Friday, July 7, 2017

Whither classical conservatism? Part V: What victory means to a classical conservative

In Part IV, I addressed the basic problem of classical conservatism in the modern world.  Liberalism has kind of won.  The welfare state has expanded, and it is hard to peel back.  The New Deal/Great Society reforms are here to stay.  Whether social changes are more or less entrenched, I'll leave to others.  Still, the Obamacare repeal difficulty shows how badly conservatives have lost on the welfare front, and I'll circle back to that as I come to my main point, which is the fundamental lack of classical conservatism in how the GOP is approaching the repeal-and-replace effort.  And Social Security and Medicare?  They aren't touching those, even though they really really want to.

Anyway, if we can divide classical conservatives between those who long for a past system, and those who are averse to change, what does victory mean?  This is the flip side of yesterday's post, and the answer is pretty simple.  To the former, victory is backwards movement, and to the latter, victory is obstruction of change.

You may remember a big to-do that Trump made about rolling back two regulations for every new regulation put in place.  It was the kind of symbolic bullshit that a simple-minded person could interpret as victory for backwards movement in terms of regulation.  Classical conservatism of a form, then.  Of course, this is nonsensical bullshit for people who don't understand the structure of the regulatory system, and maybe someday I'll bother with a post about it (it has to do with the idiocy of counting regulations), but my point here is that we generally don't see straight-up repeals.  The GOP isn't doing a straight-up Obamacare repeal.  They could, with the nuclear option (if they had the votes).  They could repeal a lot of stuff, if they had the votes.  They don't.  And they don't try.

Conservatives don't even advocate backwards movement in the tax code.  They advocate tax cuts, but that's not backwards movement.  They leave in place the monstrous complexity rather than doing true "tax reform."  I did a couple of posts back during tax season (here and here) on what tax reform really is, the case for it, and why it won't happen, but real tax reform actually would be backwards movement towards an older, simpler system.  Nobody in the GOP will truly push for it.  Nobody will advocate keeping the current system either.  That means no Burkeans and no Oakeshotters in tax policy either.

Why?  In a world in which conservatives have fundamentally lost, they have had to redefine victory.  Backwards movement has simply been taken off the table in just about every case.  Mostly, it's just too damned hard.  Obstruction?  At this point, you may be thinking about the GOP as an obstructionist party, and during Obama's Presidency, they certainly were that, but that was due to a lack of any other options.  The most obstructionist faction within the GOP now is the Freedom Caucus, which really would accept a full repeal of Obamacare, which is a rollback.  They have obstructed other forms of victory because they are trying to get that full victory.  So, the obstruction within the GOP right now is based on different views of what victory means given that conservatives live in a world in which liberals have basically won.

The problem for those few who really would try a total rollback is that they are a minority within the movement.  The rest?  They don't want to even try to go backwards, and won't accept the status quo.  And that leaves true, classical conservatism relegated to the dustbin of conservative history.

The result?  We're seeing that now, in a lot of ways.  I'm resisting the urge to get distracted by other petty shit, and we'll see if I can continue with that to keep this series going.  Strangely enough, people actually seem to be reading this, and not just my bestest buddies, the Russian botnets...

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