Socialism is already here

George Will layeth the smacketh down:

The seepage of government into everywhere is, we are assured, to be temporary and nonpolitical. Well.

Probably as temporary as New York City’s rent controls, which were born as emergency responses to the Second World War and are still distorting the city’s housing market. The Depression, which FDR failed to end but which Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor did end, was the excuse for agriculture subsidies that have lived past three score years and 10.

The distribution of a trillion dollars by a political institution — the federal government — will be nonpolitical? How could it be? Either markets allocate resources, or government — meaning politics — allocates them. Now that distrust of markets is high, Americans are supposed to believe that the institution they trust least — Congress — will pony up $1 trillion and then passively recede, never putting its 10 thumbs, like a manic Jack Horner, into the pie? Surely Congress will direct the executive branch to show compassion for this, that and the other industry. And it will mandate “socially responsible” spending — an infinitely elastic term — by the favored companies.

In America, socialism is un-American. Instead, Americans merely do rent-seeking — bending government for the benefit of private factions. The difference is in degree, including the degree of candor. The rehabilitation of conservatism cannot begin until conservatives are candid about their complicity in what government has become.

As for the president-elect, he promises to change Washington. He will, by making matters worse. He will intensify rent-seeking by finding new ways — this will not be easy — to expand, even more than the current administration has, government’s influence on spreading the wealth around.

Will does a great job showing the failures of both parties in expanding socialism; Democrats (rightly) get more blame for it, but the GOP is far from innocent on this count.

We Blew It

P.J. O’Rourke on the failures of the conservative movement.

Let us bend over and kiss our ass goodbye. Our 28-year conservative opportunity to fix the moral and practical boundaries of government is gone–gone with the bear market and the Bear Stearns and the bear that’s headed off to do you-know-what in the woods on our philosophy.

An entire generation has been born, grown up, and had families of its own since Ronald Reagan was elected. And where is the world we promised these children of the Conservative Age? Where is this land of freedom and responsibility, knowledge, opportunity, accomplishment, honor, truth, trust, and one boring hour each week spent in itchy clothes at church, synagogue, or mosque? It lies in ruins at our feet, as well it might, since we ourselves kicked the shining city upon a hill into dust and rubble. The progeny of the Reagan Revolution will live instead in the universe that revolves around Hyde Park.

Where was the meum and the tuum in our shakedown of Washington lobbyists? It took a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives 40 years–from 1954 to 1994–to get that corrupt and arrogant. And we managed it in just 12. (Who says Republicans don’t have much on the ball?)

Our attitude toward immigration has been repulsive. Are we not pro-life? Are not immigrants alive? Unfortunately, no, a lot of them aren’t after attempting to cross our borders. Conservative immigration policies are as stupid as conservative attitudes are gross. Fence the border and give a huge boost to the Mexican ladder industry. Put the National Guard on the Rio Grande and know that U.S. troops are standing between you and yard care. George W. Bush, at his most beneficent, said if illegal immigrants wanted citizenship they would have to do three things: Pay taxes, learn English, and work in a meaningful job. Bush doesn’t meet two out of three of those qualifications. And where would you rather eat? At a Vietnamese restaurant? Or in the Ayn Rand Café? Hey, waiter, are the burgers any good? Atlas shrugged. (We would, however, be able to have a smoke at the latter establishment.)

And now, to glue and screw the lid on our coffin, comes this financial crisis. For almost three decades we’ve been trying to teach average Americans to act like “stakeholders” in their economy. They learned. They’re crying and whining for government bailouts just like the billionaire stakeholders in banks and investment houses. Aid, I can assure you, will be forthcoming from President Obama.

Anyway, it’s no use blaming Wall Street. Blaming Wall Street for being greedy is like scolding defensive linemen for being big and aggressive. The people on Wall Street never claimed to be public servants. They took no oath of office. They’re in it for the money. We pay them to be in it for the money. We don’t want our retirement accounts to get a 2 percent return. (Although that sounds pretty good at the moment.)

What will destroy our country and us is not the financial crisis but the fact that liberals think the free market is some kind of sect or cult, which conservatives have asked Americans to take on faith. That’s not what the free market is. The free market is just a measurement, a device to tell us what people are willing to pay for any given thing at any given moment. The free market is a bathroom scale. You may hate what you see when you step on the scale. “Jeeze, 230 pounds!” But you can’t pass a law making yourself weigh 185. Liberals think you can. And voters–all the voters, right up to the tippy-top corner office of Goldman Sachs–think so too.

We, the conservatives, who do understand the free market, had the responsibility to–as it were–foreclose upon this mess. The market is a measurement, but that measuring does not work to the advantage of a nation or its citizens unless the assessments of volume, circumference, and weight are conducted with transparency and under the rule of law. We’ve had the rule of law largely in our hands since 1980. Where is the transparency? It’s one more job we botched.

One flaw in his article is that (likely unknowingly) he’s confusing libertarianism and conservatism. Many of the ideas he mocks conservatives for, I would support. (For example, I would gladly vote for a constitutional amendment defending marriage. No one’s talking about illegalizing homosexual activity, despite how some misrepresent our stance, but redefining marriage is one thing that is truly beyond our pay grade.)

We had our chance, but after Reagan failed to nominate anyone who was a Conservative. George H.W. Bush. Come on. (I loved him at the time, but I was 13-14. I was too young to know any better.) Bob Freakin’ Dole? I couldn’t vote for him even holding my nose. I voted for W in 2000 because he was able to act conservative enough to convince us he might just be with us, and in 2004 because Kerry was a joke. But his use of the phrase “compassionate conservatism” should have been a red flag; many, myself included, took it for campaign rhetoric, but it should have served to warn us that he was not one of us. And we’re paying the price now: even though W was never a conservative, he’s taken us down with him. And then McCain; I hardly think I need to spend any time showing how he’s not a conservative.

No, conservatives, in many ways, are victims of Reagan’s success. Showing that America was (and still is, despite the denials of many on the Left) a center-right nation, Reagan showed that there were votes to be won on the Right. And many old-style Rockefeller Republicans have learned to mouth the platitudes of the Right, while staying in the center/left in their hearts. The first Bush ran as the heir to Reagan: he gave us the Americans with Disabilities Act, a tax hike, and a larger government. Bob Dole never really changed from the man who was once called the tax collector for the welfare state. Bush the Younger gave us two wars, national control over education, a prescription drug benefit that will bankrupt MediCare (or is it Medicaid? too lazy to look) even more quickly, among other sins. And McCain only made it due to the failure of conservatives to coalesce around a single candidate, and the fact the early states allow Independents and Democrats to decide who the nominee of the party they’re not part of should be.

Anyway, the failure is ultimately ours: we allowed those who were not one of us to portray themselves as one of us. We even participated in it. Now, some are pushing Newt Gingrich as President for 2012. Are you kidding me? The man who started the downfall of the GOP in the 90s is not the man who will save us in the teens. (Besides, he’s one of the ones I referred to above; he’s a Rockefeller Republican at heart.)

We need to rebrand conservatism, remind people that government gets in the way. Outside its specific realm of competence, it doesn’t solve problems, it creates them. After all, do we really want the people behind the Veterans’ Administration to be in charge of all health care? Do we want the people who run the DMV’s, Air Traffic Controls and Transportation Safety Administrations in charge of planning the economy? Not if we want to increase wealth.

I was talking to a fellow Republican today at Church and he asked me what we can do to start rebuilding. My first answer was “String Bush up ourselves.” While said tongue-in-cheek, it’s still something we need to accomplish rhetorically. Anyone who’s paid attention knows Bush isn’t conservative; we need to make that clear. I’ve been saying such for quite a while. (Here’s a post from January 2004 where I defended conservatives breaking with Bush.) While conservatives, tending to be the loyal sort, admirably stuck by the President in war time, we no longer are bound by that. We need to make clear that the person responsible for the largest increase in government since the Great Society is not, and could not be, a conservative.

At the core, we need to push this simple message: the Left will give themselves control over your life, your money and your family; the Right will give you freedom to be yourself, and raise and care for your family as you see fit. It’ll be a tough sell after our recent failures; but that’s still the truth even if people can’t see it.

A Nice Tribute to Jesse Helms

Two events early in his Senate career showcased Helms’s unflinching nature and his political skills. In 1975, he engineered a visit to the U.S. by Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn over the objections of the State Department, which forbade its own employees from attending a major Solzhenitsyn speech in Washington. State also blocked a proposed visit to the White House, leading Helms to accuse President Gerald Ford of “cowering timidly for fear of offending Communists.”

That incident helped spur Reagan to challenge Ford for the GOP nomination the next year. Reagan lost the first five primaries, and he entered the North Carolina contest broke and under pressure to pull out. But Helms and his chief strategist Tom Ellis refused to give up. They employed Helms’s huge, direct-mail list to build a grass-roots army of volunteers and raise money to air 30-minute speeches by Reagan across the state.

Emphasizing the Panama Canal “giveaway” and smaller government, Reagan won an upset victory and was able to battle Ford all the way to the GOP convention. He showed such strength at the convention that Ford invited him to deliver off-the-cuff remarks to the delegates. Reagan was so inspiring that some of Ford’s own delegates exclaimed, “We just nominated the wrong candidate.” Reagan later acknowledged how Helms’s intervention rescued his political career.

Read more

It’s a fair assessment of Helms, unlike most you’ll read in the mainstream media and other liberal sources, who didn’t even wait until the man buried to spit on his grave. He did change the course of history: without Helms, there likely would never have been a President Reagan. The world is a better place because Jesse Helms, for all his flaws, was in it.

I love this story

Charles James Napier – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A story for which Napier is famous involves a delegation of Hindu locals approaching him and complaining about prohibition of Sati, often referred to at the time as suttee, by British authorities. This was the custom of burning widows alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands. The exact wording of his response varies somewhat in different reports, but the following version captures its essence:

“You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”

Conservatives More Honest than Liberals

Peter Schweizer: Conservatives more honest than liberals? – Examiner.com

Is it OK to cheat on your taxes? A total of 57 percent of those who described themselves as “very liberal” said yes in response to the World Values Survey, compared with only 20 percent of those who are “very conservative.” When Pew Research asked whether it was “morally wrong” to cheat Uncle Sam, 86 percent of conservatives agreed, compared with only 68 percent of liberals.

Ponder this scenario, offered by the National Cultural Values Survey: “You lose your job. Your friend’s company is looking for someone to do temporary work. They are willing to pay the person in cash to avoid taxes and allow the person to still collect unemployment. What would you do?”

Almost half, or 49 percent, of self-described progressives would go along with the scheme, but only 21 percent of conservatives said they would.

When the World Values Survey asked a similar question, the results were largely the same: Those who were very liberal were much more likely to say it was all right to get welfare benefits you didn’t deserve.

The World Values Survey found that those on the left were also much more likely to say it is OK to buy goods that you know are stolen. Studies have also found that those on the left were more likely to say it was OK to drink a can of soda in a store without paying for it and to avoid the truth while negotiating the price of a car.

Another survey by Barna Research found that political liberals were two and a half times more likely to say that they illegally download or trade music for free on the Internet.

A study by professors published in the American Taxation Association’s Journal of Legal Tax Research found conservative students took the issue of accounting scandals and tax evasion more seriously than their fellow liberal students. Those with a “liberal outlook” who “reject the idea of absolute truth” were more accepting of cheating at school, according to another study, involving 291 students and published in the Journal of Education for Business.

Makes sense: conservatives are less likely to accept the idea of an absolute truth and right and wrong, plus their greater religiosity exposes them to a religious worldview that teaches lying and dishonesty are wrong. Liberals, on the other hand, are more likely to believe that there is no absolute truth and values are merely relative, which can easily be used to justify dishonesty and other immoral actions.

Book Review: Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver

So, I finally got around to reading Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver. Considered a conservative classic, I’ve been hearing great things about it since I was in college. Despite the buildup of a decade and a half, this book more than exceeded my expectations. It’s amazing how prescient this book is examining developments in contemporary society, even though it was published sixty years ago. It really brings home how long this process of our decline has been developing.

In fact, Weaver traces the decline to the acceptance of William Occam’s doctrine of nominalism, which denied the existence of universals. An absence of universals, of course, makes a truly united society or community impossible, as there can be no common beliefs or creed upon which unite. Early in the book, he makes a distinction between truth and fact. Facts are true, but in no way tell us anything of important or eternal value. A way of thinking about this is that it is a fact that Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs in his career, but that doesn’t tell us anything about the human condition.

He often decries an increasing selfishness in Western culture seeing examples of that run through many segments of society. He claims music took on an increasing selfishness since Beethoven who, Weaver claims, was too fond of the French Revolution. This continued on through jazz which was overtly sexual and focused on a self-centered definition of love. (I can’t imagine what he would think of rock’n’roll and even more recent music.) Television and, to a lesser extent, radio encourage this selfishness by focusing on the material possessions and encouraging consumerism. Science for its own sake, divorced from morality, also comes under attack.

City living and corporatism come under attack as well as they reduce men to mere cogs in a machine, rather than a more rural or agrarian lifestyle in which man can find greater fulfillment in working more directly for himself and producing directly for his own needs.

He makes a convincing case that our society is too focused on pleasing the individual’s physical or material needs, while working to deny the existence and the eternal or transcendent, much less acknowledge man’s need for them and the importance they play in our individual and societal life.

What continually surprised me is how Weaver could have such a Catholic outlook on life, without actually being Catholic. Even more amazing, he spent a great deal of time with the early conservative movement, which was very Catholic in makeup. The leaders of the movement, largely Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley, Jr. were very Catholic, as were others very active like Brent Bozell. Yet, with such a Catholic outlook on life, and being surrounded by Catholics, he apparently never converted, which is a great mystery to me.

By the second page of the introduction, I assumed him to be Catholic. At the end of the paragraph continuing from the first page he writes:

For four centuries every man has been not only his own priest but his own professor of ethics, and the consequence is an anarchy which threatens even that minimum consensus of value necessary to the political state.

It’s hard not to see a condemnation of Protestantism, where each Christian is left to his own devices to determine what the Word of God is for himself. He further claims that the perfect society was medieval Europe. How someone like that never became Catholic is beyond me.

But aside from that, this book is a great read and a truly important one. Despite the build-up it had been given over the years, it exceeded my expectations and really gave me something to think about. It’s a must-read.