Follow-up Analysis

By Jay B Gaskill


This follows Part One, which is posted at –

< http://www.jaygaskill.com/HowStupidAlgorithmsFailedUsFrom2008Through2013.htm >

That piece connected the dots between the economic crash of 2008, the Korean jet crash in SFO this year, and a number of other failures, all of which are traceable to the blind reliance on machines and/or decision formulas that failed to work as advertised.

If you haven’t read that article, please do.  It is well worth your time.

Toward the end of that piece I referred the “accidental” election of an incompetent mayor in Oakland and the complete collapse of the “state of the art” computer system that doomed the Romney presidential campaign on Election Day

Here are those tow hair-raising stories in more detail.

Both cases deserve to be studied.



Project ORCA: Mitt Romney Campaign Plans Massive, State-Of-The-Art Poll Monitoring Effort

NOVEMBER 1, 2012

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has been quietly assembling a massive, technologically sophisticated poll monitoring program that staffers believe will be their secret weapon in defeating President Barack Obama.


The Boston Globe 2012 :

The story behind Mitt Romney’s loss in the presidential campaign to President Obama

By Michael Kranish / Globe Staff / December 22, 2012


It was two weeks before Election Day when Mitt Romney’s political ­director signed a memo that all but ridiculed the notion that the Republican presidential nominee, with his “better ground game,” could lose the key state of Ohio or the election. The race is “unmistakably moving in Mitt Romney’s direction,” the memo said. But the claims proved wildly off the mark, a fact embarrassingly underscored when the high-tech voter turnout system that Romney himself called “state of the art” crashed at the worst moment, on Election Day.

To this day, Romney’s aides wonder how it all went so wrong.



… one factor is emerging as the essential difference between the Obama and Romney campaigns on November 6: the absolute failure of Romney’s get-out-the-vote effort, which underperformed even John McCain’s lackluster 2008 turnout. One culprit appears to be “ORCA,” the Romney’s massive technology effort, which failed completely.

Project Orca was supposed to enable poll watchers to record voter names on their smartphones, by listening for names as voters checked in. This would give the campaign real-time turnout data, so they could redirect GOTV resources throughout the day where it was most needed. They recruited 37,000 swing state volunteers for this. {But}they had issued the wrong PINs to every volunteer in Colorado, and reissued new PINs (which also didn’t work). The problems with Orca appear to have been nationwide, and predated Election Day itself.

They assured us that the system had been relentlessly tested and would be a tremendous success.

[V]olunteers were expected to print their own materials, and were mistakenly not told to bring their poll watching credentials to polling places. Attempts to communicate with the Romney campaign to ask for assistance were unsuccessful.

[There were} widespread real-time complaints and criticisms on Twitter by Project ORCA volunteers. At one point during Election Day, the system had malfunctioned so badly that desperate volunteers wondered if the program had been hacked.

Romney volunteers in Virginia confirmed that the campaign had relied entirely on Project Orca to turn out the vote in key areas such as Roanoke, where Romney and Ryan had made appearances. Volunteers who had driven to Virginia from safely-Republican Tennessee were shocked at the disorganization they encountered.

… ORCA diverted scarce resources that would have been better used physically moving voters to polling places. By a rough calculation, Romney lost the election by falling 500,000 to 700,000 votes short in key swing states. If each of the 37,000 volunteers that had been devoted to Orca had instead brought 20 voters to the polls in those states over the course of the day, Romney would have won the election.

… There was, in fact, massive suppression of the Republican vote–by the Romney campaign, through the diversion of nearly 40,000 volunteers to a failing computer program.

There was no Plan B; there was only confusion, and silence.




Portions of this section were first published on The Policy Think Site in 2010


DO NOT Try This at Home

A brilliant, tough cop, Oakland Police Department Chief Anthony Batts, is about to abandon Oakland for a better city (pick one).

[For more details, see these two stories in the San Francisco Chronicle: <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/01/17/BAFL1H9URT.DTL > and

< http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/01/16/BA2U1H96SJ.DTL&feed=rss.news>]

This follows a disastrous patch during which:

(a) Chronic municipal mismanagement led to a fiscal crash that robbed Oakland voters of the 800 police staffing level they had voted to fund (police staffing now down to 657 when even the high water mark 800 officer level was low, given the resident parolee population).

(b) Oakland’s new mayor, in an attempt to improve plummeting police morale, met with line officers in a group, asking them to recite why they liked doing police work, then left the meeting.  “On her first full day on the job, Quan tried to mend fences by meeting with the rank-and-file cops at roll call. The move fell flat with many officers, however, when – after giving a short talk and asking all the officers to introduce themselves and state why they wanted to be on the force – Quan left without taking questions.”

San Francisco Chronicle: < http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/01/16/BA2U1H96SJ.DTL#ixzz1BJakmheE >

Chief Batts had briefly been able to do more with less, but now the “doing much less with much less pattern” will take hold.

The Mayor elect is an obscure former councilwoman named Jean Quan (notable, according to former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown for having advocated “ebonics’ in an earlier era of lunacy). See Jean Quan off to rocky start as Oakland mayor by Chip Johnson, in the San Francisco Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/01/13/BAM11H8MRT.DTL#ixzz1BJefM9T6

Ms. Quan won the office against a much stronger, more centrist (and much more pro-law & order candidate), Don Perata, even though Quan got only 24% of the vote.  This victory was accomplished by a form of vote manipulation that has its roots in the Bolshevik vs Menshevik dustup in Russia that subverted parliamentary democracy and ushered in the dictatorship of the proletariat.  The scheme avoids runoff elections and the concomitant actual majorities that they produce by a system of “instant runoff’ voter ranking.  The system (sometimes called plurality voting) has the pernicious practical effect of artificially amplifying the negative over the positive to the effect that the angry left (in this instance) slips into power against the sensible center, with a tiny plurality.

Not to put too fine of a point on it:  Ranked voting is a dangerous innovation fully capable of subverting the will of the majority.

Ranked voting is a poison pill that is designed to entrench vestiges of the has-beens (in this instance the left) in power against a reformist trend (in this case the practical center).  See my 2010 post, Quantum Vote Stealing at < http://www.jaygaskill.com/QuantumVote.htm > .]

The fallacy of ranked choice is that voters are fully focused on second and third tier candidates and actually think through whether they (say, by ranking Ms. Quan and their second of third choice) seriously want that person to serve as their ultimate.  Most protest votes are just that, and when a protest candidate slips through, disaster almost always follows.

Key executive positions should always require a traditional definitive choice in which a majority of the to-be-governed voters have actually chosen their leader.  Ranked voting (sometimes called plurality voting) is a bad, bad idea whose time seems to have come.

Do not try this at home.


I continue to warn everyone who cares about the future if this country: These examples are about neglecting reasonable judgments (whether about selling bad loans, making intelligent treatment decisions, safely landing an aircraft, or voting for an untested leader) and bypassing actual person-to-person trust relationships in favor of a rote formula, in the name of expediency.

Men and women are not just “in the loop”, we are the loop.  Everything else is a brainless tool, provisionally useful, but not ever to be fully trusted. It is time to wake up. The 2008-13 crashes and other disasters were just the beginning. Instead of blindly relying on algorithms, all matters of consequence to our lives must reflect the work of real people, in real time, in the real world, doing real thinking, making real judgments; and accepting real accountability.



Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Forwards and links are encouraged.  For other permissions and all comments, please contact the author by email outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com.








http://jaygaskill.com/HowStupidAlgorithmsFailedUsFrom2008Through2013.htm }


By Jay B Gaskill

Aircraft, banking systems, political campaigns and medical delivery systems just don’t just arbitrarily crash. There is always a reason. …And it is not always “human error” on the ground level.  Typically, the failure was foreordained by overreliance on “decision crutches” at the management level. This is another name for trusting algorithms over human judgment.

An algorithm is just a complicated recipe, a preset series of sequential steps that, when programmed into an information-processing gadget, enables an otherwise “idiot” device to execute complicated (though sometimes catastrophically inappropriate) “decision-making” formulas without real time human involvement.   Algorithms do not bleed.  But we do.  Real world people always are hurt when algorithms fail.

Yes, there is a need for rapid fire algorithms in emergency situations when human reflexes aren’t quick enough. But we-the-people tend to be lazy (the author is no exception). Because our Brave New World is increasingly complex, we find ourselves relying more and more on algorithms to do our essential thinking for us.

A recurring theme in traditional science fiction was the rogue robot, built without a “kill switch”. We are now relying on algorithms for absolutely critical functions, all too often without any adequate human back up and without an effective human monitoring system.  This is like building autonomous robots without kill switches.

Blind reliance on algorithms is a very foolish and very dangerous mistake. We have already suffered from its consequences.  It is not too late to pull back a bit from the precipice.  But first we to need connect a few dots.


  • In 2008, investment bankers blithely relied on complex, impenetrable “asset’ bundles that included toxic loans –concealed/disguised as “assets”. The dirty little secret was that the very complexity of these devices hid an illicit alchemy that seemed to turn fecal matter (hidden bad loans) into gold (but it was fools’ gold).

For an overall review, check out these linked articles-

ü  http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2012/10/02/jpmorgan-lawsuit-bear-stearns-more/1609297/

ü  http://useconomy.about.com/od/glossary/g/mortgage_securi.htm

ü  http://www.cnbc.com/id/36803732 ).

The ensuing asset bubble-burst and the resulting disruptions profoundly damaged the US economy, and almost brought down the entire US banking system. Our country is still struggling to climb out of the resulting economic crater. {And our inadequate recovery is the result of relying on another set of failing economic algorithms, but that is a separate story.}

The takeaway lesson is that overly complex systems can conceal more than they reveal. When we blithely rely on these rigged systems, we are abrogating our obligation to pay attention and make sound choices.

  • The same kind of problem is surfacing in medicine.  Because government oversees insurance, and insurance oversees medicine, all of our trained medical professionals, the physicians and hands-on clinicians are now forced to warp informed clinical judgment in order to conform to bureaucratic categories.  


…Algorithms again, in one more form.

Insurance and Medicare “codes” are dumbing down ordinary medical practice.  A number of articles describe the difficulties (sometimes nightmares) of Code Driven Medicine

ü  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/09/health/the-ups-and-downs-of-electronic-medical-records-the-digital-doctor.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 )

“Critics are deeply skeptical that electronic records are ready for prime time. ‘The technology is being pushed, with no good scientific basis,’ said Dr. Scot M. Silverstein, a health I.T. expert at Drexel University who reports on medical records problems on the blog Health Care Renewal. He says testing these systems on patients without their consent “raises ethical questions.”’

ü  http://www.nbcnews.com/health/glitch-medical-code-threatens-mental-health-care-therapists-warn-1B8283085


  • The tendency towards “cookbook” medicine (read – “creeping algorithm-driven stupidity”) has reached a crisis point in the mental health field where reliance on a diagnostic “bible”, the so-called “DMS-5” has collided with common sense. Couple this with the insurance code system, and we face an impending disaster.

“Glitch in medical code threatens mental health care, therapists warn.”

ü  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/side-effects/201305/the-nimh-withdraws-support-dsm-5

“Just two weeks before DSM-5 is due to appear, the National Institute of Mental Health, the world’s largest funding agency for research into mental health, has indicated that it is withdrawing support for the manual. In a humiliating blow to the American Psychiatric Association, Thomas R. Insel, M.D., Director of the NIMH, made clear the agency would no longer fund research projects that rely exclusively on DSM criteria. Henceforth, the NIMH, which had thrown its weight and funding behind earlier editions of the manual, would be “re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” …”The weakness” of the manual, he explained in a sharply worded statement, “is its lack of validity.” “Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure.”’

ü  http://www.science20.com/science_20/blog/nimh_delivers_kill_shot_dsm5-111138 }


  • Millions of us are now passengers in high performance aircraft that are frequently more controlled by algorithms than by pilots. Machines are making crucial life and death decisions for us, and pilots are undertrained. Is this is dangerous? Ask the passengers of Asiana Flight 214.

In that disaster, an undertrained Korean pilot and his crew blithely relied on an automatic landing system in the San Francisco airport. The plane came in to low and slow, the tail caught on the runway berm, and a fully loaded Boeing 777 was wrecked.

A few days later, an experienced, hands-on pilot, speaking for many senior pilots, sounded a warning in the San Francisco Chronicle.  “Cockpit automation can have a pernicious effect on those skills because the emphasis now in most airline training is on technical understanding – to the near exception of traditional flying and decision-making skills known as ‘airmanship.’

“Now we see a new phenomenon: Experienced pilots, who never fully developed their basic flying skills, passing their airline training with flying colors. These pilots go into the cockpit to perform work that resembles that of a systems monitor more than of the work we associate with an aviator.

“The July 6 crash of Asiana Flight 214 at SFO illustrates the worst potential shortcomings of this new training system which, by the way, motivates airlines to offer early retirement to the more senior pilots in order to replace them with a generation who adores the new technology.”

The author, seasoned Pilot James F. Atkinson, was onto something. I recommend his entire article for close study…because it has across-the-board implications for all of us.

ü  http://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Do-pilots-have-adequate-flying-skills-4660853.php  )


Ranked voting formulas (yes, another algorithm) have propelled incompetent, untested leaders into important elected positions with as few as 24% of the votes, all in the name of good government.  Mayor Quan of Oakland, California, for example, won over a better qualified candidate who got almost twice her votes (SEE ARTICLES CITED[i]). As a result, Oakland, CA, which was a beleaguered city, a work-in-regress, is now close to an urban basket case under Mayor Quan highly criticized leadership.

And welcome to the era of checklist voters, who leave their critical judgment behind, and rely on some catechism of Official Party Doctrine (which is yet another algorithm, dumbed down for the harried, hurried voter-bots who want to do the “right thing” but need to be told what that is).

The losing Romney presidential campaign crashed in large part because of the turnout differential.  Mr. Obama’s core constituency of benefitted groups had been conditioned to respond to a perceived political threat to their privileged status, a response pattern that was cultivated over a period of three decades at least.  Democratic turnout could be activated via an existing social network that remained intact between campaigns. Mr. Romney’s campaign geniuses relied on a turnout algorithm (you can’t make this stuff up) in an effort to compensate for the absence of a social network potentially ready to respond to an existential threat to their aspirational status.  The existing social network, the diverse mix of aspiration-motivated people sometimes called the “Tea Party” were unmoved by a weak media campaign.  The Romney turnout algorithm failure has rarely been discussed.




Examples of the improvident reliance of algorithms in politics, medicine, air travel and ordinarily life are far too many to catalogue.  My readers are welcome to send me their own examples to incorporate in the discussion.

All of these examples are about neglecting reasonable judgments (whether about selling bad loans, making intelligent treatment decisions, safely landing an aircraft, or voting for an untested leader) and bypassing actual person-to-person trust relationships in favor of a rote formula, in the name of expediency.

We Americans have come to love such formulas, not only because they seem easier to rely on than our own judgment, but also because they can hide our accountability. “I’m sorry that I had to fire you, but I had no choice,” is easier to say than, “I fired you because you were just not good enough.” …Or, “I’m sorry the voters didn’t turn out after all we did,” is easier to say that “I’m sorry that we did very little street level work to get out the vote.”

The next time you are asked to make an important decision, or to rely on a decision-making or “action” process that consists of “a formula or algorithm”, remember Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger whose skill and judgment as a pilot of US Airways flight 1548 safely brought down a crippled airliner with 155 passengers and crew in the Hudson River in 2009.  No set of computer instructions would have as quickly, intelligently or effectively adapted to that engine failure.

Men and women are not just “in the loop”, we are the loop.  Everything else is a brainless tool, provisionally useful, but not ever to be fully trusted.

Our duty to ourselves, and those loved ones who will follow us, is to push to stay in the game at every level as thinking, informed individual human beings.

This may seem hard, but it is not “rocket science”.

Instead of blindly relying on algorithms, all matters of consequence to our lives must reflect the work of real people, in  real time, in the real world, doing real thinking, making real judgments; and accepting real accountability.

Anything else leads to a series of “train wrecks”. The 2008-13 period was just the beginning….


Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Forwards and links are appreciated. For other permissions and comments, please contact the author by email– outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com.





As I write this, Holder’s Justice Department is “reviewing” the question whether to federally prosecute Mr. Zimmerman, post acquittal.  This would be a profound abuse of power and should lead to the Attorney General’s impeachment, in my opinion.  Mr. Zimmerman was not a saint, but he was no murderer and not a bloody-minded racist. His acquittal should be the last word.


I have addressed this sad case in three separate posts.  Here is the last one, including links to the first two.



exposes a political THREAT

…TO your SELF-DEFENSE rights

this post: http://jaygaskill.com/TRAYVONMARTIN.htm

Also see – http://jaygaskill.com/ZimmermanJustice.htm

And http://jaygaskill.com/outlawyer/2013/06/28/martin-versus-zimmerman-or-politically-correct-prosecution-vs-justice/


A Not-Politically Correct Commentary

By Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

In a long delayed Florida jury trial, young Zimmerman has been acquitted and young Trayvon Martin is dead.

That result was unsurprising. Cutting through all the rhetoric, this was the state of the evidence:

A neighborhood watch volunteer in a high crime area (Zimmerman) got into a dispute with a suspected prowler (Martin). A physical struggle ensued (note that the jurors found that Martin was the aggressor); and Zimmerman found himself on the bottom, being pummeled against the concrete. In this position, Zimmerman managed to get control of his lawful firearm. He pulled the trigger once at contact range. He survived the encounter, while, tragically, Mr. Martin did not.

Now imagine this scenario with players changed. A middle aged woman is the neighborhood watch volunteer on that fateful night, and the suspected prowler is a large white man. After a confrontation, she finds herself on the bottom, being pummeled against the pavement. Miraculously, the neighborhood watch woman manages to pull out a self-defense handgun (let’s assume it was borrowed from a friend.) She manages to pull the trigger at contact range … the large white man dies.  The local police refuse to prosecute. The DA, under political pressure from the gun control lobby, files murder charges against her.

Thank God that Lady Justice is still blind to race and gender.

Over my decades as a defense attorney I served in Alameda County, CA, a high crime, mostly urban jurisdiction, that includes Oakland and nine other cities. I eventually came to notice that self-defense cases had better outcomes in the more conservative parts of my county (such as Fremont and Livermore) than in the more leftist jurisdictions (such as Berkeley and Oakland).


Why is this? I asked myself.

During those decades in court rooms and jail interview rooms, I observed accused persons fare differently in different cultural settings; and that one’s political predispositions matter in the jury room.  I learned that a majority of the gentle souls of the humanitarian left tended to assume that criminal aggression was a “cry for help”, or the involuntary response to “bad economic conditions”. For these tender-hearted souls, aggressive self-defense was uncomfortably “selfish”; and passive resistance or flight was always preferable.  Of course, that was never the law in California, but such biases do inform and distort how the evidence in given criminal case is weighed in the real world inhabited by criminal lawyers. Competent defense attorneys, whether liberal or conservative, need to avoid getting stuck with such jurors. And God help the defendant who has hurt a minority person (read oppressed victim) in any way…even in self-defense.  Such cases were and still are a defense nightmare to try, because passions and biases easily trump justice under the law.

Things are changing. Our country is at a watershed moment.  African Americans are now just one thread in the diverse tapestry of American culture, no longer enjoying the exalted status of “chief among the oppressed”. Racism persists, of course, in this county and all others. But we now face anti-white racism, anti-Jewish racism, anti-Hispanic, anti-Asian…and so on.

It is more important than ever before in our history that our institutions of justice simply follow the law. Lady Justice was depicted as blind for a reason.

The right to self-defense is at the core of all our other rights.  It flows directly from the understanding in the American Declaration of Independence that we are all individually endowed with the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, rights bestowed not to some abstract collective membership race or status, but to each of us as individual human beings.

The brand of “justice” currently being pursued post-verdict by the Trayvon Martin advocates is collective social retribution; this has nothing whatsoever legitimate to contribute to the question of individuated justice in a court of law.

Collective justice is the enemy of individual justice; it is at its worst, a version of the justice of the lynch mob.

A final thought: Why do some neighborhoods feel the need for neighborhood watch volunteers? Why is the suggestion that I recently read in a major media outlet that Mr. Zimmerman (and by extension all the other anti-crime volunteers) should have “just made a phone call?” not absurd on its face?

You can answer the foregoing questions for yourself by addressing these:

What is the 911 response time in your neighborhood?

…in the neighborhood of someone near and dear to you?

How long are you prepared to wait, cowering in your home, for outside help?

How long would you like your loved ones to wait?

How comfortable are you with local police staffing and availability?

This is not about Zimmerman or Martin. It is much more than that. It is a discussion in the Public Square about the Zimmerman trial instead of riots.  Let’s talk about public safety resources and how we can have safer communities and neighborhoods.


Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill

The author served as the Chief Public Defender for Alameda County, CA.

Links and forwards are welcome.  For other permissions and comments, please contact the author by email at outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com.

Visit The Policy Think Site – www.jaygaskill.com .







{Download the PDF Version of this article from this LINK  — http://jaygaskill.com/FreedomRecovery.pdf .}




Liberty, never secure, is now at significant risk.  The complacent among us console themselves with the observation that, at least…”Slavery is not an option”.  …To which I must add….unless it is disguised by layers of well-engineered deception.


Because slaves themselves were owned, they could not own property.  In the brave new world of the postmodern multicultural moral relativism, fewer and fewer of us truly own anything…because keeping “property” is a disparaged value. As a consequence, few of our possessions are ever held free and clear: They are held subject to neo-puritanical disapproval, “guilt” taxes, indebtedness (publically encouraged and partially subsidized), to a bewildering network of regulations to further the “public good”… all as defined and imposed by the political class.  The denigration of the basic human right to own property is part of an attempt to recondition human nature to accept less and less freedom. Some of our libertarian friends are particularly blind to the traps this cultural trend presents. When it comes to the legalization of narcotics and recreational psychotropic drugs, libertarians tend to focus on the reduction of state interference with personal behavior and tend to ignore the consequences: A drug dependent population is more easily controlled.

Freedom does not flourish in a well-tamed population under tight cultural control, where independence and creativity are “managed” though drug use (prescription for faux conditions, or non-prescription psychotropic drugs).  The notion of partial legalization with “appropriate controls” echoes the Brave New World where therapeutic intervention and “‘adjusted” expectations are used to reduce noncompliant behavior. Drug liberalization can look on the surface like a libertarian dream.[1] Actually, a well medicated politically correct population is the Marxist dream where the secret police get extra- light duty after the “withering away” of the state – a “libertarian” nightmare that takes place after human nature has been reformed into a “New Man.”[2] My drug reference was just an illustration of the larger issue: Without sharp limits on its power, the temptations for the state to exercise the technologies of social control will not be resisted.  Which raises the largest issue of all: The state has no business attempting to change human nature.


Recall that even slaves are provided for.  Slavery is possible whenever people are reconditioned into forgetting what it really means to be free. We need to grasp the cultural context for any realistic assessment of freedom’s prospects.  In the modern condition we take for granted that almost all social and moral boundaries are subject to elimination.  This predisposes the modern mind to look at any new attack on traditional boundaries as “probably a good thing.” Consider what has already taken place in the developed Western democracies: With breathtaking speed, the intelligentsias have been accommodated to the progressive dissolution of boundary conditions, including those of the nation state, those between achievers and dependents, those between good and evil, between criminal conduct and mental illness and between the forcible government reallocation of resources, and theft… and so on.  In this way, the sophisticated Western defenders of liberty were disarmed.


JULY 4, 2013



A Conservative Renaissance

A Modest Proposal

By Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Traditionally, liberals have been about challenging boundaries; and conservatives were about defending them.  But both liberalism and conservatism occasionally crash through the overreach barrier. The progressive liberals have now gone over that line.


This leaves the task of restoring balance to the conservatives. But are we/they ready?


Under the prevailing cultural conditions, the GOP (in the USA) and the Conservative Party (in the UK) are locked into a cyclical pattern of rejection, then a temporary ascendance in which conservatives return from exile as a corrective to the progressive juggernaut that has captured the Democratic Party and the Fabian socialists who have captured the British Labour Party.  The conservatives are allowed to stick around just long enough to stop the hemorrhage; and to repair some, but not all of the damage.

This is fire truck conservatism: People are grateful for their rescue but they don’t invite their rescuers to stay for dinner.

Conservative leadership seems to take hold for the long haul only when a particular leader (Think Eisenhower or Reagan in the USA; Churchill and Thatcher in the UK) has traction in the culture and on Pennsylvania Avenue or Downing Street. The key ingredients of such major leadership shifts are the breakdown of trust between the to-be-evicted governing political class, and the emergence of a new, potent trust-chemistry between the new conservative leadership cohort and the people at large.

But trusted leaders are not picked by a political committee or via a series of managed primaries. They emerge from the herd by the force of their personalities, courage, charisma, commitment and record of accomplishments.

The conservative philosophy that animates the GOP and its British counterpart has much more to offer than an occasional charismatic leader. It can endure for the ages, but only to the extent that its most visible advocates are seen as dedicated a great political, cultural and economic Freedom-Renaissance. A quick glance at the current crop of politicians suggests that heavy lifting is required. The new crop of conservative leaders must be very well prepared to promote and explain a practical agenda for America’s restoration, and to anchor each part of the project in conservative principles that are clear and consistent with common sense.

That agenda is nothing short of restoring America by restoring freedom.  It is founded three forward-leaning conservation principles (set out below). But these ideas, values and principles must be sincerely, articulately and persuasively connected to policy proposals, and to the real world aspirations of all Americans.

In an earlier era, President Reagan was gifted in doing this task, partly because he had years of experience among liberal democrats, partly because he was a skilled actor who believed his material. The task is the essentially the same, but the message is updated to address the crises of the 21st century.  I propose that three principles, when explained and connected, have the power to inaugurate a sea change in the American political dialogue. I believe that once they are absorbed into the DNA of the new generation of conservatives these core ideas will ignite a Freedom Renaissance movement that will alter the course of history.

  1. The conservation of human dignity against all the bureaucratic minds and structures, private and public;
  2. The conservation of the conditions in which productive human creativity can flourish by providing a bulwark against the arbitrary controls, constraints, repression, excessive taxation and perversion-of-purpose that creative communities are typically subject to;
  3. …and the conservation of the core moral infrastructure from which individual human dignity and productive human creativity derive their legitimacy.

A comment about why this set of principles is both new and necessary to the postmodern culture. Libertarians advance freedom as a primary good, without further elaboration or explanation.  But freedom cannot be understood as more than indulgence without a larger moral framework that contains it. I maintain that the justification (from a metaphysical point of view) for freedom as a necessary value is that creation and human creativity become primary values as soon as they are linked to a life affirming moral order. And creativity requires freedom in the context of the larger moral framework. Without creativity, the human species dies.  Without robust creativity linked to the moral order, the human species becomes innovatively suicidal. The moral foundations of a free society are deeply tied to the spiritual traditions that connect creative communities with life-affirmation and the enhancement of the human condition as seen through the lens of awakened moral intelligence.

I’ve written about this at length elsewhere, but note the difference between the Italian Renaissance creative community and the captive community of Nazi German rocket scientists at Peenemunde.  And note the fact that whenever a tyranny is first established, the creative ones seek refuge somewhere else.  The USA has benefited immensely from creative refugees.

Each of the three conservation principles listed have been more honored in the breach than in historical practice; and not one of them is widely recognized as essential to conservatism or as crucially important to human survival.

The advocates of liberty are often silent about the “Why?” questions, as in, “Why have liberty?” and “What good is freedom anyway?” Simple ideas with radical implications are easy to state, but they are anything not simple when their implications and interconnections become apparent. {This thesis is developed in more detail, with references in two of the author’s articles that are available on the web – Links below.}

Heavy lifting will be required because the conservative movement is incoherent, tired and pessimistic.  Conservatives tend to be unified only by their opposition to the excesses of “the left”. They tend to be held together between elections by repeated bromides that have lost the power to move us.  The key features of a living, forward –leaning conservative movement are nowhere to be found in the hearts and minds of the political hacks who mindlessly repeat the tired slogans.  People just tune out the catch phrases and talismanic incantations like – “Big government is bad”; “Big spending is bad”; “Freedom is good”; “Taxes are bad”.

The tune-out is a symptom of broken promise fatigue. Somehow, these same operatives leave equally banal slanders unanswered, allowing even the modern conservatives to be smeared with impunity. Who responds (and with what force and energy) when we hear that “Conservatives are mean spirited”; “Conservatives favor the rich over the poor”; and “Conservatives are against social progress”?

What I am proposing here will demand actual thought by all leading conservatives in the Public Square, and sturdy commitment and enduring passion. All this needs to be done with good spirited, but sharp rhetoric in a coordinated push-back, push-forward theme pursued simultaneously on several fronts: in the academy, in the media, in the Public Square, and among the policy makers and power brokers.

Evangelists have given evangelism a bad rap. The “ordinary” people are very good at spotting phonies and hucksters…although history suggests that it sometimes takes them a while to figure out that they’ve been had.  The Freedom Renaissance push needs real programs and real ideas, all of which are based on a conservation and progress agenda. This can’t be just some one-off pre-election run-up. When going against the tide, we succeed only with a long term effort fueled by fierce, realistic optimism and sustained by awakened moral intelligence.

Yes, it is probably too late to reboot and reenergize many of the half-awake political hacks who dominate the public square; and the task of administering plastic surgery on the sad faces of institutional conservatism is a dead end.  There is every reason to be optimistic in the mid-term, so why not be optimistic in the short term and the long term.  All we have to lose is the dead weight of pessimism.

Our situation calls for sharp, likable, engaging personalities.

So…where are they? They are already among us, waiting for the starting gun, waiting for you and me to create the buzz and energy about creativity and freedom, about boundaries, moral and practical, that sustain progress.

We are the milieu from which the next top leaders will emerge.


July 3rd & 4th 2013


Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Author Contact for all comments and permissions: outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com

Links to related articles:

The American Creative Surgehttp://www.jaygaskill.com/ACS2011.pdf  (75 pages)

Creativity and Survivalhttp://jaygaskill.com/CreativityAndSurvival.pdf (14 pages)


[1]  I recommend taking a close look at the early George Lukas film THX 1138, where the state encourages drug use.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/THX_1138).  The animating vision was a commitment to individualism, and a vivid illustration of the amoral idiocy of the bureaucratic state in its many forms.

[2] This idea been popular among fascists and socialists over the last 80 years: Think of the “Soviet Man – and Woman”, and the “Nazi superman”. The common thread in these schemes is the employment of state power to remold human nature into persons who no longer exercise “unhealthy individualism.”