Seeing Things Plain

Richard Fernandez:

There will always be those who’d like to abstract the candy from the candy store. But it is the shopkeeper’s responsibility to keep that from happening. Conservatives cannot simply hope that progressives will behave themselves. Boys will be boys and progressives will be progressives.
The supine acquiescence and collaboration in centralizing government over the last 3 decades has led to the point where a candidacy like Obama’s was not only possible but inevitable. His election is a symptom, not the primary cause of it of what ails the body politic.
The man himself can’t be blamed for taking his ambitions and ideology as far as they will go. It is those who let him pass that shows how low the rot within what passes for conservatism has fallen. Conservatism has basically been reduced to behaving well. To politely choose between the milquetoast offerings the press serves up and do nothing to make waves.
Anyone who so much as threatens to cause the slightest amount of controversy is branded a wacko — ironically not just by the Democrats but all too often by conservatives who are obsessed with the cult of respectability. Thus Palin, Bachman, Cain, Gingrich and Paul are faulted not so much for their personal failings — which any politician has — but for being disreputable. And being disrepute in today’s conservative world often consists in daring to think a single original thought.
By contrast, ‘progressives’ are psychologically conditioned to challenge and even subvert the system. They see that as their job. Others may criticize them, but their Base at least, will cheer them on. Implicit in the ‘progressive’ brand name is the idea of loyalty to the future, not so some transient present or disposable past. So when City Journal’s Siegel and Kotkin write that Obama is perfectly capable of trying to remake the US into a version of China they mean it. After all, politicians of 1940s dreamed of making America like the Soviet Union.

A victorious Obama administration could embrace a soft version of the Chinese model. The mechanisms of control already exist. The bureaucratic apparatus, the array of policy czars and regulatory enforcers commissioned by the executive branch, has grown dramatically under Obama. Their ability to control and prosecute people for violations relating to issues like labor and the environment—once largely the province of states and localities—can be further enhanced.

But it’s dollars to donuts that any ‘reputable’ conservative asked to comment on Siegel and Klotkin’s article would vehemently deny that such a thing is possible, not because it isn’t — which would be a good reason if it were true — but because it’s impossible for a conservative to admit a progressive can be a progressive.
CS Lewis wrote that the biggest trick the devil ever pulled was to make people believe he didn’t exist. Similarly the greatest conjury progressivism has ever peformed was to make their political opponents believe it was shameful to accept that progressives could ever be anything but slightly racier versions of themselves.

Eric Trager (via Martin Kramer):

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Radical Plan for Egypt
January 10, 2012
Given the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti-Western outlook, Washington must prepare for the strong possibility that it will hold only limited influence with Egypt’s next government.
When the third and final round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections concludes tomorrow, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is widely expected to cement its dominance of the next legislature. Although the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces still holds executive power, the FJP’s political victory promises radical changes for Egypt, including a theocratic domestic program and a confrontational foreign policy. The United States should have no illusions about the party’s aims or ability to moderate. As long as the FJP is in power, Washington should condition future bilateral relations on its behavior regarding key U.S. interests, including the treatment of religious minorities, Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, and counterterrorism.
A Theocratic Domestic Policy
The FJP’s overriding aim is to establish an Islamic state in which sharia would be the primary source of legislation. Although FJP leaders correctly note that “sharia principles were a main source of legislation” under Article II of the 1971 constitution, which was suspended following Mubarak’s ouster, the party intends to implement sharia-based laws far more comprehensively than was previously done. The FJP platform states that “sharia, in its essence…organizes the various aspects of life for Muslims and those non-Muslims who participate in the state with them.” The party’s theocratic aims are therefore likely to change many aspects of Egypt’s domestic policy.
A Confrontational Foreign Policy
The Brotherhood is similarly signaling its preference for radicalism over realism in foreign affairs. For example, Supreme Guide Muhammad Badie recently declared that, after forming the new government, the organization would pursue its final goal of establishing a “rightly guided caliphate for the education of the world.” This goal may be unrealistic in the short term, but the Brotherhood is already working through the FJP to tilt Egypt away from its Western allies and toward an Islamist foreign policy.
The peace treaty with Israel will likely be the first casualty of an FJP-led government. Although the party has said that it will honor Egypt’s international agreements, it has carved out an exception for the Camp David Accords, which it intends to put to a national referendum, thereby shielding itself from direct responsibility for the treaty’s demise. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood has amplified its confrontational posture toward Israel in recent weeks by vowing never to recognize the state and warmly greeting Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Cairo.
Not Likely to Moderate
It is tempting to believe that the FJP will moderate once in power, but four factors make this highly unlikely. First, although the Brotherhood has frequently portrayed the FJP as a separate entity, the distinction between the “organization” and its “political wing” is superficial. The Brotherhood’s fifteen-member Guidance Office elected the FJP’s leaders, all of whom are former members of that office. Moreover, the choice of hardliner Muhammad Morsi as the FJP’s first chairman suggested that the Brotherhood was committed to ensuring the party would not veer from its parent organization’s principles.
Second, the Brotherhood ensures the FJP’s ideological rigidity by retaining direct control over its parliamentary nomination process. The new FJP parliamentarians are all longtime Muslim Brothers whose candidacies were thoroughly vetted by multiple layers of the organization’s leadership.
Third, the emergence of the Salafist Nour Party as Egypt’s second-strongest faction makes moderation a strategically dangerous choice for the FJP. Much of the Nour Party’s appeal is based on its claim to represent the “true” Islam, making it a respected arbiter of Islamic principles within Egyptian politics. The FJP thus risks losing support among an overwhelmingly religious electorate if it is perceived to be veering from its Islamist doctrine. It is particularly unlikely to disagree with the Nour Party on basic Quranic principles such as the bans on usury and alcohol.
Finally, the FJP has invited al-Gamaa al-Islamiyah, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, to join its future governing coalition. The inclusion of this radical, historically violent faction further reduces the likelihood of the Brotherhood pursuing a moderate agenda, and will severely complicate U.S. efforts to cooperate with the next Egyptian cabinet.

The quoted passages share a common quality of cutting through what their authors see as other people’s illusions. Are they right to do so? I think so.

People tend to believe what they want to believe and to extrapolate their judgments of others from their own experiences. Extrapolating from your experience is a good heuristic when you are dealing with people whose backgrounds and values are similar to yours, but it can be dangerous in dealing with people who are very different from you. The only reliable way to avoid traps is by education, not necessarily formal education but reading and experience with different kinds of people and systems. It’s also helpful to have a gut-level understanding, which tends to come from hard experience, that there are often many ways for things to go wrong, that extreme events happen sometimes and that there are people who are best avoided. Not everyone understands these things. As Fernandez suggests, many American voters incorrectly believed that Obama would not function as a leftist radical once he was in office even though he had functioned as one before. (One wearies of media conservatives who criticize Obama’s “mistakes” when it should be obvious that Obama is doing what he always intended to do.)

Similarly, as Eric Trager implies, US officials who have been trying to frame the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a conventional interest group that is amenable to western-style win/win power-sharing deals in the low-risk shared-values manner of liberal democracy are, to put it mildly, ignoring the obvious. The odd thing is that so many of our media and government people go along with such charades and delusions. They seem to confuse words with reality and articulated plans with experience. When they see something disturbing happen their instinct is often to explain it away rather than accept what is happening and decide how to proceed. At such times, maybe always, people who are capable of seeing what is going on in front of them are rarer than we like to think.

8 thoughts on “Seeing Things Plain”

  1. Very nice post.

    I think a big part of the problem is that so many people are reluctant to admit that a direct threat exists from some ideological opponent.

    If they did, they would really have to do something about it, rather than engage in endless talking.

    Remember all the aunt pitti-pats who were overcome with the vapors when Reagan called the SU an “evil empire”.

    Same kind of attitude as your describing.

  2. “Similarly the greatest conjury progressivism has ever peformed was to make their political opponents believe it was shameful to accept that progressives could ever be anything but slightly racier versions of themselves.”

    Good spelling adds authority. Anyway feel free to believe that your opponents are the devil. It makes your ridiculous election season even funnier.

  3. “ironically not just by the Democrats but all too often by conservatives who are obsessed with the cult of respectability. Thus Palin, Bachman, Cain, Gingrich and Paul are faulted not so much for their personal failings — which any politician has — but for being disreputable”

    Explains why FOX News is now quite openly the Mitt “Barack-lite” Romney cheering section.

  4. Explains why FOX News is now quite openly the Mitt “Barack-lite” Romney cheering section.

    I think Newt pretty much killed his support from most economic conservatives. I still think FOX has been pretty even handed. Now, they have commentators who express opinion but the news part is far more objective than any other source except talk radio. Your comment suggests that you are anti-Romney. The question now is whether you will vote for the GOP nominee or help elect Obama. I voted for a couple of Republicans who I didn’t care for as candidates. I enraged my family when I voted for Nixon in 1960 (I had taken an economics class) but I voted for Johnson in 1964 and always regretted it. I thought Goldwater was inept as a candidate (Robert Novak thought he was “lazy”) but Johnson was worse. I never made that mistake again.

  5. Michael,

    I don’t think you have heard their rabid defense of Romney’s Bain record and their assaults on the rest of the field for being anti-capitalism if they criticize Romney and Bain.

    Of course I would vote for Romney over Obama. I would have to hold my nose to do it, though.

  6. I wonder what is indicated by the rabid neo-con ‘republican’ desire to restrict the candidates to Romney or Obama…..they appear to be two branches of collectivism.

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