I have been a bit of a curmudgeon lately. Cranky and disillusioned by the fact that the tribe with whom I most often agree on policy and economic issues seems determined to shoot themselves in the proverbial feet over and over again. (And that at times, I find conservatives just downright wrong on an issue – like Arizona’s immigration law – to the point where it feels almost, but not quite, irreconcilable).
I’m not particularly swayed by all this talk of epistemic closure on the right, the more I think about it (culturally perhaps, but it has been applied to political movements as well which I find far less convincing). At the very conservative Washington Examiner, I have already written about the problems conservatives face when they actually take power; criticized Daniel Klein’s broadside against progressives; called for defense cuts; and criticized supply-side voodoo economics. I’ve seen similar sentiments sprout up in the National Review, the Weekly Standard, and elsewhere. No great censor on the right has risen up to quash these ideas.
What I think really is going on is just your standard internal ideological warfare. You can see this on the left these days also, as progressives like Glenn Greenwald and Jane Hamsher try to fire up a true progressive movement, while the Ezra Kleins of the world take a more pragmatic approach. Imagine if Greenwald et alia actually had enormous success and rallied a true progressive movement akin to its conservative counterpart. That sort of success demands more ideological rigidity. Is it possible that the conversation on the left would start to mirror the recent dearth of productive debate on the right? I imagine so.
Perhaps debate on the right has not been healthy enough, but it certainly exists and I think the state of internal debate amongst conservatives is actually improving as we move further and further into the Obama era (though I naturally have my doubts about what a GOP return to power might do to this increasing openness).
In any case, I find I am coming out of the other side of a long tailspin into disgruntlement and disillusionment with conservatism. I know that for faithful readers of this blog and my other writings, this may be a bit of a broken record at this point. I have these moments of despair. Typically I come out of them when I realize that for all the points of agreement I have with the left – typically on defense cuts and some social issues – I am still made far too uncomfortable by the left’s willingness to put faith in government and especially centralized government. Wonks on the left have a lot of good ideas (more on this later) but they are all built on the assumption that taxing and spending in the public sector will lead to a more egalitarian society.
And at the end of the day, I think this is largely a false assumption, or at best a great big societal band-aid. Europe’s social democracies are successful attempts at extrapolating this line of thinking into actual governance, but they are also small, easily managed and racially homogenous nations that are not forced to spend much if anything on defense. These things matter.
Far more than a lavish welfare apparatus, sustainable jobs in a productive economy provide people with the greatest chance at economic and social success. Too often, I think, liberals forget this or brush it aside in an attempt to manufacture fairness, as if that were the be-all end-all of politics.
So I become frustrated that so many pundits and politicians on the right seem so hell-bent on painting themselves as incompetent or uninterested in the hard business of governance. I’ve said before that I think limited government is a much more difficult thing to implement than big government.
When the option of throwing money at a problem is off the table, actual solutions become necessary. We need to be able to trust that the people we put in control of limiting government aren’t hacks or impostors doing it more out of an obligation to special interests than out of a real desire to make government more responsive and limited. Right now, much of the right’s leadership does not inspire trust. From Sarah Palin to Glenn Beck, the vanguard of the conservative movement is riddled with hacks and charlatans.
This is depressing. Certainly there are a few Republicans I could see doing an excellent job in the White House. Mitch Daniels, Gary Johnson, perhaps even Chris Christie, though time will tell there – but these are few and far between.
Still, when it all comes down, I look across the pond at the new UK government and think this is what will need to happen in our country. A more inclusive Republican party, not afraid to actually cut spending. That’s what I’d like – a more decentralized power structure. A more organic society, prosperous and free, with a state not entirely bereft of safety nets, but rather more invested in providing safety nets efficiently and sustainably.
In any case, I have been too out of sorts. Politics has a way of doing this to me. It’s hard to settle on any one good idea. There are so many good ideas! And of course there are so many bad ones. It is probably best to focus on the good ideas than to focus so much on the bad ones and the people who peddle them. There is little achieved by pointing out flaws and faults all the time. Far better to talk about solutions.
P.S. – Just want to add that what works locally and what works nationally may not be the same thing. I think it was Cascadian in the comments recently who said that they voted for Paul in 2008, but vote for local Democrats because they want to preserve the particular culture in the Northwest. This makes total sense to me.