How the ‘Right’ found itself on the wrong side.

Gideon Lachman has a wonderful article in Financial Times detailing how the right wing America is suddenly finding itself on the wrong side of two issues that are dominating not just the airwaves, but also people’s thoughts. He writes:

From 1979 to 2004, the right won the battle of ideas in the western world. Conservatives triumphed because they got the two big issues of the era right: they were in favour of free markets and against communism. But now the right is in disarray because it has found itself on the wrong side of the two dominating issues in contemporary western politics: global warming and the Iraq war.

I find this very inteesting. Not only because at least on these two issues, I found myself certainly aligned with the so-called ‘Left’, but that political commentators are finally recognizing the importance of global warming and global climate change as a hot political issue. It is no longer the ‘invented here’ issue associated with Al-Gore, or a me-too issue associated with Governold Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

On the Iraq issue:
Memories of anti-war marches from a few years ago are still quite vivid in my mind. On my university campus myself and my colleagues were called out of touch with reality and in the toughest cases, we were called one of ‘them’, i.e. one of those wishing ill for America. It was tough trying to talk against the war and not be called a sympathizer of the Islamists, the fascists, the terrorists, and whatever else was used to create the ‘other’ in a war of right vs wrong. Even some muslims had joined that mantra – they had thought time had come for the ‘liberation’ of all muslims, for their western lifestyles, thoughts, and views to finally take hold in the rest of the world so that they could more comfortably travel there, and eventually move there to be closer to their families. But in all that mess, one critical thing was forgotten: we were talking of war and peace. Those of us protesting were worried about human casualties in a war of attrrition that was putting up a weak government in a troubled country against the mighty forces of western influence. None of us cared two hoots about Saddam or his croonies – but we were worried about the people in Iraq, and ot be honest in my case, about muslims everywhere, esp in Pakistan. I had this fear that there was a slight chance that the strategy would go wrong and that even if the US forces won in Iraq, once they leave the bad guys would go in and start taking revenge against all those who colluded with the Americans. Well, what is now history tells us our fears were right and not just Iraq, but much of Middle East is a big mess.

On the Environment:
I am sitting in New England towards the end of January and haven’t yet had to call home once to tell them how cold it is and how I am freezing my ass of in this God forsaken place :-). I have not been skiin even once, and its hard to plan a trip when i don’t see snow anywhere on the ground. While I was in Amman, in the desert, it snowed several feet in a single day, and in Boston I am told it reached 70F a few weeks ago. Something is quite wrong with that picture. Whether it is EL Nino, or La Nina, or just freakish weather due to climatic shifts, the reality is that while the earth is suffering under the burden of our pollution, we are not moving fast enough to change anything in our lives. Only a few of us have made any serious modifications in our lifestyles (myself as guilty as anyone else), and our leadership (political, financial and social) has not yet gripped onto the idea of this world needing a bigger than Manhattan Project scale effort to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. We are asking Saudi Arabia to increase oil production (only so the prices wold fall), China is building two new coal power plants each week (enough to supply all electricity to London), and we are hoping to somehow turn our food supplies into ethanol (which doesn’t necessarily improve our fuel efficiency). I have worked on environmental issues for my graduate research, and am now involved in the now promiscuous ‘Clean-tech’ field as an entrepreneur. I feel the tide is turning, but there is still such a long way to go. If we don’t get our act together, we will be caught, as my colleague Rob says, “with our pants down”! Energy, Environment and Water are the most important issues facing tomorrow’s world, and what are we doing about it now?

So the Right was Wrong. But what is it supposed to do now? Gideon has the following to offer:

All this makes it sound as if the only role left for the Anglo-American right is to roll over and capitulate. But that is far too gloomy. In this new ideological era, conservatives have two obvious tasks – one defensive and one offensive.

The defensive role is to guard against over-reaction to the emerging consensus on global warming and Iraq. The right was not wrong to spot its old anti-capitalist, anti-western foes in the coalitions that first latched on to these issues. There are radical voices that will try to use global warming to create a world in which nobody takes a cheap flight again – and in which globalisation is put into reverse. It will be up to the right to show that growth and greenery can be reconciled. Similarly, the Iraq catastrophe is great news for anti-Americans in Europe and isolationists in the US. Conservatives need to hold the line against both.

But the right can do a lot more than mere damage control. Many of the most important ideas of the Reagan-Thatcher era – privatisation, trade union reform, the re-thinking of the welfare state – were developed in opposition to the intellectual consensus of the 1960s and 1970s. After a long period of intellectual hegemony, a period in ideological opposition might be just what the Anglo-American right needs.

 

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