I've noticed a trend. First, Rush Limbaugh says Huckabee is not a conservative.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Gov. Huckabee, mighty fine man and is a great Christian, is not a conservative, he’s just not," Limbaugh said. "If you look at his record as governor, he’s got some conservative tendencies on things but he’s certainly not the most conservative of the candidates running on the Republican side."
(Question for Rush: Is President Bush, who recently outlawed the incandescent light bulb, a conservative?)
Second, the New York Times hires a conservative columnist, William Kristol, giving the newspaper of record two conservative columnists, the other being David Brooks. Both Kristol and Brooks are "national greatness" or big government conservatives. Both men support the welfare state.
Third, Hugh Hewitt, considered a conservative, places himself on the center-right and decries "extremism" as much as the Rockefeller Republicans used to do in the 1960's.
Fourth, Robert Tracinski in his TIA Daily notes that the Republican race in Iowa is close because of "ideological confusion."
The Republican Party has been famously sustained by an ideological coalition of free-marketers, national-defense "hawks," and the religious right. A Giuliani-Huckabee contest forced Republicans to make a clear choice, putting a priority on the war and the free market (the issues on which Giuliani is campaigning) while downgrading religion (Huckabee's issue).
The message Republicans have been sending in the past week is that they don't want to make such a stark choice—so they've been desperately looking for another candidate who will give them the illusion (and it is an illusion) of putting the old coalition back together again.
Fifth, Lawrence Auster notes that Richard Mellon Scaife, the billionaire who financed the VRWC against Clinton in the '90s, is now a Clinton ally.
By giving up their previous correct condemnation of Clinton, the conservatives have in effect said that the condemnation was never anything but raw partisanship. Having given up principle, what do they have left?
(Auster is right about the lack of principles on the right, but being a mystic, his principles are not grounded in reality.)
I hope I have not overloaded the reader's mind with examples. Now, what does it all mean?
Conservatism is an ideology in crisis. There is a lot confusion out there about what conservatism stands for, what it means. Various factions are working to redefine conservatism.
One thing all factions agree on if they are honest is that conservatism no longer means smaller government. Every Republican President has presided over an expanding government. Many of the worst offenders of individual rights, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Americans with Disabilities Act, have come about during Republican Presidencies. Fighting for slightly less growth than what the Democrats want is not enough to make a party for small government. The honest conservatives have made their peace with the welfare state.
All the possible ways conservatism and the Republican Party might redefine themselves are bad. The greatest threat is that they will become the party of religion (even more than they are now). Throughout history religion has been a force of spiritual tyranny. Religionists want to put chains on man's mind and force individuals to accept their values. It always comes down to force because their epistemology is based on faith, not reason. You can't rationally persuade someone, "I've had a mystic revelation from a supernatural being that says X is good." In the end, all you can do is use government force to make people accept X or else.
Another threat is the rise of nationalism. Tancredo and Hunter of the Republican candidates are protectionists who advocate "Buy American." Fewer and fewer voices support free trade. The anti-immigration movement is huge on the right. Protectionism leads to strife among nations. As Bastiat put it, "When trade does not cross borders, troops do."
Closely tied with nationalism is the rise of racism. It infuriates the anti-immigrationists to be called racist, but let's be serious. If blue-eyed scandinavians were flooding into America, would anyone be horrified? White racism is the inevitable result of multiculturalism; as race become the defining factor for minorities, so it goes for the majority. When you see minorities become pressure groups with their hands out to the government, the majority begins to ask, "Wait a minute -- where's my cut?"
Finally, the Republicans are becoming the party of permanent warfare. I support the war against militant Islam, but I want it to be fought seriously and fought to win. If we fought that way, the war would have been over years ago. WWII only took four years. Our current war is now in its sixth year. Our policy is not serious war, but "long war."
The paleo-conservatives and libertarians, as much as I disagree with them, make some good points about a state of permanent warfare. Warfare is the foreign equivalent of welfare at home -- it is what big government does. As Randolph Bourne famously put it, "War is the health of the state."
Ayn Rand wrote in her essay, "The Roots of War,"
Statism needs war; a free country does not. Statism survives by looting; a free country survives by production.
Laissez-faire capitalism is the only social system based on the recognition of individual rights and, therefore, the only system that bans force from social relationships. By the nature of its basic principles and interests, it is the only system fundamentally opposed to war.
As America is a welfare state, not a laissez-faire capitalist state, one must wonder if its permanent warfare is as unjust as its welfare. Our current warfare is a mixture of legitimate self-defense against a totalitarian force and altruistic "nation building." Those who do the sacrificing to both welfare and warfare are not those in power, but the American citizens.
(As Rand notes, the left is not really for peace. Leftists want even more statism, precisely that which causes war.)
All the fissures and confusion come down to the contradiction on the right that only Ayn Rand understood 50 years ago: capitalism and the morality of altruism are incompatible. You cannot integrate and defend a social system based on the self-interest of the individual with a morality that upholds self-sacrifice as an ideal. When conservatives are forced to choose between capitalism and their morality, they go with their morality every time. And so the state continues to get bigger and bigger and freedom becomes a distant memory.
As an Objectivist, and politically a radical for capitalism, I'm delighted to see conservatism give up its pretense of being for the free market and individual rights. The more clarity Americans have about the nature of conservatism, the more they are likely to look for an alternative. I would suggest they start looking here.