Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Forget RINOS - the Real Problem is CINOS

Unless you've been on an ice floe since the Titanic sank, and just recently rescued, you know what a RINO is - Republican in Name Only. It's an epithet hurled at centrist Republicans by Tea Party adherents, who believe centrists aren't following a sufficiently hard right line. It's a fairly meaningless label for two reasons. First, who's a "real" Republican is pretty much dictated by whichever faction is in control at the polls, and second, defining what a "real" Republican is, is pretty much an exercise in futility. After all, we're talking about a party that once included Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, and now is dominated by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, to the point where even Ronald Reagan would be suspect. Trying to define a "real" Republican is like trying to nail jello to a tree.

On the other hand, the term "conservative" has a much firmer definition. It has a far longer lineage in American politics plus worldwide usage in other political systems. Although the Tea Party stresses liberty, all classical conservative thinkers emphasize that liberty, unconstrained by deeper virtues, is without value, indeed destructive. I think we can assume that Edmund Burke, widely considered a founder of modern conservatism, was a genuine conservative. Some of his opinions on liberty and virtue include:
But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.
There is but one law for all, namely that law which governs all law, the law of our Creator, the law of humanity, justice, equity - the law of nature and of nations.
If you can be well without health, you may be happy without virtue. 
Among a people generally corrupt liberty cannot long exist.

The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity, — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. 

Liberty must be limited in order to be possessed.
To me, the core values of conservatism are honesty, frugality and stewardship, and personal responsibility. And the real problem isn't RINO's, but CINO's - Conservatives in Name Only. Or, as David Brooks put it in "The Republicans’ Incompetence Caucus" (New York Times, Oct. 13, 2015):

By traditional definitions, conservatism stands for intellectual humility, a belief in steady, incremental change, a preference for reform rather than revolution, a respect for hierarchy, precedence, balance and order, and a tone of voice that is prudent, measured and responsible. Conservatives of this disposition can be dull, but they know how to nurture and run institutions. They also see the nation as one organic whole. Citizens may fall into different classes and political factions, but they are still joined by chains of affection that command ultimate loyalty and love.


Men are qualified for civil liberty.... in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, ... in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.
One requirement of honesty is self-appraisal. If you don't have expertise in a subject, you have no right to an opinion on it. You get to comment on climate change when you have enough scientific training to understand climate, to be able to tell sound credentials from fakes, and to be able to tell sound arguments from fraudulent ones. You get to comment on evolution when you know enough biology and geology. If you're about to object that evolution contradicts the Bible, then you'd better have enough Biblical scholarship to know whether evolution actually does contradict the Bible, as determined by real Biblical scholars and not just your old Sunday School teacher. Basically you get to argue with the experts when you are one of them. If you don't have enough time to become an expert yourself, you don't have time to have an opinion. Democracy does not mean your mere opinion equals somebody else's professional training.

Exhibit A is "Lord" Monckton, climate change denialist. Except, he actually has no credentials in climate science and, oh, guess what. He isn't even a real lord. The British House of Lords sent him a cease and desist letter for pretending to be one of them. At least "Colonel" Sanders doesn't demand salutes.

Exhibit B is a mailing I got a decade ago from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, in Cave Junction, Oregon. That was of interest to me because I'd actually been to Cave Junction. And there's nothing there. No industry, no university. Inside the mailing was a very authoritative looking scientific paper debunking global warming. Distinctive type fonts, paper stock, the works. Except it lacked the one thing all scientific reprints have - a citation. All real scientific reprints have a citation, usually on the bottom margin, telling where and when the paper was published. I finally decided someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make an authentic looking counterfeit. As indeed they had - the "paper" exactly duplicated the style of the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences, which took the unusual step of issuing a disclaimer of any connection to the "paper."

Included with the "paper" was a letter from Frederick Seitz, one-time president of the NAS, who had a distinguished career, retired, and found a second career writing junk science for the tobacco industry before moving on to climate denialism. Now I suppose you could argue that Seitz' legitimate accomplishments give credibility to his work for tobacco and climate change denial. If it weren't for that annoying business about the counterfeit paper.

"I have a right to my opinion" vies with patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel. Legally, yes. Morally, no. You have no right to an uninformed opinion.

Frugality and Stewardship

The Navy pretty much defines this concept.
Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without
Because a ship at sea is the ultimate closed system, even though modern ships and supply systems can provide far better logistics than before.

Frugality not only requires fiscal restraint, it forbids waste of any kind. Edmund Burke dependably stressed frugality:
If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.

Frugality is founded on the principal that all riches have limits.
CINOs are all for frugality when it comes to people on food stamps. But they pretty much refuse to accept any obligation on their own part to use resources wisely or limit their consumption. They think that because they own something, they are free to waste it frivolously. They can afford the gas, so they have a right to a car that has luxury but poor gas mileage. They own the land, so they feel they have a right to pave over a wetland to build a tennis court.

CINOs, rightly or wrongly, are accused of not caring much about resources or the environment because they believe the Second Coming is imminent. But genuine stewardship means that, even if you have incontrovertible assurance that the Second Coming will happen in the next hour, you waste nothing. You do not cut down a tree, kill an animal or pollute a stream without good reason, and short term profit is not a good reason. 

One of the best stories about facing the end of the world happened in 1780, during the waning days of the American Revolution. Vast forest fires in northern New England or Canada sent a thick pall of smoke southward. It would be weeks before anyone knew the cause. In Connecticut, it got so dark at midday that people needed candles and they were understandably frightened. Some legislators asked if it were the end of the world and, if so, should they adjourn? (They probably had unused vacation days). One, Abraham Davenport, replied "The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty." John Greenleaf Whittier commemorated him in a poem:

And there he stands in memory to this day,
Erect, self-poised, a rugged face, half seen
Against the background of unnatural dark,
A witness to the ages as they pass,
That simple duty hath no place for fear.
Can you picture Abraham Davenport approving of despoiling the land in the expectation that Judgement Day would come before it mattered?

In fact, the Bible itself sends the message loud and clear in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13). The wise virgins managed their resources responsibly. The foolish ones thought the Master would come before they faced a reckoning. And face a reckoning they did.

Burke had something else to say on frugality:
Mere parsimony is not economy. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy.
Burke is speaking here of "false economy," an economy that saves money in the short term but costs more in the long term. Ignoring a toothache that may cost $300 to fix now, or several thousand for dentures later. Ignoring oil changes and burning out your engine. Not buying computer protection and being a victim of identity theft. Not buying travel insurance and getting smacked with thousands of dollars to be transported home in a medical emergency.

And false economy in the voting booth. Voting for politicians who promise to cut taxes by delaying repairs to roads and bridges, or shortchanging employee pension funds. Let's be very blunt: Detroit didn't go bankrupt because of municipal workers' pensions, but because its voters elected people who refused to pay the bills. Only in America do you get to vote on whether or not you pay your debts.
Among a people generally corrupt liberty cannot long exist.
Personal Responsibility
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity.
Liberals frankly suck on personal responsibility. Many of them define "compassion" as "no consequences." CINOs talk a good game, the problem is they don't walk the walk. Why was Prohibition passed when it was glaringly obvious that Americans didn't want to give up alcohol? Prohibition was backed by industry leaders, who had been sold on the idea that it would reduce employee absenteeism and poor performance. But didn't they realize that it would cut off their own pleasures, too? No. The wealthy never had the slightest intention of giving up alcohol. Prohibition was intended to be a class-bound law, with lower-class alcohol consumption banned but upper class alcohol continuing to flow.

Fast forward half a century. Penalties for crack cocaine were set at 100 times the penalties for powder cocaine (later reduced to 18 times). Partly, the disparity was driven by the violence associated with crack (at least in America. It doesn't make much difference in Colombia or Mexico), but mostly it was due to the fact that crack is concentrated among poor minorities, and powder cocaine among the white and affluent. If CINOs were really concerned about personal responsibility, the penalties should be reversed. Snort coke, and you are kicked off the privileged merry go round. Your career in Hollywood is over. Your job on Wall Street is over. Your career in athletics or politics is over.

One of the most infuriating systemic evasions of personal responsibility is the soft handling of athletes who commit sexual assault. A grimly realistic strip from Tank McNamara, December 7, 2013 nails it.
First Cop: As city cops, we can only go so far to manage sexual assault allegations against ESU's athletes.
Second Cop: We've made a little public service video to be proactive. An ounce of prevention.
College Official: So you air this in the community to help prevent girls from getting into a perilous situation?
First Cop: I guess we could have gone in that direction. This video warns them of what will happen if they file any charges in a college town.
Where are the CINOs who cheer for three-strikes policies when it comes to college athletes? Real accountability would not only send the offender to prison but suspend the program for a few years for creating a culture where sexual assault is trivialized. Real accountability would demand that law enforcement personnel suffer higher penalties for misconduct. There would be no more "professional courtesies" for cops who drive drunk. Prosecutorial misconduct would disbar the offender and send him to jail for a very long time. Politicians who do drugs or commit sexual harassment would be out of office forever. 

Give the IRS authority to collect overdue child support, with maybe a 25% surtax to cover the cost of collection. Now that would be a blow for responsibility. Make stockholders responsible for the actions of their companies. Say, suspend trade in the company's stock for a year every time the company's actions hurt anyone.

Many conservatives will be delighted to know that the underlying principle is Biblical:
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48)
The principle couldn't be clearer. The higher your station in life, the higher the standards.

But doesn't rank carry some privileges? Absolutely. You get paid more. You have more interesting things to do. You get to shape events. You have more freedom. You do not get to grope your subordinates. You do not get to do drugs or cheat on your spouse. You do not get to drive drunk or dip into your campaign fund. Where are "tough on crime" advocates when the offenders are wealthy and well connected?