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:: Wednesday, September 03, 2008 ::

The Conservatism of Robert W. Tracinski 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 12:01 AM

I haven't followed Robert W. Tracinski's writings in over two years; as he seemed to shift more towards conservative apologia than objective intellectual identification and advocacy, I simply lost my interest in what he had to say. And with the rise of The Objective Standard as the unabashed standard bearer for Objectivist ideas in the printed word, Tracinski's Intellectual Activist strikes me as neither intellectual nor activist, at least not when compared to what it once was at its zenith.

None of this is to say that Tracinski doesn't have his moments or that when he does, that they are not powerful statements of this thinking. For example (and quite by accident), I discovered his most recent essay posted in a political forum for Marine veterans that I frequent. Tracinski's analysis of Barack Obama's acceptance speech was being promoted by the conservative partisans there as proof of Obama's villainy (and I use "partisan" here as an understated term to describe the typical actors in this forum and the caliber of the discussion that they engender). Nevertheless, as I read Tracinski's essay, I too thought it was a compelling dissection of the dishonest rhetorical gimmicks and subterfuge Obama employed in his speech. That is, until Tracinski undercut his argument and betrayed the value of his analyses. He wrote:

It has been almost half a century since the left's ideas have had such an intelligent, charismatic, and appealing advocate. [Obama] is now preparing to lead the left's effort to reconstitute itself in the first serious way since the Fall of Communism. He must be defeated.

Obama's acceptance speech is likely to be effective, and we should expect him to have a solid "bounce" in the polls now that the convention is over. But there is a way to defeat Obama. His whole campaign is a beautifully presented illusion, and the way to defeat it is to keep hammering on the difference between illusion and reality. [italics mine]
I don't think the post-convention bounce played out for Obama quite like Tracinski had predicted, but that's small change compared to his ultimate thesis. If Barack Obama "must be defeated" this fall as Tracinski writes, that means that the implicit answer to Barack Obama must be John McCain. That was certainly how Tracinski's article was being interpreted by the Marine veterans I observed discussing it.

Yet what about the appalling difference between McCain's sundry illusions and reality? As bad as a potential Obama administration would be, it is a stretch to argue that a McCain administration would be much better. As most Objectivists are all too aware, the current crop of Republicans are primarily animated by mysticism, pragmatism, the ethics of altruism and in McCain's particular case, a heavy dose of environmentalism. To the degree that the Republicans support limited government and the free market, their support is superficial and will almost always be undercut by their core ideology. As they are animated today, the Republicans will never be able to bring us closer to Atlantis, that vision of reason, individualism and capitalism that Ayn Rand so brilliantly justified and dramatized in her writing.

So while John McCain might not raise taxes (with a heavy emphasis on the word "might"), it is unlikely that he will do much to lower deficit spending, which is nothing more that taxes deferred to a latter date. And while McCain may continue the war (if we even dare to call whatever it is we are doing in the Middle East a proper "war"), it is unlikely that he will appropriately identify militant Islamist regimes as America's enemy and press for their capitulation. Furthermore, as McCain's recent vice presidential pick of Alaskan governor (and fundamentalist Christian) Sarah Palin signals, McCain is willing to form strategic alliances with Evangelical Christians in order to secure political power. And while Obama has his own religious demons to contend with (such as his bigoted and raving anti-American ex-pastor whose sermons Obama was all too willing to sit though), Obama's religious background serves to discredit him, while McCain's recent moves are intended as a pragmatic effort to strengthen his chances of wining in November.

Moreover, if Obama is elected president, the Republicans will have no choice but to engage in some well-deserved soul-searching as they work to counter his administration, much like they did after the first George Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992. In contrast, a Republican victory will only encourage the ideological status quo within the party (a status quo, lest we forget, that brought America a half-war, a new prescription coverage entitlement for seniors, faith-based initiatives, an expansion of the size of government unrivaled by any Democratic administration in recent years, a pathetically weak dollar, the return of inflation and that all but gleefully excludes people inspired to political action by Ayn Rand's ideas). While I see Obama as a weak one-term president, I see McCain as a potentially strong two-term president, complete with an evangelical Christian sitting a heartbeat away from the presidency.

I recognize that some may think that I am not being fair to John McCain or his brand of Republicanism and that he is far more closely associated with a proper view of American government than Barack Obama. In answer, I am reminded of the following analyses written about McCain when he first ran for president in 2000:

With his candidacy, John McCain intended to inspire an altruist revival--that is, a renewal of Americans' allegedly flagging willingness to sacrifice their own interest . . . [M]cCain is a consistent altruist. Wherever there is someone in need--whether old or young at home or abroad--he sees a reason to sacrifice the lives of the able.

The idea that the individual has a right to pursue his own happiness and that government exists to protect that right is foreign to Senator McCain. In Vietnam, McCain proved that five-and-a-half years of confinement and savage beating by his captors could not shake his loyalty to the United States of America. Yet today, in his campaign to ennoble American government by suppressing political speech and in his call for Americans to sacrifice themselves at the behest of this allegedly honorable government, John McCain has proven himself a traitor to the American idea. [italics mine]
The source of this moral indictment against John McCain? The April 2000 pages of The Intellectual Activist written by Jack Wakeland and edited by Robert W. Tracinski.

I find it interesting that McCain has been able to rehabilitate himself so completely in the intervening years that he's transformed himself from intellectual traitor to America into the implicit alternative to another such traitor. But as Tracinski himself would say: don't examine a folly; only ask what it accomplishes. I perceive Tracinski's stand as a walk away from objectivity in favor of his becoming yet another conservative spinmeister.

The reality today is that both the political left and the political right are unacceptable to those of us who seek to have our individual rights properly identified and protected. Maybe Tracinski believes that he has compelling arguments why McCain would make a better president than Obama. My view remains that attempting to divine which one of these men is the lesser of two very similar evils (albeit with their somewhat differing emphasis) is a fool's errand, especially given that the fruits of all that effort is worth no more than the chance that it can swing the election. Neither Tracinski nor I are quite that persuasive yet.

Given the state of the culture, the best that any of us can hope to do is to work hard to introduce more people to the ideas necessary to the help them recognize their rights with the consistency that their lives deserve. Saying "vote McCain" and winking at the irrationality of the conservatives (and as you highlight the all-too similar irrationality of the liberals) does not serve that struggle one iota.

On the contrary; if America (and our individual futures as living free beings) are to be secured, it can only come from a fundamental reevaluation of the intellectual landscape. It can only come from people beginning to grasp the radical implication of Ayn Rand's ideas, and not some mealy-mouthed pandering to the political right because you've decided that doing so pays your bills, or whatever excuse Tracinski uses to justify his off-kilter stand.

Update: added clarifying sentence.

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