Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Cowardice Of The Conservative

Scott McPherson's article by this title reminds me of why Republicans hate Libertarians nearly as much as they hate "libruls" -

Conservatives are an interesting bunch. In a desperate attempt to differentiate themselves from liberals, they like to mock folks on the Left while talking as if they themselves were in agreement with libertarians. “I just vote Republican because they’re the lesser of two evils” is a common excuse for their continued support of that party and its philosophy (for lack of a better word).

But when you scratch below the surface of the typical conservative you find someone whose principles are about as far from libertarian as the leftist principles he condemns. As a friend of mine once said, “Conservatives like to talk about ‘limited government’ – they just never say what they want it limited to.”

In short, conservatives are typically cowards who don’t have the courage of their alleged convictions. For example, take the issue of immigration, a hot topic this election year for Republicans. Unable to stand on principle against big government, most conservatives have decided instead to pick on an easy target, one guaranteed to rally their base: immigrants.

When you explain the moral issue at stake, i.e., the right to immigrate and our country’s history of open borders, the typical conservative avoids taking a stand by attempting to muddle the issue. “You’re right,” he’ll say, “but what about the welfare state? As long as immigrants can come here and live off welfare we can’t have open borders.”

For the libertarian, this isn’t an issue at all. Abolishing the welfare state is a number-one priority for principled libertarians. If there is in fact a problem with immigrants’ using too much welfare (though the conservative is silent on the issue of native-born
folks’ using welfare, but we’ll get to that shortly) then that problem can be easily fixed: turn off the spigot of taxpayer funds and those who wish to loaf rather than work will stop coming here. Period.

This is particularly interesting because, when it suits them, conservatives are big
anti-welfare-state types. The Republican Revolution of 1994 was characterized by rhetoric in favor of reversing the nation’s welfarist trend, and Republicans condescendingly sneered at liberals for their support of the welfare state, thinking themselves so far above the redistribution of wealth. But having in (short) time retreated from that issue with complete indignity (George W. Bush is the biggest social spender since Lyndon Johnson), conservatives instead prefer to use it as an excuse to promote some “big-government” programs of their own – and keep voters on their side – and kick around the people they like the least: immigrants.

Last fall I had the pleasure of participating in an informal debate with a representative of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think-tank based in Washington, D.C. Every argument he made hinged on immigrants’ ability to abuse the welfare state. When I pressed him long enough on the immorality of the welfare state itself – regardless of who was using it – he threw his hands up in despair and addressed the audience at large: “Who here thinks we’ll ever get rid of the welfare state?”

So the jig was up: Conservatives aren’t prepared to take on the unpopular issue of abolishing the welfare state, so immigrants have to take a bashing. That’s unprincipled and cowardly.

Conservatives and the drug war.

Another popular issue for conservatives is the drug war. Despite their small-government rhetoric anyone with a lick of sense can see the billions of dollars expended, the militarization of law-enforcement agencies, and the plethora of anti-drug laws enacted largely at the behest of conservative thinkers, as the Republicans’
Achilles’ heel. For all their talk about freedom and limited government, they like a big government around to pick on those drug-users – who are probably just liberals anyway, well except maybe for Rush Limbaugh.

So we return to our earlier argument: The drug war is an immoral use of government power to try to make peaceful and otherwise law-abiding people behave in a way that the politicians can approve of. “You’re right,” the conservative will say, “but what about the welfare state? If drugs are legal then drug-users will destroy
themselves and their families and taxpayers will end up footing the bill.” (As if alcohol, which conservatives consume with a clear conscience, weren’t responsible for a disproportionate amount of pain and misery!)

“Wait a minute!” the libertarian says. “I thought you conservatives were for abolishing the welfare state. If we get rid of welfare then drug users can’t make their bad decisions a burden on society.” “That’s true,” the conservative says, “but it’s politically unpopular to talk about getting rid of the welfare state.”

The truth is, keeping the welfare state around a while longer makes it easy for conservatives to avoid tackling difficult issues and standing up for unpopular causes, all the while kicking around people they don’t like. Meanwhile, another group of peaceful people take a bashing because conservatives are unprincipled and cowardly.

Conservatives and public schooling

A third example is public “education.” Conservatives know that public schools are a
tragic and moral failure. They see the unthinking products of this institution and react with horror. “See,” they say, “government isn’t the solution – government is the problem!” (Conservatives love to quote Ronald Reagan.)

What is their solution? Vouchers.

That’s right. When they see generation after generation of America’s young marched off to the equivalent of the government indoctrination camps found in Cuba or the former Soviet Union, Republicans are so incensed that they demand that parents… have a choice of which camp their child will go to!

Worse, the few private camps (I say private schools still qualify as government-controlled camps because they must, by law, conform to government “standards”) that exist will become virtually indistinguishable from government camps once subsidized attendance becomes widespread enough. (See Wickard v. Filburn, 1943: “It is hardly lack of due process for the Government to regulate that which it subsidizes.”)

Conservative commentators rail continually against the failure of public education, yet when the libertarian asks, “Why don’t we abolish all publicly funded educational institutions?” the conservative answers, “We would, but those evil Democrats would have a field day denouncing us.” Translation: “We don’t have the courage to stand by our alleged convictions.” Principle or expediency?


This is the truth of the matter: Conservatives talk a good game about the need to rein in government spending, abolish particular programs, and downsize the number of bureaucrats, but at the end of the day they truly believe that a big government
would probably work just fine if only they were in charge. No doubt it would be an uphill battle for conservatives to change their big government ways and embrace the libertarian vision of a free society.

We libertarians know quite well how difficult it is to make the case for free markets, private property, and limited government. Yet a principled approach to life requires doing the right thing, even when it’s not popular. Whether they’re too cowardly to stand by their principles or they don’t actually hold such views in the first place is irrelevant. When a Republican tells you he just votes for the “lesser of two evils,” don’t believe him – he doesn’t see his side as evil at all.


At 4:30 PM, June 06, 2006 , Blogger Reign of Reason said...

While I agree with the general premise, I have to say public schools are NOT a failure.

I’m a product of public education and feel it can be improved, but should not be scrapped. Yes, there are many kids who aren’t gonna get it… they simply don’t want an education. We need to identify them and try and give them a trade. But there are also many bright kids out there who won’t get a chance to go to college because of financial reasons.

That’s a tragedy.

We need to reform the education system REDUCING student’s dependency on cash. The consequences of following the libertarian approach have been made all too clear in the last few decades: Look at fearless leader for one: without money and connections he’d be a drunk somewhere in Midland right now, as opposed to a Yale/Harvard grad and leader of the free world… And even with that “education” he’s still a dolt.

Free markets are great a delivering cheap widgets, but there are other discriminators society should use. Libertarians would reduce everything to Darwinian economic fitness.

At 4:45 PM, June 06, 2006 , Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

I am torn on the education issue. It is a miserable failure - think about how many critical thinkers there really are - but what happens if we get rid of it?

To me, the question of public education comes down to whether it makes society better or not and what alternatives to it are possible.

At 9:55 AM, June 07, 2006 , Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

McPherson makes a lot of generalizations in this piece, but I get the gist. I don't consider Bush a conservative, and neither do many Republicans. When he said he's a "compassionate conservative," he meant a "Big Government Republican." And he's governed so.

I know many liberals, too, who contradict themselves and have absolutely no standards.

Public education is an absolute must. Blame parents who ignore their children because of work and television, not schools.

At 10:09 AM, June 07, 2006 , Blogger Reign of Reason said...

BoB - that is the issue for me to: Parents have to take more responsibility for their children’s education.

I honestly believe all kids start out very inquisitive about the natural world... but I know many parents that (unknowingly) beat that inquisitiveness out of them.

Not to say there are not problems with public education.

But the world is becoming hyper-competitive -- and kids that have the possibility to excel need to be given the opportunity to do so. A libertarian approach to education uses only economic fitness as a discriminator -- a very bad thing for not only the individual, but our society.

At 6:44 AM, June 08, 2006 , Blogger Odysseus said...

RoR hits the nail on the head for me when he says that kids that don't want an education should be helped to find trades, at least until they decide to go back and learn more.

But improving the education system needs to go a long way before it even starts to approach ideal, and standardized tests and vouchers have nothing to do with an ideal system. An ideal system would have the goal of providing a world class education in every discipline, and would be outside the realm of neoconservatives, liberals, libertarians, anarchists, facists, nationalists, and all politics for that matter.

An ideal system would be free to the students except for the cost of books, and open to anyone of any age who wants to learn, for as long as he or she wants to learn. If someone wants to become a dentist but can't learn microbiology fast enough in the current system, they fail out. But look at it this way - if the same student goes to class for a month, does he or she know more than when he or she started? Of course. So why fail a student who takes longer to learn, but in the end could get it and make a valuable contribution to society?

Do away with grades. Do away with time limits. Give the teachers the power to remove disruptive students and put them before a student court with the video clips as evidence to check against discrimination. When a student feels he or she has learned enough, he or she would free to leave or come back at any time to learn more. I took a self-paced calculus course once and it worked great.

Our current system is too focused on getting a product, a piece of paper, and getting a better GPA than other students to get a better job in the end. An ideal system would have students leave the system with certified copies of their work, and the potential employer would get a much better idea of who the student is. In the bicycle business if someone wants to work as a mechanic, we ask them to build a bicycle, and evaluate their work, not to show us a bicycle academy degree.

I think a system like this would save us money in the end because those who don't want an education wouldn't be forced to get one, and the new crop of leaders that would emerge would have alot more sense - maybe we wouldn't need to spend so much on the military and secret services to put force behind bad decisions.

As for immigrants and welfare, undocumented immigrants don't qualify for welfare. On the contrary, they're the hardest working people I've ever met, they pay into social security, and they don't anticipate any form of help from the government at any time in their lives. They just want to be left alone so they can work and send money back home to repay travel loans and for medicines for their parents. If the conservative view is that second generation immigrants will be on welfare because of discrimination, well, that's a different matter.

At 9:14 AM, June 09, 2006 , Blogger Stalin the Shark said...

I'm sorry, but what welfare state are we talking about here exactly? I thought we had welfare reform already?

At 11:20 PM, June 10, 2006 , Blogger squawpeak said...

Interesting article, and there is a truth to it. However, the author seems to have substituted "Conservative" in the slots where "Republican" is the proper name.

Conservatives make up a portion of the Republican part, and can also be found in the Libertarian camp.

It is the Republican party and it's "moderates" which lack the courage of conviction.

The more "true-believing" conservatives tend to disappear during Repubican primaries most of the time (e.g. Pat Toomey v. Arlen Specter for Pennsylvania Senator).

Anyway, still a good piece, just replace conservative with Republican & it's good.

At 10:16 AM, July 14, 2006 , Blogger Possum said...

I read a not-great fiction work called Freehold. In it, the society the heroine character finds refuge in is a perfect libritarian society: no taxes, no regulations, everyone is armed, everyone respects everyone else's right to exist... it was a fascinating exercise of what could be.

It included everything that would go with that, such as gay and multiple partner marriage.

As for Education, the question begs to be asked: is Coulter wrong that the education system is the church of the liberal state? From a purely conservative point of view that accusation is not that far fetched.

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