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The Colossal Collapse of Conservatism

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Conservatism has become obsolete. Social progress and the practicalities of governance have revealed the fundamental and fatal flaws of conservative thought. Conservatives today are like followers of a religious cult milling about confused the day after their leader's prediction of Armageddon failed to materialize. The immediacy of the problem is clear as normal life goes on. The failure reveals a fundamental flaw in the sect's belief system, but the failure simply cannot be denied in the light of the new day's dawn.

Republicans face a similar dilemma trying to justify the abject failure of their founding ideals in the face of a confounding reality -- the success of liberalism. Like cult members who sold all worldly possessions in anticipation of the Rapture, Republicans stand naked in the cold wind of change, grasping for a way to explain away their failed vision for the future. A clear sign of decay is their desperate appeal to twisted and contorted logic to shore up the movement's crumbling foundation. This becomes starkly evident in the Wall Street bailout through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), an effort inspired and implemented by a Republican administration and supported by a critical mass of conservative allies on the Hill.

Before we can understand how TARP reveals conservatism's soft white underbelly, though, we need to go back to a more fundamental problem. The United States was founded on revolution, a violent break from tradition through radical and sudden change. Conservatism is the disposition to preserve what is already established. If conservatism had prevailed in the 1770s, we would all be British subjects now, answering to the Queen. We are Americans precisely because radical liberalism won the day. Commentator George Will, in a fit of dyspeptic rationalization, tried to suture this fatal gaping wound in the flesh of conservatism with the oxymoronic and absurd notion of a "conservative revolution." Will's formulation is a futile attempt to merge two incompatible concepts to save the founding ideals of his philosophy from the ash heap of history. We might accept some inherent contradictions like "jumbo shrimp" or "found missing," but no revolution is ever conservative.

Fast forward to the year 2008, where we find conservatives floundering on the shores of the Bailout Sea. In deepest and most troubled waters is the drowning ideology of Republican icon Ronald Reagan, who famously said that government was the problem, not the solution. Yet his disciples turned immediately to government when Wall Street imploded. They act like an adolescent boy strutting his independence who runs back to daddy at the first sign of trouble. The Republican bailout constitutes failure at two levels. First, the crisis itself is a consequence of conservative prayer at the altar of deregulation, which allowed subprime lending and nearly $1 trillion of hidden credit default swaps to corrupt our economy. Second, these failures, caused by a fundamental flaw embedded in conservative ideology, are solved by taking actions anathema to conservatism: government intervention.

And now we come full circle. In the face of this obvious failure of conservatism in an economic meltdown caused by conservatism, Republicans find themselves trying to justify their continued existence with a fresh appeal to the same logic that led to the ridiculous notion of a "conservative revolution." For symmetry, we can again look to George Will for conceptual contortions that would do a gymnast proud.

Will claims in a recent editorial that while a Republican administration began the bailouts, conservatives only supported the effort "grudgingly...and with uneasy consciences." He then conjectures that it is "probable" that "some" Democrats "relish this eruption of government into finance and industry." Based on this unsubstantiated conjecture, he concludes that the Republican bailout "serves the left's agenda of expanding the scope of politics by multiplying the forms of dependency on government."

Well now. He excuses the Republican appeal to government because the Party does so with some guilt, even as they throw another $800 billion onto the stinking pile of rescue money. He blames Democrats for expanding government, even though they are not responsible for doing so, because they might in theory support the Republican action. That is analogous to a judge letting a murderer go free because the killer felt guilty, while sentencing the victim's survivors to life imprisonment because it is "probable" that "some" thought the killer deserved to die. To justify their existence, Republicans have been reduced to asking us to ignore the actions and deeds of their Party, because they feel queasy about what they are doing, while drawing negative conclusions about Democrats because they might not feel as queasy as Republicans do about Republican programs. Anybody with a pulse can see that this logic is absurd and desperate. Yet that is all the Republicans have to hold onto now in the face of their unambiguous failures.

Republicans have failed not because of poor execution, but because they are acting on a philosophy deeply and fundamentally flawed. Without conservatism, we would not have benefitted from the American Revolution or had to suffer the horrors of the past eight years under George Bush. Without liberalism, blacks and whites would remain segregated; women would not vote; blacks would not vote; we would have little or no religious tolerance and our civil rights would be threatened, just as we see happening under Bush. That is the ugly world that conservatism sought to protect from change. In the history of our great republic, only liberalism pushed us toward greater enlightenment from the dark days of bigotry and intolerance. Conservatism, protector of the status quo, resisted the very changes we now take for granted, proving the ideology as wrong then as it is now.

I will continue to plead that we once and for all reject the ridiculous myth that Republicans are the party of small government and fiscal responsibility. We must never forget that Republicans have overseen the largest tax increase in U.S. history under the leadership of Ronald Reagan. Reagan was responsible for the most bloated growth of the federal government. Reagan created, with his proposed budgets (not that of Democratic Congress), the largest debts and deficits in history at that time. Now we have Bush, a Republican who epitomizes financial mismanagement. He ballooned our debt to $10 trillion and exploded our deficits in an orgy of prolifigate spending with no off-setting revenue. But all of those travesties under 16 years of Republican rule are OK because Republicans feel "queasy" about their prolifigate spending and government expansions even as they continue to gorge at the trough. Democrats are to blame for these Republican excesses because some might not feel guilty about Republican spending.

George Will, along with many Republicans, makes a critical mistake about liberalism. He confuses liberalism with big government because doing so helps perpetrate the failed myth of conservatism. Liberals support a woman's right to choose, a view to limiting government's role in our personal lives. Liberals support limiting the police powers of government in search and seizure. Liberals seek to limit the government's ability to hold American citizens without trial and without the benefit of habeas corpus. Liberals want the government out of our bedrooms, working to overturn laws that prevent consenting adults from enjoying the partners of their choice in the privacy of their homes. Yes, anti-sodomy laws are on the books in 15 states. Liberals literally want the government off the backs of its citizens. Republicans oddly decry "tax and spend" Democrats who seek fiscal responsibility in government, while conservatives go on a wild rampage of "borrow and spend" on the backs of their grandchildren.

Liberals and conservatives alike seek to limit the role and power of the government, and both groups support bigger government when an expansion supports their cause. Enough already with the nonsense that Republicans are responsible fiscal stewards and Democrats are big tax hounds dedicated to the "expanding scope of politics." Just read our history, or review the actions of our government over the past eight years, and you simply cannot draw that conclusion. Republicans have failed the test of practical governance.

George Will is one of the conservative movement's most articulate and thoughtful spokesmen. Even he, though, cannot overcome the reality of failure in spite of his Herculean effort to contort the truth. His verbal assault on logic represents the terminal gasps of a dying philosophy. The need to go to such extremes to explain Republican behavior is evidence of inherent rot and decay, and the impending collapse of conservatism.