Diffusion Of Con-Fusion: The Birth of a Political Brand
[About Randy Piper, Ph.D., M.B.A., M.P.S.
Randy has worked on new product development and technology transfer projects for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Southeast Manufacturing Technology Center, and the Department of Energy. He has worked on projects for libertarian and conservative think tanks, including the Reason Public Policy Institute, Heartland Institute, and Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE). He was designated a Salvatori Fellow by the Heritage Foundation from 1991-1993.
Randy has conceptualized and invented various systems, including PESOP—Public Employee Stock Ownership Plan in “Employee Options Under Privatization.” He also developed the Piper Education Inverted J-Curve (not to be confused with the Laffer Curve). The Piper Curve reveals the relationship between public school expenditures and performance outcomes.]
Diffusion Of Con-Fusion: The Birth of a Political Brand
(c) Randy Piper (September 1, 2004)
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both....
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
---Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken” (1916)
Like the man who’s surprised to learn he’s been speaking prose all his life, the fusionist is a political category whose members may operate without much awareness of their label.
---Kenneth Silber, “The Fusionist Path” (TechCentralStation.com, August 18, 2004)
I have, after all, sometimes wondered whether I am myself a true conservative.
---William F. Buckley, Jr., “Did You Ever See A Dream Walking?” (1988)
Pro-Cons of the World Unite!
Like Robert Frost’s poetic-deciding traveler and Kenneth Silber’s prose-speaking man and William Buckley’s self-wondering-wandering conservative, we Progressive-Conservatives (Pro-Cons) have been operating without a label for some time.
“Where do fiscal conservatives, social moderates, and eagle foreign policy advocates find their voice and home?” A similar question was raised by Andrew Sullivan in April. Since then, I have been cheerleading Andrew Sullivan to write a book on the fusion and future of conservatism. And I have been promoting and planting the intellectual seed capital to those conservatives and libertarians and even liberals who would listen.
To raise the consciousness of the unaware and to inform and reform the false consciousness of both fusionists and non-fusionists, I am testing this new political category here. As technologists and fusionists know, beta testing a new product is a way to work out the links-n-kinks before the full launch of the new product.
This beta essay interprets conservative fusionism from an interdisciplinary set of lenses, from brand language to Spanglish to the Wishbones of Hayek and Reagan to Silber’s change management and Buckley’s laws of conservative content.
II. Master Brand Conservatism
In his editorial “Big Government Conservatism” (Claremont Review of Books, Spring 2002, www.claremont.org/writings/crb/spring2002/kesler.html ), the prominent conservative intellectual Charles Kesler frames the post-Reagan, post-Soviet Union world in these terms. Within the broad rubric of Conservatism, we face this dichotomy: Traditionalists versus Libertarians. Professor Kesler is partly right and partly wrong.
We can view Conservatism as a socio-political “master” brand. To date, this master brand consists of five sub-brands: (1) Classical Liberals, (2) Libertarians, (3) Paleo-Cons, (4) Neo-Cons, and (5) FiSo-Cons (the pre-Reagan coalition of fiscal and social conservatives).
We believe the time has come to introduce a sixth sub-brand: Pro-Cons (Progressive Conservatives). At first thought, conservatives may blush at the use of the term “Progressive,” since its historical roots largely feed the cause of bigger government and its contemporary use sometimes substitutes for the term “liberal.” In the section The Right Word, we address these blushing conservative concerns.
The Pro-Con sub-brand draws on the history and insights of the other five sub-brands. Though the Pro-Con sub-brand has not been formally formulated and introduced to our lexicon and discourse, we believe that this sub-brand has great appeal to those currently loyal to the Conservative master brand. Moreover, we think that the Pro-Con intellectual product will have immense appeal to those who are not currently loyal to the Conservative brand.
III. Domestic Policy
Pro-Cons are fiscal conservatives and supporters of private property rights. We can quote with ease lines from E.S. Savas’ Privatization: The Key to Better Government and Mark Popovich's Creating High-Performance Government Organizations. We believe in smaller and smarter government. We do not think that “smash the state” or “starve the beast” libertarian rhetoric serves our cause well. In fact, such harsh rhetoric erects communication barriers among reform advocates and public policy makers and the public-at-large. This harsh rhetoric slows the diffusion process and even may destroy it.
Pro-Cons defend most markets at most places at most times. For example, we support emerging, innovative water markets and requisite government institutions that define better the ownership and transfer of water. But our strong support of markets does not apply to all goods and services at all places and all points of time. We do not support the universal application of markets. Instead, we advocate a decision-rule of contingency support of markets…hence, “most markets.” For example, we would oppose markets where fetuses, fetal tissues, and body parts are for sale via for-profit organizations.
Like Neo-Cons, Pro-Cons believe that humans do not live by bread alone. Cultural and political systems often (but not always) trump economics. Incentive-based economics is important, but not primary. (See Michael Novak, “Neocons,” National Review Online, May 20, 2003.)
For Libertarians who find this hierarchy disturbing, they need to ask themselves this question. If we humans are universally rational individuals who assume roles as perpetual-searching, profit-maximizing, price-discovering, equilibrium entrepreneurs, then how do we explain the existence of non-profit think tanks and non-profit universities and the presence of Libertarians in these organizations?
Pro-Cons are social moderates and social conservatives, a commingling social economy of sorts. Our general decision rule is that Federalism should apply to most social issues at most times. Many, if not most, social issues should be decided by the states and even by counties, not by the national government.
By embracing and celebrating this division of powers, we think that the perpetual conflict generated by divisive social issues will subside somewhat. Equally important, the states as laboratories of democracy will produce a diverse set of options that individuals and families can incorporate into their respective moral and religious value systems. These decision-makers will be better able to choose a mix of values and recognize a series of trade-offs. For example, some states may offer better economic opportunities but not offer equally attractive social value conditions.
Gambling and prostitution. These social conflicts and concerns have been left for the states to decide. Compare the lifestyles of those who reside in Utah and “saint” Salt Lake City to those who reside in Nevada and “sin” Las Vegas. In an act of super-federalism, Nevada has gone so far as to let each county determine the legality of prostitution.
Civil unions and gay marriages. Pro-Cons emphatically agree with Vice President Cheney. Homosexual marriage remedies are best left to individual states and individual families to decide. To be sure, these state-level decisions will involve rough-and-tumble, sharp-elbowed exchanges.
Illicit drugs. Pro-Cons are not social libertarians who believe that all or most drugs ought to be legalized. We do not believe that hard drugs such as crack cocaine, heroin, or meth-amphetamines should be legalized. But we do believe that states ought to have the right to decriminalize certain forms and amounts of marijuana, whether for medicinal or recreational purposes. Equally important, if a state passes a law decriminalizing marijuana or some other soft drug, then this state needs to develop safety standards and intoxication tests for those driving under the influence of soft drugs, just as it has for alcohol consumption.
Abortion rights and wrongs. Pro-Cons believe that late-term abortions and partial-birth abortions are abhorrent and immoral and ought to be illegal. Moreover, these specific “term” issues ought to be decided on a national level, not a state level since it involves the clear choice of whether innocent life lives or dies.
Beyond this late-term position, Pro-Cons will differ. I personally believe that early-term abortions ought to be legal (as in Roe v. Wade), safe, extremely rare, and decided at the state level. I am pro-choice and pro-life. How is this so-called straddling possible?
Consistent with Roe v. Wade, women should be able to have legal and safe abortions. But as a way to make abortions less frequent, teenagers should have to get permission from their parent(s) before being able to get an abortion. Moreover, we should attach a strong social stigma to those who do get abortions. Finally, when parents fail in their roles and responsibilities as sex educators, then religious organizations and schools need to assume the roles as complementary sex educators.
Libertarians and even some FiSo-Cons have taken the Bush Administration to task for its “compassionate conservatism” strategy. These critics believe that compassionate conservatism is nothing more than a clever political ploy to expand the welfare state at a slower rate than would liberals. This slow-growth outcome may eventually become the unintended consequences of compassionate conservatism, instead of shrinking the welfare state.
Pro-Cons believe that the practice and rhetoric of compassionate conservatism serve another role. Pragmatically, this strategy allows conservatives to introduce incentive-based welfare reforms. Rhetorically, this strategy allows conservatives to trump the narrative of liberals’ “social justice.” Like Friedrich Hayek, we believe that the construct of “social justice” is largely a facade for income and wealth re-redistribution via government.
IV. Foreign Policy and International Relations
Pro-Cons stake claim to the metaphor of Eagles. We are neither doves nor hawks.
Following the lead of Walter Russell Mead’s four-school categorization in Special Providence: American Foreign Policy And How It Changed The World, we can allocate accordingly the six sub-brands: Jefferson School (Classical Liberals, Paleo-Cons, Libertarians), Hamilton School (FiSo-Cons, Pro-Cons), Jackson School (FiSo-Cons, Pro-Cons), and Wilson School (Neo-Cons).
I would posit that there is now a historical fifth school: The Reagan School. David Brooks recently wrote that “During his presidency, Reagan pushed authoritarian regimes toward democracy.” I would venture that FiSo-Cons, Neo-Cons, and Pro-Cons are in the best positions to stake their respective claims to the Reagan School of “peace through strength.” Time will tell who passes the test.
Pro-Cons reject the pure isolationism of Paleo-Cons and Libertarians. We agree with FiSo-Con Charles Kesler: “September 11’s attacks settled nothing on this score [conservatives acquiescing to the then present size and scope of government], except to perhaps discredit the most extreme forms of libertarian anti-statism [as they relate to foreign policy and international relations].
Pro-Cons also reject (some of) the Neo-Cons’ “world policeman” strategies. We do believe in the proposition of “peace through strength” and advocate an aggressive pursuit of global terrorism. But military action may not always prove to be the best remedy. Think of Pro-Cons as “constrained” Neo-Cons.
Pro-Cons certainly reject the Liberal-Con(fidence) School. Former Senator Gary Hart offers the latest tall-tell-tale for Liberal-Cons in Fourth Power: A Grand Strategy for the United States in the 21st Century.
Does the world really require another (inevitably failed) set of super international government organizations? In a recent book panel and promotion, Sen. Hart ventured that we need an UN2 or Global EPA. (Someone needs to send Sen. Hart a copy of Hayek’s Fatal Conceit!)
Pro-Cons advocate the freer-flow of resources within and between nations. These resources include financial capital, physical capital, intangible information capital, and human capital. But our general decision rule must be placed in the context of social systems and contingencies. Pro-Cons are not pure-play advocates.
Pro-Cons believe that a nation has a right and obligation to protect who and what comes and goes across its border. Pro-Cons are at odds with both Paleo-Cons and Libertarians on immigration policy. Unlike Paleo-Cons, we do not think that the US should adopt a closed-door policy. Unlike Libertarians, we do not think that the US should have a wide-open door policy.
Milton Friedman has acknowledged that a wide-open door policy doesn’t work well in the context of an attractive welfare state. And in a post-9-11 world, even if the welfare state were not a magnet, the United States may not ever enjoy the luxury good of completely free and totally open borders.
Pro-Cons do believe that immigrants who have come here legally ought to be rewarded for their behavior. As a matter of justice as fairness and justice as due process, legal immigrants ought to be awarded citizenship as the current law dictates. This citizenship process must include some kind and degree of government-sanctioned assimilation criteria, including the ability to speak and understand a minimal level of English.
Adam Smith’s explanations about the division of labor and specialization and David Ricardo’s insights about the law of comparative advantage help us better understand the benefits of international trade, market-oriented capitalism, and globalization. But how do freer-flow advocates sell the benefits to those who only see the costs of globalization through their interpretative lenses?
One set of constructive solutions has been developed by Hernando De Soto, the 2004 winner of the Milton Friedman Prize for the Advancement of Liberty. In The Mystery Of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, De Soto argues that in many countries people have not been given formal and legal property titles to their assets. These assets are “dead capital” and cannot be used as secured leverage to obtain additional credit. Government’s role should be to develop legal systems that efficiently register and recognize these property titles.
Pro-Cons support the movement toward freer and fairer international trade. Unless and until free-trade advocates incorporate both the language and institutions of fairer trade as part of their narrative on globalization, neither free nor freer trade will diffuse widely.
Like De Soto, Pro-Cons see a role for government. Freer and fairer trade agreements should compensate capital and labor interests that are directly affected under the new trade regime. For capital, businesses would receive a series of tax credits that would last three to five years. For labor, employees would receive a series of education tax credits and grants for retraining that would last one to three years.
Pro-Cons would also support some level of environmental side-constraints that forces firms to more fully internalize some of their external environmental costs, which arise from poorly defined property rights.
To be sure, capital interests and labor interests will negotiate protectionist measures under the guise of fairer trade to protect their positions, independent of whether they compete in an infant or mature industry. Pro-Cons do not believe that these relatively limited roles for government puts us on a slippery slope toward economic nationalism or protectionism, which has been supported by Paleo-Cons and many liberal interest groups.
V. Mixing Metaphors—Shaken, Not Stirred
Metaphors matter, whether the discourse is about brand goods or brand politics!
In a technical sense, metaphor is the economist’s model. In If You’re So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise, Donald McCloskey identifies the rhetorical tetrad: logic, fact, story, and metaphor. The philosopher’s model is “logic”; the historian’s model is “fact”; the literary writer’s model is “story”; the economist’s model is “metaphor.” But in a less technical sense, metaphor applies across all narratives and helps us to better understand one thing in terms of another.
Linguists and literary purists discourage and disparage and even purge those who would dare mix their metaphors. But we Pro-Con fusionists encourage the mixing, whether we heed the drink-mix request of James Bond “Shaken, Not Stirred” or choose another variation such as “Stirred, Not Shaken.”
For now, we shake and stir the Pro-Con metaphors of Sunflower, Software, and Spanglish.
The Sunflower is a robust plant. Its roots run deep. Its stalks tower sky high. On the semi-arid, Montana heights at 6,000 feet elevation, it can grow from a seed to a 7-foot memorable monument in fewer than four months. Its colors redefine aesthetics.
Software is the brain, if hardware is the body. Software can be evolutionary. Its releases may be slight modifications such as Release 1.0 and Release 1.1. Software can be revolutionary. “Killer apps” such as spreadsheets, web browsers, search engines, web logs, and electronic markets give new meaning to Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of capitalism’s “creative destruction.”
Spanglish is the slight convergence and not so subtle fusion of Spanish and English. In one context, Spanglish carries a negative connotation. If you speak Spanglish, you are not speaking the formal Queen’s English or the King’s Spanish and are considered uneducated.
In another context, Spanglish is Hayek personified (Friedrich, not the actress Salma). In Hayek’s frame, language is an example of a spontaneously evolved institution. It has form and function and order. It is not the product of central government planning. In Living In Spanglish: The Search For Latino Identify In America, Ed Morales reaches this conclusion: “If you are a dreamer, like me, you know that we are moving toward a Spanglish hemisphere. That is, an America that is united, a region where the inevitable mixing of north and south comes to full fruition.”
VI. The Right Word: Spheres and Fears of Progress and Progressives
“Progress! No word comes more often or more naturally to the lips of modern man, as if the things it stands for were almost synonymous with life itself.”
Whose wise words were these…Woodrow Wilson or the ever optimistic, forward-looking, Morning-In-America Ronald Wilson Reagan?
Historically, conservatives and libertarians have fought and found fault with Progressive reforms. From John Dewey on education to Gifford Pinchot on forests to Frederick Taylor on work environment to Teddy Roosevelt on trust-busting and imperial adventures, Progressives got it ALL wrong. Progressives could do no right in the mind of the right!
Recently, Charles Kesler criticized both the process and candidate in California’s 2003 recall efforts to oust governor Gray Davis. Why? Because direct democracy--the use of recall, initiative, and referendum—can fuel the passions of the masses. Direct democracy violates the principle of representative (indirect) democracy.
Charles Kesler wrote that “Progressivism…is the father of direct democracy in California…. There’s no more vivid canvas of Progressive hopes and illusions than California.” Kesler also thought that candidate Schwarzenegger was the wrong candidate for change because “He embodies so many Progressive predilections.” (“Recalling Political Science,” Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2003, www.claremont.org/writings/crb/fall2003/kesler.html.)
Like many Libertarians, Pro-Cons agree with Governor Schwarzenegger on many issues. While some may characterize Schwarzenegger as a small “l” libertarian, we would more accurately characterize him as a Progressive Conservative. Pro-Cons certainly agree with many of the direct democracy "empowerment" tools, whether the roots find their way to Progressivism or Populism or Conservatism.
Don’t call me “Liberal” anymore!
Post-1984, the Brookings Institution no longer refers to itself as “Liberal.” (If you do an internal Brookings search for “Progressive” and “Liberal,” the internal search produces 223 sources for “Progressive” and 289 for “Liberal” as of August 2004.)
Brookings researcher and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne did not use “liberal” in the subtitle of his 1995 book, They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate The Next Political Era.
The Democratic Leadership Council named its idea pool the Progressive Policy Institute. In 2004, the George Soros-financed think tank chose a curious name: The Center for American Progress (as opposed to against American Progress).
While market makers fear the use of “Progressive,” they do not fear the label of “Progress.” The libertarian-leaning Progress and Freedom Foundation apparently valued (and branded) Progress as its lead positioning word over Freedom. Virginia Postrel, a past editor of libertarian Reason, titled her book The Future And Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress.
Our brief review of Progressivism gives rise to the following question. Is there not a single Progressive reform, whether from the 1870s to the 1920s period or more contemporary periods, that the various sub-brands of Conservatism can identify as constructive and positive and progress sustaining? Pro-Cons do believe that there was (some) progress in the Progressive Era.
Pro-Cons will yield neither the content nor the package of “progress” to liberals. Pro-Cons will not surrender the present or the future use of “progressive” to liberals. As conservatives, we reclaim and wear proudly the progress and progressive mantles!
VII. The Pro-Cons’ Tablets
What are the sacred writings for Pro-Cons? To be sure, we would lay claim to many of those sources identified by Charles Kesler and William F. Buckley’s Keeping The Tablets: Readings in Modern American Conservative Thought and by David Boaz’s The Libertarian Reader. One source we would add is Peter Berger’s The Capitalist Revolution: Fifty Propositions about Prosperity, Equality, and Liberty. Libertarians and conservatives rarely invoke Berger as a leading light. If they do, it is never for this work of Berger’s.
Peter Berger, Director of the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston University, is an economic sociologist. As such, he puts Capitalism and Democracy to the formal empirical test. As Milton Friedman has stated, “I do not have faith in free markets; I have evidence about free markets.”
A few critics may suggest that we admire the process or method of Peter Berger, but that Berger does not provide much of any vision. Indeed, Berger does not provide any romantic vision or sugar-coated version of capitalism in the vein of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. But Berger does provide us with a series of testable propositions and hypotheses and a credible way to interpret the capitalism and democracy discourse.
A second tablet that we Pro-Cons would initially add to our canons is Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. Novak provides the religious and moral context of capitalism. And he leaves us with this observation: “Building a humane social order is not a task for one generation merely. It is a journey of a thousand years. For democratic capitalism, barely two hundred have been traversed.”
VIII. Wishbones of Hayek and Reagan
In The Constitution of Liberty, F.A. Hayek’s terminal chapter is titled “Why I Am Not A Conservative.” Since its 1960 publication, American anti-statist conservatives and capital “L” Libertarians have been pulling on Hayek from both sides, each claiming that Hayek was a “true” conservative or an “authentic” Libertarian. Apparently, Libertarians pulled the hardest, ended up with the biggest side of the Hayek wishbone, and ultimately won the wish since the Cato Institute has an auditorium named after Hayek.
Like the Hayek wishbone, the Reagan wishbone has been pulled hard since the 1960s. Since Ronald Reagan’s death (indeed, even before Reagan’s death), all sub-brands of conservatism have claimed an intellectual pull of Reagan in their tribute columns. Why we all make a claim on Ronald Reagan is understandable, especially in light of Michael Novak’s 1999 speech celebrating Reagan’s 88th birthday. Novak reconstructs these four Reagan pillars: love of the American creed, individual liberty, opportunity, and to spread democracy around the world. (See Michael Novak, “Our Better Angels,” National Review Online, June 7, 2004.)
To date, the Reagan wishbone has not snapped with any of the five sub-brands holding the biggest side. But in time, with the addition of Pro-Cons, we may in the end hold the wishbone of Reagan. And our wish would be…the acknowledgement that Ronald Wilson Reagan most closely resembles a Pro-Con.
IX. Silber’s Change Management
In “The Fusionist Path,” Kenneth Silber concludes with two keen and key observations. He concludes that “The extremes cannot hold. Both conservatism and libertarianism have manifestations that are—deservedly—at the margins of American political life.” Next, he reaches this conclusion: “The center has changed…. Centrist politics gradually has become more amenable to limited government ideas. This raises the possibility of using center-right coalitions to enact policies compatible with fusionism.”
In this beta essay, I have sketched a skeleton with a few pieces of flesh. Many of my views coincide with those of Kenneth Silber and Andrew Sullivan. I challenge other conservative fusionists to present their sub-brand of conservatism.
For guidance, let us look to the insights of two leading historians. Michael McGerr offers this observation: “Progressivism was an ideology of the center.” Richard Hofstadter advances this assessment: “Pervasive as Progressivism was, it was not a fully articulated dogma which would have made all Progressives think alike.”
For inspiration, let us recall William Buckley’s laws of conservative content and supreme arbitration: “This doesn’t mean that the idea (‘conservatism’) is empty of structural content, merely that people disagree about what the content is. And there is, of course, no final authority on the matter, qualified to act as arbiter, nor should there be.”
Initially, many critics will falsely label Pro-Cons as “liberals in sheep’s clothing” or “sympathetic statist hegemons” or “nouveau apologists for the mixed-mixed economy” or “wannabe Democratic Leadership Council members” or “Dick Morris strangulation triangulation-ists” or “Com(promise)-Cons.”
No doubt, as we continue to construct the Pro-Con lexicon and discourse, we will face many doubters and slogan-shouters.
We say: “Let the Con-Fusion Continue!”
© Randy Piper (September 1, 2004)