Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Why Conservatives Can't Govern

Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.


Great article in The Washington Monthly. Via Arts & Letters Daily.

Search hard enough and you might find a pundit who believes what George W. Bush believes, which is that history will redeem his administration. But from just about everyone else, on the right as vehemently as on the left, the verdict has been rolling in: This administration, if not the worst in American history, will soon find itself in the final four. Even those who appeal to history's ultimate judgment halfheartedly acknowledge as much. One seeks tomorrow's vindication only in the context of today's dismal performance.

...

Eager to salvage conservatism from the wreckage of conservative rule, right-wing pundits are furiously blaming right-wing politicians for failing to adhere to right-wing convictions. Libertarians such as Bruce Bartlett fret that under Republican control, government has not shrunk, as conservatives prescribe, but has grown. Insiders like Peggy Noonan complain that Republicans have become--well, insiders; they are too focused on retaining power and too disconnected from the base whose anger pushed them into power. Idealistic younger conservatives bewail the care and feeding of the K Street beast. Paleocons Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak blame neocons William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer for the debacle that is Iraq. Through all these laments there pulsates a sense of desperation: A conservative president and an even more conservative Congress must be repudiated to enable genuine conservatism to survive. Sure, the Bush administration has failed, all these voices proclaim. But that is because Bush and his Republican allies in Congress borrowed big government and foreign-policy idealism from the left. The ideas of Woodrow Wilson and John Maynard Keynes, from their point of view, have always been flawed. George W. Bush and Tom DeLay just prove it one more time.

Conservative dissidents seem to have done an admirable job of persuading each other of the truth of their claims. Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls. But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and start questioning the ideology.

The collapse of the Bush presidency, in other words, is not just due to Bush's incompetence (although his administration has been incompetent beyond belief). Nor is it a response to the president's principled lack of intellectual curiosity and pitbull refusal to admit mistakes (although those character flaws are certainly real enough). And the orgy of bribery and special-interest dispensation in Congress is not the result of Tom DeLay's ruthlessness, as impressive a bully as he was. This conservative presidency and Congress imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.

Contemporary conservatism is first and foremost about shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. This mission, let us be clear, is an ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world problems, such as managing increasing deficits or finding revenue to pay for entitlements built into the structure of federal legislation. It stems, rather, from the libertarian conviction, repeated endlessly by George W. Bush, that the money government collects in order to carry out its business properly belongs to the people themselves. One thought, and one thought only, guided Bush and his Republican allies since they assumed power in the wake of Bush vs. Gore: taxes must be cut, and the more they are cut--especially in ways benefiting the rich--the better.

But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions--indeed, whose very existence--they believe to be illegitimate. Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.

"Ideas," a distinguished conservative named Richard Weaver once wrote, "have consequences." Americans have learned something about the consequences of conservative ideas during the Bush years that they never had to confront in the more amiable Reagan period. As a way of governing, conservatism is another name for disaster. And the disasters will continue, year after year, as long as conservatives, whose political tactics are frequently as brilliant as their policy-making is inept, find ways to perpetuate their power.


There's a lot more. It's a long article.

19 Comments:

Blogger Ezzie said...

But from just about everyone else, on the right as vehemently as on the left, the verdict has been rolling in: This administration, if not the worst in American history, will soon find itself in the final four.

I pretty much stopped here. This is complete idiocy: Presidential historians rated his first term is pretty decent, even in the short-term, and anyone with half a brain recognizes that ultimately unless someone is a complete disaster (which there is no evidence of by GWB, contrary to popular leftist mantra) history will be the final arbiter.

Okay, fine, I'll read on a bit.

But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and start questioning the ideology.

What?!? Are you kidding me? Communism is a failure because it basically relies on every single person to be committed to the program, which is impossible when not everyone is a saint. It also requires political appointees who have access to almost unlimited power to not at all take advantage - there are no checks and balances. Conservatism, on the other hand, could easily be carried out with simple changes to government policy. That the first President to have the ability to do so (with both parts of Congress) has done a poor job beyond the first, most important step of taxes is not a reflection on the ideology at all, but on those members of Congress who are refusing to cut out pork and the like. Bush giving in to the left on Social Security is a weakness on his part, as is his not vetoing a single bill (though he finally spoke up this last time). But how can one throw out the ideology after a few years, when it's still doing a markedly better job (revenues up, economy thriving) despite not being done right.

Anyways, the rest is complete stupidity. I can't believe you liked this.

7/05/2006 11:20 PM  
Blogger David Kirschner said...

Notwithstanding his deluge of assumption upon assumption, most of which were mere unsupported assertions, it became painfully obvious - and I mean painfully - that he spoke from arrogance. It seemed to me that he basically was whining over the fact that liberals are out of power and that it somehow is their birthright to be in power. Not only does that smack of arrogance, but it reinforces my belief that the longer they are out of power, the more vociferously they oppose judges who strictly adhere to their constitutionally intended role of arbiters and interpreters of the law, not creators mofit. I've long believed that true liberals - not simply people who hold liberal opinions - wish to accomplish through judges what they cannot at the ballot box. Again, it smacks of arrogance. They know what's best for everyone and they'll impose it one way or another.

7/06/2006 12:14 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Ezzie:

What?!? Are you kidding me? Communism is a failure because it basically relies on every single person to be committed to the program, which is impossible when not everyone is a saint.

Conservativism's flaw isn't as big, I'll grant you, but the point is that it also depends on an impractical requirement -- that people will willingly allow the government to be shrunken in a healthy way.

As the article says:

But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions--indeed, whose very existence--they believe to be illegitimate.

Conservatives have realized this problem before, which is why they came up with the "starve the beast" strategy. The problem is that now starving the beast has been shown not to work -- it doesn't shrink government or even retard its growth; it just builds deficits.


David Kirschner:

Again, it smacks of arrogance. They know what's best for everyone and they'll impose it one way or another.

This coming from the party that wants to amend the Constitution because they know what's best for people in terms of who they marry. Talk about imposing it one way or another.

7/06/2006 1:12 AM  
Blogger Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

This coming from the party that wants to amend the Constitution because they know what's best for people in terms of who they marry. Talk about imposing it one way or another.

How is that imposing? If the amendment passes, that is a fairly good indicator that the vast majority of the country supports it.

If the amednment doesn't pass, no one is being imposed, and the status quo remains. You can't say that when judges pass laws though.

7/06/2006 9:18 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

If the amendment passes, that is a fairly good indicator that the vast majority of the country supports it.

Not that it will pass, but the word "imposing" does not carry the implication that it's done by a minority. Slavery was a bit of an imposition, for example.

7/06/2006 9:52 AM  
Blogger Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

Then under your definition all laws impose. I guess then according to you, true conservatives can't pass laws.

7/06/2006 10:03 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Well, of course all laws impose. I was responding to David, who wrote:

Again, it smacks of arrogance. They know what's best for everyone and they'll impose it one way or another.

I found that ironic, considering Republicans want to impose their idea of marriage on everybody else by constitutional amendment. Telling people who they can and can't marry is the height of arrogance and "knowing what's best for everyone."

7/06/2006 11:19 AM  
Anonymous bxda said...

Just for the record, I'm completely opposed to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as well as an amendment banning flag burning for several reasons not the relevant here. However, his presumption that conservatives can't govern - which by the way ignores a significant chunk of history - was based on his perception that when conservatives increase the size of government, it is merely for political patronage but when liberals do it, it is to save people from their own problems. How else should that be interpreted other than to say that liberals believe they have all the answers and they, through their government only, are capable of imposing them? I'm not saying that every liberal politician feels that way. Indeed, I'm not even sure that I would agree with that assessment. My only point is that reading his article left me with the distinct impression that such is his belief.

7/06/2006 12:56 PM  
Blogger David Kirschner said...

I don't know what happened, but I'm bxda.

7/06/2006 12:58 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

was based on his perception that when conservatives increase the size of government, it is merely for political patronage but when liberals do it, it is to save people from their own problems.

I think what he was getting at is that conservatives, who are against the very institutions they're running, do a bad job with them. Which makes sense. And, since they are unable to either shrink government or slow its growth, the effect is that government grows under the management of people who don't believe in it. That can't be a good thing.

7/06/2006 2:50 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

And, since they are unable to either shrink government or slow its growth, the effect is that government grows under the management of people who don't believe in it. That can't be a good thing.

I'm not sure they are unable to shrink it or slow it. I think that currently, they seem to be unwilling.

Either way, from a conservative point of view, it is better for it to not shrink or even grow under conservatives who don't believe in it than under liberals who do. It will at least prevent it from getting out of hand.

7/06/2006 10:01 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

'if not the worst in American history, will soon find itself in the final four'

Not even close. He isn't as bad as any of the following:

Pierce
Buchanan
Andrew Johnson
Grant
Hayes
Harding
Coolidge
Hoover

But he is indeed the worst since Hoover.

'when conservatives increase the size of government, it is merely for political patronage '

With the exception of the Iraq war and Bush's education program (which is not fully funded), most of his expansions of government are clearly payoffs to favored special interests. The Medicare drug benefit is probably the worst example of such in many decades.

7/06/2006 10:14 PM  
Blogger Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

Charlie- you forgot to add Carter to the list.

7/07/2006 9:20 AM  
Blogger ADMITNOTHING said...

http://www.toughjews.blogspot.com/

7/11/2006 10:55 AM  
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