The conservative movement—and, with it, the GOP—is in disarray. Specifically, the movement’s “fusionist” alliance between traditionalists and libertarians appears, at long last, to be falling apart.
.. Libertarian disaffection should come as no surprise. Despite the GOP’s rhetorical commitment to limited government, the actual record of unified Republican rule in Washington has been an unmitigated disaster from a libertarian perspective: runaway federal spending at a clip unmatched since Lyndon Johnson; the creation of a massive new prescription-drug entitlement with hardly any thought as to how to pay for it; expansion of federal control over education through the No Child Left Behind Act; a big run-up in farm subsidies; extremist assertions of executive power under cover of fighting terrorism; and, to top it all off, an atrociously bungled war in Iraq.
This woeful record cannot simply be blamed on politicians failing to live up to their conservative principles. Conservatism itself has changed markedly in recent years, forsaking the old fusionist synthesis in favor of a new and altogether unattractive species of populism.
.. The old formulation defined conservatism as the desire to protect traditional values from the intrusion of big government; the new one seeks to promote traditional values through the intrusion of big government.
.. Just look at the causes that have been generating the real energy in the conservative movement of late: building walls to keep out immigrants, amending the Constitution to keep gays from marrying, and imposing sectarian beliefs on medical researchers and families struggling with end-of-life decisions.
.. the conservative embrace of a right-wing Leviathan has left libertarian-minded intellectuals feeling left out in the cold.
.. New York Post columnist Ryan Sager bemoaned the rise of big-government conservatism and warned that excessive pandering to evangelicals would rupture the movement.
.. Andrew Sullivan denounced the right’s fundamentalist turn in The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back.
.. 13 percent of the population, or 28 million voting-age Americans, can be fairly classified as libertarian-leaning.
.. Back in 2000, this group voted overwhelmingly for Bush, supporting him over Al Gore by a 72-20 margin.
.. Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos fame caused something of a stir by proposing the term “Libertarian Democrat” to describe his favored breed of progressive.
.. Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana, fellow Montanan Tester, and Virginia Senator-elect Jim Webb—have sounded some libertarian themes by being simultaneously pro-choice and pro-gun rights.
.. if Democrats hope to continue appealing to libertarian-leaning voters, they are going to have to up their game. They need to ask themselves: Are we content with being a brief rebound fling for jilted libertarians, or do we want to form a lasting relationship? Let me make a case for the second option.
.. the prevailing ideological categories are intellectually exhausted. Conservatism has risen to power only to become squalid and corrupt, a Nixonian mélange of pandering to populist prejudices and distributing patronage to well-off cronies and Red Team constituencies.
.. Liberalism, meanwhile, has never recovered from its fall from grace in the mid-’60s.
.. Conservative fusionism, the defining ideology of the American right for a half-century, was premised on the idea that libertarian policies and traditional values are complementary goods.
.. But an honest survey of the past half-century shows a much better match between libertarian means and progressive ends.
.. many of the great libertarian breakthroughs of the era—the fall of Jim Crow, the end of censorship, the legalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce laws, the increased protection of the rights of the accused, the reopening of immigration—were championed by the political left.
.. capitalism’s relentless dynamism and wealth-creation—the institutional safeguarding of which lies at the heart of libertarian concerns—have been pushing U.S. society in a decidedly progressive direction.
.. The civil rights movement was made possible by the mechanization of agriculture, which pushed blacks off the farm and out of the South
.. Likewise, feminism was encouraged by the mechanization of housework.
Greater sexual openness, as well as heightened interest in the natural environment, are among the luxury goods that mass affluence has purchased.
.. secularization and the general decline in reverence for authority, as rising education levels (prompted by the economy’s growing demand for knowledge workers) have promoted increasing independence of mind.
.. Yet progressives remain stubbornly resistant to embracing capitalism, their great natural ally.
.. Knee-jerk antipathy to markets and the creative destruction they bring continues to be widespread, and bitter denunciations of the unfairness of the system, mixed with nostalgia for the good old days of the Big Government/Big Labor/Big Business triumvirate, too often substitute for clear thinking about realistic policy options.
.. the rival ideologies of left and right are both pining for the ’50s. The only difference is that
- liberals want to work there, while
- conservatives want to go home there.
.. Both generally support a more open immigration policy. Both reject the religious right’s homophobia and blastocystophilia. Both are open to rethinking the country’s draconian drug policies. Both seek to protect the United States from terrorism without gratuitous encroachments on civil liberties or extensions of executive power. And underlying all these policy positions is a shared philosophical commitment to individual autonomy as a core political value.
.. their conceptions differ as to the chief threats to that autonomy.
- Libertarians worry primarily about constraints imposed by government, while
- liberals worry most about constraints imposed by birth and the play of economic forces.
.. At the same time, some of the resulting wealth-creation would be used to improve safety-net policies that help those at the bottom and ameliorate the hardships inflicted by economic change.
.. Progressive organizations like Oxfam and the Environmental Working Group have already joined with free-market groups in pushing for ag-policy reform.
.. the current subsidy programs act as a regressive tax on low-income families here at home while depressing prices for exporters in poor countries abroad—and, to top it off, the lion’s share of the loot goes to big agribusiness, not family farmers.
.. the president of Cato and the executive director of the Sierra Club have come out together in favor of a zero-subsidy energy policy.
.. cut taxes on savings and investment, cut payroll taxes on labor, and make up the shortfall with increased taxation of consumption. Go ahead, tax the rich, but don’t do it when they’re being productive. Tax them instead when they’re splurging—by capping the deductibility of home-mortgage interest and tax incentives for purchasing health insurance. And tax everybody’s energy consumption.
.. Gore has proposed a straight-up swap of payroll taxes for carbon taxes
.. Greg Mankiw has been pushing for an increase in the gasoline tax.
.. libertarians’ core commitments to personal responsibility and economy in government run headlong into progressives’ core commitments to social insurance and an adequate safety net.
.. Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is now projected to increase from about 9 percent of GDP today to approximately 15 percent by 2030.
.. We can fund the Earned Income Tax Credit and other programs for the poor; we can fund unemployment insurance and other programs for people dislocated by capitalism’s creative destruction; we can fund public pensions for the indigent elderly; we can fund public health care for the poor and those faced with catastrophic expenses. What we cannot do is continue to fund universal entitlement programs that slosh money from one section of the middle class (people of working age) to another (the elderly)—not when most Americans are fully capable of saving for their own retirement needs.
.. Instead, we need to move from the current pay-as-you-go approach to a system in which private savings would provide primary funding for the costs of old age.
In a series of essays for conservative magazines like Chronicles, Francis hammered home three key insights.
The first was that globalization was screwing Middle America. The Cold War had just ended, capitalism seemed triumphant and the Clinton years seemed to be an era of broad prosperity. But Francis stressed that the service economy was ruining small farms and taking jobs from the working class.
- His second insight was that the Republican and conservative establishment did not understand what was happening. He railed against the pro-business “Economic Men” who thought G.D.P. growth could solve the nation’s problems, and the Washington Republicans, who he thought were infected with the values of the educated elites.
- Francis told Buchanan. “Go to New Hampshire and call yourself a patriot, a nationalist, an America Firster, but don’t even use the word ‘conservative.’ It doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
- .. His third insight was that politics was no longer about left versus right. Instead, a series of smaller conflicts — religious versus secular, nationalist versus globalist, white versus nonwhite — were all merging into a larger polarity, ruling class versus Middle America.
“Middle American groups are more and more coming to perceive their exploitation at the hands of the dominant elites. The exploitation works on several fronts —
- economically, by hypertaxation and the design of a globalized economy dependent on exports and services in place of manufacturing;
- culturally, by the managed destruction of Middle American norms and institutions; and
- politically, by the regimentation of Middle Americans under the federal leviathan.”
appalled by pro-corporate Republican economic policies on the one hand and liberal cultural radicalism on the other. They swung to whichever party seemed most likely to resist the ruling class, but neither party really provided a solution.
The Buchanan campaign was the first run at what we now know as Trumpian populism.
.. “The ‘culture war’ for Buchanan is not Republican swaggering about family values and dirty movies but a battle over whether the nation itself can continue to exist under the onslaught of the militant secularism, acquisitive egoism, economic and political globalism, demographic inundation, and unchecked state centralism supported by the ruling class.”
.. Francis was a racist. His friends and allies counseled him not to express his racist views openly
.. in 1994 Francis told a conference, “The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted to a different people.”
.. When you look at today’s world through the prism of Francis’ work, a few things seem clear: Trump is not a one-time phenomenon; the populist tide has been rising for years. His base sticks with him through scandal because it’s not just about him; it’s a movement defined against the so-called ruling class.
.. Trump may not be the culmination, but merely a way station toward an even purer populism.
.. Trump is nominally pro-business. The next populism will probably take his ethnic nationalism and add an anti-corporate, anti-tech layer. Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple stand for everything Francis hated — economically, culturally, demographically and nationalistically.
.. As the tech behemoths intrude more deeply into daily life and our very minds, they will become a defining issue in American politics. It wouldn’t surprise me if a new demagogue emerged, one that is even more pure Francis.