Tag Archives: conservative

One Year Later

On the one year anniversary of Donald Trump entering the presidential race, it is worth looking back. Before Trump, it was possible for right-leaning Americans to take comfort in the principles that inform conservatism. Ours was the side of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and ordered liberty. Theirs was the side of state central planning, coercive mandates and regulations, and identity politics. Our team was lining up a deep bench of accomplished and impressive presidential candidates, while they were talking themselves into a robotic, uninspiring and corrupt Hillary Clinton.

On June 16th, 2015 Donald Trump entered the arena and proceeded to destroy every illusion conservatives held about the Republican Party. GOP voters nominated a candidate who they believe speaks for them, someone who says out loud and in public the things they are too cowed by political correctness to say. Were this the sole explanation for Trump’s support, it would be easier to dissect: backlash against political correctness is indeed warranted and worthwhile.

Alas, the Trump movement is more than rage against the establishment machine; embedded within the celebrity-fueled movement is an identifiably left-of-center policy agenda causing consternation among conservatives. The most visible aspect of this agenda (because it is what Trump talks about on the stump more than anything else) is protectionism, the belief that free trade and the global economy have been net negatives for Americans, a view that until Trump was associated almost entirely with the anticapitalist left. Opposition to free trade is rooted in Bastiat’s timeless counsel concerning the “seen and the unseen.” As a 2013 Mercatus study declares: “The benefits of free international trade are often diffuse and hard to see, while the benefits of shielding specific groups from foreign competition are often immediate and visible.” Efficient supply chains resulting in broader access to cheaper goods are not as readily apparent as decaying towns and rotting factories. It requires only a rudimentary understanding of economics or, failing that, minimal imaginative capability, to grasp Bastiat’s meaning and thus shed the adolescent belief in government’s capacity to manage society’s problems. 

Trump is suspect on his commitment to the first two amendments in the Bill of Rights (he likely doesn’t know what is contained in the rest), which should be disqualifying for any Republican candidate for President. He advocates for higher minimum wage laws, possesses no understanding of religious liberty or pro-life sentiments, believes “the rich” ought to pay more taxes, is the definition of a crony capitalist, and is indistinguishable from Bernie Sanders on trade. His army of followers include a toxic minority of vile racists and white nationalists who have drunk so deeply the left’s cultural messaging that they proudly adopt skin-deep identity politics, clamoring not for smaller government but for a redistribution of government spoils to the white working class.

This amounts to a final capitulation to another of Bastiat’s warnings: a free society’s descent into a will-to-power fight between factions, each using an ever-expanding law to obtain spoils, applying the force of the state to expropriate from its opposition. The Trump movement is a giant white flag surrender to Big Government that effectively substitutes the Tea Party/libertarian-infused brief against Leviathan with factional populism demanding its share from “Daddy” Government.   

These painful realizations confronting conservatives and right-libertarians since Trump’s emergence lead to the depressing conclusion that the American right is not the principled defender of small government that we wanted to believe. Instead it is an angry, frustrated mob reaching for the shiniest object it can as a salve to feelings of impotence, futility and betrayal. The early Tea Party represented a return to principle, a call to reduce spending, to halt the expansion of government, and to restore the Constitutional order and separation of powers gradually deteriorating under both parties. It is a shame that such an opportunity was squandered.

And yet… while I will not vote for Trump, neither will I vote for Hillary. The progressive ethos animating the Democratic Party is orders of magnitude worse than Trumpism. Riddled with contradictions and confusion, progressivism is about deception. Secular preachers of social justice insist they have “the facts” and “science,” but actually they are nothing more than a fashionable clique of Sneetches, preening and strutting and signaling, all to convey their tolerance. Ironically, the highest virtue in the cult of diversity is conformity.

And that conformity begets a unified worldview based on lies.

The left lies routinely about guns, abortion, Islam, the minimum wage, climate change, rape culture, unemployment, healthcare, the effects of the welfare state, and much besides. I’ve no doubt that a significant chunk of Trump’s support is fueled by angry reaction to these lies. I am sympathetic. I only wish we had the good sense to hold in our minds competing truths: political correctness and progressivism are a scourge on society, and Donald Trump is unfit to be the avatar of our opposition against it.

All that remains is to enlist in our little platoons.

Reagan and Rand

It is easy to forget that Ronald Reagan was a radical. He was guided by conviction rather than consensus. Reagan is remembered for revitalizing the economy and for his bold determination against the Soviet Union, while less is said of his intellectual and philosophical foundations. Free markets, the moral supremacy of capitalism to socialism and an insistence that the citizen is above the state; these ancient principles had been steadily traduced over time by those who believed them anathema to egalitarianism. They were radical principles for their time because in order to reverse the postwar drift towards democratic socialism, radical change was needed.

In many respects, the modern conservative revolution was a visceral backlash to the systematic undermining of the American ideal. The “postwar consensus” that reigned in the western world until 1979 centered around managed economies and massive state subsidization. Democratic capitalism had only served to unleash dangerous elements of nationalism and profit-seeking which inevitably culminated in disastrous war. This idea was so prevalent among elites that the thought of a different way never really emerged. In Britain and the Unites States, this consensus led to stagnation, inflation, and loss of confidence. A neutral observer would have been hard pressed to conclude during the seventies that the Soviet Union was destined for defeat.

The left reacted to the Reagan agenda with horror because they understood that it was different from prior Republican agendas. Unlike his predecessors, Reagan sought to weaken progressive government creations such as the punitive income tax rate and activist regulation. His proposal to freeze domestic discretionary spending went against the very fiber of bureaucratic being. “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem” was an indictment of the administrative state, and as a result the left were painfully aware that the Reagan agenda was an assault on decades of progressive achievement.

Time has dampened the decibels of Reagan outrage and we are now far enough removed from the eighties that defiance has been replaced by begrudging acceptance. Outside of Bernie Sanders, no one in the Democratic Party is clamoring for a return to the seventies and its high inflation, gas shortages, price controls and general malaise. No one on the left openly complains about the west’s triumph in the cold war or makes nuclear weapons a cri de coeur. “Reagan Democrats” has no modern corollary with the right, much as our media would like to rewrite history to include a corollary in the form of Clinton or Obama Republicans. But they don’t exist. Naysayers like Paul Krugman continue to distort the legacy, but for the most part the left has abandoned its Reagan defamation project and settles now for another narrative besides Reagan the Failure. Now it is Reagan the Moderate.

It is an irresistible trolling device for partisans out to make conservatives squirm. Saying “Reagan couldn’t get elected in today’s Republican Party” because of the extremism of the Tea Party is guaranteed to gall the right, not because it is an uncomfortable truth difficult to square with Reagan mythology but because it is a lie. When Reagan challenged incumbent Gerald Ford in the 1976 GOP primary, the establishment freak-out was immense. Reagan was the standard-bearer for the Goldwater remnant, that leftover segment of stubborn holdouts to mid-century collectivism that balked at every bipartisan expansion of government. Needless to say, Goldwater conservatism did not enjoy establishment cache. It did not play well in 1964 – this ad might have had something to do with it – but neither did defeat signal its doom. Reagan’s bold ruffling of establishment feathers in ’76 likewise did not achieve overnight success, but it planted an ideological flag in the ground. By the time he reached the Oval Office Reagan’s conservative agenda finally proved accessible thanks to the tumult of the seventies amounting to one long primal scream for a different course. The electorate’s embrace of Reagan’s message was not a product of the candidate moderating his positions or of “moving to the center” but an explicit endorsement of the radical experiment on offer.

Rand Paul’s agenda for 2016 is as radical as Reagan’s in 1980. It commits to eliminating elements of the Washington Leviathan; not curbing, not managing more efficiently, not making leaner at the margins, but eliminating. The mission is to make parts of the administrative state go the way of the parrot. Among those agencies that will cease to be in a Rand Paul administration are the Departments of Education, Commerce and Energy. Expect the IRS, EPA and Departments of Labor, Agriculture and Interior to do with smaller budgets and fewer workers. Beyond the paring of departments and bureaucracy, Paul proposes a 14.5% flat tax with only a couple deductions as well as elimination of the payroll tax. He aims to “turbocharge the economy” by lowering the tax burdens for all while ending crony privilege and special interest prominence. Paul is not a perfect embodiment of the free market ideal, but neither was Reagan. However, each represents the vanguard of conservative rebellion at their respective times and speaks on behalf of intellectual and grass roots conservatives. Ultimately, what makes Rand the modern version of Reagan is the moral imperative threaded through his government critique.

Nowhere is this moral clarity more on display than in Paul’s focused drive to rehabilitate the Bill of Rights in popular Americana. Libertarians hold the founding principles particularly dear for their discrete, almost obsessive concern over the separation of powers. Far from the greedy landed gentry of progressive fever dreams, the founders were consumed by questions of unchecked authority. The point of the constitutional project was to limit the powers of the state. It was not to proscribe what freedoms Americans could enjoy at the mercy of the state. The ninth amendment to the Bill of Rights is an explicit reminder that American freedoms extend beyond that list of prohibitions on government action and intrusion. From this philosophical tradition do libertarian-minded conservatives like Paul derive their convictions and through this lens should Paul’s efforts at unconventional outreach be judged. Despite being a target for attack from both sides, there can be no doubt that on matters from criminal justice to the regulatory state to surveillance to education, Rand Paul is sincere. No candidate in recent memory has shined such a focused spotlight on the Bill of Rights, and even in this cynical age the reception he gets when addressing fundamental nonpartisan American freedoms shows the sustainability of constitutionalism. Liberal Joe Klein is impressed enough by Paul to note admiringly that “by the time his 15-minute stump speech is over, he has delivered a tutorial about the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth and 10th amendments to the Constitution.”

True convictions are not welcome in Washington, where elites hew to the dubious wisdom of Lord Keynes: in the long run we’re all dead. While Keynes’ pithy comment was in regard to his economic theory, it applies just as well to an establishment ethos which elevates short term considerations of lobbyists and interest groups while ignoring real exigencies such as debt and slow growth. Call it the normalcy bias; the tendency to shrug off systemic long run concerns afflicts establishments on both sides and perpetuates a status quo beneficial only to the connected.

Reagan is beloved by conservatives because he fought against this bias and won. But it was no cakewalk and, as Jeffrey Lord wrote in 2010, he faced as much opposition from his own party as from the left. “They didn’t like him. To be more precise, they thought him an extremist, un-electable, an ultra-right wing nut, dumb, ignorant and, more to the point, not one of their crowd. One out of six was absolutely correct. Ronald Reagan was not one of their crowd. Ever.” Reagan biographer Craig Shirley decided to work for the RNC in 1982 at the behest of Reagan allies concerned that the organization was dominated by George H.W. Bush loyalists, the same cohort that looks askance at Rand Paul today. Reagan’s agenda was so unsettling to the guardians of the status quo that Beltway Republican reaction to Reagan popularity was similar to Paulene Kael’s vexation that Reagan could win when she “did not know a single person who voted for him.” By going full speed ahead with his agenda and in the process convincing large swaths of the public on the merits, Reagan led a revolution. By the ’84 election there was little doubt his agenda had been a smashing success.

In times of economic uncertainty restless citizens tend to forego tribal passions and seek brave, articulate “political athletes” to rouse the country from its doldrums. In his failed bid for the White House Goldwater paved the way for radical conservative solutions the country was not yet ready to embrace. Reagan’s triumph built on the Goldwater gambit and thus upended the existing order for close to thirty years. The conservative rabble had finally heisted the keys to the kingdom from the establishment squishes, who remained in the shadows of the Reagan Revolution quietly dismayed by the sudden loss of power and prestige. Given the longevity of cabinet officials like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, Reaganites who became establishment, it is understandable that conservatives and libertarians would accuse the Bush presidencies of squandering the Reagan era. Today’s Tea Party-establishment contretemps is not a new phenomenon, but what is remarkable is the degree to which the Bush family has stood at the vanguard of establishment Republicanism since the seventies, usually in mild to open defiance of the Reagan ethos. No one understands this better than Rand Paul.

Paul attended the GOP convention as a thirteen year old in ’76 when the rancor over Reagan challenging an incumbent was at its peak. Sitting with his father in the Texas Reagan delegation, Paul witnessed first hand how passionately party bigwigs worked against the principled conservative in the race. It showed him that the powers that be on his own side were not exactly keen on returning to a focused free market constitutionalism. Is it any wonder then that Paul seems to relish taking on the same forces today that bedeviled the likes of Goldwater and Reagan in the past?

Rand Paul will not be alone in claiming Reagan lineage during the primary, but there is no candidate who better wears the label of principled rebel outsider. Like Reagan, Rand has establishment and partisan forces arrayed against him, left and right. Like Reagan, Rand has a passionate and growing following inspired by classical liberal principles and an appreciation for market supremacy over the distorting whims of the state. Like Reagan, Rand understands that not every fight is our fight, but you better believe we will retain the world’s strongest defense in perpetuity. Above all, Rand most resembles Reagan because he approaches the problems of the day with the most clear-eyed and radical prescriptions for our afflicted republic. Cronies and bureaucrats who are comfortable with the system the way it is will screech and bawl over Rand’s proposals just as they did Reagan’s. Like Reagan, Rand is best equipped to make an impassioned, articulate, inspiring case that persuades the electorate.

If conservatives wish to do more than just talk about the perils of the administrative state, the runaway executive under both parties and the costs of big government to human ingenuity and dignity, they need to move beyond reminiscing about Reagan and go ahead and nominate the guy who is the closest incarnation. If Republicans wish to emulate Reagan boldness in order to meaningfully win again, they should look to Rand Paul.

 

 

Solid as Iraq

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
– Proverbs 11:2

In politics, disgrace does not follow pride and there are no such things as humility or wisdom. Partly this is because politics attracts the type of people who “think that it is not the system which we need fear, but the danger that it might be run by bad men,” as Friedrich Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom. The belief that there is nothing wrong with a bloated, oppressive, administrative bureaucracy actively engaged in managing the economy should be woefully outdated and subject to mockery. Alas, this idea retains decent heft in America and the broader West. Worse is the belief among federal bureaucrats that they are called to do important work on behalf of “society.” Worse still is they believe they are “public servants” arbitrating what’s fair and proper in civic life. But the absolute worst aspect of it all is how proud they are to play petty authoritarian. Whether it’s an IRS middle manager, an EPA busybody or an EEOC scold, American life is now regulated to the point of oppression by a class of elite social justice warriors who are all too happy for the opportunity. This is the subject of Charles Murray’s new bookBy the People, which calls for a form of conservative civil disobedience by way of noncompliance with the regulatory state. But the left is exceedingly proud of their regulatory state – they did build that, and over a long period and a “long march.” They are never going to part with it willingly or lightly; their identity depends on its preservation.

If only this was confined to the left. The reality though is that the faction of conservatives who base their identity more or less on American global power are similarly in thrall to pride. The spectacle that was Jeb Bush fumbling soft ball questions on the Iraq War last week was both instructive and foreboding. We got crystal clear confirmation that Jeb is surrounded by the same elite cadre of foreign policy hawks as was his brother George. We got warning that proponents of the war had undergone a level of soul-searching akin to that of Sauron after his first defeat. I would bet everything I own that without the advice of his team, Jeb would have answered Megyn Kelly’s “knowing what we know now” Iraq hypothetical with an unequivocal “no.” But Jeb is not without that advice, because that advice comes from a donor class and an establishment GOP mostly wedded to the idea that the Iraq War was basically the right call.

Hovering in the ether ever since the Democrats’ 2006 midterm romp is an obvious political truth, one which precious few on the right want to accept. The truth is this: the war in Iraq was devastating to conservatism and the Republican party. This devastation had layers. The first layer was the practical impact on the party, which suffered from both honest and dishonest partisan attacks by the Democrats and therefore limped into the post-Bush era discredited and with all the confidence and swagger of a beaten dog. The second layer has to do with how principled conservatism itself was discarded by the Bush administration. Despite pursuing a brave and fortuitous tax cut agenda, George W. Bush governed as a progressive Republican, aka a “compassionate conservative.” Federal spending skyrocketed, add-ons to entitlements were enthusiastically adopted and that once proud disciple of the Reagan-Laffer school of fiscal conservatism, Dick Cheney, opined that “deficits don’t matter.” That champions of the Bush legacy and adherents to the neoconservative worldview are one and the same today is not surprising. What is surprising is they lack any self-awareness or humility and instead prefer to look at their foreign policy record and bask in pride.

There was very little reason for conservatives to rally around Bush in 2004 beyond pride in the tribe. Compassionate conservatism was a disaster that ushered in Medicare D and No Child Left Behind. The “ownership society” Bush wished to cultivate was corrupted by the Fed and congressional loan edicts to mortgage lenders, setting the scene for the 2008 crash. The only reason Bush won in 2004 was because the war led Republican voters to dutifully vote to keep their tribe in power for fear of what the other would do. Now eleven years on, the other tribe is gearing up to rally around someone they don’t particularly like but to whom they owe loyalty and deference because again, pride and tribe, and again, those other bastards would be worse.

Because ultimately, depressingly, inevitably…. we’re all tribal animals and it will always be so, to a degree. What is the point though of living in a tribal democracy, where the mob reigns? Despite the fact that it is the natural condition of democracies to have competing tribes looking to get to 51% so that they may force their preferences and mandates on the other 49%, the American model is supposed to be something quite different. We are a republic because the founding generation looked askance at democracy. Pure, majoritarian democracy is indistinguishable from mob rule, whereas a republic would be healthier than a democracy because a combination of representative democracy with an ingrained respect for natural rights and common law would cement the centuries long social transition from “status to contract,” meaning a society where prospects and opportunities are contingent on an individual’s freedom to enter into contract instead of on social status or class. Democracy only works if certain first principles and inalienable rights are enshrined forever into the nation’s DNA so that no transient majority can ever deny those natural rights which inform the Declaration of Independence.

The parallel rise of the Tea Party along with a rowdy libertarian-minded youth are about far more than tribalism. They are about first principles and the attempt to revive them in the public conscience. The movements are essentially inchoate, schizophrenic attempts by frustrated conservatives and libertarians to reclaim the agenda from the big spending, saber-rattling, deep pocketed GOP elites who not only wish to see their influence preserved, but who insist in all their pride that their righteous motives yielded righteous gains, and anyway, who are you to suggest otherwise, some kind of isolationist?  This is the takeaway from l’affaire Jeb Bush: the GOP foreign policy establishment is simply too proud to admit they committed a fatal error, politically, strategically, morally. “Most of the Republican presidential candidates would have invaded Iraq. Despite protestations to the contrary, few of them have truly learned the lessons of the war,” says James Antle at The Week. There is nothing in the founding and nothing in conservatism that says nation building abroad  or preemptive war is desirable, and yet “even today, the true conventional wisdom in the GOP seems to be that the only mistakes that were made in Iraq were invading with too few troops and withdrawing too soon.”

When the party which is supposed to stand for limited constitutional government that maximizes individual freedom eventually abandons its fixation with mimicking the domestic progressive project on the global stage and returns to its notional commitment to free markets and federalism, then that will be party worthy of my pride. Until then, all the elites in both parties should take a moment to consider why exactly growing government and expanding arbitrary power (whether with OSHA or the DHS) at the expense of ordinary taxpayers is anything to be proud of.

Or maybe the GOP is actually G.O.B.?

Iraq? Solid as a rock!

solid as a rock

 

UKIP

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is having a moment. The libertarian-ish party was founded in the early ’90’s as a protest faction among the conservative Tories, its principal mission to get the UK out of the European Union (EU). Though England has three traditionally accepted, entrenched parties in Labour, Conservative and the Liberal Democrats, as well as a host of smaller, more marginal parties (such as the Greens, the British National Party, etc), UKIP was never seen as a threat to become a viable voice in British politics. And yet, UKIP has been leading in the polls as the European elections approach, giving us the hilariously predictable and panicked responses from the major parties. You see, UKIP are a bunch of racists, and must not be trusted. At least there are a few sane voices who see the accusations of racism as irresponsible and dangerous but, for the most part, English media reached consensus that the UKIP rebels were racists ages ago.

There just has to be a global leftist cabal akin to the pentaverate. How else does one account for the remarkably consistent message that conservatives, libertarians and anyone else unimpressed with the status quo are nothing more than racists, the tactic most used by the left in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States? Do these groups coordinate with each other, or is it just a universal trope that left wing parties will inevitably resort to accusations of racism? I’m inclined to believe it is much more of the latter than the former, given the left’s propensity for viewing society as a clash of class and race, and not much else. As with most things that are terrible, we can thank Marx for this too.

Fortunately, a hero is on the scene. Nigel Farage is impugned by many in the English media as a “one man band” and UKIP comes under immense criticism for lacking a deep bench of members on par with Farage. The degree to which this criticism is fair or not is open for debate (my own unscientific analysis is that UKIP has many capable leaders but also has many who are unqualified and undisciplined and who wither under the klieg lights of scrutiny, which bolsters the view that it’s all about Farage) but what is not debatable is the prowess and pedigree of Farage himself. Rarely photographed without a pint or a cigarette, Farage uses his everyman charm to compliment his commanding voice and passionate opinions. His diatribes on the floor of the European Parliament against what he sees (accurately) as policies leading inexorably towards a super European single state are riveting and inspiring. Farage boldly accuses the leaders of the (unelected) European Commission as being closet communists, and he’s right. Juan Manuel Barroso and Herman van Rompuy are indeed interested in creating a communist superstate in Europe, all under the guise of stability and security, for in their view, it was the pernicious “nation-state” with its borders and its nationalism that led to the tragedies of the twentieth century (haven’t they heard Obama and Kerry trumpet the virtues of this new century being gloriously free of conflict and aggression? You know, “nineteenth century behavior” is behind us?). Farage has been shoving EU failure squarely in the faces of those responsible, and the commissioners at the EU have been forced to sit meekly as Farage has spent years thundering about the inevitable demise of the euro and the coming electoral wave that disbands political union and restores national state sovereignty to all concerned. Farage is particularly exciting to this American observer because of the parallels UKIP shares with the “libertarian moment” here at home. And just as we libertarians find ourselves in pitched battle on two fronts, with our own arrayed against us in many respects, so too does UKIP take flak from all corners.

There’s a great piece in the UK Spectator about how UKIP isn’t really a party but a rebellion within conservatism. In this regard it is very similar to the Tea Party, the difference being that in Britain it is much easier to go third (or fourth, fifth, sixth) party, whereas our two-party system forces intra-party rebellions to remain intra-party. Still, despite a lot of Labour and Lib Dem disaffected voters coming over to UKIP, it is still essentially a libertarian-conservative movement made up of mostly pissed off Tory voters who view their conservative establishment in Westminster with as much a jaundiced eye as we view ours.

Step one of the UKIP revolution is winning the European elections held May 22-25. Step two would then be leveraging that momentum in order to secure a referendum on getting the UK out of political union with the EU. But even with an expected triumph in the elections, UKIP will still face an uphill battle in getting David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband to convince their staid party establishments that a referendum on EU membership can no longer be avoided. To date, only UKIP have offered a committed stance on leaving the EU, which explains UKIP’s success more than anything, as it is the issue above all others in England right now. Once you separate the UK from the EU (a prospect that was deemed quite impossible just a year or so ago), then UKIP will likely come to a gradual reconciliation with the Tories if the Tories show that they’ve gotten the message and are willing to ditch their current brand of statist conservatism.

It’s striking how many parallels exist between UKIP and the Tea Party/libertarian cohort here in the States. Both are facing entrenched opposition from unhinged leftists as well as from establishment grayhairs in their own parties, and both represent the lone voices of sanity on liberty, markets, sovereignty and composition of government.

It’s interesting that political insurgencies seem to only come from the right these days. Probably that is because the hard left long ago co-opted the Democratic and Labour parties, making it quite unnecessary for the left to worry about facing energetic insurgencies from its base, its base already being well placated and pandered to. That establishment “conservatives” across the Anglosphere have become such squishy statists explains the persistence of both the Tea Party and UKIP. Their anxiety over society’s growing divide between the rank and file citizens they represent and the entrenched special interests and bureaucrats fighting to defend the status quo is not going to abate until such time as the powers that be have taken notice and changed their ways.

With the barbarians at the gate, the temptation to order archers to the towers and trebuchets to the ready is surely strong but, as President Obama loves to remind us, this is “the twenty-first century” and, with such direct recourse unavailable, establishment elites in both England and America resign themselves to rhetorical warfare, hence racism.

This guy never butchered language as badly as the progressives do.