before the election. SO… those who don’t file or manage deduct their way out of paying any federal taxes (the wealthy) get only one vote, while those who pay LOTS of fedreal income taxes get many votes… Gives incentive for paying taxes, plus encourages congress to act in the TAX payers best interests.

  17. Bruce Gorton says

    Fastthumbs
    But it also comes with the threat of really rich people being able to buy government (IE: You wouldn’t have a multibillion dollar bribe, sorry, lobbyist industry, people would just pay it straight to taxes, and then vote to get big contracts after the elections.)
    My view is a qualified franchise based on passing a free civics class – such that those who can’t explain say, the first ammendment, don’t get to vote in idiots who cost taxpayers money every time they do something to violate the first ammendment.
    And yes, this should devolve down to school board level.

  18. says

    Well, let’s see.
    Bruce, the problem with your idea is that it’s already been tried. It was called literacy tests, and it was used to keep black people from voting in the South. There is no way to make the right to vote subject to any test other than citizenship, without it being unfairly used by the people in power to disenfranchise people who aren’t.
    Fastthumbs, as Bruce pointed out, your system gives rich people more of a voice in government than poor people. Not just de facto, the way we have now — but literally and inscribed into law.
    And Donna: I wish with all my heart that I thought that were a good idea. But it’s essentially a version of the California initiative system, where voters directly say which programs they want to fund — and that’s been a disaster. We already have a system by which we say which programs we want funded: we vote for representatives, based (in theory) on what programs and laws they will and will not vote for. I know that I don’t know enough about government and budgeting to do that myself — and I’m a smart person. I want there to be people whose job it is to do that. I just think we need to get people more engaged and informed in that process, and less alienated from it. The more people see government as being “us” and the less we see it as “them,” the better this process will work.

  19. says

    I have only one thing to say about Wally: it’s hilarious to see an Ayn Rand booster blaming the economic crisis on Greenspan, when Greenspan was a die-hard Randian.
    As for the GOP being reactionary, I have no disagreement at all. They have been reduced to reacting because, I believe, they can’t face up to the fact that everything they pushed for, everything they said was the right way to govern and the right way to run an economy, has blown up in their faces.
    Our economy is in ruins because of their ideas. Our credibility in the eyes of the world is shot because of their ideas. Thousands of our people, and millions more across the world, are dead, displaced, or in misery because of their ideas.
    But, do they change those ideas? No, that takes more moral courage and introspection than they have. Instead, they engage in disconfirmation of belief: the very fact that their ideas were proven wrong makes them cling to those beliefs that much stronger. It’s a phenomenon seen time and again in religious cults, and the GOP may well have become something like a cult.

  20. says

    Flewellyn, you and ToppHogg need to knock it off. If you keep making my points for me, and keep making them better than I do, than what will I have left to say? :-)
    Seriously: Yes. You hit the nail on the head. I am kind of in awe right now.

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