|Irving Kristol and the Future of Conservatism||How About Those "Chick-Cons?"|
by Christopher Chantrill
September 30, 2009 at 11:31 am
THE LAST three Democratic presidents are similar. They are policy presidents: they all believe in the rational, systemic approach to governance. Thats what David S. Broder, dean of the Washington press corps, has noticed. And he realizes that its a problem.
Of course, liberal Broder did not come up with this on his own. He got it from the inaugural issue of a new conservative magazine, National Affairs, and an article Obama and the Policy Approach written by a conservative thinker, William Schambra, from a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute.
Schambra sees... that "Obama is emphatically a policy approach president. For him, governing means not just addressing discrete challenges as they arise, but formulating comprehensive policies aimed at giving large social systems and indeed society itself more rational and coherent forms and functions. In this view, the long-term, systemic problems of health care, education, and the environment cannot be solved in small pieces. They must be taken on in whole."
In Schambras view the policy approach goes back to the Progressive movement that, a century ago, tried to tame the tribal conflicts of democratic politics by applying the new wisdom of the social sciences to the art of government, and rising above the narrow and the parochial.
Unfortunately the Progressive approach does not work. Thats what Schambra argues, and what Broder dimly underatands when he writes:
Obama, budget director Peter Orszag and health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle grasp the intricacies of the health-care system as well as any three humans, and they could write a law to make it far more efficient.
But as soon as their rational plan hits the Congress it gets torn apart by special interests and factional rivalries. Reality is not quite as rational as Obama and his czars want to think.
Its good that David Broder has finally come to the party. Conservatives have been trying for at least half a century to teach liberals that the one-size-fits-all model doesnt work. It was 1944 when F.A. Hayek argued this in The Road to Serfdom.
In the dim light of dawn, Broder prudently shelters his readers from the full force of Scharmas argument. Obama is bound to fail, according to Scharma, just like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Our constitutional system is constructed on [an] understanding of the limits of reason and of the goals of politics. Every effort to impose the policy approach upon it has so far ended in failure and disappointment, and done much lasting harm.
Let us rehearse the conservative critique of the policy approach to government:
If that is all too complicated, here is the issue between conservatives and liberals in a nutshell.
From Daniel Henninger quoting Victor Fuchs: Every time the state assumes an additional function such as health insurance, child care or benefits for the aged, the need for close family ties becomes weaker. You get charts like this:
The chart shows that Fuchs statement is not strictly true. It needs a qualifier. With each government program the need for close family ties becomes weaker, starting with the poor. The problem with rational, systemic liberal government is that it hurts the poor first and hardest. When 40 percent of children born to high-school dropouts do not live with both parents, there is only one thing to say. This is wrong.
For conservatives, Barack Obamas career in the non-profits, advocacy coalitions, and foundations of Chicago, his faith in policy professionals and social science all symbolize the failed liberal experiments of the last century. To liberals like Cass Sunstein, Obama may be an anti-Bush from whom we will see a rigorously evidence-based government. To conservatives, Obama represents fantasy-based government.
What liberals fail to see is that their cozy world of non-profits, advocacy coalitions, and foundations is utterly self-serving and corrupt. It is a world in which rigorous evidence and big money are passed from insider to insider in a derivatives trading scheme.
Some day, a conservative activist is going to figure out how to explain this to the American people. Maybe his name is Andrew Breitbart, and he already did.
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,
Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop
discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values
Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America