I regularly read Fred Reed’s columns on his website “Fred on Everything“. I find his outlook unique, and I particularly appreciate his take on education in America (or the lack of it). I disagree as often as I agree with his writings on politics and government, but he has always argued in good faith (taking into account his style).
Not this time.
Fred’s latest column (#411 “Conservatives”) set up a straw-man of conservatism, which he thens tears down while insulting those he deems to be “conservatives”. Let’s take a look at some of his points.
First, Fred offers what he claims is his understanding of a conservative (tossing in a gratuitous insult, which I don’t think old Granddad would have done):
For years I thought it meant someone like my grandfather, a professor of mathematics at a small college in the South. He embodied courtesy, respect for learning, personal responsibility, compassion for those in the town who found themselves in distress, dignity, a love of the language, a morality opposed to promiscuity and bastardy, and a quiet Christianity having nothing in common with the cruelty and hostility of today’s unlettered evangelicals. I thought it a pretty decent package…
His grandfather sounds like a wonderful man, the embodiment of the old Southern upper-middle class. In fact, he sounds like quite a few men I know, all of whom call themselves conservatives. Fred then offers this disclaimer:
Over my years of writing this column, I have received a great deal of mail from people, entirely male so far as I can remember, calling themselves “conservatives,” yet having nothing in common with granddad. (I use quotation marks, though I will omit them in what follows as being annoying, because there are many people who regard themselves as conservatives but are decent people.)
Okay, so you’re not really writing about conservatives, but about folks who send you e-mails (presumably disagreeing with you on one point or another) and claim to be conservatives. You find them not to be decent, nor do they seem to be in accordance with your ideal of conservatism, but you’ll continue to refer to them as “conservatives” so you can muddy the waters.
Now Fed gives us some characteristics of these “conservatives”. I’ll only address a few of his points.
Hostility to other groups—blacks, Mexicans, homosexuals, and Jews for example. In earlier times they would have detested the Irish, Italians, Asians, and Slavs
Hmmm…old Fred doesn’t give any details about this “hostility”, but he does get right into calling conservatives racists. I wonder if old Granddad, steeped in the traditions of the Old South, might have had some “hostility” to “uppity Negroes” and the like. Next:
Subclinical paranoia. The (pick one) Jews, communists, Russians, Chinese, Moslems are insidious, fiendishly patient—waiting, waiting for us to falter so that they can take over and enslave us. You have doubtless heard this sort of thing: The gates of Vienna, what Lenin said about probing with a bayonet, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Well, here’s the (predictable) accusation of conservatives being McCarthyite witch-hunters. This leaves out the inconvenient fact that for the most part, McCarthy was right. The Soviets DID infiltrate agents into the US government. Hiss was a Soviet spy; the Rosenbergs were traitors. Even a cursory review of the current research (e.g., the Verona files) shows that just maybe there was a reason for the so-called “paranoia”. Finally:
A lack of empathy. Suppose that squishy bleeding-heart do-gooders object to the employment of children of ten, for twelve hours a day in Indonesian sweatshops, making pricey running shoes for people who don’t run. This will infuriate the conservatives (again, of this type). The factory makes money, doesn’t it? Photos from war zones of children with their entrails hanging out? The communist media are trying to sap the public’s will to fight. These conservatives just don’t care, and can’t care.
Now, by the foregoing I do not suggest that they are always wrong in their prescriptions. Sometimes there are enemies abroad (chiefly because other countries also have their martial paranoids). Immigration by incompatible groups may well be inadvisable. And so on. Yet these same people will find enemies where they are and where they aren’t, oppose immigration whether it makes sense or not, because it is how they think.
Ah yes, the traditional attack on the humanity of conservatives. Note the weaselly disclaimer that sometimes the conservatives might have a point, but that doesn’t matter because the motives of a conservative are ALWAYS wrong. He gievs us an example:
A recurring example is the dispute over national medical care. The conservatives oppose it because they say it would become a bloated federal program, as it probably would. (They do not oppose bloated federal programs that produce profits, as for example the military, but have a deeply principled aversion to anything that might require them to pay taxes. Note that they favor private charity over public welfare, because they don’t have to pay for the former.) They simply can’t care what happens to others.
Well, Fred, where to start? First, most conservatives do oppose the military because the maintenance of the armed forces is one of the limited and enumerated powers granted to the Federal Government, specifically in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. That power is granted in language so clear that not even Madame Justice Ginsburg can find a way around it. I find nothing in the Constitution granting the government power over the health care system (though some might point to the “general welfare” clause as granting this power. If this is the case, we might as well just drop the pretense that we live in a constitutional republic of free citizens and say we are subjects of the United States).
Second, there is nothing wrong with objecting to a bloated federal program that most assuredly will NOT do anything it is claimed it will. Most conservatives prefer private charity to public welfare programs because they produce better results much more efficiently that the government. Furthermore, there is nothing “moral” about making someone else help others. Morality requires free choices.
Disagreeing about the means to help others doesn’t mean we don’t care, Fred. In fact, we might care more that those who think the gummint is the only solution, because we want to find solutions that actually work, rather than solutions that merely provide a sinecure for professional uplifters.
I may have more to say later.