At long last the conservative juggernaut is cracking up.
That is how Mr. Anrig begins his analysis of the problems with the conservative and Republican brand. As I sat down this morning to read the paper that I haven’t figured out why I subscribe to, this article caught my attention…First, for its stunning arrogance and second, for its misunderstanding of the current dynamics between the Republican party and the core messages of conservatism. As I discussed the article with my wife (and after I wiped the donut/coffee tinted spittle off of the paper in my lap), I decided I needed to vent on Redstate and see if others had my same reaction.
Mr. Anrig seems to confuse the last 8 years of GWB’s “compassionate conservatism” with the true principles of the economic/social conservative movement. As has been mentioned by multiple authors on this enlightened site, we conservatives knew what we were buying when we banded together in the “big tent” to elect Bush Jr. rather than allow the economy to be “Gored” or “Wind-surfed.” We definitely received the benefit of our bargain with NCLB, Medicare Part D, Increased Spending, etc. pitted against judges, national security, more judges, and a valiant but unsuccessful effort to solve the looming Social Security crisis. We are also quite aware of the setback that “The One” would cause our great nation and are justifying our support of McCain by using the “lesser of two evils” and “at least we may get judges” arguments. This is where Mr. Anrig absolutely whiffs when he takes a hack at “conservatism.”
Link and more below the fold…Now is where I attempt to take Mr. Anrig’s article apart point by point…
McCain’s woes stem largely from his long-standing adherence to a set of ideas that simply haven’t worked in practice
Wrong. McCain is to conservatism as wind power is to our current energy crisis…there are some bright spots and potential benefits…no one is sure if these benefits are really worth the effort and costs but we may be willing to give it a shot. McCain’s woes stem from his consistent thumb in the eye of conservatives and years of media adulation for his mushy semi-liberal center known as “maverickness.” His transformance into a champion of conservative causes reeks of political expediency and electability even to the unwashed masses.
The single theme that most animated the modern conservative movement was the conviction that government was the problem and market forces the solution. It was a simple, elegant, politically attractive idea, and the right applied it to virtually every major domestic challenge — retirement security, health care, education, jobs, the environment and so on. Whatever the issue, conservatives proposed substituting market forces for government — pushing the bureaucrats aside and letting private-sector competition work to everyone’s benefit.
So they advocated creating health savings accounts, handing out school vouchers, privatizing Social Security, shifting government functions to private contractors, and curtailing regulations on public health, safety, the environment and more. And, of course, they pushed to cut taxes to further weaken the public sector by “starving the beast.” President Bush has followed this playbook more closely than any previous president, including Reagan, notwithstanding today’s desperate efforts by the right to distance itself from the deeply unpopular chief executive.
The problem with this argument is that while Bush championed some of these causes, he is only the law-enforcer under our unique and brilliant system designed by those guys “on the dollar bills.” The Republican party’s incompetence, lack of adherence to their core values, addiction to power, and sickening corruption prohibited worthwhile changes from being implemented while they stunningly approved pork-laden, government-expansion programs with Bush’s veto pen sitting idle. The only notable items on GWB’s agenda to actually be implemented by Congress were the progressive ideas of increased spending for senior’s drugs, more regulation and federal involvement in the traditionally local issue of public education and an overhaul of the federal government’s national security infrastructure. Even GWB’s tax cuts (which I supported and continue to support) were largely unsuccessful (Update: or rather not as effective as they could have been) because tax cuts should be bolstered by spending reductions or at least moderation.
But in practice, those ideas have all failed to deliver on the promises the conservatives made, and in many instances, the dogma has actually created new problems. Particularly after Hurricane Katrina, when Americans saw how hapless the Federal Emergency Management Agency was, the public has begun to realize that the right’s hostility toward government has produced only ineffective government.
One can see the results in recent headlines: a Justice Department where non-conservatives need not apply; tainted spinach, jalapeño peppers and pet food; dangerous imported toys; poorly enforced environmental laws and a warming planet; the regulatory failures that led to the subprime mortgage fiasco. Meanwhile, large tax cuts (as under Reagan) have weakened the country’s fiscal health without significantly improving the lot of the vast majority of citizens. And the right’s enthusiasm for Bush’s brand of “benevolent hegemony” in foreign policy, which insists on the U.S. right to wage preventive war and dismisses the United Nations as a band of meddlesome bureaucrats, has weakened our security — most notably through the unnecessary calamity in Iraq — by diluting our military capabilities and diverting their focus from genuine threats from al-Qaeda.
Relating these troublesome failures to support progressive dogma’s superiority over conservatism is ridiculous and unjustified. FEMA’s failure was not a conservative short-coming…rather it just proved the point that ineffective government is an eternal truth whether conservative or liberal. The unsupported claim that preventative war and U.N. bureaucractic failure has “weakened our security” is almost laughable. The lack of enforcement of economy-stifling, over broad (and progressive) environmental laws coupled with our “warming planet” actually makes me feel better about supporting Bush rather than being some proof of the deficiency of conservative ideas.
“…Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, a pair of conservative authors decades younger than Gingrich and Norquist, argue in their new, much-hyped book “Grand New Party” that the time has come to “move beyond the Reagan legacy and the mindset of the current Republican power structure.” They suggest plenty of proposals that many progressives would support, including a fairly ambitious and expensive national health-care plan, subsidies for entry-level jobs and more investment in infrastructure.
Ah…and now we come to the crux of Mr. Anrig’s thesis. The “traditional” conservative ideals must be transformed by the younger generation to submit to “known facts” like the necessity of government intervention to protect the “religious, gun-clingers” from their own individualism. If the lemmings don’t subscribe to the “right” ideas, then we (the progressive, intellectually superior beings together with the “new conservative” movement) must use the government to gently push them the down the “wide” path.
As a member of this younger generation, I call BS on Mr. Anrig’s (and Mr. Douthat and Salam’s) solution to today’s problems. Rather, I firmly believe that conservative ideals (i.e. the recognition of the depravity of man and the corresponding impossibility of effective, non-corrupt government, the fact that man will ultimately act in his own self interest, and a belief in liberty and freedom) do not need an overhaul, are consistent with the ideals of our founding fathers, and have led to the United States’ economic and military superiority for the last few centuries. Changes to our capitalistic and individualistic leaning government (e.g. the last two decades of legislation) as evidence of our “progress” will ultimately lead to the loss of this status and our irrelevance in modern society…now that I think of it, I guess that is the ultimate goal of the self-loathing, guilt-ridden progressive movement.
As a complete sidenote, on the left side of the Anrig article in the paper edition, the Post includes a quote from an Australian news paper to this effect, “Beer will be in short supply, more expensive and may taste different as climate change affects barly production, a scientist says.” Ok, so I may need to re-think my ideas on climate change…this outcome is unacceptable in any circumstance and I am thinking we may need to “ACT NOW” to prevent this travesty!