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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Can Conservatives Unite Under the Umbrella of "Gun Rights"

as many have discussed over the past several years, there has arising in the United States a distinct ruling class with its own rules, mores, social outlook, and thought processes, that are completely alien to the citizenry at large. I had previously noted an article by  Angelo Codevilla discussing the attributes of our new ruling elite.Codevilla has published a new article at Forbes that expands on the themes and discussion of his prior article. He writes, in part:

On January 1, 2013 one third of Republican congressmen, following their leaders, joined with nearly all Democrats to legislate higher taxes and more subsidies for Democratic constituencies. Two thirds voted no, following the people who had elected them. For generations, the Republican Party had presented itself as the political vehicle for Americans whose opposition to ever-bigger government financed by ever-higher taxes makes them a “country class.” Yet modern Republican leaders, with the exception of the Reagan Administration, have been partners in the expansion of government, indeed in the growth of a government-based “ruling class.” They have relished that role despite their voters. Thus these leaders gradually solidified their choice to no longer represent what had been their constituency, but to openly adopt the identity of junior partners in that ruling class. By repeatedly passing bills that contradict the identity of Republican voters and of the majority of Republican elected representatives, the Republican leadership has made political orphans of millions of Americans. In short, at the outset of 2013 a substantial portion of America finds itself un-represented, while Republican leaders increasingly represent only themselves.
By the law of supply and demand, millions of Americans, (arguably a majority) cannot remain without representation. Increasingly the top people in government, corporations, and the media collude and demand submission as did the royal courts of old. This marks these political orphans as a “country class.” In 1776 America’s country class responded to lack of representation by uniting under the concept: “all men are created equal.” In our time, its disparate sectors’ common sentiment is more like: “who the hell do they think they are?”
The ever-growing U.S. government has an edgy social, ethical, and political character. It is distasteful to a majority of persons who vote Republican and to independent voters, as well as to perhaps one fifth of those who vote Democrat. The Republican leadership’s kinship with the socio-political class that runs modern government is deep. Country class Americans have but to glance at the Media to hear themselves insulted from on high as greedy, racist, violent, ignorant extremists. Yet far has it been from the Republican leadership to defend them. Whenever possible, the Republican Establishment has chosen candidates for office – especially the Presidency – who have ignored, soft-pedaled or given mere lip service to their voters’ identities and concerns.
* * *

Political partisanship became a more important feature of American life over the past half-century largely because the Democratic Party, which has been paramount within the U.S. government since 1932, entrenched itself as America’s ruler, and its leaders became a ruling class. This caused a Newtonian “opposite reaction,” which continues to gather force.
In our time, the Democratic Party gave up the diversity that had characterized it since Jeffersonian times. Giving up the South, which had been its main bastion since the Civil War as well as the working classes that had been the heart of its big city machines from Boston to San Diego, it came to consist almost exclusively of constituencies that make up government itself or benefit from government. Big business, increasingly dependent on government contracts and regulation, became a virtual adjunct of the contracting agents and regulators. Democrats’ traditional labor union auxiliaries shifted from private employees to public. Administrators of government programs of all kinds, notably public assistance, recruited their clientele of dependents into the Party’s base. Democrats, formerly the party of slavery and segregation, secured the allegiance of racial minorities by unrelenting assertions that the rest of American society is racist. Administrators and teachers at all levels of education taught two generations that they are brighter and better educated than the rest of Americans, whose objections to the schools’ (and the Party’s) prescriptions need not be taken seriously.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of American education’s centralization, intellectual homogenization and partisanship in the formation of the ruling class’ leadership. Many have noted the increasing stratification of American society and that, unlike in decades past, entry into its top levels now depends largely on graduation from elite universities. As Charles Murray has noted, their graduates tend to marry one another, perpetuating what they like to call a “meritocracy.” But this is rule not by the meritorious, rather by the merely credentialed – because the credentials are suspect. As Ron Unz has shown, nowadays entry into the ivied gateways to power is by co-option, not merit. Moreover, the amount of study required at these universities leaves their products with more pretense than knowledge or skill. The results of their management– debt, decreased household net worth, increased social strife – show that America has been practicing negative selection of elites.

* * *
Republican leaders neither parry the insults nor vilify their Democratic counterparts in comparable terms because they do not want to beat the ruling class, but to join it in solving the nation’s problems. How did they come to cut such pathetic figures?
The Republican Party never fully adapted itself to the fact that modern big government is an interest group in and of itself, inherently at odds with the rest of society, that it creates a demand for representation by those it alienates, and hence that politicians must choose whether to represent the rulers or the ruled. The Republican Party had been the party of government between the Civil War and 1932. But government then was smaller in size, scope, and pretense. The Rockefellers of New York and Lodges of Massachusetts – much less the Tafts of Ohio – did not aspire to shape the lives of the ruled, as does modern government. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal largely shut these Republicans out of the patronage and power of modern government.
By the late 1930s, being out of power had begun to make the Republicans the default refuge of voters who did not like what the new, big government was doing. Some Republican leaders – the Taft wing of the Party – adopted this role. The Rockefeller wing did not. Though the latter were never entirely comfortable with the emerging Democratic ruling class, their big business constituency pressed them to be their advocate to it. A few such Republicans (e.g. Kevin Philips The Emerging Republican Majority) even dreamed during the Nixon-Ford Administration of the 1970s that they might replace Democrats at the head of the ruling class. But the die had been cast long since: Corporations, finance, and the entitled high and low – America’s “ins” – gravitated to the Democrats’ permanent power, while the “outs” fled into the Republican fold. Thus after WWII the Republican Party came to consist of office holders most of who yearned to be “ins,” and of voters who were mostly “outs.”
This internal contradiction was unsustainable. The Republican leadership, regarding its natural constituency as embarrassing to its pursuit of a larger role in government, limited its appeal to it. Thus it gradually cut itself off from the only root of the power by which it might gain that role. Thus the Republicans proved to be “the stupid party.”
In 1960 Barry Goldwater began the revolt of the Republican Party’s constituent “outsider” or “country class,” by calling for a grass-roots takeover of the Party. This led to Goldwater’s nomination for President in 1964. The Republican Establishment maligned him more vigorously than did the Democrats. But the Goldwater movement switched to Ronald Reagan, who overcame the Republican Establishment and the ruling class to win the Presidency by two landslide elections. Yet the question: “who or what does the Republican Party represent” continued to sharpen because the Reagan interlude was brief, because it never transformed the Party, and hence because the Bush (pere et fils) dynasty plus Congressional leadership (Newt Gingrich was a rebel against it and treated a such) behaved increasingly indistinguishably from Democrats. Government grew more rapidly under these Republican Administrations than under Democratic ones.
In sum, the closer one gets to the Republican Party’s voters, the more the Party looks like Goldwater and Reagan. The closer one gets to its top, the more it looks like the ghost of Rockefeller. Consider 2012: the party chose for President someone preferred by only one fourth of its voters – Mitt Romney, whose first youthful venture in politics had been to take part in the political blackballing of Barry Goldwater.
One reason for the Republican Party’s bipolarity is the centripetal attraction of the ruling class: In the absence of forces to the contrary, smaller bodies tend to become satellites of larger ones. Modern America’s homogenizing educational Establishment and the ruling class’ near monopoly on credentials, advancement, publicity, and money draws ambitious Republicans into the Democrats’ orbit. That is why for example a majority of the Republican Establishment, including The Wall Street Journal and the post-W.F. Buckley National Review supported the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and its premise that big, well-connected enterprises are “too big to fail” - which three fourths of the American people opposed vociferously. For these Republican cognoscenti vox populi is not vox dei, but the voice of idiots. Accordingly, after the 2010 elections produced a large contingent of Senators and Congressmen pledged to oppose measures such as the TARP, former Senate Republican majority leader Trent Lott expressed confidence that Washington would soon break the new members to its ways, that pledges to voters would count for little against the approval or disapproval of prestigious personages, against the profit to be made by going along with the ruling class and the trouble that comes from opposing it.

That trouble is daunting. Whoever chooses to represent the country class might have right and reason on their side. Nevertheless they can be certain that the ruling class media will not engage those reasons but vilify the persons who voice them as ignorant, irresponsible, etc. Asserting moral-intellectual superiority, chastising and intimidating rather than persuading opponents is by no means the least of the ruling class’ powers. “It’s the contempt, stupid!” But the Republican leadership has proved stupid enough to deal with the contempt as the Pharisee in the Temple dealt with sin: “I thank thee Lord that I am not like other Republicans…”

* * *
Today the majority of Republican congressmen plus a minority of senators – dissidents from the Party but solid with their voters – are the natural core of a new party. The name it might bear is irrelevant. Very relevant are sectors of America’s population increasingly represented by groups that sprang up to represent them when the Republican leadership did not.
This representation is happening by default. It is aided by the internet, which makes it possible to spread ideas to which the educational Establishment gives short shrift and which the ruling class media shun. In short, the internet helps undermine the ruling class’ near-homogenization of American intellectual life, its closing of the American mind. Not by reason but by bureaucratic force majeure had America’s educational Establishment isolated persons who deviate from it, cutting access to a sustaining flow of ideas that legitimize their way of life. But the internet allows marginalized dissenters to reason with audiences of millions. Ideas have consequences. No surprise then that more and more of Republican elected officials seem to think less like their leaders and more like their voters.
The internet also spread the power to organize. Already in the 1970s Richard Viguerie had begun to upset the political parties’ monopoly on organization by soliciting money from the general public for causes and candidates through direct mail. The internet amplified this technique’s effectiveness by orders of magnitude, making it possible to transmit ideas and political signals while drawing financial support from millions of likeminded people throughout the country. Thus informed with facts and opinion, sectors of the country class have felt represented and empowered vis a vis the ruling class. Those on the electronic distribution list of the “Club for Growth,” for example, are at least as well informed on economic matters as any credentialed policy maker. The several pro-life organizations have spread enough knowledge of embryology and moral logic to make Roe v. Wade, which the ruling class regards as its greatest victory, a shrinking island in American jurisprudence and society. The countless Tea Parties that have sprung up all over have added their countless attendees to networks of information and organization despite the ruling class’ effort to demonize them. The same goes for evangelicals, gun owners, etc. Though such groups represent the country class fragmentarily, country class people identify with them rather than with the Republican Party because the groups actually stand for something, and represent their adherents against the ruling class’ charges, insults, etc.
In short, he describes an elite that is self-selective and trained to think, act, and speak similarly through attendance at elite universities. However, the elite universities aren't "elite" in the sense of producing the best educated and visionary, but because they have been selected to be elite. They produce people that think they are smarter than everyone else, but actually aren't. The problem is, both the Democratic and Republican elites move in the same circles. Conservatives are unrepresented in the upper echelons of government, big business, and education. (Rush Limbough's lament that for the first time he is ashamed of his country is a result of lock-step thinking of both parties in Congress).

Codevilla is not alone in his thinking on this. For instance, Megan McCardle wrote earlier this week about America's New Mandarins:
But I think that we are looking at something even deeper than that: the Mandarinization of America.

The Chinese imperial bureaucracy was immensely powerful. Entrance was theoretically open to anyone, from any walk of society—as long as they could pass a very tough examination. The number of passes was tightly restricted to keep the bureaucracy at optimal size.
Passing the tests and becoming a “scholar official” was a ticket to a very good, very secure life. And there is something to like about a system like this ... especially if you happen to be good at exams. Of course, once you gave the imperial bureaucracy a lot of power, and made entrance into said bureaucracy conditional on passing a tough exam, what you have is ... a country run by people who think that being good at exams is the most important thing on earth. Sound familiar?

The people who pass these sorts of admissions tests are very clever. But they're also, as time goes on, increasingly narrow. The way to pass a series of highly competitive exams is to focus every fiber of your being on learning what the authorities want, and giving it to them. To the extent that the "Tiger Mom" phenomenon is actually real, it's arguably the cultural legacy of the Mandarin system
That system produced many benefits, but some of those benefits were also costs. A single elite taking a single exam means a single way of thinking:
The examination system also served to maintain cultural unity and consensus on basic values. The uniformity of the content of the examinations meant that the local elite and ambitious would-be elite all across China were being indoctrinated with the same values.
All elites are good at rationalizing their eliteness, whether it's meritocracy or “the divine right of kings.” The problem is the mandarin elite has some good arguments. They really are very bright and hardworking. It’s just that they’re also prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority, because that is what this sort of examination system selects for.
The even greater danger is that they become more and more removed from the people they are supposed to serve. ...
... many of the mandarins have never worked for a business at all, except for a think tank, the government, a media organization, or a school—places that more or less deliberately shield their content producers from the money side of things. There is nothing wrong with any of these places, but culturally and operationally they're very different from pretty much any other sort of institution. I don't myself claim to understand how most businesses work, but having switched from business to media, I'm aware of how different they can be.
In fact, I think that to some extent, the current political wars are a culture war not between social liberals and social conservatives, but between the values of the mandarin system and the values of those who compete in the very different culture of ordinary businesses--ones outside glamour industries like tech or design.

... The road to a job as a public intellectual now increasingly runs through a few elite schools, often followed by a series of very-low-paid internships that have to be subsidized by well-heeled parents, or at least a free bedroom in a major city. The fact that I have a somewhat meandering work and school history, and didn't become a journalist until I was 30, gives me some insight (she said, modestly) that is hard to get if you’re on a laser-focused track that shoots you out of third grade and straight toward a career where you write and think for a living. Almost none of the kids I meet in Washington these days even had boring menial high-school jobs working in a drugstore or waiting tables; they were doing “enriching” internships or academic programs. And thus the separation of the mandarin class grows ever more complete.
I’m hinting at the final problem, which is that this ostensibly meritocratic system increasingly selects from those with enough wealth and connections to first, understand the system, and second, prepare the right credentials to enter it—as I believe it also did in Imperial China.
And like all elites, they believe that they not only rule because they can, but because they should. Even many quite left-wing folks do not fundamentally question the idea that the world should be run by highly verbal people who test well and turn their work in on time. They may think that machine operators should have more power and money in the workplace, and salesmen and accountants should have less. But if they think there's anything wrong with the balance of power in the system we all live under, it is that clever mandarins do not have enough power to bend that system to their will. For the good of everyone else, of course. Not that they spend much time with everyone else, but they have excellent imaginations.

As I say, the mandarins are in many senses deserving: they work very hard, and they are very smart. But there is one important thing they do not know, which is what it is like to be anyone except a mandarin. ...
But the people entering journalism, or finance, or consulting, or any other "elite" profession, are increasingly the children of the children of those who rocketed to prosperity through the postwar education system. A window that opened is closing. The mandarins are pulling away from the rest of America.
     There are several implications from this. Most significantly, as Glenn Reynolds has written about, and Codevilla discusses in this earlier article on the Perils of Revolution, this produces what Reynolds calls the "moocher" class, those people (both poor, middle-class, and wealthy) who make their living from government largess, and the creative/working class that actually produce wealth (otherwise known as the "suckers"). However, because the elite rely on the "moochers" (and vice versa), and as Codevilla's notes in his article cited above, it leaves the rest of America without any representation or say in government.

     The question is who will step up to the plate. As Codevilla discusses, because the "country class" are unrepresented, they must turn to other groups to represent them. However, these groups are fragmented. Some groups don't particularly like one another. For instance, libertarians, who often support gay marriage, abortion, and drug legalization, are at odds with conservative Christians, although they may otherwise see eye-to-eye on government spending and overreach.

     One viable unifying voice was the Tea Party. (Rush Limbough may be trying to help strengthen the Tea Party). This is why I believe that the elite were so vocal in their attacks (including the crude references to "tea bagging") against the Tea Party.

     However, the ruling elite have identified another second unifying voice--cutting across the divides of many conservatives--and are now attacking it. That is gun rights. Passage of the 1994 Assault Weapons bill was devastating to the elite. For the first time ever, a Speaker of the House lost reelection. It was, in fact, responsible for sweeping Republicans into power in Congress. And it resonates among many voters. After the earlier Assault Weapons bill sunset, George W. Bush indicated that he was willing to pass a new ban if Congress put it before him. I know that a lot of gun owners that thought it was just empty rhetoric, but I believe he was serious. However, at that time, the proposal was dead in the water (although Federal regulations based on the AWB seemed to live on).

    I think the success of the Tea Party in these last two elections has scared the elite (both Democratic and Republican). So, not only must they crush the Tea Party, but they must also crush the "gun lobby," as these are increasingly becoming the only real challenge to their homogeneity. This, I believe, is why the President and his ilk are pushing gun control so strongly now.

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