Sunday, January 8, 2012

Just ‘Who’ Is a ‘True’ Conservative Anyways Any More?

The GOP debate in New Hampshire, which might have been one of the best educational lessons on political philosophy and constitutional interpretation you may see this year, repeatedly brought up the question of: ‘Who is the TRUE conservative?’ in this bunch.

To answer that question, we think you have to go back to the Founders. Again. Of course.

Who were the ‘true’ conservatives back in 1787 when they sat down in Philadelphia to write the hallowed US Constitution that even George Stephanopoulus seemed to have trouble understanding and articulating in his cumbersome question to Mitt Romney about banning contraception in any state or something like that?

First, all the Founders were united in their opposition to the King of England, George III and the concentration of power embodied in him and his office of authority over the colonies. We think they would be horrified at the concentration of power in the Executive Branch today when they drew up our US Congress as being the epitome of self-governance.

Thomas Jefferson also wrote about how he opposed the concentration of power in the hands of few leaders in the House and the development of ‘factions’ because they tend to thwart the ‘good of all the nation’ when issues of importance are considered.

And then Mr. Jefferson founded the second ‘factional’ political party in American history, the Democratic-Republican Party in the early 1790’s to counteract the ‘factional’ Federalist Party founded by Alexander Hamilton. So go figure how a people can stage a bloody, costly revolution for 5 years, (1776-1781); hammer out a Constitution (1787); take 2 years to ratify it (by 1789)…and then less than 5 years later start bickering again amongst themselves.

Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison argued for ‘limited’ government with power to be disbursed throughout the nation down to the lowest level possible, mainly the states and localities where people knew where their legislators lived, and could get to their home whenever they wanted.

Mr. Hamilton did not. He argued for a strong central government located in Washington, DC with powers to regulate and maintain a central banking system and provide a working relationship with their former rulers, the British.

Based on the way America has developed over the past 80 years, and especially over the last 50 and really in the last 10 years, it is fair to say that Mr. Hamilton has ‘won’ that debate. Hands-down.

Guess what level of federal spending relative to GDP was in America for the vast majority of our history?

1% or less from 1789 to about 1920 or so. That is 130 years out of our 222-year history or about 60% of our nation’s history.

Federal spending was only about 3% of GDP when the ‘First Big Bang’ of economic calamities really hit the US in the Great Depression (GD). This Big Bad Economic Retrenchment we are still working our way through is chicken feed compared to that economic conflagration.

Go ahead. Ask any of your grandparents or parents who lived through the GD and see what they have to say about their struggles growing up.

You’ll be glad we are going through this one instead by comparison.

FDR came along with his New Deal and by 1940, guess what his ‘massive’ expansion of federal spending had taken us to relative to GDP?

10%. By comparison to current levels of government involvement in our economy, that looks like a veritable steal if you are a 'small government conservative' of today.

Federal government spending is close to 25% of GDP today. (although it is a little bit distorted because of the lack of economic growth since 2007. See 'Lies')

So which of the GOP candidates last night really and truly are in the mold of Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison by being the ‘true’ small government conservative in the strictest sense of their definition circa 1787?

None really except perhaps Ron Paul who has been willing to show his cards and propose massive spending cuts to the tune of $1 trillion in his first year as President.

His foreign policy isolationism, however, would throw him right in the face of Thomas Jefferson himself who sent the US ‘Navy’ such as it was in 1801 without an official declaration of war against the Barbary Pirates operating out of Tripoli. Which is really the reason why so many Reagan-era ‘conservatives’ and people who grew up and cut their teeth on his brand of conservatism are not supporting Mr. Paul. The world is a mean place and the US President has to be realistic and practical to defend our ‘national strategic interests’ (whenever you see this phrase, translate it to ‘oil’) whenever the need arises.

Most modern-day ‘conservatives’ are really the ‘Charles Barkley’ version of Big Government, you know, since he claims to have lost 50 pounds on Weight-Watchers. He is still ‘huge'; he is just not as ‘huge’ as he used to be.

Same with many modern-day ‘conservatives’. 'We are for (slightly) less government than those guys....and they are Beezelbub and Satan's Spawn to boot!'

Here are the questions to ask yourself to see if you qualify to be a ‘true’ Jeffersonian/Madisonian ‘small government conservative’ nowadays: (we'll have to have a 'true' Hamiltonian/FDR/LBJ/Obama 'large government quiz one day as well)

  1. Will you take a Social Security check paid mostly by your children and their co-workers when you turn 66?
  2. Will you demand Medicare benefits to the tune of at least a 50% federal taxpayer subsidy when you retire at age 65?
  3. Will you support an increase in the retirement age to age 70 to be more in line with the actuarial tables of life expectancy on an adjusted basis from age 65 that was decided as the ‘official’ retirement age in 1935?
  4. Will you support a complete elimination of special tax breaks for US corporations AND individuals including the mortgage interest deduction, charitable donations and employer-paid health insurance premiums in return for lower marginal tax rates?
  5. Will you support the elimination of any special federal spending program or tax break that does not benefit the entire nation as a whole such as certain critical defense programs (there’s waste there too by the bushel load); transportation, bridges and canals and airports and certain education programs? (Jefferson said we needed a public education system because an uneducated electorate will not support democracy for too long so let's not find out if he is proven right)
  6. Or are you mainly a ‘social conservative’, more concerned about the lack of moral, ethical and religious principles in America and want to limit abortion, gay rights?
  7. Maybe you want to send all of the 3-10 million (the number varies depending on which report you read) illegal immigrants back to Latin America in which case you better get used to not having your landscaping done, your kids nannied, your house cleaned or your addition being built for about 50% of what it would cost with legal labor.
This is the state of American conservatism right now which is why you see so many people saying that ‘Mitt Romney is not a ‘true’ conservative!’ or ‘Rick Santorum/Newt Gingrich is a big government conservative!’

It might also help explain why close to 35% of the people in two of the largest counties in North Carolina are now officially registering as Independents/Unaffiliateds. We don’t know if they are all Jeffersonian/Madisonian small government conservatives. We have run into tons of them who are self-described social libertarians/fiscal conservatives though and they are fed up with the current system and demanding change in 2012.

Who is going to give this new 'change' to them?  And does America even want 'small government' which means more 'freedom' (risk) any longer?

Mitt Romney said this 2012 election is going to be about the 'soul' for America.  He will be channeling the Jeffersonian/Madisonian DNA for the rest of this campaign as the presumptive nominee after Saturday night's debates in New Hampshire.

Federalist/New Deal/Great Society President Obama has no intention of slowing down his drive for more government and higher taxes; he has said as much recently.

Where will you line up on this debate this year?


  1. Methinks Mr. Hamilton would recognize today's leviathan as an unintended, rather than intended, consequence of his original arguments. He was thinking about projects more like the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis & Clark expedition - actually managed by Jefferson. Let's keep things in perspective, shall we? I would mark the inception of today's bloated central bureaucracy to Teddy Roosevelt. I could maybe be talked down to Lincoln, but no further.

    “Because the Only Good Progressive is a Failed Progressive”

  2. I would HOPE that Mr. Hamilton would be aghast at the size of the federal government that he helped wrought on the new republic.

    I do know that he would be aghast at the casual assumption of $15 trillion of debt to where it approximates the size of the entire GDP. He at least argued that everyone should pay for this central government in the form of import taxes, which were the only revenue stream back then

  3. I like to think of myself as a "true" conservative in the financial sense, with a few concessions to the reality of today. For example, when I thought about how Social Security should work, my idea didn't dispense with it entirely, but rather simply made it (a) accountable on the Federal balance sheet, and (b) net zero to the Federal budget, once the current liabilities (from the current Ponzi scheme nature) are accounted for.

    I also think Ron Paul is the best candidate running, despite the fact that I think he is an isolationist (and that's the only belief he consistently distorts or obfuscates in his discourse), and the fact that I don't agree with a lot of his foreign policy platform. Frankly, even with all the stuff I think is very dangerous for America in his platform, he's still the best candidate for the job: he's the only person who would do anything to address the fiscal disaster we've created, and the only one who seems to value the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. If it takes an isolationist withdraw from the world stage to address those two huge problems in any manner approaching real solutions, then I say so be it.

    Oh, and as an ironic aside, I've also apparently been silenced (by moderation) from posting on LCR, where your blog is mirrored, presumably because my views are too liberal for the site. I'm not sure if that reenforces or diminishes my claim that I'm closer in political viewpoint to a "true" conservative, but it's saying something.

  4. Hard to believe LCR is discouraging intellectual civil discourse. Try them again..they are pretty level-headed guys

  5. I tired a few times, even with some totally benign comments; they are censoring me specifically. It might be because they have me confused with another blogger with the name nickname, although it's hard to believe the folks who post to and moderate LCR are incapable of clicking to check a profile. It's also more ironic, since I was (at one time) invited to be a direct contributor to LCR (which I politely declined, because my main blog, while largely political, also covers non-political things, and I didn't want those views indirectly ascribed to LCR).

    It's just a [non-subtle] reminder that you don't have the right to be heard on partisan media outlets, regardless of the side of the aisle the outlet is on, even if you might agree with most, if not all, of what is said there. Media isn't required to provide time/platform for non-conforming viewpoints; as I said to LCR in my last (censored, of course) comment: se la vi.

  6. I've stood in front of Hamilton's grave and wondered about the man.When people come to visit N.Y.C.they don't seem to be interested in visiting the historical places that shaped our nation preferring to view the Disneyification of Times Square.To visit the grave of our first secretary of the treasury who was shot by our third Vice President, is far more interesting.I was impressed with Frank Hill's writing about who a conservative is.Very enlightening.... Thanks Frank

    1. thank you for the kind words.

      None of these Founders would be happy with much of anything nowadays....


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