"The Death of Conservatism": A Premature Burial

Posted: Nov 20, 2009 12:47 PM
"The Death of Conservatism": A Premature Burial

It must be difficult to work at The New York Times, surrounded every day by true believers in conservative ideals. Luckily for the rest of us Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the paper’s “Book Review” and “Week in Review” sections, has emerged from that hothouse to write for us, the little people, a small book titled “The Death of Conservatism.”

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More in sorrow than in anger, Tanenhaus begins by claiming that, in the realm of ideas and argument, “conservatism is most glaringly disconnected from the realities now besetting America.” Oh? “Conservatives remain strangely apart, trapped in the irrelevant causes of another day, deaf to the actual conversations unfolding across the land, in its cities and towns, in red and blue states, in the sanctuaries of the privileged and tented ‘Bushvilles,’” he writes.

Indeed, I drove my 1930 Chrysler Imperial through a “Bushville” just the other day. It was filled with lean hobos heating tins of lima beans over open fires. Very sad. Most of them used to be Chrysler stockholders, apparently, until they lost their fortunes when the Obama administration raced that company through an extra-legal bankruptcy and turned 55 percent ownership of it over to the UAW.

But speaking of tins, Tanenhaus seems to have a tin ear. It’s liberals, after all, who are disconnected from the conversations going on around the country.

For example, media elites assure us that the economic worst is behind us. “Some companies came through the recently ended recession with flying colors,” opened a story on Slate magazine on Nov. 7. Break out the bubbly; the recession is over! Except -- it doesn’t feel over. Unemployment is 10.2 percent. Americans aren’t living in “Bushvilles,” but most worry about jobs.

How have liberals in Congress reacted? They’ve passed bills that destroyed valuable assets (cash for clunkers), would implement new taxes in an effort to stop phantom global warming (cap and trade legislation) and would impose expensive new burdens on employers and workers (through mandatory health insurance).

Not to worry, though. Once they’ve dealt with health care and saved the planet, they’ll tackle employment. “During the Senate Democrats’ lunch Tuesday (Nov. 17),” The Hill newspaper reported, “Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) announced that an initiative focusing on jobs would soon be a priority.” No hurry, apparently.

Conservatives, of course, have opposed most liberal measures. They voted in lockstep against the 1,900-plus page House health care bill, for example. While this should please ordinary Americans (polls show a majority of us oppose Obamacare), it irks Tanenhaus.

“Conservative opponents of Barack Obama have applied the epithet ‘socialism’ to his ambitious plans to exert greater federal control over health care and energy policy, even though the Bush administration, the most conservative in modern history, itself orchestrated a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street,” he writes.

It’s worth noting that Bush, despite accomplishing some conservative goals, was no patron saint for conservatism. His administration rammed through Medicare Part D, the first new entitlement program in a decade, and jacked up federal spending year after year.

Still, Tanenhaus isn’t arguing honestly if he says conservatives should support Obama’s big tax-and-spend programs because of Bush’s TARP, since many (if not most) of us opposed TARP, too.

Tanenhaus urges conservatives to bow to “the politics of consensus.” Yet later in his book he explains exactly why we need to try to block bad legislation now: Once a big federal program is in place, it’s almost impossible to repeal it.

“Not even the most ardent hater of government was about to scale back a federal civilian workforce that had quadrupled (from 630,000 to 2.5 million) since the GOP had last been in power or slash a budget that had multiplied by twenty-two,” he writes.

He’s explaining why Dwight Eisenhower’s victory in 1952 solidified the policies of the New Deal. But that also serves as a prediction that, if (for example) the government takes over health care this year, it’ll be impossible for a conservative congress to ever roll back the clock, just as Republicans of the 1950s weren’t able to reverse the mistakes of the New Deal.

“The movement conservatives of our time seem the heirs of the French rather than of the American revolution,” Tanenhaus claims. “They routinely demonize government institutions, which they depict as the enemy of the people’s best interests.”

Really? How many heads have tea partiers lopped off?

In reality, conservatives are the most polite protesters in memory. And as far as revolutions go, the American Revolution was explicitly about escaping an out-of-touch, overbearing government that wanted to tax Americans without listening to them.

Just watch. Far from being dead, conservatism will eventually lead our country back to the ideals laid out by the ultimate conservatives -- our Founding Fathers.