Why I’m Not a Conservative

October 2014

Breadline during the Great Depression. Source: http://www.ssa.gov/history/acoffee.html

“The conservative mind sees no role for government other than to police the nation’s borders and streets. It does not acknowledge a public interest or a common good, and … even the idea of public health. Yet there is no way to contain the Ebola virus in America without a sophisticated approach to public health and a deep commitment to the common good. In this, as in so much else, we are all in it together. Be thankful conservatives have not completely obliterated our collective capacity to act in the public interest.” ~ Robert Reich (posted on his Facebook page 10/2/14)

Philosophically, liberals and conservatives are differentiated primarily by their answers to two questions: (1) What is the proper role and size of government? and (2) Why are some people in society “winners” and others “losers”? While there are other issues on which conservatives and liberals are at odds[1], I believe these two are the defining ones.

I should state at the outset that I am a liberal and, while I am sympathetic to some of the concerns underlying conservatives’ views, I do not share those views. That said, I try to keep an open mind and – above all – to base my views on evidence as much as possible.

The modern conservative movement in the United States might be dated from the middle of the twentieth century. One of its more influential “manifestos” was The Conscience of a Conservative[2], a slim volume published in 1960 that has become a classic of American conservatism. It was attributed to Barry Goldwater, the Republican Senator from Arizona at the time, but it was actually ghostwritten by L. Brent Bozell Jr., a stalwart of the conservative movement and a relative of William F. Buckley.

The Conscience of a Conservative is less than 125 pages, but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in influence. This small book became a sort of “Little Red Book” of the conservative movement in this country, to use a fiendishly ill-suited metaphor. It is full of pithy statements and sentiments.

It was written at a time when the democratic/capitalist United States was locked in a “cold war” with the totalitarian/communist Soviet Union. It is thus not surprising that it prized individual freedom as the ultimate good and feared too much power in “the State” as the ultimate bad – a situation Goldwater/Bozel apparently viewed not as a hypothetical possibility in the United States but as an existing reality. They write:

“How did it happen? How did our national government grow from a servant with sharply limited power into a master with virtually unlimited power?” [3]

In response to liberal calls for the government to provide an adequate social safety net for its people, they write:

“The effect of Welfarism on freedom will be felt later on – after its beneficiaries have become its victims, after dependence on government has turned into bondage and it is too late to unlock the jail.[4]

 “The long range political consequences of Welfarism are plain enough: as we have seen, the State that is able to deal with its citizens as wards and dependents has gathered unto itself unlimited political and economic power and is thus able to rule as absolutely as any oriental despot.”[5]

This was written over a half a century ago, and yet the view it espouses – of government as dangerously large and the government’s social welfare programs as traps that enslave its citizens[6] – is, I believe, the basis of the “small government” mantra so common among conservatives today. We should keep government small – deprive it of the resources to do very much – so that it won’t become a danger to its citizens.

In concert with the emphasis on small government, Goldwater/Bozel – and the modern conservative movement – emphasize individual responsibility. A country where people take responsibility for themselves, they imply, is a country that doesn’t need a big government, because responsible citizens will take care of themselves rather than looking for government handouts. Moreover, a government that is too quick to help its people may do more harm than good. As vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan famously put it during the 2012 campaign, “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”[7]

Or, in the cruder parlance of presidential candidate Romney’s “47 percent” statement (made when he thought he wasn’t being recorded), “ … there are 47 percent who are with [President Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.”[8]

Romney’s now-infamous assessment of extreme dependency on government is the polar opposite of the conservative ideal, which Goldwater/Bozel sum up as follows:

“Every man is responsible for his own development. The choices that govern his life are choices that he must make: they cannot be made by any other human being, or by the collectivity of human beings.”[9]

Or, put more simply: You’re on your own, and you should be on your own.

So conservatives view government as a potential threat, as something to try to keep “tamped down,” lest it become too powerful, and thus dangerous, or tries to be too “helpful,” thus lulling people into complacency and dependency. The more freedom and responsibility the individual is given, conservatives believe, the better not only for the individual but for society as a whole. The best government is a small government whose role is limited to such tasks as national defense. Society will be best off if its people are as free as possible to pursue their goals; people, not the government, know best what is in their own self-interest.

A corollary of this viewpoint seems to be that the lower taxes are, the better. It’s your money, conservatives say, and you know better than the government what to do with it. The government has no right to take away your money, or at least to take any more than the bare minimum necessary to support the limited role appropriate for government. “Starve the beast” (of revenues), and it will be tamed.

In a similar vein, conservatives (at least nowadays) believe that the free market should, like the free individual, be as unfettered as possible, and for similar reasons. Free markets are best at maximizing efficiency; government interference acts as a “wedge” between free market supply and demand, creating what economists call “dead weight loss” – a chunk of potential producer profit and/or consumer satisfaction that is not actualized, a decrease in the efficiency of the market in matching supply with demand. Government regulations and other forms of interference tend to shrink the economic pie. Regardless of how the pie is sliced up, there is less to go around.

It sounds good – a free, self-reliant people with a free market; a small government with just enough resources to protect the freedom of its people. Sounds great! And yet …

Is something wrong with this picture? If we greatly limit government revenues, what might we be giving up? Are there “goods” that people need and want that the private sector doesn’t have the right incentive structure to deliver – “goods” that must be delivered by the government? Actually, there are quite a number of such things, many of which fall under the category of “public goods.”

A public good, as defined in economics, is characterized by two properties: (1) people cannot be excluded from using or benefiting from it, and (2) one person’s use of it does not reduce its availability to other people. National defense is an example. Another example is clean air. These are “goods” that private businesses generally don’t have the incentives to provide. And yet they are clearly necessary for people to have.

In addition to public goods, all “tragedy of the commons” situations are better handled by government than by private enterprise. A “commons” is a finite resource that many people want to use but that will be “used up” if some regulation of its use is not imposed. A good example is fish populations. If there are no regulations on the number of fish that fishermen may catch, populations will be “over-fished” and possibly fished to extinction or near-extinction. This has happened repeatedly.[10]

Clean air can also be thought of as a “commons” that can be “used up” as individual manufacturing and power plants emit their gaseous pollutants into it. No individual plant has the incentive to reduce its pollution; the result, in the absence of some sort of government regulation, is very polluted air and the serious public health and welfare problems that go with it.[11]

The most glaring – and potentially devastating – “tragedy of the commons” we currently face is climate change, where the “commons” that is our atmosphere is being polluted with greenhouse gases from many sources (not just from the United States) – a version of the clean air example above, writ large. As virtuous as it may be for individual people to switch to hybrid cars or use public (instead of private) transportation or give up meat, we won’t be able to adequately address climate change without government intervention. Sorry, Ronald Reagan. Sometimes government isn’t the problem and is the solution.[12],[13]

There are other types of needs that also require a strong federal government with adequate resources. The Ebola virus mentioned in the above quote by Robert Reich, as well as other public health hazards such as, currently, Enterovirus D68, fall under the purviews of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), two components of the Department of Health and Human Services. It has been much harder to do the necessary research and carry out measures protective of public health in the face of steep GOP-driven funding cuts over the last decade. Noting that “NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001,” Dr. Francis Collins, the head of NIH, speculated that, “if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for [the Ebola threat] that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”[14]

Some of the public goods that depend on federal money are less obvious but no less important. The dramatic decline in federal funding for biomedical research over the last decade has made it much harder for research scientists to get grants. This has pushed some scientists out of research altogether, while those who remain are encouraged to take a much more cautious approach in applying for grants – pushing “safe” ideas rather than riskier ones that might have a revolutionary impact.

Ian Glomski, a scientist who ultimately left the field, finding the scramble for funding “stultifying,” recently described this in an interview on NPR. “’You actually have to be much more conservative [in the sense of “playing it safe”] these days than you used to,’ Glomski says, ‘and being that conservative I think ultimately hurts the scientific enterprise.’ Society, he says, is ‘losing out on the cutting-edge research that really is what pushes science forward.’”[15]

This is the sort of societal loss that isn’t obvious but is real and costly – the result of conservatives’ goal to squeeze the federal budget, or, as anti-tax conservative Grover Norquist so disdainfully put it, “to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.”[16] Along with the government, as it goes down the drain, will be all the public goods we once were willing to pay for via taxes and from which we benefited greatly.

The conservative view of government simply ignores public goods. Do conservatives really want to live in a society without them – in which there are not adequate resources to address public health threats like Ebola or Enterovirus D68, should they occur, or to fund cutting-edge scientific research, or to mitigate climate change before we lose our coastal cities to rising seas? I have yet to hear a coherent response from the conservative side of the aisle.

And unlike the poor African countries where Ebola has spread because they don’t have the money to contain it properly, the United States has plenty of money – a jaw-dropping percentage of which, however, is concentrated in the hands of a small minority of its people. Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” signed by virtually all Republicans in Congress, vowing that they will never raise taxes under any circumstances, is aimed at preventing any increases in tax rates imposed on the rich – increases that would help fill federal coffers to provide the public goods that an advanced and healthy society requires.[17]

That there can be too much power in “the State” is, I think, incontestable. Yes, we want to avoid a too-powerful government. No, we don’t want to become a totalitarian or authoritarian country. The Soviet Union, which influenced the thinking of conservatives back when The Conscience of a Conservative was written, deprived its people of the means by which to influence the government or change those in control. I would say the situation in the Soviet Union was sinister and certainly detrimental – and should be avoided. But that’s not the situation we have or have ever had in the United States.

What we do have are systems by which “the State” helps citizens in retirement (Social Security) and offers them affordable medical care in their later years (Medicare). Both Social Security and Medicare are examples of programs run by the federal government in which all citizens are required to pay in during their working years, and all benefit later in life. Will this lead to the demise of our political freedom? Well, it hasn’t yet, and Medicare has been around for 48 years; Social Security has been around a lot longer. And both programs are wildly popular.[18] The limited sense in which American citizens are “dependent” on the federal government for their economic needs is generally appreciated as security, which is why people like these programs. Are they “lulling people into complacency and dependency”? I think a more accurate assessment is that they are providing people some much-appreciated financial security in their older years.

While total control by “the State” is indeed something to be feared, there is no evidence that it is happening in the United States (all unhinged cries about the totalitarian, communist President Obama notwithstanding). Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that this will change.[19]

The question is not: Can there be too much power in “the State”? The question is: How much power is too much power? How big is too big? I would argue that right now the problem is not that the federal government is too big, but that it is being made too small to fund the provision of public goods that help make a society strong and desirable for people to live in. Contrary to the conservative mantra about the wonders of the “free market,” it simply cannot provide the public goods all societies require, nor does it have the wherewithal to regulate itself. This too is a large “hole” in conservative ideology for which I have yet to hear a coherent response.

Conservatives’ concern that the government can become too powerful strikes me as somewhat ironic right now. I think the real problem we currently face is not excessive control of citizens by the federal government, but rather excessive control of the federal government by corporate interests. We are not facing the threat of totalitarianism but rather of oligarchy or plutocracy (as I’ve discussed here and here) – a threat, I would add, that has been exacerbated by conservative ideas and actions.

The other key issue that divides liberals and conservatives is why some people are “winners” in society and others are “losers.” Conservatives tend to ascribe such differences to differences in how people behave – to differences in the extent to which they make an effort, take responsibility for their actions and use reasonable judgment. However, although personal behavior surely must matter, the conservative idea that individuals “determine who they become” – that “every man is responsible for his own development,” as Goldwater/Bozel put it – simply flies in the face of the evidence.

Much of the most important development in a person’s life occurs during childhood. And yet no one would say that a child is responsible for his own development. On the contrary, children who are lucky enough to have parents who have sufficient resources and who devote sufficient attention to them – who frequently read to them and engage them – fare much better in life than children whose parents do not or cannot do this. There is empirical evidence to support this contention. In general, having engaged, loving parents (to say nothing of basic nutrition) really does affect a person’s development in childhood, and this becomes the foundation for one’s further development throughout life.

So every man is not solely responsible for his own development – not by a long shot. A person’s development is a function of a multitude of factors, some of which are within his control, but many of which are not. Even beyond the factors that affect a person’s development in childhood, there are obvious socioeconomic factors that make the playing field on which adults make choices highly un-level.

There is abundant evidence that people’s choices are made within a social context. Children are embedded in families; families are embedded in communities. If a community is damaged or dysfunctional, it’s that much more difficult for the families in it to survive unscathed; if parents are damaged or dysfunctional, it’s that much more difficult for their children to survive unscathed. Even though we make our individual choices, and it seems as if people are doing so “on their own,” it’s not that simple.

Conservatives tend to downplay or ignore quite how different are the circumstances in which different people grow up and navigate their lives. This strikes me as not only short-sighted, but often cruel. Pointing to the rare individuals who “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps,” who made it against all odds, simply sets an unrealistic and unfair bar against which to measure everyone else. It’s one thing to admire Horatio Alger stories; it’s another thing entirely to expect real people to actually live them.

While some of the “winners” in society are super-achievers who did “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” I would guess that most started from a place of relative advantage on the un-level playing field – a place with more money and with the kinds of advantages that come with privilege. Just being white and middle class (to say nothing of upper class) gives one a big head start.

Similarly, many of the “losers” in our society undoubtedly started from a highly disadvantageous place on that un-level playing field. – a place with little money and with the kinds of disadvantages under which marginalized groups have traditionally suffered.

Is there a causal relationship between “success” in life and the advantages one started with? What percentage of the “winners” in our society started from places of relative advantage and what percentage of the “losers” started from places of relative disadvantage? These are empirical questions, answerable by collecting the right data. As we might expect, the evidence shows that those born into affluence are much more likely to be “winners” and those born into poverty or into working class families are much more likely to be “losers.” The extent to which affluent kids have a “leg up” on poor kids is pretty eye-popping; and recent trends are only making this worse. [20]

But what about Paul Ryan’s contention that too much help from the government will “turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into complacency”? Or Mitt Romney’s (related) claim that a large percentage of Americans feel “entitled”? As with the issue of too much power residing in “the State,” I think that, yes, there can be too much help from the government. The question is: How much help is too much? And there are probably some Americans who feel “entitled.” The question is: What percentage feels that way?

As with the question of why some people are “winners” in society and others are “losers,” these are ultimately empirical questions – and very complex ones at that. Statistics on welfare give us some information – for example, over a third of recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children are in the program for less than a year, while fewer than 20 percent are in it for over 5 years.[21] Whether those who are in this program for long periods of time are in it because they “feel entitled” or have been “lulled into complacency” – as opposed to, say, living through the Great Recession for years – isn’t revealed by the statistics.

What should be clear, however, is that there is a mix of situations – and attitudes – of the people who benefit from government welfare programs, just as there is undoubtedly a mix of situations and attitudes that result in “winners” versus “losers” in society. We don’t really know just what that mix is. Conservatives tend to assume that people are poor because of their own failings – because they’re lazy or they’ve made bad decisions (e.g., not continuing their education or having children they cannot afford to raise). And there are undoubtedly people who are “losers” for those reasons. But does that description fit most “losers” in our society? I don’t think we know.

Although it’s difficult to come by actual statistics on the percentage of “losers” who are just lazy and feel “entitled,” however, there is certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence that many people who are poor work very hard, often at multiple jobs that pay poorly. The problem is often not laziness but lack of education and marketable skills.

But why didn’t they get the education and marketable skills? Isn’t this just the result of making bad decisions? If everyone grew up in well-functioning families in well-functioning communities with ample resources, maybe everyone would make the “right” decisions; maybe everyone would get good educations and acquire marketable skills. For a child born into a difficult situation with inadequate resources, it’s much harder to make the “right” decisions – and it’s harder to “bounce back” after having made bad decisions. Children of the rich and upper middle class sometimes make bad decisions too, but their parents have the resources to help them “bounce back.” As noted above, we “make are own decisions” within a social context.

There is a bottom line here: We cannot know the reasons why each poor person ended up poor. It would be prohibitively expensive, and highly intrusive, to try to sort out those who are poor because they are just lazy and feel “entitled” from those who are poor for all sorts of more legitimate reasons. If, as a society, we provide a helping hand to the poor, we may be giving hard-earned taxpayer money to some lazy people who feel “entitled.” If, on the other hand, we choose not to provide a helping hand to the poor, we avoid wasting too much hard-earned taxpayer money supporting the “undeserving” poor, but we will also leave the rest of the poor in the lurch.

Conservatives don’t have much to say about what to do about the “losers” in society, because they don’t believe this should be a federal government concern. As Goldwater/Bozel write:

“ … I have heard the questions often. Have you no sense of social obligation? the Liberals ask. Have you no concern for people who are out of work? For sick people who lack medical care? … Are you unmoved by the problems of the aged and disabled? … The answer to all of these questions is, of course, no. But a simple ‘no’ is not enough. I feel certain that Conservatism is through unless Conservatives can demonstrate and communicate the difference between being concerned with these problems and believing that the federal government is the proper agent for their solution.”[22]

But if the federal government is not the proper agent to deal with such things, what is? Individual charities or religious organizations, or even local governments, can only do so much; they simply don’t have the potential reach and breadth that the federal government has. And, I would note, concerns about creating dependency would apply to them as well.

The Great Depression showed the limits of private charities.[23] Notably, the federal government response to the Great Depression enraged conservatives; this was a defining time for the modern conservative movement.

There is a large element of random risk in life. Where on that un-level playing field a child is born is, from the child’s standpoint, random. If she’s lucky, she will be born to parents who have both the financial and emotional resources to give her what she needs to have a good start in life. But, of course, many children are not born into such advantageous situations. Similarly, there is an enormous random component to people’s health – say, whether you get cancer at an early age, or you are born with some highly debilitating condition, or you are the victim of a freak accident.

There is much in life that is random, much over which we simply have no control. To the extent that they can, people often try to insure themselves against major losses – they cannot ensure that they won’t get a serious medical condition, but they can insure themselves against the associated risk of financial ruin that could result. In general, the larger the insurance pool, the better the insurance – i.e., the more people over whom we can spread the risk, the better able we will be to deal with it.

A country can act as a very large insurance pool; everyone pays something in (via taxes) so that there are adequate resources to help those who “draw the short straws” in life – to provide a social safety net that “catches” people before they become destitute. This requires that the federal government is able to collect sufficient revenues to support its role as “ultimate insurer,” among other things. If people believe, as conservatives seem to, that those who find themselves in dire straits are just “slackers,” there will be resentment about paying into the system (as there seems to be among conservatives). But if we acknowledge that there are many reasons – including many legitimate reasons – why people might need some help, then it’s easier to see the federal government as providing good insurance to everyone.

At bottom is the issue of how much we see ourselves as “woven together” with everyone else in the country. Conservatives tend to balk at the notion that we are all “in it together;” this seems to them an assault on individual freedom and responsibility; when they speak of “collectivism” you can practically hear the cell doors clang shut.

It is no coincidence that much of rural America is conservative, because rural areas have low population density and low diversity. It may not be so easy to see quite how we are all “woven together,” since people in rural areas may not see a whole lot of people around, let alone people who are different from them. Why care about the treatment of black youth by policemen in Ferguson, Missouri if you don’t even know any black youth where you live?

And yet those who live in rural areas benefit from “federal insurance” too. The federal government provides crop insurance to farmers in rural areas and subsidizes the premiums to help farmers bear the cost.[24] And plenty of poor rural families receive some form of welfare. They really are “in it together with the rest of us,” whether they acknowledge it or not. Being “in it together” is, in my opinion, a good thing. If conservatives had a different view of the “losers” in society, they might think so too.

Edwin Lyngar was once one of those “losers.” In an article in Salon.com, he beautifully describes the “politics of shame” that took him decades to overcome:

“We were poor, and my overwhelming response to poverty was a profound shame that drove me into the arms of the people least willing to help — conservatives. … Even though we didn’t take the food stamps, we lived in the warm embrace of the federal government with subsidized housing and utilities, courtesy of Uncle Sam. Yet I blamed all of my considerable problems on the government, the only institution that was actively working to alleviate my suffering. … I felt my own poverty was a moral failure. … To make up for my own failures, I voted to give rich people tax cuts, because somewhere deep inside, I knew they were better than me. They earned it. My support for conservative politics was atonement for the original sin of being white trash. …

 I finally “got it.” In 2012, I shunned my self-destructive voting habits and supported Obama. … I gladly pay taxes now, but this attitude is also rooted in self-interest. I have relatives who are poor, and without government services, I might have to support them. We can all go back to living in clans, like cavemen, or we can build institutions and programs that help people who need it. It seems like a great bargain to me. … [25] [emphasis added]

A primary impetus for the modern conservative movement was its revulsion at Soviet- and Chinese-style communism – collectivism taken to an extreme. While that reaction is understandable – and I share it – the conservative response has gone way too far in the other direction. Running away from extreme collectivism, they have landed at extreme privatization. In doing so, they have ignored the crucial ways in which people in a society are in fact “in it together” – all the public goods that are so important for a healthy and well-functioning society; all the ways in which we affect each other that may not be obvious at first glance; all the ways we can benefit from spreading the risk.

And by viewing as “moochers” those who need some help, they have pushed against federal government support for those in this country who have “drawn short straws” in life. This strikes me as similar to the current voter suppression tactics that Republicans claim are to prevent voter fraud. The evidence is overwhelming that there are very, very few cases of actual voter fraud – but to prevent those few cases, Republicans are (gleefully) willing to disenfranchise many thousands of voters.[26] Similarly, to avoid giving government support to the (probably relatively small percentage of) people who “feel entitled” or who are susceptible to being “lulled into complacency,” conservatives want to cut off or cut way back on the resources the federal government has available to offer help to those who genuinely need it and would benefit from it.

There is no question that there can be “too much of a good thing” – too much collectivism or too much available government help. There have been countries that have taken collectivism to a frightening extreme, creating “nightmare” societies where individual freedoms got trampled in the name of “the collective good.” In their zeal to avoid the horrors of extreme collectivism, however, I believe conservatives have gone to the opposite extreme, pushing the United States towards a different kind of “nightmare society” in which support for the public sphere is eroded and people are “on their own.” I suspect most people, if they really understood what that means, would not want to live in such a society. I certainly don’t.

I want to live in a society that protects the public interest as well as private interests; a society that provides adequate regulation of the private sector to protect finite resources as well as public health, welfare, and safety; a society that uses some taxpayer money to provide a helping hand to the poor, even if there may be some “slackers” in the mix; and a society that keeps looking for ways to make that very un-level playing field more level. Conservatives seem to care about none of those things.

That’s why I’m not a conservative.

______________________________________________

[1] Most notably, social issues and attitudes about tradition versus change.

[2] http://www.amazon.com/Conscience-Conservative-Barry-Goldwater/dp/1481978292

[3] Goldwater, B. The Conscience of a Conservative. Victor Publishing Co., Inc. Shepherdsville, KY. 1960, p. 21.

[4] Ibid., pp. 70-71.

[5] Ibid., p. 72.

[6] It isn’t entirely clear whether the author meant to imply an intentional attempt by “the State” to create the dependency that will ultimately result in enslavement, or whether he simply means that welfare programs naturally create dependency, and this dependency becomes a kind of “enslavement.” Either way, it is clearly something he thinks should be avoided.

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/20/paul-ryan-welfare-reform_n_1368277.html

[8] http://thegrio.com/2012/09/18/romney-embraces-takers-vs-makers-meme-with-47-percent-remarks

[9] Goldwater, op. cit., p. 12.

[10] See, for example, http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/critical-issues-overfishing/; http://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/overfishing; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120509154240.htm; http://www.foxnews.com/science/2014/08/13/amazon-biggest-fish-faces-threat-extinction/

[11] There is a wealth of literature on this. A good place to start is EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, http://www.epa.gov/oar/airpollutants.html, and within that, EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, http://www.epa.gov/airquality/index.html

[12] “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem” was one of President Ronald Reagan’s most famous statements.

[13] Environmental economists have known – and have advocated – for decades that a price be put on carbon, either in the form of a carbon tax or a cap and trade program (which was quite successful in reducing the concentrations of acid rain).

[14] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/12/ebola-vaccine_n_5974148.html

[15] http://www.wbur.org/npr/345289127/when-scientists-give-up

[16] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/g/grover_norquist.html

[17] The conservative canard that tax cuts will “pay for themselves” has been debunked repeatedly.

[18] Some people who love them, however, have apparently missed that they are government programs. One angry anti-reform, anti-government attendee at a “town hall” meeting on healthcare reform held by Rep. Robert Inglis (R-SC) famously exclaimed, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.” See, for example, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-cesca/get-your-goddamn-governme_b_252326.html

[19] In recent years, especially after the disclosures by Edward Snowden, there has been a concern about excessive government surveillance of citizens. While this is a cause for concern (justified, in my opinion), the United States is still not anything like the totalitarian states that conservatives worry about – and public and other outcry about NASA surveillance will, hopefully, result in changes for the better. Ironically, conservatives do not seem too worried about this.

[20] See, for example, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/18/poor-kids-who-do-everything-right-dont-do-better-than-rich-kids-who-do-everything-wrong/

[21] http://www.statisticbrain.com/welfare-statistics/

[22] Goldwater, op. cit., p. 71.

[23] There is undoubtedly much written on this. For a good discussion, see http://www.democracyjournal.org/32/the-voluntarism-fantasy.php?page=all

[24] http://www.cropinsuranceinamerica.org/about-crop-insurance/how-it-works/#.VEGFRildVCM; http://www.cropinsuranceinamerica.org/about-crop-insurance/just-the-facts/#.VEGGISldVC

[25] http://www.salon.com/2014/07/16/i_was_poor_but_a_gop_die_hard_how_i_finally_left_the_politics_of_shame/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

[26] It has been noted, probably correctly, that the real reason for the Republican voter suppression tactics is to keep people who would vote Democratic from voting; it has nothing to do with preventing voter fraud.

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2 comments on “Why I’m Not a Conservative

  1. […] United States) and what kind of society I wish we were – which I’ve discussed elsewhere (see here) and will bypass in this […]

  2. […] fact that individuals sometimes make poor (and self-harming) choices in their own lives, I argued elsewhere that […]

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