Thursday, October 28, 2010

What gets conservatives' goat

Over at Kids Prefer Cheese, blogger Angus (after merciless heckling from Yours Truly in the comments section) relents and gives me
his reasons for thinking Obama is an "uncompromising" far-leftist:
So I started to wonder exactly why I had the perception that Obama was "pretty far left".

Hence this Top 10 signs Obama is a lefty list:

10. His incessant pandering to unions

9. His child-like love for high speed rail

8. His pushing for subsidies for solar, wind, & ethanol (i.e. uneconomic boondoggles).

7. His refusal to understand that electric cars actually burn coal in many parts of the country!

6. His firm belief that a small group of experts can competently run the economy

5. The amazing growth in the Federal budget under his watch

4. His habit of flip-flopping like a boated marlin

3. His inability to consider issues of moral hazard or unintended consequences in policymaking

2. His belief that anyone who disagrees with him is stupid or evil or both

1. His overall superior, moralistic, and condescending attitude
Not much evidence for the "uncompromising" part (what's the difference between "flip-flopping" and compromise, again?). But I'll take what I can get. At last we know what makes someone a leftist in conservative eyes.

Two big points here.

Point #1: Attitude speaks louder than actions. Reasons 1, 2, 3, 6, and 10 are all about attitude, mannerism, and rhetoric, as opposed to real policy actions. This reinforces something I've been slowly realizing over the past few years - in politics, what group or movement you seem to be part of is more important than what you actually do. I think this was behind much of the anti-Bush animus that liberals felt long before Bush launched wars, attacked civil liberties, or even got elected in the first place. And as I've mentioned, I think Obama is seen as anti-business despite his efforts to do things to help business mainly because of his rhetoric lambasting "multinational corporations" and "big business." In other words, politics is first and foremost about coalition-building and allegiance; policy is always and everywhere a secondary consideration.

Point #2: Conservatives really, really love oil and cars. Reasons 7, 8, and 10 on Angus' list are about Obama's support for alternative energy and alternative transportation. At first, this might be surprising - since when does wanting to build trains and support technological R&D make one an uncompromising far-leftist? But if you look carefully, you'll see that this is no oddity at all. Conservatives really dislike any thing that threatens America's dependence on oil or our use of the automobile. The blinding animus conservatives hold for rail is well-documented, as is their decades-long effort to kill alternative energy research. But why? Possible explanations include:

A) The oil industry is the main financial backer of the Republican Party (see: Koch bros., Halliburton, Exxon).

B) Promotion of alternative energy is seen as a backdoor to large-scale government regulation of carbon-producing activity (i.e. everything), which is seen as a backdoor to socialism.

C) Rail transport and dense urban areas both force white people into daily contact with nonwhites, which conservatives really really really don't want.

D) The car is seen as an instrument of individual empowerment and liberty, and hence "libertarians" think we should promote car transport.

I'd say there is some truth to all of these. But it's still sometimes astonishing how central the defense of the car/oil transport structure is to the policy priorities and worldviews of conservatives (and "libertarians"), especially considering how much government spending and regulatory policy has gone into creating that structure. Where social conservatives draw their battle lines on religious issues (abortion) or racial issues (welfare, affirmative action), economic conservatives' wedge issue is transportation and urban structure. Of course, the fact that lots of black people currently live in urban centers probably has a lot to do with the enduring strength of the conservative big tent.

Anyway, thanks to Angus for giving me his reasons for believing Obama is a leftist, and props for making it an honest one. I may never stop being surprised at how much A) attitude and B) transportation issues matter to conservative thinkers. But I suppose that is my fault, not theirs.


  1. Anonymous11:06 PM

    Why do you insist that Angus is a conservative? Are you unable to make a distinction between conservatives and libertarians?

    Hint: they are quite different.

  2. I think Noah impliedly addresses that when he writes "conservatives (and 'libertarians')." The idea, I think, is that many people who purport to be libertarians are, in their policy choices and attitudes, much more closely aligned with current conservatives than with the classic conception of liberatarianism. Noah, you can of course correct me if I'm wrong.

    Also, one caveat, I know nothing about Angus, so this doesn't necessarily indicate that I think he's really more a conservative than a libertarian. I have no idea.

  3. Anonymous11:32 PM

    Keep up the effrt on the conservatives don't want racial mixing thing. You're right on here!