The big lesson of The Cold War was that communism was unworkable. It was not that, like a shining city on the hill, it did not have some merits in the abstract. In a way, it was Christianity as Jesus had envisioned it without the Christ. In reality, communism killed millions, most of them fellow communists, in an attempt to prove that its model of governance would actually work inside our culture. It quickly devolved into a dictatorial socialism. Communism still has some adherents, but they are rare. You have to go to places like Nepal and Cuba to find communists these days.
In 2008, we should have learned another lesson: modern conservatism does not work either. The only ones who have not gotten the messages seem to be modern conservatives themselves. No matter how stupid and wrong-headed modern conservatism has proven to be in action they can neither see nor face it.
For six years the conservatives have had carte blanc. You had a conservative president with a rubber stamp conservative Congress. Perhaps the biggest irony of all is that by putting their version of conservatism into practice, they ended up at odds with their own principles.
Conservatives are supposed to believe in limited government. When has the most growth in the federal government occurred lately? During two of our most conservative presidents: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Conservatives believe in giving more power to the states and less to the federal government. Yet Conservatives have been busy doing just the opposite. From intervening in the sad Terri Schiavo matter, to trampling on California’s desire to regulate automobile emissions, to overturning Oregon’s assisted suicide laws, rather than returning power to the people and the states, conservatives have proven they want to increase federal power. They cannot even be conservative about our food and are gleefully approving irradiated meats and encouraging us to consume cloned animals.
Conservatives supposedly believe in freedom from government intrusion into our personal affairs. Yet they have no qualms about allowing the NSA to listen in on our telephone calls without a warrant or to sniff our emails. Conservatives are supposed to believe in human rights, yet it was conservatives who took away some of our fundamental rights. They gave power to the president to lock up anyone he wants to as enemy combatants, including American citizens in the United States, and keep them away from the courts indefinitely.
It is all a ruse. What conservatives really want, and which is true of most politicians, is simply power. They have gone to extraordinary and likely unconstitutional lengths to acquire it and to hold on to it. Conservatism should be about relinquishing the power of the state. It is supposed to be a philosophy that gives you more personal freedom, not less. Before Bush came to power, I had the right of Habeas Corpus. Now in certain cases, I do not even have this right, a right that can be traced back to the Magna Carta.
Prior to our current president, I thought we had three branches of government. I assumed that if conservatives ran the government they would diligently respect the separation of powers. Now I find out that there is a fourth branch: Dick Cheney and that is why he cannot release any records under the Freedom of Information Act. Prior to this administration, I assumed that if a bill became law the President was constitutionally required to execute it faithfully. Now I learn that even though a president signs a bill, he can unilaterally assert the right to ignore parts of it or take actions that are the exact opposite of the intent of Congress. All he has to do is attach a signing statement. Conservatives, please show me what part of our constitution that gives the president this power.
In short, there is nothing the least bit conservative about modern conservatism. Indeed, conservatism as it is practiced today has nothing in common with conservatism at all. When someone comes along, like Ron Paul who actually parrots true conservative principles, modern conservatives snicker. A real conservative would never have gone into Iraq in the first place because real conservatives do not rush into anything. Changes, if they must occur, are done thoughtfully and only after great consideration, and typically with reluctance.
Conservatism does not really exist in this country. Instead, it has been co-opted by the ranks of people who are hotheads, obnoxiously stubborn and who cannot even be bothered to pay attention to the laws of cause and effect. Despite the last eight years, they still believe that by cutting taxes the government will balance its budget. It did not work for Ronald Reagan, and it did not work for George W. Bush either but hey, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make any sense, what matters is sticking to principle! Cutting taxes is so important that they will even borrow money today and make their children pay for it tomorrow so they can enjoy lower taxes now. In essence, modern conservatism is simply rampant selfishness for the moneyed crowd gone amok. No accumulation of disagreeable facts and outcomes can suggest to this crowd that even one of their policies was ever in error. Instead, they anticipate tomorrow, or next week, they will be proven right.
This is why they are foaming at the mouth because it looks like John McCain will win the Republican nomination. Conservatives like Ann Coulter are so upset they want to raise money for their nemesis Hillary Clinton. The reason they loathe John McCain so much is that McCain realizes to get things done you sometimes have to cross the aisle. He has demonstrated an unforgivable pragmatic streak. A true conservative never compromises principle for the sake of political expediency. (I might add, many liberal Democrats suffer from the same delusion. I saw this in the fascination for many with the candidacy of John Edwards.)
Conservatism, at least its most modern and perturbed manifestation, is in its death throes. That is why President Bush’s approval ratings are at 30% and Congress’ are even lower. That is why Democratic caucuses in overwhelmingly red states like Kansas have people waiting for hours in the freezing cold to participate. People across the country are in great pain, and it is a direct result of having conservatives in charge. They are not easily roused out of their political stupor, where they prefer to remain. However, they are roused in this election. For eight years, government has been run for the exclusive benefit of the elite. It was done this way openly and shamelessly. Middle and lower class America has paid the price in lost jobs, stagnant wages, dirtier air and a collapsing health care system. It will take another generation before they will have a chance at power again. First, they need voters who can forget their trail of carnage, and the only hope of doing that is to have no memory of it.
I hope that future generations will read take the time to read their history books. Modern conservatism like communism has proven unworkable. It should now be relegated to the dustbin of expensive lessons learned.