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Whither Conservatism

If opinion amongst the illuminati is any indication, "wither conservatism" is the more appropriate query. The Republican Party, generally regarded in our two-party system as the home of conservatism, has taken a beating in the last two election cycles. This is bandied about as evidence that America has rejected conservative ideals to embrace the sweet, soft bosom of liberalism. The balance of power has undeniably swung towards the Democrats of late; to what degree that shift can be attributed to the decline of conservatism is the question Republicans must debate. From here, it appears to be more short-term tactical failure rather than lack of a strategic vision.

Public opinion polling data has consistently demonstrated that America is a center-right nation. Most Americans understand and favor the rather abstract notion of limited government. Republicans failed to implement specific policies aimed and reducing the federal government's footprint when handed the reins of power, instead opting for an orgy of spending and government expansion. They betrayed conservative ideals and violated the public's trust. They opened the door for charges of hypocrisy from their opponents and threw fuel on the fire by not vigorously policing ethical breaches and corruption. Not a failure of philosophy, but rather a failure of men. Bad actors across the land tarnished the Republican brand; Democrats and the media (yeah, redundancy) rightfully went on the attack with great success.

Responsibility for the electoral bloodbath starts at the top. George W. Bush has done an extremely poor job advancing the conservative agenda. He sat on his veto pen while spendthrift Republicans in Congress expanded government at an unprecedented rate. His instincts on immigration are awful. He mismanaged a once-popular war to the point Americans preferred surrender to victory (although from a strategic standpoint letting Iraqis see just how bad life would be under the jihadis/insurgents probably helped launch the Anbar Awakening and aided the Surge strategy...). Worst of all, his administration seemed either unwilling or unable to defend itself from unjust criticisms. Why should conservatives defend him when he betrays our desire for limited government and won't even defend himself? His dedication to keeping Americans safe following 9/11 has been steadfast and admirable. Beyond that, with a few exceptions (Roberts, and eventually Alito) he's been a disappointment.

Turns out a "Compassionate Conservative" is a pro-life liberal.

Bush is not alone in disappointing conservatives, but he's the face of the Republican Party. His unpopularity is a drag on the party all the way down to local dog catcher elections. Fortunately for conservatives, he won't be available to kick around any more when 2010 and 2012 roll around. The challenge now is for congressional Republicans to restore voter confidence by actively and publicly fighting for conservative principals. Nationally, they need to identify a party leader to effectively present conservative ideas to the voters and reengage moderates.

The "who" is a question for another day; conservatives need to advance a concrete suite of policy ideas which reflect a commitment to limited government. One great failure has been the inability to link our current economic downturn to the market-distorting effect of affirmative action lending policies advocated through the Community Reinvestment Act and Fannie/Freddie. It's has the Democrats' fingerprints all over it. Yet the public blames Republican Party. Once again, Bush is POTUS and ultimately the buck stops with him. He's done the "right" thing by not pointing fingers and working to repair the damage - to the detriment of the Republican Party as a whole. As the new Congress muddles through policies to "stimulate" the economy, the minority party needs to lay blame where it belongs and hammer the disastrous consequences of government distorting the market into the public consciousness.

Likewise, they need to emphasize the impact of the Democrats' support for organized labor and ever increasing CAFE standards on US automakers.

Tax policy is another area where conservatism is a winner. People need to understand the US has the second highest corporate tax rate in the world and why that leads to higher prices and foreign outsourcing. America should lead the world in economic freedom, reducing corporate and capital gains taxes would further strengthen our competitive position. At the personal level, simplifying the tax code and implementing a flat income tax rate can increase revenue and save people hours of puzzling over our Byzantine federal tax code.

Affordable energy needs to be a cornerstone of conservative ideology. By reducing the amount businesses and individuals spend on energy we can put money back into everyone's pockets. This is the ultimate in trickle down economics - by reducing costs at every stage of production, transportation, distribution, and retailing the price of all goods will fall. It benefits lower income Americans most of all since they spend a higher percentage of their income on personal energy consumption (electricity, natural gas, gasoline, etc.) and groceries. This is perhaps the best place conservatives can demonstrate how deregulation can put money back in citizens' pockets. Eliminate barriers to expanding domestic oil/gas exploration and nuclear power. Use the tax code to allow energy companies to expand delivery infrastructure. Whatever it takes to ensure the US has the lowest cost energy in the world.

Finally, explain practical, results-focused reasons we need to not just limit, but reduce the size of our federal government. Start with the Citizens Against Government Waste website. Then point out the redundancy of many government programs. Point out the failures of the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Agriculture, and Office of National Drug Control Policy. Do we really need a Department of Labor? A Department of Commerce? If so, how do we measure their effectiveness? Why can't they reduce their budgets by 1% annually? How come the government never has to tighten its belt?

Entrenched bureaucracies are a difficult foe to overcome - particularly with Government Employee unions laundering money back to the Democrats. Conservatives need to sell the public on a redesigned federal government that is efficient, nimble, and accountable. Privatize unproductive functions, promote on merit rather than seniority, reduce obstacles to releasing low-performing employees. Top performing organizations churn the bottom performing 10-25% of their workforce annually. Only government employees are going to oppose a government model that eliminates workers who aren't striving to excel for their taxpayer-financed salary.

The thorniest area is social issues. It's difficult to square limited government with many Republicans' desire to impose morality through social policy. The demand for ideological purity on social issues also limits conservatives' choices when it's time to nominate candidates for a national ticket. Unfortunately, social issues are the ones most passionately argued on both ends of the political spectrum. One advantage the Democrats enjoy is the willingness to sacrifice ideological purity on social issues for the sake of electoral victory. Or toleration of obfuscation on the campaign trail. Two twenty, two twenty-one; whatever it takes.

Personally, I'm a limited government conservative even when it comes to social issues. I don't believe the government should meddle in the affairs of adults. I don't like abortion, but it's not my place to tell people how to conduct their lives. If they're comfortable with it on their conscience, so be it. Judge not lest ye be judged; if there's a God they'll take it up with him. That's not a winner with the base and banning abortions isn't a winner with the majority of the country. I guess the only way to frame it is as a judicial argument - appointing justices who will send the issue back to the voters in each state. We'd likely end up with basically the same laws we have now, but at least they wouldn't be decreed by an unelected judiciary.

Voters would respond positively to these ideas. What's been lacking is the will required to transform ideas into actions and spokespeople to defend and advance the conservative agendas when the howls of protest rise. No, we don't want to take away seniors' entitlement programs; we want to ensure they won't bankrupt their grandchildren. We don't want to take away school kids' lunches; we want to let the more-accountable-to-individual-voters states and school districts take responsibility. We want the government to leave you alone, let you keep more of your money, and permit you to make decisions for yourself. Ready to help when catastrophe strikes and willing to see people suffer the consequences of poor decisions.

We're probably kicking a dead horse, though. Conservatives have been saying the same things throughout the Reagan and Bush presidencies while we creep ever closer to an omnipotent nanny state. Perhaps conservatism is only viable as a round table political philosophy. The ideas sound good in principal but it seems there aren't enough voters willing to swing without a government safety net for conservatism to work in practice.

Or, maybe they've been let down by Republicans to the point they've just thrown in the towel and decided to let the party of a chicken in every pot, federalized health care, and free money run things for a while. Will a new slate of fresh, conservative voices step up, stick to their promises, and kick Washington to the right? Only time will tell.

Posted by Baron Von Ottomatic


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Comments (14)

Since you started out your ... (Below threshold)

Since you started out your piece with a mammary metaphor, I realized that as I have always been a breast man who appreciates unpretentious and well formed B cups over ostentatious and what is often labeled as generously endowed busts, perhaps my political views derive from basic sexual preferences rather than philosophical and logical argument.

I'll have to gnaw on this one a while...

Yes, it is a failure of men... (Below threshold)

Yes, it is a failure of men/women who are elected. But from 2000 to present, the GOP has, sadly, had more people convicted, under investigation than the Demo's have.

I guess the old saying, absolute power corrupts comes true in this case. But the sad fact remains, our elected critters, no matter what party, are suppose to work for all Americans.

Both parties have disregarded this, and are just filling the pockets, and their buddies pockets. And we the taxpayer are taking it without any Vaseline being used on us.

It really doesn't matter what party is in control, either one will screw us. It's been that way for years, and will probably continue for more years.

So, learn to enjoy getting screwed by one party or the other, because both parties are going to screw the taxpaying public.

"The right" can produce dat... (Below threshold)

"The right" can produce data that supports the America = Center-Right hypothesis, but the left can produce data that suggests the opposite--for example, a majority of Americans would prefer federalized health care funded by tax dollars.


The data is 5 years old but is not likely to have shifted rightwards, especially since insurance premiums have increased in the meantime. Yessir, that's right: a 2 to 1 margin in favour of socialized medicine, albeit with big caveats. So that's 66% of the country that isn't "center-right" when it comes to health care. And the caveats--no increase in wait times, etc.--show that this two-thirds majority are not in favour of socialized health care because they're socialists, but because they think it will improve their health care system. And, if socialization wouldn't improve the system, the percentage in favour drops to 40% from 62%.

What does this show? Obviously, that it doesn't make sense to classify America as right or left; and arguably, that Americans (like every other free nation) are less motivated by ideology than they are by self-interest, sympathy, and empathy.

epador, I didn't read that ... (Below threshold)

epador, I didn't read that before commenting. Would you please--please--develop this argument further? I'm center-left and I'm all about the C cup.

Well, I generally like the ... (Below threshold)

Well, I generally like the right breast.

No need for all that extra fat, its useless and when it ages leads to faster and farther droops and withering.

Also much less likely to smother you.

A conservatively apportioned breast can nurture as well or better than an ostentatious one. And a lot more efficiently as well.

hyperbolist, one question t... (Below threshold)
Baron Von Ottomatic:

hyperbolist, one question to ponder is the effect government intervention in the market has upon the health insurance and delivery market. Federal law severely restricts insurance providers from minimizing risk within the insurance pool by excluding patients with preexisting conditions. Private employers are compelled by tax policy to offer their employees health plans for more comprehensive than they might purchase otherwise. This leads to unnecessary office visits, overuse of limited medical resources, and increased expenses for claim processing.

Then consider resistance to enacting tort reform and reducing damages in malpractice lawsuits. States that have enacted medical liability limits have seen an influx of physicians from more litigation friendly states. The OB/GYN field has been especially hard hit, many areas are facing shortages of OB/GYN as a result.

FDA regulations make bringing new medications to market vastly more time consuming and expensive. The US currently contributes ~80% of new medical patents to the world. Innovation is stifled in countries with socialized medicine, should the US go that route the whole world will be worse off as a lack of profit potential dries up the incentive for new innovation.

Much like the crisis on Wall Street and failures of auto manufacturing in Detroit, government interference has distorted the health care market. Naturally, only a complete takeover of health care by the government can solve these government created problems. Do you believe a state-run auto company would outperform privately held companies like Honda? If not, why do you believe state-run health care would outperform our current system?

Baron,While I have... (Below threshold)


While I have a feeling that I will not always see eye to eye with you on issues, I think that you are an excellent writer. This post is a very clear and well-written statement of your political ideology.

Also, I appreciate the fact that you are able to interact with people who have opposing viewpoints, like hyperbolist, with class and respect. I have a lot of respect for people who can express their views forcefully and convincingly, yet still listen to different perspectives.

Paragraph breaks, dude. We'... (Below threshold)

Paragraph breaks, dude. We're reading this on the internet.

Personally, I'm a limite... (Below threshold)

Personally, I'm a limited government conservative even when it comes to social issues. I don't believe the government should meddle in the affairs of adults. I don't like abortion, but it's not my place to tell people how to conduct their lives. If they're comfortable with it on their conscience, so be it.

Unfortunately, meddling adults used the power of the government to create the most discriminatory law of the land Roe vs Wade. This law was not duly legislated rather enforced by judical fiat, not one single adult American was allowed to vote this law. As a result of meddling adults, this highly discriminatory law changes according to gender, time and need. For example,

- if She chooses to call the 'fetus' life then She is afforded pre-natal government care (local, stae, federal.

-If She chooses to call the 'fetus' a clump of cells (scientifically cells are life) then She is afforded government funded abortion (local, state)

-If He acts on Her request to kick Her in the abdomen whereby bringing demise to the 'fetus' then He is sent to prison for murder while She is free to choose.

-If She cannot choose what is the 'fetus' then She could decide as late as the 20 minute path through the birth canal as to what She chooses to call the 'fetus'. Fortunately, justice has acted by requiring She make up her mind well before the brain in Her womb is ignited. We shall soon see whether we return backward to this barbaric manner of Adulthood.

Taking this further my question is should adults meddle in affairs of anti-science? Faith aside, science has proven beyond any doubt that indeed the fetus is a living being. This cannot disputed, what can be disputed the concept of 'soul' and this is where faith enters the picture. Analyzing further even beyond the fact that our culture was using the medical industry to suck out a human brain ie partical birth abortion, our culture had reached the point where laws are necessary to prevent the medical industry from forcing newborns to die through neglect of caring for this life ie Born Alive Protection Act.

In any other circumstance, neglecting the child is considered abuse yet the medical industry was allowed (very likely will again in the near future) to fully exterminate life at the whim of adult desires.

My question is, because of adults meddling in anti-science how can we now trust the medical indutry to do no harm when in fact the medical industry was using anti-science to do harm.

Now the same meddling adults want the government to control the medical industry, now how will there be accountability if the govenment uses the medical industry to decide who lives or dies based upon bed-space or most importantly, the value of life.

If an adult wants to commit suicide there is no need to have goverment laws sanctioning suicide.

This is the problem with adults meddling in anti-science, they need the government to commit the act of killing for them so it is easier on the conscience of the meddling adult.

This is where my small government desires enter my conscience, I do not want meddling adults to use the full power of government to determine the value of my life.

The OB/GYN field has bee... (Below threshold)

The OB/GYN field has been especially hard hit, many areas are facing shortages of OB/GYN as a result.

Here is another example of the discriminatory law, Roe vs Wade:

Did not a former presidential candidate profit hundreds of millions when he sued the OBGYN industry by channeling the fetus?

Now if fetus does not have a soul (thus according to meddling adults) how then was it possible for John Edwards to use the soul of a fetus to win his lawsuit against the medical industry?

The party needs more Ottoma... (Below threshold)

The party needs more Ottomatics.

Thanks for the reply, Baron... (Below threshold)

Thanks for the reply, Baron.

For the record, I fully agree that your system of tort law is insane. We can't sue one another willy-nilly in Canada, nor can it be done in most countries with socialized medicine. In fact, I would argue that your current tort system is wholly incompatible with efficient socialized medicine. And, before you claim that efficient socialized medicine is an oxymoron, do note that even factoring in the amount of money spent by American healthcare companies on R&D compared to other nations, your system is one of the least efficient in the world.

I wouldn't defend my country's system right now--drastically under-funded by a Prime Minister who would seek to turn public opinion against universal health care by bleeding the system dry--but Japan and France are better examples of more efficient systems that offer universal coverage.

I also fail to see how universalizing coverage in America would cause R&D money to dry up.

hyperbolist,There ... (Below threshold)
Baron Von Ottomatic:


There are two ways to manage costs in a single-payer system: restricting access and controlling costs. Canada, for example, restricts what price can be charged for prescriptions. US drug companies go along with it to a point - it's my understanding that many drugs available in the US are subject to shortages or aren't sold in Canada. The US health care system is subsidizing prescription drugs in Canada (and Europe) by making up lost revenue here. Once Washington applies those same price controls here, who will subsidize new drug development?

IIRC, only about one in twenty new drugs actually gets approved for market. It's an expensive, hit-or-miss process. If a company can't make back their investment before a patent expires what's the point?

Same with capital equipment, if there's a limit on what facilities can charge for procedures, which delays recouping the initial investment, there's less incentive to buy new equipment. Less demand means less sales for the manufacturers and less money for R&D.

Most pharma/medical innovation takes place in the US because companies move their operation here to avoid taxes and restrictions in place across Europe.

I don't believe our system is one of the least efficient. Comparisons regularly show shorter waiting times for surgery, higher survival rates for cancer, and high degrees of patient satisfaction with their individual providers. The money side can be a mess, but once again I would attribute that to distortions created by the government.

Hyperbolist, I'd like to se... (Below threshold)

Hyperbolist, I'd like to see you justify that to my in-laws that live in a fairly small town in NE Montana. Over the last 3 years, the birth-rate and # of patients treated in their local hospital has rise 325%, even though the town's population fell by 10%. Most of the increase has been attributed to canadian citizens unable to get timely treatment, and coming across the border to "visit relatives" in the area. One man they got to know had to have open heart surgery during a "visit" because he would have died before he could have the surgery in canada. Funny how "efficient" socialized health care is for those folks.






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