Sunday, February 12, 2006

Are Conservatives Really Betraying Their Principles?

Glenn Greenwald has a post up about how the idol worship of George W. Bush is a betrayal of what we know as conservative principles. It's a long one, and it's a really good one, so I suggest going there.

But, I do have some arguments with it. In particular, I think he gets his conclusion all backwards that Bushites can't be called conservatives because of their abandonment of small-government principles. The truth is that the small-government principles that conservatism took as its own was actually cheap rhetoric and a reaction to the liberalism that begun with Franklin Roosevelt and continued with LBJ. When FDR was elected, liberals in government, whether they were in the legislative, executive, or judicial branches, held at least some power until the election of 2002. Now that the conservatives have all the power, there is no longer anything to react against. So, true conservatism comes through, which has nothing to do with small government, an idea that was quite incongruous when mixed with conservatism. The real conclusion is that what we see now - increased spending, tax cuts for the wealthy, repression of brown people and 'teh ghey' - is conservatism.

Since what has been spread over the past 40+ years as "conservative principles" is a reaction to liberalism, it's useful to ask what liberalism is and does. In a nutshell, liberalism trusts the power of federal government, and of the people to run the government. Why? To do as much as possible for the betterment of as many people as possible, hopefully to bring about a measure of equality for all.

Conservatism, on the other hand, sees people as inherently of poor character, and that society is made better if the people are kept in line by the "right people". So, conservatism is the idea that only the "right people" should have the power, and that only the "right people" should be the beneficiaries of that power, because the "right people" are inherently better. (The term most used for the "right people" since who knows when is "aristocracy".) This is in reality the only guiding principle of conservatism.

Because liberalism led to those other than the "right people" being the beneficiaries and because liberalism had the power most of the 20th century, conservatives reacted by defining themselves as the opposite of liberalism, which at the time meant that they should distrust federal government.

So once the conservatives got complete power, it should surprise no one that conservatives became so enamored of federal government power. After all, according to conservatives, the "right people" are now in charge, namely the Bush cadre of GOP apparatchiks.

Bob Barr is really not a liberal since he honestly holds the principle that federal government should be distrusted. He is also not a conservative because his principles say that people at least are of good enough character to govern themselves, so the "right people" aren't necessary to govern. I suppose we'd have to call Barr a libertarian, for lack of a better term, because his principles are that no one, the people or the aristocracy, can really be trusted to pull the strings of power.

In summary, Bushism is conservatism. Any other definition of conservatism that was used by the GOP to get their power was a cynical load of crap.

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