It’s wonderful that rightwingers are making noise all around America through the Tea Party tax protests. We must remember, however, that this April 15th we are still suffering the burden of Bush’s leviathan government. We are filing for 2008, the last year of Republican rule. We are still and will long be enduring the cost of Bush’s wars, spending and bailouts. We should be wary of letting the Republican establishment co-opt the grassroots, anti-government spirit of these protests and turn them into a platform to shill for GOP statism.
For eight years, Republican protest of income taxation was scant. Some conservatives complained quietly about Bush’s domestic welfare spending, but all in all they were apologists for the regime we are still paying for. They certainly did not talk about the state as their enemy, as many of them do today. The quickness of their transition to opposition rhetoric has been staggering.
"Tyranny vs. liberty," "the collective vs. the individual," "the state vs. you" — this is suddenly the language of the conservative movement. Well, that is not quite right: The conservatives have still maintained their excitement about national greatness and war.
The contradiction is a wonder to behold. In one breath, they talk about the fundamental violations of natural rights and constitutional law that modern American statism represents. In the next breath, they decry the president for being insufficiently enthusiastic about American imperialism and the national security state. He is too soft on foreigners and not proud enough of the history of the US war machine — this is still a key rightwing criticism of Obama, right alongside the contradictory claim that Obama puts love of the national government ahead of individual rights.
Conservatives seem to define tyranny as losing to the Democrats, just as Jon Stewart has said. And so now they echo the rhetoric of the American colonists who stood up for independence, even as they still speak the language of empire. Sean Hannity and others of his kind say the "conservative underground" and Tea Party revolts are not just about opposing socialism and high taxes — they are also about reclaiming "American Exceptionalism," the idea that the American national warfare state is just and good, even holy, and that we oppressed patriots will not countenance a president insufficiently enamored of American imperial glory. Presumably, as today’s conservatives see it, the American colonists dumping British tea were also upset that the British Crown was inadequately boastful of English Exceptionalism, cutting spending on the British empire and coddling the enemies of England’s occupying armies. (Actually, there is one fair parallel here: the American nationalists wanted the French-Indian war, and then didn’t want to pay for it. Same American nationalism, different war.)
The rightwing criticism of Obama’s dovishness is not just ironic but, unlike the criticism of his collectivism, it is 100% off the mark. Obama is increasing military spending, going well beyond Bush in arguing for secretive, unchecked presidential power, widening the war into Pakistan and redirecting military resources toward uses of active belligerence. He is commissioning fewer Cold War weapons so as to build more weapons for actual use in today’s conflict. He is not calling it a war on terrorism but is ramping up the policies, at home and in most theaters abroad. He is a more pragmatic and thus more effective warmonger than the neocons. A New Left peacenik he is not.
So the right hates taxes but loves the wars and rightwing projects that make them necessary. Furthermore, their government under Bush was so enormous that it could not finance itself on taxation alone — much of his warmongering and central planning was funded through borrowing, even as his Ownership Society relied on inflationary easy credit. The depression we face resulted mostly from these policies and every single horrible thing Obama is doing had its precedents in the Bush era. Indeed, the Republicans made such a mess that a full Democratic takeover and move toward socialism were practically inevitable.
Looking further into the rightwing contradiction, we see more paradoxes abound. The liberals in power want to use the No-Fly List to disarm Americans. Conservatives are horrified. Rahm Emanuel says that suspected terrorists should obviously not be allowed to have guns. The rightwing, which a year ago trusted the government to define who was and was not a terrorist and strip him of his freedoms of speech, due process, privacy and travel, thinks the idea of using the same government determinations to take away Americans’ guns is tyranny itself.
Conservatives complain about government listing them as potential violent agitators due to their anti-tax, pro-gun politics, but mostly defended the Bush government as it spied on antiwar activists and created the fusion centers that now associate conservative ideas with dangerous militias. The conservatives worry about Obama putting the UN above the American system of government, yet they thought a UN mandate was plenty good reason to go to war with Iraq, regardless of having no official Congressional declaration of war. The conservatives fear national service, but for much of the last decade, serving the nation-state and especially its enforcement agencies was considered the height of patriotism. They now say Obama’s social planning will fail in America; for years they championed U.S. economic planning and public works projects in Iraq.
This April 15, Americans have to prove to the government that they paid their taxes for 2008, to fund Bush’s empire and corporatism. Perhaps this is why conservatives want to emphasize not just their anti-tax rhetoric, but the areas where Obama’s current policies stray from their own program. And here, most of what conservatives say is either disingenuous, given their previous sycophancy for the profligate and invasive Bush regime, or a monstrous call for even more bloodshed.
It is a tragedy that today, when liberals have taken over and have a thousand plans to micromanage domestic life, nationalize our children, socialize finance and industry, institute a global New Deal and enlist the whole country in left-liberal national-socialism, the red-state fascists have become the dominant opposition, stealing half of our rhetoric while maintaining so much of the hypocrisy and statism of the Bush era. Instead of America Firsters, they are like they were out of power during the Cold War, bashing the president for being too soft on the enemy. Instead of upholding a model of free enterprise, they continue to defend the Bush legacy, ignore the depth of the financial crisis and refuse to put nearly enough blame for it on the Republicans — when most of it belongs to them. Instead of rediscovering the Constitution, they have only rediscovered the half of it they like. Instead of truly embracing individual liberty in all its implications, they still want the federal government to mold society to their liking, punish vice, maintain their favored demographics and police the planet.
Bush created the biggest bubble ever in the name of free enterprise and waged two wars with potentially cataclysmic implications for a century to come. He was like a Hoover and Wilson mixed in one, and by refusing to reject Bush conservatism as strongly as Obama liberalism, today’s conservative movement is still more than a let-down as opposition to the Obama nightmare. Until conservatives adopt libertarianism, the love of peace and freedom regardless of party, they can only be taken so seriously when they complain that taxes are too high.
Thankfully, there are more Americans than ever who eschew the statism of both right and left, who seek liberty, peace and free markets. Those who resent tax day and are searching for real solutions can join our ranks, rejecting the conservative as well as liberal policies that have gotten us into this mess.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a research analyst at the Independent Institute and editor-in-chief of the Campaign for Liberty. He lives in Berkeley, California. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.