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

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What Did Conservatives Get Right?

I was challenged by a friend on the other side of the great ideological divide to come up with the high points of conservatism's record over the last 50 or so years. My thoughtful answer was that there's a continuum, that both the New Deal and the undesirability of confiscatory levels of taxation have captured the center, that Nixon was a liberal and that Bill Clinton was not unconservative, but that was apparently unsatisfactory. (I thought it was we righties who are the simplistic Manichaeans, seeing everything in terms of black and white, but not so, not so.)

I despise laundry lists, but I do credit the ability of conservatives, when asked, to actually answer a direct question. (Oooo, I should have included that one.) And so:

---That the constantly rising tide of taxation needed to be reversed, as it stifles hard work, entrepreneurship, innovation, and ultimately, prosperity.

---That the constantly rising tide of regulation needed to be halted, as compliance begins to elbow out actual production.

---That deregulation largely results in lower prices for consumers (energy, telephones, airlines).

---That communism was an ideological tyranny, an enemy of freedom and of man's spirit, and needed to be opposed and rolled back at every opportunity. (The Strategic Defense Initiative, "Star Wars," drove liberals nuts but drove the Soviet Union to suicide.)

---That autocrats like the Shah are better and more able to reform than totalitarian ideologies like the one that now operates Iran. (We may thank the late Jeane Kirkpatrick for that one.)

---That, per Washington's Farewell Address, religion is not an enemy, but an irreplacable ally for any republic that depends first and foremost on individual self-governance.

---That the family is the core platoon of society (there is a provable higher incidence of almost every social pathology in its absence), and that the welfare system was destroying it and individual initiative as well.

---That affirmative action is at best neutral in the short term, that its greater access is offset by things like lower graduation rates and suspicion of minorities' genuine achievement.

---That in the long term, emphasizing the discrimination against groups as trumping individual effort and achievement has resulted in an epidemic hopelessness and a destructive racial divide.

---That choice in schools (vouchers) is the only real solution to resegregation. (One can be sure that if conservatives had such a monopoly on the schools and the education establishment [without whose money and volunteers the Democratic Party would die], good liberals everywhere would be in favor of such freedom.)

---That Milton Friedman's Earned Income Credit is a truly beautiful thing, where if you work harder (or work at all), even for low wages, you end up with more money, to spend as you will. What a concept.

---That despite the flaws of things like Three Strikes, locking up pathologically habitual offenders keeps them off the streets and it's a mathematical certainty, borne out by the stats, that crime rates decrease.

---That a person has a right to defend kith and kin, even with a gun if necessary.

---That the 55 mile an hour speed limit totally, clearly, and unimpeachably sucked.

If all conservatives ever accomplished was the last one, I'd say it was all worth it. Please feel free to jump in; I'm going to make a printout when it's done, because there are so many things we take for granted after Reagan and Gingrich that people need to be reminded of just now.

On both sides of the great divide.


Hunter Baker said...

Reagan's tax cuts radically changed American economics. Before his massive cuts, there were plenty of productive people who simply quit working partway through a year, like IBM salesmen!

Hunter Baker said...

Conservatives actually gave a #%$@ about the unborn child and especially the wholly formed children absolutely ripe and ready to be born, but in danger of being aborted anyway.

Jay D. Homnick said...

In brief, conservatives have been right about everything. EVERYTHING!

James F. Elliott said...

Congratulations on getting this published, Tom, but it really is the worst thing you've ever posted here -- long on ideological assertion, short on fact or argumentation.

What is the obsession with Reagan and Gingrich among conservatives? I don't get it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That much is clear, James.

Your assessment of my work might be correct. Remember, it was originally written for liberals, in their own language.

[hold for laugh]

I was more sanguine with my more, um, nuanced take that constituted the first part of the dialogue and is reproduced here on this blog in the post "I Am a Liberal Scumbag."

But that led to accusations I was muddying the waters, and the bullet point format was demanded. They wanted answers.

If mine seem to be mere unsupported assertions, it's only because it would take at least an entire book to support them. For now, think of them instead as breadcrumbs on the trail of your own search for truth.

Hunter Baker said...

That's hilarious, Tom! But do they lead home or to the witch's house!