Ed Kilgore brought my attention to an article by Ross Douthat, Why the Right Fights. I try to avoid Douthat, just like all the supposed moderate conservative pundits. But there is something especially annoying about him. Almost all of his writing is simply conservative apologetics. Whenever I read him, I feel like I’m being sat down by one of these conservatives who think that if I just have their ideology explained slowly and softly, I will join the team. Well, I won’t. And a big problem with these people is that they haven’t thought their ideology through nearly as carefully as I have. Douthat, like most conservative writers, benefits from heaping helpings of conservative affirmative action.
With this in mind, I do find him insightful about the way that conservatives think. But it is always important to cut through the whitewash. And that’s most of what we get in this column, that I dare say Ed Kilgore mistakes for wisdom. Douthat tries to explain why it is that from the standpoint of liberals, conservatives are never satisfied:
This divide, I think, explains a lot of the mutual incomprehension surrounding size-of-government debates. To liberals and many moderates, it often seems like the right gets what it wants in these arguments and then just gets more extreme, demanding cuts atop cuts, concessions atop concessions, deregulation upon deregulation, tax cuts upon tax cuts. But to many conservatives, the right has never come remotely close to getting what it actually wants, whether in the Reagan era or the Gingrich years or now the age of the Tea Party—because what it wants is an actually smaller government, as opposed to one that just grows somewhat more slowly than liberals and the left would like.
This is an amazing pile of bullshit! Most conservatives do not want Medicare and Social Security cut—at least they don’t want it cut for themselves. The roughly 20% of the nation who are hardcore conservatives only want smaller government in a theoretical way. They want government cut when it comes to programs that benefit those kinds of people. But the truth of the matter is that those programs don’t cost that much. Who is responsible for the biggest increase in Medicare in the last 30 years? Conservatives! Who is responsible for the huge military buildup over the last 30 years? Conservatives! The Republican Party is every bit as much for big government as the Democratic Party. The only difference is what kind of big government they want.
So really, all Douthat has provided here is an excuse for why conservatives are never happy with their many successes. All that is really going on is that the elites of the conservative movement have become radicalized. What they want is not even what their base wants. Yes, they want to get rid of Social Security. And if it came down to a vote, they might get as much as 5%. An opposite example would be the liberals who would like to make all guns illegal. That too would get very little support (but likely more than 5%). The difference is that the people who want to make all guns illegal on the left are not in charge. The people who want to end Social Security on the right are in charge.
This all means that the Republican Party is screwed up. It doesn’t reflect its own membership. It has fallen off the ideological edge. I’ll admit, that doesn’t make them nihilists in an absolute sense. But from a practical perspective, it does. They have become so extreme that they no longer see politics as the art of the possible. They want it all. And that is the same as wanting nothing.
I know some conservatives would complain that Medicare Part D was the idea of that non-conservative George Bush Jr. But it was enacted in 2003, during the Bush honeymoon period. Conservatives only decided that Bush wasn’t one of them at the end of his term after it was clear what a clusterfuck his administration had become. Conservatives are always for big spending programs when the Republicans are in charge.