Monday, March 08, 2010

Conservatism in Theory and Practice, or Belly Up to the Cafeteria

The complaint that I was expressing in the post about the Roberts Court was the deep suspicion that I have that while conservatives believe that they are voting in accordance with conservative principles, but the actual practice of conservative political leaders suggests that they subscribe to a "cafeteria conservatism" that will act on conservative principle when it suits the needs of big corporate interests to act on conservative principles, but will sell out those principles in an instant if corporate profits are endangered. Faced with the prospect of ObamaCare, the minions of the insurance companies fight tooth and nail against Socialism. But when Hank Paulson says that banks need a bailout, they take up the hammer and sickle and give Goldman Sachs what it wants. 


It seems to be a notorious fact about Republican leaders that, although they believe in cutting taxes and cutting expenditures, they have a far easier time gettiing the tax cuts done than they have getting the expenditure cuts done.

I'm sure if liberals get to spend as much time in political power as conservatives have, we will see how the political process undercuts liberal principles.

11 comments:

steve said...

It isn't hard to figure out, Victor. You can be an ideological purist like Ron Paul and lose every time.

Republicans compromise in part because, in a democracy, you have to please some of the voters some of the time, and a lot of voters have become addicted to gov't largesse.

It would be nice to see Republicans propose deeper cuts in gov't, but it's not politicly realistic to think they can cut as deep as some of them would like to.

Victor Reppert said...

It isn't so much the lack of ideological purity that bothers me. It is the fact that the impurities are all of the same type, and benefit the same people.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of one thing the Bush Administration did that made government smaller or less intrusive.

Bilbo said...

Though I'm a liberal Democrat, I'm afraid that they have sold out to corporate interests almost as much as Republicans. I believe that Golman Sachs was the major contributor to both McCain and Obama, The only time our government was able to balance the budget was when we had a Democratic president (Clinton) and a Republican Congress. Perhaps there's a reason that combination works.

steve said...

Victor Reppert said...

"Off the top of my head, I can't think of one thing the Bush Administration did that made government smaller or less intrusive."

He didn't run on a limited gov't platform. He ran on "compassionate conservatism," remember?

Bilbo said...

Yeah. but Reagan ran as a limited government president, and the deficit almost tripled under his administration. And don't try blaming the Democratic Congress for that. They only exceeded Reagan's budgets on three occasions, by very small amounts.

steve said...

Bilbo said...

"Yeah. but Reagan ran as a limited government president, and the deficit almost tripled under his administration."

Reagan ran on rebuilding the military.

Anyway, there's a distinction between "conservative" and "Republican." There are also varieties of conservatism.

Bilbo said...

Hi Steve,

If you're advocating that we drastically reduce military spending, that's okay with me, though I doubt few conservatives would endorse your suggestion.

Victor Reppert said...

To hear some conservatives talk, it is almost as of the military isn't part of the government. "What can the government do that private enterprise can't do better" they ask? Uh, defend the country maybe? If someone tried to reduce the size of our military so that it could be flushed down the bathtub drain (Grover Norquist's view of what should be done to the government), I don't think a lot of conservatives would be very happy.

Actually, there are three parts to contemporary conservatism, and I am not sure they all go together. You have fiscal and economic conservatism, with laissez-faire economics. (Of course most Republicans would be horrified if you actually advocated laissez-faire capitalism on a consistent basis). Then you have national security conservatism, which goes back to the Cold War when our enemies were communists. Before that, conservatives were isolationists. And then there is social conservatism, which came in through people like Falwell and takes strong stands on such things as abortion and gay marriage. I think it's rather a contingent and arbitrary fact that economic conservatives are also national security conservatives and social conservatives. In other countries, the parties do not line up in quite this way.

If you want a sense of what happens when you take conservatism away from the American political context, you can look at C. S. Lewis. He seems a natural-born conservative, and yet ended up supporting the National Health Service.

Victor Reppert said...

Steve: It is interesting how your points support the thesis that what you get from the Republican leadership is cafeteria conservatism. In some ways, the President who most lived up to conservative ideals was Bill Clinton.

RM said...

I think what you fail to appreciate, Victor, is the coalitional character of politics. A political party if it wishes to be viable will have to some how hold together competing factions of overlapping but unidentical interests. That is the very nature of politics. So it no more tells against Republicans as it does the Dems.

Or do you not see that factionalism, or cafeteria liberalism exists within the Dems as well? There is the socialism of Bernie Sanders and Russ Finegold, the third way, small government Dems of the DLC like Evan Bayh and Robert Rubin, and foreign policy hawks like Joseph Leiberman and formerly Scoop Jackson. But so what? That there are varieties of liberalism and conservatism is just a trivially true political reality. How does that tell against liberalism or conservatism as such?

Victor Reppert said...

It isn't the lack of consistency in conservatism as it works itself in practice that bothers me, it is the fact that exactly those aspects of conservatism that favor one particular group of wealthy and powerful people are the aspects of conservatism that get actualized when conservatives have a lot of power, as they did in the period from 1981-2009.

If you had a liberal predominance in government, you would get varying stripes of liberalism, and different aspects of liberalism accepted by different Democratic political leaders, but it is hard to imagine that one group of powerful people would skew everything so that all the liberal reforms that got enacted favored them, while all the liberal reforms that did not favor them did not get enacted.