Michele Bachmann's fitful incoherence delivered to the Right Online rally yesterday nevertheless briefly but perfectly captured one essential distinction between contemporary conservatism and elemental liberalism. She bellowed:
So do you feel as rich as you did two years ago?
In an economy like today's -- courtesy of a conservative mismanagement unwitnessed since the oblivious Jazz Age -- with so many suffering from material deprivation or at minimum a real and justifiable fear of material deprivation, Bachmann's use of that second, four-letter word was obscenely revealing: Are you rich enough?
Or perhaps I have my emphasis wrong. Perhaps Bachmann's deeper obscenity came more abbreviated: Are you rich enough?
Also yesterday, C-Span's BookTV aired a recent talk given by Mario DiNunzio at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, in which the historian culled, from the president's Second Inaugural Address, what he and many others would deem a proud reflection of liberalism's primal character:
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
To me, the philosophical beauty of that line lies in its rhetorical omission: one notes with awe and admiration progressive Roosevelt's conservative temperament in observing that those who are suffering possess too little, while the comfortable have, simply and unmodified, much. No radical redistributionist talk, no leveling sentimentalism, no social upheavals promised or incited; just a sense of American community with that selfless touch of American moderation: Progress is measured by its lack of extremes.
I believe I can venture without great elaboration that within progressive moderation there inheres a prodigious pragmatism -- the absolute epicenter of Rooseveltian liberalism, which, as so many American historians have observed (most notably Richard Hofstadter, in his magnificent Age of Reform), marked the fundamental shift, in effect the philosophical role reversals, of American progressivism and conservatism. Suddenly, it was much of the formerly utopian left that metamorphosed into New Deal progressives willing to experiment with down-to-earth, practical solutions to seemingly unamenable socioeconomic problems, while once hard-nosed, dollars-and-cents conservatives flew into reactionary, idealistic clouds of unreachable fantasy, and thus social indifference.
And not much has changed since, except that President Roosevelt's pragmatism is perhaps more pragmatic than ever under President Obama, and conservatives are profoundly untethered, more than ever, from reality.
Therefore, the below response to Andrew Sullivan's Friday response, of:
[A]lthough I acknowledge that for an entire generation or two, "conservatism" has come to mean ideological, fundamentalist, cultural panic and hallucinogenic economics, I don't want to concede the tradition of Burke, Babbitt, Hayek and Oakeshott to the left.
Mr. Sullivan, if non-ideological pragmatism defines in any durable way the philosophical tradition of authentic conservatism, then authentic conservatives' "choice" of left-right definition is approaching the Hobsonian.