Why Am I Moving Left?


Tom Ricks penned a mini-manifesto of sorts yesterday on why he finds himself moving to the left. He’s always thought of himself as a centrist, but now finds himself drifting further away from American conservatism and Republicanism. Money quote:

I am puzzled by this late-middle-age politicization. During the time I was a newspaper reporter, I didn’t participate in elections, because I didn’t want to vote for, or against, the people I covered. Mentally, I was a detached centrist. Today I remain oriented to the free market and in favor of a strong national defense, so I have hardly become a radical socialist.

But since leaving newspapers, I have again and again found myself shifting to the left in major areas such as foreign policy and domestic economic policy. I wonder whether others of my generation are similarly pausing, poking up their heads from their workplaces and wondering just what happened to this country over the last 15 years, and what do to about it.

Good question, Tom. Like Ricks, I don’t believe my general inclinations politically have changed that much over the years. I prefer smaller government in general; I too believe in a robust defense; I have few issues with the free market; I think marriage and family are critical social institutions; I’m still a believing Christian; I have deep qualms about abortion and abhor affirmative action; I’m a fiscal conservative; want radical tax reform, cuts in unfunded entitlements, and culturally, I’m a libertarian, with a traditionalist streak alongside radical tendencies (so, for example, I both love the Latin Mass and intend to go to Burning Man next month). I haven’t renounced my precocious devotion to Thatcher and Reagan, even as I have out-grown them, as the world has as well.

But I am now regarded as a leftist by much of the right and to some extent, they’re right. In today’s polarized political climate, I have few qualms in backing president Obama over almost anyone in the opposition, and am genuinely insulted these days when some people call me a Republican. Tom laid out several critical issues which have now placed him on the left rather than the right in today’s environment. They’re well worth reading through. Here are my critical reasons, as of now, for wanting the Republicans defeated in any forthcoming elections.

The defense of torture.  As disturbing as the deployment of torture by the Bush-Cheney administration was, the continuing refusal of anyone on the right to cop to it and make amends for it is a clear and present danger to our core decency. Calling it something else doesn’t cut it. Violating the sacred honor of the United States and a founding principle of Western civilization because of one man’s panic and extremism cannot be put aside. Today’s conservatism – in stark contrast to Reagan and Eisenhower and every civilized nation on earth – is now intertwined with barbarism. Until they revoke this and become fully accountable for it, I cannot in good conscience be a member of the “right.”

Political brinksmanship. The conduct of the GOP during the Obama administration has been a nihilist disgrace. In 2009, Obama inherited crises on every front: an economy in terrifying free-fall, a bankrupted Treasury, an even more morally bankrupt foreign policy, and two failed wars. He deserved some measure of cooperation in that hour of extreme national peril and need. He got none. From the get-go, they were clearly prepared to destroy the country if it also meant they could destroy him.

In fact, from that first stimulus vote on, Obama faced a unanimous and relentless nullification Congress. If he favored something, they opposed it. Despite Obama’s exemplary family life, public grace and composure, and willingness to compromise, they decided to cast him as a tyrant, a radical, a traitor and an incompetent. Their demonization of a decent, pragmatic man simply disgusts me to the core. And, sorry, if you do not smell any whiff of racism in all of this, you’re a better person than I am.

Ideological blindness. Any party that can respond to the fact of yawning economic inequality in the 21st Century by blaming the 99 percent for not working hard enough has put ideology before reality. Any party that even now thinks slashing taxes below their current historically low levels will cure our economic ills is utterly delusional. Any party that is unconcerned with the social dangers of an economic system that increasingly rewards only the very very rich cannot be trusted with government. There has to be a pragmatic element to any conservatism and an ability too adjust to new circumstances and new problems. There are some hopeful signs among reformocons, but the tenor of the discourse remains absurdly doctrinaire, treating Reagan as some kind of god and compromise as the ultimate evil. Over the last decade, the GOP has seemed like a church rather than a political party, with dogma rather than policies, and beset by heresy-hunts rather than genuine debate.

Race, gender, sexual orientation. Yes, it’s hard to support a political party that harbors deep discomfort with racial and sexual minorities and many women. I’m a debater but I’m also a human being. I’ve enjoyed the back-and-forth over the last two decades on marriage equality – but to say I haven’t been affected by some of the rank bigotry displayed in that whole enterprise would be untrue. Listening to Republicans on race has also made me feel sick. The anger, the loathing, the condescension and the frustration are not things I want to associate with in any way, even though, for example, I’m sympathetic to many right-of-center positions – such as opposition to hate crimes or affirmative action. And the way in which women’s lives and sexuality are treated by the current right – the tone as much as the substance – repels me.

Anti-Intellectualism. I came of age when the right was bristling with new ideas and the left was pretty much exhausted. More important, the quality and civility of the conservative intellectual discourse encouraged eggheads like me to believe in a conservative future that was intelligent, reasoned and nimble. But it’s a long, long way from the heady days of Policy Review to the fulminations of the Daily Caller, a steep slope from Allan Bloom to Mark Levin, and a free-fall from the John McCain of the 1990s to the nomination of Sarah Palin as vice-presidential timber. Skepticism of a kind of liberal intellectual rationalism is one thing; scorn for the entire intellectual and academic exercise is quite another.

This is a rough and ready and short list. Longtime readers may be familiar with much more. The party of Lincoln, of Eisenhower and of Reagan still appeals. Which is why the party of Cheney, of Hannity and of Adelson so appalls.