Modern Conservatives Are Different

Kathleen GeierKathleen Geier does not hold with all this hand wringing about modern conservatives, or so she claimed in What’s Different About Today’s Conservatives? As she wrote, “When people, usually liberals, compare today’s conservatives unfavorably to conservatives of previous generations, I often get annoyed.” And she went on to explain that when looking back at old conservatives, we liberals have a tendency to cherry pick. Some of this is overstated, but in general, she’s right.

In fact, I’ve made the exact same argument. It’s true that when it came to domestic policy, Richard Nixon was pretty good. But that was because of the liberal environment in which he had power. If he were in politics today, he’d be one of the extremists calling for a government shutdown. The same goes for Reagan. There is no doubt about that. But I don’t think when people look back fondly on Nixon, they are so much looking to the man as they are the time.

Geier thinks that the modern conservative movement is different, however: it no longer has a power elite that guides it ideologically. In other words: it’s mob rule. She noted that in the 1950s and early 1960s, the National Review purged certain undesirables like the John Birch Society out of the ranks of the movement. But I don’t think she’s right to say that this isn’t happening now. She’s just taking too short a view of it. For one thing, it isn’t like the National Review scowled at the Birchers and so they went away. To a large extent, the group just lost its appeal with many people because of its paranoid conspiracy theories like the Communist’s water fluoridation attack on us. Similarly today, there are lots of conservative intellectuals who have successfully pushed back against cranks like Michele Bachmann.

To me, there is a major difference between the conservative movement of old and today: the party has become Nihilistic. This isn’t a new idea to me. As far as I know, Johnathan Chait was the person who first put forward the idea. But I don’t think it happened as suddenly as he does. I think it started in the Reagan administration. But it really gained steam thanks to Bill Clinton and the New Democrats who co-opted the only good ideas that the conservative movement had. As a result, from Bush Jr onward, the movement has turned into a kind of anti-party: anything the Democrats are for, they are against.

The first very clear indication that nihilism had overwhelmed the Republican party came with the election of Obama. I understand the opposition being against many of Obama’s initiatives. But Obamacare was long touted as the kind of healthcare reform that the country needed. For a time, Romney was a conservative hero for roughly the same program. But the entire conservative movement turned 180 degrees on a dime regarding the law. It not only said that law was bad; it claimed that the law was socialism. Politics is a nasty business, but when the opposition gives you exactly what you want, you don’t continue to play politics. You take the offer and declare victory. But they didn’t do that, because it wasn’t a policy they wanted; there is no policy that they want except those few goodies they can give to their two remaining constituencies.

So Kathleen Geier is right that in most ways conservatives are the same as they’ve ever been. But she’s wrong about how they are different. And the one way in which they are different is even more disturbing. It means that as they are now, there will be no compromising—no getting along. The only way forward is total defeat. And that is a very bad thing.


More and more I worry that the Republican Party is at the same point that the Federalist Party was in 1800: on the verge of becoming irrelevant and then nonexistent. In the long run, that would be fine, because the Democratic Party already has the diversity to create fine liberal and conservative parties. But it would be highly disruptive. And it would be—until the eventual split—bad for the Democratic Party. In general, this sort of thing does not happen, but I’m not sure the Republican Party still has the intellectual firepower to reform. So much of their time and money has been put into self-delusion that there may be no going forward.

Anton Losenko

Fyodor Volkov by Anton LosenkoRenaissance composer Hieronymus Praetorius was born in 1560. He is actually quite interesting. Here is Tota Pulchra Es:

French mathematician Gilles de Roberval was born in 1602—shortly before the invention of calculus, which he really could have used. Light opera composer Samuel Arnold was born in 1740. Here is a fun little song “Polly”:

Physicist Aleksandr Stoletov was born in 1839. Russian Romantic period composer Alexander Glazunov was born in 1865. He is very romantic and very Russian. Just listen to this Concert Waltz No. 2:

More or less the creator of the game Monopoly, Charles Darrow was born in 1889. Actor Norma Shearer was born in 1902. Actor Noah Beery Jr—best known for playing the father on The Rockford Files—was born in 1913. And Bobby Hatfield of The Righteous Brothers was born in 1940.

Poker legend Doyle Brunson is 80 today. Singer Ronnie Spector is 70. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull is 66. Here is he is with the band doing “Locomotive Breath”:

Actor Rosanna Arquette is 54. Actor Antonio Banderas is 53. And whiny fucktard Andrew Sullivan is 50.

The day, however, belongs to the great Ukrainian neoclassical painter Anton Losenko who was born on this day in 1737. He was probably more important as an educator. His painting textbook was used for 200 years after he wrote it. But I put him here because I find his work so compelling, like Miraculous Catch:

Miraculous Catch

Happy birthday Anton Losenko!

Conservatives Would Kill Rather Than Accept Obamacare

We Heart ObamacareAdrianna McIntyre wrote a very good article over at The Incidental Economist, Read the Fine Print Before You Burn Your Obamacare Card. It is a response to FreedomWorks and other conservative groups who are trying to undermine Obamacare by getting young people to refuse to sign up. This is beyond cynicism: this is straight out villainy.

Look at what they are trying to do. The fundamental idea behind Obamacare is shared risk: by requiring all Americans to carry health insurance, the risk pool is larger so costs go down. The conservatives are trying to get the healthiest (young) people to opt out of the program. This would, in theory, poison the risk pool and increase costs. And look at who would pay those increased costs. Individuals with employer-provided health insurance would pay more. Those buying insurance on the exchanges would pay more. And the government (that is: all taxpayers) would pay more than they otherwise would for programs like Medicaid.

Meanwhile, those who FreedomWorks would have opt out, would also suffer. As McIntyre noted, open enrollment is only three months per year. So it isn’t like young people could just opt in as soon as they had need. What’s more, their use of emergency rooms rather than normal doctors visits would increase the health costs of the nation.

Now is the time that we hear from conservatives that everyone has health insurance because you can, as indicated in the last paragraph, “Just go to the emergency room! It’s free!” But it is most definitely not free. This was exactly what libertarian idiot Michael Cannon was tweeting out last week. Harold Pollack countered this nonsense brilliantly:

Michael cheerily responded over Twitter: “EMTALA covers stabbings. FYI.” (He’s referring to the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act, which ensures access to emergency room care.) I really wonder if Michael clicked through to the actual news story Adrianna referenced, which provides one illustration of why the argument “You can always get free emergency care” is dangerous and misguided.

Sure, you’re entitled to receive needed emergency care. The hospital is also entitled to send you a whopping bill. And much of the care you will need after a serious injury like that doesn’t fall under EMTALA at all. If you doubt that, I welcome you to enjoy the hospitality of my own great city’s emergency departments, and then to enjoy the hospitality of our county courthouse, scene of some heartrending proceedings highlighted in Jonathan Cohn’s terrific book Sick.

What all of this shows is that the conservative movement in this country really does not care about the health and welfare of the people. There seems to be no amount of harm that is too much to stop them from seeking political advantage. And Obamacare is, as I’ve written again and again, a conservative program! The only reason that Republicans and their allies are against it is because Obama was for it. In the name of scoring a political point or two, they would encourage people to put themselves in unnecessary danger.

Of course, it is far worse than that. Aaron Carroll at The Incidental Economist wrote about a Wall Street Journal editorial, Death Panels in Oregon. Oregon, as they have done for years, is planning to limit care that isn’t effective. When I lived there, for example, they de-prioritized the treatment of babies born without brains (Anencephaly). According to the WJS, this is an outrage! Strangely, limiting treatment is terrible, but simply denying it to millions of people is a-okay. Carroll responded:

First of all, I’m always a bit confused by the fact that it’s often the same people, and organizations, who rail against rationing within Medicaid while simultaneously railing against the Medicaid expansion. Evidently, they are fine with completely denying Medicaid to many of the poorest among us, but against making Medicaid less robust once they get it. Odd.

But my larger concern is one of philosophy. We simply cannot afford to pay for everything. We must own that. And so, there will at some point have to be discussions as to what we might not pay for…

I’d like to make a larger point. Although the editorial makes the case that this is the left’s one-size-fits all approach, that’s just not true. This is a discussion of Medicaid, not of Medicare, and not of private insurance (which also refuses to cover things, about which the WSJ doesn’t seem concerned). No one is prohibited from spending their own money on futile care. No one is prohibited from buying an insurance policy that will continue to cover futile care. What’s being discussed is how we will use taxpayer money to cover those at the lowest end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Recognize that anyone that qualifies for Medicaid will not be able to pay out of pocket for these services. Recognize that they will never be able to afford private insurance that covers these services. Recognize that we will never approve subsidies that will allow them to cover the services or private insurance that does. So either the government does, or no one does.

Have that debate. Have it in public. Have it civilly. But please don’t pretend to be outraged by that serious discussion while simultaneously being ok with denying much more to many more in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”

But that is the conservative movement in a nutshell. There is much talk about how the Republican party spawned a base of voters who they now can’t control. But there is a similar problem with the conservative media outlets and think tanks. They make no sense. They spew up thoughtless editorials and reports that demonstrate that the movement itself doesn’t believe in any of the things that they claim to believe in. It is just a status quo party meant to make the wealthy ever richer. Added to that is pandering to social conservatives so that they have enough people to get elected. The rich get all the branches of government and the social conservatives get the judiciary. (Strange how socially conservative judges are always pro-business!) And other than these two aspects of their base, they don’t care at all about this country or its people.