One of the most frustrating aspects of being a Reagan conservative today is witnessing the total surrender of many elements of what made Reagan’s unique strategy successful in 1980.
There is an unsigned opinion piece in the The New Criterion that lays out this dilemma in blunt terms. The author quotes political philosopher David Hume and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman in warning that it is the slow incrementalism of government intrusion into the private sector that threatens our liberty more than sudden political upheaval:
“It is seldom,” David Hume wrote, “that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.” That admonitory sentence furnishes one of the epigraphs for Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, first published in 1943. How is freedom faring in the United States today? Peter Robinson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, provided a melancholy précis in “The Loss of Individual Liberty,” a column that appeared in Forbes last month. Mr. Robinson recalled a dinner he shared with Milton Friedman several years ago. He complimented the venerable economist on his role in transforming the intellectual landscape, especially in fostering widespread appreciation of the inextricable connection between free markets and individual liberty. Friedman refused the compliment. “We may have won the intellectual battle,” he said, “but in practical politics, it’s difficult to see that we’ve had any effect at all.” (emphasis mine).
Historians may identify the year 2008 as the new high water mark of this incrementalism as it replaced the previous standard established by Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. The political debate today is no longer defined by principles that are essentially classically liberal, Austrian economics versus progressive leftist, Keynesian economics.
As Friedman noted, the intellectual debate is settled but the Realpolitik debate (i.e. that which is “practical” or pragmatic) is being won by the liberals just as quickly as it is being surrendered by moderate Republicans. The latter group, which is just as intellectually vapid as most members of their opposing party, must be labeled political opportunists and ideological midgets of the worst sort as well. (Yes, I’m talking to you Lindsey Graham, John Warner, Olympia Snowe, John McCain, Colin Powell, Arlen Specter and the rest of the RINO herd.)
The conservative movement faces defining decisions today that are no less important than those made during Reconstruction, or the formation of our modern financial system in the late 19th and early 20th century, or the decisions made during Roosevelt’s New Deal and the revolutionary tax cuts of the Reagan era.
Recent legislation to preserve the integrity of our financial system has already invited other constituencies (the auto industry, real estate developers, and other private sector interests) to ask for federal assistance. If Republicans are to have any chance of regaining power in the Congress then they must appeal to the fundamental principles of liberty and rugged individualism that is the core (still today) of conservative political philosophy. To continue the obscene (to borrow Jimmy Carter’s description of oil company profits in 1979) use of tax payer money to bail out private sector companies is to make certain that personal responsibility and private sector accountability will become a thing of the past.