Joe Biden is now officially the 46th President of the United States. Already, the press and official Washington is pretending the last 4 years didn’t happen, except that they intend to extract a pound of flesh for being subjected to it. Instead of asking themselves why it was that 75 million people voted for Donald Trump, they’ve already come to the misguided conclusion that those people don’t matter. Besides, they are probably a bunch of racists and wannabe autocrats anyway, so they suck.
For evidence of this, I point to this opinion piece published yesterday in National Review, authored by Kevin D. Williamson. I’m a long-time subscriber to NR and for the past few years, a member of the NRPlus community. Kevin’s take is not a lone cry in the wilderness. Many of my NRPlus fellows have expressed similar sentiments throughout Trump’s term. The disdain and outright contempt for anyone who dared vote for the “Orange Ape” shown in Kevin’s piece is part and parcel with the disdain and contempt that many of his ilk showed these people before Trump ever took his golden escalator ride.
I’ve often argued that what motivated Trump’s voters wasn’t the man himself. Make no mistake, there are those who would have followed him over a cliff, as we witnessed on January 6. But the vast majority of the 75 million that voted for him on November 3 do not fit into that neat checkbox. Their concerns have more to do with Barack Obama’s “bitter clingers” comments and Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” diatribe than Mr. Trump. We knew The Donald is an imperfect vessel – but he was the only one willing to address those concerns in 2016; he remained one of only a handful of willing to address them in 2020.
So now we have Joe Biden calling for national unity, but immediately marginalizing the bitter clinging, deplorable “chumps” in his Inaugural Address. To highlight the ad hominem attacks against people they don’t understand and wish would just go away, we got KDW calling us “the studio audience from Hee-Haw” and continually referring to us as “Cletus” (FWIW: Cletus is the backwoods living, inbred village idiot from The Simpsons). These were not meant as complimentary terms (I suspect Kevin didn’t, but I enjoyed watching Hee-Haw when I was growing up). In so doing, he forgot that you don’t have to live in Washington to be a coastal elite. However, you can live in Texas and still be a jackass.
Make no mistake, I still enjoy the bulk of KDW’s writing. His arguments in favor of American-style federal republicanism are among the most eloquent written in the past 20 years. But he’s also made it clear that his brand of conservatism (again, a view shared by quite a few others) is better off ignoring the complaints, gripes, and daily life of a wide swath of ordinary Americans. He would rather lose elections and see the last vestiges of classical liberal thought purged from these shores than ever admit that maybe, just maybe, there is something legitimate about the populist uprising within the GOP. Admitting certain policy preferences that somehow became conservative orthodoxy didn’t work out as intended is more painful than seeing them permanently jettisoned by admittedly unconservative democrats, I guess.
But KDW, just in case you stumble across this humble blog, remember this. Conservatism was never about standing athwart history, yelling “STOP.” It was never about tax cuts or being the world’s superpower or any of those other things that seem to have come to define DC conservatism. Conservativism has always been about unleashing the power of the individual so that all of society can improve. Denying that agency to millions of us in order to preserve corrupt and decaying power structures isn’t conservative, nor is it classically liberal. Those original classical liberals put up with denial of agency for only so long before they rose up and smashed the power structures to which they were subjected.
We shouldn’t have to wish for the same.
In the wake of the President Trump’s signing the omnibus budget act, I am hearing and seeing a frenzied (indeed, almost apoplectic) reaction from my fellow conservatives. But I want to to stop you now, stop you dead in your tracks, because I am now going to tell you who is most responsible for this thing’s passage.
Yes, that’s right. YOU are the reason Congress just spent $1.3 trillion it doesn’t have. YOU are the reason that by the time the next Congress is seated, the federal debt will have swelled to $22 trillion.
By the way, I’m just as guilty of this fiasco as the rest of you.
Why are we responsible for this mess? Because we ignored the most basic tenet of our system of government. We’ve been great at describing our positions to one another. We’re lousy at describing them to anyone who doesn’t share those views. American government is not about just ramming your agenda through. Nothing lasts that way. No, it’s still about winning the marketplace of ideas. Think about it: the founders of this country traded speeches and newspaper editorials until the public eventually chose the vision of the federalists over that of the anti-federalists. That same dynamic still exists, and we’ve been terrible at the art of persuasion.
A big part of that is that while we’re all willing to talk the talk, almost none of us are willing to walk the walk. The last national elections pretty much embodied everything wrong with the conservative movement, and still we haven’t learned that lesson.
Think about it – a guy whose idea of fiscal discipline is going bankrupt and leveraging himself to the hilt managed to convince the nation he’s a fiscal conservative. From what I’ve been seeing throughout the day in my Twitter and Facebook feeds, he managed to convince a sizable number of you of the same. The guy who swore he could deliver the first balanced budget in two generations without touching entitlements (when anyone who can do basic arithmetic knows better) did enough reasonably conservative things over the first year of his Presidency to make you think he could somehow pull off that bit of alchemy.
Therein lies the problem. We are supposedly the people who want less government, which by definition means we want government to do less. But how many of you truly want less government across the board? I constantly hear we want less welfare, but: save the fuel subsidies. Enforce the ethanol mandate. Don’t touch my mortgage deduction. Hey, my job relies on that outdated weapons program!
We have an innate inability to reconcile, even in our own heads, that limiting government means actually taking more responsibility for own fiscal lives. We haven’t been able to realize that before we can ask a liberal to give up their government handout, we have to be willing and ready to give up our government handout.
In this respect, Congress is doing exactly what we want of it. We want our government programs, though we’re loathe to acknowledge they are a form of redistributionist welfare. Of course, liberals also want their government handouts, but the difference is they are not being intellectually dishonest with themselves. They know it’s redistributionist government. So, in order to get something passed, “conservatives” get their favorite programs and liberals get their favorite programs. The net result is that Congress passes a $1,300,000,000,000 spending bill with at least $880,000,000,000 in new debt. And of course, the President who thinks “debt is good” is going to sign it. (Indeed, the only reason he gave for almost vetoing the thing was it didn’t spend even more money).
If you’re truly outraged by this, it’s time to prove it. Call, write, go to town halls – and tell your congressman you’re ready to give up every government dime that floats your way. AND I MEAN EVERY SINGLE ONE. Because until you do, liberals will continue to smirk and call us hypocrites.
The sad thing is, they’ll be right.
There’s been much talking about how “unequal” things are for “ordinary” people. The President, and the President’s political party, started the kerfluffle during the 2012 elections. But recently, as the Affordable Care Act continues to prove it’s about anything but either affordability or health care and Mr. Obama’s foreign policy initiatives crater; as congressional democrats find themselves unable to find a positive message to coalesce around and as the economy continues it’s non-recovery recovery, the talk of “inequality” from both leftist politicians and the media has reached a new crescendo.
The left went agog with the election of Bill deBlasio in New York City, who campaigned on a theme of ending economic inequality in the nation’s largest city. Leftists, and their allies in the democrat party, believe that by highlighting the basic reality of capitalism they have a permanent winning issue. But other than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), no democrat has attempted to lend any sort of intellectual credence to the argument that rich people want the rest of us to be poor. Not even the leading leftist economists, Paul Krugman and Robert Reich included, have been able to demonstrate how that works, exactly. As for Mrs. Warren, the reality is that once you dive into her work, you soon discover that she is perhaps the most crass political animal to come out of her party since Bill Clinton. While she mouths the platitudes, she actually doesn’t have a single policy idea to “make capitalism fairer for the typical American.”
Anyway, we already know that Mrs. Warren is more a symptom than an exemplar of her party’s cynical politics. While they’ve all seemingly abandoned the DLC positions embraced by the Clinton administration, the reality is most haven’t . That includes Mrs Warren, Mr. Krugman and Mr. Reich. But there is a very large, core group of true believers who unabashedly embrace the culture of class warfare. If you’re one of those, feel free to stop trolling now. Nothing I’m about to write will change your closed minds; feel free to re-read Das Kapital and ignore such trivial matters as world history and human nature. But if you are one of those people who gets queasy about the type of all-out class warfare that the President and his minions, in seeking electoral glory are pushing us towards, I recommend you read on.
This is not the first time in either modern or ancient history that the “ordinary” people (which is to say, those without extravagant wealth) have felt that the current political and economic system failed to adequately represent their interests. The watchword over all of these movements is typically “equality.” Translated into today’s political parlance, “equality” as applied by the left means that each of us should have no more, nor no less, than anyone else: either in terms of net financial worth, political influence or social standing. This has been the aim of those hard-core leftists for well over a century. A very succinct statement of their goal is found in John Lennon’s Imagine:
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world
The simple beauty of the position is, quite frankly, you need to be a heartless bastard to be against the idea of ending hunger, homelessness, hopelessness, and all the other downsides to the human existence.
This is the trap that libertarians and conservatives alike have fallen into: by allowing liberals and progressives to dictate that they (and their discredited systems) are for ending those inequities, we’ve become the faction that cheers them. Ironic, really – we’re the group that decries repression, yet in popular mythology we’re responsible for oppression. This isn’t our generation’s fault – the shift in public attitudes began late in the 19th century – but it is up to those of us alive now to begin the return to understanding the difference between equality and inequity.
The time has never been more critical than now for those who know the difference to remind the world that there is no way to guarantee equal outcomes without destroying society. The world imagined by Orwell in 1984, Huxley in Brave New World or Rand in The Fountainhead is closer than we realize. We understand that such an outcome will mean the beginning of a new Dark Age – similar to the one that encroached the Western world after the fall of the Roman Empire and lasted for a millenium. A new Dark Age might not last for untold centuries. Although science and technology would stagnate, the weapons left behind by our civilization have nearly unimaginable destructive power. Unchecked by a societal desire to learn and advance, those weapons will be left under the control of despots – leaders who will have both the will and the means to use them.
These are serious matters and engaging the public in a way that leads them to understand that liberty does not necessarily mean personal gain is the lynchpin to preventing the general collapse of society. The modern liberal probably does not realize the grave danger they, and their political and economic philosophy, pose to civilization. Most sincerely believe that not only are all men created equal, but that must necessarily also mean all men are entitled equally. I won’t go into the reasons we know this is a fallacious argument: that while we may be born with equal rights, we aren’t all born with the same drive, determination, talents and skills. Or that success is defined in different ways by different people (which, on its very face would make defining equality impossible).
Rather, let’s focus on how we win back the conversation. To do so, we need to understand why there is a sort of magnetic pull for the liberal argument of a guaranteed outcome. Why claptrap like Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century and former SCOTUS Justice Stevens’ Six Amendments are heralded as the intellectual tomes of our age. And why Marx’s Das Kapital is still revered on campuses.
The answer lies in the fundamental fact that libertarians were not forceful enough in the days after September 11, 2001 – and the conservatives, always the stronger political force on the right acquiesced too readily to the neo-conservative ideology. It began what has become a nearly two decade long descent into the twin hells of restricted liberty at home and hopeless intervention overseas. And still today, there is strong pull on the right that insists on doubling down on those failed policies – the entire failed concept of government it represents. It is not truly conservative in nature; it is a belief that government can hold the solutions to our problems, if only properly applied. The philosophy espoused by these devotees gave us the bloated federal government and 12+ years of continuous warfare we live with today. The drain on the treasury, the reapplication of resources away from private investment and the crush of new regulations directly led to the financial collapse of 2008 and the lessening of American influence. In the six years since, the application of liberal political theory by the current administration has had the exact effect anyone with a quarter-brain predicted: continued economic decline and lack of economic security for most of countrymen.
This is where we need to make our case to restore the American Dream. To many of our fellows, the American Dream is dead. Many of our youth do not see an America where they an achieve based on skills or merit, but only one where the determining factors to economic or professional success are cronyism and discrimination. It is in this environment that otherwise insane arguments such as punitive taxation and retributory discernment gain credence. Equally concerning is that the same social powers now see the entire notion of personal responsibility as a quaint relic of past centuries. After all, they tell us, your failures aren’t your failures – they are the result of a system that’s rigged against you.
I read and hear politicians and scribes on both sides of the political aisle lamenting the pessimistic attitude that permeates our civil life. Yet they fail to understand that the reason for that attitude lies not with the ineffectiveness of their treasured government programs, but rather with the very existence of those programs. You can’t tell a man that he’s deserving of everything that everyone else has, regardless of his means to pay for those things, maintain those things or even comprehend the value of those things without being able to deliver on the promise. That’s where every redistributive model falls flat: it is impossible to give everyone everything. That is the great inequity of the liberal equality argument – it leads people to believe in something that is non-existent. It holds the ultimate societal good, as that which is unattainable.
The results of this drivel can already be seen and felt in our political discourse, in the palpable anger being stoked by the leftists. As our President and his party continue to pit the factions (rich vs. poor, black vs. white, welfare recipient vs. working) against one another, the nation becomes further fractured.
The conservative movement forged by the likes of Buckley and Goldwater reached its zenith with the election of Ronald Reagan to the Presidency in 1980. Do not believe the liberal rewrite of history that is taking place now. Reagan did not win by dividing the nation into rival factions, by demonizing certain groups or by scaring the pajamas off the American people (that happens to be the “progressive” playbook, as written by Lenin, fine-tuned by Alinsky and run to perfection by Obama). Reagan, rather, was an affirmative candidate and President. “Morning in America” wasn’t just a campaign theme, it was the way he governed and the way he presented the idea of America, not only to Americans but to the world. He could do that, because the conservative movement he led was not led by the neo-cons who later come to dominate the right, but one founded on the idea that in order for a man to succeed (however he might define success), in order for him to have the best chance at utilizing his God-given equality of opportunity, was the same idea that founded the nation in the beginning. The idea that not only Christian Conservatives but Libertarians could unite behind.
That is the same message that conservatives and libertarians need to unite behind now, if we are to save our country and the principles it was founded upon. That a man cannot be equal to another without opportunity, and that opportunity does not come from government. Opportunity comes from freedom, from liberty and from our Creator. We need to forcefully, continuously and repeatedly deliver that message. We must remind the American people and the world that men are not slaves to their government, the government is their slave. Many of us remember the famous line from Reagan’s 1981 Inaugural Address, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” But perhaps more important to our present circumstance is this passage from the same speech:
“America must win this war. Therefore I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone.”
Many of the same problems we faced at the dawn of the 1980’s we now face 35 years later, and for many of the same reasons. Let us dedicate ourselves now, my friends, as the conservatives a generation ago did. Let us be the shining beacon the the hill for both our Nation and the World.