THE BLOG
03/20/2007 01:09 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Conservatives Cost a Lot of Money

Of course you have read Paul Krugman's wonderful column in yesterday's
New York Times. I couldn't have said it better myself. But the editors of the
Times actually dare to give Krugman a word limit, so he didn't get to
go into what I consider to be the other general effect of conservative
governance, I mean other than criminal malfeasance, neglect of the
citizenry, mashing of constitutional protections, trashing of the
environment, bashing of real patriotism, and crashing of the ship of
state into the nearest hundred-foot-high cliff (bad metaphor, but
here's a contest: think of a better one!). The real attention-getter
about conservatives is that they are so damned expensive.

What costs more--routine prenatal care of a poor woman during
pregnancy that she would be able to get if we had universal
healthcare, or the intensive care that results when she shows up at
the emergency room with preeclampsia in her ninth month?

What costs more--finding Bin Laden with a few specialty forces and
some back-channel bribes and contacts, or a war in Iraq?

What costs more--enforcing pollution controls when they are first put
into law or allowing private industry to evade them year after year as
they spew pollutants into the air and fight pollution laws through the
courts while the plants deteriorate, the cost of controls goes up, and
the earth, air, and water are more and more contaminated?

What costs more--conserving our use of materials and energy, or
ripping off the tops of mountains in West Virginia and Kentucky,
destroying landscapes, ecosystems, towns, villages, and lives?

What costs more--supplying the army with good equipment and good
medical care and deploying the army cautiously in situations where we
are mostly likely to win, or destroying the army (by sending the
soldiers into a war they not only don't understand and can't win, but
also do not have the equipment to win) and then having to rebuild it?

What costs more--a government that functions smoothly or one that is
riven with investigations and conflicts? A government where experts
can do their jobs, or one where experts are continuously interfered
with so that finally they leave in droves, to be replaced by
know-nothings who can't do the job? (Let's not forget that the right
wing's war on the government continues whether they are in power or
out of power.)

What costs more--having sensible regulations for consumer product
safety or having no regulations--which leads to injuries, illnesses,
deaths, medical bills, lawsuits, bankruptcies, loss of productivity,
and years of inconsistencies in the marketplace that hamper product
design?

What costs more--a vast middle class who can support themselves and
their towns and cities and schools and children and elderly relatives,
or a vast class of working poor who can barely support themselves and
certainly cannot take care of failing schools, deteriorating housing
stock, surging crime, and chaos proliferating all around them? Just
because the conservatives don't want to pay for something doesn't mean
costs are not incurred; they are simply put off for another day, when
they will be geometrically higher.

The root problem of conservatism is that it is tribal--conservatives
cannot or will not believe in such basic concepts as epidemiology,
ecology, or even Keynesian economics (not to mention brotherly love).
But even though conservatives have been fighting interconnectedness
forever, it continues to exist (that "reality has a liberal bias" sort
of thing). Regulations and benefits like healthcare and diplomacy
exist not out of soft-hearted liberal guilt, but because taking care
of matters before they get out of hand is cheaper, while hiding your
head in the sand, clinging to us-and-them beliefs, and arming
yourselves to the teeth is ever more expensive. In Bleak House,
Charles Dickens pointed out to a ruling class that was reluctant to
assume the expenses of public sanitation that smallpox could not be
excluded from the houses of the rich simply because the rich disdained
the poor. That was a hundred and fifty years ago, and we are still
having to point the same thing out today. You don't have to recognize
the connection (as in smallpox, as in global warming) in order for it
to be there.

The fight, since Reagan, has been literally for the soul of the US.
Conservatives are determined to define the nation as a hierarchy in
which white Christian men are at the top, unchallenged by other
groups, but able to extend favor to nonthreatening men or good-looking
women as individuals. They want to define the world as a place where
what America says goes, no matter how far away other countries are, or
how much they disagree with our policies. Liberals assume that our
nation is a place where work, citizenship, and simple humanity can
claim certain rights and where no single group should predominate
under the law. They assume that the world is never going to be a
uniform place, but that other nations don't lose their humanity just
because they disagree with or distrust us.

White men produced the Constitution. Liberals assert that what they
produced is primary, while conservatives assert that who they were is
primary. Increasingly, conservatives seem ready to throw everything
away in order to maintain dominance--the Constitution, the good
opinion of the rest of the world, the lives and limbs and sanity of
our soldiers, the health and habitability of the Earth, and their own
claims to common sense and decency. Conservatives want to return us to
a primitive conception of the world, even though we know better.

The case is frequently made that conservatives and liberals have
different temperaments, and this is surely so. Cheney's 1% Doctrine is
the quintessential conservative idea--the world is so dangerous that
if there is a 1% chance of an attack on America, then we have to go
all out to stop it. There is a sort of surface bravery about this
idea, but beyond that, it makes absolutely no sense tactically or
strategically. It is like going to the track and betting the house on
a 99 to 1 shot. Many conservatives refuse to be convinced that a
subtler approach is safe enough or effective enough. But let's put it
this way: carpet bombing is much more costly in every way than good
intelligence and loyal allies. It's a pocketbook issue.

Just a reminder: my virtual reading at Videoranch is Friday at 6 pm
Pacific time. I am sorry that Mac users can't visit--I use a Mac
myself--but really and truly, this website is quite new and still
making things up and seeing how they work.

Also: please to get to my website, here.