Tuesday, December 09, 2008

THE WILDERNESS YEARS. This response by Cato's Michael Tanner to Billy Kristol's otherwise useless column about the limits of small-government conservatism (which I have to assume presages a new starve-the-beast movement, since everyone knows Kristol is always spectacularly wrong) reminds us what those dear, dead days of Reaganism have come to:
Kristol is undoubtedly right that resisting big government has been harder in practice than in theory. But that hardly means that conservatives should abandon their principles. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular — but one must take it simply because it is right.” The evidence suggests that reducing the size and power of the federal government would be safe, popular, and good politics. But, regardless, Republicans should stand for limited government and individual liberty simply because it is the right thing to do.
On the one hand, Tanner portrays beast-starving as an MLK-style human rights struggle that must be pursued on moral imperative in the teeth of wild dogs and fire hoses; on the other, he believes that it would yet be "safe, popular, and good politics." Only the flustering caused by defeat could get these contrary assertions bunched up in a single paragraph like this.

For true believers of the Cato Institute, I imagine the cause is rather Biblical. But the political reality has always been earthier: decades of simply offering voters more for less, a winning proposition in most commercial transactions. The ploy worked so well that the treasury was looted and the national infrastructure and local governments were wrecked, and now that the market has stopped paying off silver dollars we are forced to notice it. If Tanner really likes his MLK analogy, he might consider that his civil rights movement has lost its authority because of the misbehavior of some "prosperity pimps." But I suppose he wouldn't want to take even that much credit for Dick Fuld and the boys right now.

In the same forum John O'Sullivan paraphrases holy Hayek to the effect that "the idea of small government was vital even if there was no prospect of its ever being achieved." The religious tincture (O'Sullivan even refers to a "barrier" that "might even gain a quasi religious status over time") suggests not only unattainability, but also a fallback when things go wrong: if our starvation diet causes more problems than benefits, then we have only been overzealous in pursuit of a noble ideal. We have fallen out of the Edenic state of Reaganism by sheer willfulness and pride, and will be restored to it after much suffering.

While these guys are thus considering the present-day conscience of conservatism, the rest of us are bailing like hell to keep the water from rising over our heads. I can imagine the reaction if they stepped out of their meditation room to tell ordinary folks that they ought to set aside the buckets and wait for the Invisible Hand to sweep the tide away. Looking inward is sometimes just a nice name for keeping one's head down.

No comments:

Post a Comment