Michael Lind's "Up From Conservatism"
Jim Blair

Up From Conservatism: Why the Right is Wrong for America
By Michael Lind
The Free Press, 1996. 295 pages divided into an introduction, 10 chapters and epilogue with 10 pages of notes and a 12 page index.

In 1961 William F. Buckley published "Up From Liberalism", a sociological study of contemporary American Liberalism, pointing out its inconsistencies and flaws. 35 years later, Michael Lind tries to do the same for contemporary American Conservatism. Did he?

Yes, and no. It is a mixed success. He does point out some of the conservative contradictions, but on other issues he seems to be the one confused.

Who is Lind?

Michael Lind is a former Republican who voted for George Bush in 1988. He is a former editor of National Review and protege of William Buckley. And probably the "highest ranking" defector from the conservative movement.

While political conversions are not rare, they are more commonly from Left to Right. Whittaker Chambers (The Witness), David Horowitz (Radical Son), Elderige Cleaver (Soul on Ice), and the various yippies who later became yuppies. Usually they are the result of a change in the outlook of the person: they see the world in a new light; they change. (But some former Marxists who switch sides still retain the Marxist thought process, and become "mirror image Marxists".)

But Lind is an unusual turncoat; his claim is that it is the Right and the Republican Party that has changed more than he.

One of the major disagreements he has with the current Right is abortion. Recall that California Governor Ronald Reagan signed what was at the time one of the two most "liberal" state abortion laws. And while the Democrat Party and the press could hardly find the words to express how "extremist" Barry Goldwater was in 1964, he is both "pro-choice" and a supporter of "gays in the military".


Lind has a version of history which sees the "true conservatives" as being the "liberals" of the Progressive, New deal-FDR, Truman, LBJ and Hubert Humphrey tradition. What he calls "National Liberals". They ruled from 1932 until they were derailed by the Left-Liberals: upper class leftists, socialists and communists combined with the anti-Viet Nam and student radicals.

He sees the "National Liberals" as being the descendants of Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists. Once they were undermined, the Right won by default. There was then a bipartisan realignment that has elected rightist presidents from Jimmy Carter until Bill Clinton.

The right today

It is a mix of Religious Conservatives, Libertarians and gun nuts, with a fringe of anti-government militia; it is ruled by a small cabal that sets the policy with little or no debate. They are "radical" rather than "conservative", and derive from the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Brian. They try to convince the poor and (especially) the large Middle Class into voting for the interests of the rich by promoting a "culture war" against the Left-Liberals.

In the 1960's, the term "anti-government radical" meant a leftist who was against the CIA, FBI or Pentagon. Today it more likely means a rightist who is against the IRS or ATF.

American politics today

The Republican Party has adopted the "Southern Strategy" first attempted by Goldwater, and then successfully by Nixon. They "stole" the white southern racist vote from its historic home in the Democrat Party, and used it to win national elections.

He sees the US as divided into an "overclass" of rich that dominate both major political parties even though they are only about 10% of the population. They support free trade and almost unlimited immigration, both of which are against the interests of working class Americans. Ted Kennedy and Bill Buckley may be presented as being "opposites": Liberal vs Conservative. But both represent this overclass. The simple test of "overclass" status: do you have a "nanny" to look after your kids? Or a "cleaning lady?"

The key to understanding the US today is the 1948 election. The 4 candidates then were:

Henry Wallace (of the Left-Liberals), Harry Truman (the National Liberal=true conservative), Thomas Dewey (the neo-liberal, like Bush/Clinton today), Strom Thurman (the Conservative=Right Wing Republican by the standards of today).

Truman won then, but no one represents that position on the political spectrum today. Lind wants to revive it, and thinks that is where the real center of America is.

They (and Lind) want a strong military, work-not welfare, universal health care, campaign finance reform, abortion on demand, restricted immigration, higher taxes on the rich and lower taxes on the middle class, means tested entitlements, protectionism against foreign competition, and end to race based "affirmative action" and "identity politics". He is opposed to "busing" for racial balance and "Afrocentric education". An interesting mix of left and right.

Since neither party represents them today, the National Liberals have split their vote between Democrats and Republicans, and many went for Ross Perot.

Lind's sensible comments

On page 234, Lind makes the observation that the problem in America is "not too much government, but too many governments". He is referring to the many layers of state, county, school district, and city jurisdictions which overlap and often conflict.

And I can certainly see that in Madison: there about 10 different jurisdictions within the "city of Madison" including two villages, several towns, another city (Monona), and the University of Wisconsin (with its own police force). There is a Town of Madison located within the City of Madison, and two other cities (Middleton and Fitchburg) that border it in such a way that no one can tell when they leave one and enter the other. And to add to the confusion, some land belongs to the "Ho Chunk Nation", which claims the status of an independent country.

He has some fun with the "pro-family" Republicans who have dumped first wives to marry younger women. And novelists Bill Buckley, who denounces decadence in the arts, and talks the need for art and literature to promote civic virtue. But he writes novels, he know that sex sells. Blackford Oakes tops even James Bond in bedding the women.

Then there was the Phil Gramm porno-flick connection.

Lind is opposed to the tax free "Enterprise Zone" idea of Jack Kemp and others. His reasons are partly correct but incomplete. (he thinks the they would help the inner city poor, but at the expense of the unionized middle class). The real problem with the idea of tax exemption based on location can be seen if you consider the proposal to exempt everyone living in Washington DC from federal income taxes (to help those in the poor inner city). If adopted, rich yuppies would move to DC, buy out all the poor and send them elsewhere, then live tax free.

There is his observation that the "overclass" is glad to support measures to help the "poor", so long as the bill is sent to the "middle class".

Where Lind is all wet

But many of Lind's thoughts are confused. He is a big fan of FDR and Social Security, but he is opposed to that regressive "payroll tax". From his book you would could miss the fact that the bad regressive tax is Social Security! He has much to say about how unfair the proposed "flat tax" is, since it applies only to earned income. But at least the Forbes Flat tax was to apply to all income above $X; the FDR Flat Tax (SS) applies only to income below $63,000. He does not explain why he thinks that is fair.

On page 233 he asks "where were all the conservatives....when Japanese-Americans were being rounded up and put in concentration camps?" Well they were being rounded up under orders issued by his hero, President Franklin Roosevelt. And while FDR was generally supported in this by the "Liberal Establishment" including then California Attorney General (later Governor) Earl Warren, the Presidential Order was denounced in the Senate by the leader of the Republican Right, Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio.

For a few more examples of FDR's great "leadership" see my web page file "FDR and Calvin Coolidge", in the Politically Incorrect Zone.

Lind does not even understand that a law limiting people from spending money to promote causes or candidates is in conflict with the First Amendment, even if it is called "Campaign Finance Reform".

Single moms

He criticizes Charles Murray for wanting to make birth control more accessible to the poor, but he favors abortion. However this is an area where both Left and Right are confused. See my web page file on "Abortion: the Politics".

But he is also confused on the topic of single women having kids. He accuses the Right of using slanted statistics to imply that the rate at which single women have babies has increased, and that this is a factor in perpetuating poverty. Just because the percent of kids born to single women has increased from about 5% (before AFDC) to over 30% today, and over 80% in many inner city neighborhoods today, this cannot be the result of government or welfare policies. Why?

Well, he says, because the increase is due to married women having fewer kids rather than single women having more. This is what the text says. But then there is a figure printed to support the claim. Sure enough, the number of children per married woman has been falling (I bet you are surprised to learn that families are smaller!), but the same graph shows the number of kids per single black woman has nearly doubled (from just over one to about 2). His own chart shows that single black women now have more kids, on average, than married women (white or black).

So yes, the drop in the size of the married couple families has contributed to the very large increase in the percent of kids born to single women, it is not the whole story.

And I will point out that while government policy has been to pay single women who (to?) have kids, at the same time the child tax deduction for married couples has been drastically reduced in "constant dollars".

Far from proving that government policy has not caused the increased percent of fatherless kids, you could use his figure as evidence that the combination of "AFDC and child deduction reduction" has been responsible.

Trickle down economics

On the topic of taxes, of course he thinks that the higher a tax, the more revenue it will generate. So he claims that when Reagan cut the top income tax rate from 70% (when he took office), in a series of steps (starting in 1982) to 28%, that must be what caused the federal deficits to increase. There is no attempt to show what happened to federal revenue. Hint: it increased sharply starting in 1984, as the tax cuts began to phase in. The deficit increased because government spending (in part on the military) increased even faster.

But Lind does have a rather backhanded way of acknowledging this. On page 238 at the top of the page he describes how the Reagan, the tax cutter, caused the deficit increase. But in the middle of the same page, is his reply to the Republican charge that Clinton had signed the "largest tax increase in world history". No, says Lind: it was the Reagan Tax legislation that "raised more money" over 5 years than did Clinton.

In other words, Reagan raised more revenue with his tax rate cuts than Clinton did with his tax rate increase.

This is an accusation?

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