How Today's Conservatism Lost Touch with Reality
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Posted by Richard Bonine, Jr. (+15076) 10 years ago
I found this article pretty interesting.

http://www.time.com/time/...43,00.html

"Conservatism is true." That's what George Will told me when I interviewed him as an eager student many years ago. His formulation might have been a touch arrogant, but Will's basic point was intelligent. Conservatism, he explained, was rooted in reality. Unlike the abstract theories of Marxism and socialism, it started not from an imagined society but from the world as it actually exists. From Aristotle to Edmund Burke, the greatest conservative thinkers have said that to change societies, one must understand them, accept them as they are and help them evolve.
Watching this election campaign, one wonders what has happened to that tradition. Conservatives now espouse ideas drawn from abstract principles with little regard to the realities of America's present or past. This is a tragedy, because conservatism has an important role to play in modernizing the U.S.

Consider the debates over the economy. The Republican prescription is to cut taxes and slash government spending - then things will bounce back. Now, I would like to see lower rates in the context of tax simplification and reform, but what is the evidence that tax cuts are the best path to revive the U.S. economy? Taxes - federal and state combined - as a percentage of GDP are at their lowest level since 1950. The U.S. is among the lowest taxed of the big industrial economies. So the case that America is grinding to a halt because of high taxation is not based on facts but is simply a theoretical assertion. The rich countries that are in the best shape right now, with strong growth and low unemployment, are ones like Germany and Denmark, neither one characterized by low taxes.

Many Republican businessmen have told me that the Obama Administration is the most hostile to business in 50 years. Really? More than that of Richard Nixon, who presided over tax rates that reached 70%, regulations that spanned whole industries, and who actually instituted price and wage controls?

In fact, right now any discussion of government involvement in the economy - even to build vital infrastructure - is impossible because it is a cardinal tenet of the new conservatism that such involvement is always and forever bad. Meanwhile, across the globe, the world's fastest-growing economy, China, has managed to use government involvement to create growth and jobs for three decades. From Singapore to South Korea to Germany to Canada, evidence abounds that some strategic actions by the government can act as catalysts for free-market growth.

Of course, American history suggests that as well. In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the U.S. government made massive investments in science and technology, in state universities and in infant industries. It built infrastructure that was the envy of the rest of the world. Those investments triggered two generations of economic growth and put the U.S. on top of the world of technology and innovation.

But that history has been forgotten. When considering health care, for example, Republicans confidently assert that their ideas will lower costs, when we simply do not have much evidence for this. What we do know is that of the world's richest countries, the U.S. has by far the greatest involvement of free markets and the private sector in health care. It also consumes the largest share of GDP, with no significant gains in health on any measurable outcome. We need more market mechanisms to cut medical costs, but Republicans don't bother to study existing health care systems anywhere else in the world. They resemble the old Marxists, who refused to look around at actual experience. "I know it works in practice," the old saw goes, "but does it work in theory?"

Conservatives used to be the ones with heads firmly based in reality. Their reforms were powerful because they used the market, streamlined government and empowered individuals. Their effects were large-scale and important: think of the reform of the tax code in the 1980s, for example, which was spearheaded by conservatives. Today conservatives shy away from the sensible ideas of the Bowles-Simpson commission on deficit reduction because those ideas are too deeply rooted in, well, reality. Does anyone think we are really going to get federal spending to the level it was at under Calvin Coolidge, as Paul Ryan's plan assumes? Does anyone think we will deport 11 million people?

We need conservative ideas to modernize the U.S. economy and reform American government. But what we have instead are policies that don't reform but just cut and starve government - a strategy that pays little attention to history or best practices from around the world and is based instead on a theory. It turns out that conservatives are the woolly-headed professors after all.
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Posted by Hal Neumann (+10031) 10 years ago
Seems to me that the vocal wing of 21st Century US Conservatism has lost contact with its roots. There's good can be said of some of what have been traditional Conservative values - hard to think of good to say about the Reactionary values being shouted out today.


Daniel Walker Howe did about as good a job as I've ever read of describing the origins of Conservatism in the US in his work on the Jacksonian Era.
Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (2007).
Interview with Howe in the National Review:
http://www.nationalreview.../interview
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Posted by Wil Nelson (+75) 10 years ago
We used to have ample money for roads, schools, space, research etc but it has been diverted to social programs over the last 30 years. This coupled with 45 years of wars of opportunity along with very large deficit spending, transfer of many middle class "worker" type jobs overseas and what you have is NOW.
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Posted by Art (+210) 10 years ago
Richards citation is right on with my feeling toward todays conservatism. Particularly in regards to taxation. Increases in taxation must be a part of the immediate future to deal with deficits. The conservatives position against any tax increases is out of touch with reality and does little to fashion a comprehensive approach to deal with the deficits.
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Posted by Jan Cornutt (+269) 10 years ago
So far I have not seen the non-conservatives coming forth with any plans concerning our national debt. They are all for raising the debt limit, which will mean more spending and then they will have to raise it again...etc...etc. There is a philosophy that says, if you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging. You just can't keep making the hole deeper. You cannot spend yourself out of debt. If congress and the white house would concern themselves with getting people back to work instead of 3 wars we wouldn't have to raise taxes because more people would be paying taxes, thus, more income for the government. The problem is their more concerned about their political agendas and how much power they can get than they are about the citizens of the U.S. This applies to both democrats and republicans.
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Posted by Richard Bonine, Jr. (+15076) 10 years ago
Jan: with all do respect what liberals are or are not doing is not the point of this article. The focus here is on conservatism versus the political reactionism that currently characterizes most of the republican party. I agree that cuts are in order. But I believe we need to be more judicious about where we make those cuts and consider the long-term impacts. Political reactionism isn't geared very well to do this.
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Posted by Kelly (+2736) 10 years ago
[This message has been edited by Kelly (6/19/2011)]
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Posted by Jan Cornutt (+269) 10 years ago
Well , I see the same with the democrats also. It's not supposed to be a one sided thing. If the democrats don't like what the repubs offer the ought to offer something in return and then just maybe they can meet in the middle some where. But so far all the dems want to do is bitch when they could be productive. However the U.S. got in such a financial mess really doesn't matter at this point in time and it does'n make any difference who started it and who contributed it, the point is that we need to start getting out of the mess and so far aI see from the dems on this is to raise the debt ceiling and keep on spending. I really don't think they are smart enough to get us out of the mess were in, and that just may very well be why nothing is getting done.
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Posted by Bridgier (+9297) 10 years ago
What, precisely, are the democract supposed to do? You say all they do is bitch, but apparently they can count. They don't have the votes to pass any meaningful legislation. An appeal to bipartisanship is dead in the water, due to the factors that are mentioned in the article that Richard quoted.

The Republicans control the House. They could be passing bills designed to generate real jobs. They are not, and instead we get to see a slightly less crazy (but no less doctrinaire) version of the Montana Legislature in action. You can blame the Democrats for whatever you wish, but as long as you're pulling the lever for a cynical hack like Dennis Rehberg, then you're getting exactly the government you voted for.
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Posted by Bridgier (+9297) 10 years ago
Thank you for starting this conversation Richard, it's sad that no one on the "right" side of the aisle is will to engage you on it.

[This message has been edited by Bridgier (6/20/2011)]
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Posted by Jan Cornutt (+269) 10 years ago
Well as long as ur pulling the lever for the left political idiot like Harry Reid your getting exactly what you asked for. I'm not buying that it is all republican, not when the dems control the white house and the senate. I'm tired of all the crap coming out of washington (blame game) and I don't care which side it comes from. I really believe all our elected officials in washdc only care about their own well being and power. They could care less about the rest of the United States.
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Posted by Bridgier (+9297) 10 years ago
I've expressed my disappointment with Harry Reid elsewhere on these forums in depth, and I don't particularly feel like rehashing it.

Also, I don't get to vote for Harry Reid, you get to vote for Denny every two years. And do you honestly believe that Sharon Angle would have been a better Senator than Reid? If so, why? Because she believes the republican orthodoxy on taxes and genuflects to the deficit in the correct manner?

That's sort of what Richard's getting at.

[This message has been edited by Bridgier (6/20/2011)]
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Posted by howdy (+4949) 10 years ago
Excellent article Richard, and very worthy of discussion from within the ranks...both sides need to examine their claims and how many are really true or how many are just "spoon fed" crap they heard on a talk show...
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Posted by Rick Kuchynka (+4457) 10 years ago
Eh. You could make a necklace out of the string of memes, but not much else.

Basically it's 'How conservatives lost touch' written by a guy who would've insisted 20 years ago that conservatives were out of touch.

Kind of like reading "The History of the Democratic Party" written by Rush Limbaugh.

He takes irrelevant or even self-conflicting points and squeezes whatever he likes out of them.
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Posted by Gunnar Emilsson (+17668) 10 years ago
....and that has to be about the least surprising post ever in the history of mc.com.
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Posted by Bridgier (+9297) 10 years ago
Party first. Country Second.
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Posted by Richard Bonine, Jr. (+15076) 10 years ago
Basically it's 'How conservatives lost touch' written by a guy who would've insisted 20 years ago that conservatives were out of touch.

Kind of like reading "The History of the Democratic Party" written by Rush Limbaugh.

He takes irrelevant or even self-conflicting points and squeezes whatever he likes out of them.


If there were a WWE for strawmen... this one would get crushed. OTOH, "the party first, country second" response is symptomatic of the problem that has me considering changing my voter registration card.
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Posted by howdy (+4949) 10 years ago
which is why I left my own party a few years ago and am an independent now...anyone that would fear to examine their own party as well as their own beliefs, should fear themselves IMO...
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Posted by Cory Cutting (+1278) 10 years ago
Richard, you have literally changed "before our eyes" and I find your voter registration comment interesting! I often agree with how you believe, just not the depth in which you do. But your move to a centrist belief system is impressive. I feel that if more people were to take that view, more things would get done. Conservative and liberal don't have to be extremes. They can work together, and I too changed my card a few years ago to "independent".
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Posted by Bridgier (+9297) 10 years ago
This thread makes me sad. Will no one make a case for the Modern Republican Party point of view?
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Posted by ziegulpu (+32) 10 years ago
Bridgier,

Didn't you state the modern Republican point of view in your previous post?

Party first, country second.?

Z
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Posted by Bridgier (+9297) 10 years ago
Surely there must be more to it than that.
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Posted by Buck Showalter (+4454) 10 years ago
Me first, me second?
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Posted by Levi Forman (+3718) 10 years ago
Here comes another unsurprising post.

Call me a cynic, but I think it's a mistake to assume that anyone in Washington today is working on ideological principles. The recipe for success in politics these days is to concentrate on your reelection campaign, serve your corporate/special interest paymasters on whom your reelection campaign depends, and say and do things designed to make good sound bites for your base to keep them thinking that everything bad that happens is because of the other party.

It's the same on both sides of the aisle, and the root cause is the fact that our system has been completely corrupted by campaign contributions.

You can all be thankful that I didn't have the energy to compose a manifesto on the Patriot Act re-up this year and I will spare you a rant this evening on the bipartisan effort to destroy the bill of rights but I suggest that everyone read this article:

http://www.newyorker.com/...fact_mayer
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Posted by Gunnar Emilsson (+17668) 10 years ago
It comforts me to know that you are reading the New Yorker, Levi.
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Posted by Rick Kuchynka (+4457) 10 years ago
If there were a WWE for strawmen... this one would get crushed. OTOH, "the party first, country second" response is symptomatic of the problem that has me considering changing my voter registration card.


I'd say if MC.com is the WWE of anything it's neglegent use of the word 'strawman'

Building a strawman involves making an intentionally lame argument on behalf of your opponent and ascribing it to them. Nothing I said could be described that way.

Here's a good example of a strawman argument:

The Republican prescription is to cut taxes and slash government spending - then things will bounce back. Now, I would like to see lower rates in the context of tax simplification and reform, but what is the evidence that tax cuts are the best path to revive the U.S. economy?


Now unless someone can point out the reputable group of Republicans who've said "Our plan is to slash taxes and spending... but otherwise we're gonna leave the tax code the same... we feel it has just the right amount of complexity" this would be a straw man. There are several Republican plans making rounds. None of them could be (accurately) summarized by 'just cut taxes and slash spending'.
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Posted by Buck Showalter (+4454) 10 years ago
There are several Republican plans making rounds. None of them could be (accurately) summarized by 'just cut taxes and slash spending'.


And what you're seeing is an attempt by the Liar in Chief (troops are still overseas) to save the face of his party. If he loses the election, I'm sure Mitt or whoever would sign off on that garbage, but I have a funny feeling the Republican party won't be trying to eliminate another 100,000 jobs - it really procreates with the statistics that matter. This bullpoop is all political gamesmanship.
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Posted by Rick Kuchynka (+4457) 10 years ago
There's lots of other garbage in his editorial, but this is probably all you need to read to know where this guy is coming from.

We need more market mechanisms to cut medical costs, but Republicans don't bother to study existing health care systems anywhere else in the world.


Yeah, I'm sure no Republicans anywhere have studied health care in other countries at all.

http://www.heritage.org/r...rom-abroad
http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-613.pdf

I'd say if you have to reach this far to find 'independent' thinking, you might be reaching more for labels than ideas.

[This message has been edited by Rick Kuchynka (6/22/2011)]
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Posted by Buck Showalter (+4454) 10 years ago
I don't know, there is a lot of effort spent reminiscing about how great the US is and was. You know what staring in the rear view gets you?
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Posted by Bridgier (+9297) 10 years ago
Rick is absolutely right. He doesn't present a strawman - he moves straight to ad hominum and the fan favorite: the red herring.

Then he links to a couple of libertarian think tanks as proof of something (again, careful to not address any of the central points of the article's thesis, lest we realize everything else presented is handwaving)

I shouldn't expect any better.

And yes. Drawing down the surge isn't really bringing the troops home. This has been 10 years of wasted effort, money and lives. The only thing worse than Hillary Clinton asking us "whose side are we on?" is watching all these people who couldn't get enough torture and bombings a mere 5 years ago suddenly turn into a dole of doves. Screw them. Cancer is too good for them.
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