Posted by: danielfee | May 29, 2012

The Radicalism of Conservatives

The dictionary definition of the word “conservative” is: being disposed to preserving existing conditions, institutions, etc. and to agree with gradual rather than abrupt change. Conservatism is marked by moderation or caution tending to emphasize the importance of preserving traditional cultural and religious values, and to oppose change, especially sudden change.

On the other hand, the dictionary definition of “radical” is: to support something very different from the usual or traditional. Favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions. Radicalism is to advocate for fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions: radicals seeking to overthrow the social order.

It became very fashionable in the early 1980’s, after Reagan was elected President, for many to claim they were conservative. But were most of these people really conservative? Did they really support the preservation of existing conditions and institutions? Or were they just using the label of conservatism to conceal a much more radical agenda? Of course one’s individual opinion of what qualifies as a “conservative” position is somewhat time dependent. If you are of the belief that the late 1800’s was the most ideal period in American history, then a change to existing policies that would return the country to that era would not appear radical to you. In fact, you might even consider them to be conservative policies because they would be a return to your fantasized version of the ideal period of American history. But for the vast majority of people, a return to the conditions of the late 1800’s would be considered a very radical change from today’s America. You can count me as part of that vast majority because it is my opinion that undoing programs and policies that have developed slowly over decades and generations is a very radical position to hold. Unfortunately, most people do not get past the labels of “conservative” and “liberal” to evaluate the real impact of proposed policies.

It would be difficult for anyone who will take an honest look at the facts and history to reach any other conclusion except that today’s conservatives are actually quite radical. Sure they profess to believe in the Constitution, the rule of law and upholding American traditions. They constantly rail against unelected activist judges. Even the conservative judges themselves claim they support stare decisis, the doctrine that principles of law established by prior judicial decision be accepted as authoritative in cases similar to those from which the principles were derived. In other words, following precedence.

But when you look beyond their rhetoric, what you find is that todays self-proclaimed conservative judges, legislators, governors, presidential candidates and even the rank and file members of the conservative movement, such as the Tea Party and Religious Right activists, actions are definitely not conservative.

Let’s start with the Supreme Court. Ever since George H.W. Bush appointed Clarence Thomas in 1991 the court has had a 5-4 conservative majority. One might expect that a majority conservative court would be rather boring and simply follow precedence to reach their rulings. Or they would just act as an umpire calling balls and strikes as Chief Justice John Roberts described the court’s role during his confirmation hearing. But the conservative majority court has been anything but boring or conservative. Let’s look at the Bush v. Gore decision in 2000. First, put aside your personal feelings about the outcome of that election and just look at what the U.S. Supreme Court did with this case. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution states, “Each State shall appoint, in such a Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, …” It is very clear that each state has the authority to choose its members to the electoral college in any way their legislature deems appropriate. It is also worth noting that the Constitution does not require all the states to choose their electors in the same manner. Amendment XII of the Constitution further explains that the electors shall meet in their respective states and vote for President and Vice President, then make a distinct list of all persons voted for and transmit a certified copy of the list to the government of the United States. There are no provisions in the U.S. Constitution that give the Supreme Court a role in reviewing how a state choses its electors. During the entire history of the United States Supreme Court there was no precedent for the court to intervene. That was until the 2000 presidential election, when the manner in which Florida was choosing its electors came into question. The State of Florida would typically award all of its electors to the person receiving the most popular votes. Previous elections were not close enough to ever raise a question about this system or Florida’s law, but the 2000 election changed that. Being separated by only a few hundred votes, out of the millions cast, Al Gore was trailing after the initial count. So he filed the necessary paperwork to request a recount in accordance with Florida law. Both sides argued over whether Florida law would allow a recount to occur in just some counties, as requested by Gore, or if the recount must be done on a state-wide basis. The legal dispute made its way to the Florida Supreme Court, who has the ultimate responsibility for interpreting Florida law. They concluded that the recount should be done on a state-wide basis. Ironically, George W. Bush and the Republicans who profess to be state rights advocates filed a federal lawsuit in an effort to have the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the decision of the Florida Supreme Court on their interpretation of Florida law. Basically, since they were ahead in the initial count on election night they didn’t want any recount to proceed. The conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court was obviously aware of their lack of constitutional basis for ruling on this case when the majority’s opinion effectively stated it could never be cited as precedent. As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s involvement in the State of Florida’s process of selecting its electors, Florida’s ability to do a state-wide recount, as ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, was negated because of an impending deadline to submit its certified list of electors to the Federal government. Therefore, the initial election night count stood, and no recount was ever performed even though the two candidates were separated by only 0.00009%. Whether you liked the outcome of the election or not, the conservative U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to involve itself in a state’s electoral process was a very radical action.

Then there is the case of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (FEC). Most people know by now that the results of this 2009 Supreme Court’s decision, which was decided by a 5-4 majority by the conservative justices, is that corporations and individuals can make unlimited and undisclosed donations in the political process by using what is called a “super PAC” (Political Action Committee). But very few people know the back story and just how radical this court decision was. Citizens United is a small nonprofit corporation that had prepared a video which was very critical of Hillary Clinton, a candidate in the Democratic primary for President. Their plan was to make this video available on cable TV through video-on-demand. Citizens United wanted to advertise the availability of this video within the 30-day window before an election. Concerned that running their commercials within this 30-day window might be considered “electioneering communication” and as such violate the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002 (aka McCain-Feingold), they went to court seeking a court ruling that the “disclaimer, disclosure and reporting provisions” of BCRA were unconstitutional as applied to their video and commercials. The lower court ruled against Citizens United. This decision was appealed by Citizens United up to the Supreme Court and it was argued before the court on March 24, 2009. So far nothing unusual. But what happened next was very unusual. The conservative Chief Justice John Roberts instructed both parties to submit additional briefs addressing whether the court should overrule either Austin (1990) or McConnell (2003), two precedence cases, or both. He told them to prepare to re-argue the case on these wider grounds. The historical position of the Supreme Court has always been to decide any case on the narrowest constitutional grounds possible. But in this case they expanded it to include questions that were not even part of the original lower court case. The reargument was held on September 9, 2009 and finally, in January 2010, the Supreme Court issued its ruling. So even though the Citizens United v. FEC case was a dispute over whether or not they had a right to use the funds in their general treasury to pay for a commercial broadcast during the 30-day period before an election as regulated under BCRA, the court’s ruling not only found that BCRA was unconstitutional, it also reversed the previous Austin and McConnell court decisions and effectively eliminated the special limitations on campaign spending by corporations that had been in effect ever since the Tillman Act was passed in 1907. More than 100 years of campaign finance laws regulating corporations were wiped out by the five conservative members of the Supreme Court. So much for stare decisis or just being and umpire. Whether or not you like the outcome of Citizens United, there is no way to deny that the action taken by the Supreme Court to expand the question and then overturn 100 years of election law was a very radical action.

Finally, one more example from the Supreme Court. In another 5-4 decision on April 2, 2012, the five conservative members of the Supreme Court found that someone who is arrested and charged with minor and non-indictable offenses can be strip searched, including visual body cavity searches, before they are placed in jail. The fourth amendment of the Constitution clearly states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, house, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized.” This is the case of Mr. Florence who was a passenger, along with his three kids, in the car being driven by his wife when she was pulled over for a traffic offense. He was arrested during the traffic stop on a bench warrant from Essex County, New Jersey for the non-indictable offense of failure to pay a fine. Mr. Florence protested the validity of the warrant, arguing that he had paid the fine and that the warrant was a computer error. He even provided evidence to the officer that he was aware of the error and was working with Essex County to resolve it. But he was still placed under arrest in Burlington County and spent six days in their jail before being transferred to Essex County’s jail. At both jails, he underwent strip searches and visual body cavity searches. When Mr. Florence finally went before a judge, the charges were dismissed immediately and he was quickly released from jail. So even though Mr. Florence had committed no offense, other than riding in a car, was arrested based on a computer error, held in jail for 6 days and strip searched twice before a judge finally dismissed the erroneous charge and released him, the conservative members of the Supreme Court did not believe that this was an “unreasonable search and seizure.” Personally, the thought that any one of us could be asked for our identity when we are committing no crime, arrested because of a computer error connected to our name for a non-indictable offense, and that we have no fourth amendment protections, strikes me as a very radical interpretation of the law.

However it is not just conservative judges who are taking very radical positions and actions. Let’s look at a couple of recent legislative and policy positions being taken by the conservatives in office and those running for office. Way back in the 2008 presidential campaign, both John McCain and Sara Palin were on the campaign trail promoting the idea of “cap and trade” as the “free market solution” to reducing carbon emissions. There is plenty of video out there showing both of them making this argument. But then in conservative circles by 2010, “cap and trade” had evolved into “cap and tax” and was now a socialist idea being forced on freedom-loving Americans by the Obama administration. For decades, as it become more evident that polluting the environment was having adverse consequences on the public health, safety and welfare, the Federal government adopted regulations that worked towards eliminating the pollution and cleaning up the problems that were previously created. As a kid growing up in Ohio, I remember the Cuyahoga River in northwest Ohio catching on fire because it was so polluted. After one vacation where we went swimming in Lake Erie we all came home sick. Finally in 1972, under Richard Nixon who at that time was considered to be a conservative president, The Clean Water Act was passed to begin addressing these problems. Of course those doing the polluting were not happy because they could no longer just dump their waste products into the rivers and lakes. Of course this would cost them more money and hurt profits. But in the opinion of most people, making a business pay for the cost of cleaning up the waste they generated is just part of the cost of doing business. Later, when it became evident that acid rain was a problem stemming from the high levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide being emitted from power plants, the EPA established a “cap and trade” program that was codified into law in the 1990 Clean Air Amendments Act under another conservative president, George H.W. Bush. Power plants had to now scrub their emissions and if they were really effective at reducing their emission levels below the caps established in the EPA rules, they were permitted to sell off their excess credits to a company that had not yet met those standards. We no longer hear on the news or talk about the problems of acid rain or about our rivers catching on fire. But the conservatives of today want everyone to now believe that the EPA adopting a “cap and trade” program for carbon emissions is somehow a new radical socialist policy, when just the opposite is true; it is merely a continuation of over 40 years of policies to clean up the environment, most of which has been adopted into law under conservative Republican presidents. The statements which have come from the conservatives running for President in 2012 such as they “want to eliminate the EPA, the Department of Education and umm… I forget the third department, oops”; now that is a very radical idea.

Another example of a proposed “free market” solution that todays conservatives want everyone to believe is a new “radical socialist” idea is the individual mandate to buy health insurance as required by the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The idea of providing universal health care coverage for all Americans goes back to President Teddy Roosevelt and the early 1900’s. However the idea of providing for a universal old age and disability pension, as well as a fixed sum to be paid to all citizens on reaching maturity (aka Social Security) goes back even further. In his pamphlet titled Agrarian Justice, published in 1797, Thomas Paine advocated the use of an estate tax and a tax on land values in order to pay for this universal old age and disability pension program. When Paine first proposed this concept it may have been a radical idea. But over the past one hundred years these systems have slowly evolved on a piecemeal basis. First with Social Security, then subsequently with Medicare and Medicaid being adopted. Each has proved to be quite popular with the American people. The most recent incremental change was the adoption of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). However, today’s conservatives would like you to believe that “Obamacare” is a complete takeover of the entire health care system by a radical left-wing socialist government. What they don’t like to tell everyone is that the idea of an “individual mandate” to purchase private health insurance was the proposed “free market” solution created by the conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation in the 1990’s when the Clinton Administration was proposing the idea of universal health care coverage for all. The “individual mandate” was being pushed by such far left socialists like Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and almost every Republican in Congress in the 1990’s. It was still considered a “free market” solution in 2006 when Governor Mitt Romney signed the Massachusetts health care insurance reform law. But now they have all seen the error of their ways and recognize that requiring individuals to provide for their own health care insurance by purchasing a policy from a private insurance company through an exchange (similar to the one members of Congress use to select their own insurance coverage, which is paid for by the taxpayers) is akin to European socialism where universal coverage is provided by the government. According to todays conservatives, an individual should be allowed to choose to not purchase insurance and therefore be permitted to be a free rider on the American health care system. Shifting from a position that an “individual mandate” is a “free market” solution to a position that it is a “socialist takeover” of the entire health care system is a radical change in both policy and philosophy.

But todays conservatives are not just opposed to the expanded health care coverage provided by Obamacare. They are proposing radical changes to the existing Medicare and Medicaid programs. For the past two years, the Republican-controlled House has passed what is known as the Ryan budget, named after the Republican Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin. In those budgets, the conservative Republicans are proposing to change the Medicare system of today, which is a government-run single-payer system for seniors, as has existed since its adoption in 1965, into a voucher system in which each senior would be given a voucher for a stipulated amount to be utilized to purchase insurance on the private market. That might work for a few years for some of the younger and healthier seniors who can find insurance coverage for the amount of the voucher or less. However as they age and become sicker, it will become harder to find an insurance company to provide coverage. Those companies that will write the insurance will of course charge significantly more for the policy. But under the Ryan plan, that increased cost will not be passed on to the government because its contribution to a seniors health care cost is capped at the amount of the voucher. The risk for higher cost has been shifted to the senior. The cost benefit of putting all seniors into one insurance pool will be lost. Policies will now be based on each individual. There can be no doubt that a certain amount of seniors will not be able to obtain insurance nor be able to afford it, so they will go without coverage. The reason Medicare was adopted in the first place is that at least half of all people over 65 could not obtain or could not afford health care insurance. Whether or not you support the Ryan proposal for Medicare, you cannot deny that this would be a radical change to the way it has always operated.

Health care is not the only area where todays so-called conservative Republicans have made a radical shift in policy. Ronald Reagan, who is the iconic figure of the conservative movement, may have been the champion of lower corporate and top marginal tax rates with his Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981. But when it resulted in huge budget deficits because of his prolific spending increases at the same time, Reagan was pragmatic enough to realize that revenues needed to be increased. He raised taxes in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, and again in 1986. We can argue over how Reagan’s tax policies shifted the tax burden from the corporations and the wealthy onto the poor and middle classes, but there is no argument that the conservative policy position today, which opposes any new tax revenue, is a radical shift away from even Reagan’s policies of the 1980’s. The same is true when you look at Reagan’s policy on immigration. In 1984 Reagan said, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and live here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.” In 1986 he followed through on his statement by signing the Immigration Reform and Control Act which provide amnesty to approximately 3 million illegal immigrants. But the conservative’s position on immigration has shifted so radically that today they are opposed to any proposal that would even create a path to citizenship and they are vocal advocates for the construction of a wall along the entire border with Mexico. In the first half of the 20th century, those who advocated for closing the borders and isolationism were considered to be on the radical fringe of American politics. Today we call them conservative Republicans.

These radical policies coming from conservative politicians are not just happening at the federal level. Some of the most radical changes are occurring at the state level in those states who elected Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures. It is not a coincidence that these states all started to pass similar legislation after the 2010 elections when the conservative Republicans either gained or consolidated their control in those states. These legislatures have outsourced their role of writing legislation for the benefit of their constituents to a pro-business lobby group known as ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). ALEC provided these state legislatures with model bills for everything from voters registration (aka voter restriction) laws and stand your ground gun laws to anti-abortion laws and many other pro-business laws. ALEC is self-described as a non-partisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberties. Elected officials pay a nominal membership fee of $50 for two years while corporations pay a minimum of $5,000 per year in addition to making other corporate contributions sponsoring events. It is at these events where the elected officials are treated to wining, dining and golfing over a multi-day retreat and then ALEC provides them with “model bills” that can be introduced when the elected officials return to their home states. ALEC is the conduit for corporations to introduce their special interest legislation around the country and the reason we are seeing similar legislation appear in the Republican-controlled states. There have even been a few occasions where a state legislator was so lazy that they introduced the ALEC model bill word for word, not even attempting to make it appear as their own work product. Obviously there is a significant benefit to corporate interests to be able to write their own regulations governing their businesses. From their perspective, it also makes sense to spend a significant amount of money (now thanks to Citizens United, unlimited corporate money from their general fund) in order to get more compliant and like-minded people elected to office. But even this approach has its limitation when it runs into the democratic process. Therefore, sometimes an even more radical conservative approach is required, such as the case of Michigan’s changes to their emergency manager law, enacted after the newly elected Republican governor and legislature took office in 2010. The old emergency financial manager law allowed the governor to appoint an emergency financial manager to assist a local government or school board to address the fiscal problems confronting that community. No one can really object to the governor appointing a professional financial person to assist local elected officials in solving their money problems. But the new conservative majority in Michigan passed an expansion of their emergency financial manager law which provided the governor with the authority to declare a financial emergency for any local government or school board he deems to be in financial difficulty and then to appoint a financial manager who will have the unilateral power under the revised law to make every decision on behalf of a local government or school board, regardless of what the local elected officials have voted to do on behalf of their constituents. Let that sink in a moment. The governor can now appoint a “financial dictator” to run any local government he deems to be in an emergency situation. The governor has used this authority many times since 2010, with one of the better known cases being the City of Benton Harbor.

The City of Benton Harbor was one of the first to be taken over by their own local dictator. On April 14, 2011, Mr. Joseph L. Harris, the duly appointed Emergency Manager for Benton Harbor, issued Order No 11-05 which stated, “Absent prior express written authorization and approval by the Emergency Manager, no City Board, Commission or Authority shall take any action on behalf of the City whatsoever other than: i) call a meeting to order, ii) approve of meeting minutes, iii) adjourn a meeting.” Mr. Harris now has absolute authority to rescind or modify any city contract, enter into new ones with whomever he chooses, or sell off any city asset or service at whatever price he decides, even if the citizens or local elected officials object strenuously. The elimination of local control and the democratic process is a very radical change to the American way of governing.

It is not just in politics that conservatives are taking very radical positions. Today’s religious right is pushing the idea that America is a Christian nation and that it was founded on Christian-Judeo principles. This effort started many years ago and you have probably heard this so often that it doesn’t even sound radical anymore. They contend that “radical secularists” have taken over the government and pushed God out of the public square. We have even heard Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, make the claim that President Obama is attempting to create a new religion called “secularism.” However the Treaty of Tripoli, which was approved in June 1797 by the Senate on a unanimous vote, states in Article 11 “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” This treaty was proposed by and signed into law by John Adams, second President of the United States, a founding father, a conservative in his day and a devout Christian. Clearly the government established by the founding fathers was formed as a secular institution to address civic affairs of man and the religious affairs of man were left to individuals and their choice of churches. There is no doubt that a great many of the founding fathers were Christians and their religion guided many of their decisions. But they where not unanimous in their religious beliefs and recognized that the introduction of religion into civic affairs would be very dangerous and lead to persecution of some religious sects, just as they had experienced when fleeing England.

However there has been a minority movement throughout the history of the United States that were opposed to a separation of church and state. They believe that the government of the United States should be based on the Christian religion. They may not have been in favor of the king’s religion being the official state religion, but they believe their religion would be appropriate as the “official religion.” While it is true that a majority of the citizens in the United States are Christian, they too are divided into many sects, each believing that they are the true followers of Christ and that the others are at best misguided or at worst heretics or cultists. In America this division between sects has historically resulted in people putting aside their religious differences and coming together under a “secular” government of the United States to address the civic function of government. But over the last several decades, what can generally be described as the Christian Reconstructionist movement, which used to be a small minority, has grown significantly and become much more vocal. They have actively been re-writing history in an effort to persuade others that the more than two hundred year separation between America’s religious and civic affairs never really existed. In all of their writings and historical revisions they will point to thousands of examples of the founding fathers expressing and taking actions individually based on their personal religious faith. But they always seem to miss the main point, which is that almost no one disputes the fact that the founding fathers were religious, having varying degrees of faiths and different religions, but they made a conscious decision based on their historical knowledge and experience that throughout history it was the norm for church and state to be combined in some form, and it was their intent to establish a new country which separated the two. Had they wanted to combine church and state following the precedent of history, they very easily could have written it into the Constitution. So for more that two centuries the conservative position has been to keep separate the private religious affairs from the public civic affairs. But todays so-called religious-right conservatives are continually opining that the opposite is true. Now that is a very radical position to take, and frankly, it is un-American at its core.

To what end are these radical positions being taken? What is it that these radical conservatives are hoping to achieve? If you pay close attention, in unguarded moments they will tell you. For example, Richard Mourdock, Indiana’s State treasurer who just defeated the long time Republican Senator Richard Lugar in the primary election, said in an interview that there was too much compromise occurring in Washington. This Tea Party-backed candidate said that the only compromise with Democrats should be them agreeing with his position. Mr. Lugar, who for decades was considered to be a reliable conservative member of the Republican Party, was attacked as being too moderate and willing to work with Democrats. Lugar committed the ultimate sin against the Republican Party and their most extreme wing, the Tea Party; he was willing to work with President Obama to solve major problems confronting the country such as the collapse of the auto industry and securing loose nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. Early in the George W. Bush administration, Karl Rove, the political strategist behind Bush, said his goal was to build a permanent Republican majority in all branches of government that would endure for generations. It is safe to assume that this is still the end goal of Mr. Rove and the Republican leadership. Purging the party of those who will work across party lines and forge compromises is a necessary first step to enforcing complete party discipline. Once party members realize if they step out of line like Senator Lugar, it will result in a defeat by an extremist like Mr. Mourdock who pledges never to compromise, then they will be afraid to work across party lines in the future. With a unified party enforcing this type of discipline, they will push for even more radical ideas disguised under the banner of conservatism. The end result is not to take the best ideas from everyone and forge a compromise through a democratic process. They have already concluded that only their ideas have any merit, as Mr. Mourdock stated; so the goal is to force everyone to accept those ideas. This goal is much easier to accomplish with one party rule.

Grover Norquist, a Washington DC lobbyist and conservative activist who is the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, has stated “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Mr. Norquist has gotten almost every Republican member of Congress to sign a pledge to his organization that they will never vote for a tax increase or any net reduction or elimination of tax deductions and credits. While the idea of not paying more taxes is appealing to everyone, the statistics show that Americans are paying the lowest amount of taxes as a percentage of GDP in 60 years. The statistics recently published in the Wall Street Journal show that during the first three years of Obama’s budgets, the growth in Federal spending is also at more than 60 year lows. The annualized rate of growth in Federal spending under Obama is a paltry 1.4%, and this even includes the stimulus spending. That compares to the 7.3% and 8.1% growth rates during George W. Bush’s first and second terms, respectively. Or the 8.7% and 4.9% growth rates during the conservative icon Ronald Reagan’s two terms. So it is now very clear to anyone who will honestly look at the facts that the large increase in the national debt during Obama’s budget years is not occurring because of big spending increases but rather big drops in the revenues coming into federal treasury. This was labeled as the “starving the beast” strategy in a 1985 Wall Street Journal article, where the reporter quoted an unnamed Reagan staffer. If the goal of these radical conservatives is to starve the beast, and not abolish the government but rather just shrink it down to the size where it can be drowned in the bathtub (although drowning typically results in death), then what is to replace the function of government? In a word, privatization. That is, to turn the function of government over to the private sector and simply use the government as a vehicle to funnel tax dollars to those well-connected corporations and individuals.

For a more detailed discussion of privatization, please refer back to my post on July 17, 2011. This type of capitalism is often refered to as “crony capitalism”, which it is, but when it is combined with a political system of single party rule, it is something much more. There is an example to which you can look to see how this model functions. It is a cross between authoritarianism and capitalism which the Chinese have been following for the past few decades. However, a discussion of “authoritarian capitalism” is a whole new subject that will have to be the topic of a future post. But there is no question that advocating and adopting policies that move America to this type of economic system is not conservative; it is very radical.









  1. I confess as to not reading all of this post (time constraints), so this brief comment is an aside from what you may have wrote. It may coincide or run contrary to your own conclusions.

    Most of the establishment politicians on both sides of the aisle are about the government, including the judiciary, having great power. I would further argue that many citizens on the left and many on the right both look to government to create laws to impress certain views upon the other, mainly of one’s perceptions of morality.

    That aside, in general, the term “conservative” by American standards is actually the “classical liberal” in the historical sense.

    • G,
      I invite you to read the entire article when you have time. I think the few examples I selected (I could have written a book) highlight how radical the actions of todays conservatives really are. Of course politicians on both sides are all about having great power. That is nothing new. Just look at what John Marshall did with Marbury v. Madison. Marshall created the doctrine of judicial review by the Supreme Court over all constitutional matters out of whole cloth. There is nothing in the Constitution that gives that power to the Supreme Court. Politics and power will always go together. Now, what the politicians do with that power is the key question. Are they looking to expand rights or take them away. Are they looking to expand democracy and the involvement of the citizenry or close people out of the process and shut down the democratic process. .
      If I accept your premise that in general, the term “conservative” by American standards is actually the “classical liberal” in the historical sense, then I am far more of a conservative than those who call themselves conservative today. If you consider yourself to be a “classical liberal”, then you must be in agreement with me that Ronald Reagan was one of our worst and most destructive presidents. He initiated three major changes to the way our government operates and is viewed by many Americans.
      First, he militarized the country. Even though we were not at war, Reagan spent huge sums of money on the military, increasing their budget every year. Eisenhower had warned us about the growing military industrial complex in his farewell address. Through out our history, when we went to war the country would spend huge amounts, often borrowed, to build up for and conduct the war. But once it was over the soldiers returned to civilian life, defense budgets were significantly reduced and we would pay back what was borrowed for the war. Reagan changed this dynamic. He was the first president to spend more every year on the military in a time of peace. This entrenched the military industrial complex into American politics and expanded the size of the professional military. I am sure you are aware that the Founding Fathers were very concerned about even having a standing army and specifically gave the power to declare war to the Congress.
      Second, Reagan’s increased spending was put on the country’s credit card. He had the biggest budget deficits and ran up more debt than any other president, except for FDR’s spending during the depression and WW II. Reagan nearly tripled the national debt with the combination of his tax cuts and increased military spending. He turned us from the world’s largest creditor nation into the largest debtor nation during his 8 years. He also added more than 200,000 to the federal civilian workforce, increasing it to 3 million. (FYI, Clinton reduced it down to 2.68 million). Reagan was a big government guy and believed in an expanded executive power. He did not believe that Congress had the power to check the President, especially when it came to foreign affairs (think Iran-Contra). The “unitary executive theory” that the Bush Administration (particularly Dick Cheney) was pushing was initially developed in the Reagan Administration. I am sure that you are aware that the Founding Fathers were very concerned about the executive branch having too much power and put many provisions into the Constitution to place limits on Presidential powers.
      Finally, in my opinion the most insidious thing Reagan did was to change the American people’s opinion of their government. His two famous quotes, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” and “Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.” are the foundation of todays conservatives hatred of government. The Founding Fathers believed in self-government. They established the country based on this principal. Lincoln called it the government of the people, by the people, for the people. But according to Reagan, government was “the problem”. Government was bad (the same government he was growing) and only the private sector could do anything right.
      Also, if you consider yourself to be a “classical liberal”, then you must be in agreement with me that religion should have absolutely no role in government and should receive no funding from government for any purpose (the Madison position). You should also agree that when George W. Bush set up the Office of Faith Based Initiatives in his first months in office, it was a clear violation of the Constitution. The Founding Fathers were very clear that they wanted to separate church and state.
      I doubt that you would agree with me on Reagan since he is the icon of todays conservatives. You probably disagree on the role of religion in government. I know it sounds good to say that todays conservatives are “classical liberal”, but that is just not true. Not if you consider the founders to be “classic liberals.” Repeating sound bits like “smaller government” or “lower taxes and less regulation” or “individual freedoms and free markets” doesn’t make a person a “classic liberal. But nice try.

  2. Dan, I give you credit that you write well, and it is apparent you are well read. But, you follow the classic liberal strategy. You pick a couple things out of the whole and attempt to summarize everything else around them. You misconstrue sentences to your own definitions. It is not “government” that is the problem, it is “too much government” that is the problem. To insinuate Reagan meant the former would be akin to saying Reagan was promoting anarchy. Obviously he was not doing that. As usual, I agree with many things you say within your argument (separation of church & state and we spent more money than necessary building a nuclear arsenal during the cold war), but I mostly disagree with your final conclusions.

    We in America are very guilty of the quarterback syndrome. We give the President way too much credit when things go right, and way too much blame when things go wrong. There are three branches of government and the legislative branch plays a significant role. No American president has done everything correctly or incorrectly.

    The definition of classical liberalism is the idea of limited government and liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets. Today’s conservatives are the classical liberal. They do not all land in the same camp on every issue, nor should they. There is broad debate within the classical-liberal circles on the individual issues. But, you can summarize it down to personal liberty balanced by personal responsibility. – G

  3. G,
    Thank you, I do read a lot and I try to put thought, reason and logic into all of my posts. I wasn’t attempting to follow some “liberal strategy” of pick a few things and extrapolating to summarize everything. My post was already over 5,000 words with just the few examples I chose. I wanted to make sure to include examples from the conservative judicial, legislative and executive branches as well as outside conservative activist groups to illustrate my point . As I said in my last comment, I could write a book and give many, many, many more examples. I agree that to much credit and blame get assigned to a President when most actions taken require legislative approval. However, we have been moving further away from that, especially when it comes to military and foreign affairs. Reagan didn’t start that shift, but he was responsible for a major leap forward. As I said earlier the “Unitary Executive Theory” was started by the Reagan administration. I think it is fair to say that the President is responsible for setting the direction of his administration. If Reagan didn’t want to increase military spending in a time of peace, it wouldn’t have been in his budget proposals.
    Those were the exact quotes from Reagan with respect to government. He did not qualify them with “too much.” This is a little revision of history on your part. It is also not logical to jump to the conclusion that it would be akin to saying Reagan was promoting anarchy. I don’t think that at all. There are many steps in between a democratic government and anarchy. And as I pointed out Reagan was a big government guy, adding more than 200,000 civilians to the federal payrolls. I think the real purpose behind his statements was to undermined the American people’s attitude towards government in general so that its functions could be privatized. It worked! I am sure you hear it as often as I do that the government screws everything up. That we need to run it more like a business. The private sector can do it better, faster and cheaper. It has been repeated so often that it has become common wisdom to many people, and maybe you are part of that group. But I don’t think it is necessarily true. When you add in a profit motive for a privatize company to provide a government service the cost is bound to go up. Maybe for the first few years it will seem cheaper because companies provide what is effectively a teaser rate, but once the governmental infrastructure is dismantled and the private company becomes a sole source provider those cost will climb and exceed the original cost when the government was providing the service. For example, look at the sole source contracts that KBR (or many others) were getting for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are 1000’s of examples of private contractor being paid significantly more than our military personnel for the same job. So much so that soldiers wouldn’t re-enlist, they would just sign on with a private contractor and come back and do the same job at higher pay. How did we save money on that deal? Anarchy wasn’t the goal. I think it can better be described as Oligarchy being the goal.
    I am in general agreement that the definition of classical liberalism is the idea of limited government and liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets. Although, I would point out that the Constitution makes no mention of “free markets.” What it actually says is Congress shall have the power to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations and among the several States. It also says they have the power “To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution of the foregoing powers…” It is quite clear that the Founders, I think we both agree they were classic liberals, expected that we would have a regulated economy, not a “free market” system as is being defined by todays conservatives. I could also go through a laundry list of suppression of free speech, assembly and of the press and other Constitutional violations that occurred during the Bush years. I saw many liberals protesting against these things, such as the warrantless wiretaps, but conservatives mostly defended Bush’s actions. Obviously I disagree with you assessment that today’s conservatives are the classical liberal. Which is why I wrote “The Radicalism of Conservatives” in the first place in order to point out the shift that has occurred in the conservative movement.

  4. Dan,
    I don’t consider myself a classic anything – I used to consider myself a conservative and voted for many republicans over the years. I now find most of todays “conservative” ideas more radical than anything else. Having worked in the senior levels of Government (as a member of the Senior Executive Service) I understand the value of different views and the need to balance those views across different agendas – I find it sad that our current environment not only doesn’t seem to value that airing of views and the value of compromise in governance. I also lament the degeneration of politics into sound bites and talking points with little or no attention to detail and fact – aided by the fact that today’s media seems woefully ill-equipped to play the honest broker and fact checker for the public. I fear we in for a long period of very counterproductive ultra-partisanship with little hope of significant and thoughtful problem solving in our political institutions. I’m not sure what the crisis will be that serves to snap us out of this spiral. Keep up good work – I find your political posts informative and thought provoking. Besides, I also enjoy your pics of the day!!

    OBTW – the Volt is a great little car!

    • Scott,
      I think there are many like you who use to consider themselves as conservative, but are uncomfortable with that label today. It is a hard thing to quantify, but I think the rise in the number of people calling themselves Independents is probably a good general measurement. I don’t know if you saw the Pew Research Center’s “Trends in American Values:1987-2012 Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years”, which was just released on June 4. What it shows is that the values gap between Republicans and Democrats is now greater than the gender, age, race or class divides. While the gaps in attitudes along these other divides has remained relatively constant, the partisan divide gap has nearly doubled over 25 years, with most of it occurring in the Bush-Obama years. Most of the widening gap is attributed to the shift (I would say hard right shift) in the attitudes of Republicans. While Democrats and Independents have become more socially liberal and secular, which contributed some to the widening gap, most of it is a result of what I called the radicalism of conservatives. It was timely of Pew to release this report just after I posted my article. Take for example the two largest partisan gap increases; Social Safety Net and Environment. In 1987, the percentage of people that agree the government should take care of people who can’t take care of themselves was D = 79%, I = 70% and R = 62%. But in 2012 those number shifted to D = 75%, I = 59% and R = 40%. the percent of Democrats dropped a little, but you can see that all of the gap expansion was a shift in Republicans attitudes about the role of government. I also noted that Independents were at about the same level as 1987 Republicans, which tells me that moderate Republicans became Independents. When it comes to environmental laws the percentage of Democrats that agreed there needs to be stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment did not change. It was 93% in 1987 and 2012. But the Republicans dropped from 86% to 47%. Now that is a testament to the power of propaganda! The same trend occurred when it came to attitudes on labor unions, equal opportunity, government scope, and immigration. You should go to Pew’s website and get a copy of the whole report. It is interesting to read and I think it under scores why we can’t get any compromise in governance. While the media likes to blame “both sides” it is clear that one side, the Democrats, are operating under more or less the same values and attitudes when it comes to governing. It is the Republicans where the major shift has occurred. But don’t expect the lame-stream media (this is the one thing I agree with Sarah Palin on, they are lame) to point this out. Thanks to Clinton signing off on the deregulation of the media industry it has consolidated into more than 80% being controlled by just 6 companies and they are not about to turn against the Republican Party and their pro-deregulation platform.
      I don’t know what you consider “a long period of very counterproductive ultra-partisanship”, but in my opinion it will continue until the climax event of the crisis period occurs. That will be the event that snaps us out of this spiral. I have mentioned the book, “The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny” written in 1997 by Strauss and Howe, in some of my early posts. You should order a copy on Amazon (more reading!). If history is a guide, then the climax event of the current crisis period (4th Turning) should occur and reach a resolution in the next 8 to 10 years. Each turning lasts about 21 years, give or take a few. The crisis period starts with a catalyst event, which they warned would occur in the early 2000’s. Once that event happened the crisis period would take a generation to play out. I have found this book very helpful for putting the day to day minutia into perspective with the long arc of history.
      Thanks for your comment, and I am glad you like the daily travel pictures. I shared your wolf photo with a friend of ours who just went to the wolf rescue center here in Florida a couple of weeks ago. I told her she should follow your blog for great wildlife photos. I need to get out to the west coast and visit more of the national parks.

  5. Thanks Dan,
    I’ve been looking for some good reading material. Just finished “Do not ask what good we do” about the freshman republicans – scary how naive and ill informed they were. Just as scary is that there is very little discussion of governing – only political considerations.

    • Scott,
      Enjoy Alaska, I look forward to more bear photos.
      It is not surprising that there was very little discussion of governing by these new Tea Party Republicans elected in 2010. If your political philosophy is, government is bad at what it does and the main goal is to eliminate large portions of it, then why worry about governing. They achieve their goal more quickly if they prevent everyone from governing. It is very Machiavellian. We can only hope that most of them lose in 2012. Unfortunately, I have one of the leading Tea Party congressmen, Alan West, as my representative. People did not show up to vote in 2010, and this is who we got stuck with. But now that people know who he is and what he stands for he will not get re-elected in this district. So he is moving further north up the state looking for a district that he thinks will still support the Tea Party agenda. I went to one of his town hall meetings last year and it was very strange. It was held in a mega-church, it was 95% people who applauded everything he said, and when it came to Q&A they made everyone write their questions and his staff hand picked which ones he would answer. Of course they only picked questions that led into his talking points. If anybody stood up and yelled a real question they were immediately thrown out by his security or the police. Funny how these same guys who disrupted all the town hall meetings the prior summer during the health care debate when they were running for office, wouldn’t allow anyone who might disagree with them to ask questions. What is even funnier, is now that Alan West is running for re-election he recently said that allowing young adults (up to 26) to stay on their parents health insurance policy, closing the donut hole on prescription drugs, and not allowing insurance companies to discriminate because of pre-existing conditions are good ideas. What! Those are some of the major features of Obamacare! Alan West supports Obamacare! Of course it is all politics. It is not a smart idea to oppose these things when your running for office in Florida. The old folks don’t want to hear that you want to reopen the donut hole, and make them pay more for their drugs, even if your real goal is to repeal Obamacare.

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