The Center: Land of Con-Fusion?
[Cross-posted on AmbivaBlog]
PRO-CON. 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.]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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.