Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mixed signals

Has anyone heard the post-election spin from Republican and Libertarian circles that this election indicates that voters want "true conservative values"? This notion is not hard to find. "The GOP lost. Conservatism prevailed," says Michelle Malkin. John Hinderaker at Powerline says, "This year, on the other hand, it is actually true that the Republicans have lost power in large part--although, to be sure, not entirely--because they have been untrue to their conservative principles." Mark Levin thinks "the field is wide open for a principled, articulate, and charismatic conservative. The 2008 election begins today. " Larry "Kuds" Kudlow says, "The changeover in the House may well be a conservative victory, not a liberal one." And Andrew Sullivan has been living under the illusion for the past few months that voters are going to punish the GOP for betraying their roots.

You smell that? It's horseshit.

I guess I can't really blame people for thinking that their particular political movement is what "everybody secretly wants." We all fall prey to thinking, "If only everyone knew all the relevant information as I do, then we'd certainly have [social democracy/anarcho-capitalism/Christian theocracy/robot overlords/Amsterdam]!" The difference is, some of us are kidding ourselves, and some aren't. And you are truly kidding yourself if you think that George Bush and his posse ever strayed from some magical force called conservatism. They are conservatives, plain and simple. Any attempt to look to a "pure" conservative past finds no actual historical precedent.

We can try to flesh out the meaning of this elusive "pure" conservatism, but it's very difficult. Most of these commentators, and also many libertarians, seem to think that where BushCo really went wrong was with the economy. "He's outspending LBJ!" went one particular meme. "He's leaving all this debt to our children! Where is our beloved Ronald Reagan?" For the life of me I can't understand this complaint, since Reagan himself presided over huge deficits, all the while increasing military spending and (wait for it...) giving tax breaks to the biggest earners. Like Reagan, Bush has also rolled back plenty of corporate and environmental oversight. He also attempted and utterly failed at privatizing Social Security, an immensely unpopular measure.

On the social policy front, I also have no idea how this government could have been any more conservative. And it's laughable to say that "real conservatism" calls for increased privacy for the individual and less "government in the bedroom," because only about two prominent conservative commentators actually want this and the majority of them want the exact opposite. Most Americans, on the other hand, aren't rabid about criminalizing every last abortion, or delivering diagnoses about braindead women, or singing "Jesusland uber alles" from the rooftop of every courthouse.

Andrew Sullivan has been justifiably upset over the past several months at the Bush administration's constant lying, corruption, torture, and powerlust. But he's wrong to think that these are specifically un-conservative practices. They should be un-American practices (unfortunately, this is not always the case). And moreover, if you're going to find instances of them in 20th century American politics, you're sure as hell going to be marking a lot more in the "Republican" column than the "Democrat." I could spell out all the nasty examples from Kissinger, Nixon, Iran-Contra, et al., but that would be boring.

There's also the question of the war, which was the biggest factor in the election. Here "conservatives" are faced with a paradox. Some old-schoolers like Pat Buchanan think we never should have gone to Iraq, but he is the vox clamantis in deserto. The only real Republican talking point can be that Iraq was a great idea, the only possible option. However, (A) wars are expensive. (B) As "conservative" economists, we (questionably) want a balanced budget. (C) We will never increase taxes to balance a budget. Ergo (D) we're up shit creek with a turd for a paddle. I have no idea how one ties all these loose "pure conservative" threads together. Perhaps Michelle Malkin and John Hinderaker can tell us. But at the end of the day, the Republicans got voted out in part because they were too conservative, not "not purely conservative enough." The Bush administration is not the deviation from the norm, they are the manic id of conservatism as we historically know it, with all its nastier tendencies run amok. And most of the above commentators are even more deranged and far-right than the President. If they wish to persist in their fantasies, let them. They'll just lose more elections.

As a side note, more post-election conservative fun:

As a little joke, Jonah Goldberg at NRO's Corner blog links to the "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" scene from Life of Brian. He leaves a caveat, however: "Note: Monty Python sacrilege follows." NRO must be one of the few places left in the world where they have to take care not to offend any unwitting Christian readers with freakin' Monty Python. It's kind of cute, though, in the sense that conservatives are really quite sensitive after all.

Meanwhile, Hugh Hewitt sez: "President Bush will not flag in the pursuit of the war, and Senator Santorum is now available for a seat on the SCOTUS should one become available." This is kind of cute, too, in the sense that I never realized that Hugh Hewitt was actually a small, naive child.


Blogger Sebonde said...

Well, speaking as a half-hearted Buchananite, I can say that true conservatives don't wage war on behalf of an Enlightenment notion of freedom. One can make the case that modern conservatism arose to counter the unversalistic claims made on behalf of this freedom and used to justify the Jacobin wars. In other words, true conservatives are not Jacobins.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Austin 5-000 said...

Regardless of what people say, the conservative nature of the new congress will be determined by how it votes, and I don't see how any conservative legislation is going to be put through.
I agree about Reagan; he fucking invented the deficit. Who the hell are they talking about?

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Delusion can be a terminal disease.

3:24 PM  

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