Since my roots in political engagement started in the new “liberty movement” way back in 2008, I’ve been privy to planning, starting, attending, watching or working with more liberty groups across Ohio and the country than almost anyone else I know. This was a truly amazing experience working with some great people over these last few years, and it taught me a lot about “the movement.”
During this journey, one thing became crystal clear to me – all of these groups and people can be divided into two categories:
Either my top priority is getting rid of Barrack Obama or my top priority is shrinking the size, scope and power of the STATE
These two things can obviously walk hand in hand, and often enough they do. However, it gets particularly interesting when people move away from sweeping platitudes and generalizations and focus on specific candidates or policies.
It seems all of the groups agree on the big ideas – government should have a smaller role in our lives and spend less money. Well, that all sounds fine and dandy until we try to put a specific policy into practice to carry out those ideas or rally to a specific candidate. At that point, everything can come to a screeching halt in the blink of an eye.
Enter my friend the “socialist conservative.” Ok, that term isn’t entirely accurate, so a bit of clarification. I have heard people use many terms to describe this inconsistent type of person as a “tea party collectivist,” “big government Republican” or “corporate statist.” All fall in the vein of someone who says, I want to cut spending and limit government, except for Medicare or Social Security – I paid into those.
Another giveaway is the person who calls for a constitutionally limited government, but is ok with an unconstitutional war on drugs or regular encroachment on civil liberties. As long as it doesn’t inhibit their particular view of the world, the “socialist conservative” is all for it.
Veronique de Rugy recently called out many Republicans for being “pro-business,” but not actually “pro-market”. Yes, they are very different. These are the people who are ok with selective tax cuts, bailouts or subsidies for individual (and coincidentally well connected) corporations. A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless to protect him from future criticism, calls this whole phenomenon of double speak with a straight face – “tea party hypocrisy.”
I shared just a few examples of policy above, but there are many which divide groups and people who are supposedly “conservative” – undeclared (therefore unconstitutional) wars and foreign interventions, the Patriot Act (unconstitutional search and seizure), NDAA and Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act (basically eradication of the 4th and 14th amendments), war on drugs, entitlement programs, etc, etc.
On these policies and a great many more – “limited government” or “constitutional” receives a very subjective interpretation. They’ll even tell you how the commerce clause justifies their respective policies to move forward, but not Obama’s healthcare mandate. I’m always left puzzled by these inconsistent positions, as I’m left with “socialist conservatives.”
During the peak of the Republican Presidential primary, I noticed a trend that a great number of these individuals expressed support for some pretty squishy candidates – even complimenting them for their strong defense of the Constitution or history of fiscally responsible choices….stop the music, what did they say??
Santorum is the same guy who said, “The STATE should limit individual’s wants and passions.” Romney is the guy who brought us a STATE mandated healthcare system, and Gingrich’s list of big STATE solutions is so long that it’s difficult to pick just one.
These types of “socialist conservatives” brought us a 104% increase in federal spending during the Bush Presidency alone. They voted to raise the debt ceiling again and again, voted for the largest government healthcare expansion in 30 years, the largest stimulus plan in American history to date with Bush’s “Economic Stimulus Act,” the largest infringement on the free market system in world history through corporate bailouts and one of the largest federal overreaches in American history in No Child Left Behind.
Many came before them, and many will come after who push fiscal insanity, modified socialist policies and regular attacks on personal freedom. That should be enough for “conservative” people to cringe in disgust, but they don’t, and for this I remain stunned. Have these new “socialist conservatives” abandoned the Goldwater approach to conservatism when he said, “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them….And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.”
It became pretty clear in the Presidential primary that too many “conservatives” want to get rid of the villain, but aren’t actually ready for a view of the world truly rooted in individualism and self-ownership. True and legitimate constitutionally restrained government means letting go of the moral systems imposed by government, and also accepting the fact that it isn’t government’s role to control what substances go into our bodies or people who come into our bedroom. This seems a tough bridge for many to cross.
For all the talk that the tea party protests were about principles over party and ideas over candidates – much of it seems to have gone out the door. Much of it has turned out to be hyperbolic oratory to just feign the desire to shrink the STATE, but not really shrink it – really just tweak it a bit.
The “socialist conservatives” choose to embrace a stronger STATE as long as it’s a version of the STATE more conducive to their world view, or at least self-serving to their bank accounts (IE: entitlements). And this is where the principles disappear. This is where my heart truly breaks because no one is considering the consequences.
By empowering the STATE through these liberty killing measures (receiving bi-partisan support mind you) – you are providing all the tools needed for a despot to rise quickly. Obama has been horrible on these issues, but he is building off the empowered STATE given to him by socialist conservatives like Bush and others. We can never give so much power to anyone just hoping and praying that we’ll have a benevolent king. All men are flawed, and will eventually use the power when given to them. Good intentions do not justify STATE coercion.
We have been conditioned for so long that the STATE has some positive role to play in life, that many have actually started to accept the idea that big government can be the solution to the problem of big government. That will never work. Whether it is a loss of civil liberties, free speech or STATE spending and wealth redistribution, Franklin said it quite well – “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And allegedly, that’s what all these programs which perpetuate the loss of freedom are supposed to do – give us safety from physical threats and social instability. It is not working now, nor will it ever work in the future.
While it is just my humble opinion – I believe that government IS the problem. I do not trust my old friend, the STATE, to do anything but grow and expand its power and therefore I can’t embrace anyone who seeks to use the STATE for their own devices regardless of their intent. The goal must be to weaken the STATE and empower the individual in every way possible.
So here is my challenge to the “conservative” leader or supporter wrestling with this issue – consistency and integrity walk hand in hand. Don’t be so eager to throw out these values for a one time run at Obama.
To take this a step further, because I feel that consistency is exactly what most Americans are craving. Consistency means you call out your guy for the same mistakes as the other guy. Consistency has an impact not only in direction, but it diffuses the talking heads discussing what the “other side” is doing. Principles consistently seen through the prism of liberty cannot be derailed, and there are questions that we can ask ourselves about all policies to remain consistent:
1. Legally, ask about the appropriateness of the policy. Meaning – is it even constitutionally possible to advance a particular law? The US Constitution, and often enough an individual state’s constitution, is so limiting and specific in its scope, that it answers a lot of questions right off the bat. Understanding the purpose of these Constitutions is to limit governmental power is key.
– Whether you agree or disagree with the intent of a policy is unimportant. Either we believe in a constitutionally limited government and rule of law, or we don’t. It’s not a pick and choose kind of thing. If it was – why have the law in the first place?
2. Philosophically, ask about the appropriateness of the policy. Meaning –will the proposed law further protect private property and individual rights or not? Protection of these things is the only real purpose for laws in the first place. Will the proposed policy increase or decrease the power of the STATE? By doing more than protecting rights and property, we are definitionally inhibiting an individual’s personal and economic freedom, and that is wrong regardless of what is legally possible or not.
Another question many great philosophers have asked us over the years is simply – if you don’t have the right to do something yourself, how can you give someone else or another group the ability to do that same thing on your behalf? We can’t empower the STATE to do our redistribution of wealth for us, regardless of how good the perceived outcome may be. Theft is theft, even when its government sponsored legal plunder. If I can’t rob from my neighbor myself, how can I give my government the right to do it for me?
It all seems so simple, but consistency and integrity are incredibly important. All of our positions start to lose credibility when we say that we believe in one idea consistent with our rhetoric, but not really this other idea consistent with our rhetoric. Where does that end? What do you actually stand for?
If we’d simply embrace the principles of liberty as a prism through which all ideas can be viewed – we could have unbeatable consistency and mass appeal. “Socialist conservatism” is not conservative at all if it does not focus on government restraint and self-responsibility.
We can’t abandon the ideas of self-ownership and limited government, just because we aren’t comfortable about a particular issue or because a certain candidate shares our personal moral system – whether that is Christianity or anything else. One universal truth will never go away – the larger the government, the smaller the individual, and we can’t give a single inch on this idea.
An overwhelming majority of Americans will not rally to a “Republican” or “Democrat” platform for any extended period of time, and “conservative” or “liberal” aren’t much better. However, they will rally to the consistent defense of liberty forever. Be honest, be consistent, and we can accomplish amazing things.