Further thoughts on conservatism
One problem with conservatism today is that conservatives are living in a past in which tax cuts were a panacea. Thattimes have changed does not seem to register, and so new ideas are few and far between. At some point, more and more conservatives will start thinking like Bruce Bartlett – not necessarily in favor of higher corporate or income taxes (hopefully) but in favor of something like a VAT – because there is simply no way we can cut spending enough to fix the budget. The political will simply doesn’t exist. We need a multi-pronged approach, tackling debt, spending, and revenue all at once, and we need serious politicians on the left and the right to do that. (The tax-the-rich crowd on the left is just as bad as the cut-taxes crowd on the right, ignoring the (un)employment implications that such punitive taxes inevitably entail especially with unemployment in the double-digits. Certainly raising taxes in the midst of a recession is a very bad idea.)
Another problem with conservatism in its current form is that defense has become so sacrosanct that true, limited government will never be realized. Entitlements are out of control, but the growth and imperviousness of our defense budget is worse. This is where I come down (among many other things) on the libertarian side of the aisle.
Meanwhile liberalism, while often the most egalitarian of these ideologies (to grossly generalize, of course) and certainly appealing to people who want to help the poor and to fix the manifold problems with society, too often relies upon the beneficence of the state, of experts and their expertise, and on central planning to achieve its grand (and expensive) designs.
And I guess I don’t trust the experts, even when I find their arguments compelling and even convincing. And I don’t trust the planners even when the plan sounds pretty good – at least not any more than I trust the nation builders and their militaristic optimism, no matter how much better their nation-to-be sounds than the nation-that-is. At the end of the day I think the best plan is always the one which allows for the least amount of planning, the one which can unfold organically, the one that allows competition and choice to flourish, and which relies upon local communities and private enterprise rather than Peter Orszag and the Planning Committee. Ditto that for our foreign policy.
That doesn’t mean we don’t need a government or an army or that any and every action of the state is bad. It just means that we need to find ways to do it through limited government rather than putting so much faith in that institution time and again always with the same disappointing results.
We should be moving toward competitive federalism, not toward further centralization in Washington D.C. Such centralizing of power is unsustainable at best. But conservatives should also be distancing themselves from too much market-speak (a curse and a blessing for libertarians and conservatives), from too much of the dispassionate conservatism that defines so much of the movement today, and embrace the spirit that comes along with decentralization and its dismissal of big power in whatever form it takes. (Free trade certainly does end oligopolies and concentration of entrenched powers-that-be, but somehow talking about it too much makes people think quite the opposite.)
Such a spirit, I would argue, is rather more bohemian in nature. And perhaps there is a streak of this bohemian self-reliance animating the tea parties, or perhaps there could be. A conservatism that means what it says when it touts family values by understanding the family in terms of its relation to the larger community; and which understands that the power of the self-reliant individual rests as much on those things which support and surround him as upon his own natural talents.