Repelled by Liberals, Repelled by Conservatives

Last election cycle I voted mostly-Democrat–joylessly. I expect I will do the same this November, holding my nose and gagging as I vote Democrat again. While I grew up mostly voting Democrat, I switched to (sort of) Republican back in the 1990s because of how convincing I found many conservative arguments and thinkers, and out of a certain disgust and disillusion I had with American liberalism and with the Democratic party. In recent years, however, what’s become of the conservative movement has left me increasingly disturbed and alienated from them too. I’ve defaulted to a “vote for whoever repels me the least” mentality, which I suspect describes how most people vote anymore.

I can no longer consider myself to lean either Republican or Democrat, because–really, truly–both parties disgust me. But not in the “Democrats are nowhere near liberal enough for me” way, and not in the “Republicans are nowhere near conservative enough for me” way either.

I view liberalism and conservatism as both extremely important, vital voices that need to be heard and have much to offer. Which is why I view the current state of affairs in our politics with dismay. Perhaps it’s always been like this and I was just too blind to see it, but I don’t think so. What often passes for liberalism today still repels me. Yet what often passes for conservatism also now repels me.

In years past I wrote any number of essays on why Democrats and so-called “liberals” (often really just closed-minded reactionaries) angered and disappointed me. I’ve tried hard to give up on anger–it’s usually a futile emotion–but I haven’t really lost much of my disappointment with liberals. Maybe on a few things, but only in the sense that if you’ve gone ten years without changing your mind on anything it probably means you’ve been playing in the shallow end of the thinking pool for way too long. I still think Democrats have squandered much of the goodwill they once had among voting blocs that were once reliably Democratic, and have often betrayed the very people (society’s lower classes) that it’s pretty much their job to look after. And don’t even get me started again on their continued tendency toward Political Correctness and the appalling habit of seeing racism and sexism in everything.

But in recent years, the conservative movement has been disgusting me as well, with what appears to be an axiomatic, a priori assumption of “government is evil and/or incompetent,” an appalling reverence for wealth accumulation, and an apparently complete lack of any sense of responsibility or duty to community and country, with the pompous, self-indulgent (or self-hating) “work harder you lazy bum” mentality which denies that the rest of society, including the government that is an inseparable part of it, had anything to do with anyone’s hard work leading to their own (or anyone else’s) success.

Liberals and conservatives, you both drive me nuts, and you libertarians manage to annoy me with your easy “the market can fix everything” magic mentality too. None of this is exactly a great thing to say if you want to win friends and influence people, but it’s how I’ve come to feel: you’re all driving me nuts.

Still, I’ve written so much about why liberals annoy me, I would be remiss in not saying that I agree with almost everything E.J. Dionne says here. This part in particular really struck home with me:

In other words, until recently conservatives operated within America’s long consensus that accepted a market economy as well as a robust role for a government that served the common good. American politics is now roiled because this consensus is under the fiercest attack it has faced in more than 100 years.

For most of the 20th century, conservatives and progressives alternated in power, each trying to correct the mistakes of the other. Neither scared the wits out of the other (although campaign rhetoric sometimes suggested otherwise), and this equilibrium allowed both sides to compromise and move forward. It didn’t mean that politics was devoid of philosophical conflicts, of course. The clashes over McCarthyism, the civil rights revolution, the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Great Inflation of the late 1970s remind us that our consensus went only so far. Conservatives challenged aspects of the New Deal-era worldview from the late 1960s on, dethroning a liberal triumphalism that long refused to take conservatism seriously. Over time, even progressives came to appreciate some essential instincts that conservatives brought to the debate.

Yeah, they did. I certainly did. Yet now it seems that conservatism has turned to a very ugly side. Not of racism (the cheap liberal answer to everything), but of making an enemy of our own democratically-elected government. To seeing our President and our elected officials of being incapable of doing anything that isn’t evil and/or dishonest. I have multiple self-declared conservative friends who can speak of the government as nothing but an enemy, and who can see no good of any government program other than perhaps the military. One of them recently said to me, in all seriousness, “Government is always the problem. Reagan proved it.”

Dude. That’s madness.

Anyway, read the whole thing and then come back here and tell me what you think Dionne gets wrong. Or what I get wrong. Or right. If you’re so inclined.

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