Michael Gerson: Voters don't place much value on political realism

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  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Oct. 18, 2013 3:55 p.m.

    "....Conservatives have traditionally affirmed that social systems should fit the contours of reality, not patterns cut by abstract ideology...."

    If Gerson believes conservatives are off in wild pursuit of a utopian vision that cuts them loose from their pragmatic moorings, then who is the voice of the status quo? Has liberalism now become the new conservatism? I doubt that Michael Gerson would put it that way but that seems to be the unavoidable implication of what he is arguing.

  • Semi-Strong Louisville, KY
    Oct. 17, 2013 8:43 p.m.

    Tyler D,

    I agree not all of the writers are superb in the genre but there are some greats. Also, as you say, it is the ideas - many of which are very compelling. They explore both the nature of what it is to be human and what is possible for mankind.

    I enjoy the short story format. I think it suits science fiction particularly well. I am not familiar with Ted Chiang. I may give him a try.

    Reference Matthew, I think the misunderstanding of a messiah is on both sides. He incorporates a host of concepts vs. just one or two.

    I disagree about the Gospel of Matthew guaranteeing the inclusion of the OT in the Bible. Early Christianity was an outgrowth of Judaism. The scriptures referred to and relied upon in our NT were in the OT.

    I understand the OT has issues of war, etc. but remember it is a history as well as scripture. Not all the actors in the history were perfect (or even good). It was a violent and primitive time, but there are wonderful lessons and teachings in the OT.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    Oct. 17, 2013 1:57 p.m.

    @Twin Lights

    I hear you about Tolkien (champagne in a genre full of cheap beer) and the great Sci Fi authors - Asimov (Nightfall) and Clarke (The Star) at the top of my list too, along with Ted Sturgeon, Poul Anderson and a short list of others. Mainly read short stories these days… it’s the ideas I find compelling. If I’m looking or superb writing there are better genres out there.

    Speaking of Sci Fi short stories, Ted Chiang’s collection is the best I’ve seen in years.

    Vonnegut – yeah, Slaughterhouse Five was mostly wasted on my teenage brain, but later Cat’s Cradle cemented his greatest in my mind.

    Fair point about Matthew – but as we both know the Messiah means something very different to Jews than it does to Christians.

    Primarily though, it was the Gospel that all but guaranteed the OT would be part of Christianity, and I think Christianity is worse off for it. With few exceptions (Psalms) it is an anachronism that should have remained in the Bronze Age – I think it’s done more harm than good.

    Always enjoy your comments…

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Oct. 17, 2013 12:31 p.m.

    Tyler D,

    My understanding is that Tolkien’s influence on Lewis was profound. I think that is right about Narnia. The movies I think do them better justice. The writing seemed toward a relatively young audience.

    I “blame” Tolkien for ruining my adolescent love of fantasy. After reading his stuff, everything else was dreck.

    Agreed Tolkien did not see LOTR as a religious allegory but there are many religious “types” and themes nonetheless.

    I read all the early Herbert (up to about the fourth novel or so? – and I agree about the Islamic/Arabic themes). I have tried LeGuin but just never fell in love. I like Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Heinlein, Adams, and what I have read of Niven. Never read Card (too late to make my reading list). Vonnegut was beyond my teenage comprehension (though the Vonnegut scene in Back to School is amazing).

    Reference Matthew, I think that his agenda was not to depict Jesus as “orthodox” but to convince a Jewish audience that he fit the qualifications of being the Messiah.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    Oct. 17, 2013 11:26 a.m.

    @Twin Lights – “BTW, do you know Tolkien was a strong influence on CS Lewis? It always baffled me that folks thought Tolkien's writings were anti-christian.”

    I’ve heard that but didn’t know to what degree, although I also heard that Tolkien did not like the Narnia books because of how Lewis portrayed the Jesus character (Aslan?) as a powerful lion. Tolkien felt that the greatest aspects of Jesus’ example were love, humility and self-sacrifice, not overt power.

    You know I’m not a religious person, but that POV resonates with me much more than the Jesus depicted in Revelation (i.e., powerful super-being) or even the synoptic gospels vs. John (although I’ve never been a big fan of Matthew as the author had a strong agenda to depict Jesus as a new but still orthodox Jew) .

    But he (Tolkien) also insisted endlessly that LotR was not an allegory…

    Speaking of good scifi/fantasy, have you read Herbert or Le Guin? The Wizard of Earthsea series is very Taoist, and of course Dune (although depicting an entirely new religion) has lots of Islamic imagery & overtones, at least politically.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Oct. 17, 2013 10:43 a.m.

    Tyler D,

    I think you get more usable philosophy out of Tolkien than Rand. BTW, do you know Tolkien was a strong influence on CS Lewis? It always baffled me that folks thought Tolkien's writings were anti-christian.


    Great comment. Thanks. These folks want "purity tests" from acolytes, not realism and results.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    Oct. 17, 2013 9:43 a.m.

    @Twin Lights

    That’s a great (true) quote and a keeper… thanks!

    But no worries… I could never tolerate reading such atrocious writing again. Speaking of which I actually had some respect for Paul Ryan until I heard that he makes all his interns & staffers read this novel. From an ideological perspective I get it (even if I disagree with much of it), but reading Rand is like learning about philosophy by reading Star Wars novels - for Pete’s sake, at least go with good writers like Adam Smith, Hayek, or Friedman.

    @10CC - excellent observations!

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    Oct. 17, 2013 7:00 a.m.

    Cruz is respected by idealist who believe in a perfectly pure "conservative" state - not by conservatives.

    Conservatives believe that at the end of the day, you have to get something done. You have to move the ball forward. To use a sports analogy, you play for field position, so that you can score. Cruz went for it on fourth down from his own 20, and lost. Sure... the "fans" love the guts of going for it on 4th down, but when was 4th and 9, and your behind in the points already - Dems scored presidential office and senate versus republicans house only - to go for it on 4th down.... not a wise move.

    True conservatives understand that in the budget, they have a winnable platform. Debt is something everyone understands. But these side shows that Lee and Cruz are performing.... absolutely turns off any swing votes. I was a conservative - still feel I am - but I am not the kind of conservative Lee and Cruz are. I believe in results. I believe in winning moral and ethical battles.

    I don't believe histrionics proves any level or patriotism or commitment to country.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Oct. 16, 2013 8:56 p.m.

    Tyler D,

    Your point about the pendulum is irrefutable. Eventually, it will certainly swing. But please, don't break out your Ayn Rand novels. Krugman is still correct:

    "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

    I don't always agree with Krugman, but he nailed this one.

  • 10CC Bountiful, UT
    Oct. 16, 2013 4:54 p.m.

    Based on what we've seen out of the Tea Party folks to this point, they'd rather be valiant and lose, than pragmatic and make progress.

    These are basically the descendants of the "Remember the Alamo!" mindset. It doesn't matter if you lose, as long as you fought hard and your cause was just.

    It's similar to the mindset of the Serbians, whose unifying accomplishment they bring up over & over again was a humiliating defeat in the year 11th century.

    There is a pathology in glorifying defeat, it tends to make people even more radical, far less likely to compromise, certainly no compromise for "the greater good", which is seen as an evil, in itself.

    "Live Free or Die". Except if your vision of freedom means companies can spew as much pollution as they want in the pursuit of profits, everyone else will think you're unhinged from reality.

    Patrick Henry is the hero of Tea Partiers, but they neglect to tell you Patrick Henry was vehemently opposed to the US Constitution, the same document Tea Partiers hold as being divinely inspired.

    It all makes sense, in a way.

  • Kent C. DeForrest Provo, UT
    Oct. 16, 2013 3:14 p.m.


    What you call socialism and anticapitalism would be considered in Europe a very conservative brand of economics. But what will ruin America is what is already ruining it: rapidly increasing inequality and the name calling and fear-mongering on the right in an effort to prevent us from even addressing this problem. Unfortunately, the only solution both parties see is taxation. But the problem runs deeper. The corporate system we've allowed to develop over the past 150 years has a dual pay system: one that pays a small group of owners and executives as much as possible and another that pays the workers who actually create the wealth as little as possible. The system is rigged so that as much wealth as possible goes to a small group at the top. But this is a suicidal system. It restricts demand by impoverishing the consumer classes, which in turn prevents the so-called job creators from creating jobs. Supply-side economics, in other words, really is voodoo economics. If we want to solve this problem, we need to redistribute ownership, not just income through taxation.

  • patriot Cedar Hills, UT
    Oct. 16, 2013 12:16 p.m.

    Cruz IS highly respected by conservatives and hated by liberals. What else is new. As for the clueless masses who don't know the difference between a senator vs a house member ...well ... who cares about them anyway. The clueless "hand out" masses are going to vote for Barack no matter what BECAUSE they get free gravy and that is all that matters to them. The John McCains of the world have burned their bridge with conservatives for good. I still think independent voters are going to HATE Obamacare so much that voting for a democrat will be like sticking their hand in red hot oil.

  • pragmatistferlife salt lake city, utah
    Oct. 16, 2013 11:49 a.m.

    happy2bhere, the 17 trillion dollar deficit is a result of slow economic growth resulting from over a decade of bogus conservative principles stripping America of it's value driven wealth producing economy. The deficit is not the cause of the slow growth. You all have it exactly backwards once again. As many have said before here, until you get it right (and reality does provide for valued true conservative principles) you won't succeed.

  • happy2bhere clearfield, UT
    Oct. 16, 2013 10:37 a.m.

    Kent C.

    The socialism and anti capitalism is what will ruin the American standard of living and the American Dream. And today Obama and many Democrats are believing that is the best way to go. Running up a 17 trillion dollar debt is nation abuse. And all of you need to get a little historical perspective. Conservative principles (whether religious or political) have and will work for all of time. History has shown in the 20th century that left wing political systems fail completely, and or fail to provide the people with what capitalism has in America. And right now this country is moving farther and farther left. Secularism and socialism. Won't work.

  • Gildas LOGAN, UT
    Oct. 16, 2013 9:55 a.m.

    Au contraire, Mr Spin-meister of the Washington Post; the common men that you contemn, along with their champions, knows more than you. Their instincts are right on.

    End the defeatism. We can certainly win, not because of magic thinking, but, because we never, never,never give up, the way H Reid and his supporters think they will win in fact. The tenacity and beliefs of the Old Guard Republicans, if they ever had any, is lacking so they will not do it. The new men may very well do it though. People, including some teetering Democrats I suspect, see in Ted Cruz the unconquerable spirit that is needed in this fight.

    If partisan Democrats really believed Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and the Tea Party movement are doomed to fail they would not be spinning so many articles on the subject, would not be thronging forums every day to oppose such men, if they did not know they are likely to win.

    Cruz supporters might well say with a man they rarely admire, on this subject at least:

    There is nothing to fear but fear itself.

    Fear not; carry on and carry the day.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    Oct. 16, 2013 9:49 a.m.

    Started to comment on this and then saw that Twin Lights expressed my views better than I could have.

    It has been a strange thing to go from a (first time) Reagan voter to a place in the 90’s where it looked like we had achieved a good balance between the (fiscally conservative) Republicans and the (compassionate) Democrats – when pragmatism ruled the day, the decade boomed and budgets were balanced (not a perfect utopia, but relatively pleasant).

    Then throughout the 2000’s I watched as the right-moving pendulum kept swinging past the center and further & further to the Right. Where ideology replaced pragmatism, budget deficits exploded, wars were fought in the name of “freedom,” and the economics gains seemed to increasingly be had only by the 1%.

    Hopefully the pendulum has gone as far right as it can go before it swings back the other direction, although if in 10-20 years it blows right on through the center again and keeps swinging Left, I may have to break out my Ayn Rand novels again.

    Hope I’ll be spared that calamity, both for pragmatism and literature’s sake.

  • Kent C. DeForrest Provo, UT
    Oct. 16, 2013 9:31 a.m.

    If conservatives were once connected to reality, that day has long expired. What we are seeing with the abject nonsense spewing forth from right-wing media and politicians elected in gerrymandered districts where they have only disconnected fanatics to please is as far from reality as a Disney cartoon. The tea party is the most dangerous form of political irrationality we have seen in a hundred years. And Utah is a major part of this problem. I get the feeling that many of the conservative letters and comments printed in this paper and on its website have a first-grade understanding of a very complex economic situation in America, and the DesNews seems all too willing to promote this abandonment of reason. I'm ashamed for the church that owns this paper.

  • Liberal Today Murray, UT
    Oct. 16, 2013 8:36 a.m.

    The liberal/socialist machine is about to mow this country over, so it isn't political realism to oppose it. Conservatives should get real about this.

  • pragmatistferlife salt lake city, utah
    Oct. 16, 2013 8:27 a.m.

    Twin Lights, I'm going to guess that your youth was a time when America was "becoming" more diverse. When the gay guy was that kid in your class who talked funny, not the two guys who live next door to you now. I also presume that it was a time when a lot of your middle class friends had fathers who worked blue collar jobs while mom stayed home with the five kids.

    The problem with modern day conservatism reflecting reality is that they still think this is what "America" is. Not literally but ideally. However, it's not and never will be again. Too many reasons why this isn't true to list in 200 words but, until they realize what America has become and what are circumstances really are they will never reflect reality again

  • m.g. scott clearfield, UT
    Oct. 16, 2013 6:55 a.m.

    I can tell you one thing, for Mr. Gerson to cite Reagan was foolish. The vast majority of Democrats at the time thought the same about Reagan as they do the T-Party today. Even a lot of members of Reagans Republican Party did too. Reagan was not the mainstream Republican of his day. He was the outsider with no chance to be successful. Amazing to watch history repeat itself.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Oct. 16, 2013 6:53 a.m.

    Mr. Gerson summarizes well my own thoughts and expresses them better than I ever could have. As a young voter I joined the Republican Party specifically because I saw it as the party of reason.

    Of late, the "apocalyptic language and utopian hopes" with "patterns cut by abstract ideology" have left me breathless. I tire of the constant hyperbole and bombast, the promotion of utopian visions that have no place in a constitutional republic, and the reliance on the "methods of Peter Pan: 'If you believe, clap your hands.'".

    Like Mr. Buckley, I too had believed that conservatism and the Republican Party generally represented "the politics of reality and that reality ultimately asserts itself, in a reasonably free society, in behalf of the conservative position."

    Now, I find myself in despair. Waiting for leadership that has a realizable plan and a pragmatic vision to move us forward.