Maureen Dowd Gets It

The Republicans are now the “How great is it to be stupid?” party. In perpetrating the idea that there’s no intellectual requirement for the office of the presidency, the right wing of the party offers a Farrelly Brothers “Dumb and Dumber” primary in which evolution is avant-garde.

Having grown up with a crush on William F. Buckley Jr. for his sesquipedalian facility, it’s hard for me to watch the right wing of the G.O.P. revel in anti-intellectualism and anti-science cant.

via Egghead and Blockheads – NYTimes.com.

Perhaps better than I have or could, Maureen Dowd has captured the very raison d’ etre of Bull Moose conservatism: a determination to bestow upon American conservatism both a cerebrum and the moral courage to use it.

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An American Ambassador

The new Ambassador of the United States in China, Gary Locke, has by dint of personal example begun to force ordinary Chinese to question the elitist manner in which many of the nation’s public servants conduct themselves. Locke has acted with humility, spoken with warmth and generosity, and has been unflappable in confrontational situations.

His behavior reminds me of a quote from Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, a late 20th-Century American Jewish leader, who wrote as America became the world’s sole superpower:

The world waits to see if our message is to pursue the easy gratification promoted by our pop culture, or to abide by the basic principles that have built our nation’s character. Simply put, is all that we are selling Coca-Cola and Rock music. America was founded on principles of justice, freedom, tolerance, generosity and hard work. [From In G-d We Trust: A Handbook of Values for Americans, 1996]

Locke’s predecessor as ambassador, Jon Huntsman, seemed to be the first US ambassador in a long time to realize that a high-ranking emissary is not just the de jure representative of his home government, but a de facto representative of his people and his culture, and made a conscious effort to be that American everyman. Locke has, intentionally or otherwise, taken that approach far enough to capture the imagination of ordinary Chinese.

I hope this is the beginning of a trend, and I hope it extends beyond Beijing. We need ambassadors who are not only politically acceptable and professionally capable, but who also represent those things we cherish the most in our country.

In the Name of the Gipper

Bronze statue of former President Ronald Reaga...
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While our focus here at the Moose is on ideas rather than campaigns, the buzz out of the Presidential Debates in our U.S. backyard of Simi Valley makes us wonder.

If Ronald Reagan were alive and engaged today, what would he think about the current crop of candidates invoking his name and legacy as a justification for his own?

Though it may discomfit many conservatives to say so, Ronald Reagan, his principles, and his policies were as much a product of immediate challenges as an expression of timeless principles. Before we go invoking his name to justify all manner of political choices, we have to understand where the line between the two lies.

The Blackfive National Service Plan

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers march in "...
Image via Wikipedia

The Blackfive blog is one of my favorite military blogs because of how well it balances the “inside baseball” professional military chatter with an examination of larger issues. A superb example of the latter is in “The Obama/Uncle J National Service Plan.”

Despite the light-hearted title and tone, the post offers the basic outlines of a two-year program that would have every American young person giving back to his or her country. A sort of combination of military service, the Peace Corps, and Americorps, the “plan” has inspired us to dig deeper into the national service question. We will be addressing this in later posts, but it really gets our brainstorm clouds firing lightning.

Apart from offering options that appeal to those who object to wearing a uniform, we also like how the plan dovetails with the thinking of Thomas P.M. Barnett, who proposes an activist American foreign policy designed to preserve global stability not merely by force or threat of arms, but through a well-thought-out development focus.

Imagine extending the New GI Bill to cover outstanding participants in the program, making a college education a less daunting choice. Indeed, colleges could offer courses to national service members, and credit for participating in certain types of programs.

Imagine using the program to train medical and dental paraprofessionals for service with the National Health Service, giving that organization an non-commissioned corps of medical workers.

Imagine a professional military augmented by a corps of draftees trained to take on the more mundane aspects of military service, cutting costs but eliminating the need for pay competitive with the private sector for service support troops.

All this can be ours, and we have done it before: FDR’s alphabet soup programs like the WPA and CCC offer models.

All we need to do first is get our fiscal house in order. Any suggestions?

The Politics of Self-Interest

It is time that we Americans begin to divine the difference between “enlightened self-interest” and “self-interested enlightenment.” The former demands that we use care in not allowing our self-interest to overwhelm our public duty as citizens. The latter gives us license to take all we can from the system, from the government, from our fellow man without a thought to the consequences.

When you refuse to serve the greater good by sacrificing some benefit to yourself, you take the first step down the pathway to becoming a reactionary. When you try to expunge self-interest in the name of enlightenment, you take the fist step down the pathway to becoming a radical.

The correct path is the middle route, the self-interest moderated by a developed sense of duty to the public good.

Now, which are we teaching our children?

Parks and CUMBYs

The High Line
Image by garvinpr via Flickr

In a City Journal article entitled “Parks and Re-creation,” Laura Vanderkam offers a glimpse at an interesting model for the maintenance and upkeep of city parks in her profile of Manhattan’s successful park conservancies. What is attractive about this model is that it circumvents the quasi-religious debate around whether public services can or should be privately funded, introducing public-private partnerships as a way to improve public lands while preserving the public coffers.

What the article questions, ever-so-gently, is whether public largesse to preserve parks extends beyond prosperous enclaves like Manhattan. One effort in the Bronx, for example, is having trouble sustaining the momentum and enthusiasm around Central Park, High Line Park, and others in Manhattan. The successes in New York seem to extend from moneyed people who want the public spaces near them to be clean and pleasant. I call this the “clean up my back yard,” or CUMBY movement.

The model deserves emulation. There are areas all around the United States that could benefit from such activity, and not just municipalities. With 70 state parks and beaches facing closure due to budget constraints, California could use a wisely managed CUMBY effort.

Not everything worth preserving, though, will be preserved by private interests. At some point the public must step in to preserve those assets that benefit everyone. Using unique models like New York’s, private money may foot part of the bill. The full answer is better management, not just of park services, but of the entire pool of public funds.

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Conservatives and Enterprise

Both major parties in American politics have a tendency to define themselves by their point of ascendancy. Just as for four decades the Democrats defined themselves by the policies of FDR and the New Deal, so too have Republicans defined themselves by the policies of the Reagan presidency.

The problem in both cases were that the policies pursued by those administrations were a direct response to conditions extant at the time. After several decades, they not only cease to be relevant, the dogmatic pursuit of those policies becomes a malignancy all by itself.

There have been times in American history when the rights of labor were not given their fair attention by government. The reaction to that imbalance, including the shoots of communism and socialism that sprouted during the Great Depression, brought forth the coalition between labor and the Democratic Party, a coalition that remained strong throughout most of the 20th century.

Likewise, a belief that the policy arc from FDR to Jimmy Carter had swung the pendulum too far against the interests of commerce led in no small part to the Reagan revolution. That fierce protection of the rights of business have carried the Republican Party for the past 30 years.

It is time, though, to re-assess the force of habit that has turned conservatives into the knee-jerk defenders of business. We have now, arguably, reached the point where business does not need to be defended against an ambivalent government, but where government needs to be defended against concentrations of money from both sides of the aisle that undermines government.

Conservatism stands for establishing the independence of business from undue meddling of government, and demands that enterprises be allowed to prosper without a shackle to social interests or public ownership. But that is a far cry from acquiescing to the capture of government power by business interests. And yet, we seem to feel obliged to leap to the defense of the power of commerce anytime it is attacked, going so far as to hold our tongues when enterprises are given direct influence in the outcome of elections.

Conservatism stands for the rights of business to operate freely, but not for the right of businesses or any other corporate organizations to act as political actors.

Conservatism stands for the protection of business from gratuitous action of government, insuring that private interests will not be unfairly subordinated to public will. But that does not mean subordinating the public interests to the profit of private enterprise. Conservatism is about recognizing the great value of business to national prosperity and happiness, but also acting against business when it operates in a manner that is destructive to society, undermines democracy, or inhibits individual liberty.

America thrives when there is a dynamic balance between the private interest and public good. That balance is not static, shifting as it does with the times. But we abandon the search for that balance at our peril. Just as allowing the public good to win over the private interest puts us on the road to socialism, allowing private interests to suborn the public good places us on the path to industrial feudalism.

A conservative should be equally galled by either.