Thursday, July 27, 2006

Yes, Virginia, Conservatives Are Running America...Into The Ground

It's amazing how conservatives, the great preachers about "personal responsibility" are never actually personally responsible for anything.

Neither Nixon, nor his protege, McCarthy, were responsible for their own downfalls, for example. It was their "enemies" who did them in--though how exactly Nixon's enemies made him cheat on his taxes has never really been fully explained.

And when Ronald Reagan was caught red-handed trading arms for hostages with Iran to fund the conta terrorists in Nicaragua, what did he say? "Mistakes were made." Passive voice. "Mistakes were made."

And when half the House leadership that was hounding Bill Clinton over the Lewinski affair turned out to have affairs of their own, what did we hear? Nothing but a quick reversal, in which those doing the investigating were suddenly the bad guys. Salon magazine was vilified. And Larry Flint? Puh-leaze!

But mighty as these men might have been, they were only dodging responsibility on an individual basis. Now, however, the conservative movement is in trouble, "big time," as America's #2 war criminal would say.

And so it's only natural to find the entire conservative movement doing a "Who, me?" routine.

They've been doing it for some time. But now we have an example at Swords Crossed, lordzorgon's front page diary, "Republicans or conservatives?", which is actually (a) relatively sophisticated, compared to what we get from, say, Ender, with a breakdown into 4 different kinds of conservative and a look at all three branches of government and (b) relatively balanced and honest, concluding:
If you dislike what is going on in our social or foreign policy, I think it is fair to blame "conservatives", because conservatives are mostly running the show in those areas. But to carry this over to economic policy, sorry -- conservatives are *not* running the show right now. Only faux conservatives who passed tax cuts but don't have the cojones to back them up with spending cuts.
Quite frankly, if anyone is going to try to peddle this line, I don't think your going to find a substantially better job than lordzorgon has done.

Things Fall Apart

But once you start poking around a bit, it's surprising how quickly and easily the whole things starts falling apart.

First, consider this passage:
- For Congress, we had a brief *conservative* (as opposed to just Republican) majority 1995-98. Another brief one circa 1947. If you're feeling very generous, maybe a brief one 1981-82, when Democrats let Reagan get most of what he asked for. And finally, we can go back to the pre-Depression era, when there was a solid working conservative majority in the 1920s.
What's wrong with this picture? What's wrong? Simple: According to movement conservatives, evil liberals are to blame for all that's wrong with America. They are an alien force, out of touch with real Americans, whose true nature is conservative. So--uh--how come Americans almost never trust conservatives to run Congress? And how come America became and remained the world's dominant superpower over a long period in which conservatives barely held Congressional power for the blink of an eye?

Don't get me wrong. We can quibble a bit over the dates, but lordzorgon's basically right: "conservatives" as he defines them have played virtually no role in making America great from the platform of Congress.

Where he's wrong is in taking them off the hook for the rapid tumble America's taken since they came to power in 1994, helping to squander one of the greatest opportunities a world superpower has ever had to shape its own future, and create a better world for all the people in it.

Who's A Conservative?

According to lordzorgon, conservatives (not just Republicans) controlled Congress from 1995-1998, but he never explains why the cut-off date. Also according to lordzorgon, Bush is neither a fiscal nor an economic conservative, defined as follows:
A "fiscal conservative" believes the government should run a balanced budget, shouldn't run up debt, and should solve (one way or another) its long-term entitlement obligations such as Social Security and Medicare.

An "economic conservative" believes in small government (not just tax cuts but also spending cuts), devolution of many federal government functions to the states, and less reliance on government and more on private industry to solve day-to-day problems.

OTOH, lordzorgon says:
Reagan was definitely a conservative.
Hunh? As The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, Bush's deficit this year is projected at 2.3% of GDP. His total from 2002-2006 is 2.7%. The Reagan/Bush total, 1982-1993 was much higher: 4.3%. If Bush Jr. isn't a "fiscal conservative," then no way is Reagan one.

And the same goes for "economic conservative." Reagan cut taxes, but not spending. That's where his record deficits came from.

Nor, for that matter, was Reagan all that much of a social conservative. He knew how to talk to them, that's for sure. But he wasn't a church-going man, he had lots of gay friends (he was a Hollywood actor, remember?), he opposed the Briggs Initiative in California in 1978 that would have made it illegal for gays to be public school teachers.

You see where this is going? If your standard is complete ideological purity, then Reagan was no conservative. And if Ronald Reagan wasn't a conservative, then who the hell was?

Underlying Problems

In fact, there are a number of different underlying problems with lordzorgon's argument:

(1) He doesn't establish any standards, so the judgements are arbitrary. While some are uncontroversial, others are not, and still others are plainly wrong.

(2) Partly as a result of #1, he mixes up conservatives and reactionaries--which is commonplace, to be sure, but still it's wrong. It's simply false to claim (as he implicitly does) that Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor weren't conservative. He's using Scalia and Thomas as his benchmarks, but they aren't conservatives, they're reactionaries, as their willingness to overturn precedent indicates.

(3) Ultimately, where lordzorgon is headed is the argument that "conservatism hasn't failed, it's never been tried." Regarding economic policy, he says "conservatives are *not* running the show right now. Only faux conservatives who passed tax cuts but don't have the cojones to back them up with spending cuts."

This echoes the claim of communist apologists, "communism hasn't failed, it's never been tried." And, in a sense--a better sense than lordzorgon has managed--they were right. To take two biggies: (a) Marx wrote of the "withering away of the state," that surely wasn't what Stalin or Mao produced. (b) Marx said it would appear in the most advanced industrial nations, instead it showed up in backwards ones, dependent on foreign capital.

But you know what? Even though they were right in one sense, they were wrong in another: communism had failed, precisely because it proved impossible to try. The preconditions could not be met in the real world. And the same thing applies to conservatism. Because, just for starter, the vast majority of self-identified conservatives want more spending on the major welfare state items in the federal budget.

It's. Just. That. Simple.

(4) As stated in the beginning, the real purpose here is simply to avoid personal responsibility. Reactionaries have been selling themselves under the "conservative" brand name for over three decades now, and they do that by demonizing liberals, blaming everything imaginable on them. And payback's a bitch.

They've been able to get away for it in part because they've never had to govern. At best, they've semi-governed, bargaining roll-backs here and there. Gaining momentum, but not full control until after 9/11. Until then, the very long-term success of liberalism had protected them. As they kept on dismantling and destroying liberal policies and programs that kept America thriving and growing, there was still a good deal of backup, redundancy, and new opportunity in the system. So it took a long time for the incremental damage of their rollbacks to show up in major ways.

But from 9/11 onward--especially after they took over the Senate in November 2002--the breaks were off. And it's taken a remarkably short period of time for people to recoil in horror at what they've seen of conservatism's results when the rubber hits the road.

"Who's there?" / "Not me!" is just not going to cut it, no matter how hard folks like lordzorgon try.


At 10:45 AM, Blogger allpaintedcold said...

Paul, when the hell are you going to write a book?

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