Friday, 29 September 2006

Conservatism: A new obituary (part 1)

As promised, here's the first excerpt from Brad Thompson's superb article 'Decline and Fall of American Conservatism,' available in full here at 'The Objective Standard.

'The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism,' by C. Bradley Thompson
In 1994, American voters elected Republican majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the first time in forty years. This ascent to power gave Newt Gingrich and his colleagues the opportunity to launch their “Republican Revolution” with its signature “Contract with America” platform. The election was said to mark the end of an era—the era of big government liberalism that had dominated American political life since the New Deal. After struggling for almost half a century to gain political power, the conservative movement finally seemed to have reached the political promised land.
And what was the result?
In practice, the Republicans began to whittle away at the welfare state. Their first post-election budget proposed to eliminate three cabinet agencies (the Departments of Commerce, Education, and Energy) and more than 200 federal programs. Within a year, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had reduced federal spending by almost $14 billion.2 Such early successes led even Bill Clinton to declare in his 1996 State of the Union address that the “era of big government is over.”3 A Republican Congress passed and Clinton signed far-reaching welfare reform legislation that promised to end “welfare as we know it.”4By the end of the 1990s, America’s political fault line appeared to have moved considerably to the Right for the first time since the early 20th century. The advocates of limited government faced an historic opportunity to begin the process of dismantling the welfare state and deregulating the economy...
But did they? And if not, why not? And just who's been driving the Republican train?
It is not just Republicans but conservative Republicans who are driving this train. As William Rusher, co-founder of the modern conservative movement, reports, the “conservative movement has come to dominate the Republican Party totally.”5 [...] For over forty years, ever since the Goldwater election debacle in 1964, conservatives have methodically pursued ideological control over the GOP. Now that they do control the Republican Party and all three branches of the federal government, what exactly have conservatives bequeathed to America?
The size of government gives a good indication of the level of government intrusion in the lives of citizens. Here's a brief summary of the legacy these "small-government" conservatives have bequeathed America:
  • "Government spending has increased faster under George Bush and his Republican Congress than it did under Bill Clinton.."
  • "More people work for the federal government today than at any time since the end of the Cold War..."
  • "If post 9/11 defense spending is taken off the table, domestic spending has ballooned by 23 percent since Bush took office..."
  • "...despite President Bush’s much vaunted tax cuts, Americans actually pay more in taxes today than they did during Bill Clinton’s last year in office..."
  • It's not pretty, is it? A decent summary of the level of government spending is Tax Freedom Day, the day when you stop working for the government and begin working for yourself. Here's how Tax Freedom Day looks in conservative-dominated America:
    When state and local taxes (controlled in the majority of places by Republicans) are added to federal taxes, Americans worked for the government eight hours a day, five days a week, from January 1 until July 12, meaning they worked full-time for the government for more than half the year. As Tom Feeney, a congressional Republican put it: “I remember growing up and reading in some school textbooks that if more than half your paycheck went to the government, then you were living in a socialist society.”7 Just so, Mr. Feeney.
    So much then for "small-government" conservatives. The result of their political dominance of American has been a more socialised country than at any other time in its history -- more than under Lincoln, or Franklin Roosevelt, or Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter, and less even than under Bill Clinton, under whom government spending (excluding defence and homeland security spending) grew only half as much as it has under President Bush.

    How can this have happened? What explains it?
    Two generations ago, conservatives denounced the growth of government and called for a revolution to roll back the Leviathan State created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. In 1994, conservatives, with their Republican Revolution, rode into power on just such a platform of limited government. Yet today, the conservative intellectual movement and the Bush administration are engaged in a very different kind of revolution—a revolution for big-government conservatism.
    "What happened to the idea of limited-government conservatism? Have the conservatives been corrupted by power, or is there something in their basic philosophy that has led them to embrace big government?"

    That's the question we'll begin answering in the next excerpt, posted here Monday. Feel free to jump ahead.

    LINK: The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism - C.Bradley Thompson, The Objective Standard

    RELATED: Politics-US, Politics-NZ, Politics, Objectivism, History-Modern, History-Twentieth Century


    1. "If post 9/11 defense spending is taken off the table,"

      The Iraq war is costing over $2bil per week- with a cost of over 1 trillion.

      Why take defense spending off the table, I wonder? Maybe if we don't mention it no-one will notice.

    2. But it is mentioned, and you're intended to notice.



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