Wednesday, March 12, 2008

McGovern Isn't The Only One Who Gets It

A couple days ago I wrote about NPR, and the day before that I wrote about how George McGovern seems to have come around to a moderately conservative understanding of things.

Those two posts tie together in this essay in, of all papers, the Village Voice. Caution: the author uses some choice language, which is included in the snippets below.

I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind.

As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.

These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life. How do I know? My wife informed me. We were riding along and listening to NPR. I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the fuck up. "?" she prompted. And her terse, elegant summation, as always, awakened me to a deeper truth: I had been listening to NPR and reading various organs of national opinion for years, wonder and rage contending for pride of place. Further: I found I had been—rather charmingly, I thought—referring to myself for years as "a brain-dead liberal," and to NPR as "National Palestinian Radio."

That realization leads to a conservative view of government:

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.

To that end, the Constitution separates the power of the state into those three branches which are for most of us (I include myself) the only thing we remember from 12 years of schooling.

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms...

What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.

He even recognized his own hypocrisy:

And I began to question my hatred for "the Corporations"—the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live.

His clarity is present here:

I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.

There's an old saying, attributed to many men but often Churchill: if you're not a liberal by age 20 you have no heart, and if you're not a conservative by age 30 you have no brain. Congratulations on growing up, Mr. Mamet. I cannot help but concur with this Village Voice commenter:

David Mamet is merely explaining the understanding reasonable people attain through experience. Conservatism, in this context, is simply common sense. We're not talking about Jerry Falwel, Haliburton, etc. Don't react to the word Conservative, call it something else if you must. It is the absence of an insistence on a utopia enforced by an all powerful government, as opposed to people working to solve their own problems, because they are the only ones who can, family by family, community by community. To all those who call themselves liberals, try to understand just how liberal and liberating such a thing is. Stop trying to force others and by so doing empowering government, which always fails and becomes corrupt, and start improving the world one person at a time—beginning with yourself. Thank you David Mamet. Really beautiful work. Want to hear more.

Why did the commenter say that? Because the lefties are squealing.

Conservatism is the optimistic belief--people may not be perfect, but they can do for themselves. Liberalism is the pessimistic view--you can do nothing without the government's intrusion. The main thing I expect from government is to remove the hurdles that prevent people from achieving for themselves.


Ellen K said...

Isn't it interesting how the man labeled a devil by the left, Rush Limbaugh, has been saying that conservatism was the politics of positivism that was waging a cultural battle against he politics of naysayers? Would Mamet have a coronary if he realized that his essay echoed Rush's words?

Anonymous said...

Have you seen this?

The Mamet article is worth reading as well.

I found it interesting that someone in this day and age is willing to talk about liberals and conservatives without painting their side as the heroes and the other side as the idiots or villains. Novel approach, eh?

Talk to you soon, Arturro

Darren said...

I enjoyed reading the piece. He seemed pretty levelheaded.