Left, Right And Time

I suffer, it seems, from an affliction that bedevils many. I now find myself largely opposed to most Republicans and in favor of a Democratic president as an even tempered pragmatist. But I have not reimagined myself as a leftist. Others have, of course, but I wince a little every time. Take the issue of taxes - and you see where the right-left paradigm is totally insufficient to the occasion.

Income tax rates are now lower than they were under Ronald Reagan and far lower than they were under Eisenhower. And yet it has become a Norquistian non-negotiable that no taxes can be raised at all on anyone, let alone the beneficiaries of the last thirty years - and those who differ must be "leftists" - even when the US is facing debt of historic and dangerous proportions. Someone advocating what Eisenhower was perfectly comfortable with would be regarded by the Republican right today as a communist. And yet, of course, Eisenhower was emphatically not a Communist, whatever the John Birch society believed. In retrospect, he might even be seen as the most successful small-c conservative of the 20th century. (This was indeed Paul Johnson's take in Modern Times.)

Similarly, those who view Obama as some kind of radical have to come to terms with what Glenn Greenwald spells out here:

Since Obama was inaugurated, the Dow Jones has increased more than 50% -- from 8,000 to more than 12,000; the wealthiest recieved a massive tax cut; the top marginal tax rate was three times less than during the Eisenhower years and substantially lower than during the Reagan years; income and wealth inequality are so vast and rising that it is easily at Third World levels; meanwhile, "the share of U.S. taxes paid by corporations has fallen from 30 percent of federal revenue in the 1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009."

Conservatism cannot be defined as whatever is the most extreme right-wing narrative of the moment. Time matters. Conservatism needs to be flexible enough a governing philosophy to be able to correct for conservative ideology itself. When such an ideology threatens fiscal balance, a prudent foreign policy, and a thriving middle class, it has become the enemy of real conservatism, not its friend.