July 15, 2006

Why Liberals can't honestly describe Conservatism

Ran this comment on Akram's Razor which ran a lengthy excerpt of the deeply flawed "why conservatives can't govern" by Alan Wolfe.

Unfortunately, Wolfe uses several confusing terms that will lead most of his readers (those who are not intensely political and educated to the nuances) astray. Conservatism has always been about taking what is useful from the past and preserving it, adapting it so that it is useful for today but keeping the flame alive. What that past that is being conserved is changes from variant to variant. Jacques Chirac is a conservative. So is Jonah Goldberg, the fellow who coined the phrase "cheese eating surrender monkey" and hurls it so liberally at Chirac. This makes perfect sense once you take into account that Chirac is conserving the old european tradition of class, nobility, and privilege and Goldberg is conserving the revolutionary american tradition of mocking exactly those things.

It is this "conserving revolutionary liberalism" fraction that throws so many people for a loop. People cannot understand George W Bush unless they know that post 9/11 he is the second coming of the Radical Republican faction, which hearkened back to the old NE firebrand sons of liberty of the US colonial period. Bush is not the heir to Adams but of Thomas Paine without most of the eloquence.

Wolfe uses few of the signposts that differentiate one conservative faction from another and thus mashes up all the factions and picks out what is convenient to his aim which is propaganda, not education. Care is called for.

Bush explicitly ran as a compassionate conservative, a word which was pretty controversial on the center-right because of its implied concession to the leftist claim that preceding variants had not been compassionate. The word compassionate or variant do not enter into the article at all. Compassionate conservatism *is* more big government friendly than preceding variants. What it gives up in holding the line on government spending and program growth it tries to improve in demanded results. George Bush has famously not vetoed one bill in his presidency. What he has insisted on is that whenever a program is reauthorized, significantly changed, created, or funded at greater levels it come with a new set of tools to honestly and properly measure progress and a commitment that if those measurements show that the program is a failure it will either be reformed to work or outright killed in the future.

What George Bush has been doing for almost six years now has been setting up easy home runs for the next round of small government conservatives because the old liberal tricks of layering a new program doomed to fail on top of an old program that has already failed (but keeps getting funded) won't work when the entire government actually measures success and failure and holds programs accountable.

It is a long range readjustment of the country that is barely starting to bear fruit. NCLB educational reform, for instance, is putting the squeeze on incompetent and outright destructive mostly urban school districts that should have been replaced decades ago.

The article's treatment of Katrina is practically cartoonish. One would hardly know that the disasters all seemed to fall in the political jurisdiction of Louisiana and New Orleans while neighboring states hit as hard or harder didn't seem to have the same sorts of problems.

The Medicare Part D coverage is even less attached to reality. The truth is that Medicare was horribly broken. It's coverage of office visits and surgery but not pills meant that it couldn't be privatized. Some sort of drug benefit had to be included in the program before it would be sane to even consider whether there was a way to improve care by spinning it off to a private entity. Medicare Part D was akin to asking a bankruptcy judge for the ability to borrow more money to operate the company while it reorganizes. Virtually every bankrupt company does this and most judges approve those requests.

Wolfe ignores decades of failure to implement Medicare drug coverage including plenty of filibusters and filibuster threats on both sides of the aisle. Democrats had a hand in a great many of the provisions in this program otherwise it would have been filibustered to death, again.

The less said about Wolfe's Iraq analysis, the better. When all is said and done, Iraq will likely be on its feet faster (2003-??) than the US was (1776-1789). Militarily, right now it's one province down, 17 to go for handover. Politically, their constitution is set up fairly well and we're well into the unpredictable growing pains of forging a competent political class. Economically, recovery is well on its way.

Wolfe's description of the inner-Republican factional jockeying is just not serious. Of course there are different factions among Republicans. That's virtually embedded in the system. And each faction gets a bone so the coalition goes forward without the dogs turning on each other. Democrat factional jockeying is no different so either Wolfe is singularly uninformed or disingenuous.

Even the K Street Project analysis doesn't get things quite right. The lobbyists initially expected a rerun of the 1950s with the House soon tipping back to Democrat control. They thus continued to fund Democrats and Democrat causes as if "the present unpleasantness" would soon pass and the rightful lords of the House would soon return to their stations as committee chairs and Speaker. K street was disabused of that fanciful idea due to the K Street Project. Whatever abuses also came of it (and there appear to be many) there was an incestuous relationship of 4 decades that needed to be broken up and Tom Delay was the hammer that struck the blows.

Now you can buy my analysis as being correct or not on any of these points but at least now you know the other side of the argument, something you would not get from Mr. Wolfe's original piece.

Posted by TMLutas at July 15, 2006 11:11 AM