At the Weekly Standard, PJ O'Rourke has taken an entertaining look at the failure of Conservatism since the ReaganRevolution. Although it is possible to quibble at the edges, his basic premise, that Conservatism as channeled by the Republican Party, failed because it ultimately had very little to do with Conservative values, is persuasive.
A look back in remorse on the conservative opportunity that was squandered.
People are even more conservative if they have children. Nobody with kids is a liberal, except maybe one pothead in Marin County. Everybody wants his or her children to respect freedom, exercise responsibility, be honest, get educated, have opportunities, and own a bunch of guns. (The last is optional and includes, but is not limited to, me, my friends in New Hampshire, and Sarah Palin.)
Republican Conservatism became all about choosing different winners for a bloated government to reward, colluding with the most infantile strains in our character on denying and ignoring the reality that we cannot always have whatever we want, and exchanging interference with the markets that liberals championed with interference in the bedroom that retrograde social conservatives desired. Ultimately, we lost sight of the fact that markets work, and will always eventually triumph over our fantasies and wishes; all we can do when things go sour is to determine how much additional pain we will inflict on ourselves before we finally accede to reality. Back to PJ:
What will destroy our country and us is not the financial crisis but the fact that liberals think the free market is some kind of sect or cult, which conservatives have asked Americans to take on faith. That's not what the free market is. The free market is just a measurement, a device to tell us what people are willing to pay for any given thing at any given moment. The free market is a bathroom scale. You may hate what you see when you step on the scale. "Jeeze, 230 pounds!" But you can't pass a law making yourself weigh 185. Liberals think you can. And voters--all the voters, right up to the tippy-top corner office of Goldman Sachs--think so too.
We, the conservatives, who do understand the free market, had the responsibility to--as it were--foreclose upon this mess. The market is a measurement, but that measuring does not work to the advantage of a nation or its citizens unless the assessments of volume, circumference, and weight are conducted with transparency and under the rule of law. We've had the rule of law largely in our hands since 1980. Where is the transparency? It's one more job we botched.
Every parent learns that, at some point, they have to be the bad guy. We have to disappoint our children and tell them "No." We should be sensitive and patient about it, but finally, "No" (and eventually "NO!!!") is absolutely necessary if our children are to grow up to be adults. They cannot have another piece of candy or a bowl of ice cream before dinner; they cannot stay up to watch the end of the umpteenth showing of "Star Wars" on a school night; they cannot take the day off from school because they didn't finish their homework; the list is endless. And too many American voters behave like children who have never learned to delay gratification or accept limits and too many politicians, whose job description starts with "get elected" and follows with "get re-elected", are like the parents who think their job involves being their child's best friend. Children whose parents try to be their best friends have fools for parents. If you give your child, or your voter, everything they want, you will eventually have an insatiable, impossible to satisfy brat on your hands. And eventually, reality does have a way of re-asserting itself.
Which leads me to wonder, with the election of the most liberal President since Jimmy Carter, and a closet Marxist if I am to believe what so many say about him, why I remain optimistic. That will be the subject of my next post.