A strange thing happened to me when I was creating my bio for this site - I realized that I had more in common with traditional Conservatism than Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, George Bush, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney, John McCain or the folks running the Heritage Foundation. After reading this article, you might find that you, dear reader, are also far more Conservative than those rich elite and that even Barack Obama, labeled the most "liberal" Senator in Congress is actually more Conservative than any of these other Americans. [Update: Barron's agrees, Update2: so does WaPo/Newsweek Intl. columnist]
The key is how we define Conservatism, of course. In my bio I listed that "I believe in fiscal responsibility, small government and strict ethics." As I study American history, I find myself neatly aligned with Conservatives like Abraham Lincoln, Barry Goldwater and that guy on the dime - Dwight Eisenhower, the World War II hero who forewarned us that our government was being infiltrated by big business.
Though Ike himself had contributed to the problem, his conscious was clear by his last day in office when he exposed the intentions of a military-industrial complex seeking to create unnecessary wars for private profit and divert public dollars away from reinvestment in America's infrastructure. Ike was right in 1961 and we saw the proof only a few years later when US officials faked a report of a provoking incident in Vietnam.
I was just 14 when Reagan took office, and I agreed with his statements that government should be small and unintrusive and "get off our backs". The Gipper appealed to the ambitious, go-getter in all of us. But today, we have the exact opposite of these freedoms - the government is breathing down our backs, eavesdropping, creating fake news, limiting freedoms and denying basic habeas corpus. What happened to Reagan's anti-intrusion message?
During the 1980s, I witnessed New York and America transform it's welfare system. I agreed that overly-easy access to handouts make people lazy, weak and invite cheating. Our economy soared under Reagan - especially in my home of Manhattan where we saw hi-rise luxury condo towers sprouting up to block out the sky. Salaries went up too, but so did the cost of living. Grocery stores went "gourmet" and the price of ordinary food items doubled. The city became gentrified as "upscale" out-of-towners flooded in to work on Wall Street, leading to a middle class exodus. At 20, I was priced out of my hometown and my first place out on my own was over an hour away in Brooklyn.
Growth by Deficit?
By the time of Reagan's farewell speech, I was bummed about our federal debt. Still a relative youngster, I wondered how Reagan could take credit for any economic gains whatsoever without subtracting the trillions owned to foreigners which younger Americans will be paying in the future - with interest. Reagan's hard line foreign policy stance is credited for toppling Communism, but we haven't even begun to pay the bill yet.
Under Reagan, defense spending dwarfed everything else by a significant magnitude. Reagan allowed this enormous debt to pass along to others, so he prioritized military aims over fiscal conservatism, exactly as Eisenhower predicted.
Reagan also chose to blame everyone from Democrats to Congress to welfare queens and gays for our problems, so as our chief executive, the individual responsibility he showed ushered in a new realignment of ethics in Washington, a brand new ongoing us versus them narrative, where God was on his side (because influential televangelists were).
These new Conservatives in DC continued a brand of foreign policy that sought to increase American influence, including troops and economic strong-arming, positioning the U.S. to control much of the world's natural resources. George H.W. Bush maintained a measured balance between acts of aggression and our addiction to foreign oil, but his son George barely hid the fact that he wanted to control energy rich regions, ushering in unprecedented deficit spending, even during two simultaneous wars. Conservatives now pursued two major goals - trickle-down economics and military dominance over Islamic extremists the world over.
This became the basis for a new term - neoconservative, because traditional Conservatives didn't exactly cotton the budget deficits, enlargement of the federal debt and the distasteful moral example being set.
Conservatives and neocons do share views on social issues - such as gun rights, and the fight against abortion, but neocons no longer attempt any semblance of fiscal responsibility. This way of looking at America's future children confused me - we want badly to protect the unborn but we don't care if they must repay China, Japan and the Saudis for the spending done by us, their parents?
In fact, the neocon movement hinges on a manufactured duality, separating reality from a fantasy world in which we should have great pride in being American, yet we preach an angry "morality" - blaming others for everything wrong in the world. Liberals, college professors, immigrants - it's all them, not us. This is the opposite of the ethos of personal responsibility that attracted me to traditional Conservatism.
For example, claiming the success of trickle-down economics without figuring in the ballooning deficit. Or, pointing to the number of jobs created under Reagan without explaining that they mostly paid less and offered fewer benefits, hurting the heartland while franchises and box stores looted local economies. In simple terms, Reagan tooted his horn for market growth and more aggregate employment, but the middle class was finding crap jobs and making less, while businesses were getting drunk on cheap foreign labor.
Today, it's Obama addressing the national debt and offering a $3,000 tax cut to businesses for every job created. This is what I've been shouting out for years - if the aim of trickle-down economics is to create jobs, why do we need the rich acting as middlemen? Why not give the tax cuts to those who create the jobs directly?
And why do neocons like Hannity keep shouting that tax breaks for the "successful" are the best way to generate new jobs? Perhaps it's because Hannity and his richest advertisers, wealthy guests and affluent bosses personally enjoyed hundreds of thousands in "cash back" when Bush's cuts were enacted, unlike most of his listeners.
Simply following the money, I challenge Hannity or any of his supporters to explain how two-step tax cuts for the rich to voluntarily create jobs can possibly be better than one-step tax cuts for job creation going right to businesses. This is the neocon swindle, not traditional Conservatism. This is what you see today under the failures of Bush, Greenspan, Paulson and the Wall Street vultures now slurping up the bailout money.