July 8, 2012
Conservatism 101: The Principle of the Thing
Most of the time, when regular folks debate politics, the difference between conservatism and liberalism is actually quite simple: it's the difference between the head and the heart. It's the reason why conservatives tend to view the world through the prism of the way things are, whilst liberals approach things from the standpoint of how they want them to be.
The result, of course, is predictable. Conservatives often come off as cold and unfeeling bean counters, content to leave everybody to the vagaries of the market. The best laid liberal plans, meanwhile, always seem to blow up in their faces because they never take into account basic human nature -- which is, not to put too fine a point on it, often oriented toward doing as little as possible in order to get by.
This leads to a rather maddening conundrum. Conservative policies, even though they're more effective, involve taking a more hands-off approach to government -- cutting taxes, reducing regulation, dumping ineffective programs -- which makes them a lot less tangible. That makes for a tougher sell, especially in times of crisis when liberal cries to "do something" are at fever pitch. How do you explain to people that sometimes, doing less is a far better option?
That's why conservatives are always on the defensive. Not only do we have to work a lot harder to get our message out, we also have to rely on principle a lot more. Like Prince getting bogged down in too many side projects, we end up debating so many fine points about why conservatism is the moral choice that we lose the larger ideological battle.
When liberals, for instance, want to stop corporate money from influencing elections, they paint corporations as evil entities out to squash the little guy with their big money and issue ads. Conservatives, meanwhile, have to defend those corporations -- whether they're sympathetic or not -- because they have rights under the First Amendment like anybody else. Inevitably, the headline reads something like, "GOP Backs Acme Corp Over Wile E. Coyote's Citizen Initiative."
See the pattern? Liberals don't care about the law, unless it works to their advantage. Conservatives don't have that option, even when the law works against us.
Nowhere is this split more pronounced than in the tax debate. Even now, Barack Obama is out there trying to convince the public that "the rich" need to shovel even more money into the government maw. Again, the conservative response relies mostly on principle -- the top 25% of wage earners already pay 86% of all federal income tax, nearly half of Americans pay no federal income tax at all, blah blah blah -- but even though all these things are true, in the end the argument causes a lot of voters to tune out like they're watching and old episode of Joanie Loves Chachi on Nick at Nite.
So what do we do about it?
As much as I hate to say it, some more hard selling is in order. To wit, what should you do if a liberal comes up to you and says, "We wouldn't have such a big deficit if we didn't have the Bush tax cuts for the rich?" A lot of conservatives would be inclined to hand the person a copy of The Road to Serfdom and debate the finer points of civilizational decline and its relationship to the debt to GDP ratio. Might I suggest a different course?
Try this one on for size: You could confiscate every penny earned by "the rich" in a given year and it wouldn't even generate enough revenue to cover last year's federal budget deficit. Never mind the actual budget--we're just talking about the deficit.
Suddenly raising taxes sounds much like the band on the Titanic striking up a chorus of "Ain't We Got Fun."
The point isn't that conservatives shouldn't be debating principles. After all, there's plenty of room for that in the pages of National Review and The American Spectator. But when it comes to convincing Joe Voter of the absolute necessity of kicking Barack Obama to the curb in November, a little less principle and a lot more Armageddon might be just the ticket.
Hatched by Korso on this day, July 8, 2012, at the time of 8:49 AM
The following hissed in response by: snochasr
Just so. And I always add "and I'll gauran-dam-tee you those folks won't be making that income next year!"
The following hissed in response by: paul
It's a start but not enough. You should point out that if you confiscated all their wealth, not just their income, it still wouldn't pay off the deficit.
You're right on the principle, examples not theoretical arguments.
I like to point out that all the great dictators of the 20th century were socialists, Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, makes their heads spin. But, but, M & H were fascists. True, they were national socialists.
The failures of socialism for millenia also causes severe cognitive dissonance. For starters point out that all 154 Greek constituional democracies, Athens was the most famous, lasted at most 2 to 3 generations. The final stage in all of them was socialism followed by some kind of tyranny. This is discussed in Aristotle's Politics. It's why the Founding Fathers hated pure demoocracy.
In modern times, the Pilgrims were socialists 200 years before the word was coined. The land was held and farmed commually. They nearly starved. Once Gov. Bradford broke up the land into family plots there was plenty to eat. He states clearly that envy and jealousy among the people was the problem, or as he says in Of Plymouth Plantation, the cause was the "vanity of that conceit of Plato's".
There're plenty of other failed socialist experiments here in Massachusetts. Nearby is a place called Brook Farm, set up by people from Cambridge(!) that failed after a few years for the same reason. Out in Concord there's Fruitlands set up by some of the Transcendentalists, also a major failure.
In modern times, there is Israel which was founded as a socialist state. It worked but they were quite poor until the early 1990's when some entrepeneurs got rich and famous. Now they're capitalists and doing well.
The real disaster is Great Britain, It was the richest, most powerful nation on earth but went full socailist after WWII. They wound up poor, with rationing 20 years later, and the reputation as the Sick Man of Europe until Margret Thatcher came along and did her best to straighten things out.
There's also the Collapse of Communism, with all the misery that preceeded it, but liberals can quickly get side tracked onto Joe McCarthy which makes it a trickier argument against socialism despite the fact that it should be one of the best.
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