Monday, November 21, 2005

Conservative Factions and Thought

Different Types of Conservatives: Where I Fall Ideologically and Why

Within the Republican Party and inside right wing politics, a number of different factions exist and conservatives disagree all the time. All one needs to do is peruse the blogosphere and divisions exist amongst Republicans on particular social legislation, the size of government, the decision of going to war in Iraq, and basically any political or societal issue. The divisions have been magnified as we have seen Republicans spar in the National Government over tax/dividend cuts, the nomination of Harriet Miers, pork-barrel spending, social security and also within SSFC as big spending “conservatives” have battled fiscal hawks over cuts to salaries, programs, and budgets on Student Service Finance Committee. On September 30, the Economist gave a unique look at particular divisions within the United States conservative movement. Further commentary is needed on where I stand and of course it’s fun to label and place particular bloggers and UW Republican individuals into the particular groups.

• Small-government conservatives v big-government conservatives. Mr Bush has embraced all sorts of big-government programmes (from supercharging the Department of Education to creating the huge new Medicare drug entitlement) while trying to keep small-government conservatives on side with tax cuts. But this was a formula for fiscal disaster. It also failed to placate purists who believe that the federal government has no business running schools or pushing pills to pensioners.

In my opinion it’s hard to label yourself a conservative if you don’t believe in and fight for smaller government but look at our “buddy” in the White House increasing Washington’s power not only abroad but domestically. Look at Bush compared to Regan in terms of department spending (given the data is only for Bush 2000-2003).

Percent Change in Real Outlays in First Three Years
Department Reagan Bush
Agriculture -13.2% 8.5%
Commerce -29.0% 9.6%
Defense 18.6% 27.6%
Education -21.8% 60.8%
Energy -19.6% 22.4%
Health & Human Services 9.0% 21.4%
Housing & Urban Dev. -3.7% 6.1%
Interior -4.6% 23.4%
Justice 1.2% 11.0%
Labor -29.4% 56.0%
State 9.5% 32.5%
Transportation -13.0% -1.3%
Treasury 31.1% -7.0%
Veteran Affairs -3.9% 29.4%
Total Outlays 6.8% 15.6%
Sources: Budget of the U.S. Government and Mid-Session
Review for FY2004.

I do applaud President Bush for cutting taxes and attempting to maximize taxpayer’s social security accounts but I don’t appreciate increases in the federal power in terms of education and health care. I really don’t like the increase of any particular area of the federal government (beside national security when need be). Within student government, I have stood for fiscal conservatism intended to limit the burden on student taxpayers. Too bad big government conservatives (Goessl, Frey) have stood in the way of real reform in terms of limiting student groups to fewer salaried positions, putting on events that pertain only to their mission, and cutting outright waste. Big government conservative also at a national level have blocked reforms that in the long run would lessen the government’s role and spending in social security, Medicare/Medicaid, and cutting pork. I can’t place anybody on the blogosphere in the big government category but other libertarians such as Mark at Opiate of the Masses joins me in hating the federal state.

• Conservatives of faith v conservatives of doubt. Doubters don’t think that the federal government should interfere in people’s private lives. They don’t want Washington meddling in states’ rights to legalise euthanasia or medical marijuana. Conservatives of faith believe that the federal government should encourage civic virtue. Under Mr Bush they have had the upper hand. The Justice Department has been aggressive in imposing its views on the states. The poster-child of the conservative movement on Capitol Hill at the moment is Senator Rick Santorum, a staunch advocate of family values.

I am most definitely a conservative of doubt for many reasons. First off even though I may disagree with particular choices people make in terms of lifestyle I don’t believe that the government has a right to intervene unless an adult’s actions affect others (and in particular kids). I really don’t believe also that legislation makes a large difference in curbing immoral behaviors. Instead I think that the laws we often put in place hurt taxpayers (ie drug-users in jail, excessive police enforcement), hurt Christian and religious witness, and make secular liberals hate conservatives and Republicans. The divide can be verbalized in terms of Judeo-Christian versus secular values or historic versus new-age values and the clash produces hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage, drugs, and flag burning. What I really wish is that people would simply follow the God of Abraham’s laws. Then there really wouldn’t even be any discussion about legislating morality. To read articles from a conservative of virtue, try Brad V over at Letters in Bottles.

Insurgent conservatives v establishment conservatives. The conservative movement, rooted in the south and west, has been deeply hostile to Washington. But electoral success has created a Washington-based Republican establishment, which spends its time doling out goodies to its buddies and expanding federal power. Mr Bush has managed this relationship by presenting himself as an anti-Washington Washingtonian: the son of a president who prefers to spend his time in Texas. The insurgent wing seems increasingly unconvinced.

Being a conservative outside the Beltway and hating large federal government, I would label myself an insurgent conservative as would most of my colleagues at College Republicans and within the blogosphere. The cronyism and handouts within the current White House and Republican dominated legislature makes me sick and abhorred. The excessive pork, the poor nominations, and the increasing federal government makes me wish for a divided government where far less would get done and hopefully spending contained. I can’t label anyone inside ASM or the College Republicans an establishment conservative because nobody has federal power but clearly politicians such as Tom DeLay, George Bush, and Ted Stevens fall within this category.

• Business conservatives v religious conservatives. The latter are waiting keenly to see whom Mr Bush appoints next to the Supreme Court. Business conservatives are worried that religious people have already got too much. Mr Bush’s stance on stem-cell research will cost America its competitive edge in biotechnology. Add to this their concerns about Mr Bush’s reckless fiscal policy and you have the making of a business revolt.

Too often, the Republicans have focused their energies on social issues appealing to the religious right and social conservatives. Evangelicals do have a strong hold on the Republican Party and this power has been applied through Bush’s decisions to hold government spending on stem cells and the introduction of the national gay marriage ban. I do hold some socially conservative views (I am in fact an Evangelical) but I am by far much more of a business conservative than religious one. In my view, government’s main objectives are to provide essential services that the private sector cannot provide (infrastructure, education—its been moved to a public good in the 20th century, and national security), intervening in market failure (externalities), and protecting rights of individuals. Thus, the government should steer clear of excessive regulation and advocate low taxes, privatization, free trade, open borders, and establishing the right to work would all be in my platform if I ran for Congress. I basically would follow within the Club for Growth model in making sure that the US and the world can continue to expand economically and business opportunities are open to all. While many of the religious conservatives are also business conservatives in the UW College Republicans, a couple clear member of this faction would include E-Board member Lavonne D and Jenna over at Right off the Shore. Business conservatives include myself, Mark at Opiate of the Masses, and Jeremy at Daily Perspective.

• Neo-conservatives v traditional conservatives. The former have an expansive vision of America’s role in the world—a vision that has come to include not just nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq but also the transformation of the Middle East. But traditionalists balk at the hubris of this vision. How can conservatives who believe that government power is fallible rally to the idea of transforming an entire region?

Conservative politics especially in Washington have moved towards a hawkish foreign policy especially within the Executive Branch. This may be a result of 9-11 but I think this ideology has been mainstay within Beltway Insiders at least since Regan. I am a traditional conservative in the sense that I would prefer that the US be selective in its conflict overseas. I believe that conflicts should be looked at on a cost-benefit basis and to me, unless something dramatically changes in Iraq, the $200 billion and 2,000 US lives were a mistake. I want Iraq to succeed as a democratic and sovereign nation but somehow I “doubt” that US military action can directly change the hearts and minds of a culturally and religiously different people. I would love to have democracy and liberty spread across the Middle East but somehow I feel that the US military acting preemptively is questionable and most likely is a poor investment. I am by no means isolationist and believe that the US does have a role in helping and protecting the world but I think its role should be much more limited than what is desired by many of the right elite. In searching for a neo-conservative point of view, look no further than Bob over at Madison Freedom Fighter.


  • Interesting analysis...I don't know if I agree with some of your inclusions in the categories, but it is interesting to see the dichotomies laid out.

    I think the biggest split in the GOP, however, are paleo-cons vs. neo-cons. I think many paleo-cons have a huge problem being a member of the new GOP, the Bush Republican party. Neo-cons have certainly multiplied in number after 9/11, and have multiplied the extent of their spending bills as well.

    I beleive this will be the split that could lead to the downfall of the GOP in the next few elections. If paleo-cons think they are just electing another tax and spend D/RINO, they won't get out to the polls.

    By Blogger Jenna, at 4:53 PM  

  • good analysis, tim. i agree with the category you put me in, i feel very strongly on economic issues over moral/religious issues. the more government encroaches on the business sector of the economy and on people's freedom with their money, the more we will turn into a totalitarian state. planned economies and their supporters be DAMNED!

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 6:54 PM  

  • Another good analysis Tim.
    Do you think the main reason why so many Republicans and Democrats alike tend to focus and define themselves based on social issues is because those are the issues that get them elected? The average citizen feels more strongly about issues like abortion, gay marriage, and the death penalty more than they care about business taxes and externalities. So it only makes strategic campaigning sense to focus on issues that will turn people out to the polls. Unfortunatly this a sad reality for our society. For instances the Bush campaign before elections came out with their proposed gay marriage ammendment in an attempt to win over the Evangelical vote which used to be more split between the Democratic party and the Republican party but this ammendment proposal won over all of those votes.

    By Blogger Kellie, at 6:09 PM  

  • I overall agree with the arguments made here about the different classifications of conservatives. While I think some of the descriptions, as well as the placement of individuals is somewhat self-serving, I would make a few points in support of the overall arguments. First, it is important that it is laid out on the table, consistently and repeatedly, that not all Conservatives are the same. We are not all religious zealots marching for a state which supports the moral beliefs of Christianity. There is not only a spectrum of "more and less" conservative" but a variety of different areas and types of conservative beliefs, each with their own such spectrums.

    In response to Kellie's comment, I would add a couple aspects to her general point. Remember that in addition to the fact that many Americans believe strongly in social points, there are a couple other things. Social issues are more emotional and easy to undderstand. Economic arguments (both conservative and liberal) as well as arguments on truly political issues (again, from both sides) require at least a general understanding of economic principles, and political and historical principals, situations and facts respectively. Social issues appeal to people's personal feelings and senses of either oppression (empathy because most individuals have at some point felt oppressed or marginilized in some context) or morality.

    Moreover, precisely because no ammount of trial and error can prove a stance "the right one" on social issues, they are wise choices for political party platforms, particularly for the two major parties which have become the staple of the American political system. Take for example the issue of abortion. If the "right" wins, they have a victory. They have something to defend in the form of pro-life legislation. Similarly, the left has a new, even stronger cause to fight for. Reversing the legislation. The opposite is true if the liberals win a victory. Bottom line, social issues will never, until the two major parties and the media choose to drop them, disappear from the political menu of discourse.

    More truly economic and political facts, however, could. Although clearly it is an economic reality that poverty will always exist, if poverty were to drop to a very few, clearly lazy people in society, welfare, public housing and public health care would fade from public attention. Whether the victory in this area comes from the liberals or the conservative, the issue could hypothetically be resolved.

    Moreover, the end goals of the two major parties on such issues are the same. Both parties want peace, human rights, and greater overall economic and political rights and welfare for people both in the United States and around the world. A victory on any of these issues, whether it comes from the success of the welfare state and increased state intervention or from the success of the meritocratic conservative society based on individual freedoms and responsibilities is irrelevant. If ever either of these policies were to achieve victory on these issues, it would be a victory.

    I would also say that to me, this separation of the categories and roots of conservative political ideas is important to me for the same reason it is important to Tim. In most contexts, and especially in the context of a notoriously liberal college campus, Republicans and Conservatives are all lumped together. The reality is, some of us, such as Tim and myself, have certain views which differ radically from those of the "conservative movement" as a whole. In identifying as a conservative, I am not saying I fit each of the categories of conservatism. I am saying that, in my own evaluation of my political beliefs (which I think Tim is a little off in), the conservative aspects outway the liberal ones in both number and importance to me.

    By Blogger BadgerZach, at 4:52 PM  

  • "While I think some of the descriptions, as well as the placement of individuals is somewhat self-serving" --How so? I simply wanted to give examples, many of them bloggers, in the differences of though in the conservative movement.

    "Social issues appeal to people's personal feelings and senses of either oppression (empathy because most individuals have at some point felt oppressed or marginilized in some context) or morality."--Agreed, it's too bad they play such a large role in electoral politics.

    "Moreover, the end goals of the two major parties on such issues are the same. Both parties want peace, human rights, and greater overall economic and political rights and welfare for people both in the United States and around the world. A victory on any of these issues, whether it comes from the success of the welfare state and increased state intervention or from the success of the meritocratic conservative society based on individual freedoms and responsibilities is irrelevant. If ever either of these policies were to achieve victory on these issues, it would be a victory."--Possibly, I don't know whether I agree or disagree. I need more time to think about it. I know that there are people in the UW blogosphere that would definitely disagree.

    By Blogger Tim, at 11:12 PM  

  • Tim,

    I don't follow your logic. The reasoning by which you identify yourself as a small government, laissez faire free marketeer seems inconsistent.

    Government should be kept small because people in governmental organizations can not be trusted because ... why? The power of government always corrupts?

    Business does not need to be regulated because ... why? actors in free markets can be trusted because ... why? Economic power never corrupts?

    Why do you think that people are any more virtuous in one sphere of activity than in another?

    I do not blindly trust either government or business but one must extend both of them some amount of trust. This balance of trust and skepticism is just good citizenship.

    We need both a federal Securities and Exchange Commission to catch the ENRONs (oops, a federal agency) and we need federal prosecuters to catch Scooter Libby (oops, another federal agency.) Just can't get away from needing some government I guess.

    I guess that by small government you might also mean let's shred the social safety net. OK, now that does seem consistent with being a "conservative of doubt" publicly but a Christian privately - as long as one does feed the poor with private funds. You do feed the poor Christian Tim, don't you?

    By Anonymous jfm, at 4:33 AM  

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