“Big Tent” Conservative Movement?

I’m always looking for new books. It’s an addiction. Because of this, I love book reviews. I’ll even spend an afternoon reading book reviews of a book I’m unlikely ever to read, just out of curiosity.

I was looking at some recently released books, about politics and history. One book that is a collection of essays caught my attention, simply because of the title. It is Big Tent: The Story of the Conservative Revolution–As Told by the Thinkers and Doers Who Made It Happen by Mallory Factor and Elizabeth Factor. That is an intriguing premise.

It is intriguing because I suspect few people, maybe especially among conservatives, would identify the conservative movement as “Big Tent”. The problem of “Big Tent” movements for conservatives is that they necessitate compromise and cooperation among people who disagree and sometimes have opposing views, purposes, and interests. Conservatives, at least in mainstream politics and punditry, regularly claim to hate or be wary of this kind of compromise and cooperation. What these leaders of the conservative movement want instead seems to be ideological purity.

It makes me wonder if some of these leaders or the activists who had been following them are beginning to question this tactic of ideological purity. The purveyors of the “Small Tent” view has been the Tea Party movement, which hasn’t wanted to claim that it is identical with the conservative movement. But the Tea Party has lost a favor, even among conservatives and Republicans. Maybe some people, such as the authors of this book, hope to redirect the conservative movement in a whole new direction. All of a sudden, those on the right are realizing that they can’t have a future by focusing merely on the demographic of old white people.

One reviewer, in his conclusion, seems to voice some doubts about whether those on the right will want to buy  what the authors’ are selling (The Conservative Movement vs. the Friars Club of Beverly Hills, Stan Greer):

Whether or not conservative/libertarian readers ultimately concur that they do belong (and want to belong!) to a club that has both Donald Rumsfeld and Rand Paul as members, Big Tent, which Factor edited and coauthored with the assistance of his wife Elizabeth, will surely help them come to a better understanding of how they came to their own beliefs.”

Yes, whether or not, maybe with probability leaning toward the ‘not’. The apparent argument of the book seems counter-intuitive.

A part of me finds something appealing about “Big Tent” politics. It used to be, earlier last century, that both parties had a right-wing and a left-wing. As such, there was less right-left polarization between the parties, although obviously other things distinguished the parties. According to Pew data (Beyond Red vs Blue), the Democratic Party is still a “Big Tent” party with an almost equal division between liberals, moderates, and conservatives (about a third of Democrats self-identifying with each of the three labels). The same Pew data doesn’t show such a self-identified spectrum in the Republican Party.

However, parties and movements aren’t necessarily the same thing. It is possible that the conservative movement is “Big Tent”, even if the GOP isn’t. Part of the problem is how to define “Big Tent” and how to objectively measure it. Who is supposed to be part of this “Big Tent” conservative movement? Why would those who don’t identify as conservative. such as libertarians, want to be part of any conservative movement? Libertarians are among the biggest critics of conservatism, especially in mainstream politics.

Does the author offer any demographic or polling data to give evidence for his claim that the conservative movement is a “Big Tent”? Having a wide range of conservative-to-rightwing members/supporters isn’t necessarily the same thing as “Big Tent”. What evidence is there that most Americans ascribe to these views? It is possible that supposed “Big Tent” conservatism is broad in some ways while also being shallow in other ways.

An important confusion is the difference between symbolic and operational forms of ideologies. 

Most Americans, when given a forced choice, choose to self-identify as ‘conservative’. But when given an unforced choice, most Americans choose ‘moderate’. Also, many more Americans will choose to self-identify as ‘progressive’ than will choose to self-identify as ‘liberal’, but even more interesting is the fact that also more self-identify as ‘progressive’ than as ‘conservative’. This goes against the assumption that Americans see progressivism and liberalism as the same and it undercuts the conclusion that most Americans are truly conservative… or else it implies that most Americans are generally confused/uncertain about the meaning of labels (and if that is the case, all these polling about self-identified labels may be less than useful and accurate in telling us much of anything about the general public’s view on politics and ideologies). 

This issues is more complex than it gets presented in the mainstream media and by partisan politics.

I wonder about the author’s argument, as I see lots of evidence to the contrary or else evidence that complicates simple assessments and straightforward conclusions. But I always listen to opposing arguments and take them on their merits. The only way I can judge the merits of this particular argument is to see what objective evidence can be offered, either by the author or others who agree with the authors, but I’m not feeling motivated to buy and read this book. I see the premise for this argument as more of a hope than a reality. Even so, if these authors and those who agree with them want to try to make it a reality, I give them my full support.

In terms of present reality, for those making this argument for a “Big Tent” conservative movement, the following is the evidence one has to somehow counter, explain, reinterpret, and/or disprove:


“More Americans have a positive opinion of progressivism, significantly more than their opinion of conservatism. As many have noted, progressivism has basically become the label for those who like liberalism but are afraid of the negative connotations of the word itself. There isn’t a vast difference between what liberals support and what progressives support.

“Even most Republicans give a positive response toward progressivism. This probably relates as well to why many people who self-identify as conservatives will support many traditionally liberal positions. These positions back in the Progressive Era used to be called progressive. Americans strongly support them. That is the true Silent Majority or rather Silenced Majority.

“Now, prepare to have your mind blown… or else your stereotypes dismantled.

“More Democrats have a positive view of of libertarianism than Republicans. And fewer Democrats have a negative view of libertarianism than Republicans. This shouldn’t be as surprising as would be suggested by watching the MSM. Libertarianism is a direct political competitor with the Republican Party, but Libertarians socially have more in common with liberals and progressives.”


“The media villagers lazily recite the Gallup polling to assert that America is a center-right country ideologically.
Political scientists, however, know better. The old classifications of liberal, conservative and moderate have long since lost their meaning.The decades long far-right media assault to demonize “liberals” has caused many liberals to defensively identify themseleves as “progressives.” The “liberal” brand of the Democratic Party has been watered down by conservative corporatist Democratic organizations like the Democratic Leadership Council, New Democrats, Third Way, Boll Weevils and Blue Dogs, etc. Today’s Democratic Party is not the party of FDR and Truman, or LBJ.

“I have said many times that conservatives today “are not your father’s GOP.” Conservatives today are the John Birchers whom Republican conservatives like William F. Buckley kicked out of the GOP for being too extremist, and the theocratic Christian Right whom “the father of movement conservatism,” Arizona’s Sen. Barry Goldwater, rejected as being too extremist. Think about the irony in that for a moment. This is the man who famously said that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!”

“The media villagers collectively suffer from amnesia and cannot recall that the Republican Party once had a liberal wing and many moderates. They have since been purged from the Republican Party by its extemist fringe, but they are still out there in the electorate.

“When respondents are given more options from which to identify their political beliefs and, more importantly, when polled on specific issues, a surprising and seemingly contradictory result emerges (only because of media mislabeling). Americans are far more left-of-center in their beliefs on specific issues, even self-identified conservatives. These “liberal” beliefs are in fact the “centrist” or “moderate” position of large majorities of Americans.”


“”According to a working paper from two political scientists who interviewed 2,000 state legislative candidates last year, politicians all think Americans are more conservative than they actually are. Unsurprisingly, Republicans think voters are way more right-wing than they actually are.”

“It’s unsurprising that right-wingers are clueless about the average American. That is the nature of being a right-winger, often not even realizing one is right-wing, instead thinking one is a normal mainstream American

“”Liberal politicians, meanwhile, don’t imagine that their constituents are super-liberal. A majority of them also believe that their constituents are more conservative than they actually are. Which, well, that explains your Democratic Party since the Clinton administration. They weren’t polled, but I’m pretty sure “nonpartisan” political elites in the media share the exact same misperception. (“It’s a center-right country,” we hear all the time, which it turns out is both meaningless and untrue.)”

[ . . . ]

“”Left-liberals who actually pay attention to surveys of popular opinion on things like raising taxes on rich people and expanding Medicare instead of raising the eligibility age are frequently a bit annoyed when they watch, say, the Sunday shows, and these ideas are either dismissed as radical or simply not brought up to begin with, but all of Washington is still pretty sure that Nixon’s Silent Majority is still out there, quietly raging against the longhairs and pinkos. In fact the new Silent Majority is basically made up of a bunch of social democrats, wondering why Congress can’t do serious, sensible, bipartisan things like lock up all the bankers and redistribute their loot to the masses.””


“Richard Wirthlin, Ronald Reagan’s chief strategist for the 1980 and 1984 elections , writes in The Greatest Communicator about what he discovered when he went to work for Reagan in 1980. Wirthlin , a Berkeley-trained economist, had been educated in the rationalist tradition to think that voters voted on the basis of whether they agreed with a candidate’s positions on the issues. Wirthlin discovered that voters tended not to agree with Reagan’s positions on the issues, yet they liked Reagan. Wirthlin set out to find out why.”


“Since the time of the pioneering work of Free & Cantril (1967), scholars of public opinion have distinguished between symbolic and operational aspects of political ideology (Page & Shapiro 1992, Stimson 2004). According to this terminology, “symbolic” refers to general, abstract ideological labels, images, and categories, including acts of self-identification with the left or right. “Operational” ideology, by contrast, refers to more specific, concrete, issue-based opinions that may also be classified by observers as either left or right. Although this distinction may seem purely academic, evidence suggests that symbolic and operational forms of ideology do not coincide for many citizens of mass democracies. For example, Free & Cantril (1967) observed that many Americans were simultaneously “philosophical conservatives” and “operational liberals,” opposing “big government” in the abstract but supporting the individual programs comprising the New Deal welfare and regulatory state. More recent studies have obtained impressively similar results; Stimson (2004) found that more than two-thirds of American respondents who identify as symbolic conservatives are operational liberals with respect to the issues (see also Page & Shapiro 1992, Zaller 1992). However, rather than demonstrating that ideological belief systems are multidimensional in the sense of being irreducible to a single left-right continuum, these results indicate that, in the United States at least, leftist/liberal ideas are more popular when they are manifested in specific, concrete policy solutions than when they are offered as ideological abstractions. The notion that most people like to think of themselves as conservative despite the fact that they hold a number of liberal opinions on specific issues is broadly consistent with system-justification theory, which suggests that most people are motivated to look favorably upon the status quo in general and to reject major challenges to it (Jost et al. 2004a).”


“Actually, the GOP could dominate the region more completely- much more completely. In 1944, the Republican nominee for president, Thomas E. Dewey, received less than 5 percent of South Carolinians ‘ votes (making John Kerry’s 41 percent in 2004, his worst showing in the South, sound quite a bit less anemic). That was a solid South. The real story of Southern politics since the 1960s is not the rise to domination of Republicanism but the emergence of genuine two-party competition for the first time in the region’s history. Democrats in Dixie have been read their last rites with numbing regularity since 1964, and there is no question that the region has become devilish terrain for Democrats running for “Washington” offices (president, Senate, Congress). But the widespread notion that the South is one-party territory ignores some powerful evidence to the contrary. For one thing, more Southerners identify as Democrats than Republicans. For another: more Democrats win state and local elections in the South than Republicans. The parity between the parties was neatly symbolized by the total numbers of state legislators in the former Confederate states after the 2004 elections: 891 Republicans, 891 Democrats. The South is many things, not all of them flattering. But it is not politically “solid.””

Re: How to Lose Readers (Without Even Trying)

Sam Harris has an awesome post in response to the anti-tax anti-statists (who often seem to be anti-humanists, especially the Randian types). There was a particular part that caught my attention (emphasis is mine):

image“And lurking at the bottom of this morass one finds flagrantly irrational ideas about the human condition. Many of my critics pretend that they have been entirely self-made. They seem to feel responsible for their intellectual gifts, for their freedom from injury and disease, and for the fact that they were born at a specific moment in history. Many appear to have absolutely no awareness of how lucky one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, to not have cerebral palsy, or to not have been bankrupted in middle age by the mortal illness of a spouse.

Many of us have been extraordinarily lucky—and we did not earn it. Many good people have been extraordinarily unlucky—and they did not deserve it. And yet I get the distinct sense that if I asked some of my readers why they weren’t born with club feet, or orphaned before the age of five, they would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments. There is a stunning lack of insight into the unfolding of human events that passes for moral and economic wisdom in some circles. And it is pernicious. Followers of Rand, in particular, believe that only a blind reliance on market forces and the narrowest conception of self interest can steer us collectively toward the best civilization possible and that any attempt to impose wisdom or compassion from the top—no matter who is at the top and no matter what the need—is necessarily corrupting of the whole enterprise. This conviction is, at the very least, unproven. And there are many reasons to believe that it is dangerously wrong.”
 – – –
That is what socialism has to offer us. Socialism reminds us that humans are inherently social animals. Humans literally can’t survive without others. Many infants die if they aren’t touched, despite how well they are fed.
 – – –
It was odd that Sam Harris had to or even wanted to explain that he wasn’t a socialist. He clarified his position by pointing out that he is a libertarian in many ways:
 – – –
And I say this as someone who considers himself, in large part, a “libertarian”—and who has, therefore, embraced more or less everything that was serviceable in Rand’s politics. The problem with pure libertarianism, however, has long been obvious: We are not ready for it.Judging from my recent correspondence, I feel this more strongly than ever. There is simply no question that an obsession with limited government produces impressive failures of wisdom and compassion in otherwise intelligent people.
 – – –
 – – –
It was disconcerting how many people felt the need to lecture me about the failure of Socialism. To worry about the current level of wealth inequality is not to endorse Socialism, or to claim that the equal distribution of goods should be an economic goal.
 – – –
His reponse just goes to show you how little socialism is understood. Chomsky is both a socialist and a libertarian. Chomsky explains that libertarianism arose out of the the socialist workers movement.
 – – –
To put it simply, socialism promotes an egalitarian society that is fair and just. Socialism, however, doesn’t necessitate the equal distribution of goods. It only requires the equal distribution of opportunities and equal public benefits for public investments. Socialism is the opposite of our present plutocratic socialism. Instead of redistribution to the few, the benefits of our shared society go to benefit to all who are a part of that society. It’s the simple understanding that no person is self-made. Even Sam Harris understands this despite apparently, in his defensiveness, not realizing that socialism isn’t such a crazy idea.

Libertarians: Reasonable Arguments, Extremist Behavior

I just wanted to share a video of someone who seems fairly reasonable to me.  But he also seems typical of a certain kind of libertarian… the whole attitude of “Don’t tread on me!” and all of that.  I doubt he is exactly my kind of person, but I respect his views. 

The only thing that was slightly irksome was his criticizing the interviewer as a snotty elite.  That always seems like an empty taunt.  Chris Matthews isn’t a reporter who appeals to me, but I didn’t think he was out of line in forcing the guy to answer some basic questions.  Of course, Mathews didn’t need to be so aggressive.  

My personal issue is that it perplexes me why some libertarians feel it’s necessary to incite conflict.  In the following video, Matthews states that he supports and most Americans support the right to carry arms, and Matthews then asks why this guy chose to openly carry a loaded gun to a presidential speech while carrying a sign that referred directly to violent and bloody revolt.  I think that is a fair line of questioning.

From my perspective, the guy’s response seemed weak and he acted a bit evasive.  He has a right to carry a gun, but if he isn’t intending to incite violence he needs to change his behavior, needs to change the way he is conveying his message.  Why do some libertarians not see the connection between behavior and consequence?  Just because you have a right to do something doesn’t mean you should do it. 

I don’t think this guy was necessarily a rightwing extremist, but all that he is doing is reinforcing the stereotype of the rightwing extremist.  Rightwing extremists do kill people and rightwing extremists who kill people do argue for the right to carry arms.  Matthews asks about the history of guns at presidential speeches.  The guy refuses to give the obvious answer that a number of gun-toting extremists have assassinated and attempted to assasinate many presidents.  Why would he want to align the libertarian message with such violence?

I think libertarians weaken their message when they act like (or appear to act like) extremists.  Most Americans don’t want violent and bloody revolution, and threats of bloody and violent revolution aren’t appealing to most people.  Libertarians like this guy seem a bit disconnected from the mainstream.  The average person is closer to the so-called liberal elites than to the rightwing extremists.

This is a major problem because the message of libertarians is worthy of being heard.

My Criticisms: Liberals vs Conservatives

I can be quite opinionated… as anyone knows who knows me.  I’m not shy about my opinions most of the time.  But my opinions are ususally nuanced and I don’t tend to shove them in people’s faces.  I’m open to listening to the opinions of others.

On the other hand, I can be outright aggressive in stating some of my opinions.  Some statements seem so obviously true based on the facts that I find irritating anyone who denies them… which isn’t to say my opinion is black and white even in those extreme cases.

I don’t try to hide my liberal bias.  Part of my liberal preferences are just my personality and some are based on research I’ve done.  I can’t help but be who I am and so my inborn liberal tendencies do cause me to be a bit unfair in my assessments at times.  Usually, though, my desire to be fair and reasonable wins out.

My liberal bias particularly shows when I’m talking about certain topics related to conservatism.  I don’t like Fox News, Roger Ailes, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, Karl Rove, etc.  I don’t like them not simply because they’re conservatives, but because they represent the worst of conservatism, the worst of mainstream, the worst of human nature in general… and I’ve written many blog posts with examples and data to back up this conclusion.  That said, I’m not therefore promoting Democrats as a better solution to what ails the world. 

Yes, Fox News is propaganda, Roger Ailes is a Republican operative, and Glenn Beck is a political hack… then again, I don’t generally trust any mainstream media.  I find other mainstream news sources less annoying, but I never let my guard down when checking out the news.  My annoyance with Fox News is that it’s slogan is “Fair and Balanced” which is an obvious lie.  The other mainstream news outlets don’t make such ostentatious claims.  No news source is fair and balanced… which doesn’t mean that reporters shouldn’t strive towards this ideal.

Anyways, I prefer alternative news sources because you have a better sense of seeing what you get and getting what you see.  In mainstream media, any story has gone through numerous layers of people who decide what to approve, who decide how to present it, and who edit it down.  The final product often is closer to fiction than reality.  In the alternative media, there is less funding and so there are less layers between you and the information… and, if there is a bias, it tends to be more obvious.

In the political realm, yes, George W. Bush was one of the worst presidents that we’ve ever had and yes Karl Rove was a sinister mastermind… then again I don’t generally trust any mainstream politician.  I pick on the Republicans partly just because their evil behavior can be just more blatantly obvious (the Patriot Act being a prime example.  When Bush told a lie or was trying to obfuscate, it was obvious because he lacked (or maybe just pretended to lack) political slickness.  Some liked Bush because he appeared to have no pretense and just said things as he believed.  Assuming that is true, a lie blatantly told annoys me all the more because it insults my intelligence.  The way Bush acted seemed to me like a child pretending to be a grownup, a child playing at some game… ya know, the whole Texas cowboy act or his wearing a flight suit.  Whatever game Bush was playing, he wanted us all to play along and just ignore the man behind the curtain (ahem, Karl Rove).

I don’t assume that Obama doesn’t lie or that his policies are entirely motivated by some higher moral sensibility.  However, Obama does seem to take the moral authority of his position seriously.  He is just another Washington politician, but at least he makes his lies sound pretty and he inspires us in the process.  Ultimately, I doubt the end result of Obama’s presidency will be much different than the end reult of Bush’s presidency.  I’m of the opinion that presidents have a lot less power than we like to think.  Politics is just politics.  The politics we typically see in the media is just a show and there are people behind the scenes pulling the strings.  But, with Obama, for a brief moment I can suspend my disbelief and let myself be carried away by the rhetoric.  If we must have evil politics, it might as well be entertaining and uplifting.

So, am I being unfair to conservatives?  If most of the mainstream media is propaganda and if most Washington politicians are evil, then why spend more time complaining about one side or another?  I know I’m being biased in my liberal preferences, but I do complain about both sides even if my complaints about one side tend to be stated more strongly and more often. 

The reaon for this is partly just my response to conservatives and mainstream culture in general.  When Bush lied, why didn’t the mainstream media question the administration and do real investigative journalism?  Why did the American public buy into it hook, line and sinker?  Why do many conservatives still believe the lies?  When Obama lies (or simply doesn’t live up to his promises), everyone is all over it.. the media obsesses over it, the rightwingers attack him, and the leftwingers complain that he isn’t progressive enough.  Why did Bush get a free pas so often?  Because of 9/11?  Because he was a “War President”?  Is Obama not a “War President”?  Bush campaigned on bipartisanship and then acted entirely partisan when in office, and what was the response?  There was a public call for national unity and Democrats bowed to his every wish and command.  Obama campaigned on bipartisanship and then sought bipartisanship in office, and what was the response?  There was Fox News attack-fest and the Republicans went into obstructionist mode.

When I look at what goes for mainstream liberalism, it seems fairly moderate.  There are, of course, the polls that show most Americans favor a moderate form of progressivism, but that isn’t entirely what I mean by this.  Obama seeks bipartisanship and his actions seem to be pretty much a carryover from Bush.  Obama is a progressive in words only.  Obama is just a politician.  The so-called liberal media bias is only liberal in that it supports a liberal status quo.  Mainstream America is slightly liberal and the media reflects that and shapes it to an extent, but there aren’t any flaming communists or populist progressives in the mainstream media.  Social liberalism is just the natural tendency of modern society.  Democratic and capitalistic idealism tends lead towards social liberalism.  It isn’t any scheme of the “liberal elite”.

On the other hand, when I look at mainstream conservatism, it’s been moving towards more extreme manifestations.  Maybe this is just the fundamentalist response to modernism as many have pointed out (e.g., Karen Armstrong).  Ever since taking up the Southern Strategy, conservatives have been fighting against the liberalizing elements of modern society.  They do succeed to an extent in obstructing and in riling up populist anger, but they seem to be fighting against the very nature of our society.  Some conservatives try to explain their failure by claiming Republicans such as Bush have moved away from true conservatism.  That is fair as far as it goes, but true conservatism hasn’t been allowed within the GOP for a very long time.  What I consider true conservatism are the “live and let live” libertarians.  The people who don’t want other people trying to control their lives and tell them what to do… whether it’s big government, big business, or big religion.  Despite what they may think, the moral conservatives aren’t the true conservatives.  The desire to control public morality inevitably leads to big government and the oppression of civil rights.

Maybe liberals have strayed just as far from true liberalism… I don’t know.  I guess that I tend to emphasize social liberalism which oddly can at times be fairly in line with true conservatism.  I think of social liberalism as being true liberalism.  From my perspective, true conservatism and true liberalism have more in common than either have to their mainstream equivalents.  The mainstream equivalents do talk the talk (Republicans call for smaller government and Democrats call for progressive change), but they don’t walk the walk.  I’m more forgiving towards the Democrats in that they seem closer in their ideology to the actual emerging public opinion.  Republicans too often just complain about the world, and their attempt to portray their complaint as populist is unfounded.

My ultimate bias towards liberalism isn’t in liberal ideology itself but in the overall liberal attitude.  I’m an intellectual liberal which isn’t necessarily the same thing as a political liberal.  However, there seems more similarity between the two than not.  Mainstream liberals seem on average to be more intellectually respectable than mainstream conservatives.  You can find intellectual liberalism within the conservative movement.  Buckley attempted to make conservatism more intellectually respectable, but Bush was definitely the intellectual bottom of the barrel.  Nowadays, within the conservative movement, the best examples of intellectual liberalism probably can be found among the libertarians.  The problem is that the intellectually liberal libertarians recently haven’t had a place at the GOP table.  Instead, the anti-intellectuals have become the loudest voices of the conservative movement.  That bugs me more than anything.

I’m fine with someone calling Keith Olbermann a ranting pundit if they so wish, but Olbermann isn’t merely the leftwing equivalent of Glenn Beck.  Unlike Beck, Olbermann isn’t an anti-intellectual.  Even the more intellectual conservatives on Fox News such as Bill O’Reilly don’t seem all that impressively intellectual.  I haven’t come across a popular rightwing equivalent of Noam Chomsky, for instance.  I’m not saying that all conservatives are stupid, but I am saying the smart conservatives tend not to be as popular within the mainstream conservative movement.

So, if more conservatives were willing to embrace intellectuality instead of moral righteousness, then I’d be a lot less critical of the conservative movement.  My complaint isn’t against conservatism as a general category.  True conservatism, in fact, seems quite appealing to me.  I wish more conservatives would think for themselves.  I see the Tea Party being promoted by the Republican Fox News and being taken over by the Republican agenda.  I’d love to see a true conservative protest movement.  When liberals protested the Iraq War, no media outlet promoted the movement and the protest remained independent of mainstream politics.  During Bush’s reign, you had to look to the Peace Protests in order to find the true conservative outcasts.  But, now in Obama’s reign, it seems true liberals have less of an outcast status.

Liberals seem more willing to embrace difference and self-criticism.  If there had been as many conservative critics of Bush as there are now liberal critics of Obama, then we might’ve been able to avoid at least some of the mess we now find ourselves in.  I’m critical of conservatives lack of criticalness (and by criticalness I don’t mean calling Democrats names), but maybe it’s just not in the nature of conservatives to be self-critical.

Tea Party, Liberal Elite, & Conspiracy Theories

I was having a discussion (in the comments of an Amazon.com book review) with someone who seems fairly conservative but who says they aren’t Republican.  This person’s views of liberals, however, seem traditionally conservative and this person didn’t make any statements that would contradict mainstream Republican views.  The review in question was of a book by Cleon Skousen who has been popularized by Glenn Beck.  So, it’s likely this person is either a Beckhead or a Tea Party protester… or maybe they just heard of Skousen through the conservative grapevine. 

The 5,000 Year Leap.jpgSkousen is representative of the far right in his association with the John Birch Society.  The John Birch Society was so far right that the staunch conservative Buckley kicked them out of the conservative movement.   Skousen was mostly a forgotten name until the recent rise of the Tea Party (or rather its recent promotion by Fox News).

My understanding is that the Tea Party was originally inspired by Ron Paul’s libertarian movement. 

The Republicans saw Ron Paul as competition because he is closer to traditional conservatism than they are.  Beck helped undermine Ron Paul’s movement, but later apologized after Beck had become the de facto leader of the Tea Party.  Beck is a dissatisfied Republican who has turned to conservative thinkers such as Skousen who have been kept outside the Republican fold for decades, and apparently now that Buckley is gone those outside the fold are trying to get back in again.  There is a weird struggle going on between the Republicans and the Tea Partiers, but unfortunately no matter which side wins the libertarians will be the losers.  I saw a poll that showed Republicans considered libertarians only slightly less negatively than liberals.

I can see some attraction to libertarians such as Ron Paul and I sympathize some of the Tea Party’s complaints (even if not the ideological targets of their complaints).  Even so, I just can’t stand Glenn Beck.  I partly just don’t like Beck’s lack of intellectual depth (along with his fear-mongering and race-baiting), but more annoying is that Beck works for Fox News.  Fox News is headed by Roger Ailes who has for decades been one of the major players in the Republican party (much credit can be given to him for the success of movement conservatism).  I think Fox News’ interest in the Tea Party is a Republican ploy to take over this movement of dissent… which would mean the genuine complaints would get lost in talking points of Republican campaigning. 

Despite the loony wingnuts, my sense is that there probably are quite a few reasonable and maybe even moderate people within the Tea Party movement.  A while back, I posted a video (several videos in fact along with my own commentary) of someone who seemed reasonable and was complaining about what happened to the Tea Party once it was popularized (and practically taken over) by Fox News.  Here is the video in question:

According to a Pew poll, the demographic that is the most loyal Fox News audience are rich white men… which also happens to be the demographic of those who run Fox News (how convenient).  So, I don’t think Fox News actually has the average Tea Party protester’s best interests in mind nor do I think Fox News is genuinely promoting the complaints that drew many people to the Tea Party movement.

I may be a liberal, but I have libertarian leanings and I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy.  During Bush’s administration, the liberals and libertarians joined together to protest the Iraq war.  What did Fox News do?  It (meaning the Fox News pundits such as Beck) defended the administration, ridiculed the protesters, dismissed the 9/11 families, and categorized Truthers as loony conspiracy theorists.  Ron Paul was against the Iraq war which is a major reason he attracted the ire of Republicans and Fox News.  The Peace Protest movement was even larger than the present Tea Party movement.  Republicans and Fox News thought protesters were the scum of the earth, but when a Democratic president was elected based on a populist message of hope by a majority of Americans all of a sudden Fox News overtly started advertising for and generally promoting the Tea Party protests.  Fox News was fine with the Patriot Act and only now do they worry about the government having too much power?  Pardon me if I think this is a bit disingenuous.

So, Beck has been doing his best to popularize conspiracy theories and make them respectable once again for the conservative movement.  The problem is that, in becoming dissatisfied with the GOP, Beck just went even further right.  I prefer my conspiracy theorists to be equally critical of both the left and the right.  Forget Beck.  Give me Alex Jones.  Compared to Beck, Alex Jones’ theories seem quite reasonable to me.  Alex Jones truly stands outside of the mainstream and doesn’t pull any punches.  It’s easy to see the biases of Alex Jones, but Beck is different as he works within mainstream media.  Considering that Beck paid by the rightwing spin machine (otherwise known as Fox News), I can’t even know to what extent he is being honest or, even if he does genuinely try to be honest, to what extent he is being manipulated by his corporate handlers.  Fox News is run by News Corp which is one of the wealthiest and most powerful transnational corporations in the world.  If there is a worldwide conspiracy, I’m sure News Corp is one of powers behind it.

Better than Alex Jones even, give me Robert Anton Wilson or Art Bell.  Robert Anton Wilson made conspiracy theories truly entertaining.  Art Bell, of course, is one of the greatest libertarian talk show hosts to ever be on air and he is a true libertarian… a “live and let live” kind of guy with a strong dose of openminded curiosity.  Art Bell said Fox News sucks for its treatment of Ron Paul.

I started listening to Art Bell back in the 1990s.  I wasn’t even all that interested in politics at that time.  I suppose I’ve always been fairly liberal in my predisposition, but it’s only been in recent years that I’ve researched politics enough to have any clear opinions.  I don’t remember exactly when I started getting more interested in politics.  I remember attending some political meetings at the University, but other than sating my curiosity I didn’t care too much about any of it.  I saw OutFoxed when it came out and that was my first awareness of blatant media bias and political spin.

The one and only time I voted for a president was for Nader in 2000.  The reason I voted for Nader was because I heard him speak.  It was the only time in my life when felt convinced that a politician genuinely believed in what he was doing.  Nader seemed like a truly moral person.  My voting for him wasn’t an ideological decision but was instead based on an assessment of his character.  For whatever reason, not even Obama inspired me as much.  Obama made inspiring speeches, but Nader inspired me simply for what I sensed about who he was.  I have no desire to vote for the lesser of two evils and I refuse to play the rigged two-party game… not that I dislike Obama (I actually do like him as a person to some extent) and I can think of many people who would make much worse presidents (ahem, Palin).

The only political movement I ever was involved with was the Peace protests.  At the University of Iowa, students and locals had set up a Peace Camp and they were there for quite a while.  I hung out at the camp almost every day even when it was cold.  It was the first time I felt like I was a part of something that mattered.  Bush, of course, was the worst kind of politician.  I’m drawn to pacifist idealism, but more importantly it seemed obvious to me how the Bush administration was lying.  I still don’t understand why Bush’s lies weren’t questioned much at the time even by supposedly liberally-biased mainstream media.  Even today, many conservatives still believe some of Bush’s lies that have been disproven for years.  It truly bewilders me.  And the Patriot Act… my God!  The Patriot Act almost made me lose all hope.

It was funny that at the time when everyone was blaming Nader voters for Bush’s election.  I knew Bush was bad news, but I had a theory about how good might come out of it.  Even before Bush was voted into office, I knew he would be one of the worse presidents and I thought that it likely could lead to inspiring liberals to put forth a truly progressive presidential candidate later on.  It turns out that I was more or less correct in that Obama’s progressive message indeed did get popular support after the horrors of the Bush regime.  However, I didn’t predict how the horrors of Bush would linger on even after he was gone (Patriot Act, Guantanamo, etc).  I didn’t believe in Obama’s hope hype, but I did want to believe that change was actually possible.  I’m open to the hypothetical scenario that Obama might live up to his own progressive speechmaking, but going by his record so far it doesn’t appear all that likely.  This is one time when I wish my cynicism would prove wrong.

These days, I’m not involved in politics at all other than writing about it.  Obama and Bush, Republican and Democrat… it all seems the same to me or not all that different anyways.  I just think of myself as a curious observer.  I still listen to Art Bell’s show but now it’s hosted by someone else.  Over the years, I have at times noted the wide spectrum of the audience of Coast to Coast AM.  The callers and guests consist of liberals, new age gurus, pro-drug activists, Wiccan priestesses, Satan worshippers, Catholic preists, libertarians, conservatives, conspiracy theorists, cranks of various sorts, and even time travellers from the future.  The slant of the show, since Art Bell started it, has always seemed socially liberal and politically libertarian.  Art Bell himself used to be married to a Wiccan and he was the prototypical independent-minded libertarian.

I’ve recently been thinking about Coast to Coast AM in terms of the Tea Party.  Art Bell was a supporter of Ron Paul.  I suspect that libertarians and Tea Partiers probably represent a significant portion of Art Bell’s fan base.  I’m also a fan of Art Bell, but I’m always wary of conservative libertarians adoration of Ayn Rand and I’m even more wary of the Beckhead Tea Baggers.  On the other hand, I don’t think of myself as a Democrat.  Many Democrats hate Nader voters like me as much as Republicans once hated Ron Paul supporters.  I feel like I’m in a weird niche.  The closest I come to finding a view that I identify with might be Noam Chomsky, but I recently met a Chomsky fan who was a rabid atheist and I don’t much like rabid atheists.

Part of me wishes I could be a libertarian, but in the US the libertarian movement has been taken over by pro-capitalists and the religious right.  Of the conservative libertarians, I’d prefer the pro-capitalists because at least some of them are socially liberal.  I read Ayn Rand in college.  I liked her fiction somewhat, but then I read her nonfiction and it really turned me off.  I just don’t understand the proseletyzing of free market idealism.  As I see it, a free market has never existed and probably never will.  Yeah, it looks good in theory… many things look good in theory.

Maybe I should just forget about all of the various movements and just think of myself as an independent. 

I think I was happier when Republicans were in power.  Republicans are just blatantly evil in how they abused power.  Democrats in some ways just seem more sneaky.  Plus, with Democrats in power, the libertarian movement has become even more conservative because of all the people no longer wanting to identify with the failed and failing GOP. 

It pisses me off.  I’ve been a critic of mainstream politics for much of my adult life.  I’ve always been attracted to conspiracy theories about secret societies, alphabet soup agencies, the military-industrial complex, the Federal Reserve, and the One World Government.  I can’t say I necessarily believe in any given conspiracy theory, but the general attitude appeals to me.  I can’t stand that the likes of Beck has become the mainstream representative of conspiracy theories.  Beck may be mainstream, but he is more whacko than some of the cranks that I’ve heard Art Bell inteview.  I’m sure Beck means well and all.  It’s just that he seems like a dupe.  Maybe I’m being overly critical.  Am I wrong to mistrust the change of heart of a supporter of Bush and the Patriotic Act?  Beck says he leans towards libertarianism, but I’ve never heard him criticize imprisoning American citizens as enemy combatants or criticize the torture of suspects that may or may not be terrorists.  If that is leaning towards libertarianism, I’m sure glad Beck isn’t leaning away from libertarianism.  How can Beck be considered the voice of populist dissent, the defender of constitutional rights?

Okay… there was a point to all of this.  My thinking was partly incited by the discussion I mentioned at the beginning of the post.  The person (who I shall call “he” from now on) I was debating seems like a typical conservative in seeing liberal bias everywhere.  He mentioned the documentary Indoctrinate U which is available in it’s entirety on Youtube.

The person on Amazon.com seems reasonably intelligent and capable of critical thinking to some extent, but his views of liberals is rather simplistic… maybe he hadn’t been exposed to many liberals besides encounters with strangers on the internet and portrayals of “libruls” on Fox News.  I assume that this documentary represents his own views as he seemed to be using it to support his arguments.  This is the type of conservative that befuddles me.  He says he isn’t a Republican even while espousing very conservative views.  He seems somewhat moderate in his attitude all the while saying he wants to read Skousen who represents extreme conservative bias.  All in all, he seems be in the general vicinity of the audience of Fox News (which apparently exists in an alternative dimension from the one I happen to occupy).

I’m fine with criticisms and disagreement.  I’m not one to denounce Beck or the Tea Partiers for feeling that the government doesn’t represent them.  I agree with their general sentiments.  I agree that there is a bias in the media and in education and in the mainstream in general, but what is up with seeing a conspiracy everywhere which is led by some kind of liberal elite (be they Socialists, Communists, Marxists, or Nazis… or, even worse, maybe all of them combined).

I found some decent critiques of Indoctrinate U.




I did end up watching the entire documentary.  Basically, it’s a conservative version of a Michael Moore production but not quite as entertaining.  Many examples are presented with little context.  In response to one of the reviews, the maker of the documentary admitted to being biased and thought it unfair for someone to criticize his bias.

Why is it so hard for people to look at the real sources of oppression and propaganda?  What is the point of blaming one party or another, one president or another, one mainstream news source or another?  One group wants to blame big government and the other group wants to blame big business, but a little bit of research shows that there isn’t any great distinction between the two.  The family and financial connections, the revolving door, the inherited wealth and social position… power is power.  Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

Conservatives buy guns in fear that the liberal elite are going to destroy democracy or something, but who are they going to point the gun at?  When the oppressive forces come (assuming they aren’t already here and haven’t been here for a long time), they’ll come for conservatives and liberals alike.  Anyways, I doubt even the gun-toting paranoids will see them coming because the new form of political oppression probably won’t come by overt force. 

There is no liberal propaganda scheme to brainwash the children of conservatives.  The professors and news reporters really aren’t all that liberal (compared to true socialists and progressives) and anyways most of them are just as deceived (or more so) than the rest of us.  The conspiracy (whatever it may be) is systemic to our entire society.  This is why someone like Derrick Jensen probably is closer to grasping the actual conspiracy than any outright conspiracy theorist.

Why are conservatives so afraid of the government now with Obama in Washington?  Obama hasn’t even come close to passing anything as scary as the Patriot Act.  Obama is no more a Communist than any other president.  I just don’t get all of this paranoid fear-mongering.  Yes, there are real things to be afraid of, but I don’t see much point to all of this blind rage and righteousness, all of this ideological warring.  Many, many people have been warning about conspiracies for decades… yet we’re all still here and the political game continues.  What is behind this sudden sense of urgency?  Is it just the economic downturn that gets conservatives all riled up?  Mess with their jobs, their money, their houses… and there will be a revolution.

Okay, whatever… good luck with that.

Tea Party: Ron Paul Libertarians vs Fox News Astroturf

In this first video, Noam Chomsky says we should take the Tea Party seriously because the problems these people speak about are very real.  It’s just that these people don’t understand the actual cause of their problems.

In this second video, Chomsky says:

“The protests are being organized by pretty much the same sectors that are creating the crisis.”

That is something that I’ve noticed.  Without Fox News and Glenn Beck, the Tea Party wouldn’t exist as a popular (not populist) movement.  There is a question, however, that must be asked.  Who runs Fox News?  Roger Ailes is the American president of Fox News Channel and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group.  What did Roger Ailes do in the past?  He was the media consultant for several Republican administrations since the 1970s.  Roger Ailes used as a campaigning tactic the creation of fake town hall meetings. 

Is it any surprise that Fox News has been caught numerous times reporting larger numbers of people than actually attended Tea Party protests? 
Is it any surprise that Fox News has used footage from other entirely different events to make the numbers seem larger? 
Is it any surprise that Fox News has used its own employees ro encourage Tea Party crowds to yell louder for the camera?

Yes, the Tea Party movement has been taken over by the rich and powerful.  But there were people protesting before Fox News ever took notice.  When Fox News pundits like Glenn Beck were ridiculing Ron Paul, the followers of Ron Paul were trying to create real change in the political scene.

I appreciated the comments by the guy in the last video.  The media only ever presents the crazy people who swarmed the Tea Party when Glenn Beck and friends started promoting it.  It was only at this point that Glenn Beck tried to make nice with Ron Paul… only after having undermined his entire movement.  I have libertarian leanings and I appreciate true libertarians, but Fox News is no friend of libertarianism.