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August 27, 2009

More Conservative Than Liberal

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

An interesting new poll from Gallup has found that -- despite the number of Dems currently in political office -- more Americans self-identify as conservative than as liberal in all 50 states. A not-suprising conclusion: "While Americans' party identification and political ideology are related, they are by no means one and the same."



posted by Michael at August 27, 2009


When I was a young man (play opening chord of song), fighting against the "status quo" and struggling for "change" seemed to be unquestionable virtues.

Now that I'm an old man (chord change), I wonder what in the hell is the result if you're always destroying the status quo and changing everything.

The status quo often contains many good things that should be preserved.

Music is a good object lesson. Although many people think that 60s popular music was a dramatic change from the past, in fact it was a return to the past. Musicians rediscovered the roots of American folk music forms like blues, traditional country and folk.

As each year passed, and musicians became ever more determined to be innovative, the music got worse instead of better. Is it any surprise that everybody is nostalgic for good old roots based 60s music?

Blowing everything up every few years is a disaster. Unfortunately, the youth culture orientation of America is producing precisely that result. To keep the kids happy, we all seem to have agreed to stage a cultural revolution every generation. Fixing things here and there as they need fixed is a more sensible solution.

I plead guilty to harboring the liberal notion that everything must be changed when I was young. Like many Boomers, I often wonder how to repair the damage that I helped cause.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on August 27, 2009 8:58 AM

Well, that comment explains a lot about your dislike of liberalism: you have no idea what you're talking about (a suspicion I've had for a long time, thanks for the confirmation). Liberals don't want to change "everything", only "everything that's broken". Slavery, woman's rights to vote, marriage available to all citizens, etc, etc. Changing music is the purview of the music industry.

But, to the article: I think it's an interesting interpretation they've put up there. Are "most" Americans conservative? I don't think most Americans could tell you the difference. That being said, the results of the poll are interesting as they show a steady decline in conservatism, especially in the South.

Posted by: Upstate Guy on August 27, 2009 11:37 AM

And yet there's the radical trad trap, where you seek to return to roots so distant that they're effectively alien, and therefore to impose such drastic changes in the name of "tradition" that you become a de facto revolutionary. A conservative who takes the piecemeal approach ST writes about above has to reject all forms of rejectionism, including those that harken back to simpler times, as if any growth or efflorescence or complexification is necessarily a kind of corruption.

I say this because I am struggling with an aspect of my return to Catholicism, where my attraction to traditional Catholicism, Latin mass, Gregorian chant, etc., simply distances me from the actual practices of today's Catholics. This oppositional stance appeals to the elitist in me, the sneerer at vulgarity and sentimentalism...and is, I think, dangerous to my soul. The trad movement in Catholicism, ironically rather like liberals or radicals, questions Papal authority, dismisses whole swathes of actual Catholic life as phony meretricious emptiness, and ends up sounding a lot like the people who disdain the actual flawed human world of people as they are, but from the radical revolutionary side.

Conservatism, in my view, is not traditionalism, which is a kind of radicalism at root. Anyway, sorry for the maundering, but I am beginning to suspect that I must deliberately mortify my trad elitist reactionary aka revolutionary oppositional side in order to grow in my faith.

But much modern Catholicism, the Mass, the translations of the Bible, the hymns, is just a bunch of dreck!

Sigh. Mortify, Patrick. Mortify...

Posted by: PatrickH on August 27, 2009 12:19 PM

Right on ST. I agree wholeheartedly.

But a change might be in the air. I only have my teenage boys and their friends to go on, but they take it as axiomatic that music and films suck now and were far better in the past. They seem to date the decline as occurring sometime in the 70s. Now, it might be that they're taking their cues from their curmudgeon father, but I don't think so.

If this is at all common, it's a watershed moment. So far it's been a standard thing that each generation thought what went before was outmoded and silly.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on August 27, 2009 12:55 PM

Upstate Guy, that was one of the most deliberately dishonest posts ever on this site.

The right of women to vote and the eradication of slavery were already in place before you and I were born. You know this, too.

Good try, though.

To equate these issues with gay marriage is the ultimate in intellectual dishonesty. In fact, it's laughable.

Gays aren't being deprived of anything. If anything, they are the coddled spoiled brats of this society.

As Steve Sailer so aptly stated: gay liberation caused the AIDS epidemic. I lived through the AIDS epidemic, so I can see through experience that this is true. It was a mistake for gays to come out of the closet. Just like the rest of us heteros, they should be quiet and keep their sex lives to themselves.

You've touched on precisely the issue that displays the stupidity of liberalism. There is no great civil rights issue remaining to be fought. You, Upstate Guy, are addicted to the moral cause crap. Like Chris White, you need the fix of playing the game of sanctimonious moral posturing.

The gay rights movement has been a fraud from the beginning. There never was a campaign of violence and repression aimed at gays. What gays really needed to fear was the open expression of their sexuality in a society that ceased demanding that they behave themselves. Gay liberation caused the deaths of tens of thousands of gay men.

That was an idiot bit, Upstate Guy. But, thank you for proving my point. The problem for the past 50 years has been this liberal attempt to equate the minor grievances of middle class women, and the nonexistent grievances of gays, to the status of blacks in the Jim Crow South. This crap, Mr. Upstate Guy, is what poisoned the well and turned liberalism into a dirty word. Your mind is completely corrupted with said crap.

And, now... a whole shit load of idiots will step forward to cry "Bigot!" "You want to kill gays!" Jesus, has this part of liberalism become a tiresome dog and pony show.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on August 27, 2009 1:38 PM

A typically penetrating insight from Upstate Guy:

"Liberals just want to change...everything that's broken."

Well, that explains it! I must say it is a privilege and honor beyond the power of language to even be in the presence of a liberal like Upstate, a member of what is by liberals' own estimation...

...the finest greatest most caring and insightful and beautiful and honest and all around just plain amazingly cool and totally correct about everything political orientation of all time.

"Slavery, right of women to vote blah blah blah fishcakes..."

Well, okay that explains it! Except that slavery was "fixed" by Republicans, wasn't it?

Maybe Republicans were liberals back then. If they did any good at all in the world, they could not have been anything else. Because...

Sillyjism the umpteenth from UG:

All broken bad things are fixed by liberals.
Slavery was bad and broken.
Republicans "fixed" it.
Republicans were liberal.

I remain conservatively yours,

Posted by: PatrickH on August 27, 2009 3:07 PM

Patrick H,

I say this because I am struggling with an aspect of my return to Catholicism, where my attraction to traditional Catholicism, Latin mass, Gregorian chant, etc., simply distances me from the actual practices of today's Catholics.

As a former Catholic, I wonder why you are doing this. There is no magic in the Latin Mass or Gregorian Chant over the Novus Ordo. I did the same thing for a while, until I realized that the problem was Roman Catholicism itself.

I would offer that if you seem not to be getting anything out of Mass, it is time for a change. But in the spirit of the previous posts, you'd be better off going back to the source and actually reading the Bible itself, rather than listening to the priests.

The message of the Bible is quite different than the message of Roman Catholicism. That's why the RCC doesn't teach it or encourage Catholics to read it. The RCC is merely a religious business, dispensing "sacraments" that will never save you. We can't perfect ourselves, or make up for our sins. Thus Christ. The Gospel is salvation. Huge difference.

If I might make a recommendation, you could start with Paul's epistle to the Galatians. In less than 6 pages you'll get the entire Gospel, and more religious insight than 30 years of going to any RCC church. I sure did.

Posted by: Greg on August 27, 2009 4:29 PM

Personally, I like the analogy that can be roughly paraphrased:

A man walks down an old road and comes to a gate across the road with no obvious purpose.

A Liberal thinks "I don't see any reason why the gate here is closed, and it obstructs traffic", and leaves the gate open.

A Conservative thinks "Someone thought it was necessary to build a gate across this road, so until I know why, I'll leave the gate the closed."

It's one of my favorite analogies because it captures the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. Sometimes, the way things are is just an artifact of inertia. And sometimes, the way things are represents a wisdom that isn't obvious at first, or even second, glance.

Not being an American, I like the fact that American society encompasses both a Liberal side that has led the world in progressive policies in the last 50 years and at the same time embodies a deeply Conservative side that anchors the traditional values of the Western world.

It's an example of the amazing strength that comes from being able to contain such significant contrasts.

Posted by: Tom West on August 27, 2009 4:43 PM

"New"? Michael, there have been polls showing that more Americans are conservative than liberal for years, and yet we have a radical leftist president and a leftist party in charge of both houses of Congress. Meanwhile, the ostensibly conservative party keeps creeping to the left every year.

I venture that at least half of the people questioned in this poll have no idea what conservatism is.

Posted by: Ferdinand Bardamu on August 27, 2009 5:28 PM

Tom, America has no meaningful conservative tradition. It's all variations on liberalism, with the arguments being about how fast. Europe has real conservatives and the US is just not hospitable to that type of thinking at all.

Greg, thanks for the concern, but it's not that I'm getting nothing out of the sacraments. It's that so many of the innovations of the last 40 years or so in the Church have drained much of the sacramental energy, the salvific efficacy, out of the sacraments, emasculating them by accommodating them to a modernity whose very premises are alien and hostile to the Church.

I share your view of the absolute centrality of Paul to Christianity. I am currently working my way slowly through Romans, using some very serious old school Protestant commentators like John Darby to help me out. Are you familiar with Darby? I must confess the sheer radicalism of Paul's vision is breathtaking and Darby gets that across in language almost as vivid and powerful as that of Paul himself.

I otherwise don't share many of your views about the Church. My frustrations are those of someone who has returned firmly to his Catholic roots, more a family quarrel than a genuine sense that the Church has nothing to offer. I think it has much to offer me, an infinite bounty of riches, in fact. I regret only that it's taken me so long to return and to begin exploring its treasures.

As for Bible knowledge and study, a convert to Catholicism named Scott Hahn is doing some very good work getting Catholics to seriously engage with the Bible, an area where, compared to Protestants, Catholics have too often been laggards. You might want to check out his work at


Posted by: PatrickH on August 27, 2009 8:18 PM

Ferdinand Bardamu:

I venture that at least half of the people questioned in this poll have no idea what conservatism is.

Well, I'd be curious to hear your definition -- what is it? Frankly, what I read from the intellectuals of the establishment conservatism suggests that their ideas are even more mushy-headed than those of the self-identified conservative common folk. Of course, all of them completely lack any historical awareness that they're equivalent to centrists from a generation ago -- or leftists from two generations ago -- merely falling somewhat behind the slow, but inexorable leftward march of the political mainstream.

All these squabbles over what "true" conservatism is supposed to be are nothing but disagreements about the question that is obvious in such a situation, and yet never plainly stated, since it would reveal the absurdity and the disastrous track record of the whole "conservative movement: what would have been the optimal point at which this leftward march should have stopped? Yes, they'll occasionally slow down the advance of some new social engineering insanity and buy some time, but on the whole, their attitude is as hopeless as a man in free fall from the 50th floor contemplating which floor it would be nice to magically stop at. If the present ideological hegemony is ever to be broken in a non-cataclysmic way, this will require an intellectual basis very different from anything that can be found in any wing of the "conservative movement."

Posted by: Vladimir on August 27, 2009 8:33 PM

Vlad -- Mainstream contempo conservatives are often pretty embarrassing, but the classic thinkers are often awe-inspiring. In the hands of people like Burke and Oakeshott, conservatism isn't just a matter of applying the brakes from time to time. It's a whole different way of going about things.

Here's a decent intro to Oakeshott, my fave philosopher:


Hey, for a stimulating discussion of the variety of conservatism known as traditionalist conservatism, give our interview with Jim Kalb a try. Jim's great.

All three parts of the q&a can be reached from this posting:


If you dig Jim's brain and writing, his book is great too.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 27, 2009 8:43 PM


I would offer that if you seem not to be getting anything out of Mass, it is time for a change. But in the spirit of the previous posts, you'd be better off going back to the source and actually reading the Bible itself, rather than listening to the priests.

Trouble is, if you read the Bible itself without interpreting it according to a tradition (whether Catholic or other), you can extract whatever conclusions you want from it. Throughout history, countless people smarter than either you or me have managed to construct a myriad different theologies and ecclesiologies, and even all sorts of secular ideologies, based on their scriptural readings and interpretations. The Bible is simply not a book that gives any definite answers without a strong and decisive tradition to guide one's reading and interpretation.

I would guess that the teachings you get from the Bible are somewhere in the tradition of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. If you believe that these teachings are a pure and straightforward interpretation of the Bible itself, without a decisive influence from any other traditional authority, you're fooling yourself. It's just that this particular Protestant tradition -- or rather a complex of intertwining smaller traditions -- is not based on hierarchical authority and apostolic succession like the Catholic one. (Of course, this also causes endless splits and rapid fragmentation into small religious communities organized around personal charismatic authority that fills the gaps left by this incomplete and informal tradition.)

Posted by: Vladimir on August 27, 2009 8:47 PM

Michael Blowhard:

Hey, for a stimulating discussion of the variety of conservatism known as traditionalist conservatism, give our interview with Jim Kalb a try. Jim's great.

I'm familiar with Jim Kalb's work, and I greatly appreciate it. However, people like Kalb are completely outside the tradition of the American post-WW2 conservative movement in that they actually question the fundamental tenets of liberalism, instead of just focusing on fighting one losing battle after another on particular issues. (Lawrence Auster came up with probably the best analysis of the underlying dynamics of these futile struggles with his concept of unprincipled exception.) So, when I criticize conservatives in general, I don't have in mind consistent traditionalists like Kalb or Auster; the problem with the "movement conservatives" is that unlike them, they eventually give up ground on every issue and become little more than just yesterday's version of their own enemies.

Posted by: Vladimir on August 27, 2009 9:35 PM


Trouble is, if you read the Bible itself without interpreting it according to a tradition (whether Catholic or other), you can extract whatever conclusions you want from it.

That is complete BS. If you've never read it, then just admit it. I don't need to get into arguments with people about a book that they have never read.

The Bible is the central text of western civilization. To say that you've never read it is to be ignorant of western culture, period. There's no excuse for that kind of laziness. I'm sure you have lots of time for other books though.

Patrick H,

I'm just trying to warn you that the ornate will sooner be commonplace than you might imagine.

Paul's epistle to the Galatians is a mere 6 pages long. But if that's out of your way, I'll try to succinctly give you the Gospel message you won't hear from the Roman Catholic priests, but comes directly from the Word of God:

1) The punishment of all sins is death. God has made it clear that no sinner will enter the kingdom of God.

2) All deserve death due to trespass and sin.

3) We cannot "make up for" or erase our sins in any way, even by good deeds or "sacraments". We retain them until Judgement Day.

4) But God has offered us a way to salvation--if Jesus Christ agrees to do so, all our sin will be transferred to Him, and God the Father will forgive Him for our sins, because Christ led a perfect life. Then we are sinless in God's eyes.

5) Jesus has agreed to be our advocate if we understand that we ourselves cannot earn our salvation or perfect ourselves, and choose Him as our only way to salvation. We must choose to follow his two Commandments (though we will fail from time to time), and advocate for Him, and he then will be our advocate.

6) Those who do not do this will retain their sins, and be repaid the wages of sin, which are death and Hell.

That's why no one comes to God the Father except through Jesus Christ.

The "sacraments" of the RCC expressly say the opposite, that we can purify and clease ourselves in this world, even with our fallen, mortal, sinful bodies and hearts. If you could perfect yourself here on earth, then there would be no need for Christ. It is a false Gospel.

If you don't want to believe it, then that's your choice, obviously. I'm just trying to tell you the truth, that's all.

Posted by: Greg on August 28, 2009 1:45 AM


If you've never read it [the Bible], then just admit it. I don't need to get into arguments with people about a book that they have never read.

You didn't read my comment carefully. You can't possibly deny that if multiple people read the Bible completely independently, without recourse to a common established extra-biblical tradition that directs their exegesis, theology, and ecclesiology, chances are they'll come to wildly different conclusions. Just observe how many Christian denominations and sects there are, each of whose members swear that they are just following the plain direct teaching they read from the Bible, and how much their beliefs differ. My main point is that you're wrong to attack the Catholic Church for imposing its own layers of scriptural interpretation and non-scriptural tradition -- because whatever your theology might be, you're doing the same, whether consciously or not, only within a different tradition.

You can of course claim that there is only one true theology (and morality, ecclesiology, etc.) that follows from a straightforward reading of the Bible, and that everyone who subscribes to a different Bible-based doctrine is either dishonest or deluded. Fair enough; I don't mind an honest position like that at all, no matter how sectarian it might be. Yet, in practice you'll notice that people who try to derive a coherent doctrine from the Bible will need some firm guidance, lest they stray and end up with at least some conclusions substantially different from yours. Effectively, this means that you are imposing an additional extra-biblical tradition on them, even if I concede that it's all true.

Posted by: Vladimir on August 28, 2009 2:31 AM

I wonder if conservatives should get too deep-and-delvy about their "identity". We could end up with our own economic models and climate models...and, with the patronising consent of the NYT and Guardian, being represented by crossover types like McCain, or Turnbull in Oz.

Lately there was a peculiar but well received article that dismissed Edmund Burke's beliefs and politics as dated and nasty affairs, then deftly reconstituted him as some kind of proto-organic-foodie. This was on the flimsy grounds that he was a traditional guy and local organic food is traditional stuff, ergo...

Conservatives are made of snips and snails and puppy-dog tails. We distrust eggheads, essay-talkers, and those who try to legislate human nature. That's mainly what we know about ourselves.

As to picking leaders, wait for the the Clever People to exclaim: "You can't possibly be serious!" Then choose that guy - or girl!

Posted by: Robert Townshend on August 28, 2009 4:10 AM

Sorry Greg, you lost me completely when you assumed without reason that Vladimir hasn't read the Bible. My guess is, he has. Vlad has read everything. :-) Speaking from personal experience, I recommend you don't challenge him without reading him carefully first. Then re-reading him. Vlad is a very serious guy and writes serious comments. He deserves to be read and responded to seriously, which you did not do.

You also appear to have no understanding of precisely the presence, factual, actual, real presence of Jesus in the sacraments, especially of course the Eucharist. You don't have to believe any of it, of course, any more than an atheist does. But you should, if only out of charity, try to characterize what you're criticizing correctly and fairly.

And speaking of charity and leaders and politics...

I am sorry to say I was actually happy when I heard of Ted Kennedy's death. I was afraid that he would linger long enough to help put through an immigration amnesty (Win one for the Swimmer!), thereby sealing his utterly destructive legacy with one last kill-America-now piece of legislation.

Instead, I must summon my small reserves of charity and wish Teddy godspeed...and the forgiveness of Mary Jo Kopechne, with whom he might just be having a bit of a "chat" right now.

Posted by: PatrickH on August 28, 2009 10:32 AM

Conservatives are made of snips and snails and puppy-dog tails. We distrust eggheads, essay-talkers, and those who try to legislate human nature. That's mainly what we know about ourselves.

That's good. I like that formulation.

I'm extremely skeptical about myself. I'm all too aware of my own foolishness, avarice, tendency toward err, lustfullness, etc. In other words, I know that I'm a sinner.

I think, somehow, that this makes me a little less inclined toward corruption than otherwise, although that may be conceit as well.

When I encounter people who are not deeply skeptical about themselves (i.e., folks like Upstate Guy and Chris White), I'm doubly suspicious. They don't seem to know that they are sinners. This seems, to me, to be very dangerous.

I don't know whether liberalism changed during my lifetime, or whether I changed. In any event, this is where liberalism is headed... We will all be part of the the LGBTTIQQ2S community!

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on August 28, 2009 10:37 AM

Late to the party, I know, but I just thought I'd point out that this has more to do with the success Republicans have had with turning "liberal" into a dirty word than it does with people's actual political orientations. Ask them about actual policy questions and I bet a whole lot more people will give you the "liberal" answer than the "conservative" one.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on August 29, 2009 1:13 PM

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