The Coming Conservative Meltdown?

Jon Perr

In his Sunday Oregonian Commentary feature ("Conservatives in Conflict"), University of Oregon professor Garrett Epps highlights the growing schism between the libertarian and authoritarian tendencies in the conservative movement.  This chasm, papered over in the 2000 and 2004 elections, has visibly reemerged in the backlash over the Schiavo affair and the battle over judicial nominees.

There is another way, though, to characterize the Achilles Heel of the Republican Party and the conservative ascendancy.  In the Schiavo tragedy as in the debate over media decency standards, we're seeing once again the tenuousness of the alliance between "social" conservatives and "economic" conservatives. On the one hand, the traditional religious Right of Dobson, Perkins, Falwell and Bauer sees a culture at risk; on the other, the laissez faire crowd wants markets and personal liberties unfettered by the heavy hand of the government. Unfortunately for them, they can't have it both ways.

The Schiavo affair and the dangerously unprecedented intervention by President Bush and the Congressional leadership have brought this schism back into the open. Stephen Moore, a free market purist now of the Free Enterprise Fund, worried that "I don't normally like to see the federal government intervening in a situation like this," adding "a lot of conservatives are really struggling with this case." Senator John Warner (R-VA) stated that he "learned from many years you've got to separate your own emotions from the duty to support the Constitution of this country." Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT), complained, "My party is demonstrating that they are for states' rights unless they don't like what states are doing." Of the Republicans' hypocrisy and confusion over the Schiavo tragedy, Clinton inquisitor Bob Barr may have said it best:

"To simply say that the 'culture of life,' or whatever you call it means that we don't have to pay attention to the principles of federalism or separation of powers is certainly not a conservative viewpoint."

These tensions are always bubbling just below the surface for the conservative coalition.  As Epps noted, Pat Buchanan's fiery primetime address to the 1992 Republican National Convention, calling on the nation to retake the culture "block by block" helped put Bill Clinton in White House. George W. Bush, mindful of the fate of his father, worked with the religious right in 2000 and again in 2004 to mute their wishes until after his election. (The "rainbow" entertainment on stage and speeches by Schwarzeneggar and Guiliani showed the lesson of pre-election moderation is one the President learned well.)

Despite these efforts to paper over these fundamental tensions, the cracks in the conservative monolith reappear all the same. As we saw last fall ("Markets, Morality and Monday Night Football"), the conservative factions battled again over the raunchy Terrell Owens "Desperate Housewives" ad. The economic conservatives' pure market theory stated that angry viewers-cum-consumers could express different preferences by changing the channel and watching something else. (Never mind the looming end of choice due to rapid media concentration.) For social conservatives, there are two three-letter answers: FCC and GOD. The former could censor or otherwise regulate content to change programming; the latter could change Americans' hearts.

Now, the Schiavo affair and the opportunism of Bill Frist and Tom Delay have exposed this civil war on the Right. With their unpopular position widely seen as bankrupt and unprincipled, the mouthpieces of the conservative ascendancy are reduced to doing what they do best: attack. Whether slandering Michael Schiavo, threatening federal judges, or cynically portraying the judicial filibuster as "an attack against people of faith", social conservatives are angrily lashing out, at great risk to the Republicans' majority status.

As for the Democrats, the Republicans' potential for undoing is not necessarily their opportunity. To return from the wilderness, they must address some Achilles' Heels of their own. Until Democrats regain credibility on national security issues, move beyond their image as the party of multiculturalism and identity politics, and become at least competitive among white male voters, their hopes for an "emerging Democratic majority" will remain just that - hopes.

For now, though, it seems that the Republicans will be punished for their role in the Schiavo tragedy and outrages like "Justice Sunday." Mercifully for progressives, the longer the GOP leadership perpetuates these travesties, the longer the conservative movement will twist in the wind.

Comments

  • Daniel (unverified)
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    Oh, we're seeing this in the legislature already. The D's are solid, for exaample, on the gay rights issues, but there is a split between those such as Westlund or Feriolli or between Donna Nelson and Vicki Berger. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

  • Chris Andersen (unverified)
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    As much as I look forward to a breakup of the conservative alliance, I think we shouldn't hold our breath for it. I've been hearing predictions of this breakup for YEARS now. It may someday happen, but I'll believe it when it actually does happen.

    Besides, our strategy should not be predicated on a conservative breakup. We should be able to defeat the conservative alliance even when it DOESN'T break up. We shouldn't sit around waiting for them to break up. We should make the question of their breakup irrelevent.

  • Gregor (unverified)
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    I have to admit I am enjoying watching the snake turn in on itself. It's only natural and I agree with you Chris. We simply have to stand up for ourselves, proudly and without apology. It is we who uphold, "Liberty and justice for all." There appears to be a disclaimer when dealing with the Right that only qualified applicants can expect this.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Interesting post, and a decent overview of the conflict of leadership among Republicans. You've certainly captured the conflict I have as an economic conservative with the social conservative wing of the party.

    And Daniel is right that on some individual social issues, the Democrats have an opportunity to play one side against the other.

    But I think this all misses a key point -- those two types of conservatives, social and economic, between them have broad support with only partial overlap. And from the individual voter's standpoint, whether you're a social conservative or an economic conservative (and each is uncomfortable with the other), the Republican party is still more attractive than the Democratic party. Except, perhaps, for those voters who place their votes on only a single issue (abortion, gay rights, etc.)

    In other words, for example, I am opposed to all of the actions cited above (Schiavo, FCC, etc.) on social issues -- but I'm more opposed to the standard Democratic positions on economic issues. I more or less fit into the "traditional" Republican mold (pre-1980).

    Then you look at the "heartland Republicans", people in rural areas that the Democrats are always complaining about voting against their economic interests. And the Democrats are right about that, in general. But I suspect that just as I dislike the Democratic economic positions more than I respect their social positions, those "values voters" dislike the social positions more than they might respect the economic ones. These are the post-1980's Republicans, the so-called "Reagan Democrats" who were originally persuaded to simply vote across party lines, and ultimately then switched parties.

    Soooo.... is this really leading to a "meltdown" in the Republican party?

    I think it may be more leading to a "shakeup". Hopefully (from my point of view) we'll see more responsible Republicans take party leadership away from the hard line social conservatives as a result of these missteps. But I don't think that's going to result in any significant reduction in overall support for the Republican party. Even if the social conservatives lose power, they're still not going to start voting for the Democrats, and while a few fringe elements might spin off as independents, it's not likely to be a major exodus.

    And if the social conservatives retain power, it's even less likely that the economic conservatives would split from the party.

    If the Democrats really want to pick up a power base, they should shift more to the right economically. You'd get a lot of moderate Republicans on your side that way. Of course, then you'll have your own schism to worry about with the extreme left of your party... <nobr>  ;-)</nobr>

  • Paying Attention (unverified)
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    I disagree that the cracks in the conservative movement are a sign of weakness, much less their impending doom. The cracks appear because the right has succeeded in building a mass movement, and when that happens there is inevitably a range of opinions within the coalition. Read the history of the New Deal; more or less the same thing happened to the Democrats in the late 1930s and again in the late 1940s.

    The right has built their movement with lies, bigotry, and big money, in my opinion, and that is regrettable, but the simple fact is that the left has not been willing to take them on, and so we lose again and again by default.

    The majority of the population is on our side, I'm pretty sure, but as long as we remain simply the soft left of what is essentially a one-party system - the party of Big Business - we will get nowhere.

    Take the recent bankruptcy bill for example. If there was ever a bill for Democrats to get together and loudly oppose, this was it. We didn't have the votes to stop it, either straight up or by filibuster, so we should have made it clear that the Democrats were foursquare against this example of the ever-increasing transfer of wealth from the lower quintiles to the plutocrats at the top. We should have made the "class warfare" theme our own.

    A blow-by-blow description of how the Democrats came apart on this can be seen at Daily Kos:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/3/6/63144/06015

    Nelson of Nebraska, Johnson of MBNA, I mean South Dakota, Carper and Biden of DuPont, I mean "Delaware," and especially Joe "Values-man" Lieberman ought to all face significant primary challenges from the left, accompanied by bigtime voter registration drives among the people that they've kissed off.

    We're never going to turn this around by being Republican lite.

    Paying Attention

  • Jon (unverified)
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    David raises good points about the challenges to a "new liberalism" in taking advantage of the "shake up" within the conservative movement. I also agree with Chris on the need for a Democratic vision and stragegy for regaining majority status, regardless of any potential conservative implosion.

    For those with the willingness - and patience - here some others pieces on these topics.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Jon, I think you're right about your 5 lessons. Of course, how the party went about implementing those lessons would have a major impact on whether I'd abandon the Republican party.

    As a white male, lessons 2 and 3 are particularly relevant. I recall being at a political event in 1992 with a number of Democratic speakers (I was actually a registered Democrat at the time). One of those speakers was the eventual Congresswoman from my district, Elizabeth Furse. I don't recall the exact words she spoke, but I'll never forget the overwhelming theme of her speech.

    It was about how women and minorities didn't have enough opportunities for success in our country, and that caused wide ranging problems in society. Which I believe to be true, and thus I was sympathetic.

    But then she explained that the reason for this is because white middle class men are in power, and they need to be kicked out. This message was delivered with great passion and intensity. By the time she was done, she had basically demonized white men as the root of all evil in the world.

    As a white middle class man, I naturally took some offense at that. I personally wasn't in power, I had never discriminated against a woman or a minority in any way, yet I was essentially being blamed for all the ills in society. Racism and sexism are ugly no matter who they are directed at, and those who are opposed to racism and sexism do not serve their cause by turning them around on others. I resolved on the spot never to vote for her. A few years later I had switched parties, for a number of reasons, but one of which was the "blame whitey" attitude of some in the Democratic party, which she typified.

    Anyhow, working to promote the needs of one group without tearing down any other group will go a long way towards gaining more support.

  • Gregor (unverified)
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    There are some groups that need to be torn down? May I suggest the Klan?

    Hi David! Good to see you here again. I've reduced my name to Gregor. My last name is too long for this medium, and I know no others that go by Gregor. It;s an old college nickname.

    Former Democrat, huh? It makes sense. You're more willing to discuss these issues then most Republicans I know. I would encourage you to leave. Maybe the Dems don't represent you, but the Right is embarassing this country on a Global level.

  • LT (unverified)
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    As someone who grew up in the household of an old fashioned "we must give up the idea we can legislate the answer to everything" Robt.Taft Republican, perhaps I have a different perspective than those who have always been Democrats.

    And what really matters is how the debate widens from Sunday Commentary sections and blogs out to the general public.

    Last night I was at an "ice cream social" going away party for someone who we know from lives outside politics. Talk at our table turned to the recent scene in West Wing where Pres. Bartlett and Sen. Vinic were in the White House basement eating ice cream.

    One woman said it would be interesting to see a Republican win the presidency in West Wing. I said it would be interesting to see a Republican like Vinic in a major TV series, and a couple other people chimed in "because he is an economic conservative and a social moderate". Perhaps that is one way to broach the subject with non-political people, to point out the difference between certain actual elected Republicans and an ideal independent thinking candidate like Vinic.

    Last night I read 2 essays on the Washington Post website about the fact that some of the judges being attacked are church-going conservatives appointed by Republicans. They have titles like "Hijacking Christianity" and "Smearing Christian Judges".

    I sent the links in an email with some remarks to a Republican friend. I pointed out that Dr. Bob Edgar is an ordained minister and a former member of Congress who now works for the National Council of Churches. He has joined an effort to push back against some of the DeLay/ Frist projects like the fillibuster and attacks on judges.

    This was the response: I would agree with the premise that most Democrats are not out to get Christians. However, the way-out liberals are often identified as anti-Christian...

    I wrote back and asked him to name some "way out liberals" and that Dean doesn't count, as a Congregationalist--one of the denominations in United Church of Christ.

    There is something called the techtonic theory of politics which says that there are small techtonic movements under the surface only visible to those who have observed closely (like geologists watching a seismograph). Most people don't know what is going on until there is a major earthquake. People who knew discontented grass roots Democratic activists in 2002-3 were probably not surprised by the Dean phenomenon. He says in the opening of his book that he realized he was a catalyst for feelings already there.

    For a 2005 example, look at the Bolton nomination. People were saying that Bolton had the nomination locked up, and others were speculating on whether Chaffee or Hagel might object. The hearing ground to a halt, though, when Sen. Voinovich said he wasn't sure he could vote for the nomination in committee.

    Yes, there is a GOP steamroller. But there are also some moderates who don't want to be driven over a cliff the way Gingrich did in the late 1990s. On any given issue there may be 5 Republican Senators not sure they want to go along with the program. McConnell said of the filibuster vote today on Face the Nation "we will have the votes". That isn't the same as "we do have the votes".

    Just as Karen Minnis has no majority on any issue where 3 break away (she has no Dick Cheney to cast a tie breaking vote), if 6 GOP Senators break away on any issue the Republicans don't have a majority on that issue.

    And I think it is wise to back up the moderates when they do something you agree with. For instance: St. Sen. Morse's statements on the worth of every individual. I called his office and thanked him for his remarks. And with the Rev./former Senator Danforth coming out against some of those GOP excesses, it is hard to tar the minister who delivered the homily at the Reagan funeral as a "far out liberal".

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    The current schism in the Republican party is a direct result of the "Southern Strategy" they have been implementing over the past 30+ years or so, to attract rural and southern social conservatives that used to belong to the Democratic party into the Republican party.

    One obvious response the Democrats could pursue, but so for have not, would be to devise a "Western Strategy" to bring social and economic liberals that belong to the Republican party into the Democratic party. By social and economic "liberals" I mean liberal in the libertarian sense, not the inaccurate socialist or authoritarian definition of "liberal" that often prevails in the U.S. these days. Real liberals are liberal on both social and economic issues, and are essentially moderate, centrist libertarians.

    The problem with this strategy is that it kind of runs counter to the populist and economically authoritarian left wing of the Democratic party. The trick would be to keep the left wing in the party by appealing to their social liberalism, while appealing to Republicans and moderates with economic liberalism.

    This would complete the ideological realignment started with the Republican's Southern strategy by turning the Republican part into the conservative, authoritarian party and transforming the Democratic party into a true liberal party.

  • Sid (unverified)
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    David-

    What is does "shifting to the right economically" mean? I run a small business, so I understand what it means to be fiscally prudent, but I also don't believe the right has ever really helped small business.

    They help big business because big business has the money to hire politicians to get favorable big business legislation passed. But small business owners are a minority, so our voices go unheard even though there's an American myth that surrounds the appeal of being an entrepreneur. We don't have the extra money or time to hire lobbyists (unless you're a tavern owner in Oregon and belong to the Oregon Restaurant Association and have gambling machines in your joint.) We're the ones who get stuck with all kinds of fees and extra taxes that the big guys don't have to pay.

    Moreover, with so much consolidation going on in every business sector, it gets harder and harder to be a player in the market place. I have people calling me all the time who want to get into the market sector I operate my business in. I got in by the skin of my teeth 8 yrs ago before the particular sector I'm in saw any kind of major consolidation. But it's happening now, and I don't know what to tell people who call me asking for advice.

    In any case, as I aksed at the beginning of this comment, what is "shifting to the right economically" exactly?

  • afs (unverified)
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    David Wright... as usual, more neo-con propaganda from David Wright. Wright tries to pretend that everyone to the left of his own extremist, Franco model-fascist views is a raving communist. He like to pretend that where the media currently draws the line between left and right is where the line has always been drawn between left and right.

    Where David Wright and the neo-cons draw the line on issues for the seperation now between left and right would make Eisenhower, Goldwater and Nixon all be defined by David Wright and the neo-cons as "lib-ruls who hate Amer-ka." Just because David Wright, the neo-cons, and the corporate media knowing and willingly would lead us all into Franco-model fascism doesn't mean the rest of red-state America is equally informed as to where the current course is leading. I submit that a day is coming very soon where some neo-con act of extremism is going to lead to a great awakening in the red states. That great awakening began to stir with the Schiavo mess, and this "Justice Sunday" crud may be the shake that red-state America needs to finally wake up and toss off the delusions of the neo-cons nightmare we've all been trapped in.

  • David English (unverified)
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    Here is a list of a few good books to read:

    Blinded by the Right by David Brock

    Where The Right Went Wrong by Pat Buchanan

    The Great Unraveling by Paul Krugman

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Sid,

    For starters, I want to be clear that I'm suggesting a shift towards a certain direction, not an abrupt reversal on all economic policies. Sort of a general "lightening up" in these areas.

    On balance, I'd say that "shifting to the right" economically would consist of favoring less government regulation and oversight of business, where market forces are adequate to the job.

    I'd say it's a general reduction of artificial market controls and manipulation.

    I'd say it's a general propensity to allow an environment where private organizations can address some problem issues in a practical way rather than expecting government spending to address every problem.

    In general, I'd say it's a reduction in government interference/control in economic life. Yes, I mean a tendency (not complete adoption) more towards the laissez-faire approach (though I'm sure that's a dirty word here, pardon my French...)

    What it's not, incidentally, is continuous slashing of taxes combined with continuous increases in spending, resulting in economically ruinous deficits.

    Do the Republicans offer this platform as an option? Not really, in many cases they take it too far to the right. That's exactly why there's an opportunity here, if Democrats would shift in this direction (not just take the exact Republican party line on every item I mentioned), they would start to appeal more to those of us Republicans who are more moderate.

    But as long as the Democratic position is for more of all these things (as it is perceived to be, whether or not it actually is) then it will be seen as going in the wrong direction on economic issues for moderate conservative (libertarian) voters.

    And again, I'm not saying that the Republicans already have this right. I very much sympathize with your concerns as a small business owner. I would certainly like to see government allow a more small-business-friendly environment than we've got now.

    The "big boys" may have been able to hire expensive lobbyists to scale back the economic burdens they carry. I don't think that's a Democrat or Republican issue, though, that's a fundamental power issue. I'd personally like to see economic burdens lifted on all business owners, not just the wealthiest.

    I wonder, though... all those extra fees and taxes that the "little guy" has to pay... were they imposed in the first place under Republican or Democratic leadership?

  • Todd Birch (unverified)
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    The Republicans haven't so much built a successful movement as they've simply benefited from widespread contempt for the dead-end socialism of the Democratic Party, which isn't just witnessing cracks in its foundations, but rather lies in smoking ruins.

    As an ever-disappointed advocate for the emergence of viable Third Parties, I'd rejoice at the implosion of the Republican Party just as I've delighted in the Dem's woes. The demoralizing reality from a libertarian perspective is that both parties will resort to promoting aggressive war, oppressing civil liberties and fanning the flames of cultural strife and class envy to energize the authoritarian wings of their base (see the “We should have made the ‘class warfare’ theme our own” comment above.).

    I saw a bumper sticker the other day that summed up our situation nicely: "Bill Clinton - No longer the worst president in American history."

    Libertarians, never a group known for their real-world political acumen, were probably fools to cast their lot with the Republican Party in the first place. So it goes. But they also never really had a choice; one need only peruse BlueOregon occasionally to observe the left’s shrieking reactionary disdain for freedom of individual choice in virtually every area of human endeavor - in particular, education and economics.

    To the extent that a believer in individual liberty isn’t gay or a user of government-banned substances (or exceedingly squeamish about the United States military being sent hither and yon to slaughter natives abroad) the Republicans - deceitful, arrogant, and vile as they truly are - are typically successful in portraying themselves as the lesser of evils to the proponents of limited government. Democrats on the other hand rarely even pretend (which is about all Republicans do for that matter) that they believe in any constitutional binds on their imperial authority to wield state power - and of course they’ve also happily extinguished the lives of not but a few innocents around the globe themselves over the decades.

    As Joseph Sobran, a refugee from the neocon wastelands of National Review, has observed: "If you are for violence against your neighbors, you're a liberal. If you are for violence against foreigners overseas, you are a conservative. If you are for violence against everyone you are a moderate. And if you are for violence against nobody, that makes you an extremist."

  • Sid (unverified)
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    David-

    Your points are well taken. I think the extra fees and taxes imposed on small businesses have been enacted by both Rs and Ds. When local governments need some extra revenue, small businesses are an easy target because, as I said, we're a minority and it would be costly and uneventful for us to threaten to leave the community. When Intel threatens, that's another story.

    I have mixed feelings about government regulation. I'm in the food business and believe me, the food industry NEEDS to be regulated. Consumers and business owners need to be protected when it comes to our food. I say "business owners" because I'm an owner who purchases ingredients, and I rely on government regulations to ensure that those ingredients are safe, that they won't make my end customers sick.

    I suppose from your point of view (I'm just assuming,) market forces would resolve such issues by putting companies that supply bad ingredients out of business due to "bad name recognition." The problem is, it's my business that gets damaged, not the ingredient supplier because retail customers don't know the name of the ingredient supplier, they only know the name of the end product. I suppose then, you would say, I could sue the ingredient supplier for damages and losses, which would keep ingredient suppliers in check, but as it stands right now conservatives want to limit the damages a person or business like mine could get.

    As far as taxes are concerned, I hate paying them, but I also understand how important they are. I need the existing infrastructure of roads, power, the FAA, etc. to keep my business up and running. And the R&D that the Department of Defense did on developing the internet has definitely been helpful in making my business more efficient and productive. That was one of the best investments in taxpayer money that the government has ever spent.

    And gee, I can use QuickBooks for my accounting because Intuit has been able to hire intelligent, well educated software engineers, many of whom were brought up in the public school system (minus the Indians and Chinese) and who were trained at our nation's public universities (plus the Indians and Chinese who were brought here on US government grants,) to design their software programs.

    I'm assuming you get my point.

    The question is: Who should pay for all of these things, and how much?

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Sid,

    The question is: Who should pay for all of these things, and how much?
    That is indeed the $2.4 trillion question, isn't it?   ;-)

    I do agree that there are cases when market forces are inadequate (as I alluded to in my earlier post), and I think that food safety (really general public safety) is a good example of that.

    There is, however, a point at which safety regulations become more of a burden than a benefit, not to mention regulations that have nothing to do with public safety. And that's what I mean by "lightening up" or reducing (but not eliminating) some kinds of regulation. I don't know about food safety regulations in particular, but there are other industries where the cost/benefit does not work out well.

    There are other non-governmental models for regulation as well, which are gaining popularity in certain industries, that might be more favorable than placing the government in charge. For example, I was just reading about a system for the timber and wood products industry for certifying that the wood products were harvested in sustainable, enviro-friendly ways. A private 3rd party auditing organization certifies the wood supplier as meeting the rigorous standards, including chain of supply documentation all the way to the source, so that retail outlets (like Home Depot, which apparently ran a test market for this in Eugene) can be assured and can assure their customers that the wood products they buy are "green".

    Those retail outlets that are concerned about this can buy only from certified suppliers. Those customers who are concerned can buy only from retailers that offer the certified products. The additional cost to the company (passed along to the consumer) is maybe 2% or thereabouts.

    That system was put in place because governments weren't regulating that particular aspect of wood production, so in response to market pressures the industry stepped up.

    Anyhow, you're right about the government spending needed money on infrastructure issues (roads, communications, power, etc.) and that does require taxes to pay for all that. I don't think people on the right really dispute that at all.

    Where you generally get disagreement is over what is really necessary versus optional spending, and where the money is going to come from.

    As you said, who should pay for all of these things, and how much?

    Unfortunately, as well, the economic and social issues collide in many ways. Think social security, health care, welfare, education, etc. That's when you really get into disputes over who pays and how much...

  • Daniel (unverified)
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    Let's all get worked up over the fact that a liberal says conservatives are going to lose. I'm sure he was completely objective in his assessment. Rather than write all my points again read my post on this: Daniel's Political Musings

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    I was actually surprised at how bad the Epps piece was.

    The classic division in the conservative movement is between libertarians and social conservatives. Epps incorrectly labels the cleavage "libertarian" vs. "authoritarian." (His characterization of liberalism, split between lifting economic barriers and those who long for "ascetisism" is similarly silly.)

    "Authoritarian" as label for "social conservatives" is not only tendentious, it's flat out inaccurate. Don't accept the allusions to Adorno; the authoritarian personality studies of the 1950s were an attempt to understand how individuals could succumb to the appeals of fascism. The validity of the "F-scale" is widely debated, as is the relationship between authoritarian personality attributes and conservatism.

    But what is worse in the piece is the misunderstanding of the state of modern conservatism. Epps makes the mistake of assuming that the Schiavo affair exposes some emergent "schism" among Republicans.

    Far from it. Schiavo exposes a cleavage that Republicans have to deal with, but have dealt with quite successfully for 15 years (prior to that, anti-communism was the "glue" that held the conservative movement together). If the moral/economic difference was going to cleave the Republican party, we'd have seen this on issues such as school prayer, abortion, and gay rights long before this.

    The only interesting question is what is the "glue" holding these two wings together right now. I suspect a strong part is power--"Main Street", "Wall Street", and social movement conservatives are all willing to give a little to retain their hold on power. And unlike liberals, who don't have any unifying philosophy right now, conservatives do have a something of a common theme--anti-government, low taxes, and moral certitude--plus power.

    These unite Orrin Hatch, John McCain, and Tom DeLay, no matter how we might wish they were pushed apart.

    Some other good books: The Right Nation, Micklethwaite and Wooldridge. The Strange Death of American Liberalism, EJ Brands. Why Americans Hate Politics, EJ Dionne (a bit dated)

  • Sid (unverified)
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    David-

    Let's look at health care, because so many of the small business owner I know are really having a tough time covering their employees (I don't have employees, just brokers and contractors.) We've had many discussions on this issue and have come to the conclusion that if the government (state or federal) could provide some kind of basic healthcare to all Americans it would take a huge burden off of business, particularly small business. Ask any small business owner this: If the government offered a health plan that your employees could buy into at an affordable rate, would you support it? You'll get a loud YES for an answer.

    As far as who pays and how much... who gets the most benefits from the system? When I read that the CEO of e-bay supported Bush, I just about joked. e-Bay wouldn't even exist if it weren't for the initial risk that the government took to invest in the R&D to create Internet. Why are these people getting such huge tax breaks from the government (e.g. only having to pay 15% on company dividends, which is passive income... no blood, sweat or tears.) Are we going to let India and China be the next nations willing to take those risks so that they will be the nations developing the technologies of the future rather than us?

    If the wealthiest among us are not willing to invest in this country, then where will we be in relation to India and China 30 years from now?

    Your wood products example is good, and I support such concepts. The Food Alliance is another example of this, but in the natural foods industry. If something is certified by the Food Alliance, the customer knows that the food came from a sustainable farm, e.g. living wages are paid, conservation techniques are used, etc. If a farmer joins they get the benefit of advertising and product recognition from discerning shoppers.

    Anyway, time for some shut eye ;-)

  • Todd Birch (unverified)
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    I'd agree with both Daniel and Paul that the Epps piece is pretty imprecise, but it’s good enough for government work, as it were. It's hardly a stretch to call most politically active social conservatives "authoritarians" these days. When your primary reason for existing as a political force is to use the state to persecute, marginalize or prohibit otherwise peacful citizens from living their lives differently than you deem they should, then I’d say that makes you an authoritarian, whether you're a righty or a lefty. The Republican Party has been banking on their busy-body base carrying "the haunting fear that somebody, somewhere, might be having a good time" into the ballot booth with them for as long as I can recall. (Ok, so Oregon doesn't have ballot booths anymore, you get the idea...)

    By the way, does anyone besides me wonder if Linda Flores and Lard Lardass, etc. are aware that the Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist?

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)
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    Daniel's blog (Daniel's Political Musings) is not worth checking out. I was hoping for an intelligent -- or at least well-informed -- rebuttal of Epp's article. Instead it is a tired mishmash of "How to Talk to a Liberal" tactics, factual errors, and predictable opinion.

    It makes me glad that someone as intelligent, calm, and articulate as David Wright (even though he irks me sometimes) posts here. He's actually figured out how to talk to a liberal -- like a human being.

  • Gregor (unverified)
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    Oh, if only the conservative dream could come true! If only corporate types could simply agree that water is a good thing and should be protected more so then their bottom lines. This has never happened, and I do not trust private enterprise to regulate itself even IF they sell stamps to Home Depot that their timber is "Green". I want an organization independent of the corporation that is accountable to the people to assure me that the timber is "Green". 3rd parties are bought by the corporation and therefore dependent on that corporation to maintian their existence. The government has the independence and authority to stand up to that corporation, and they are failing us miserably.

    We see clearly in Third World nations what happens when businesses are not held accountable for their waste management. Why would anyone ever believe it would be any other way? It's delusional.

    It's an admitted fact that a company as enormous as Merck had done the research to show Celebrex had some issues and they ignored it to reap the profits of a new drug. Now Dubya wants to protect Merck and others by limiting lawsuits against them? We no longer have a government "of the people, by the people, or for the people." It is now for the shareholders alone.

    Environmental protections do not exclude the bottom line, but they do restrict it. It's merely a cost of doing business. The wise entrepreneurs make money anyway and the greedy ones can see nothing else except the loss of money to regulations that could have gone into their pockets.

  • panchopdx (unverified)
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    The Republican Big Tent attracts the libertarian vote because they can "talk the talk" (i.e., speak the language of small government fiscal policy).

    That is not to say that they "walk the walk", but they give us the first half of the equation and lead us to believe that (given the right circumstances) someday they'll deliver on the second half.

    Libertarian/fiscal conservatives got tax cuts under Bush, however they were not accompanied by commensurate spending reductions.

    A lot of fiscal conservatives were pissed about that, but the best response D's could offer was a candidate promising to raise revenues (taxes) to match his (even greater) spending plans.

    Ugly choices, but Bush wins that contest almost every time.

    If liberals want to figure out how to woo the libertarian/fiscal conservative vote, they'll need to first understand that perspective.

    As an exercise, imagine that you are providing well for yourself and think of the federal government as your spendthrift son in college. You pay his tuition and give him a monthly allowance that is more than enough to cover necessities, but his tastes are more extravagant. You would prefer he stop using his credit to eat at posh restaurants and buy trendy clothes, however, you are not willing to maintain his lifestyle out of your own savings.

    Of course, in this metaphor, the worry that our child/government ruins his credit (or goes bankrupt) doesn't completely correspond to the reality that our government/child can eventually put us on the hook for all of his rash spending.

    The difference between the R's and the D's is that the R's seem willing to acknowledge the presence of unnecessary spending even though they remain unable to do much to curb it (much less their own spending vices). They'll blame the D's and say that it's too politically risky to rock the boat right now.

    On the other hand, the D's remain in complete denial, choosing to frame the spending problem as a revenue shortfall, and transferring responsibility to anybody with the money to cover them.

    The social conservative agenda is troubling (and becomes more so). It has led more than a few libertarian/fiscal conservatives to reregister as Independents (or L's).

    But in a presidential election between the lesser of two evils, the D's don't compete well for libertarian/fiscal conservative votes because they aren't even willing to "talk the talk" yet.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Bert, thanks for the... uh, no, wait... yeah, that was sort of a compliment, right?   ;-)   I do appreciate it.

    Serious question: Is it me that irks you sometimes, or is it merely my views that irk you sometimes?

    The reason I ask... I don't expect my views to go over well here, and I don't doubt at all that many people are bothered by them. So having "irksome" views is fine by me.

    But it's certainly not my intention to personally antagonize anybody. With a few notable exceptions in the past that got out of hand (and which people I now simply ignore) I try to be a reasonably nice guy even when disagreeing strongly with someone. So if I've been personally irksome, I'd like to know so I can correct my behavior in that regard.

    Anyhow, it's been an interesting time participating here at BlueOregon. Any resource that actually makes people think these days is worthwhile.   ;-)

    By the way, I hadn't looked at Daniel's blog until you mentioned it... but I've gotta say you're dead on there. Heck, anybody who considers Ann Coulter a credible source for anything is not much worth listening to...

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Gregor, I would urge you to read Jared Diamond's "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", which I just finished and which was the source of the info on market-based environmental controls. Actually, everybody should read it -- it would fit nicely with the Earth Day theme from last week. Heck, the book practically made ME an environmentalist... it gave me an awful lot to think about anyhow.

    The basic idea presented by Diamond is that there should be a healthy mix of government and private regulation. And he gives examples where that has worked well (or at least shows potential), and examples where that clearly hasn't worked well. Here's a hint: it tends to work well when the business costs of not protecting the environment outweigh the costs of being environmentally friendly. It's not always in the financial interests of a company to trash the environment, independent of any government regulations on the matter.

    Private regulation alone won't solve all problems for all industries. But where it can, I'd suggest that it's a better approach than government regulation.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)
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    David:

    You have never personally irked me. I genuinely enjoy the disposition of your writing. You site facts; you clearly distinguish between facts and opinion; and you are always (in my experience) tolerant and respectful of other opinions.

    You have a knack for fostering civil discussions, the sort of discussions that Oregon (and the nation) need in order to make headway solving problems and realizing opportunities. Also, you provide a real benefit to BlueOregon: you keep it from being merely an echo chamber. Preaching to the choir is good for rallying the troops, but it doesn't do that much to create and improve ideas.

    Keep up the good work.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Sid,

    Your question about health care is an important (and complex) one.

    Would providing nationalized health insurance (if not exactly providing nationalized health care) be a better deal for employers? Probably so. An awful lot depends on the costs involved of course. Asking whether people would support affordable health care is bound to get a resounding YES. But when you start putting real dollar amounts into the question, I think you'll find the definition of "affordable" to vary quite a bit among individuals. ;-)

    Personally I've struggled with this one for quite a while. To start with, I don't believe that everyone has a fundamental "right" to health care. So, frankly, I have no problem with people not having health care coverage in the first place. But to go along with that, I also don't believe that hospital emergency rooms should be forced to care for anybody who walks in the door either.

    Now, as a practical matter, we do effectively act in this country like health care is a basic right (hence the requirement to treat people in emergency rooms regardless of ability to pay, for example). And in that environment, having people who are not themselves able to pay for health care but are going to receive health care anyway (and, if it gets to the emergency room phase, very expensive health care), simply drives up the costs for everyone else who can pay for coverage.

    So despite my fundamental objection to a "right to care", and my rejection of socialized medicine per se, I am warming to the conclusion that standard national universal health insurance is the only viable alternative. If we're going to be giving away health care to everyone anyhow, we may as well find the least expensive way to do it. Consolidating and streamlining the way we pay for health care would be the first step, as this would realize decent efficiency savings. This would only work, however, as a mandatory consolidation, i.e., eliminating private competition for health insurance.

    There would be a definite economic downside to this, though. With something like 1100 private insurance companies (at least) currently providing health care coverage consolidated into a single government entity, there is bound to be tremendous job loss in the private sector, accompanied by tremendous (but smaller) job gains in the public sector. So we go from jobs that bring in tax revenue to jobs that are funded by tax revenue. That is a major concern for me, so I'm not yet 100% behind the plan.

    No easy answers here, eh?

    Regarding your comments on the development of the Internet, I must say that I agree this is one area where defense research dollars paid off tremendously. But keep in mind that the government-funded research was infrastructure-related, not so much application-related. It was critically important, true, but by itself it hasn't really done anything for your business. It's the private development of applications for the Internet that has really helped you.

    Sort of like the roads that the government built. Yes, they are important for reducing the costs of transportation for your business. But by themselves they are useless. It's the private industry that built trucks for hauling things on the public roads that really help you out there. You've got to have both (public and private development) to realize the gain.

    So eBay also wouldn't exist without the tremendous private development that created the specific technologies for e-commerce, including technologies that they developed themselves. By the way, the real driving force behind e-commerce development over the last several years? PORN. At one point a few years back adult web sites accounted for less than 0.5% of all pages on the internet, but something like 60% of the financial transactions. These were people motivated to find convenient, secure mechanisms for collecting payment information. Not, one would hope, government-funded research.   ;-)

    I'll wager that eBay employs some of that talent from India and/or China for their own development. It's not something I'm particularly thrilled about since I happen to compete directly (and at an economic disadvantage) with those foreign technology workers. But it could certainly explain why the CEO of the company might have favored Bush in the last election.

    It also couldn't hurt that Dick Cheney made a (fairly ridiculous) passing reference to eBay in his debate, as I recall.

    Anyhow, sorry for the digression, my main point was that government investment in basic R&D is good, but private R&D tends to build the really useful stuff on top of it.

    I'm with you on the tax breaks for investment income, by the way. I don't see any reason for taxing income from labor any differently than income from wealth.

    For what it's worth...

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Bert, thanks again for the kind words.

    You're right about the "echo chamber" thing. It's certainly not a problem unique to BlueOregon, but it was what prompted me to start writing here in the first place. Not so much to persuade people to come over to the dark side with me   ;-)   -- but rather to try to explain that there are people out here who just see things differently, and not all opposition to "progressive" positions is rooted in pure evil... or mindless Stepford Republicanism.

    Cheers!

  • Sid (unverified)
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    David-

    Why would the private sector in the health care industry have to end if universal health care were offered through governments? Countries like Germany have universal health care, but they also have a private sector. Germans have the choice between the VW bug (public care) or the BMW (private.) I don't think one excludes the other.

    Health care as a fundamental right is an ethical debate. If a seriously sick person shows up at the ER without health insurance, is it ethical to deny treatment? I think we're talking about some human insticts here, the instinct to help an injured fellow human. A doctor has the right to look a sick person and say, "Sorry buddy, but you can't pay me and you're a burden on the system so get out of my hospital room." But I think most people would be shocked.

    By having a basic level of service for the public, a lot of money could be saved. Universal healthcare also doesn't mean the government acts as the provider. It could be a public/private venture, where the government takes bids from private companies for universal coverage. It could be broken down into regions so no single company dominated the market, but the government would still have strong bargaining power (something they should have done with the Medicare prescription bill, but didn't.)

    Large employers would obviously want to opt out of providing health benefits for their employees, but this could be prevented through incentives and even laws. And if the system worked, perhaps healthcare costs would come down because we would no longer have people with a cold showing up at the ER, and this would lessen the burden on large employers.

    I don't know... just some ideas on a very complicated problem.

    On e-Bay and the Internet: Yes, a lot of developments have happened in the private sector. Many have also happened at our public universities and continue to happen at our public universities. My husband did his Ph.D. in software engineering during the 90s and his department got so many state and government grants for Internet development. Much of his work focused on web applications. Oracle hired him as soon as he stepped off campus because of the skills and applications he aquired. In the sciences, American universities are petri dishes for employers who are hovering around the edges of campus waiting to snap up the new technology for their own use. And obviously that's why many large companies contribute to universities, but the government pays out the most in the end.

  • Sid (unverified)
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    David-

    Why would the private sector in the health care industry have to end if universal health care were offered through governments? Countries like Germany have universal health care, but they also have a private sector. Germans have the choice between the VW bug (public care) or the BMW (private.) I don't think one excludes the other.

    Health care as a fundamental right is an ethical debate. If a seriously sick person shows up at the ER without health insurance, is it ethical to deny treatment? I think we're talking about some human insticts here, the instinct to help an injured fellow human. A doctor has the right to look a sick person and say, "Sorry buddy, but you can't pay me and you're a burden on the system so get out of my hospital room." But I think most people would be shocked.

    By having a basic level of service for the public, a lot of money could be saved. Universal healthcare also doesn't mean the government acts as the provider. It could be a public/private venture, where the government takes bids from private companies for universal coverage. It could be broken down into regions so no single company dominated the market, but the government would still have strong bargaining power (something they should have done with the Medicare prescription bill, but didn't.)

    Large employers would obviously want to opt out of providing health benefits for their employees, but this could be prevented through incentives and even laws. And if the system worked, perhaps healthcare costs would come down because we would no longer have people with a cold showing up at the ER, and this would lessen the burden on large employers.

    I don't know... just some ideas on a very complicated problem.

    On e-Bay and the Internet: Yes, a lot of developments have happened in the private sector. Many have also happened at our public universities and continue to happen at our public universities. My husband did his Ph.D. in software engineering during the 90s and his department got so many state and government grants for Internet development. Much of his work focused on web applications. Oracle hired him as soon as he stepped off campus because of the skills and applications he aquired. In the sciences, American universities are petri dishes for employers who are hovering around the edges of campus waiting to snap up the new technology for their own use. And obviously that's why many large companies contribute to universities, but the government pays out the most in the end.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Sid -- first off, you make a very good point about university investment (largely funded by government) in technical research.

    Second, perhaps a legal expert can clarify but I'm under the impression that by law a hospital must provide emergency treatment to anyone who comes in their facility, without regard to their ability to pay. So I don't think legally a doctor has the right to simply turn away a patient in that situation, ethics aside.

    I don't know what the law is regarding non-life-saving treament though.

    Anyhow, my point about eliminating the private segment was limited strictly to insurers, not to health care providers. And the reason is based on my reluctant acceptance of the need for universal coverage in the first place -- to reduce overall costs. If we simply add another insurer to the system, we'd be increasing overhead costs, not decreasing them. I suppose we could implement some sort of regional monopoly for government contracts as you suggest, but the point would be that without having a single payer system for the health care provider to deal with, we don't gain the efficiencies and therefore savings that we need.

    You're right about other countries offering private "supplemental" insurance for those items not covered by the basic universal insurance. But again, unless we reduce the number of payers in the system, we aren't saving any money. Perhaps this is a point against the universal coverage idea, I'll have to think on that...

    You raise the ethical question about withholding treatment from an injured person. I think that brings up another complication -- do you draw a distinction between providing care for chronic illness versus acute illness or injury?

    In other words, if a person has a broken arm, is there a difference in moral obligation to treat/heal that injury versus providing full treatment for someone with cancer, or diabetes, or various other chronic diseases? Is there any room to factor in the life expectancy of the patient, or the relative "value" (however you want to define it) of that patient to society?

    Sorry, that really strays from the topic of the post... but it's certainly relevant to the question of rising costs of health care, and who should pay the bill...

  • Gregor's Mommy (unverified)
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    Gregor: you are confusing your Evil Pharma trying-to-kill-us companies again.

    Pfizer = Celebrex and Bextra

    Merck = Vioxx (worth noting the CEO's wife was taking Vioxx until it was pulled from the market).

    other "Non-selective NSAIDs" are listed below:

    Chemical Name Diclofenac Cataflam Ibuprofe Ketoprofen Ketorolac Mefenamic Acid Meloxica Nabumetone Naproxen** (Aleve, Naprosyn, Anaprox)

  • Gregor's Mommy (unverified)
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    Gregor wrote,

    It's an admitted fact that a company as enormous as Merck had done the research to show Celebrex had some issues and they ignored it to reap the profits of a new drug. Now Dubya wants to protect Merck and others by limiting lawsuits against them? We no longer have a government "of the people, by the people, or for the people." It is now for the shareholders alone.

    I am going to cancel your Mother Jones subscription if you don't behave.

  • Gregor (unverified)
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    Thanks for correcting me, but the example of corporate greed overriding concern for their patrons remains relevant and those drugs are not available at this time. Am I correct that their own research indicated there was a problem but they took it to market anyway? That was the real issue. I may not be precise in labelling who did what when, but I am disgusted by these reptitious lies that the corporations would never do anything to hurt their business. But now that I think about, that may be the truth. The decision to proceed probably went something like this...we will make a fortune and have a very low body count because most people will be in the ground before it is ever revealed. We can lobby deflectively and go into a bit of a slump but in the end, we will come out ahead.

    <h2>Corporations would hurt us to get a profit. That is the truth, repeated time and again. It is why we have pollution, as though in the 21st century we can't figure out how to do it cleaner. We know how to do it cleaner. It purely greed and lack of effective government regulation that perpetuates these industries spewing filth to increase their profits.</h2>

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