Conservatism, a few random thoughts

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that David Cameron of the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom has kissed Her Majesty’s hand and accepted the task of forming a government. A minority government, but a government just the same. Your Maximum Leader would be interested to learn what concessions the Liberal Democrats might have extracted from the Conservatives to assure that the budget doesn’t fail later this month. Congratulations to Mr. Cameron.

Your Maximum Leader has also noticed many American conservatives getting all warm and tingly about the Tory government in the UK. This is curious to him. First of all, the Tories are a minority government. This is a precarious place to be in a Parliamentary system. At any moment the government could collapse on a major vote that doesn’t go their way. So it seems a little odd to celebrate being in such a position. Sure, the Conservatives came back from a long way down and ousted the Labour Party from power, but they didn’t quite climb fully to the top of the greasy pole. They are sort of hanging off the top of the greasy pole by their fingernails.

The next unusual thing for your Maximum Leader is that American conservatives seem to think that British Conservatives are birds of a feather. Sure they share the title “conservative” but that really doesn’t mean that they are very similar. It is fair to say that American conservatives and British Conservatives both like “small government.” But “small government” to a British Conservative doesn’t mean ending the National Health Service - that huge socialist organization that runs health care in the UK. A British Conservative wants to keep down taxes and spending and due to Britain’s current financial condition they might actually have to deliver on the keeping down spending part. Your Maximum Leader hears lots of talk from American conservatives about keeping down spending; but they have not had a good track record in that department.

Your Maximum Leader is happy to see Labour out in the UK. He would be happier to have the Tories at 326 seats in Parliament rather than 306 or 308 or whatever non-326 number they have. He hopes that the Tories can hang on and make some good changes in about a year or so and then call another election and get an outright majority.

Of course, your Maximum Leader has also been thinking about American conservatives. He understands the angst that is manifesting itself in the Tea Party movement. Indeed, he feels the same angst in a number of ways. But all in all your Maximum Leader is not a Tea Party type of guy. He isn’t a protester sort. He is more a “peer over his glasses while reading the paper in the club to look at the protester through the window” type of guy. Of course, because your Maximum Leader isn’t the protester sort of fellow he sometimes wonders if he is conservative enough to satisfy some of his fellow-travellers.

Your Maximum Leader reflected on this point, namely his conservative street-cred, while reading a nifty little piece from Newsweek on how Reagan wasn’t a Reagan Conservative. It is fun to read about the crack-up of the conservative movement in a left-of-center weekly (that the Washington Post is trying to sell off by the by). It is fun because from time to time the liberal movement in the US has had similar crack-up moments and your Maximum Leader can say to himself “Ah, how soon they forget.”

Of course, it isn’t too fun to read a wonderful turn of phrase (in the Newsweek piece) that could be used to describe how your Maximum Leader’s feeling. That turn of phrase is: “…the RNC recently toyed with the idea of imposing a purity test on potential GOP candidates. Comply with eight of the party’s 10 “Reaganite” principles, the thinking went, and you’re worthy of funding. Fall short, and you might as well be Leon Trotsky.” Yup. When he talks to many conservatives and reads many conservative blogs he has frequented for years he is beginning to feel a little like Leon Trotsky in 1925. You know that “you’re still in the party but we will strip you of our Red Army positions and advise you to take a little vacation” feeling. Next thing you know you’ll be on the outs with the XVth Party Congress and living in Mexico on the lookout for NKVD agents with ice picks.

Look, your Maximum Leader is a small government fiscally conservative type of guy. But at some level we have to realize that small government isn’t achieved by tax cuts alone. It is achieved by spending cuts. It is achieved by cutting entitlements and bloated programs.

While your Maximum Leader is just laying it out here allow him to say that he’d like to see the Bush tax cuts made permanent and then just table the whole “tax cut” idea until we can cut some spending. Let him go even further (the real crazy talk), he’d be willing to let the Bush tax cuts expire if he could get some Democrats to come over to the dark side on spending cuts.

Egads! Did you read that last sentance! Your Maximum Leader would be willing to compromise on principle in order to advance on some other front! It is about priorities people. In a perfect world your Maximum Leader would be a pseudo-benevolent autocrat and we wouldn’t have these problems. But we don’t live in a perfect world. And our imperfect political system (which your Maximum Leader loves almost all the time) isn’t set up to move effectively or swiftly. But with a little political will progress in important areas could be made. Frankly, time isn’t on our side in the long-term and someone (or a whole bunch of elected someones more accurately) are going to have to fall on their swords to get things done before the US goes the way of Greece (and soon Portugal, Spain and Italy).

If you read the Newsweek piece linked above you would see that Andrew Romano mentions the “GOP Purity Test” as a benchmark to judge the behavior of Republican presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George HW Bush and George W Bush. Romano’s benchmarking is sort of stupid actually if you had read the 10 points on which the GOP attempted (and failed as your Maximum Leader recalls) to pass. The 10 points are crafted to be relevant to the current political situation (more or less). Let us see how your Maximum Leader might fare if he were scored on these 10 points. Here we go!

(1) Smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus.” bill Your Maximum Leader does favor a smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficit and lower taxes. He must admit that he doesn’t know that opposing Obama’s “stimulus” is all it takes to demonstrate a commitment to those four points. Now your Maximum Leader isn’t sure that the “Obama stimulus” was as necessary as the “Bush stimulus” was but he is going to go on the the record and say that if it were not for a massive government intervention in the economy we would have been, in a word, fucked. So, your Maximum Leader didn’t (and doesn’t) oppose the stimulus. What about these other items in number one. Sadly they aren’t all going to happen at once. Your Maximum Leader would rank them thus: Lower deficits is most important; smaller government is next - and would naturally follow, if you are cutting the deficit (ie: spending) you are cutting government; then smaller national debt, then lower taxes. Sadly most conservatives will put lower taxes on the top of the list and hope for the best on the others. Your Maximum Leader actually did believe in the 1980s and 1990s that if you cut taxes you might get Congress to cut spending too. He doesn’t believe that any more. Lowering the deficit through spending cuts is the way to go.

(2) Market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare. Your Maximum Leader is safe on this one. The President’s health care reform package is awful and should be repealed.

(3) Market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation. Okay, once again your Maximum Leader is good here. He does favor market-based reforms and does oppose cap and trade.

(4) Workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check. Whoa! Three in a row. He does oppose card check.

(5) Legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants. The streak ends. Look, your Maximum Leader is fully supportive of legal immigration. He is fully in favor of assimilation to American society and values (although we can thoughtfully debate the full scope of American values). But he has said time and time again that he is in favor of dramatically expanding opportunities for legal immigration. He likes the idea of guest worker programs for example. And he both supports securing our borders and opposes deporting illegal immigrants. To be honest the only workable solution to the problem of illegal immigrants is some sort of amnesty program. The first step should be securing the border. Then the next step is some sort of expansion of legal immigration and amnesty program for those illegals who want to take advantage of it. (NB: please remember that amnesty doesn’t mean citizenship automatically. It means a way of becoming legal and then, possibly, becoming a citizen.) Furthermore, your Maximum Leader would be in favor of examining a Constitutional Amendment that would require that one have at least one American parent to be born an American and remove the automatic citizenship to anyone born in the United States. (That actually is pretty durned radical in your Maximum Leader’s mind.)

(6) Victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges. What the hell does this actually mean? What is victory in Iraq and Afghanistan? That isn’t really clear. Your Maximum Leader believes that we should support our troops to the level required to meet clear goals. If we aren’t willing to set these goals and work towards them then we shouldn’t be in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

(7) Containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat. What the hell does this mean? Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure that the George W Bush Admininstration had a workable strategery in this area. Frankly, your Maximum Leader isn’t sure that President Obama has a workable strategery in this area either. But if your Maximum Leader had to choose between Obama’s path and GW Bush’s path, he’d go with Obama’s for the time being. Talk to people, make friends with other nations and build a coalition against Iran and North Korea. Going it alone and not talking didn’t get us very far.

(8) Retention of the Defense of Marriage Act. Can’t do it. DoMA is unconstitutional as far as your Maximum Leader can tell and he would not support any plan to retain it or prop it up.

(9) Protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion. What? This doesn’t make any sense. Who is rationing and denying health care to vulnerable people? Private insurers right? The only way to do this would be for the government to force private insurers to cover the vulnerable - or have government cover the vulnerable itself? Didn’t they read number 2 above? Your Maximum Leader is not an abortion supporter, so he has no trouble denying government funding for abortions. But he isn’t sure how all the rest of this works together.

(10) The right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership. Check. Full support on this one.

So… Let us review… Your Maximum Leader would score (grading as generously as possible) a big ole 4.5 out of 10. (He gave himself a half a point on #9. He thought about giving himself a half a point on #1 as well… but then thought better of it.)

Well… What do you know… If Andrew Romano was determining if your Maximum Leader was a Reagan Conservative using the criteria he does in his article; then your Maximum Leader would score about the same as the real Ronald Reagan. Amazing how that works.

Of course, your Maximum Leader isn’t exactly a Reagan Conservative as the term appears to be used now (which is ultimately Romano’s point in his article). Your Maximum Leader is a Reagan Conservative in as much as Ronald Reagan, and the “Age of Reagan” as it were powerful influences on the type of conservative your Maximum Leader became. In the end your Maximum Leader is a real old school conservative. The proper role of government is a limited one that supports the traditional liberties of Americans and is slow to change for the sake of change. Government should be interested in equal justice under law and the setting of sensible boundries in commerce and civil interaction. Men aren’t angels so we must have government; but men should be allowed freedom to live as they would like within established civil traditions. Centralization is, ultimately, dehumanizing because a centralized bureaucracy is only capable of working a system to the lowest common denominator. And when you work to the lowest common denominator you bring many more people down than you raise up. As much as figures like Reagan are political heros to your Maximum Leader; just as important are people like Robert Nozick and Michael Oakeshott.

So where does this rambling mess of crap leave your Maximum Leader? Well, perhaps he isn’t Leon Trotsky… Perhaps he’s more like Bob Bennett…

Carry on.

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