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Killing Conservatism

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With conservatives still reeling from their losses in the mid-term election, and President Bush's approval ratings heading for record lows, for the first time in six years liberals have something to cheer about. Rather than gloat about Bush's ineptness, or the failure of the GOP-controlled 109th Congress, liberals should focus on their opportunity to sink the conservative ideology that has dominated American politics for twenty-five years.

There are ten pillars of conservative political wisdom that liberals should attack:

1. Government is bad: Conservatives believe the Federal government is unnecessary, except for the military. They maintain that entitlements for the disadvantaged-the poor, elderly, and disabled-are counter-productive, as they foster dependency. Most Americans believe in the necessity for the Federal government and these entitlements. It's the role of liberals to provide a new justification for government, in general.

2. Competence is overrated: Because conservatives don't believe in government, they feel the only salient qualification for political office-such as President and Vice President-is ideological purity. As a result, the Bush White House has proved to be the most conservative and least competent Administration in modern political history. Liberals must insist that elected officials have a record of accomplishment; they should believe in working for the common good and know what they are doing.

3. Cutting taxes fixes everything: Beginning in 2001, the conservative Bush Administration reduced taxes, claiming this would reduce the size of the Federal government and a "rising tide would lift all boats." Instead, this ill-considered "panacea" created a record Federal debt and lifted only the yachts of the rich. Liberals need to roll back these tax cuts and take a stand for fiscal sanity.

4. The market will provide: Conservatives believe that, in the absence of Federal programs, the market will solve national problems. America's healthcare crisis demonstrates that this is na´ve: the market doesn't care about problems that affect the average American. And, the market doesn't respond to disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. Liberals should argue that only government can solve certain national problems and resurrect the notion that government provides a "the safety net."

5. Our best foreign policy is a strong military: Even though the US has by far the largest Defense budget in the world, conservatives continue to lobby for billions of dollars for wasteful Pentagon projects. They argue that big is better, that America's best defense is a strong military. They ignore the fact that our armed forces didn't protect us on 9/11 and haven't won the war in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Conservatives also argue that the military is our best instrument of foreign policy. It's time for liberals to demand a complete review of our defense strategy and foreign policy.

6. The U.S. is at war: Since 9/11, conservatives have argued we're engaged in a "war on terror." But we're not. Terrorism isn't a military campaign waged by countries that don't like us; it's a social disease that requires America to use a variety of means to combat extremists. Liberals need to stop calling this a war and begin lobbying for a balanced campaign that includes diplomacy and use of police and intelligence resources.

7. Don't ask questions: President Bush has consistently argued that it's not necessary to understand why terrorists want to attack us, all that's required is knowing they "hate our freedom." However, most experts on terrorism argue that terrorists have readily understandable motives, and we can head off future attacks by understanding what these motives are: for example, they want us to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

8. Trust the Commander-in-chief: Since 9/11, Bush and his conservative supporters have argued that the President, as commander-in-chief, has special responsibilities that obviate the necessity for the balance-of-powers logic in the Constitution: because the US is at "war" the President is above the law. Liberals need to attack this notion and roll back legislation that restricts our civil-rights.

9. America can go it alone: A cornerstone of conservative foreign policy is the belief that our allies are stupid and, therefore, don't care if we act like bullies most of the time. The Bush Administration philosophy assumes that since the US has a bloated military, it doesn't matter whether or not we use diplomacy or participate in international organizations. Conservatives believe that because America is big and powerful we can do whatever we want in the world: go it alone. Liberals need to point out that the strategy hasn't proven successful, that it hasn't built the alliances required to solve problems such as terrorism, AIDS, and global warming.

10. Winning is everything: Finally, the operating philosophy of conservatives has been that it doesn't matter how you accomplish your objectives, just that you win: the ends justify the means. This has been the modus operandi of a conservative Bush Administration that lied to the American people. Liberals need to stand up for telling the truth, argue that Americans are governed by a morality that that values the common good, and places the public interest above personal ambition.

In short, liberals need to provide a resounding defense of democracy.


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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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