We tend to trust labels. (At least, we did back when we were a high-trust society, but perhaps I shouldn’t assume that it remains the case.) If the package says “Chocolate-chip cookies,” we proceed on the assumption that the package contains chocolate-chip cookies. If we discover afterward that it contains something else, our readiness to trust labels henceforward is shaken…especially if it really contained C4 with a compact electric detonator triggered by the convenience flap.
So also with political labels.
There are a lot of folks out there who style themselves “liberals.” These past few decades, the word has taken on a meaning at odds with its origin: “one who favors personal freedom.” But for those of us who remember liberalism when it defended freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and so forth, the label is a cruel reminder of how successful the Left has been at twisting our language out from under us. Indeed, it might have been the Left’s most potent stroke.
It’s the same on the Right. Many who call themselves conservatives hold to notions that don’t…quite…jibe with the original meaning of the word: “one who favors the perpetuation of established ways and institutions.” Many a contemporary “conservative” actually favors rather sweeping changes to established ways and institutions…which puts backs up among those who continue to favor the original meaning.
It’s no longer wise to trust labels that have gone through such contortions. This is especially urgent for those who are used to pulling the voting lever for “everyone with an R after his name.” You could be voting against your true convictions.
I’ve said this before, but it needs to be said again: What we used to call “conservatism” had two different parts to it.
One, an ideological part, one that favored freedom, religion, business, and such,
and two, a merely factional part, dedicated to preserving the Right To Rule of the Ruling Class, the right of the “Higher Orders” to rule over the “Lower Orders.”
“Conservatism” united those who wanted to retain traditions with those who wanted to retain traditional ruling structures.
They sort of go together.
But they don’t have to.
And when one group — the part that seeks primarily to preserve the Right to Rule of America’s legacy, nepot Elite — stops acting as partners with the ideologically minded, freedom-seeking part, and in fact seeks to subjugate them — then we’ve got problems.
That’s a rather precise description of our current political milieu.
Polarization advances with the age of the population. In other words, as a population ages, its social, commercial, and political divisions widen and harden, until it becomes nearly impossible for the opposed sides to communicate without epithets. This is in the nature of aging itself, which attaches us ever more firmly to what we know and find familiar, and thus to regard as ever more threatening anything that would disturb those arrangements and practices.
There’s nothing to be done about it, other than this: it is important for each of us to know:
- What he really values;
- What he definitely detests;
- The wherefores in each case.
Each of us is responsible for entering the voting booth knowing what he’s about. If you pull a party-line lever rather than vote discriminatingly, be aware of what you’re endorsing. Party leaderships, strategists, and tacticians have a goal quite different from what you might imagine: they exist to elect persons of their party, and nothing else. Were they to serve any other purpose, they’d soon lose their positions. Electoral success fills the party’s coffers; nothing else does.
This has an implication: the party’s purported policy positions are secondary to its electoral fortunes. The kingmakers will depart from those stands should they become electorally inconvenient, and they’ll do it without a qualm. So while it’s worthwhile to know the party platform, it’s equally important to watch for developments that might jar its luminaries loose from it – and to keep a weather eye on their conduct, especially as re-election time nears.
Labels have been important, but they lack the reinforcing quality of electoral outcomes. Indeed, as politics has professionalized, labels and platforms have taken a backseat to purely practical considerations: the retention of power. This is visible both in the large and in the small. Consider the behavior of party “mavericks” when legislation important to retaining the allegiance of a major constituency is on the table. At such times a “maverick” will seldom vote against his caucus. Those who do – the Manchins; the Sinemas; the Gabbards – are people to watch.
And watch we should.