Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Failure of Conservatism

Or, at least, of Goldwater-era American conservatism. I view the financial crisis as nothing less than this, and it seems that the American people agree--at least, that Republicans are responsible for it.

The way I see it, the healthcare issue is a good proxy for conservative vs. liberal debates. Liberals believe that everyone should have guaranteed health insurance. Sure, it costs a bit more on a day to day basis, but when (and it is when) something catastrophic happens, people are protected. Conservatives believe that the day to day costs are needlessly expensive and want to give you that money back, on the theory that most people won't need the ounce of prevention.

The problem happens when catastrophe strikes. Conservative philosophy ceases to work, as the government still pays--only, this time, for the more expensive pound of cure. Why does this even make sense? Well, it goes back to the (so far as I can tell, uniquely American) belief that nothing bad will ever happen to them. It's a very irresponsible belief, and indicative of an overly emotional and immature worldview. Such a description, sadly, fits America to a tee. At the end of the day, Americans are optimistic. This is our greatest strength as a people but, as is often the case, also one of our greatest weaknesses, for it leads us to undertake irresponsible behavior--and let's make no bones about it, much of the conservative agenda these days is deeply irresponsible--and the people who promote it accuse opponents of defeatism. Such it was with the Iraq War--planning for the best case, no consideration of catastrophic scenarios. Same with Bush's foreign policy in general until recently, same with his economic policy. They all make sense if you assume an ideal situation--CEOs would never defraud the public! Iraqis will greet us as liberators! Abstinence education will work in stamping out teen sex!--but things rarely turn out perfectly.

A generation ago, conservatives branded themselves as realists and liberals as utopians. At that time, they might even have been right. But these days it just doesn't seem so. Now, that generation of liberals was arguably too much in favor of expanding government into every sphere. But reasonable regulation keeps things from getting too out of control, which might be why it seems like every major round of deregulation leads to serious crises soon after (S&L and the California brownouts come to mind). Conservatism has become too divorced from anything resembling prudence to make it a credible governing philosophy.

Now, keep in mind that I've been discussing American conservatism. Other countries have conservative parties, and oftentimes those parties win. Think Sarkozy in France, Merkel in Germany, Berlusconi in Italy, and most likely Cameron in the U.K. in a year or two. These parties hold principles that many conservatives stateside would agree with: lower taxes and spending, more of an emphasis on privitization, free trade. But none of these politicians advocates ripping up the social safety net in their respective countries, because it's glaringly obvious that doing so just limits the ability of the government to mitigate crises that only the government can handle. And, like it or not, only the government can do something about the financial crisis. This might be because old Europe realizes that you can't just plan for the best and hope that the worst never occurs. But they're ultra-liberal, so conservatives here can just ignore them and say that sick people can just go to the emergency room instead of providing "expensive" universal health care, despite the fact that the U. S. spends more per capita on health care than anywhere else. There is simply no counterargument to UHC except to distract, all the while succumbing to delusion and denial. Conservatism as a philosophy--at least, the conservatism that has been ascendant since the 1960s--is now done. The sooner conservatives realize this, the sooner they can start rebuilding.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.