This article will contain no colorized words, letters or pictures as conservatives recognize only black and white. Shades of gray will be assiduously avoided. Any accidental references to nuance are purely for the non-conservative reader. Finally by way of preamble let me say to any conservatives who may read this: yes, I know you’re right about everything and to the extent that I disagree with you about anything I will be wrong as a matter of immutable doctrine.
Let’s begin with some facts. On second thought, that’s probably not a good idea. Conservatives don’t give a rat’s ass what the facts are. No matter how many glaciers melt and no matter how the pace of the melt increases, global climate change is fiction. If we just close our eyes and de-fund all those scientists measuring increased ocean levels, it will all go away. If only we could find our way back to the halcyon days of Calvin Coolidge [or the Articles of Confederation], the problems of the modern world would evaporate…sort of like the glaciers in the fictional book of climate change.
To a conservative a fact is a falsehood that has been repeated often enough (by conservatives) to anoint it as true. Sort of like “Reaganomics works”. Or “the government never does anything right.” Tell that to the National Weather Service or the Centers for Disease Control.
Ok, enough of the needling. Let’s move on to the central premise. The conservative world view is fundamentally unrealistic. For illustrative purposes, consider two main mantras of conservatism, small government and states’ rights. For the non-conservative reader willing to be swayed by reference to reality, those trains have left the station on a one way track out of town. There’s good reason for that too.
We are no longer a nation of small shop keepers and self sustaining agrarian pioneers. “The government that governs least, governs best” is a catchy old saying. But being catchy and old doesn’t make it accurate. Not in today’s world.
A few things happened along the way. First was that bother called the Civil War. In addition to ending slavery, it served as a demarcation point in the battle between federal supremacy, preserving the Union, and the states righters. Robert E. Lee fought for the south because his first loyalty was to Virginia, not the federal government. As between those federal supremacists and the states righters, remember who won.
Along the way we as a people also made some value judgments. With industrialization and continental expansion, America needed transportation and communications systems. With the help of the federal government, we got them. That same need and that same federal involvement exists today though at a more sophisticated level. We noticed that with industrialization and urbanization of the population came intolerable working conditions, monopolistic practices and financing abuses. Because of the interstate nature of commerce brought about by industrialization, transportation and communication, it was left to an increasingly powerful federal government to regulate those abuses and insure the welfare of individual citizens. Teddy Roosevelt and his Progressives were heroes, not villains. And it was the power of federal supremacy that made it possible.
Our insertion into the First World War made us serious players on the world stage. It was the federal government that took us there. Conservatives tried to retrench after that with a series of electoral victories. Their unwillingness to use the powers of government to reign in corporate and financial market abuse resulted in something we now refer to as The Great Depression. Enter another Roosevelt.
Once again that value judgment that the welfare of the people mattered summoned the nation to support federal action. That conservatives still want to fight the New Deal 80 years later is part and parcel of their unrealistic world view. It happened. Deal with it. America made a judgment that people who spend their adult lives working to make their country prosperous should not suffer impoverished indignity in retirement, and that rural electrification and public works infrastructure projects were worth undertaking. And thank goodness we did.
With the end of WWII, we became a military super power. That pesky federal power again. We reclaimed moral credibility with the Civil Rights movement, led by federal action. World economic dominance grew with the helping hand of government policy as we rebuilt Europe and Japan as economic partners and continued our internal infrastructure projects to support economic development with ideas like the interstate highway system.
What we are today, what we have become as a nation is, in no small measure, the direct result of shunting aside states rights for big government. With big government have come problems, but without it we would be a loose collection of states fiddling at the edge of a global economy and the world stage. We compete in a world with other nations, not states and provinces. That requires a national presence.
If you want to argue for a more efficient or more effective national government, fine. But small government and states’ rights? Sorry, the 1780’s were more than two centuries ago. Today’s world is both interstate and international. The value judgments we have made over our history and the economic realities of globalism have brought us to a system of big government and the preeminence of federal supremacy.
As I said in my piece on liberals, there are many other examples that could have been used. Unrealistic views and unhelpful mantras will not move our country forward, be they small government, states rights, illegal immigration, tax policy, subliminal racism or sexism, corporatism or wealth idolatry. Progress does not come from moving backward or denying reality.[Author’s Note: Like the article about liberals, the snarkier remarks are based on broad caricatures, not particular individuals. In both articles, I have used the other side’s stereotype of the opposition in presenting a point of view to exaggerate the foibles of each.]