“The Reaganite conservative does not trust the political system, and so is always trying to circumvent it; he does not trust the instincts of Congress, but places profound faith in the wisdom of the executive if he is in charge; he does not trust the deep religious instinct of a people, unless it is decked out in the tawdry costume of a minute of silent prayer in school. The only loyalty that eight years of Reaganite conservatism has inspired is of each to the country of his self.” ~ Henry Farlie (h/t Will)
This called to mind the film Frost/Nixon which I just saw the other day, and that moment when Nixon says:
I let down my friends, I let down the country, I let down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government but will think it is all too corrupt and the rest.
All of which is to lead into the notion of governance itself, and one flaw that permeates modern conservatism which is this deep, deep distrust of all things having to do with the state. This, coupled with far too much faith in markets and corporations and so forth have led to a “shrinking” of government by essentially just contracting out government duties to private firms. In all fairness, this was also a central practice of Bill Clinton who famously claimed that the days of big government were over. Of course, when you shrink government by simply paying private firms to do government work you’re not really shrinking or limiting it at all. What you are doing is displaying a deep distrust of all things political. And this makes it very hard, I would argue, for conservatives to govern competently. Which, conversely, leads to growth of government in ways that simply don’t make sense.
This is why the last eight years were such a complete mess, and why by contrast I’d say that George Bush Sr. was such an effective president in comparison albeit a very under appreciated one. Conservatives have always believed in limited government, but lately it seems as though limited is not good enough. Government of any sort save perhaps defense is decried as evil or ineffective, and any move toward providing social services of any kind is demonized as statist or socialist or worse.
I would only submit that there are other forces at play that are as bad as leviathan. Namely, corporate hegemony and especially the rise of the international corporations. We have created a system of government that should be celebrated, and conservatives should leap at the chance to really govern well when they get it – which means taking a realistic approach to the needs and concerns of society as well as the realities of the budget. Democrats seem better at the former, but neither party has proven very good at the latter. Fiscal restraint, humility, and realism are all virtues of conservatism that can be put to great use in government. Blind ideology – whether to privatization or tax cuts, etc. – is neither realistic or a recipe for electoral victory.
I think there is much to be said for a conservatism that does not promote any and all deregulation but instead does a good job at weeding out bad regulations, ineffective or damaging taxes, and so forth, and communicates this effectively to the American people. At the same time, conservatives need to distinguish between limited government – the running, in other words, of a tight ship – and all government being bad and unwanted and oppressive. This is simply not true. Government is an extension of society, and while it is prone to abuse and overreach, nevertheless in our system it is also representative and we are all a part of it.