Statism by any other name
…Still smells like technocratic tyranny.
I’ve been more direct lately about my concerns that the GOP establishment is making an intentional effort to redefine conservatism as a vibrant, ideas-driven statist centrism — while relegating actual conservatism / classical liberalism to a kind of fringe status, where bitterclingers clutch to the security blanket of outdated principles and comforting, ideological purity, stubborn in their quaint belief that government can’t really ever be a force for good.
To that end, I offer you Jeb Bush, writing in National Review:
First above all is our fundamental belief in the individual as the center of opportunity and ideological energy. We do not believe that government creates prosperity or drives it. Like the founders of our country, we know a self-regulating and responsible people is essential to limit the scope and ambition of government. We resist the urge to substitute regulations and governmental directives for entrepreneurial creativity and civic service. We believe that the best government is that which is smallest and the most just government is that which treats all citizens and entities equally, with no special favors and no special sanctions.
We believe that there is no way for leaders to direct the dreams and ambitions of 312 million Americans — and so we believe fundamentally in freedom. Let individuals direct themselves to whatever heights they aspire to reach, and let them enjoy the benefits of their success because they bear significant responsibility for the risks they take.
This is different than the approach of President Obama, as he has made clear through policies that place greater power and resources behind the government at the expense of the individual. So the distinction will be obvious.
But to make sure that we do not lose the advantage of that clear difference, we must not layer onto our fundamental beliefs thick black lines of ideology — black lines that we do not allow ourselves to cross. Those black lines can be comforting, I understand. They provide certainty and stability and ideological purity. But they also restrict the way we think about problems, and make more difficult the kind of reform-minded free thinking that has defined the conservative movement for the last 50 years.
Thick black lines of ideology are good at keeping people in, but they are also good at keeping people out. And our party can’t win if we keep people out. Our goal is not to assemble a small army of purists. We need a nation of converts. We have seen the other way of governing. It has had its day. It has made its best case. It has failed.
So then, to summarize: we won’t abandon first principles — at least, not when those principles remain convenient and can be referred to in general and purely in the abstract. When adherence to those first principles start keeping the centrists, moderates, and independents from embracing the GOP, however, we need to be willing to push those principles to the side, bracket them, gray them out a bit, they’re being so unseemly thick and black — and allow ourselves the free-thinking, reform-minded permission to ignore those principles in order to gain power and take control of the government, where we can implement our fresh ideas about how an expansive, technocratic government can work to find solutions to big problems. Because frankly, selling our principles is more time-consuming and intellectually onerous than simply compromising them and then clapping ourselves on the back for being open-minded enough to do so — for being willing to embrace activist government, despite the distrust of an expansive federal power by a “small army of purists” that, in the end, we don’t want representing the GOP.
Do I have that about right?
Listen: the GOP doesn’t want conservatives except when it needs their votes. And they count on our votes because they recognize that we’ll see the alternative — a more sudden devolution into a form of big government statist tyranny — as even worse than the slow-walking, feel-good “compassionate conservatism” that they’re peddling.
The GOP establishment despises the TEA Party almost as much as Obama does. They despise the presumptuous uprising of the plebes who don’t know the first thing about how DC works and what’s required to get things done.
– Without once acknowledging that many of us don’t want them to get things done — that instead, what we want is for them to safeguard our liberties, police our borders, and let individuals operating freely get things done, unmolested by the heavy groping hands of an intrusive federal authority.
Let’s have a good, open debate about the way forward, the way upwards. The Republican party can afford to have these discussions. And I don’t think America can afford for us not to.
Fine: let’s. But we can’t “have a good, open debate about the way forward” unless and until the establishment GOP makes clear its desire to be rid of the TEA Party types who swept them back into power in the House in 2010.
At which point we have a choice: stay with the GOP and try to reform it from within; or else strike out on our own — confident in the core principles of classical liberalism, and confident that we’ll be able to make the case that both the GOP and the Democrats are committed to expansive centralized government and a permanent ruling class — and that left to their own devices, both will continue to press forward until we are a nation of subjects, albeit in the case of the Republicans, subjects who pay lower taxes.
The mouthpieces for conservatism in the current intellectual climate are in many cases not what they’re presenting themselves as.
Judging by the trajectory of this site, I’m losing this argument. But that fact in and of itself doesn’t make me wrong. Just a bit sad.
(h/t Mark Levin)