Conservative Fantasy Role Playing

January 16, 2012 | By | 5 Replies More

I wonder sometimes how a modern conservative maintains.

Romney has won the New Hampshire primary.  All the buzz now is how he’s going to have a much tougher fight in South Carolina, primarily because of the religious and social conservatives who will see him as “not conservative enough.”  There is a consortium of social conservatives meeting this week in Texas to discuss ways to stop him, to elevate someone more to their liking to the nomination.  And right there I have to wonder at what it means anymore to be a conservative.

I grew up, probably as many people my age did, thinking of conservatism as essentially penurious and a bit militaristic.  Stodgy, stuffy, proper.  But mainly pennypinching.  A tendency to not do something rather than go forward with something that might not be a sure thing.

I suppose some of the social aspect was there, too, but in politics that didn’t seem important.  I came of age with an idea of fiscal conservatism as the primary trait.

That doesn’t square with the recent past.  The current GOP—say since Ronny Reagan came to power—has been anything but fiscally conservative, although what they have spent money on has lent them an aura of responsible, hardnosed governance.   Mainly the military, but also subsidies for businesses.  But something has distorted them since 1981 and has turned them into bigger government spenders than the Democrats ever were.  (This is not open to dispute, at least not when broken down by administrations.  Republican presidents have overseen massive increases in the deficit as opposed to Democratic administrations that have as often overseen sizable decreases in the deficit, even to the point of balancing the federal budget.  You may interpret or spin this any way you like, but voting trends seem to support that the choices Republican presidents have made in this regard have been supported by Republican congressmen even after said presidents have left office.)

What they seem adamantly opposed to is spending on people.  By that I mean, social spending.  Welfare, MedicAid, unemployment relief, housing subsidies, minimum wage supports, education, and so forth.  With a few exceptions, we have seen conservatism take on the mantle of Scrooge and move to cut people off.  This has been in the name of States Rights as often as not or welfare reform, but in the last ten years it has come out from its various nom de guerre’s and stood on its own as an attack on Entitlements.

Image by Erich Vieth

When you look at all the things, say, Ron Paul wants to eliminate from government, you can’t help but thinking that he believes government should do nothing for anyone.  If the factory up the road dumps toxic waste that gets into the water table and poisons your farmland, government should have no brief to take that factory to task and see to it you’re made whole again.  I assume the thinking is, well, you can take the factory to court, just like anyone else.  By “anyone” I take it they mean anyone with the means to mount a protracted legal battle.  Why isn’t it better to enforce laws to prevent the pollution in the first place?  If your boss pays you less for the same or more work based on your gender, according to this thinking there would be no governmental recourse to making your boss either explain the situation or do anything to rectify it.  Likewise, I suppose, in matters of race.  The assumption, I suppose, is that if you feel unfairly treated in one job, you have the right to go get another one.  This ignores the possibility (indeed, the fact) that this situation is systemic.  That’s something no one in the GOP seems to want to address—systemic dysfunction—unless of course they’re talking about all the aspects of government of which they disapprove.

Of course, this is not just Ron Paul.  Most of them, with the notable exception of the two candidates who haven’t a chance in hell of the nomination, seem to have some variation of the “smaller government” mantra as part of their platform.  Taken with the chart linked above, you have to wonder what they mean by “smaller” when it seems they spend as much if not more than the Democrats.  Obviously, Republican administrations have never cost us less money—it’s just that the money gets spent in ways that make it appear they’re focusing their attention on what is “important.”

Debating what is or is not important is certainly legitimate and we’ve been doing that for over two centuries.  And certainly intractability has never been absent from our political discourse—such intransigence led, most famously, to the Civil War.  But we have also grown accustomed to such stances being in the distant past, not part of our present reality.  Meanness in politics has always been around, but it seems the GOP has, at least in some of its members, embraced it in particularly pernicious ways.  The gridlock of the last couple of decades is indicative of the quasi-religious fervor with which members of a major political party have adopted as a tactic.

Newt Gingrich oversaw a government shut-down by instigating an intransigent position.  It can only be seen in hindsight as a power play, since the fiscal policies of the Clinton Administration saw one of the last periods of general economic well-being that reached a majority of citizens.  We wonder now what that was all about.  Gingrich’s “contract with America” was billed as a way to return control and prosperity to the average American, but that happened to a large degree without the hyperbolic posturing he indulged, so it’s a question now what happened.

I’m not going to review the politics of the time here, only point out that what was on the GOP’s collective conscience then and continued to be was their goal to disassemble the apparatus of government that militated against vast accumulations of wealth.  Again, in hindsight it is obvious, and Clinton himself was seduced into the program by signing the repeal of Glass-Steagal, which has led directly to the current economic situation.

Now here lies the peculiarity of our modern times.  You can lay out the causal chain of Republican collusion with the economic catastrophes of the last three decades and find general agreement, even among Republicans.  But when asked if they will continue to vote Republican, well, of course.


Anyone with a smidgen of historical memory cannot but see Obama as a right center president.  He has done virtually nothing that Reagan would not have been proud of (with the single exception of the Affordable Health Care Act).  Yet you would think he is the devil incarnate if you listen to the Right.  Hatred of Obama has grown to phobic proportions, coupled with more and more strident positions among the suite of Republican contenders for some kind of new rapprochement with Americans to establish—

What?  I’m not altogether sure they understand the kind of country they’re advocating.

Now John Huntsman has bowed out of the race, throwing his support behind Mitt Romney, who is still being viewed with suspicion by the far right of the party—hence the conference in Texas mentioned above.  Not that Huntsman would have had a chance with the evangelicals.  Not only was he reasonable about many issues, he was two things the Right cannot abide: one, he is an advocate for science, supporting both climate change science and evolution, and two, he actually worked for Obama as ambassador to China.  He is, therefore, tainted.

From the few things he has said about them, Romney is fuzzy on climate change and evolution.  One suspects he tends to accept the science but he’s been careful not to come right out and say it, which is tiresome.  But the fact that he has felt it necessary to soft-pedal his positions on these is a telling clue as to what the Right wants.

What they want, briefly, is an America as they always thought it should be.  The strongest, the richest, the least controversial, the purist, and able to do what it has always done in order to stay that way.

If this sounds like a fantasy, well, it is.  It’s Camelot, the City on the Hill, the New York That Never Was.  It is greatness without cost, freedom without dissent, progress without change.

It is also elitism without earning it.

Just as one example, the continued harangue for deregulation.  The case is made—or, rather, asserted—that growth, including jobs, depend on less regulation, that regaining our standard of living and reinvigorating American enterprise requires less government oversight.  How this can be said with a straight face after three decades of deregulation have brought commensurate declines in all those factors, leading finally to near-Depression level unemployment, astounds.  This is surely a sign of psychosis.  From 1981 on there has been a constant move to deregulate and in its wake we have seen devastation.  The airlines were deregulated and within less than two decades most of them had been through bankruptcy, many of them no longer exist (TWA, PanAm?), and service has suffered.  Oil was deregulated with the promise of holding prices and increasing production, but we have had regular if staggered rises in price, chokes in supply, and an environmentally worse record of accidents.  The savings and loan industry was deregulated which resulted in a major default and rampant fraud, the loss of billions of depositors money and a housing crisis, and we then watched the same thing happen with the deregulation of banking.  How much more evidence is required before that mantra of “deregulation will lead to more jobs and better service” be seen for what it is—a lie.

The Far Right of the GOP is living in a fantasy.  The problem with that is they have a profound influence on the Party mainstream, which is exactly why reasonable candidates like Huntsman and Johnson have no chance of garnering Party support and people like Romney have to waffle on positions in order to woo the tail that is trying to wag the dog.

What I do not understand is how those who make up the mainstream of the Party can continue to support policies that make no sense.  Momentum is one thing, but this has gone on far too long to be attributed to that.

I do not here claim that the Democrats have legitimate and sensible alternatives.  They have their own set of problems.  But Democrats have generally been willing to abandon a policy that is shown not to be effective.  Right now that says a lot.  It’s not much of  a choice, but frankly it is more in line with the country I grew up understanding us to live in.



Category: American Culture, Anti-science, Civil Rights, cognitive biases, Community, Consumer Protection, Culture, Current Events, Economy, Education, Environment, History, Patriotism/Nationalism, Politics, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Science, Spending priorities

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (5)

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  1. Wow…lot of coverage there!

    You’d be surprised how many “republicans” do not like their own party.

    When I grew up in the sixties: We were told, by the “left” that all businesses were BAD. I hated my own parents who RAN their own printing Company. My god, what an idiot I was. They FED me.

    The printing union…went on strike. And the whole printing business was destroyed. My own mother never took a paycheck to keep the high cost of union demands. She put all her money back into the company to keep it running. She employed 30 union people who made more than her.

    They all got pensions and lived well. Trips all over the world…My mother died with not much money left after selling the place. She had no pension. But she supplied them and their families with a nice living and no worries.

    Not all the companies are ‘greedy.’ The small business person has it very hard.. the amonut of regulations to run a business are sometimes almost draconian. Do you guys not talk to small business?

    Their ARE two sides to every story. While the big business WALL STREET guys of the republican party is greedy, who is giving the billions to Obama? He has…260 million so far compared to…56m for Romeny?

    I don’t buy it. Clinton had money from the Chinese, Obama gets money from the Saudis. It truly is a parliment of whores.

    Who owns us anymore? The Clintons gave our national parks as collateral to the Chinses and that surplus we “Had” was a lot of smoke and mirrors.

    The middle class has been in a reccession since 1971. Who caused this fiasco with the banks? Clinton, then Barney, it was THEY who deregulated the banks. And who made the most money?

    Not you. Not me. And I agree…they TOOK that SS money out of our paychecks and they spent it.

    Nevertheless, it really was, mathematically speaking, a ponszi.

    The country is broke. Do they care? Either party? Nope. They will keep blaming each other.

    The unions are democrats…based out of Chicago and the Daley machine. They helped put JFK into the White House. the mob and the dems just merged. (not to say that the replublicans don’t have their own mob.)

    Las Vegas was built on union pensions. I’ve read too many mob books.

    Why did all our jobs go overseas? Was it because the mean CEO’s of companies wanted the cheap labor? Did our own Politicans of both parties not basically sell out the average guy?

    Our govenment did not protect our tariffs. Every country on the planet protects its manufacturers, not us. Donald Trump is right about that.

    As you have written, our own Supreme Court made corporations people! Absurd!Treasonous! Have you heard Obama say anything about that? I haven’t.

    During the Clinton administration: mass mergers were going on at least once a day, a swift road to the most money into the hands of the few. It wasn’t only the republicans that are in on this.

    As for Social Security: it was raided. By ALL the politicans.

    As long as they can feed us the arguments, we hear every day, for us to parrot on BOTH sides of the isle, not much is going to change. They WANT us to hate each other.

    (by the way, I am an Independent)

    Obama is a Marxist. Mitt is a crony capitilist. (not the same as true capitlaism) Mitt will carry on the very same politicies as Obama. They both work for Wall Street. Why are all our tresury secretaries from Wall Street? Really. It’s a joke it’s so obvious.

    The whole bunch of them need to go….they are ALL above the law.

    And that’s why, you have the tea party on the right, and the Wall Street protesters on the left.

    People are starting to realise,we can’t call Houston anymore.

    We are not a country of laws anymore: we are a country of very rich men controlling the pot.

    And they know we are getting wise: So…another war?

    What do you think?

  2. As you say, a lot of coverage there. I agree with you about union abuse, but—

    We have been sold the lie that the mom-and-pop venture is exactly equal to Citigroup and that the rules that apply top the one should apply to the other. This is patent nonsense.

    Social Security does not operate the way you seem to suggest. You and I are paying for those who now retired. When we retire, people working them will pay for us. It has always been that way. It is not a ponzi scheme.

    Yes, Clinton deregulated the banks. Everyone got high on the promise of high return on high investment and everyone was stupid. The Democrats saw what happened and have changed their minds. The Republicans haven’t.

    Jobs have been going overseas for a variety of reasons, all of which relate to costs. I agree with you about tariffs, many of which have outlived their usefulness. Low tariffs were a post WWII means of helping a shattered world get back on its feet. Then it became a way of allowing American businesses to get a better return from importing their own manufactures made with cheaper labor. Somewhere along the way someone forgot to change the way business was done and now it’s too late, tariffs would cost too many people too much.

    You should examine Marxism and look at Obama again. He’s as far from a Marxist as Reagan was. The problem is, too many people use that term to mean any economic philosophy they don’t like. Sloppy and inaccurate and it leads to the kind of screeling gridlock we regularly suffer. As for Obama’s campaign funds, he put it all on record—he gets far more small donations from individuals than any Republican, but, yes, he takes money from millionaires as well. But where is this that he is funded by the Saudis? If anyone was it was Bush, but I think that is just as difficult to substantiate.

    It is true, the middle class has been stagnant since the early Seventies, for a variety of reasons. But income disparity with the super rich has gotten worse, so obviously something is working in their favor.

    I’m weary of both parties, so good for you being an independent. It’s time for a third party, but so far I haven’t seen the makings of one that has the juice to do anything. The Tea Party is a joke, Occupy Wall Street has yet to back a slate of candidates.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Mark: Some of your major points could be summed up by this claim, by the Onion, that conservatives have been confusing Dwight Eisenhower for Ronald Reagan. And see here for Jim Razhina’s article on the Reagan myth versus reality. Many modern conservatives cannot deal with facts or history. It is a party of ideology trumping all. Modern conservatives would laugh Ronald Reagan off the stage because he believed in diplomacy and he wasn’t xenophobic. But they continue to embrace their version of the legend.

    There’s considerable overlap between the Tea Party versus the Occupy movements.

    On the other hand, the Tea Party is also significantly driven to a disturbing degree by racism, ignorance and resentiment. Chris Hedges points out these differences here , and see this video:

    Another theme that has become apparent is that today’s conservatives desperately want to believe that good things will simply happen if only we do nothing. The “free market” will make America great and God will take care of us. This is not a theme that I ever embraced, even when I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 – (yes, I actually did – )

    Lest anyone think that I’m a big fan of the modern democratic party, I am not. Rather, I’m sorely disappointed that Democrats have become a party that supports endless war, big business, corruption, torture, spying, secrecy, censorship, the crushing of whistle-blowers and sacrificing many other traditional American ideals on the altar of expediency. They will still tend to have my vote, though, because today’s modern conservatives, who embrace social darwinism, are far more destructive. That’s how bad things have gotten, in my opinion, even though every once in a while Democrats get it right on an issue relating to the Constitution or individual liberties. Yet I’m highly ambivalent regarding some of the other issues touted by many Democrats. I’m ambivalent about unions, for instance; I see them as critical counterweights to the fascist direction in which our country is going, yet I’m quite concerned about the long history of union abuses. Unions have done wonderful things for many workers, but oftentimes at a steep price. For instance, I am friends with more than a few former teachers who have convinced me that teachers unions (though good for obtaining good wages and benefits for teachers) have often hindered the education of children. I am also wary of the many ardent redistributists among the democrats. Though I agree that it’s critically important to have a meaningful social net, I’m also convinced that such benefits need to be carefully defined in terms of amount (and in many cases, duration) or else they can give rise to abuses of the treasury and consequent widespread social unrest, especially among the tax-paying lower-middle-class.

    I agree that we need a new party or at least a refurbishing of an existing party, but that won’t happen until we yank big private money out of politics. I suppose, then, that I have become a one issue voter who seeks a constitutional amendment so that something new and different is conceivable.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Most people agree that money insidiously corrupts the political thought process. This means that a political who is hoping to get a big contribution will not have clear judgment on an issue related to that money. Sometimes this is done consciously but more often it is done subconsciously. This is a huge problem, of course.

    I think an equally important problem is that tribal impulses/group loyalties warp the political process, and this combines with the confirmation bias to create an equally dangerous situation. Here’s a good illustration: Go to the bottom of the video at the bottom of this article by Glenn Greenwald. He is engaged in a excellent conversation with Katha Pollitt, who writes for The Nation. Pollitt chokes on acknowledging that Ron Paul has made some excellent points regarding America’s warmongering, the “war on drugs,” and civil liberties. He is simply too toxic for her on other issues for her to be willing to acknowledge the good. The conversation got extra-interesting at about the 40-45 minute mark (sorry that I didn’t catch the exact time, when Greenwald asked Pollitt why she didn’t hammer Obama and the Democrats for the horrendous positions THEY take just like she hammer Ron Paul? The question stopped her in her tracks. In short, she is a died in the wool democrat. That is her team, and that is that. It’s the loyalty thing that is keeping her from writing vigorously to keep the Democrat politicians on track on the issues on which Greenwald has focused for many years: “Assassination of U.S. citizens; Indefinite detention; Arbitrary justice; Warrantless searches; Secret evidence; War crimes; Secret court; Immunity from judicial review; Continual monitoring of citizens; and Extraordinary renditions.” These are critically important issues on which most democrats are silent because the don’t want to damage “their” candidate, because “their candidate” has taken acceptable positions on other issues.

    The bottom line is that Ron Paul is the only candidate speaking out clearly and intelligently on the issues listed above, but many Democrats can’t stand the thought of embracing those positions because they are loyal to Democrats. They’ve picked their horse in the race, and they don’t want to deal with major problems with that horse. The net result is that we will get silence from many left leaning commentators when it comes to Obama’s glaring faults. Once Ron Paul is out of the race, we will no longer hear about many critically important issues from either of the two remaining candidates.

  5. Tim Hogan says:

    Erich, I think the biases you discuss are most eloquently illustrated in the Republicans’ entire rejection of Obama’s Jobs Act which has many facets in it which were Republicans’ ideas or supported by Republicans in the first place.

    There was no greater example of bias in the current opposition to an individual mandate in the health care reforms which were an idea of the Republicans in response to “Hillary Care” and supported by the Heritage Foundation but now universally decried by all the conservatives.

    I find the conservatives’ views against the individual mandate interesting in how they supposedly harken back to our Founding Fathers but, ignore the early American healthcare madate for Sailors where they were individually taxed to pay for their healthcare much as one might now be “penalized” if they fail to purchase health insurance under the new plan.

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