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Bruce Garner

This is the link to Whittman's Article


The predicted consequences for liberalism are, of course, not accidental:

"When seniors get through figuring out the Medicare law, are they going to want to hear about yet another government program? And when President Kerry has to fight like hell to raise taxes, for no purpose other than to reduce the deficit and perhaps buy some time before the employer-based health system collapses, people won't feel they are getting any benefit from their higher taxes. How are they going to feel about government then?"

This is the strategy, isn't it? They are not conservative; they are reactionary. This is a kind of new feudalism. (Matthew Lind's Made in Texas does a nice job of describing the feudalist strain of Southern politics.) It is not clear if a strategy should be described as a meltdown. What is striking is how much the strategy depends on non-transparency: people won't accept the reactionary position if presented at face value: hence the need for an instrumental attitude towards public pronouncements (ie. deception, lies, false promises, implausible predictions, incoherence) until the New Deal is undone. The result is a mess at the level of public philosophy but then most of the public are not philosophers.


Note: I'm not cynical about everything; I'm just cynical about them!


And the "them" is Rove, Norquist etc


And when President Kerry has to fight like hell to raise taxes, for no purpose other than to reduce the deficit and perhaps buy some time before the employer-based health system collapses, people won't feel they are getting any benefit from their higher taxes. How are they going to feel about government then?

Isn't that the point? To discredit government?

bob mcmanus

Excellent post. I do believe the conservative (Bushco and DeLay) are more ambitious and patient than you give them credit for. You have could called the Reagan Presidency a domestic failure at the time, but a foundation was laid that the current group is bulding on. I will judge this regime 25 years on.


Unfortunately I believe what you are seeing out of the Bush Presidency isn't "conservatism" but negotiated public policy drafted by people trying adhere to conservative principles while making it just "nice" enough for the center, center left and left would vote for it.

All of the legislation that has passed was designed 1.) to do good, and 2.) to put the opposing party in a "damned if you do, even damnder if you don't" box. The tax cuts, no child left behind, medicaid prescription drug benefits, campain finance reform, are all examples of this. I guarantee you none of these bills were something a true conservative would come up with if they weren't trying to write something that the other side could (or would have to) sign off on. But it's difficult, if not impossible, to balance the reality of pandering pork barrel politics with the principles of conservative (by which I mean 18th century liberal) government and come up with any legislation that's purely anything but muddled, painful and ugly.

For crying out loud, there are people that think that up to 99% taxation could be supported by this economy. How are you going to find consensus on that when there are just as many people that think 1% is too much? Wherever you decide to start negotiations you are going to end up in the middle where neither side will be happy with what they got. (Does that sound familiar?) If you've read the federalist papers at all you know that our whole system of government is designed to do just this and ensure that the process is slow and aggravating all the while. It's not a bad thing in the greater non partisan sense but our partisan selves sometimes doesn't let us see it.

But even with all that said I still can't see how anyone's definition of "conservative" could lead them to vote for Kerry as the answer to these problems. That's just crazy.


Providential philosophy.
American Conservativism is as dead as a doornail. Environmental decline alone makes it untenable into the future. If you couple this with the change in demographics it can only survive through the tyranny of an unreformed electoral system. Conservativism is just that, the philosophy of a world that no longer exists. But so is mid-20th century liberalism. We are the uberconservative nation. A friend of mine, reflecting on the Richmond City Council said, “You know what the problem here is? Half of these people are stuck in 1865 and the other half are stuck in 1965”. Our future is neither of these formulations but something that is trying to be born. Not the anemic New Economy but something else to which progressives must act as midwives. But, of course, sufficiently ossified government could deny us the future. Certainly laissez-faire extraction economy a la Alabama, Oklahoma, West Virginia is not in our best interest but neither is the New Deal.


Forgot to claim responsibility for the above.


I agree with bellumregio about the dangers of overdoing the reference to past liberal achievements (whether the New Deal or anything else): there's no need to be a liberal reactionary either. But the point about 'tenable' is seriously ambiguous. Certain economic and environmental policies might well be electorally successful (and so, in one sense, tenable) but of course they might not be tenable in the sense of 'provide for a happy and sustainable human future'. The fact that Bush policies are not tenable in the latter sense does not, alas, guarantee their lack of tenability in the former (at least until it is too late).

The Navigator

The energy bill was designed "to do good"?
The farm bill?
Slashing the estate tax?
Kerry is certainly a conservative answer to some of these problems - we'll have the stasis of divided government, just as in the 90's. It won't stop the problems you describe, much less solve them, but it will lessen their impact.


Tax cuts are an end in themselves, at least if you listen to so-called conservatives. The equation is simple and rolls of the lips of right-wing pundits daily: tax cuts = economic growth, and increased revenue. This is all you need to know. No need for egghead economists in their ivory towers of academia, who are all liberal/socialist/communists anyway (except if they support unfettered tax cuts). It doesn’t matter what taxes are cut, it doesn’t matter who largely benefits; it always works. The everyman is insured there are plenty of jobs due to the economic growth and expansion of the now flush with cash industries. If there is a deficit, all that needs to be done is cut taxes and the revenues will grow to even more than the deficit. Will no one in the liberal media acknowledge that Reagan proved that? Of course they won’t even admit how splendidly it is working now. The answer is to cut taxes…it maintains a booming economy, it revives a sagging one, it keeps the bubbles from bursting, it creates wealth for all. It really doesn’t matter what the question is.

Jim Smith

Another interesting post, Mark, but I would turn the question around. Fifty years ago the Republicans were the party of the upper and upper-middle class, chiefly interested in defending their own very comfortable status quo. It seems to me that in the past few decades the GOP has made a Faustian deal with the uglier elements of our society – racists, religious bigots, homophobes, etc – with the expectation that this awkward marriage will give them the power they want, and that they can gradually tame their new wild-eyed mates. But at the moment, things seem to be going the other way. Traditional Republicans are distancing themselves, while the party leaders are driven to wade into the crowd and embrace their new friends more and more tightly. It’s only to be expected that traditional conservatives hold their tongue, ill at ease with their rude cousins.

Of course we Democrats are not strangers to all this. We courted the Dixiecrats for years. And now we find ourselves puzzling over a rag-tag coalition of environmentalists, labor unions, Hollywood directors, scientists, soccer moms, teachers, senior citizens, and a couple of dozen other groups with little in common. Each of these seems to have its own private fight with George Bush, but where is the common liberal voice?


"where is the common liberal voice?" or for that matter the conservative voice?

That voice can be found talking with our neighbors: that is, there remains a common sense of what and how we should govern that exists independent of the parties. One of the strengths of Bush has been to tap this tacit philosophy, even while the policies he advances serve to poison the community.

I would suggest that the present "conservative ruling ideology" is less about tax cuts than power -- this is Lind's new feudalism. It is a desire to exercise power unfettered from stakeholder control. The corollaries of such a philosophy are the emphasis on secrecy (why do the people need to know), and an over-reliance on internal conviction -- what the group knows is right. Their hold on power safegurards them from the consequences of their decisions even as it asks stakeholder communities to pay the price.


The problem is that "conservatism" has become corrupted by business and wealthy interests backed up on the side by the religious right. George Bush is little more than a man chosen by the Republican establishment because they knew he would do what special interest corporate American wants thus keeping the money, gravy train, and pork flowing. Notice how the Republican leadership made sure that Bush defeated McCaine in the 2000 Republican primaries. Why not let Republicans decide who should be their nominee? Because they were afraid that McCaine could actually win and since McCaine has integrity and a real reformist spirit he might start actually trying to clean up the corrupt mess instead of offering up his presidency to the highest bidder.

Now that the rot has fully set in the only way to deal with it is to deny reality, smear one’s enemies, and give a lot of empty talk about morals. There is no coherent conservative Republican philosophy because the only thing that motivates them is influence peddling. Have you noticed how the Republican party has begun to look almost like a cult? Bush is their dear leader who cannot be criticized. Just have faith in the great one no matter what. I suspect that most Republican cheerleaders have sold their soul to be able to stay with the tribe or are so angry with the legacy of the 60s that they must support its opposite no matter what, or they are evangelicals, people of blind faith who think that the bible is the literal word of God and Bush II is the new messiah (to doubt either would be sacrilege).

Not only would a Bush II loss be great for the country but it would also, I hope, make conservatives reflect a little. I don’t want to say that the Democrats have not made plenty of compromises but at least there seems to be a general sense of trying to do what is in the best interest of the country. Clinton was not perfect, but he also dealt with many problems. Bush II can’t deal with problems because he does not care about the country. He only cares about paying off his special interest supporters.


Outstanding post.


I'm a conservative and I share many concerns with this present administrations course. But I don't think we're in as deep trouble as you are claiming.

I look at a possibility of a Senate with some real conservatives elected this fall. Johnny Isaacson in Georgia and Jim DeMint in South Carolina are both strong fiscal conservatives who want to reform the tax code with a VAT or sales tax. (Reforms I like, which I think would increase compliance over the current income tax system.) I also look to Dr. Tom Coburn in Oklahoma who used to stop up the House with myriad amendments in order to protest pork. These men I don't think are sellouts. I see them as the beginning of the break in the Iron triangle of Stevens-Frist-Lott, that keeps the gravy train rolling.

Coburn and DeMint are really hard to take in their social views, but I see them as not owned lock-stock-and-barrel by the vicious special interests. DeMint and Coburn both balked at the horrendous Medicare bill multiple times in the House in the 1990's, despite arm twisting, and we could use a few more like them in the Senate.

Like I've mentioned above, I'm willing to give these men a chance to bring back the Conservative ideals I like. If they don't, then I'll be back here in 2006 posting my withdrawl from the conservative movement.


I hope you're wrong, Mark, I really do. I'm afraid that you're right, though. Hopefully a Bush second term means that he can focus on turning back to the right without having to worry about the next re-election campaign.

Shepard Barbash

I am a Democrat who has worked full-time in k-12 education policy for the last five years. It's the only issue I know about, the only one where I know the federal policy makers first-hand. They are first-rate. No Child Left Behind was necessarily intrusive because the laissez-faire approach wasn't working: nearly 40 percent of the nation's 4th graders annually fail the NAEP reading test (National Assessment of Educational Progress--the gold standard of tests). Many but by no means all of these kids failing to achieve functional literacy are low-income kids. It doesn't have to be that way. Indeed there is an increasing body of solid research showing that there are effective ways and ineffective ways to teach reading. Unfortunately, most teachers and ed schools live in a pre-Copernican world and do not believe in or know about the most effective ways, or the research backing them up. Hence the need for top-down incentives: In the Reading First program, the deal is: I give you taxpayer money, you spend it on pedagogic strategies and curricula that have been proven safe and effective, and you test the results. It is quite a reasonable request, especially considering the existing failure rates, and the consequences of same. (Centers for Disease Control has statistics showing that the most common characteristic of someone in jail in this country is neither poverty nor race--it's illiteracy. If ever there is an issue justifying government intrusion, this is it.) NCLB isn't too prescriptive; it isn't prescriptive enough, for the reasons articulated by someone above: the education interests that are producing the 38 percent failure rates in reading wouldn't stand for anything more prescriptive. The law needs to be modified to make its benchmarks for success and failure more realistic, but its principle of requiring accountability for results is sound and urgently needed.


Quite an interesting and informative post, Shepard. I wish it was more widely discussed.

But in regard to the main point, it certainly is wishful thinking to believe that conservatism is breaking up, and will soon be weaker.


American teens have spoken, and they want George W. Bush for president. Nearly 1.4 million teens voted in the nation's largest mock election, and the Republican incumbent wound up with 393 electoral votes and 55 percent of the total votes cast. . . .

A majority of respondents-- 44 percent-- said that the war in Iraq was the most important issue facing the candidates today.

Young people generally are low-turnout voters, but seem more energized this election. The Iraq situation being most important to them - instead of jobs - looks like they deserve more credit than they've been getting.

Could you imagine Jacques Chirac - the leader of the "conservative" party in France - dressing in camo and going goose hunting like John Kerry did today? Could you imagine the Left in Europe pandering to the military by making it a focal point of a campaign?

To me, it looks like even the most liberal member of the Senate is more conservative than the conservatives in Western Europe.

And the Bush tax cuts - which John Kerry does not oppose for 98% of workers - apparently have provided the largest economic growth since the Reagan years, and have resulted in far smaller unemployment than Europeans.

From my chair, conservatism is doing just fine. Pat Buchanan may be having a fit because he doesn't get his way on everything, but then who does in a democracy?

Matthew Vadum

You're viewing all this through your rose-colored glasses, yearning for the supposedly inevitable defeat of conservatism that will actually never come, at least not in America. Conservatives are disappointed with Dubya but I think most of them have the good sense to recognize that Kerry is an ideologically rigid left-wing, reactionary, pacifistic U.N. lover who cannot be trusted with the nation's defense. Kerry was like that in the 1970s, as a senator, and he remains that way today. What is more striking is that conservative politicians proudly call themselves conservatives and continue to win reelection, while left-wing politicians run from the 'liberal' label except in all but the safest electoral districts. I don't liberalism is dead, but it is certainly in retreat, having reached its high water mark in the 1960s and 1970s. Conservatism has taken a black eye under Dubya, but it is far from dead. Your blog entry is a wish list, not a statement of the way things really are.

Ken Shultz

I'm a registered Libertarian, but I was once a libertarian minded Republican. I have voted Republican in every election in which I have been eligible to vote, but I can't think of a good reason to vote for Bush.

He's no marginal rate tax cutter. He's no budget buster; he didn't veto a single spending bill. His record on free trade stinks. His foreign policy doesn't look like anything I ever saw Kirkpatrick or Shultz or Baker propose.

The best scenario for the pragmatic foreign policy, free trade, budget busting, marginal rate cutting wing of the Republican party is the one in which Bush loses the election. A Kerry Presidency with Congress tilted against him may do a better job than Bush.

Who are the Jack Kemps and Phil Gramms of the Republican Party today? If a libertarian votes for the Republican candidate, with whom in the Republican Party will his vote resonate? If you want to see the party come back to its traditional small government ways, consider voting Libertarian.

P.S. I registered Libertarian in protest of Bush the Elder's breaking of his tax pledge, but, like I said, I've always voted Republican. I've always wanted to come home, but every time I pull up in the driveway, it looks like my family doesn't live there anymore. Now I'm thinking that maybe it would be better to register Republican and vote Libertarian. You know, use whatever inertia my vote has to call the faithful home rather than using it to exert centrifugal force.


I think in general you are right here, although I am intrigued by the suggestion, given where it comes from, that Bush-Delayism is doomed because it is not conservative enough. If we take that phrase to mean that they aren't respectful of process, of the established give and take of representative democracy in general, and so on, it makes perfect sense.
But I think this is what leads, then, to the invocation of Edmund Burke, which is where things get more complicated. I know this is but one aspect of your post, but a point or two is worth pursuing.
One of things Burke did help to define is a modern concept of culture (sort of that sense contained in Moynihan's aphorism)--but this was, one, English culture (despite his being an Irishman). And two, it was an idea of culture absolutely rooted in reaction, most generally to the coming of industrial capitalism and a too coarse bourgeoisie, but more specifically, to the French Revolution as a particularly dire articulation of that same process. Of course Burke was not alone in recoiling from the Terror and all that; but his was the signal statement on the threat democracy--which really meant, at the time, the empowerment of what was to an established elite an unprepared, untutored, and incapable middle class--posed to the tradition and stability of an older order. Like Matthew Arnold's a half a century or so later, his writing is intelligent and deeply felt, but does get hysterical. And in England, the order he defended was based on a landed aristocracy, steeped in an inequality whose violence was not part of his frame of reference, but should be part of ours, when we consider his thinking. Called it hindsight's conceit, but this is what a Burkean sense of culture has always meant to me: however eloquent and suggestive, he was the intellectual spokesman for the culture of one kind of ruling class. He deserves his place in intellectual history, but I am wary of his political example.
Anyway, you are right that the Bushies are not Burkean conservatives. They aren't because they love capitalism too much and don't care or haven't thought much about it's political downside, if not handled with more subtlety. Revolutions will come, in other words. Indeed, the rise of a clique like the one now in power is exactly the kind of thing, if we fast forward him a couple of centuries, Burke may have feared. The rub is that Bush-Delayism claims to be defending tradition--most forcefully, I think, the tradition of the nation itself, a vaguely defined "way of life" (in which the laundry list of social con causes plays a supporting role)--so as to see us through some historical turbulence. So they can be seen, in a limited sense, as Burkean conservatives, putting images of a Culture to work in the context of political challenge.
John Adams has always seemed to me a pretty good American Burke. What would he think?? Good mercantilist, he'd be damned confused, not to say troubled, by the free-market theology embraced not only by Bush and Co., but the political culture at large. Theology had a role in the conduct of business, but for Adams, so too did the state. But, on the other hand, he might, based on his own experience, overlook the election time fear mongering and the rounding up of the usual suspects. Robespierre and the "Terror" were, in the election of 1800, his Bin Laden and September 11. Then again, he lost that election. . .


this is a great piece. i've tried to capture the discussion here.

abject funk

I'd appreciate a reference or an example of conservatives taking on the task of getting spending under control (i.e., the Brad deLong paragraph). GOPers spend more than Demos, and they spend the money on stupid stuff.

I've never seen fiscal responsibility from the alleged conservatives. I am young, but not that young (33). Money is money, spending is spending. There is only one president in my lifetime to tackle federal spending in a serious way...Clinton. It wasn't just a case of a great economy...check out Gore's efforts (it was his assigned task) to streamline government bureaucracy and return them to JFK levels, the lowest in recent history. He did that, Clinton did that. Conservatives don't do that because they are too busy paying back favors to their business cronies and/or increasing boondoggle defense spending (it's a handy mix).

In short, I am tired of hearing that conservatives, Republicans, etc. are fiscally responsible or are even attempting to be fiscally responsible. It is not true.

Please provide me an example of why I am wrong, and I will happily take a look. Otherwise, this little bit of (completely debunked) conventional wisdom should not be mentioned in a post that is, otherwise, so excellent. Democrats expand social programs, and sometimes do, and sometimes don't, pay for them. Republicans increase spending, period, and just don't pay for it.

Conservativism has nothing to show on this front.

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