Jewish World Review Dec. 3, 2004 / 20 Kislev 5765

Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak

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A Prescription for Taking Back the Right: The Right Rx


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Of all the groups bewildered and dismayed by the 2004 election, two have the most reason to fret. Liberals and conservatives.


The liberal problem is simpler. All they have to do is find a large enough mirror, drag themselves to it, and ask,"Is this the best we can do"?


Conservatives, meanwhile, are already in front of their mirror. Some are preening. But others are asking themselves, "Is this really what we want to be"?


More specifically: Do we wish to be the party and the movement of Big Government, Big Business, Big Religion, and potentially limitless war? Do we wish to endorse an "ownership society", whose artfully packaged central tenets---abolition of taxation on investment income; easing of taxation of the affluent via various savings accounts; and privatization of Social Security-- will lay the burden of taxation ever more heavily on the poor?


Two other factions have expressed their dismay quite clearly. Both seek return to a vision that prevailed before the neoconservative ascendancy. One faction might be described, not always completely or fairly, as populist and isolationist, job-loss obsessed, anti-immigration, perhaps with a streak of good old-fashioned bigotry. The other wishes to reaffirm a few reaffirmables, such as limited government and a more modest foreign policy, without doing all that much about it, indeed, without overtly denouncing the neocons and Bush at all. The first faction might be termed Buchananite; the second, paleocon. Neither is likely to connect with the American people anytime soon.

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There is, however, a curious third alternative, expressed by Seattle-based writer Philip Gold in his new book, TAKE BACK THE RIGHT. It is important to acknowledge that I know Dr. Gold and speak with him long distance occasionally. I may not always agree with him but I respect his innovative thinking, prophetic wisdom and elegant writing style.


The book is cast as a personal memoir: how the author, after decades of uneasiness about where conservatism was headed, finally broke with the movement over Iraq. But he also rewrites the history of conservatism. The movement's standard history depicts a brilliant intellectual, political and cultural Long March, with a few unfortunate digressions. To Gold, conservatism's history has been a tale of gaining the world but losing your soul.


That soul could have been a stern yet gracious alloy of aristocracy and modesty. An aristocraticy that recognized injustice without reducing people to their wounds; that upheld an excellence of standards, not exclusion; that respected diversity while insisting on a common ground of active, participatory citizenship; the pessimistic understanding that humans are not perfectible, and any attempt to create "perfection" leads to horror, tempered by an optimistic sense of human potential.


Conservatism sold that soul for money and votes. It did so and does so at home by pandering to resentment and mediocrity, not to speak of bigotry. It does so abroad by belief that whatever we do is right because we're the ones who are doing it. By this interpretation, the neocon triumph is not an aberration. It is the logical product of decades of an interlocking set of moral abdications and self-delusions.


But abdication and self-delusion will only get you so far. Gold points to what he calls the "Year-Six Jinx." Every president since Woodrow Wilson who served at least six years has experienced scandal, defeat, even repudiation those final years. President Bush's Year Six could be especially grim if the Iraq (and Iran?) wars and the economy turn more sour. And therein might lie an opportunity for conservatism to begin to recover the sensibility that it once hoped to offer America.


But how? Gold offers scant hope that the Republican Party, one half of the "Republocrat imperium" as he calls it, will abandon its currently winning ways. Rather, a genuine Year-Six crisis might offer the possibility, although faint, of a serious third party forming. Historically, third parties have been trivial; those aspiring to significance have ended up as transient "spoilers" or co-opted by the Republocrats, or both. No viable third party is likely to emerge from the grass roots.


Still, a party that formed "top-down," by disaffected Republicans and Democrats who brought their status, their expertise, and their money with them, might stand some sort of chance or affect the election outcome. Certainly, there's enough disaffection out there in spite of the clear Republican victory in November.


IDEALLY, for what would such a party stand? For a combination of aristocracy and modesty in all things. Politically, for a cautious foreign policy, an end to unrestrained spending, economic reconstruction, and the renewed protection of individual rights and liberties. Culturally, for a recognition that virtue and excellence may take many forms. And for a healthcare system that stands and delivers, rather than failing to treat, as so many healthcare eproviders are doing! (More on that in my book next year).


And most of all, for the belief that even the most grandiose and appealing theories and ideologies must be measured against reality and real-world results.

Editors Note: Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., penned this week's commentary




Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments on medical-legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is a Discovery Institute Senior Fellow and a past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists. Comment by clicking here.

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