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How American conservatives became dangerous radicals

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According to John Dean in his new book Conservatives Without Conscience, Ric Santorum said: "Conservatism is common sense; liberalism is ideology". Therein lies the crux of the problem. Conservatives cannot think clearly about themselves, let alone "liberals" whom they've irrationally demonized over a period of some 30 to 40 yeas. Santorum is most certainly not the first self-confessed "conservative" to get it wrong; he is, however, among a radical elite who often get it 180 degrees the wrong way 'round.

Historically, conservatives have always criticized "liberals" from their ideological biases, primarily religious and economic. Liberals were too pragmatic, they said, and were lacking ethics based upon religious conviction. It's a fair question: when did those godless pragmatists suddenly become ideologues? My cynical response is: godless pragmatists and empiricists suddenly become ideological when Santorum's focus group told him that ideological was a better word with which to tar his opponents. Certainly the term liberal is by now a golden-oldie epithet so overused as to be a self-inoculating cliche. It doesn't even seem to be working for Rush Limbaugh who has a worse problem than drugs. Ratings!

The radical right is running out of red flag words. Liberal was so worn out that Ann Coulter had to call her book Slander and then: Treason! Now she's reduced to attacking the widows of 911 victims. What's next? Either it is true that Rush and Ann have not gotten that memo or it is true that you can't teach old dogs new tricks. It'll be interesting to see what the focus groups come up with. Easy livings depend upon something good ...or should I say evil?

Dean also quotes former Reagan aide, Michael Deaver who wrote of conservatives that they favor: government, individual liberty, and the prospect of a strong America. -Michael Deaver, as quoted by John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience
If conservatives are claiming now to be empirical and pragmatic, how is Deaver's comment to be taken seriously? Verifiable facts disprove Deaver's thesis. Let's take Deaver's three points in turn.
  • Conservatives believe in limited Government.
Oh Really? Let's start with Ronald Reagan, whom conservatives have all but deified. Reagan tripled the national debt and ran up historically high deficits. Despite a respite in the 90's the bad old days are back under Bush, a fact not lost on some fiscal conservatives:
From 2000-2003, Washington had a rare opportunity to save the average household nearly $2,500 in taxes without reducing any federal services. After 50 years of steady increases, interest payments on the national debt declined by $247 billion from 2000 to 2003, thanks to the balanced budgets of the 1990s. Like the post-Cold War "peace dividend," Congress and the president got a once-in-a-lifetime "interest dividend" of $247 billion.

And they squandered every penny.

-Capitol Magazine, Washington's $782 Billion Spending Spree

That was published in 2002. It's only gotten worse since then.

Conservatives would also have us believe that it's liberal entitlements that account for the sorry state of the US budget. That's not so either. From the same conservative source:

Others finger big-ticket entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, claiming that they're growing uncontrollably. However, these program's budgets haven't grown any faster over the last four years than they did over the past two decades.

-Capitol Magazine, Washington's $782 Billion Spending Spree

    James Carville charged that Ronald Reagan significantly increased the Federal Bureaucracy in We're Right, They're Wrong; typically and unfortunately, however, Carville will be summarily dismissed by partisan Republicans and especially when he's absolutely correct and on target. He's both on this point. I have other sources for that information:
    When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, the popular belief was that the size of government would be cut and that some of the regulatory excesses of the prior decade would be rolled back. However, the growth of the federal government continued throughout the Reagan presidency and no agencies were phased out.

    -Regulation and the Reagan Era: Politics, Bureaucracy and the Public Interest, Roger E. Meiners, Bruce Yandle (Editors)

    In fact, Reagan increased the federal bureaucracy by 68,000 workers even as he very nearly tripled the national debt.
    Reagan's legacy is clear in the budget deficit neighborhood. He entered the White House in January 1981-after winning the presidency by campaigning that tax cuts and massive increases in defense spending could co-exists with a balanced budget. The budget deficit was $74 billion when he entered the White House; it grew to $231 billion in Reagan's final year. The trade deficit was even worse, nearing $200 billion per year when Reagan left office. The national debt rose to $2 trillion.

    -Michael Fauntroy, Reconsidering Reagan

    These are facts that Republicans will deny to this day.
    • Conservatives believe in individual liberty
    Is that so? Not if they support George W. Bush. Nowhere has Bush attacked the separation of powers more strenuously than with his so-called unitary executive concept. At stake are regulatory agencies, independent since the Great Depression. Control has been shared between President and Congress. Bush would tip the balance of power by putting the agencies under his sole control and authority.

    Elsewhere, Bush strikes at the very heart of individual liberties: the Bill of Rights. Many people seem to be unconcerned about their phone calls and their bank records, objects of Bush's program of widespread domestic surveillance. But, alas, it's not about bank records; it's not about phone calls. It's about probable cause -two words that stand between us and tyranny.

    • Conservatives are stronger on national defense
    Are they really? In fact, terrorism increased during Reagan's administration. We were less safe and even less safe now under Bush! During a period some two years in which Ronald Reagan waged a so-called "war on terrorism", terrorist attacks against the United States very nearly tripled. [Source: Total Acts of Terrorism in the U.S. 1980-98, America's Response to Terrorism, The Brookings Institute (Based on FBI Statistics)]

    Typically, Reagan announced his "War on Terrorism" to a meeting of evangelicals on March 8, 1983. Reagan warned terrorists: "You can run but you can't hide"! A statistical analysis would seem to indicate that Reagan's War on Terrorism was as much a cause as a cure for terrorism. There are two possible explanations. One, Reagan's war -not well thought out -was simply impotent and ineffective. It may even have been counter-productive, a rallying cry to legitimate critics of US imperialism as well as terrorists.
    Or -the raison d'etre may have been to rally a disparate GOP base. Typically, wars are easily exploited to stir feelings of patriotism and false pride.

    Just as Reagan's war made Americans less safe, Bush's war is increasingly perceived as making the world a more dangerous place. According to Pew, American skepticism about the war in Iraq has increased steadily from its inception; it is increasingly seen as harming the "war on terrorism".

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    Len Hart is a Houston based film/video producer specializing in shorts and full-length documentaries. He is a former major market and network correspondent; credits include CBS, ABC-TV and UPI. He maintains the progressive blog: The (more...)

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