"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Democrats' New Age Conservatism—and the Viable Alternative

My recent National Review Online article on the political philosophy implications of the Republicans' loss in last week's elections has spurred a discussion about classical liberalism on my Karnick on Culture site, a discussion which I cordially invite all to join.

In my NR piece I brought up two relatively new notions: one is that today's Democrats are the real conservatives of our time--New Age Conservatives who want to preserve what there is to conserve today in American politics: "a high-taxing, high-spending welfare state; a political system in which incumbents have all the advantages; a flood of illegal immigration; increasing state-level socialism; a public education system that appears deliberately designed to keep people ignorant; the worst, most libertine aspects of the Sexual Revolution; a health-care system that is increasingly under government control; a new Cold War in which Islam and the West remain just short of open war; and so on."

My conclusion: "The Right lost because the Republicans failed to govern as classical liberals. Instead, in the economic sphere they ran up huge, unnecessary budget deficits attributable solely to massive spending increases. Small government went out the window as the Republicans massively increased federal control over elementary and secondary schools and passed numerous constraints on political freedom in the Homeland Security Act and the McCain-Feingold restrictions on political speech."

Here, I noted, is how the Democrats' New Age Conservatism played out: "The Democrats, for their part, ran as conservatives of the new kind — New Age conservatives. They presented themselves as against prolonging what they characterized as a failed Iraq adventure, against economic giveaways to the rich (meaning tax cuts), against Bush administration failures to reign in outlaws such as bin Laden and Kim Jong-Il, against immigration reform, against school reform, against Social Security reform, against anything that would challenge the current big-government system their Democrat forebears built (with all too much Republican cooperation)."

Reflecting on ideas I brought up six months ago in my article "The Crash of Big Government Conservatism," on Tech Central Station, I conclude in my NRO piece,

"The Republicans have been strongest when they have adhered to classical liberal principles and articulated them boldly, as in the Reagan years and Newt Gingrich's Republican revolution. They have been weakest when they have attempted to be New Age conservatives, as during the two Bush administrations when they have governed as Democrats Lite.

"The political right is well aware that the solution to economic and social problems is nearly always to unleash the creativity and intelligence of the American people and encourage representative government abroad without forcing it on anyone — not to place ever-greater restraints on initiative and economic freedom at home and attempt nation-building abroad before defeating the enemies of democracy. Yet the Republicans simply have not had the courage to defy the mainstream media and follow their principles.

"For the Republicans to have consistent electoral success and govern well, they must transform themselves from a Bush party of New Age conservatism to a Reagan party of true, classical liberalism."

I am trying in these articles to raise the idea that the Right is the true home of liberal thinking today, and that conserving the present situation is what the Left wants. I think that classical liberalism is the true center of American politics, and that if the Republicans embrace it, it will be all to the good both for them and for the country.

I've been discussing this further on my website, Karnick on Culture, and invite all to visit and leave comments and of course to discuss it here as well.

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