Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Taking the long view for conservatism in America

In discussing the upcoming US elections, Rachel Lucas exhibits some short-term thinking:
I do not believe you’re going to teach anyone a “lesson” by sitting this one out or writing in Fred Thompson or Sunny Lucas. I believe that way too many people are ignoring the forest for the trees and that in doing so, they’re going to have a hand in electing Obama. Some say that’s fine because if the country’s going to be “ruined”, better that it’s ruined by a Democrat, and somehow magically we’ll come up with a fantastic, “real” conservative in 4 years even though there is no one like that on the horizon and everyone knows it. Like I said, I think that’s a super-crappy plan.
This is perfectly reasonable, but only if one is operating from a certain set of axioms:
1) there are now and will only ever be two viable political parties in the USA, the Republicans and the Democrats
2) given the choice between a greater evil and a lesser evil, it is better to choose the lesser evil (or at least to try to prevent victory for the greater evil)
Joining the argument is Francis Porretto:
Shouldn't we act to preserve as much freedom as we possibly can, even if it means voting for Republicans who've collaborated in the expansion of the Omnipotent State?

In a word, no. The tipping point is upon us; further support of the GOP in its present configuration will produce net damage to what remains of our traditional rights. The idea that supporting the lesser of two evils is somehow morally obligatory has never enjoyed less logical or historical support.

...If conservatives want to compel the GOP and its candidates to conform to conservative principle, they must defeat the party's strategy. That means defeating the party overall [Porretto's emphasis], not merely any one candidate. Nothing else will get the party's kingpins to question their strategic decisions.
In response to those conservatives who are considering sitting this election out, and letting Obama (or God forbid, Hi!!ary) win the presidency, there are those who point out short term possible losses, such as a precipitous pullout from Iraq or immigration amnesty or the signing of Kyoto (by the way, the latter is extremely unlikely, as the Senate unanimously(!) voted against that during Clinton's last term in office) should the Democrats win this election. They also point out medium-term possible losses such as the appointment of left-leaning judges to the Supreme Court.

Those fears are valid, but shortsighted. America has been a slowly-boiling frog for the better part of a century, and one election is not going to reverse the bad decisions of the past century; certainly none of the major Presidential candidates inspires hope for a change of direction away from disaster. As far as I can tell, each of them will merely heat up the water a little more.

Instead, take the long view: if you have young children, what sort of America will there be by the time their children start voting? If Americans continue this gradual slide into larger "entitlement" programs, more intrusive governmental control over their daily lives, more artificial impediments on the economy, more porkbarrel spending, higher and higher taxes, more and more assaults on Constitutionally-protected rights - then their great-grandchildren will inherit a bankrupt country where freedom is something that their senile great-grandparents kind of remember but of which they cannot even fathom.

Continuing to reward the major political parties for their ever-leftward tilt, by continuing to elect them to office as the lesser of two evils, does nothing to prevent the nightmare scenario for your grandchildren. In fact, it assures that outcome.

Also, a merely symbolic abstention from voting on the part of a small but significant percentage of conservatives in this election isn't going to change the calculus. In four more years, after whatever havoc that either of the Democrat candidates may wreak, the Republican conservative base will find itself right back where it is today, with a choice between one or another set of crooks. Porretto's idea of shaking up the Republican Party by handing them an electoral defeat isn't enough in and of itself - they've suffered electoral losses before. So has the Democrat Party, including some huge losses, and they're still around.

However, all is not lost, at least not yet. The axioms that I inferred above from my interpretation of Rachel's point of view are not immutable laws carved in stone. Francis Porretto has a point about the invalidity of the second axiom; and indeed, if that first axiom is demolished then the second one has no validity at all - the choice would no longer be between the lesser of two evils.

So, to invalidate that first axiom, let's look at a little history. In the mid-1800s the Whig Party (whose members included Daniel Webster and a young Abraham Lincoln) candidate became president on two occasions, in 1840 with William Henry Harrison and in 1848 with Zachary Taylor. Obviously they were a major political party, capable of attaining the Presidency - and the Whigs are gone. The Republican party rose out of its ashes - two years before the Whigs were wiped out.

More recent history provides another example: let's look at what happened in Canada from the late 1980's to the present. The Progressive Conservative (how's that for an oxymoron) party had been sliding further and further left for decades, and was becoming indistinguishable from the Liberals. In the West, a new party - the Reform Party - was established as a grass-roots effort to restore true conservative principles to federal politics.

Reform's first MP was elected in a byelection in 1989, and support continued to grow as the party outlined and stuck to its conservative principles. By 1993, Canadians had had enough of the Progressive Conservatives, and obliterated the party at the polls - it dropped from 151 seats in the House of Commons down to 2 seats. Reform went from 1 seat to 52, nearly all in the West, and vote splitting between the PCs and Reform in Ontario handed control of the government to the Liberals. It took 13 more years, and some coalition building with the remnant rump of the PC party (which involved the merger of the two parties into the Canadian Alliance Party, and later into the Conservative Party), but in 2006 the Conservatives won a minority in the federal election.

In all it has taken nearly 20 years for the process, from a leftward-lurching-and-gaining-speed "conservative" party in power to a more rightward-leaning (and thankfully much friendlier to the USA) party in minority power; it is entirely possible that there will be a Conservative majority Parliament after the next election.

Of course, the analogy isn't perfect; the existing Conservative party is still to the left of the Democrat party - which should tell you just how far left the old PCs had swung. However, it can be done. It takes a lot of hard work to do it, and there are growing pains which involve weeding out some really extreme fringe elements that tend to latch on to new political movements.

But, it can't be done by a half-hearted effort, which is where I think that first axiom has tripped up Porretto - it isn't enough to defeat the Republicans to make them change their ways, you have to defeat them utterly and also have a conservative alternative waiting to take over the Republican base - you can't wipe them out and "fix" them, expecting a long term change, you have to wipe them out completely and be ready to start over before they are wiped out. If the conservative base in the Republican party actually wants to have a conservative representation in Washington, then they will have to form a conservative party and drain the lifeblood out of the Republican party. It is too late to do that before this election. However, if they start their grass-roots movement now, then by 2012 they will make serious inroads into the base of the Republican party.

The hardest part is convincing people that the nominally conservative party has truly abandoned its conservative base, and that a fresh start is needed. After that, you have to keep people's attention long enough, and consistently apply conservative principles along the way, to build your new conservative party up into a party that stands a chance of electing a President and/or a majority of seats in Congress and the Senate. If the USA follows Canada's example, that could take twenty years or more. Even if it takes two generations, the results for your grandchildren will be worth the effort.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Liveblogging Mars Phoenix landing

4:35 pm PST: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has started the software that will allow it to track the Phoenix during Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL)

4:37 PST: expecting the MRO to start receiving data in 2 minutes 30 seconds

4:38 PST: why the hell is Mike Griffin at the JPL mission control, wearing a blue t-shirt and looking like he's doing something?

4:39 PST: cruise stage separation, a UHF signal has been received by MRO Mars Odyssey.

4:43 PST: MRO now has signal as well. Atmospheric entry in 1 minute 35 seconds

4:45 PST: by the way, all these times and signals received are about 20 minutes late due to light speed delay. If the Phoenix landed safely, then it already happened and we just won't know until 20 minutes after the fact. all those folks in JPL aren't actually doing anything right now, they're just watching

4:48 PST: peak heating, and yet we are still seeing a signal from Phoenix via Odyssey, even through the plasma generated by the ablation of the heat shield

4:50 PST: parachute deployment. The next big thing is separation of Phoenix from the parachute and ignition of its landing rockets

4:53 PST: it's plummeting

4:54 PST: touchdown signal detected. The numbers being called out by the guy at mission control suggested that it was falling much faster than it should have been, but so far it looks like it didn't lithobrake.