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Opinion

Opinion

Election a test for conservatives

August 31, 2012

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— Now begins the final phase of this cognitive dissonance campaign. America’s 57th presidential election is the first devoted to calling the nation’s bluff. When Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan, Republicans undertook the perilous but commendable project of forcing voters to face the fact that they fervently hold flatly incompatible beliefs.

Twice as many Americans identify themselves as conservative as opposed to liberal. Nov. 6, we will know if they mean it. If they are ideologically conservative but operationally liberal. If they talk like Jeffersonians but want to be governed by Hamiltonians. If their commitment to limited government is rhetorical or actual. If it is, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan suspected, a “civic religion, avowed but not constraining.”

This is the problem for uneasy Republicans. The Democrats’ problem is worse because they are not uneasy about their dissonance, being blissfully unaware of it.

In “Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic” — a book more measured and scholarly than its overwrought title — Jay Cost of The Weekly Standard says the party has succumbed to “clientelism,” the process of purchasing cohorts of voters with federal favors. This has turned the party into the servant of the strong.

Before Franklin Roosevelt, “liberal” described policies emphasizing liberty and individual rights. He, however, pioneered the politics of collective rights — of group entitlements. And his liberalism systematically developed policies not just to buy the allegiance of existing groups but to create groups that henceforth would be dependent on government. Under FDR, liberalism became the politics of creating an electoral majority from a mosaic of client groups. Labor unions got special legal standing, farmers got crop supports, business people got tariff protection and other subsidies, the elderly got pensions, and so on and on.

Government no longer existed to protect natural rights but to confer special rights on favored cohorts.

In the 1960s, public-employee unions were expanded to feast from quantitative liberalism (favors measured in quantities of money). And qualitative liberalism was born as environmentalists, feminists and others got government to regulate behavior in the service of social “diversity,” “meaningful” work, etc. Cost notes that with the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, a few government-approved minorities were given an entitlement to public offices: About 40 “majority-minority” congressional districts would henceforth be guaranteed to elect minority members.

Republicans also practice clientelism, but with a (sometimes) uneasy conscience. Both parties have narrowed their appeals as they have broadened their search for clients to cosset. Today’s Democratic Party does not understand what one of its saints understood — that big government is generally a patron of the privileged, a partner of rent-seekers.

When vetoing the 1832 bill to recharter the Second Bank of the United States, Andrew Jackson said, “It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.” When government goes beyond equal protection by law and undertakes to allocate wealth and opportunity, “the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government.” As Cost rightly says, “With the exception of the tea party, there is no real faction out there making the Jacksonian case for an end to special privilege.”

Human beings, said one of the wisest of them — Aristotle — are political animals and language-using animals. Americans, as you do not need to be Aristotle to know, are complaining animals. They use language to complain about politics. Mitt Romney should remind them that one function of elections is to force most voters — the winning majorities — to forfeit the fun of complaining. For example, if the swing state of Nevada, which has the nation’s highest unemployment rate (12 percent), votes for four more years of current policies, it must henceforth suffer in silence. Actually, all those who vote to continue Barack Obama’s distinctive brand of clientelism — crony capitalism — must, if he wins, become political Trappists, taking a vow to keep quiet.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.    

Comments

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 3 months ago

Yet another train wreck from George.

Neither Ryan nor Romney want small government-- they want big government, but only in service to the wealthy and the corporations they own. Everything else they say is window dressing to appease the social conservatives whom they really couldn't care less about.

Kate Rogge 2 years, 3 months ago

Eastwood has been driving with an empty chair in HOV lanes for some time now. He goes everywhere with it, and the GOP finally gave up the struggle and let him take it on stage with him. Such a good actor too. What a damn shame.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

Republican administrations have an established pattern of killing millions of jobs, make owning a home risky business,destroying retirement plans and medical insurance coverage.

Why would any republican or democrat or green party thinker want to risk that for the third time in a 33 year period? Republicans are the only ones who do this successfully.

ENTITLEMENT - Bailing out The Reagan/Bush Savings and Loan Heist aka home loan scandal sent the economy out the window costing taxpayers many many $$ trillions (Cost taxpayers $1.4 trillion), Plus millions of jobs, loss of retirement plans and loss of medical insurance. http://rationalrevolution0.tripod.com/war/bush_family_and_the_s.htm

ENTITLEMENT - Bailing out the Bush/Cheney Home Loan Wall Street Bank Fraud cost consumers $ trillions, millions of jobs, loss of retirement plans and loss of medical insurance. Exactly like the Reagan/Bush home loan scam. Déjà vu can we say. Yep seems to be a pattern. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2009/0709macewan.html

Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

Romney/Ryan claim they will bring on 12 million jobs = no clue as to how many jobs are not there!

Where's the new industry? duh

Can we say ignorance is bliss....

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 3 months ago

Hey, JW, your ads with sound really suck.

They'll have two effects. They'll ensure that I have a negative attitude toward your advertisers, and that I'll be less and less likely to come to your site if they continue.

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