Reply to Jonathan Krohn
My first thought when viewing the comments to the video so far is, "Talk about 'talking points'". So far, every conservative hack that has bothered to reply to the video has said SOMETHING about Jonathan Krohn's age, defending it by saying that the message and the messenger are separate things, etc. It's as if they are defensive about Jonathan's age, as if this idea has been thrown at them many a time, as if they were secretly aware of the absurdity of the situation...
The fact is, I made quite clear that I was saying almost nothing about Jonathan's age. True, I have some concerns that someone who is a pre-teen can really have the independent mind needed to make judgments separate from those around him. That doesn't mean, as I made clear, that we shouldn't listen to him. But when I was 13, I said things due to my peer groups, my parents, and other subtle influences that now I would reject. For example: When I was 13, I hypothesized that race in this country was primarily the effect of past discrimination and racism combined with occasional discrimination and color-blind factors such as the way the industrial economy worked. Now, I would reject that position, given the wealth of evidence that indicates that race is an independent social factor above and beyond class, gender and politics.
No, my argument, as I repeated twice, was that it says something about the people who listen to Krohn that they are buying a book and listening to a speech from a 13 year old. In my opinion, it indicates that many of their policy opinions are woefully simplistic, or that they need good propaganda from an innocent to sell their political beliefs.
Further, I made clear that I applaud Jonathan Krohn for having political opinions at his age. And for writing a book. And for being articulate, and polite, and wearing a suit, and all that. Those are all good things. Nothing I say to the young man should be taken as discouraging him; indeed, I went through the same process. But the way I grew as a political thinker was in part to be challenged, to have people ask for my sources and demand footnotes and quotations and citations, to make logical arguments. In any respect, the only comment I was making for the first part of the video was that there was a sense of absurdity (a delightful, Daily Show-worthy sense) to seeing grown men and women applaud a child for speaking platitudes.
More importantly, none of the commentators wanted to grapple with my serious argument: That these were, indeed, just platitudes, that the arguments he provided sounded nice but had no basis in reality and thus functioned as empty, willful propaganda.
It is tremendously easy for someone to come along after a political group has been in charge for the last 8 years and become immensely unpopular declaring that, "Oh, no, all of you got it wrong, we actually believe in these key principles." The problem with Krohn's viewpoint is that it's just semantics: He is simply redefining what the word "conservative" means, rather than providing any actual argument about real policy. As with all semantics, we can conclude one of two things.
A) Krohn means to refer to real-life "conservatives": Republicans, some Independents, and people generally defined as the right wing. Given that he is speaking for CPAC, I am guessing that this is how his comments are meant to be taken. If this is the case, Krohn's statements are simply, verifiably, and directly false. The people he is talking about overwhelmingly do not hold these principles, as can clearly be determined. Perhaps some peripheral "true believers" do in fact hold these opinions, but the majority of both the rank and file seem to not hold such opinions and vote for candidates who do not hold such opinions. The case becomes more difficult when we include voter data that indicates that a majority of people voting for Bush and Reagan actually opposed their policies, but insofar as Krohn is offering propaganda that helps exacerbate such misconceptions and continues to keep elections about platitudes, Krohn is amplifying this problem.
B) Krohn seeks to redefine the group of "conservatives" to include people who share his four principles. If this is the case, nothing has changed. Krohn has created a new, trivial definition within which almost no one fits, and which ironically includes a great variety of liberals and leftists). Certainly, this definition does not describe the intellectual movement which most people accept as "conservative" or right-wing. We must now find a new definition for people who are politically right, vote Republican, and tend to be pro-war, pro-gun, pro-military and pro-religion.
It is possible that Krohn is talking about traditional conservativism rather than religious neo-conservativism. But if that's the case, he is again using semantics to paper over real ideological differences, differences that are tearing a party apart.
So, let us examine the circle of people whom Krohn seems to be talking about and whom CPAC as a group supports. (CPAC, of course, postures as independent and non-partisan, but their past speakers have included Ronald Reagan, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, David Horowitz, George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich). Let us compare the actions and real policies of this group to the four principles that Krohn alleges conservatism is defined by.
Respect for the Constitution? The PATRIOT act, wiretapping, and the various means through which the Bush Administration undermined the First and Fourth Amendments alone throws this out the window. Add in the fact that Bush was illegally, in violation of US law and the Geneva Convention, detaining suspected terrorists without trials and without serious charges or arrests being made with limited access to lawyers and with brutal, "cruel and unusual" torture and we have a clear cut case.
For those who don't understand my point about the Presidents since World War II and treaty violations: Article VI of the US Constitution declares that, "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." [my emphasis].
This means that the supreme "Law of the Land" includes any treaties ratified by the US Congress. Judges and legal authorities will be bound by them, above and beyond any state laws (which is irrelevant when federal agents carry out the actions).
As Noam Chomsky declared in Manufacturing Consent, "If the Nuremburg accords were enforced, every post-war American President would have been hung." (1). He further gives examples as to how every President violated various laws in his article, "If the Nuremberg Laws were Applied..." (2). Eisenhower's actions in Guatemala, Kennedy's actions in Cuba, LBJ and Nixon's actions in Indochina... All are serious war crimes.
The United States refuses to make honest steps towards disarmaments and has as official policy the willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear NPT signatories: That is a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Almost every war the US has waged since World War II has been in blatant violation of the UN Charter, which declares that states cannot unilaterally attack other nations except in response to imminent threat (which has a specific and unequivocal meaning: forces either in the country or directly being sent to the country, not nuclear weapons that might at some distant date be used to possibly deter the US from doing something). The US routinely flouts the Geneva Convention, such as with its waterboarding practices that even many in the Justice Department knew were clearly torture.
So we see a pattern of the incumbent President and of almost every President before going back to Truman flouting the Constitution and engaging in routine impeachable high crimes. This disproves that conservatives, as defined in the real world, are pro-Constitution.
His second prong is "respect for life". But this is even more of a joke than the first part of his principles.
How is "respect for life" held by a party which bombs innocent Iraqis and Afghanis? How is "respect for life" held by a party which held the ideology that we "have to fight them there so we don't fight them here", which declares that it's okay to turn other peoples' countries into flypaper for terrorists so you don't have to suffer loss and they do? How is "respect for life" held by a party which undercuts social policy that is designed to protect the poor? Even if one accepts that all of these things have justifications, they don't have to do with "respect for life".
It's clear that Jonathan is trying to reconcile the anti-abortion stance of many conservatives with the incredibly ugly contempt for life conservatives hold in almost every other domain. Sorry, Jonathan, but it just won't work.
Further, "respect for life" is an empty platitude. Any of his supporters can get out of my above allegations by simply redefining what the phrase means, ad nauseum, to suit their goals. Why isn't "respect for life" demonstrated by people who want to insure that pregnant mothers have options that don't involve forcing them to have a child they don't want? Protecting the rights of fetuses or unborn life isn't by itself a bad thing, but the problem is that both sides are coming at the problem with an idea of what "respect for life" constitutes that ends up being mutually exclusive.
His third "principle" is "less government". At this point, we do not even achieve the level of farce.
How can the party which demands ever-higher military budgets be for "less government"? The party that wants to expand the capacity of the state to pry into our personal lives is somehow for "less government"? Are these comments intended to be read seriously?
There are some honest libertarians out there who support less government all around. Only even they mysteriously seem to like folks like Ron Paul, who honestly thinks that black youth in Washington DC should be treated differently by the police than white youth (3).
In fact, "conservatives" are truly radical statists. They want the state to expand their wallets, attack their enemies and protect their interests. They use the mantra of "less government" as a generic bludgeon to beat back anything the state does that does not satisfy those interests and hope that people's attention spans don't last long enough to recognize the hypocrisy and self-contradiction.
Real "conservatives" would actually hold very few of Krohn's positions. Rather, conservativism as a philosophy stems from the idea that social change should happen slowly and organically rather than rapidly because of the fact that societies are complex systems. In this sense, Noam Chomsky, the anarchist, is a conservative! He argues that change should come incrementally from social movements. As I said in the video: The word "conservative" has become much-maligned thanks to the radical statists who have cloaked themselves in its hallowed halls.
Finally, Krohn declares that the fourth and last principle is "personal responsibility".
This would make an ounce of sense if conservatives did not come out of the woodwork with an array of irrelevant and offensive apologies to protect their favored persons from said personal responsibility. If conservatives stopped excusing Ann Coulter's argument that we should nuke people for fun, and stopped excusing every new racist who drops the n-word and blaming the victims for being too "sensitive", and stopped excusing war crimes committed by their government, this would be a fair argument.
In fact, conservatives are all too willing to pass the buck of personal responsibility onto everyone else. (4).
So, for example, when they tell black folks and women to "Get over it" (that is, get over centuries of oppression and disenfranchisement which continues), they are passing the buck onto those people to solve the racial and gender problems in the United States. They could "Get over it" themselves; that is, white, male conservatives could just admit that bad things happened in the past and stop lionizing folks like Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson or George Washington. They could acknowledge that the country is built on the land of a nearly exterminated native population. But instead of taking that "personal responsibility", they demand everyone else change. This is especially egregious given that it is generally them with the power, wealth and influence, so one would think that they could afford to be magnanimous.
The irony of wagging the finger at others to have more personal responsibility is one of those many things Jonathan is apparently too young to recognize.
And what of his claim that the Republican Party is merely "the shell"? If this is the case, shouldn't people stop voting for a Party when the elected officials presented by that party routinely flout the principles Krohn cites? No, that is merely hand-waving, deceptive apologia, and no more.
Or what of his claim that conservatives are unique in that their policy is principle based? Surely Mr. Krohn must be joking. Refusing to allow a grandmother to starve, the principle behind Social Security, is a principle that animates policy, whether or not Mr. Krohn likes that particular principle. (Of course, he should, given his ostensible concern with the "right to life"). Opposing unjust, vicious, colonial wars is not only deeply principle-based but tremendously courageous, unlike Krohn's platitudes, given the real social costs those who speak up against jingoist conformity face.
In short, Mr. Krohn seems to be unconsciously relaying myths his parents, adult figures in his life, and perhaps his friends and peer groups suggest to him. But it doesn't seem that he is capable of making arguments that stand serious muster. Again, this says nothing about him. To have written a book and to be able to address adults at his age is a true feat, and something worth applauding. No, it says something about the innumerable adults who have no such excuse. It says something about the people who have graduated from high school and prestigious universities who aren't able to correct Krohn where he errs and show Krohn how much more complex the world is. It says that they are either hopelessly ignorant ideologues or hopelessly cynical demagogues.
3. "Ron Paul Is Not Your Savior". http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/17406 . To wit:
But it gets a lot worse: Paul's political literature has stated that it is sensible to be afraid of black men; that "95 percent of African Americans in [Washington D.C.] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal"; that black male children (but not white ones) should be treated and tried as adults for crimes they commit beginning at age 13; and he referred to two black men that were interviewed by Ted Koppel after the Los Angeles 1992 uprising as "animals". Kanye West was right when he said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Guess what? If his own political literature is any indication, Ron Paul loathes black people.
4. Tim Wise discusses this phenomenon frequently. See: //www.redroom.com/blog/tim-wise/racism-reflex-reflections-conservative-scapegoating
And, of course, so much more can be said in this vein.