These are things I’ve been talking to Sean about, and others, my friend Andrew at the School of Theology. I think people are tired of hearing me talk about these things. Too bad I will likely continue to do so.
Under the ideology of fiscal conservatism, former president Ronald Reagan is held to be both a saint and a messiah. However, like any president, we should distinguish between the rhetorical claims that they make and the policies they actually enact. The reality is, I think that most people who consider themselves conservative today are not conservative. Conservatism in the United States is dedicated primarily to classical liberalism. It is not, like we might wish to believe, in any way connected to Burkean conservatism. The two, in reality, conflict with each other. In Burkean conservatism, there is a preference for social hierarchy, tradition and custom, and organic unity. Social hierarchy, as understood by Burke was a social hierarchy that was an organic outgrowth of the community. Therefore, as long as the hierarchy was “natural,” it was legitimate.
American conservatism is suspicious of any authoritarian movement, whether it be political, governmental, or religious. Classical liberals would be suspicious of tradition and custom, and hierarchy if it infringes upon the natural rights of the individual. Fiscal conservatism is an outgrowth of a distrust of large governments. The issue is, most polticians who regard themselves as fiscal conservatives are not advocates of either free-market principles nor small government.
Corporations in the United States of America rely on the idea of a strong central government, only this strong central government is supposed to benefit the rich. When we look at the Bailout enacted by the Obama administration, we can see how our strong federal government works: we hate socialism, but we’ll bailout the rich. In other words, the bailout enforced an idea in our country of “socialism for the rich, capitalism for everyone else.”
Of course, I sympathize with the Tea Party in that the bailout was problematic. Where I do not sympathize with them is by the fact that the Tea Party is not run by the people. We can ignore the fact that Corporate interests finance the movement, or the fact that Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck make up a priesthood or aristocracy of elite tea partiers. The fact that the tea party advocates the very policies that will harm us in the long run are proof of this. Furthermore, to be sure, if a Republican or Tea partier had been in office instead of Obama (let’s forget for a moment that Republicans and the Tea Party are, for the most part, the same thing), they would have done the same thing as the Obama administration.
It is in the same way that during the 1984 election, Democrats and Republicans switched positions on political issues. Democrats advocated fiscal conservatism and Republicans advocated Keynesian growth. Republicans are critical of the Obama bailout and can blame him and criticize him for it because the Democratic Party controlled Congress. However, what no one is saying is that if John McCain had become president, the McCain administration would have advocated precisely the same thing. The Tea Party is direct evidence of this: they advocate for smaller government, but the policies the advocate will do no such thing.
Reagan advocated a larger government, a strong central government. Furthermore, Reagan protected the interests of the corporate class through policies advocating protectionism, economic interventionalism or regulatory policies. All of this is directly in the face of free-market capitalism and small government. Republicans are going to do the same thing. Big government is good, argues the business and corporate class, so as long as it protects the iterest of the rich and the powerful in this country. When businesses and corporations are subject to regulations, big government is evil. Even if regulation is limiting the power of a group of people who do not have the welfare of everyday Americans in mind. Free-market capitalism is acceptable so as long as the business and corporate class in the country is not subject to it. It’s bad when everyone is subject to it. In other words, I am trying to understand how we can advocate fiscal conservatism when we have never had it.