The Soul Searching Conservative

Because I believe it is truly sincere, I try not to laugh too much at Andrew Sullivan's period of hairshirt attire as he now tries to figure out how in the holy heck he ever supported the Bush Administration. But in the wake of David Brooks' review of Sully's book, Sully's "eloquence" and earnestness does make me smile with amusement. Here is an example:

To paraphrase Oakeshott, I am a conservative in politics so I - and anyone else - can be a radical in every other activity, if we so choose. And I know no place on earth that allows that more fully than America. Which is why I love it so; and why I am so passionate in defending the system some people seem not to understand or have forgotten. Yes: I am passionate about doubt. And I am passionate about the protections in this Constitution so casually junked by this reckless, arrogant president. And I am passionate about saving the idea of America from those who have not fully understood - and now therefore threaten - its paradoxical strength.

If we accept this as Sullivan's guiding philosophy, how can he explain ever supporting the modern Republican Party? For who, even putting aside Iraq and the War on terror, and habeas corpus and torture, has least understood the idea of civil liberty, which Sullivan deems his central tenet, than the modern day Republican Party? Think Scalia, Thomas, Alito and likely Roberts. What does Sullivan expect from them?

Sullivan cites a reader's e-mail:

I listened to part of the interview on NPR with Tom Ashbrook.

I say thank you for pointing out that real conservatives have been pushed out of the Republican Party. We can't be Democrats, but we can't be Republicans anymore either. Sometimes we feel like we have been dumped onto another planet.

What happened? We have been very politically active but the conservative movement was hijacked. True conservatives have ideals and goals more like our original colonists (influenced by Locke but also by Native Americans): the rights of the Individual, religious pluralism, and limited government only by consent.

Thank you for speaking out.

Setting aside the veracity of their interpretation of history, do the reader and Sullivan really believe that their conservatism is only NOW being shunted aside in the Republican Party? Where have they been the last 20 years? It is one of the biggest lies of the Media that the Republican Party is a party of ideas. It has not been been for many many years. Don't get me wrong, it's not like the Democratic Party has much fealty to its stated core values though that is changing I believe. Bt the Republican Party has been nothing but a vehicle for power that employed in the Paranoid Style to the utmost.

The biggest lie of all is that there is in fact abig debate about the role of the federal government in our society. There are no Conservatives as the term is understood in popular political circles. No one, and I mean no one, really challenges the role of the federal government that FDR created. There is no conservative side to that debate. So what is conservatism today?

It is mostly hate. Hatred of gays like sullivan. Hatred of minorities. Hatred of foreigners. And mostly it is hatred of government. The batred of government manifests itself in one policy proposal, indeed the one constant in the conservative argument -- tax cuts. But the love of tax cuts runs into the central truth of our debate today - no one challenges the FDR revolution. Thus tax cuts lead to deficits. But conservatives are supposed to hate that too.

Kevin Drum presented Sullivan with a great challenge a while ago - name your spending cuts:

Andrew Sullivan is just being incoherent here in his defense of his own conservatism:

. . . Bush's tax cuts haven't touched Social Security or Medicare taxes (and both programs run surpluses anyway). They've been solely cuts in personal and corporate income taxes, dividend taxes, and capital gains taxes. These are the taxes that fund discretionary spending.

Discretionary spending in 2005 was roughly $1 trillion. About half of that was for defense and national security, which Sullivan doesn't want to cut. That leaves $500 billion, which funds the entire rest of the federal government.

The federal deficit for 2005 was over $400 billion. So: if you support the tax cuts, and you don't want to cut defense spending, and you want a balanced budget, you need to slice about $400 billion out of the $500 billion that's left.

These are round numbers, but you get the idea. Cutting a few agricultural subsidies and eliminating Amtrak isn't going to do the trick. Even taking an axe to social welfare programs wouldn't do it. You'd need to eliminate about 80% of the federal government outside the Defense Department. So if Sullivan wants to be taken seriously, he needs to tell us just which 80% he wants to get rid of. The FBI? Prisons? EPA? The federal courts? Housing assistance? Highways? The National Institutes of Health?

Andrew did not like being called on his prescriptions:

In order to right our fiscal mess, I proposed means-testing social security, scrapping the Medicare prescription drug entitlement, extending the retirement age, and so on. Drum then makes the point that he's talking about actual government programs, i.e. discretionary spending, not entitlements. So he claims that the government will save nowhere near enough by my proposals. And, in that respect, he's right. But he wants to set the ground-rules by eliminating from any consideration by far the largest bulk of our unfunded liabilities! No fair. If entitlements are sacrosanct, of course you're going to have to raise income taxes or payroll taxes, by a whopping amount. And I'm sure Drum and Yglesias and others cannot wait to do so in some form or other. My whole point is to put middle-class entitlements on the table and to cut them substantially. Even though you may disagree with it, that's not a free lunch, and it's deeply unfair to claim it is. It's also designed to protect the really needy. It's interesting, though, that the big government left is so hostile to small government conservatives. It's as if they really don't believe we exist or are sincere. . .

Ahhh. Indeed, Andrew ignores Kevin two main points: One, that no one argues that social security should be cut in the Republican Party but they ALL want their tax cuts. Two, that even if we did what Andrew prescribed, which is NOT going to happen, he still falls far short. See? Even Andrew, in a blogger hypothetical will not practice what he preaches. He will not even propose cutting into federal government expenditures.

Why is that? Necause conservatism as defined by Sullivan LOST the debate. During the New Deal. It is not sensible to pretend it did not. Or at the very least, Sullivan is unwilling to propose any true rollback of the New Deal vision.

So what are we really debating? Those things liberal always want to debate, the pragmatic question -- what works. What works best for our vision.

Now we get to the nub of the philosophical debate. Democratics believe in the Common Good, in a levelling influence from government policy, in helping those in need, in insuring equairt for all.

Republicans do not believe equality and levelling is a proper role for government. They are a, in theory (in practice they look government support as much as or more than Dems) up from the bootstraps, pro-business party.

Now, you can be for that or not, but that is what Republicanism, at least the theory is about. It has nothing to do with Sullivan's brand of conservatism and has not for a long time.

That the current brand of Republicans is marked by its anti-libertarianism, corruption and incompetence is no excuse for Sullivan to pretend that the modern Republican Party has betrayed conservative principles it NEVER embraced.

There is no conservatism today. It died when FDR killed it. Sullivan pretends it still exists, even though even he won't practice it.

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  • xx (1.00 / 0) (#2)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 08:45:36 AM EST
    Yeah - The Demos. The party that is here to protect our rights....The party that just voted to remove your right to have your bank transfer your money where you want it.

    Of course since it was about evilllllll internet gambling, the Demos couldn't spare any, none, nada, zero, just a little bit.... of opposition... not even a useless filibuster threat.

    Tell me again, Big Tent, about the Demos not pandering to the religious right... now wanting to control our actions..

    Heh (none / 0) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 09:49:23 AM EST
    Jim are you this dumb?

    I happen to know a lot about that bill. My friend, a Republican lobbyist, lobbied hard against it.

    Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) fought like hell to make it happen. This was a Republican initiative. Completely.

    That you thik Dems were the problem on it shows either how disingenuous or ill informed you are. And you have been demonstrating this a lot lately.


    soul searching conservative (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 12:07:22 AM EST
    this guy sullivan is a complete moron. just from what i've read here, it's clear he doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground, on many subjects, too numerous to go into detail here.

    suffice it to say his weaknesses, in politics, tax law and basic economic theory, are more than sufficient to totally discredit him, as someone worthy of being listened to, other than to make fun of.

    i am curious about something though: when did someone who: believes in the bill of rights; believes in sound fiscal policy, deficits only during national emergencies; believes that no gov't has any business legislating acts between consenting adults, absent some compelling public health or policy interest, suddenly become a liberal?

    i am confused.

    Re: Soul Searching Conservative? (none / 0) (#3)
    by Edger on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 09:13:09 AM EST
    Soul Searching Conservative?

    More oxycontin please.