The Freak Show: Where Have The Real Conservatives Gone?

“We don’t seek to aid the rich but those lower and middle income families who are most strapped by taxes and the recession.” Sounds like a typical statement made by President Obama, or Democratic Congressional leaders. No, that was the patron saint of conservatism, Ronald Reagan.

Many of today’s Republican politicians quote Reagan liberally (no pun intended), and point to him as a forerunner of what they want to accomplish. But if he were running today, he would be considered on the far left of the Republican Party. Federal employment grew under his watch. And rather than shrink the size of government, he actually increased it by creating a new department, the Department of Veterans Affairs. He also realized that the deficit was getting out of hand, and raised taxes 11 times after his initial tax cut.

I am not trying to disparage President Reagan, but rather point out that conservatism has lost its way. It used to be a pragmatic, organized system of beliefs that led to making the capitalist system and democratic system work as it was supposed to. It has turned into a cut-taxes-on–the-wealthy-at-all-costs, cut government at all costs, single-minded machine that doesn’t allow rational thought or disagreement. If you aren’t conservative enough, you’re out of the party, with no chance of any support in an election.

In fact, not only would President Reagan not qualify for today’s Republican Party, but his successor, the first President Bush, would have no chance. He actually proposed the first “cap and trade” concept to try and stem the problem of acid rain. He felt that by putting economic incentives in place, corporations would act in their best interest and curtail emissions and pollution to benefit them and their shareholders financially. He was using the free market to get the desired result. He even overruled his advisors, who suggested an eight million ton cut in emissions in favor of ten million.

And good things happened when we were able to harness the power of the market to solve an environmental problem. The program was a tremendous success, accomplishing its goal with a minimal impact on costs. Today, of course, the biggest environmental issue is climate change. And the proposed solution, once again, is the conservative, market-based “cap-and-trade” system. Strangely, however, it’s conservative, market-based Republicans who are the loudest and most damning opponents of “cap-and-trade,” while Democrats have become its biggest proponents.

My point is that the conservatives won that battle; now Democrats are proponents of a Republican idea; that of using the market to achieve desired results. Instead of utilizing that victory, the Republicans now call it an overreaching government program, or even socialism, and condemn the idea.

Another thing that the first President Bush did was go back on his pledge of “Read my lips, no new taxes.” He was smart enough to realize that we were getting into dangerous fiscal territory, and needed revenue. And what of today’s conservatives? They wouldn’t even consider that when we were about to be unable to pay bills we had incurred. Let people not get their social security and Medicare checks, don’t pay our veterans, let the United States credit rating go to hell and cause a large increase in the deficit due to the higher interest rates it would cause; all of that is not important compared to raising a rich person’s taxes, or getting rid of loopholes that enable millionaires to pay less tax than you or I.

President Clinton is vilified by conservatives. Yet, he passed what has long been a Republican ideal, that of free trade, going against the wishes of much of his party and their union supporters. He also oversaw an expanding economy and ran budget surpluses. Shouldn’t he be seen as a guiding light in those areas? Yet today’s Republicans see him as the devil. I would guess it’s political expediency that rules in that case, rather than an examination of the issues.

Since last year’s election brought a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, the idea that a new conservative era has come upon us has fast taken hold. Tea Party activists have hijacked enough of the Republican Party to make them accountable to their hardcore ideas of lower spending and taxes, but other traditionally conservative ideas, especially in the area of social policy, have been getting a prominent push as well.

The idea of social policy has always been at odds with conservative thinking. The anti-abortion crusaders and anti-gay rights positions of many conservatives doesn’t make any sense when coupled with their limited government aspirations. It seems like they want limited government when it comes to things they don’t like, but when it comes to your personal life, they want expanded government; they want to make laws controlling what you can do with your body, who you can marry, what drugs you can put into your body, etc. If they want limited government, they should be espousing it all the way around, not in a “pick and choose” fashion.

In fact, the Republican governor of South Dakota just passed a bill stating that women who are seeking abortions must first attend a consultation at “pregnancy help centers,” to learn what assistance is available “to help the mother keep and care for her child.” It requires a three-day period of consultation, and it makes an exception for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest. Is that smaller, less-intrusive government? Obviously not. In this instance, those conservative ideas go out the window in order to push their personal beliefs onto others.

We need to see consistency from our conservative friends. And some sense of pragmatism and competence. I am by no means saying the Democrats have the answers, but they have shown the ability to compromise and work toward reasonable solutions. The conservative movement has morphed into a radical, unreasonable and non-pragmatic diatribe of bluster. It won’t last.