The Cowardice of the Conservative
by Scott McPherson
are an interesting bunch. In a desperate attempt to differentiate
themselves from liberals, they like to mock folks on the Left while
talking as if they themselves were in agreement with libertarians.
I just vote Republican because theyre the lesser of
two evils is a common excuse for their continued support of
that party and its philosophy (for lack of a better word).
But when you
scratch below the surface of the typical conservative you find someone
whose principles are about as far from libertarian as the leftist
principles he condemns. As a friend of mine once said, Conservatives
like to talk about limited government they just
never say what they want it limited to.
conservatives are typically cowards who dont have the courage
of their alleged convictions.
take the issue of immigration, a hot topic this election year for
Republicans. Unable to stand on principle against big government,
most conservatives have decided instead to pick on an easy target,
one guaranteed to rally their base: immigrants.
When you explain
the moral issue at stake, i.e., the right to immigrate and our countrys
history of open borders, the typical conservative avoids taking
a stand by attempting to muddle the issue. Youre right,
hell say, but what about the welfare state? As long
as immigrants can come here and live off welfare we cant have
For the libertarian,
this isnt an issue at all. Abolishing the welfare state is
a number-one priority for principled libertarians. If there is in
fact a problem with immigrants using too much welfare (though
the conservative is silent on the issue of native-born folks
using welfare, but well get to that shortly) then that problem
can be easily fixed: turn off the spigot of taxpayer funds and those
who wish to loaf rather than work will stop coming here. Period.
This is particularly
interesting because, when it suits them, conservatives are big anti-welfare-state
types. The Republican Revolution of 1994 was characterized by rhetoric
in favor of reversing the nations welfarist trend, and Republicans
condescendingly sneered at liberals for their support of the welfare
state, thinking themselves so far above the redistribution of wealth.
in (short) time retreated from that issue with complete indignity
(George W. Bush is the biggest social spender since Lyndon Johnson),
conservatives instead prefer to use it as an excuse to promote some
big-government programs of their own and keep
voters on their side and kick around the people they like
the least: immigrants.
I had the pleasure of participating in an informal debate with a
representative of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative
think-tank based in Washington, D.C. Every argument he made hinged
on immigrants ability to abuse the welfare state.
When I pressed
him long enough on the immorality of the welfare state itself
regardless of who was using it he threw his hands up in despair
and addressed the audience at large: Who here thinks well
ever get rid of the welfare state?
So the jig
was up: Conservatives arent prepared to take on the unpopular
issue of abolishing the welfare state, so immigrants have to take
a bashing. Thats unprincipled and cowardly.
and the drug war
issue for conservatives is the drug war. Despite their small-government
rhetoric anyone with a lick of sense can see the billions of dollars
expended, the militarization of law-enforcement agencies, and the
plethora of anti-drug laws enacted largely at the behest of conservative
thinkers, as the Republicans Achilles heel. For all
their talk about freedom and limited government, they like a big
government around to pick on those drug-users who are probably
just liberals anyway, well except maybe for Rush Limbaugh.
So we return
to our earlier argument: The drug war is an immoral use of government
power to try to make peaceful and otherwise law-abiding people behave
in a way that the politicians can approve of.
right, the conservative will say, but what about the
welfare state? If drugs are legal then drug-users will destroy themselves
and their families and taxpayers will end up footing the bill.
(As if alcohol, which conservatives consume with a clear conscience,
werent responsible for a disproportionate amount of pain and
a minute! the libertarian says. I thought you conservatives
were for abolishing the welfare state. If we get rid of welfare
then drug users cant make their bad decisions a burden on
true, the conservative says, but its politically
unpopular to talk about getting rid of the welfare state.
is, keeping the welfare state around a while longer makes it easy
for conservatives to avoid tackling difficult issues and standing
up for unpopular causes, all the while kicking around people they
dont like. Meanwhile, another group of peaceful people take
a bashing because conservatives are unprincipled and cowardly.
and public schooling
A third example
is public education. Conservatives know that public
schools are a tragic and moral failure. They see the unthinking
products of this institution and react with horror. See,
they say, government isnt the solution government
is the problem! (Conservatives love to quote Ronald Reagan.)
What is their
right. When they see generation after generation of Americas
young marched off to the equivalent of the government indoctrination
camps found in Cuba or the former Soviet Union, Republicans are
so incensed that they demand that parents … have a choice of which
camp their child will go to!
few private camps (I say private schools still qualify as government-controlled
camps because they must, by law, conform to government standards)
that exist will become virtually indistinguishable from government
camps once subsidized attendance becomes widespread enough. (See
Wickard v. Filburn, 1943: It is hardly lack of due process
for the Government to regulate that which it subsidizes.)
commentators rail continually against the failure of public education,
yet when the libertarian asks, Why dont we abolish all
publicly funded educational institutions? the conservative
answers, We would, but those evil Democrats would have a field
day denouncing us.
We dont have the courage to stand by our alleged convictions.
allow me to quote at length from a recent email sent out by the
conservative Leadership Institute based in Arlington, Virginia:
Whether we conservatives like it or not, Civil Service employees
have a lot of power. And they have good paying jobs and phenomenal
job security. Yet most conservatives never consider seeking a U.S.
Civil Service job. They should. Would you or someone you know consider
a job in the Civil Service? If so the Leadership Institute can help.
The Leadership Institutes Civil Service Opportunity School
teaches conservatives how to get a job and succeed in the Civil
Service. That is why I invite you to attend the Leadership Institutes
Civil Service Opportunity School on May 15–17 starting 06:00 P.M.
Whether you are a newcomer to Washington, D.C., or you are looking
for a career change, this intensive seminar can give you the tools
you need to begin your career in the Civil Service…. No longer should
conservatives allow liberals to monopolize the bureaucracy. Learn
from top Washington insiders how to break into the liberal-dominated
may as well run up the white flag and issue a press release: If
you cant beat em, join em!
This is the
truth of the matter: Conservatives talk a good game about the need
to rein in government spending, abolish particular programs, and
downsize the number of bureaucrats, but at the end of the day they
truly believe that a big government would probably work just fine
if only they were in charge.
No doubt it
would be an uphill battle for conservatives to change their big-government
ways and embrace the libertarian vision of a free society. We libertarians
know quite well how difficult it is to make the case for free markets,
private property, and limited government.
Yet a principled
approach to life requires doing the right thing, even when its
not popular. Whether theyre too cowardly to stand by their
principles or they dont actually hold such views in the first
place is irrelevant. When a Republican tells you he just votes for
the lesser of two evils, dont believe him
he doesnt see his side as evil at all.
McPherson [send him mail]
is a policy advisor at The Future of
Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia.
© 2006 LewRockwell.com