02 May 2008

And this form of conservatism is...?

Jonathan Rauch in the MAY 2008 Atlantic Monthly has an interesting concept of what conservatism is, and I thought it was worth looking at as he is saying that Sen. McCain, by the standards he puts forward, is conservative. So lets look at the basics of Mr. Rauch's view, and I will do it step-wise.

Step 1

Burke is the father of modern conservatism, and still its wisest oracle. Tradition-minded but (contrary to stereotype) far from reactionary, he believed in balancing individual rights with social order. The best way to do that, for Burke, was by respecting long-standing customs and institutions while advancing toward liberty and equality. Society’s traditions, after all, embody an evolved collective wisdom that even (or especially) the smartest of individuals cannot hope to understand comprehensively, much less reinvent successfully.

So, this boils down to: stick what's been put in place and don't rock the boat and balance liberty with 'social order'. Call it the 'stable and orderly' rule.

Step 2

The Burkean outlook takes individual rights seriously, and understands that civic order serves no purpose if its result is oppression or misery. It also understands that social stability, far from being endangered by institutional change, positively depends upon it. Burkeans no more believe in a golden past than they do in a perfect future. For them, the question is not whether society should change, but how.

This one is a bit harder to figure out, as it posits taking individual rights seriously, but then puts forward that institutional change is necessary to secure those rights. Call it the 'Bigger is better' rule for institutions.

Step 3

Burke himself was an advocate of change; he sympathized with the American revolution (while famously denouncing the much more radical French one), proposed curtailing the slave trade, and fought tirelessly to reform the corrupt and monopolistic British East India Company. But he believed change should take a measured pace and should try to follow well-worn social grooves rather than cutting across them. Above all, he abhorred utopian reformers, who, by disdaining real-world constraints and overestimating their own intelligence, invariably worsen what they seek to improve.

Pretty easy this 'slow and steady wins the race' rule, with the 'change in the direction things are going' rule.

These are not just 'conservative' values, they are also ones of minimalized change. Unfortunately, from there, Mr Rauch does lose me, as he then addresses the conservative movement of Goldwater as a 'revolutionary movement'. The railing against government institutions that started with Goldwater and continued on have been a main theme of the conservative movement as the various additions to government during the Progressive era through the FDR era and to the 'Great Society' were seen as the greatest threat to individual liberty by removing the ability of individuals to make sound and prudent decisions on their own and invest those decisions at the highest and most distant institution possible: the federal government. Apparently, in putting things into the terms of human liberty and freedom being *endangered* by governmental institutions, one becomes an outcast to the kind of 'conservatism' Mr. Rauch is talking about.

Mr. Rauch then takes the case of the two current Democratic contenders as follows:

Burke would have wondered at this. And in 2008 he might have noticed that, if conservatism is as much a temperament as it is any particular set of policies, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, both Democrats, have sounded more conservative than many Republicans. Both have agreed, for instance, on the need for health-care reform, but Clinton has emphasized her hard-learned lesson that change needs to be incremental, and Obama has said that a single-payer system would make sense if we were starting from scratch but that getting there from here would be “impractical”—a Burkean way to talk about change.

An actual conservative position is put forward by John Stossel in Bad Medicine which I had looked at elsewhere:

America's health-care problem is not that some people lack insurance, it is that 250 million Americans do have it.

You have to understand something right from the start. We Americans got hooked on health insurance because the government did the insurance companies a favor during World War II. Wartime wage controls prohibited cash raises, so employers started giving noncash benefits like health insurance to attract workers. The tax code helped this along by treating employer-based health insurance more favorably than coverage you buy yourself. And state governments have made things worse by mandating coverage many people would never buy for themselves.

Competition also pushed companies to offer ever-more attractive policies, such as first-dollar coverage for routine ailments like ear infections and colds, and coverage for things that are not even illnesses, like pregnancy. We came to expect insurance to cover everything.


Steering people to buy lots of health insurance is bad policy. Insurance is a necessary evil. We need it to protect us from the big risks--things most of us can't afford to pay for, like a serious illness, a major car accident, or a house fire.

But insurance is a lousy way to pay for things. You premiums go not just to pay for medical care, but also for fraud, paperwork, and insurance company employee salaries. This is bad for you, and bad for doctors.

By positing that either Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama by wishing to get 'health-care reform' by EXPANDING the insurance based system is 'conservative' misses the point that subsidized health care insurance is distorting the health care system and costing everyone who needs health care much more than it would WITHOUT the subsidies. By expanding that system people are losing hard earned dollars and their liberty to choose their own physicians and treatment plans, plus learning how to care for themselves. When the 'insurance company' pays for every visit, then the perceived value of the visit decreases taking care of minor ailments that can be readily self-diagnosed. That takes up physician time better spent with people who have harder to diagnose and treat conditions. Further, as the 'insurance company' pays for things, it engenders fraud and requires over-use of the medical test system so as to ensure that doctors demonstrate that they have eliminated all other possible ailments before settling on a correct diagnosis done in the first few tests. Subsidies remove individuals paying for their treatment from the equation so that *they* can manage their own expectations and understand the risks of going forward with a treatment on a diagnosis that may have only an 85-95% chance of being correct and require extremely expensive or lengthy or multiple tests to pin down to the 95-97% range.

There is no 'wisdom' in a system that lessens individual input from their own health care treatment and anyone trying to expand that system to further remove individual cost and oversight then removes liberty of seeking treatment on one's own. If we complain about not getting the doctor you like *now* what happens when the doctors have no effective time to meet with the increase in patients due to increased paperwork and overhead? Increasing the insurance system isn't conservative in any light and it is hard to see how ANY conservative wants there to be greater pay to middlemen, greater incitement to fraud, less return on value and more costly healthcare as a result. A subscription based model or one of accumulated credits might fit individuals over their entire life than 'insurance' but conservatives wouldn't have anything to do with *that* now, would they? That would mean individual payment, management of expectations, involvement in one's own health outlook, managing risk and, yes, some form of thrift and investment.

Not allowed, apparently, because the 'conservative' way is to remove those things, according to Mr. Rauch.

Then Mr. Rauch demonstrates how Sen. McCain is a true 'conservative' by his definition:

And then there is McCain. As eclectic a reformer as he has been in the Senate, he has been consistent in his incrementalism. Though he was known to sound hot-headed on campaign-finance reform, his legislative work produced a reform that was mostly modest in its aims and that mostly attained them. He has been an old-fashioned budget balancer, not a newfangled supply-sider. He defends his global-warming efforts as gradualist and as modeled on emissions-trading systems that have already been tested. In the presidential primaries, he showed little interest in grandiose promises.

Strange, I thought that the budget cuts and incentives in the supply-side era had yielded a large economic boom in the 1990's that President Clinton took the credit for. That 'old-fashioned budget balancer' approach was derided because it looked at the economic pie in liberal terms: static. Supply-side economics posited that trusting individuals with their own wealth would garner growth and expand the whole pie and help to pay for government. Of course when the new funds appeared then Congress quickly looked to spend those funds in BOTH PARTIES. What was also posited was that government, itself, needed to restrained as to size and actually start to decrease so as to get out of people's bedrooms and lives. The explosive growth of regulations since 1972, with half of all regulations occurring since then, needed to be slowed, ended and reversed so as to remove government institutions from trying to manage the lives of individuals. I do believe that when Burke was looking at institutions he was looking at private ones based on industry, society and religion, not public ones under control of the government.

Now here is a question for Mr. Rauch: if a trading system is so great for something nebulous like 'global warming' why isn't it so good for health care?

Global warming due to human caused greenhouse gases has an extreme problem as a hypothesis: the evidence does not back it up. Not only is the world not getting warmer, the entirety of the world's oceans are actually declining in temperature. The science is not only 'out' on global warming but may never arrive as it does not appear to be a sensible view based on the data or even the hypothetical models that result from them. When atmospheric scientists start to recognize that their models can't even reflect the past, their ability to demonstrate a future is, effectively, null. Additionally, the science on the history of the Earth indicates that carbon dioxide is a non correlation in the long-term to global temperature beyond keeping the planet from being a snowball. And as the Carboniferous had far higher levels of carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor in the atmosphere, all of them 'greenhouse gases' we can attest to the planet not having undergone a 'runaway greenhouse effect' by our present as living beings on the planet. Apparently such things as the position of the continental plates and a direct global water flow has much more to do with global climate than does 'greenhouse gases' beyond keeping the planet from being an iceball.

What kind of 'conservative' is it, exactly, that proposes any sort of scheme to forestall something that has no demonstrable proof that it is: A) happening and, B) human caused? How about trading Maiden credits with regards to an upcoming Dragon infestation? When the scientific evidence cannot point to the actuality of a thing happening, its direction, timing nor causes, then what worldly sense does it make to do anything about it? Perhaps we could start trading in Indulgences, instead, and at least get some peace of mind as to spending a shorter time in purgatory? Really, those latter two make just as much sense as that of trading in carbon dioxide emissions when the US, after not having signed the Kyoto Protocols, is far closer to reaching them than any other industrialized nation, save Russia which underwent such a steep decline in industrial output it is hard for anyone to replicate them. By 'going it alone' the US is in a far better position to toot its horn vis-a-vis cleaner industries than China, say, which now has the top spot for sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions on a global basis... with far lower per capita output. Wouldn't the 'conservative' just say 'stay the course' instead of doing ANYTHING?

But then Mr. Rauch backs off his own analysis in the other area of 'conservatism' he mentions: personal liberty.

I took a rather wide-ranging view on Sen. McCain's tax outlook, past and present, and it is interesting that many conservatives consider the Ronald Reagan based view of taxation and the economy to be the new norm as of Sen. McCain's 2000 run for the Presidency. When the National Review did a quick look on Sen. McCain's tax views on 07 FEB 2007, they pointed out that he had, basically, taken the liberal view of 'closing loopholes' to garner revenue which has the net effect of raising tax burden:

His rhetoric, meanwhile, has been worse than his proposal. He suggests that Bush's tax cut is so large that it endangers Social Security-as though the government could possibly tax its way into solvency for that program. When McCain said that Bush's tax cut was "unfair"-i.e., too generous to the rich-he should have known that no tax cut could be "fair" by the liberal definition he was using.

Really, of all the artifacts of the FDR era, Social Security is the one as the major problem for the government having taken up commitments that it cannot meet. That was identified during the 'revolutionary' term of Ronald Reagan (as Mr. Rauch would call it) and not a damned thing has been done to lessen that commitment or set up a system that would see an end-date for the program and allow individuals to find their own way to a good retirement depending on far better performers than the federal government. As a retirement guarantor, the federal government is the least solvent, least capable, most officious and least financially wise vehicle to utilize for this. It has gotten to the point where most Gen-X and Gen-Y have zero expectation of Social Security *existing* when they retire and are planning accordingly. Wouldn't that self-responsibility towards one's own liberty applied to personal happiness and freedom be a good social movement for conservatives to support? That would require phasing out a government bureaucracy which Mr. Rauch and Sen. McCain would see as 'revolutionary' even if it happened over a decade while ensuring all those invested in the system either get their guaranteed support or a lump sum on retirement. Something like that is 'radical' for all the fact it is fiscally wise.

What is interesting is that back in 2000, Sen. McCain wanted to go far further in not returning surplus government funds to individuals. This from Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review on 07 FEB 2000:

The Bush-McCain dispute concerns the non-Social Security surplus, projected (like the Social Security surplus) to be $2 trillion over the next decade. Bush wants to return much of this surplus to taxpayers. His campaign estimates that his tax-cut plan would reduce federal revenues by $483 billion over five years (assuming it doesn't increase economic growth, which would add back some revenue). McCain describes this as "fiscally irresponsible." He wants a smaller, $237 billion tax cut, partially offset by tax increases on corporations. But he wants to spend 5 percent of the non-Social Security surplus to reduce the national debt, and to save 62 percent of it for Social Security. Since the saving has to be done through debt reduction, McCain's policy amounts to using two- thirds of the non-Social Security surplus to reduce the debt.

Why 62 percent? McCain says he's making good on President Clinton's 1999 promise to devote 62 percent of the surplus to Social Security. Actually, McCain's going much further than Clinton: The president was referring to 62 percent of the total surplus of $4 trillion. McCain's talking about using the entire $2 trillion Social Security surplus, plus 62 percent of the $2 trillion non-Social Se curity surplus: a whopping $760 billion difference.

Clinton's promise was widely seen as a ploy to block tax cuts, and House Republicans might be expected to side with Bush rather than Clinton or McCain-with tax cuts rather than debt reduction. Yet in early January, House Speaker Denny Hastert announced that paying down the debt would be a priority for Republicans this year. He also made a long-term commitment: "We are putting together a plan to pay off all of our nation's debt so that our children will inherit a debt-free country." Only small tax cuts- relief from the marriage penalty and expanded educational savings accounts-are on the agenda.

Yes, Sen. McCain is in the 'fiscal responsibility' area to the point where reducing the debt is more important than getting money back to the citizenry. That is the part of economics that the supply-siders got right: increase the amount individuals can retain and the economy grows faster than the debt burden *if* you can reign in government spending. That logic had worked to the point of getting a *surplus* even when Congressional Republicans (they were in charge then) went on a spending binge that made Democrats green with envy. Even though I applaud Sen. McCain's going after the corrupting influence of earmarks, the larger problem of rampant REGULAR government spending is something he has never addressed... or even worse, if he has done so he has been incapable of swaying members of Congress from *either party* on his views.

Then there is Sen. McCain's support of big business and the MSM over the individual as seen during the attempts to de-regulate low power FM broadcasters for local communities and neighborhoods. On 26 APR 1999 TV Digest with Consumer Electronics published this view from the Senator:

Other legislators at convention said there was little support in Congress for raising TV ownership caps. McCain addressed NAB via satellite, staying in Washington to introduce Senate resolution calling for use of necessary force in Kosovo. In his taped comments, McCain said he will hold hearings next month on broadcast ownership rules and on how to create "a new Y2K ownership diversity program" that will include new tax certificates --- policy advocated by FCC Comr. Powell, who was McCain's choice for Commission. In speech dominated by discussion of Kosovo policy, McCain criticized FCC for trying for 30 years to remove barriers to entry in broadcasting "with great vigor and a resounding lack of success." He said Commission should "work with entrepreneurial and market forces, not against them," and should use "private sector initiatives in a creative way that will benefit industry participants as well as new entrants." Republican Congress eliminated tax certificate program in one of its first acts after taking over in 1995, although minority ownership levels hadn't risen appreciably when program was in place.


McCain criticized FCC for failing to acknowledge that "the best entrepreneurial opportunities in the telecom industry aren't in broadcasting any more," and for coming up with microradio proposal. He denounced microradio policy, asking: "What possible diversity interest is advanced, what kind of opportunity is created, by manufacturing thousands of tiny new radio stations in an already overpopulated, transitional market?" He said that if FCC wants to enable more people to share their views, then Web or cable access channels work better.

The point is not to let the federal government determine what is and is not viable for individuals to do. Entrepreneurship utilizing the common airways could offer untold services to local communities beyond music, weather, and advertising, but the extent of what *could* be done requires government to get out of the way of individuals. Yes, personal liberty given a chance to move into new areas of expression can seek their own return, and monetary may not be the only thing driving them as community service channels could be offered by those individuals donating time and energy to support their community in this realm. But you can't get Sen. McCain to sign on to something that just might hurt the large media organizations which can be so easily regulated and pampered via subsidies, grants and tax favors. That is what the final bill reflected (Source: 20 SEP 1999 TV Digest with Consumer Electronics), led forward by Sen. McCain.

And Sen. McCain as a 'reformer' of election finance had troubles with McCain-Feingold long before it got approved. When he started in 1998, he ran into all sorts of opposition that was trying to point out that his bill was an infringement in the 1st Amendment Civil Rights guarantees on the freedom of speech. On 01 MAY 1998 Human Events featured a Capital Briefs article on just this bill:

ONLY THE LONELY: The voice of the late Roy Orbison ought to be echoing in the ears of Sen. John McCain (R.Ariz.) these days. One of McCain's Republican Senate colleagues told HUMAN EVENTS last week that McCain is now"the loneliest man in town"-increasingly shunned by other Republican senators for his promotion of a campaign "reform" bill that would deny conservative groups their 1st Amendment right to communicate with voters during federal election campaigns, and, also, for his attempt to enact a tobacco deal that would result in more than $500 billion in new taxes.

Nonetheless, McCain is still seriously considering running for President in 2000. Says GOP pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, "I still can't figure out what country McCain is positioning himself to run in."

CFR has become the Civil Rights Albatross around the neck of Sen. McCain and has proven to be an impossible thing to do without deeply violating the 1st Amendment. Apparently, supporting the violation of the 1st Amendment isn't worthy of Mr. Rauch's discussion of 'conservatism' with regards to Sen. McCain, which is very strange as supporting of liberty and individual rights were such a cornerstone of that review.

Sen. McCain hasn't had any problems with increasing 'sin taxes'! And has used dishonest figures to bolster that, as seen in a 03 JUL 1998 Human Events article The Myth of the 3,000 kids:

Washington is a city of statistics--and in the battle about tobacco, one statistic has been pounded home above all others: the "3,000 kids" who start smoking every day, presumably at the bidding of Joe Camel. This dreadful image was the oft-cited basis for Sen. John McCain's (R.Ariz.) sweeping, costly tax bill.

McCain himself has used this number incessantly in floor debate and comment to the press: "This has got to do with 3,000 kids every day starting to smoke," "every day, another 3,000 kids will start smoking," and so on. President Clinton, Sen. John Chafee (R.-R.I.) and countless other politicians have used the same statistic, in virtually the same phrasing.


However, if we check the basis for Kessler's numbers, we find the truth is not what is suggested by such statements. In 1996, for instance, he used the 3,000 figure in a piece that he and others at the FDA submitted to The New England Journal of Medicine. This is a well-respected scientific journal where one has to be more careful about what he says than in slapdash political forums, press interviews or debates in Congress.

In this we do indeed discover that "about 3,000 new smokers each day" come from the ranks of "young persons." So far, so good. If we keep going, however, we also read the following: "For purposes of this analysis, only persons aged 20 years and older are included, as information was not collected on younger persons in any consistent fashion over this time period." (Emphasis added.) Such is the ultimate basis for all the statements about "kids"!

Thus, through the statistical-verbal magic of Kessler and his friends, findings in which no one younger than age 20 was included morph into something dramatically different: From "young people" (in a science journal) to "kids"(in public forums), to subteens with cigarettes dangling from their lips in advertising pictures. The effect and purpose of these changes don't require much comment.


One cannot doubt that Sen. McCain has used this formula in good faith, assuming the data passed on by such as Kessler are valid. The fact remains that the entire uproar about "3,000 kids" is based on an intellectual con game.

Apparently Sen. McCain is willing to play fast'n'loose with scientific data to bolster his cause du jour, and then it was 'for the children' to get huge taxes on Big Tobacco. That would serve as the basis for the $885 billion Tobacco Tax (Source: Human Events, 12 JUN 1998 ) which would be the single, largest tax hike in history up to that point in time. Sen. McCain pushed that bill even when there was bipartisan opposition to it ( Source: Human Events, 12 JUN 1998 ) due to the fact that getting associated with the single largest tax hike in history makes one look greedy.

The Franks-McCain bill would interpose the federal government in local schools and libraries to censor internet access ( Source: Insight on the News, 05 APR 1999 ). This was not only decried as the federal government trying to censor free speech in contravention to the 1st Amendment and would be struck down by the Supreme Court ( Source: Online Newsletter, 01 NOV 1998). Mind you, it was pushed as 'for the children', like anything one wants to ram through that would limit the civil rights of adults.

Why is it that Mr. Rauch doesn't take a look at the wider issues that Sen. McCain has not only NOT been conservative on, but has been more than liberal on over the course of his career? Is it because of the form of 'conservative' that supports expansion of government at the cost of civil rights under that 'conservative' rubric has a name to it?

It does.

Big Government Conservatism - it holds the 'social values' the liberals have put in place to invest more power in government and increase it continually with less and less capability but much higher cost over time. That is the kind of 'conservative' that Sen. McCain is, and he has been true to that throughout his entire career. Well, perhaps Mr. Rauch hasn't heard of that kind of 'conservative', that really sees nothing that government can't take over in a helpful way, of course.

Just like liberals, only slower.


SwampWoman said...

Indeed. I don't feel I have any good choice and can only pick what I perceive to be the lesser of two evils.

A Jacksonian said...

SW - I am coming to the purely awful conclusion that there is *no* lesser of two evils this time around.

We have created a pure mess via NAFTA and I am very much afraid that the next COIN deployment for the US will not be Iraq, Afghanistan, Philippines, Colombia but in our own SW for Mexico. None of these candidates will address this festering cancer that is metastasizing before our very eyes. This requires letting go of nostrums and actually dealing with the intersection of national well being, national sovereignty and national defense and so far I have heard zero about this. If they can't speak up on enforcing the law, then that criminal insurgency will spread north, and there will be hell to pay for that.

SwampWoman said...

I lived in Arizona for a time, and John McCain was *not* my favorite politician.

There are HUGE problems sneaking across the border; however, I don't see ANY of the candidates dealing with it. I think the states will have to take action on their own.

A Jacksonian said...

SW - I agree, it is something the states get in Art. I, Section 10:

"No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay."

Throw in Amendement II, the Dick Act and you have the Right of the States to look after themselves with the support of their armed populace when the federal government will not do so. It is almost like all those 18th century views on rights *mean something*!

SwampWoman said...

I have no patience with people who do not see the dangers that undocumented illegals can pose to society in addition to terrorism:

Is the guy working with the landscaping company in the suburbs a pedophile, rapist or murderer who fled his country to avoid prosecution? Nobody knows, nobody cares. Is the person preparing my food in a restaurant a carrier of any diseases? Nobody knows, nobody cares. Is the person in line behind me at the supermarket who is coughing repeatedly a carrier of XDR tuberculosis? Nobody knows, nobody cares.

A Jacksonian said...

Looking at Group DF and its influence via Turkmenistan with regards to Iran, I can say that some of that Russian Mafia money is coming with distinct interest in Mexico's petroleum industry and the US. Mexico has proven to ill understand its own wealth generation capability and we both may pay for that in a short period of time, given the sheer amounts of money those Russian organizations can move around.

I would hate to wake up one morning with the Russian Mafia in control of Mexico's petroleum exports or its industry entire... that is the scale they think in and they need to get their foothold in which they have done. Now comes the ramping up and destabilization... then the cash offers, and further scaling up. And that will come to America, as it has already started to do with Central American gangs and Mexican drug gangs. The time to 'be nice' is ending, the time for survival is beginning.