“Conceptual Inertia”

Is the subject of this post by Publius at legal fiction.

I generally don’t do broad, theoretical type posts. I prefer discussing specific events. That often involves broad theories, and my choice of events is determined by my own theories, but still, I like to anchor my thoughts.

That said, Publius’s post really struck me. Basically, he thinks that a lot of folks are making their political decisions today based on events that occurred decades ago. That is, at some point in the past they viewed certain things as serious problems, and continue to focus their energy on those things, even though those things are no longer serious problems. His words:

[Unabashed hatred for “the Left”] is puzzling for at least two reasons — first, because the GOP has gotten so badsince 1994. I mean, everything Wittman and Broder claim to worship — bipartisanship, unity, collegiality, torture (Wittman only) — have been sacrificed in a scorched-earth campaign that began with a government shut-down, led to the impeachment of a popular president, and finished off by politicizing a national tragedy to win a midterm election followed by marching to war in a deliberately arrogant manner intended to enrage 40-45% of the population. And that’s not to mention that abject domestic and foreign policy failures and just general miserableness of GOP rule. I mean, I get it dude, you hate the nutroots. But are they really even remotely as big a problem as the current GOP reign? Aren’t there other things to be MORE pissed about?

Second, the Dems — and especially the much-ballyhooed Left — just isn’t the bogeyman people are making it out to be (as Kevin explained). What does this wild, unhinged Left stand for anyway? Fiscal sanity, rule of law, gay marriage, abortion rights, universal health care, environmental protections, enforcement of civil rights laws, stem cell research, higher taxes on rich people, stronger unions (though many New Democrats could care less about labor), presumption against wars, a fact-based science, etc. It’s not exactly the Bolsheviks or the Black Panthers we’re talking about. And what about those unhinged nutroots — they’re not hairy hippies but uber-educated professionals who aren’t exactly hostile to market capitalism.

It just makes no sense — the GOP has gotten really bad, and the Dems have gotten a lot better over the past 15 years. What’s going on here is simply conceptual inertia. People like Wittman are stuck in a past age. They’re the old generals from WW1 who charged Gatling guns with cavalries on horses (perhaps the best metaphor of that war). To them, every year is 1972. Every activist is a hippy. And because the anti-war Left acted a certain way in 1972, that means that people who oppose a war 35 years later are just the same. Indeed, it’s telling that Wittman uses the phrase McGovernites with modems.

For Kaus, by contrast, it’s always the early 80s. The Democrats are still beholden to their various interest groups. Some hippy environmentalist must have broken up with him in college or something. I don’t know — but whatever he’s still seeing simply isn’t there anymore.

It’s really just lazy thinking. People aren’t taking the time to actually think about the new political dynamics. They just pull a narrative off the shelf and squeeze the facts into it. Wittman thinks the nutroots are way left because he doesn’t take the time to listen to them or get his head out of 1972 (or his ass). Broder thinks we’re still living in an era where bipartisanship is the answer. He too hasn’t refitted his glasses for the age of Rove and DeLay and Gingrich. 

That makes a lot of sense to me.

The judiciary is another example. Thirty years ago maybe some restraint was in order. Today, we still need restraint, but by those on the right. Courts in general, and Scotus in particular, have spent the last three decades going right. Sure they throw liberals a high profile bone now and then, but the vast majority of cases cut away constitutional protections in favor of the government.

Think about it, what is the greater danger to our society: A Scotus decision mandating states extend marital benefits to gays? Or a Scotus decision saying that there is no remedy for any Fourth Amendment violations? I’d say the latter, both in likelihood of occurrence and in extent of harm. I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot more worried about what the government wants to do in my bedroom than in what some gay couple does in theirs. And trust me, we are a lot closer to judicial repeal of the Fourth Amendment than we are to judicial creation of gay marriage. Given this, should people concerned about property rights and limited government be such rabid supporters of Bush’s judicial nominees?

Then there is federalism. It used to be that Democrats who pushed for things like the Voting Rights Act were the enemies of State’s rights. Today, though, we have seen the Republican administration interfere with state perogitives in the Schiavo case, the California medical marijuna case, and the Oregon assisted suicide case. Not to mention No Child Left Behind.

Or how about worries that there is some grand conspiracy to eliminate Christianity from this country? I’m not really sure this was ever a threat, but let’s pretend it was. Surely today, when these are the reasons given for amending the constitution to prohibit gay marriage, we have no reason to fear for the existence of Christianity in America:

“It’s part of God’s plan for the future of mankind,” explained Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.).

Rep. Bob Beauprez (R- Colo.) also found “the very hand of God” at work. “We best not be messing with His plan.”

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) agreed that “it wasn’t our idea, it was God’s.”

“I think God has spoken very clearly on this issue,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), a mustachioed gynecologist who served as one of the floor leaders yesterday. When somebody quarreled with this notion, Gingrey replied: “I refer the gentleman to the Holy Scriptures.”

 . . . .

“Marriage is not about love,” volunteered Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who noted his 31 years of matrimony. “It’s about a love that can bear children.”

“The world did not start with Adam and Steve,” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) told reporters.

Gingrey, the floor leader/gynecologist, posited that the debate was “about values and how this great country represents them to the world.” After the vote, he elaborated: “This is probably the best message we can give to the Middle East in regards to the trouble we are having over there right now.”

Yep, that’s right, the best way to defeat a bunch of war mongering, evil, religious barbarians is to . . . adopt their values! That is what scares me.

Should we really still be worried about how the PC police, whoever they are, want to inoctrinate our kids with ideas about tolerance and mulitculturalism while the real police – DOJ – want to prosecute newspapers for printing stories critical of the president?

I’m certainly no Democrat, nor an apologist therefore. But, if twenty years ago you voted Republican because you believed in the rule of law, or fiscal restraint, or limited government, then you ought to be seriously considering voting Democrat today.

Explore posts in the same categories: National Blogs, National Politics, Uncategorized

7 Comments on ““Conceptual Inertia””

  1. Mark Paris Says:

    The odd thing is that so many people who are actually harmed by Republican policies seem to hate Democrats so much.

  2. Kathy Says:

    I’ve tried to tell my parents this very thing, but they can’t break away from the paradigm that tells them all Democrats are crazy big spenders and all Republicans are fiscal conservatives.

  3. Wheeler Says:

    i understand why pro-lifers and gay bashers vote republican. but, as of today, if you like fiscal restraint and limited government, the republicans are no friend of yours.

  4. Humpty Dumpty Says:

    The assertion that republicans have betrayed some conservative principles is true; but yet, it ignores the worse problem that the democrats are even worse.

    Ah poor lefties, all nostalgic for hillarycare! As you cared that federal spending is too high! Hahahahahahah. . . you would spend twice as much on garbage social programs.

    And, marriage between men and women only has been the rule since the dawn of civilization; preserving this from judge-made law is ‘gay-bashing’?

    Man, you people are REALLY out there. . . universal health care? It’s ‘free’ but only through high taxes and total inefficiency. The british have a waiting list, of about 7 years, for non-emergency hernia operations. Enjoy your socialism. . . but please, dont force the last free country to ruin itself for your disproven economic theories.

  5. Wheeler Says:


    thanks for proving my point.

  6. MCF Says:

    Awful lot of straw-mannning and broad-brushing going on in that Publius post, whatever you think of the merits.

  7. Wheeler Says:


    “Awful lot of straw-mannning and broad-brushing ”

    that’s why i try to avoid broad theoretical posts, and terms like right, left, conservative, liberal, conservative and democrat. the further you get from specific instances of conduct, the more likely you are to paint straw men with broad brushes. still, his theory, i think, explains pretty well some particular behaviors, even if the ones he sights may be overly simplified.

    i can’t tell you how many times i’ve read or heard screeds against “judicial activists,” or “the anti-christian left” and though “who in the world are you talking about? don’t you realize that courts have spent the last thirty years systematically refusing to enforce constitutional restraints against the government? don’t you understand that public acknowledgement of chrisitian faith is the sine qua non of elected office in this country?” publius’s theory, that the complainers are still staring at the country as it was at the height of the warren court, goes a long way towards explaining how these folks can miss what is obvious to anyone with their eyes focussed on the present.

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