“I’m a Conservative Republican like you, Austin…”
The voice resonated through my headphones during the final minutes of my radio program, at AM 630 WMAL in Washington, D.C. The caller to the program - - we’ll call him “John” - - paused mid-sentence, and I sensed that there was a “big but” coming next.
“But,” he continued, “we’ve just gotta do something to reign in these excessive profits from the oil companies.” Oil industry executives had been questioned by members of Congress earlier in the day about why their profits, and prices, have been so high. The inquisition on Capitol Hill, which was quite a spectacle in itself, was still top-of-mind for many.
“What is excessive?” I asked.
“Oh, please, you don’t think they’re excessive?” he replied.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying. Commercially operated businesses are supposed to produce the greatest level of profit that they can; they are beholden to their stockholders to do that. What do you mean when you say ‘excessive?’”
“I mean over forty billion dollars in profits last year for the Exxon corporation is excessive.”
“Okay,” I said, “how much profit would be reasonable for Exxon to make?”
“Oh, I don’t know, that’s not my point” he replied. “I’m just saying that $3.29 a gallon for gasoline is outrageous, and we need to do something.”
“That’s a pricing issue” I said, “not a profits issue. Prices won’t decline until demand for gasoline decreases, or the supply of oil increases, or both. But forget the oil companies for a moment and let’s talk about you. How much profit did you make last year?”
“That doesn‘t concern you” he replied, sounding irritated.
“No, no, it concerns me a lot John. You’ve made it your concern to attempt to regulate the profits of oil companies - - ”
“Because gas prices are outrageous” he said interrupting me, “and they’re unfair.”
“Right, and you might have made more money last year than I did,” I replied, “and that would be unfair for me. We may very well need to regulate your excessive profits.”“And you’re a pathetic hack for corporate America” he shouted at me. And then my conversation with John, and my evening radio show, ended.
It’s alarming to me how often I encounter people who are self-described “Conservatives” or “Conservative Republicans,” yet are quite comfortable with ideas and principles that are the antithesis of the “conservative,” “limited government” vision that has been the apex of the Republican Party for nearly all of my life.
More money taken away from private individuals in taxes. More governmental regulation of private affairs. More governmental intrusion into the lives of individual citizens. More of my “needs” being met by the government. At an increasing rate, ideas such as these are just fine for Republicans, so long as the expansion of government makes one feel better.
I understand John’s frustration with gasoline prices. But the U.S. Government that he seeks to harness so as to “reign in” oil company profits is the very same U.S. Government that has restricted or forbidden the development of many of our domestic oil supplies, and that requires oil companies to produce and sell both region-specific, and season-specific “blends” of gasoline, in varying parts of the country.
In short, the government that John believes can “save him” from the injustice of high gasoline prices has, by its own well-intended meddling, driven the price of gasoline upward.
And John is not alone in his questionable “conservatism.” During the Republican primary election process, the only presidential candidate to receive an endorsement from the ranks of social conservative leadership was a politician who raised taxes and opposed children’s educational choice initiatives while he was Governor of Arkansas - - Mike Huckabee.
In my home state of Arizona, the Republican-led legislature has ushered-in a whole new level of government “snooping” into the lives of private individuals, requiring all employers in the state to participate in the collection of personal background information of employees. The goal was to enable employers to verify the citizenship status of their workers, and to crack-down on the hiring of “illegals.”
Yet the collection of citizens’ personal background information - - facilitated through a federal government database - - forms the basis of a “national I.D. card,” an idea that Republicans found to be abhorrent only a few years ago.
No matter how uncertain or “unfair” the private sector economy may seem; no matter how comforting politicians’ promises of “free healthcare” may feel; no matter how “right” it may seem to vote for candidates who share common faith commitments; all Americans would do well to develop a healthy sense of skepticism about the government’s ability to “fix” our nation’s problems, and to reject politicians who promise such “fixes.”
And “Conservative Republicans” would do well to recall Ronald Reagan’s words of nearly 28 years ago: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.”