Conservativism is the real "Reality Based Community" in America
The conservative movement constitutes an alliance of those who accept unchangeable facts rather than trying to wish fantasy into reality, remake human nature, or avoid economic tradeoffs. Traditionalists embrace timeless morals, even when they deny one immediate gratification. Libertarians embrace the sovereignty of consumer demand and the sometimes-disorienting effects of technological change, even when the result isn’t to one’s personal liking. And hawks embrace the reality that America lives in a dangerous neighborhood, one full of bullies, pirates, and fanatics who respond to gestures of good will with contempt, larceny, and brutality.
As I have written before, Conservatives accept the unchangeable facts of life and then endeavor to change the things that can be changed. The techniques that conservatives embrace to make changes are steady, incremental, preserving as much of the pre-existing good as possible while minimizing the harm inflicted by their changes by testing the results and readjusting the changes as required. And when they stay with their principles, conservatives do not endeavor to change human nature, adopt a Pollyanna-ish view of the affairs of nations of the world, or value the contributions of cohesive groups of people more than they value the unique, God-created men and women of whom the groups are composed.
The Civil Rights Act of 1957 is an example of a conservative change. The President was a popular Republican and the General responsible for Allied victory in World War 2. He was the commander responsible for actually integrating the US military, which had been officially segregated previously. Eisenhower learned from his experience desegregating the military the vast increase in national strength that would result from the end of segregation. Both the House and Senate were majority Democrat. No Civil Rights Acts, no Acts with the two words "civil" and "rights" in the title, had been passed by Congress since 1875, which a Democrat-appointed Supreme Court struck down. The 1957 act, originally proposed by President Eisenhower, was so loathed by the majority party that Senate majority leader and future President Lyndon Baines Johnson cut out all the tough original measures leaving only a shadow of the original bill. Democrats such as Strom Thurmond filibustered the bill longer than any bill had been filibustered in American legislative history, with Thurmond actually speaking continuously on the Senate floor for 24 hours to prevent a vote for cloture from being taken. Both Al Gore, Sr. and John Fitzgerald Kennedy voted against the 1957 Act. And though the Act was watered down by the Democrats, a watery soup familiar to all those who lived through the Great Depression, it established a bipartisan Civil Rights commission that was given the task to investigate civil violations of voting rights in addition to the criminal violations that could already be investigated, a Civil Rights Commission in the Justice Department, and allowed the Justice Department to intervene in state and local voting rights cases. Gail Heriot testified at the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Act:
Without the 1957 Act, there may well have been no Civil Rights Act of 1960, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Fair Housing Act of 1968 or Education Amendments of 1972. Seen in this light, the 1957 Act does not seem puny at all; it was, rather, Congress’s first step on a long-overdue journey.
And let us remember that that the path that Congress had to travel from 1957 to 1964 was marked and paved by Abe Lincoln and his fellow Republicans who held the country together, emancipated the black slaves with the 13th Amendment, passed the 14th Amendment to grant citizenship to blacks, and passed the 15th Amendment to allow all black Americans to vote. The Republican party was originally founded out of the scraps of the Whigs as the anti-Slavery party, which explains why the former slave states were solidly Democrat, with an admixture of KKK, for a hundred years after 1860 until the civil rights transformation of the 1960s nailed shut the coffin of government sponsored segregation. And it explains why great civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass were registered Republicans, as were almost all black Americans of the time. Even Jackie Robinson was a Republican.
I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress.-- Frederick Douglass (c. 1817–95)
Though black voter registration actually dropped in the South after the 1957 act, the advances in the law and its obvious weaknesses led to the Civil Rights Act of 1960, also signed by Eisenhower, which did produce modest gains in black voter registration in a year, and with the Freedom Rides that began in 1960 led to the entire civil rights movement that managed to overthrow the last vestiges of the segregationist Southern Democrats' Jim Crow laws.
And so the incremental approach, the racing plan of the Tortoise against the scatterbrained Hare, was proved out.
When the spread of civil rights varied from this plan, for instance with the rash of radical legislating by the Judiciary that began in the 1960s (unbalancing the balance of power between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches as defined in the Constitution), bad ideas like the exclusionary rule that had never been passed by a legislature or even imagined to be reasonable by legislators became law.
But the growing dictatorship of the Judiciary is a totally different topic that deserves its own post, perhaps its own blog, even a book.
The realistic, incremental, results-tested approach of conservatives is responsible for almost all real world improvements to established traditions. If the desired goal is radical, novel, Kafka-esque remedies that are worse than the disease then sweeping changes based on ideology instead of real world data, without intermediate results-testing and incremental improvements, will do.
Which would you rather live in, the real world or the idealized world inside your head? For me, though it is cruel and surprising, I choose reality. So do my fellow American conservatives. And when the "progressives" and neocommies claim to be the "reality based community," I laugh at them in their delusion.
And when race-hustlers like Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young tarnish Dr. King's legacy on this day that bears his name, I judge them not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. That is as King would have wanted it.
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