Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Debunking "Limited Government" II

Earlier I stated that the stated conservative goal of Limited Government was both a manipulative way of preventing the terms of economic policy from being contested and thereby maintaining the existing state of power relations favorable to the haves of society at the same time it was hypocritical and disingenuous because conservatives routinely and vigorously throw the assumption of Limited Government under the metaphorical bus when their aim is to enact punitive, invasive policies to restrict the sexual practices of individuals, compel religious adherence, and regulate activity otherwise normally reserved to the private sphere.

To that I will add a critical third point. Even where it concerns the intervention in and regulation of economic behavior or the establishment of economic institutions, the notion of Limited Government is really about as useful and principled a paradigm for conservatives and the rest of us as a wad of phlegm. That is, when conservatives claim to support Limited Government the truth is they do not really mean it.

If conservatives really believed in Limited Government there would not be any funding for scientific and medical research and development, the benefits of which flow to many of our supposed bastions of Free Enterprise, like the pharmaceutical industry (PHARMA). If conservatives really believed in and truly wanted Limited Government there would not be any mortgage interest tax deductions or any employer deductions for providing health insurance to their employees. If conservatives really admired Limited Government there would not be any subsidies to large agribusiness farm conglomerates. If conservatives really favored Limited Government there would be no need to regulate or prohibit employee unions, as they would have the same right to organize as any other group and could negotiate work conditions or not with employers as necessary, free from government interference. If conservatives really wanted Limited Government they would not be as falling down begging eager to make sure military bases and associated contracts stayed in their districts or states the better to keep the local economies alive.

To sum up, the world conservatives have tried to foist on us is unwarranted politically, is not morally or practically consistent, and is not economically realistic or sensible.

So, the whole conceptual and moral deck of cards of which the conservative movement is supposedly constructed, that of Limited Government, is at best a fraud. At worst, it represents a non-plausible and inconsistent set of policies that are economically neither sustainable nor desirable but which are nonetheless morally hideous and disastrous.

This is why Democrats cannot move towards The Center.

Debunking "limited government"

In his classic 1960 book entitled The Semisovereign People, political scientist E.E. Shattschneider laid out the central dynamic of politics--conflict.

According to Schattschneider, it is the nature of the ruling group or groups to attempt to minimize the scope of conflict by limiting the inclusion of competing ideas and groups within the political process. This is done in two ways. The first step is more formal and consists of configuring the rules so as to prevent conflicts from becoming a part of the political process. The second step is less formal and consists of trying to delegitimize the conflicting ideas or groups in question.

So, when we consider the conservative refrain of "limited government" we should recognize that what they are attempting to accomplish is this second style, delegitimizing of political conflict in some area that is beneficial to them and their patrons. In the case of the "limited government" appeal in particular, the desire is to delegitimize and prevent the expansion of conflict in regards to the economic system, by those--such as consumer groups, unions, welfare advocates, what have you--that would contest the established power of major corporations. The idea is to ensure that certain ideas and debates are not heard and thus are prevented from being considered by the political process and its institutions.

In terms of economic reform, this is the conservative's game. They want to limit the scope of conflict and prevent certain ideas from entering the political and social domain.

Conversely, conservatives are playing the opposite game when it comes to matters of sex and religion. Like their liberal economic counterparts, social conservatives--such as the various "pro-family groups" like FONF, FRC, etc--desire to expand the scope of conflict to include now largely private concerns like abortion, sexual preference, and religious devotion to be a matters of decision for the public sphere.

So, on the one hand, when conservatives repeat the "limited government" phrase it is usually in the context of economic decision making, and they are attempting to limit the public's involvement in economic decision making by way of its constitutional institutions and representives. On the other hand, the conservative's desire for "limited government" does not extend to so-called issues of sexual morality and religious practice, which conservatives would like to make the jurisdiction of the state, rather than the domain of individuals.

[Now, many people would object to my apparent failure to distinguish between what we might call economic conservatives or libertarian conservatives on the one hand, which prefer "limited government", and social conservatives on the other hand. But I am purposely lumping the two groups together because for all practical purposes, they are one and the same. To the extent their ambitions do not overlap and conflict with each other, they are united. And that I would suggest is an apt depiction of the current political situation.]

So progressives should not be intimidated by conservative calls for "limited government" or give in to requests by the media, the other party, or even fellow members of its own party, to, for the sake of phantom popularity, to abandon its goals for a more economically just and inclusive economic and welfare system. Progressives should also recognize that such conservative rhetoric is largely bullshit in so far as it fails to accurately describe much of the conservative's own agenda when it comes to limiting and eliminating the past century's growth of individual rights and privacy.

The New Bill Clinton Admiration Society

And you thought we wingnuts hated Clinton, didn't you? Not true. Oh sure, we know we've said lots of disparaging things about your president, #42. There was that nasty business about him being a draft-dodging, pot-smoking rapist, a disgrace to the presidency and all that. And yes, we did impeach that usurper to the Republican throne. Fat lot of good it did us in the '98 elections. We got Newt good for that. And yeah, many of our bloggers on the Internets, and many of our radio and cable TV hosts continue to repeat many of the same old smears of Clinton even though he's been out of office for over four years now, because when the news is lagging everybody needs a reminder about what slimebags you liberals are.

But it's not true that we don't love the guy. In fact, I dare say we love him more than you liberal scumbuckets do. After all, he single handedly rejuventated our ranks of deluded followers and through his presence, allowed us to create a virtual publishing industry dedicated to rooting out all things Clinton, real and imagined, providing much needed capital and jobs for our many out of work and underskilled staff of "writers". Our biggest accomplishment, Fox news, wouldn't exist without the man.

And he's even useful for our policy purposes. He allowed us to gut welfare. And now, as we still defend our moronic trip to Iraq in search of WMD that didn't exist we can go back to your man's quotes on the WMD that he believed were in Baghdad, too, and use them to justify ourselves to the librul media. And Bill's been a valuable resource on Social Security as well. Your man even said that crappy program was bankrupt (even though we know it's not and don't even know what "bankrupt" in the context of a pay as you go system even means) so don't go accusin' us of making up a Social Security crisis.

Yeah we really like(d) Bill. Even though he was the worst president ever and his administration the most corrupt in history, we'll go quotin' him when it suits us and act like we admire him for a few seconds, forgetting all the vitriolic bile we sent his and your way all those years and continue to do even now. And your libril media will eat it up.