I just roll my eyes whenever I read Andrew Sullivanesque rhapsodizing about the soul of conservatism and its small-government ideal. It's an abstraction that has no longer any connection the way the world works or ever again will. Bigness in a rapidly globalizing world is here to stay; it's just a question of putting the people in place who are most competent to manage it in a way that serves the common good. And the Democrats, for all their problems, have a much stronger track record in that regard. Principled conservatism has its place in the cultural sphere, but it is obsolete in the political sphere. It's only function there is to provide cover for the wealth-and-power factions to achieve their anti-democratic agenda.
Joshua Holland makes the same points in more detail, and maybe a little more stridently. But the bottom line is this. There is no political base for principled political conservatism. Whatever its merits, it's pie in the sky. The true face of conservatism is what you see in the Bush Administration, and to think it's any different from what we saw in the Reagan Administration is delusional:
The Big Lie -- the deceit that's won them [Republicans] so many elections -- is that they can offer government that's just as big, but Americans won't ever have to pay for it. All the services you want and half the taxes! Eat ice-cream all day long and never put on a pound! Who wouldn't vote for such a utopian crock?
It's a series of boldfaced economic lies, actually, based on the carefully crafted separation of spending and taxes. The rebel [anti-Bush, pro-Reagan] conservatives' favorite statistic is that under Clinton, the government grew by 3.4 percent annually, and under Bush it's "exploded" -- a word that's ubiquitous to the genre -- to an average of over 10 percent each year (for some reason, they never mention that government spending increased by 9.75 percent annually under Saint Reagan).
But they never discuss his tax cuts. They've enriched a tiny über-wealthy minority enormously, without doing anything to stimulate the economy. The cost, of course, is a tab the kids will have to pay -- massive deficits that legendary former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan called "unsustainable."
The idea that Americans can have their big government cake and eat their tax cuts too is nothing more than a scam on a huge scale that's been perpetrated for forty years. It's left voters dizzy. Public opinion about budgets and taxes at PollingReport.com is a tangled mess of contradictions. By 66-31 Americans think reducing the deficit is more important than getting tax breaks and by 2-1 they think the Bush tax cuts haven't done anything to help their own families, but by 58-30 they approve of the cuts anyway and by a margin of 50-35 they want them extended. It's psychotic.
But psychosis can be treated. And that's why so many "principled" paleoconservatives are running away from Bush like the Roadrunner from Wiley Coyote: His excesses threaten to expose the fact that the whole ideology's a sham -- that the wizard's dead and there's a little man behind that curtain.
Bush, a fake cowboy from a billion-dollar Connecticut family, has spent six years telling Americans that his voodoo economics will "unleash capital" and create a "torrent of new growth." Don't worry, he promises with his trademark smirk, we'll just "grow our way" out of the deficits. But his own comptroller, David Walker, told an audience earlier this year that "anyone who says we can grow our way out of the problem wouldn't pass Economics 101 or basic math." And the General Accounting Office says of Bushenomics: "Today's fiscal policy remains unsustainable" and adds, for clarity, "what is unsustainable will not be sustained."
Bush, the former frat boy, is a president whose excesses go across the board, and that's not the way it's supposed to be done. His father was Big Business's handmaiden, but he took governing seriously. This Bush's administration thinks government's a joke, and has elevated cronyism and corruption to an artform. Reagan was a hypernationalist, yes, but he fought proxy wars and picked off some easy meat in Grenada. When he found his Marines in the middle of a civil war in the Middle East, he cut-and-run with the best of them. Twenty years later Bush's adventure in Iraq threatens to give militarism a bad name. And while Saint Reagan was a homophobe who paid lip service to the religious right, Bush went to the mattresses for a brain-dead woman in Florida, even as his staff referred to his Christianist base as "insane," "ridiculous," "nuts." That threatens to expose the whole hypocritical game of footsie the GOP's played with the religious right for decades.
Make no mistake: Those "principled" conservatives don't hate Bush for his spending, they hate him because he is them -- the only kind of conservative who can win an election, a Republican peddling big government and low taxes without blinking. And if Americans get a clue that modern conservatism is nothing but a bunch of economic lies gilded with some bogus "family values" and softened with a bit of morphine for the terror junkies, he can bring the whole fetid house of cards down with him. --Joshua Holland