Friday, September 28, 2007From Matt Bai:
What conservatives did quite well in the era after Goldwater was to apply those principles to the emerging challenges of the moment: deindustrialization, anxiety among the white middle class, failing schools and communities, uncertainty in the world. Their argument was that intrusive government had contributed to all of these problems by devaluing individual responsibility and throttling free enterprise, and that it had made the country less safe by declining to stand up for those same values abroad. There followed from this a series of new reforms that made up the modern conservative agenda: supply-side economics, school choice, workfare, missile defense, etc. Conservatives applied enduring principles to a modern argument, and to deny them that is to risk badly undervaluing the role of an argument in building sustainable majorities.
Excuse me, but I fail to see where the "new ideas" are in the conservative agenda. On domestic policy, the only ideas conservatives promote are deregulation, tax cuts, and privatization, all of which just happen to shift resources to corporations. Schools are bad? Break the teachers unions and privatize the schools - giving public money to private institutions. Health care a problem? Create health insurance markets that subsidize payments to health insurance companies. Urban poverty? Eliminate regulations and give tax cuts to businesses. No matter what the problem, their solution is always to repeal another part of the New Deal social contract that emerged in the postwar era. Nothing new to see here....
The conservative position on foreign policy is somewhat more muddled, but in the main it appears to be maintain and extend U.S. hegemony, subverting any governments that pose a potential threat, and establishing client states in those regions of strategic or economic value. This is called imperialism, and let me tell you, there is no less new idea in the world.
Oh, and the new conservative ideas with respect to the Constitution? Repeal 20th century jurisprudence and return us to the days of the Lochner Court. Concentrate power in the executive branch. Reduce civil liberties. Yeah, lot's new here.
In sum, while it may be the case that liberals have been trapped in a New Deal/Great Society mindset (and I don't actually agree that we have), the force of Bai's argument loses most of its power if we acknowledge that his supposed model of innovative approaches to government - the conservative movement - is in fact more inflexible and boring than liberalism.