Friday, August 12, 2005

The Center: Land of Con-Fusion?

[Cross-posted on AmbivaBlog]

The very name is enough to warm an ambivalent's heart. Heck, I can be pro and con the same thing at the same time!

They're Progressive Conservatives, in the U.K., Canada, and now the U.S. The term has legs. Jude Wanniski, one of the founding fathers of supply-side economics, coined it in 1979 to describe the Reaganauts, and Randy Piper, Ph.D., MBA (that's how he signs his posts) re-coined it, all unknowing, in 2004. I've described myself as a Proservative or a Congressive, so I can already relate. They've anointed themselves the Next Big Thing in conservatism, and they're storming the blogosphere with an e-mail blitz. Here's their U.S. website.

Who are these guys?

The first thing you notice about them is that they're good, almost too good, with a slogan. They've got this Branding-Framing thing down and screaming for mercy:

• Diffusion of Con-Fusion: The Birth of a Political Brand.
• Bridge Brand: Pro-Con Fusionism
• The Progressive Conservative ReView & ReKnew
• PURPLE Federalism
• Rubric's Cube [ow!]
• Progressive Conservatism is the Growth DNA for Conservatism.
• Dr Gingrich is a great policy synnovator. [a blend of synthesis and innovation]
• [Michael] Moore is Less.
• Read ON...and...Right ON!!
• a Grand Unifying-Perspiring-Inspiring Metaphor (GUPIM)

Here's their "Values Portfolio" (an expression which all by itself melds principle and profit, doing well and doing good):

• Freedom, Family, Faith
• Peace, Prosperity, Progress
• Rewards for Risks, Risks for Rewards
• Tradition, Tolerance, Technology
• Ownership, Opportunity
• Rights, Responsibilities
• Pursuit of Happiness, Pursuit of Hope
• Health, Wealth
• Steadfast Security

You can hardly argue with that. But look closer -- it's more than just clever, or blandly inclusive. It's a true fusion (or as they'd probably say, con-fusion) cuisine. Look at "Tradition, Tolerance, Technology." The notion that tradition and tolerance could ever coexist is a novel, if not a naïve, one. And yet that's what's going to have to happen if people insist on preserving their ancient identities and beliefs in a modern, global world. Will technology bring traditions into violent contact and conflict, or will it become the culture medium of their coexistence, their mutual respect? Is the latter pure wishful thinking -- or something that is already happening?

Getting down to brass tacks, from an essay called "Diffusion Of Con-Fusion: The Birth of a Political Brand" (my paraphrases are in brackets):

• Pro-Cons are fiscal conservatives and supporters of private property rights.
• We believe in smaller and smarter government.
• Pro-Cons defend most markets at most places at most times. [But not all markets, such as, say, markets in fetal tissue.]
• Like Neo-Cons, Pro-Cons believe that humans do not live by bread alone. . . . Incentive-based economics is important, but not primary. [In other words, these are values conservatives, not utilitarian libertarians.]
• Pro-Cons stake claim to the metaphor of Eagles. We are neither doves nor hawks. . . . Think of Pro-Cons as “constrained” Neo-Cons [who believe in "Peace Through Strength" and in pushing dictatorships toward democracy, but not necessarily in military action, at least not as a rash first resort.]
• [Pro-Cons are context-aware globalists, and border protectors who don't believe America's door should be wide open -- or tight shut.]
• Pro-Cons support the movement toward freer and fairer international trade.
• [Government can play a limited role in incentivizing responsible corporate behavior, retraining displaced workers, and protecting the environmental commons from free-lunch exploitation and degradation.]

Particularly interesting is their way of handling divisive social issues like abortion and gay marriage. Rather than tackle them head-on with a one-size-fits-all set of values, or seek a broadly acceptable compromise, ProCons fall back on federalism:
Pro-Cons are social moderates and social conservatives . . . commingling . . . Our general decision rule is that Federalism should apply to most social issues at most times. Many, if not most, social issues should be decided by the states and even by counties, not by the national government. [The example here is Nevada, which allows each of its counties to decide if it will legalize or ban prostitution.]

By embracing and celebrating this division of powers, we think that the perpetual conflict generated by divisive social issues will subside somewhat. Equally important, the states as laboratories of democracy will produce a diverse set of options that individuals and families can incorporate into their respective moral and religious value systems. These decision-makers will be better able to choose a mix of values and recognize a series of trade-offs. For example, some states may offer better economic opportunities but not offer equally attractive social value conditions.
This envisions a United States even more morally Balkanized than it already is; one wonders if the Union would even hold together. I prefer Randy's frank admission that "I am pro-choice and pro-life" (in other words -- he's Pro-Con!), and his inability to resist proposing a national compromise strategy that would both permit and discourage first-trimester abortion.

Who Pro-Cons admire:

• Ronald Reagan (their Abraham Lincoln, it seems)
Newt Gingrich
Rudy Giuliani
Christie Whitman
• Jack Kemp
• Arnold Schwarzenegger
• Frank Meyer (former senior editor of National Review, who conceived of "Fusionism," a way to reconcile the traditionalist and libertarian wings of the conservative movement)

I'm sort of liveblogging my reading of the Pro-Con website. Right about now I'm thinking this movement should really be named TradLib instead of Pro-Con, but never mind. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that the "Progressive" in Pro-Con suggests some sort of reconciliation or fusion with liberals-by-any-other-name:
Pro-Cons will yield neither the content nor the package of “progress” to liberals. Pro-Cons will not surrender the present or the future use of “progressive” to liberals. As conservatives, we reclaim and wear proudly the progress and progressive mantles!
In other words, these folks are staking out the center-right. Their bottom line, in the words of Lee Edwards of the Heritage Foundation:
The core fundamental [is] "the freedom of the person, the central and primary end of political society." The state [has] only three limited functions: national defense, the preservation of domestic order, and the administration of justice between citizens.
Whew! I'm exhausted. I've got metaphor fatigue. The more I look at it, the more I realize this site is manned and written singlehandedly by Randy Piper, who must be one of those hypomanics that supposedly supercharge America -- his exuberance is in overdrive as he goes about "planting the intellectual seed capital" for this new movement (is the right metaphor here Randy Appleseed, or a prize bull?). Here's his bio:
Randy Piper, Ph.D., M.B.A., M.P.S. . . . Randy has worked on new product development and technology transfer projects for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Southeast Manufacturing Technology Center, and the Department of Energy. He has worked on projects for libertarian and conservative think tanks, including the Reason Public Policy Institute, Heartland Institute, and Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE). He was designated a Salvatori Fellow by the Heritage Foundation from 1991-1993.

Randy has conceptualized and invented various systems, including PESOP—Public Employee Stock Ownership Plan in “Employee Options Under Privatization.” He also developed the Piper Education Inverted J-Curve (not to be confused with the Laffer Curve). The Piper Curve reveals the relationship between public school expenditures and performance outcomes.
Randy thinks that Progressive Conservatism has the potential to forge an alliance between people who proudly identify themselves as conservative and centrists who don't. As a centrist, I'm not put off by the conservative label, but I did have to peel off the annoying marketing shrink-rap to get to the meat:
Though the Pro-Con sub-brand has not been formally formulated and introduced to our lexicon and discourse, we believe that this sub-brand has great appeal to those currently loyal to the Conservative master brand. Moreover, we think that the Pro-Con intellectual product will have immense appeal to those who are not currently loyal to the Conservative brand.
Now the next time a Pro-Con comes at you, you'll know: it's not a pushme-pullyou, but possibly someone you can make common cause with when we're pegging down that big tent in the center -- as long as he speaks English.


At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But did you pick up on the dates on his posts. I think it's someone trying to be humorous, rather than serious. Too bad, because he actually has some sensible things to say . . . apparently by accident.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger JBD said...

Seems like they might have some good nuggests in there, but are much too worried about branding over actually saying anything. Looks like they're trying too hard to be "slick" to me.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Jerry said...

Pro-Cons admire Ronald Reagan? Newt Gingrich? Urrp.

Sorry if this is more reaction than thought, but that doesn't sound centrist to me. What's next, Centrists for Ted Kennedy and Dennis Kucinich?

At 3:19 PM, Blogger Maggie said...

Doesn't sound very centrist to me either, Jerry.

At 5:08 PM, Blogger amba said...

If you look at the ideas, though, they do have a right-center slant. My point at the end of the post is, the left center can at least work with the right center.

I agree that they are trying waaay too hard with the branding . . . having so much fun branding that they've almost forgotten what the "intellectual product" (what a phrase!) was in the first place. They need to take the advice that -- who was it, Matt Bai, in the NYT Magazine, gave to Democrats: it's not enough to have a better package -- there has to be something in it.

A lot of that website was written in 2004; it's just being promoted now. The more I look at it and the long chain of e-mails that introduced it, the more it looks like one kinda manic guy.

At 8:02 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

I have a natural recoil reaction anytime I see that much marketing lingo in political discourse. I've written here on many occasions on the negative effects of marketing techniques when used to promote political or governmental ends. I know we cannot remove marketing tricks from politics, I just feel strongly that Centrists, if anything, are anti-b.s. While the "how-you-say-it" is important (there is much to admire in the well-spoken man or woman), the "what-you-want" and "how-you-plan-to-get-it" are by far the more important factors.

So I am concerned that the pro-cons are putting message before substance. Instead of believing in the product they are pinning their efforts on the marketing. That makes me, in turn, question the depth and "realness" of their convictions.

Nevertheless, I've come to consider myself a bit of a conservative progressive in the sense that my goals of social justice an equality are often in-line with typical liberal progressives, but I gravitate to solutions that come from a more conservative mindset--the belief that government should help foster opportunity but shouldn't use a heavy hand in doing so and should always try to create more equality through expanding freedoms for everyone and curtailing them for no one.

So, perhaps beneath the mumbo-jumbo there's something to this whole pro-con idea. But it needs to shuck the b.s. and get to the meat.

At 9:56 PM, Blogger amba said...

Seriously, the more I look at it the more I wonder whether the whole movement, at least the U.S. part of it, is just one overenthusiastic guy (who's virtually cloned himself to appear to be a movement), whose compulsive verbal play is a symptom of mania. Which is making me seriously consider removing the post. What do y'all think??

At 10:10 PM, Blogger amba said...

Take a look at the 5 core values on the British site. "a Progressive holds the centre-right ground on most issues, but is not afraid to take a further step to the left or right if necessary and still within the framework of the five core values." The five are: mother nation (as opposed to nanny state), good neighbor (help yourself, but not at others' expense), one for all (entrepreneurial individualism that doesn't go off the deep end of selfishness but benefits society), majority rule (of, for, by the people, not the political class or the special interests), and "clear water" (transparency and accountability; what we call "sunshine" and the Russians call glasnost.)

Just common sense -- veddy British variety.

At 7:39 PM, Blogger AubreyJ said...

Sorry to change topic.....
Heads-up on this one…
I’m not really sure what to think on this. But I think they found some WMD. "Possible Chemical Production Facility found in Iraq" So DoD says...

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Jerry said...

aubreyj: Source?

At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Aakash said...

One conservative Republican political leader in my state had a radio show called "The Progressive Conservative," but that was likely in a very-different context than the term's usage here.

Thank you for making us aware of this new "movement" of sorts... (or whatever it is...) - This is the first that I recall hearing of it - I don't know if we'll be seeing much more of this school of thought in the future... but thanks for introducing some of us to it. This entry seems detailed, and seems to provide a good overview of this topic.

Keep up the good work at this site.


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