Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Erick in Wonderland

If you want to know why conservatism is viewed as a joke by some people, one only has to look at bloggers like Erick Erikson of Red State. In response to a recent column by David Frum, where Frum talked about how Congress and Washington as a whole are getting little done in the way of legislation, Erikson had this to say:
Maybe, just maybe there is a different reason Congress has done little since the seventies. Maybe, just maybe it could be because conservatives largely took over in the 80’s through Republican controlled White Houses or Congresses and conservatives tend to think we don’t need sweeping legislation to solve all the ills of the American people.

Isn’t this the quintessential vanity piece of liberal drivel? Those elites back in the 50s to the 70s could get great things done because they didn’t have to interact with the people. But once they were forced to interact with those C-SPAN cameras, they couldn’t solve all the problems the American people never knew they had.
To which David Frum responds:
If it were possible for two paragraphs to sum up everything that is wrong with the American conservative movement, these are them.

The total indifference to policy and governance – the glib equation of ideological activists with “the people” – the assumption that conservatives just needed to “take over” and then all problems would spontaneously disappear …. it’s all on display.

The suggestion that conservatives don’t need to legislate – or anyway don’t need to legislate anything much – is ignorant of history, ignorant of policy, ignorant of government.

To their critics, the deregulation of oil and gas in the 1970s was “sweeping.” Ditto the deregulation of air, trucking and rail. Ditto the Reagan tax cuts. Ditto welfare reform.

The problems ahead for conservatives will require even bigger action still.

Do you want to balance the budget? You can’t do it without curbing the growth of Medicare and Medicaid, and that will take major reforms in both programs.

How about a shift from unskilled to more skilled immigration? Not a small project.

Concerned to protect the environment while enhancing U.S. energy security? That too will require legislation that some would call sweeping.
My beef with Erickson and his ilk is that they have no interest in governing, in trying to solve national problems with conservative ideas. No, instead, they are interested in frontin' , in striking a pose and yelling about the evils of big government, all the while doing nothing to actually shrink government. As Jonathan Rauch has said, this is all about George Wallace-style cultural resentment against the "elites" and nothing more. It might win a few elections here and there, but when things go bad, people want their government to do something, not just spout angry rhetoric.

Do I want some kind of Euro-style big government? No. I want a smaller goverment, but I also want it to be efficient. If I want it to take on entitlement reform or really deal with the deficit, then I want it to be competent and just.

Which reminds me: two of those sweeping laws that the "elites" passed in the 1960s were the Voting and Civil Rights Acts. The Voting Rights Act allowed my relatives in the American South to vote without being harrassed or subject to poll taxes and the like. The Civil Rights Act allows me to purchase a home or get a job without being discriminated against. Are these laws that Erickson would rather not have Congress do, because they are "big government?"

Instead of making "limited government" no more than a battle cry, we should be engaged in seeking ways for government to be efficient and limited in its influence.

But such an approach would require thinking, something very few conservatives seem interested in doing these days.

Crossposted at Republicans United

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