Michael Gerson wants us to believe that “the tea party undermines conservatism.” Gerson, as a Karl Rove recruit to be George W. Bush’s speechwriter, has exactly zero plausibility as a conservative. But since many people prefer to use pseudo-intellectual cant to justify standing apart from people who are fighting for conservative society, I’m going to deal with a few things in his editorial.
One of the main problems with an unremittingly hostile view of government — held by many associated with the tea party, libertarianism, and “constitutionalism” — is that it obscures and undermines the social contributions of a truly conservative vision of government.
The “tea party” name came from the initials for “Taxed Enough Already.” It has never been about a theoretical anarchism or even a principled “minarchism”—which causes many Libertarians to turn up their noses at the group. Others see an obvious overlap in objectives, but that doesn’t make the “tea party” libertarian rather than conservative.
The tea party did not start back in 1830; it started during the Bush years specifically in response to the “compassionate conservatism” endorsed by Gerson. It has never been against all government but against “Big Government.” Let’s not forget what it was like:
What emerged from the legislature was often a hodge-podge of compassionate conservatism, accommodations to Democrats, and gifts to favored constituencies. The result was government growth and deficit spending even as the country was cutting taxes and prosecuting two wars. Whether this approach was right or wrong, however, it is completely and demonstrably false that “nobody was angry about the deficit under President Bush.” Bush’s big government did arouse substantial opposition within conservative ranks.
Liberal politicians and their fellow travelers in the media seemed to assume that Americans disapproved of Bush for the same reasons they did. Yet many rejected Bush because he was not their kind of conservative (or, they might say, no conservative at all). William F. Buckley was tactful in 2006 when he said that Bush suffers from “the absence of effective conservative ideology — with the result that he ended up being very extravagant in domestic spending.” And George Will wrote in 2004 that “Republicans are swiftly forfeiting the perception that they are especially responsible stewards of government finances.” The President had recently proposed some cuts, but the $4.9 billion saved “would pay less than six days’ interest on the national debt.” These deficits were apparently “one way ‘compassionate conservatism’ defines itself.”
Gerson wants to defend Bush’s radical “big government” betrayals of conservatism by conservative clichés. Thus:
In the traditional conservative view, individual liberty is ennobled and ordered within social institutions — families, religious communities, neighborhoods, voluntary associations, local governments and nations. The success of individuals is tied to the health of these institutions, which prepare people for the responsible exercise of freedom and the duties of citizenship.
First of all, the influence has to flow both ways. Free and responsible parents, religious believers and clergy, neighbors, volunteers, and local officers, as well as citizens, keep these institutions functioning.
Second, the words about “local governments” are empty of significance other than to fool conservative readers. Other than as paid clients (and bought voters) for a Federal regime, he has no use for them—they are a prop for or a sub-office to the national government. Thus, there is a reason why Gerson smudged libertarians into constitutionalists at the beginning of his piece, scare quotes notwithstanding.
The totalitarian utopianism gets really thick when Gerson tells us the Federal Leviathan must empower and equip individuals for them to prosper:
But conservatives also need to take seriously the economic implications of this governing vision. Just as citizens must be prepared for the exercise of liberty, individuals must be given the skills and values — human capital — that will allow them to succeed in a free economy.
This is the essence of equal opportunity. But it is not a natural social condition. And many conservatives have failed to recognize the extent to which this defining American promise has been hollowed out.
That was never a defining American promise except for progressives and liberals, most of whom were more honest than Gerson in rejecting the idea of a “free economy” altogether. A state regime, straddling from Maine to San Diego from Miami to Seattle, taking upon itself the mission to “prepare” “citizens” “for the exercise of liberty” and to “give” (I’m altering Gerson’s deceptive passive voice) them “values” to make them into fit “human capital,” is not a conservative vision.
It’s a borrow, spend, regulate, and tax nightmare.
And since Leviathan state’s always fail to bring about the social salvation they promise, they are also everlasting engines of lies as they are forced to produce propaganda to paper over their failures.
Sounds like the kind of regime where Gerson would always be able to find a place.