The contemporary movement that now goes by the name of “Conservative” isn’t conservative. Today’s conservatives, the New Conservatives, pay only lip service to those golden ideals that did make America great. They have morphed into cheerleaders of Big Government.
The contemporary movement that now goes by the name of “Conservative” isn’t conservative. The movement originally was one of classical liberalism, something akin to the modern libertarian movement. That is, they were proponents of the philosophy of the Enlightenment, and the ideas that flowed from it: individual liberty, limited constitutional government, free markets, and free trade. These were the ideas that founded our nation. They were known as “liberals”.
Unfortunately, around the early 1900s, the label “liberal” got hijacked by socialists and statists. It was a propaganda move: misappropriate as your own the label ”liberal” and call the liberals “conservatives”. “Conservatives” historically were Big State authoritarian types, something the classical liberals definitely were not. However, the Progressives and socialists were conservatives in that sense. By renaming themselves “liberals” they gave themselves an aura of progress and liberty. As the character Symes said in the classic dystopian novel 1984, “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”
Most folks now believe that today’s Conservatives want to oppress workers and rig the system for evil capitalists. And Liberals are thought to be for the “little guy” and protect us from voracious capitalists. Because of this, many who do believe in free societies and free markets have abandoned the term “conservative” and now refer to themselves as “classical liberals” or “libertarians”, harkening back to the original meaning of “liberal”.
Progressives and Liberals have largely won the propaganda war. No matter what evidence classical liberals present to prove socialism, welfare statism, and Big Government solutions have failed miserably, people are swayed by a largely ignorant media, partisan professors, and politicians who pander easy solutions.
The “Old Right” of the “conservative” movement, the classical liberals or yore, have been banished to the political cloakroom. At best, today’s conservatives, the New Conservatives, pay only lip service to those golden ideals that did make America great. They have morphed into cheerleaders of Big Government. Why? Because they have specific agendas they want fulfilled. They don’t come with the old ideals of free markets, individual liberty, small government, and an inviolable Constitution. They are issue oriented, not driven by ideals. That old stuff gets in their way.
Take federal spending for example. A balanced budget is a staple of small government conservatism. But, as President Trump reportedly said, “Who the hell cares about the budget?” Apparently, no one else in Washington does either. The last round of budget negotiations saw a lot of chest pounding by “conservative” politicians, but they went ahead and passed a budget with a $1 trillion debt-financed deficit.
I had a college professor, a rather famous one at that, who told us that capitalism had failed and that Big Government was forced to step into the breach and save us. “Spend” he said, “borrow and spend. After all, what’s the problem? We owe it to ourselves.” He, an old New Dealer, was referring to the Great Depression. He was so wrong.
The problem, dear professor, is that it sucks capital out of the productive private economy and gets spent on mostly nonproductive things politicians want. It distorts and slows the economy down. Government programs and projects are mostly wasteful. It’s not just the Post Office and Amtrak—they pretty much are all run that way. The War on Poverty? After trillions spent over the past 50+ years, the poverty rate is about the same (13%-15%).
Unfortunately, today’s politicians follow my professor’s dictum. The current proposed Republican budget is projecting yet another trillion dollar deficit. It assumes interest rates will stay low and GDP will grow at 3% per year for the next 10 years. Everyone knows that those assumptions about future growth and spending are pie in the sky. We haven’t seen 3% growth since the W. Bush era. Deficits and debt will rise and someone has to pay for it. The government has just three funding options: raise taxes, print money, or both. Stagnation, inflation-boom-bust, or both; take your pick.
The Republicans are tightlipped about Trump’s budget: everyone knows this won’t be the real budget. First it has to go through the legislative meat grinder. And then the budget will come out with even more spending and all the politicians will line up behind the president and smile while he gleefully signs the bill.
Just so you know, countries with huge deficits and debt loads eventually decline: growth slows and governments collapse. But, no one cares about tomorrow.
Then there is trade. Conservatives-classical liberals-Republicans have traditionally been pro free trade. Free trade has been a keystone of “conservative” policy since Adam Smith. Not that there haven’t been lapses in doctrine, but free trade has been seen, properly so, as something that has raised the standard of living of all Americans. Now it seems the New Conservatives have embraced Trump’s protectionist barriers and tariffs. Protectionism, formerly known as mercantilism, does great harm to American consumers, farmers, and manufacturers. Tariffs are a tax on American consumers.
Yet where was the protest from these New Conservatives when President Trump started his trade wars? I didn’t hear the New Conservative pundits, the Republican Party, or prominent Republican politicians denounce these tariffs.
There are more examples of the New Conservatism: immigration barriers to needed workers; barriers to needed technology (5G); corrupt crony exemptions from tariffs; a wasteful border wall; knee-jerk military-industrial complex spending; Big Brother intrusions into personal privacy in the name of national security; marijuana prohibition; Keynesian economic and monetary policy; creeping national healthcare; endless wars; and more. These formerly anti-conservative policies are now canon of the New Conservative mainstream.
If you go back to the Reagan presidency you will find something that resembles a conservative. Reagan didn’t always walk the walk, but he did talk the talk. Reagan did understand the bedrock values of conservatism. Change came with the Bushes whose mission-oriented-lack-of-philosophy policies created the values-lite movement that is now labeled “Conservatism”. They strayed pretty far from Reagan. This New Conservatism is more about politics and interest groups and less about philosophy and ideals.
The New Conservatism is nothing new. It is mostly a grab bag of policies that have failed throughout history. Like most of us, I want peace, freedom, and prosperity and I want it to last for future generations. The only way we’ll get there is from the timeless values that made America great in the first place and it’s called classical liberalism, not New Conservatism.