Tag Archives: conservatism

A Rebuttal…

Here is my rebuttal of this,


First, I would not maintain that idealizing the past is solely a conservative issue. I think you can always find cases where any group idealizes the past. However, in my opinion, the fallacy in your counter argument is of cherry picking. Admittedly, I have not done any statistical analysis of how often conservatives appeal to an idealized past in their rhetoric compared to the other cases you cite. I submit these points to reinforce my point:

Point 1 – Conservative by definition implies a history to conserve. The definition of the word contains my main premise, that conservatives root their identity, heritage and notion of truth in the past. None of the other groups you mentioned call themselves by a name that essentially, in the definition of the very word, implies identification with the past. I find this to be along the lines of a tautology, it is necessarily true that conservatism implies a past to conserve and any group that calls themselves ‘conservative’ sets up an identity with the past…

Conservatism means to conserve the past.
Therefore, a conservative wants to conserve the past.

Point 2 – I think most folks would agree with my presumption that conservatives continually hearken back to a better time that proves their ideology much more than other group’s rhetoric (including the ones you mentioned). I do not think that the numbers are the same for the cases you cite – numbers and proportionality matter. Admittedly, I have not and do not plan to try to come up with stats on this so this depends on people’s own judgment that preferably do not have a vested interest in the outcome of their judgment.

Point 3 – I think this is your admonition that conservatives idealize the past…

“I think a more accurate definition of conservative is someone who wants to conserve tried-and-true traditional institutions and who supports only gradual change, believing that such things are the way they are for good reasons.”

The “tried and true” is exactly what my contention is – the ideal of the “tried and true” may not have really been ‘tried’ or ‘true’. It certainly is an interpretation that is contestable – it may have been ‘tried’ but maybe not the way people think it was tried and the outcome may not have been the ‘true’ that common, un-researched opinions may have assigned to it. Are you suggesting that everything or even most things people think are “tried” and “true” really are – are you? It is the job of propaganda to make/create the content of the ‘tried’ and ‘true’. The reality is not necessarily either and I find typically different.

Point 4 – The graph you cite in your previous post that came from here,
along with this graph,
and these from my post,

all demonstrate my point. When Bush took office January 20, 2001 the unemployment was 4.2%. When President Obama took office January 20, 2009 the unemployment rate was 7.8%. Four months later in May it was 9.4%. Your GDP graphs show the almost straight line up at the end of the Bush administration as well. These straight lines up started at the end of the Bush administration and peaked just after Obama took office. They have been coming down ever since. This is the point I am making and you made it for me as well. The economy is like a cruise ship. Don’t forget the recession started as a result of 8 years of a Republican president and 6 years of Republican House and Senate control. A president cannot change the economy the day he gets into office. However, there is substantial evidence that you made and I made and others that things are turning around since Obama got into office – the proof is in the pudding. All you have to do is look at the graphs and where they occur to make my point. If you look at all the data points and do not take one point like “19.7” you will see that the debt went up just as Bush was leaving and Obama was starting. Also, look at the rate of change of spending in the graph on my blog cited above. Here is a better graph from GAO data,

I am not sure where your numbers come from on your graph but they seem a little skewed from the GAO numbers.

Another thing you have not taken into account is discretionary and non-discretionary part of the budget. Discretionary spending is annual spending that the congress and the president have to deal with every year; non-discretionary is mandatory, multiyear spending that has already been committed to by previous administrations (i.e., like food stamps calculated to poverty levels). The non-discretionary portion of the 2011 budget is 59%; the discretionary is 34%.

What Republicans call Obama-Care has not kicked in yet but the GAO wrote a report that I have read from start to finish that claims it will take 100 billion off the budget over 10 years as compared to doing nothing (can’t cherry pick GAO reports in my opinion – ask my wife – she retired from the GAO). However, the 1 trillion dollars over 10 years of Medicare Part D that was passed by a Republican president (Bush) and Republican dominated House and Senate has already started to hit non-discretionary spending. The non-discretionary part of the budget makes up the lion’s share of the increased debt spending that you see at the end of the Bush administration. Part is this has to do with the wars, the national disasters (FEMA) and more importantly the recession. As more people go into poverty entitlements that were all previously linked to poverty numbers kick in with much higher amounts of spending – nothing to do with President Obama.

As you can see from your graphs and the others ones I have cited, the graphs are taking a turn for the better since President Obama took office but it will take more time than a year to turn it around and a congress that cooperates with the president to get military and entitlement spending down.

Please attach further comments to the original post cited at the top – thanks.

More Interesting Information:

•Since 2001, the U.S. has spent $7.6 trillion in security-related efforts, including: Department of Defense base-line, nuclear weapons, Homeland Security and war.
•From 2000 to 2011, security-related discretionary spending increased 96% versus non-security discretionary spending which increased 39%.
•The 2011 cost of interest on the national debt which is related to military spending is $80 billion. This is equal to the 2012 budgets of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Labor and Transportation combined.
•2011 spending on the Iraq War ($47.4 billion) would pay for all the public disaster funding that FEMA disbursed from Fiscal Year 1999 through Fiscal Year 2010.
•2011 spending on the Afghan War ($122 billion) is greater than the 2012 deficits of 42 states and the District of Columbia combined.






I have not researched this data yet but plan to see if this is accurate:
Medicare Part D will add 9.4 trillion over next 75 years to the debt.
Joe Scarborough reports Medicare Part D will add 7 trillion over 10 years to the debt.
Credit Default Swaps were 50 to 70 trillion during the Bush years.
I will not state that this is good data until I see reputable data sources.

The Question of Conservatism

Conservatives want to conserve. Certainly this is ostensively true. The question of conservatism comes when the object of conservatism is explicitly posed. For example, conservatives are fond of talking about the past. They believe that their notion of the past is ‘real’. However, an objection could be made that their interpretation is ideal and therefore, as an example, a return to the conservative past is not only impossible as it never really existed but could be used for voter manipulation (please see the addendum below to illustrate this point).

In philosophy we would say that history is hermeneutical; that is, it lends itself to interpretation. Are there historical facts that are more certain than others? –Absolutely. Hitler existed. However, there are mainstream Republicans that believe Hitler was a liberal, socialist since Jonah Goldberg (see http://www.mixermuse.com/blog/2010/01/03/fascism-is-liberal-and-squares-are-circles/). While the vast majority of historical scholars disagree with Goldberg’s conclusions, it does demonstrate the susceptibility of history to interpretation. The Bible is another clear example of how history can interpreted differently viz. all the different Christian denominations. Of course, there are multiple attempts to define the ‘true’ history but that is beyond the scope of this discussion. The point is that history has empirically demonstrated a propensity for radically different interpretations.

Since there is an interpretive variability to history, it makes conservatism more problematic. The argument gets turned into a struggle for defining or perpetually having to redefine what we need to conserve. A more skeptical view of conservatism is that it lends itself to propaganda – in this case, a re-creation of the past that is repeated enough times to manipulate public opinion into believing it is true – marketing is proof that propaganda works. Nietzsche would be in perfect agreement with the notion that the past is a story told by the victors. I would in no way imply that liberals are immune from the criticism of propaganda. However, the criticism of liberals and propaganda is not from ‘conserving’ the past but generally from different directions.

The obsession with the past that needs conserving is what many philosophers call reactionary. That is, it sustains itself by trying to establish a ‘true’ understanding of the past. It must therefore react to every challenge to the ‘true’ understanding. If conservatism could establish a ‘true’ history, it would justify its existence, its essence or in philosophy, its origin (arche in Greek). This task is a bit like the myth of Sisyphus who had to eternally roll a stone up a hill only to have it roll down again. Conservatism, not unlike Christianity, depends in part on the monumental task of preserving or trying to establish an interpretation of the past. The struggle then in conservatism is a struggle for the ‘true’ and the proper.

In current philosophy there is much discussion about the ‘proper’ and its essential reciprocity to the ‘improper’. The proper is indentified with essence, origin, history, sacred, eternal and true. The improper is identified with accidental, contingent, insignificant, profane, finite and false. The truth claim as what is proper is not so much in question as how the dynamics of proper and improper depend on each other to be, to exist as what they are. Many philosophers, Hegel not the least, have exhaustively shown that the true could not even be thought without the errant, the not-true. In philosophy there is something called a tautology; something that is absolutely, necessarily true. For example, A = A is an identity and therefore a tautology. A proper identity in philosophy is always true and a tautology. However, the set of all not-As has just as much to do with A being A as the positive statement. Without the not-A, the A not only would not ‘exist’ but it could not even be thought. Likewise, in any hermeneutic of history a canon, a dominant narrative that gets established as ‘true’, must perpetually topple any counter narratives, any themes that oppose or contradict the dominant narrative. The very fact the task is continual shows that the counter themes are never extinguished completely. A symbiotic relationship exists in which both canon and not-canon must preserve each other in order to ‘be’, to even ‘be able’ for thought. So, the proper cannot do without the improper. The proper must, of necessity, sow the seeds of the improper. It must provide the themes for its destruction as it insists on its proper-ness. In the context of this essay, conservatism owes its existence to what it cannot and does not want to maintain – the nemesis of historical truth – hermeneutics (historical interpretation). Regular folks call this relativity or relativism.

Relativism as commonly thought means that tautology is impossible. However, to suggest that true is not true is utter nonsense. What gets conflated in the common notion of relativism is historical and moral uncertainty, viz. the play of hermeneutics, is tantamount to no absolute, no tautology, no truth. This is an unfortunate equivocation of the legitimate direction of ‘relativism’. Even Einstein, the father of modern relativity, was harshly criticized for overturning the absolute time and space of Newton. However, Einstein did not mean that all is falsity, or ambiguous mush. For Einstein there are ‘truths’ but they are relative to each other not to some absolute, metaphysical construct of time and space or ether. The tension here is one of habit. Up until Einstein, we had a historical tradition of understanding time and space as absolute. Our ‘common sense’ was a habitual and linguistically enforced ‘filter’ for making sense of ‘reality’. Anytime a habit is uprooted, whether it is personal or sociological, there is tension, the compulsion to adapt, the loss of a ‘past’ and the ‘thrown-ness’ toward an uncertain future. The future is shown in the need to reinterpret the past according to some new paradigm and therefore, the past itself shows an almost ‘movie-like’ projection screen whose projector has the lens of the future – the uncertainty of what will be taken into the showing of the past.

For Martin Heidegger, a contemporary philosopher, the uprooting of our previous historical constructs (historicity) was the very possibility for authenticity. In other words, the need for fundamental change, adaptation, reflection was anxiety. He called this being-toward-death. He wanted to identify my death, my end, and the anxiety it induces with the absolute requirement for the possibility of ‘truth’. He interpreted ‘truth’ as aletheia – unconcealedness or what shows itself as itself as distinguished from concealment. So, for Heidegger, the ‘truth’ of human being is in our capacity for being-towards-an-end.

Our truth is not gained from some apriori, metaphysical understanding of the ‘truth’ but from our ability to stand in the face of our end. In the context of this essay, this would mean not having to ‘conserve’ the past but living in the uncertainty of the past and our dogmatic notions of what its ‘truth’ really was. This is not to suggest that there was no truth as Einstein was not suggesting there wasn’t truth but to try to get us to think differently about what a ‘truth’ could be; not absolute time and space but space-time continuum.

In conclusion (please don’t applaud), I believe that the dilemma of conservatism does not necessarily have to be viewed as some kind of relative gaping void from the absence of truth. The alternative to conservatism is not relativistic mush and nihilism. Fundamental change is not necessarily bad and improper. It certainly creates anxiety in the openness of the question but the openness itself is what makes one young, engenders the notion of freedom, the possibility of change to something more authentic. What is more, it resists the heaviness of banality and empty repetition, the slow decay of the novel and passion. The transform that I alluded to with Heidegger is not to another movie for the projector but taking the step back to see the wonder of truth and its showing – and the ways that it continually thwarts our insistence on the ‘final’ showing. In my opinion, conservatism is an illusion that we sincerely feel like we need but carries an essential downside that must of necessity reappear – why not give up that Herculean struggle and just take a look around?


Let’s take a recent example:

Mitt recently stated, “The president says he wants to transform America, I don’t want to transform America into something else. I want to restore it.”

Let’s see, restore it to…

…the Bush administration
During the Bush administration two wars were started and the economy was bankrupted. The national debt increased twice as much as the current administration. During the Bush administration unemployment went up 77% more than during the Obama administration.

Bush administration increase in debt: 85%
Obama administration increase in debt: 43%
Bush administration increase in unemployment: 86%
Obama administration increase in unemployment: 9%
Transition Date: January 20, 2009

Note: The latest unemplyment rate is 8.5%.


For more details see this:


Note: The debt numbers are a bit of a broad brush as it does not break down discretionary and non-discretionary parts of the budget and the contribution of each administration to both of these types of spending.

From the graph below you can see that the unemployment rate exploded just as President Obama got into office. I think this explosion arguably was not due to anything President Obama did in his first few months (just 4 months later the rate was 9.4%) as the national unemployment rate does not turn on the dime. Given this, the difference would be a 134% increase in unemployment during the Bush administration over the Obama administration.

Bush administration increase in unemployment: 124%
Obama administration decrease in unemployment: 10%
Transition Date: End of May, 2009

Note: For some reason, you may have to do a couple refreshes on this link to show the graph.

Also, see:

…prior to Medicare and Medicaid?
“Before Medicare, only 51% of people aged 65 and older had health care coverage, and nearly 30% lived below the federal poverty level.”

…before women had the right to vote and blacks and gays were hung for entertainment?

…before Social Security?
“the best estimates show that the elderly poverty rate in 1935 was probably somewhere in the range of 70 to 90 percent.”

…before the civil war

…from the beginning
In 1800, the mean life span in the United States was about a quarter century
In 1900 the mean was about 50 years

Do you REALLY want to go there?

The Republicans are painting a fantasy picture for voters that need to believe fantasies of the past – it NEVER happened. The fact is that we have progressed from a dark past albeit in a bumpy and messy way. It is absolute insanity to want to go back to the way it really was. There was no earlier, greater time than now for the United States. Yes, a few things may have been better but don’t let them fool you, things are better now than they have ever been for folks.

So, here is the question, do you want to transform our future or restore our past?