Chamber of Commerce Republicans

I wrote yesterday about the elements in the GOP that want to encourage social conformity. These are closely allied with “morals” Republicans, because for them, universally good moral behavior necessarily produces a uniform social environment – such that they often appear to have confused the difference between social conformity and ethical behavior. But there are other kinds of republicans, too – the coalition consists of promoters of business and their ideological allies the libertarians, as well as defense and security hawks.

Thinking about the Chamber of Commerce wing of the party, they are most flatteringly described as “advocates for American employers.” (By which they mean not so much “workers” as they mean just “businesses”.) Most disparagingly, these are “Hoover Republicans,” people who believe, in the pithy words of Calvin Coolidge, that the business of America is business. America is about making money and the government’s job is to facilitate that all-important activity.

The desires of this wing of the party are immediately obvious: they want low taxes, low regulatory barriers to doing business, minimal oversight into commercial activity, a healthy infrastructure, law and order, and plenty of opportunities to peddle their wares for the most profit they can get. They would prefer but do not insist upon a balanced budget; a budget deficit is undesirable only to the extent that additional taxes are necessary to finance that debt. Nothing wrong with this, right?

Not in the abstract. In my youth, I’d have counted myself among this number and to a significant extent, I still do. I’ve tempered those views somewhat to the point that I realize that certain levels and kinds of regulation are necessary for a variety of reasons — like preservation of resources that will not regenerate; healthy levels of non-monopolized commercial activity; public health and safety; and adherence to at least minimal standards of morality. I break with ideologicaly purist libertarians in that I do not believe the market will provide these things if left to its own devices, and I am not willing to dispense with them.

All the same, as a general proposition and within pretty broad limits, the freer a market is, the better. This is the core tenet of the business/libertarian wing of the GOP. This is the anti-tax wing; a consequence of desiring low taxes and lower regulation is desiring, in the simplest of terms, less government. Not necessarily no government or a minimal state, but less than what we’ve got now.

Importantly, this wing of the party harbors a significant strain towards avoiding international conflicts, particularly military ones. Sure, the military-industrial complex is great, but actually spending money on a war is wasteful for the most part; better to not risk the loss of lives and assets. War is a risk and capitalists generally prefer to maximize control over risks as much as possible. The libertarian purists in cahoots with the monied men, moreover, have their own ideological reasons to keep our nose out of other countries’ affairs.

It is when these folks lose this suspicion of military activity abroad that Chamber of Commerce Republicans become “neoconservatives.” The military first becomes a means of promoting business interests and down that path lies the seductive siren call of using government to accomplish a goal — which leads to the adoption of the idea of using government at all, which means that suddenly there is taxation, regulation, debt, and all the veneer of fiscal conservatism gets washed aside and next thing you know, we’re spending billions of dollars a day in Iraq and a Republican President signs into law the biggest expansion in nondiscretionary entitlements since Social Security was created.

If I seem sneering and dismissive of these kinds of things as Republican achievements, it’s because I don’t think they are particularly conservative and I don’t see how this kind of neoconservatism fits into a strategy for good public policy and political success. If I seem critical, it’s because I care.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.