About a week ago, a Boston Globe article noted a somewhat surprising admission by Republicans. At least a few conservatives are recognizing their own party’s culpability in the headlong drive toward universal serfdom in America:
Sure, President Obama is moving toward nationalizing the banks, conservatives grumbled at their annual conference here [in Washington] this weekend. But former President Bush started it, they noted testily, with his $700 billion Wall Street bailout package.
“Sadly, our former president propelled America to socialism - all the way to third base,” with Obama set to bring it home, said conservative columnist Deroy Murdoch. “Our side emerged with neither principle nor power.” [Note 1, emphasis mine.]
I agree with this, though I would say the Republicans “started it” long before last fall’s bailout.
For instance, it was back in 2003 when Republicans initiated and eventually pushed through the prescription-drug bill. “When we get this as a down payment,” said Senator Edward Kennedy, “we’re going to come back again and again and again and fight to make sure that we have a good program.”[Note 2, emphasis mine.] The “we” in this quote, of course, refers to the left-leaning technocratic elite who believe that government compulsion is the answer to every problem, and the “again and again and again” is an apt description of the pummeling America is taking now that this elite wields power. Why didn’t conservatives recognize then that they were doing the job of their alleged opponents?
And lest we be tempted to blame this entirely on George W. Bush, we may go back still further to notice that government spending increased dramatically under the first President Bush and his predecessor Ronald Reagan. (Interestingly, the only intervening Democrat, Bill Clinton, slowed the increase in spending and oversaw significant welfare reforms.) President Reagan in particular was hailed as being the champion of limited government, yet as philosopher Harry Binswanger pointed out on his private email list, far from cutting the budget when he rode in on his election mandate, Mr. Reagan actually proposed a 6.1% increase.
So, why do conservatives give lip service to freedom and limited government, yet fail to actually act accordingly?
The reason is that conservatives cannot escape the logic of their own fundamental premises. Morally, they share the same basic code as the so-called liberals: altruism. The political right may differ from the political left in the particular programs that they advance, but they are in complete agreement that men must serve something “larger than themselves.” For Republicans, it is a supernatural God; for Democrats, it is a secular godhead, such as society or the state.
It is impossible to consistently defend liberty and capitalism on sacrificial grounds. Freedom is inherently selfish - freedom means: freedom for the individual. By “selfish,” of course, I mean not the hedonistic, range-of-the-moment type of selfishness that is commonly connoted, but the long-range, rational self-interest that every human being must exercise to live and flourish.
As long as they hold an adherence to “traditional values” instead of a respect for individual rights as a rationale, conservatives will fail to make their case for capitalism. From “Reaganomics” (which advocated lower taxes not on the grounds that it reduced rights violations, but because it would help to “trickle” the wealth to all) to “compassionate conservatism” (which explicitly bound government activities to religious goals), conservative policies will inevitably erode liberties. Even when sincere emphasis is given to the free market, individual responsibility, and other aspects of liberty, when pressed, the conservative cannot bring himself to say that the reason capitalism is moral is because it permits him to seek his own happiness.
Until and unless the Republicans completely reject sacrifice as a moral ideal, they will simply pave the way for their leftist opponents.
1. “Reeling conservatives assess damage,” Boston Globe, 1 Mar 2009, p. A9.
2. Transcript from Judy Woodruff’s Inside Politics, CNN, 18 Jun 2003, http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0306/18/ip.00.html.
3. See “2008 Federal Revenue and Spending Book of Charts,” Heritage Foundation, http://www.heritage.org/research/features/BudgetChartBook/index.html