Search results for the tag, "Conservatism"

December 5th, 2007

Downsizing Government: Should We Start with Poor People or Big Business?

Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo

It seems to me that if we’re to roll back Big Government, we ought to start, not by curtailing subsidies to poor people, but by curtailing subsidies to and tax breaks for Big Business. To be sure, reforming welfare in the 90s was a huge achievement, but I think that when we focus on things like welfare queens and S-CHIP, we only perpetuate the (mis)perception that the GOP is the party for rich people. By contrast, if we take on Exxon and Wal-Mart, we both find common ground with the left and work toward our own goal of downsizing government.

Addendum (4/1/2008): Here’s a more recent example, pointed up by Hillary:

“If the Fed can extend $30 billion to help Bear Stearns address [its] financial crisis, the federal government should provide at least that much emergency assistance to help families and communities address theirs.”

Addendum (7/24/2014): Two more examples, from Nick Kristof:

“Financiers are wealthy partly because they’re highly educated and hardworking—and also because they’ve successfully lobbied for the carried interest tax loophole that lets their pay be taxed at much lower rates than other people’s. Likewise, if you’re a pharmaceutical executive, one way to create profits is to generate new products. Another is to lobby Congress to bar the government’s Medicare program from bargaining for drug prices.”

Addendum (5/15/2017): In her book, Tax and Spend, the historian Molly Michelmore observes, “Most of the recipients of federal aid are not the suspect ‘welfare queens’ of the popular imagination but rather middle-class homeowners, salaried professionals and retirees.”

The author, Matthew Desmond, puts Michelmore’s point this way: “A 15-story public housing tower and a mortgaged suburban home are both government-subsidized, but only one looks (and feels) that way.”

August 18th, 2007

Marriage: Federalization or Federalism?

Veteran conservative activist Craig Shirley has called it “the height of intellectual dishonesty” to advocate repealing Roe while calling for the federalization of marriage. “[B]ehavioral issues belong at the state level,” he observes.

Indeed, the conservative position on gay marriage—to say nothing of the consistent position—should be a federalist one. This is also the strategically sound liberal position, as TNR’s James Kirchick argues:

[Federalism] appeals to conservatives who oppose gay marriage (like former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr [my link]) but agree that it is a subject best left for states. It also acknowledges that the president’s power to enact legislation on gay marriage is extremely limited. The most a Democratic president could do is repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. . . . which would be a considerable accomplishment and open the door to granting federal benefits to gay couples in states where such unions are recognized. But marriage laws themselves [would] still [be] within the purview of the states.

Related: “Why Can’t Democrats Explain Their Opposition to Gay Marriage?

Addendum (8/22/2007): The gay rights movement is often compared to the civil rights movement. But one parallel often overlooked is the importance of incrementalism.

For example, in 1957, civil rights leaders derided the Civil Rights Act as a sellout and a crippling compromise. But as (historian?) Robert Mann observed in an op-ed yesterday, “By giving lawmakers confidence that voting for once-radical ideas wouldn’t make the sky fall,” the bill “paved the way for subsequent, stronger rights legislation.”

Indeed, the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, would never have passed in 1957.

The corollary: Same-sex equality won’t happen tomorrow. It will proceed, to borrow a phrase from political scientist Phil Klinkner, as an unsteady march.

May 9th, 2007

Should TechRepublican Be Rechristened Tech Conservative?

TechRepublican, “a group blog dedicated to helping the Republican Party online,” went live on Monday. Maybe it’s just semantics, or maybe it’s just me, but I’m curious why, given the increasing divide between Republicans and conservatives—between those who want to harness government for right-wing goals and those who want to curb its growth—the site isn’t called Tech Conservative?

Co-founder David All, who is doing brilliant work with new media and from whom I have learned much, responded as follows:

“I had that same conversation with a close friend who I now believe owns tC. What the Republican Party and the conservative movement needs is more people that claim to actually be a ‘Republican,’ or will at least work toward helping to elect Republicans.”

Huh? What the Republican Party needs is not people who merely call themselves Republicans but those who actually believe in Republican principles, like limited government and a market economy and fiscal restraint.

Addendum: David replies:

“I was talking with Robert Bluey at lunch today and he said something wise so I’m going to steal it and use it here: To build the movement, we need to add and multiply, not divide and subtract. . . .

At the end of the day, it’s us versus them. We’re in this boat together.”

In other words, disagreement is dangerous because it disrupts unity. (Ironically, this is the exact same view of the liberal establishment bloggers, or netroots that Jonathan Chait profiles in this month’s New Republic. Quoth Daily Kos himself, “I’m not ideological at all. I’m just all about winning.” Translation: “What they cannot forgive is Democrats or liberals who distance themselves from their party or who give ammunition to the enemy.”)

To give this view its due, consider the endless infighting among libertarians compared to the stay-on-the-message orthodoxy of the GOP. Then look at the respective electoral results. There’s a lot to be said for the virtue of strength in numbers, as the Baker-Hamilton commission, the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board, and the netroots have all recognized.

But if it’s one thing to respectfully disagree and another to gratuitously censure, David seems to view even disagreement as unhelpful. I couldn’t disagree more. I do not indulge in the “us. vs. them” mentality, and I do not put party before principle.

For that matter, nor does Mike Pence, who is famous for calling himself a conservative before he’s a Republican. Indeed, even if you subscribe to Reagan’s 11th Commandment, I would hope that you agree with Pence—which is why, to bring us back to the original question, I prefer “techConservative” to “techRepublican.” (Incidentally, this is why the American Conservative Union is not the American Republican Union; that’s what the RNC is for).

Instead, I think in terms of what’s right, regardless of who’s saying it. And, as a matter of fact, I think David does, too. Why else would he play such a big part in the Open House Project, a beautifully bipartisan movement to increase congressional transparency among both Democrats and Republicans?

Ultimately, David is right: we need to “add and multiply, not divide and subtract.” But indulging in the latter does not undercut the former. It might technically be a distraction, but it’s a necessary and perfectly healthy one.

For the Internet is not a zero-sum game. If anything, it’s the exact opposite: a world wide playground where we can learn from—and improve upon—those we disagree with rather than seeking simply to “beat” them.

April 14th, 2007

Conservatism’s Crossroad

A version of this blog post appeared on on April 14, 2007.

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference is the mecca for the Republican base—the people who man the phone banks, knock on doors, plant homemade signs on lawns and bedeck their bumpers with stickers. In theory, what’s good for CPAC is good for the GOP.

Alas, as last month’s confab made clear, the nexus between the conservative movement and the Republican Party is wobbly. Whereas conservatives are ideologues who concern themselves with issues, Republicans are politicians who focus on re-election. The two are not mutually exclusive—in fact, the competition is healthy—but something is wrong when many conservatives think their elected officials would exercise greater fidelity to the cause as the minority rather than the majority.

In short, the Right is at a crossroad. On one hand are those who have inured themselves to the relentless growth of government. Such people no longer want to downsize federal agencies but to harness them for their own ends. On the other hand are those who believe that the principles of limited government—fiscal discipline, a market economy, decentralization—are still worth fighting for. Such people read Goldwater, quote Reagan, and cite the Contract with America.

If the GOP wants to regain the congressional majority, it must therefore make a choice: should we try to co-opt the Democratic agenda, or should we hold fast to our leave-me-alone, do-it-yourself ideals?

To be sure, it’s one thing to pontificate from the sidelines, and it’s another to explain to one’s constituents why it’s wrong that their neighbors’ farm, but not their own museum, just received a million-dollar grant. Indeed, the right answer requires mettle—which is to say that it requires principles.

Principles matter not only because they establish a framework for thinking, but also because they distinguish one party from another. A lack of principles explains the CNN poll taken after the November midterms that astonishingly found more than 60% of Americans now believe the GOP to be the party of “big government.”

They’re wrong, of course, since in a contest for who can better exploit the resources of the state, conservatives will always lose. The reason: liberals are more consistent in such advocacy.

So, instead of adopting a me-too approach, Republicans should view the 110th Congress as an opportunity to reorient and revitalize themselves—to reconnect with CPACers. The solution is to return to first principles, the ones that are as easy to explain—government is the problem, not the solution—as they are commonsensical.

April 11th, 2007

The Inevitable Conclusion of Technocracy

Newt Gingrich

Yesterday I blogged Monday’s sunshiny debate on global warming between Newt Gingrich and John Kerry. Today, Dana Milbank rains on my parade with a quote from the former speaker:

“I am not automatically saying that coercion and bureaucracy is not an answer,” he granted.

Newt has never been a limited-government conservative. In 1995, he told Time, “I’m for limited government, but a very strong limited government.” (Translation, courtesy of Democratic Congressman Barney Frank: “He’s not for smaller government. He’s for different government.”)

Indeed, in a word, Newt is a technocrat, who wants the government to wield science and technology in the service of empowering the citizenry.

Addendum: Bradford Plumer, the liberal New Republic researcher-reporter on the GOP environmental beat, raps Newt for being too muchof a limited-government guy. In Newt’s alleged world, Plumer writes,

If it involves more regulation, it can’t possibly be good. “We’re talking about a massive increase in government power,” he warns.

Plumer ends his article with another typically Newtonian quote,

perhaps the most elegant explanation of why global warming is a difficult problem for conservatives—even for someone who, like himself, professes to care deeply about the environment. “For most of the last 30 years, the environment has been a powerful emotional tool for bigger government and higher taxes,” he says. “Even if it’s the right thing to do, you end up fighting it because it’s bigger government and higher taxes.”

This is an intriguing but ultimately specious theory, because it assumes that people cannot be allowed to do the “right thing,” but must have the government do it for—i.e., force it on—us.

If Newt were a conservative before he were a technocrat, he would instead trust the wisdom of crowds and the forces of supply and demand, i.e., the market. But because he’s a technocrat before he’s a conservative, he’s not opposed to “coercion and bureaucracy.”

Addendum (4/14/2007): I should have noted that Newt isn’t the only conservative to have gone green. Mark Sanford, the former congressman and current South Carolina governor, recently penned an op-ed in the Post, in which he proclaimed, “I am a conservative conservationist who worries that sea levels and government intervention may end up rising together.”