The modern-day, limited-government movement has been co-opted. The conservatives have failed in their effort to shrink the size of government. There has not been, nor will there soon be, a conservative revolution in Washington. Political party control of the federal government has changed, but the inexorable growth in the size and scope of government has continued unabated. The liberal arguments for limited government in personal affairs and foreign military adventurism were never seriously considered as part of this revolution.
Since the change of the political party in charge has not made a difference, who’s really in charge? If the particular party in power makes little difference, whose policy is it that permits expanded government programs, increased spending, huge deficits, nation building and the pervasive invasion of our privacy, with fewer Fourth Amendment protections than ever before?
Someone is responsible, and it’s important that those of us who love liberty, and resent big-brother government, identify the philosophic supporters who have the most to say about the direction our country is going. If they’re wrong – and I believe they are – we need to show it, alert the American people, and offer a more positive approach to government. However, this depends on whether the American people desire to live in a free society and reject the dangerous notion that we need a strong central government to take care of us from the cradle to the grave. Do the American people really believe it’s the government’s responsibility to make us morally better and economically equal? Do we have a responsibility to police the world, while imposing our vision of good government on everyone else in the world with some form of utopian nation building? If not, and the enemies of liberty are exposed and rejected, then it behooves us to present an alternative philosophy that is morally superior and economically sound and provides a guide to world affairs to enhance peace and commerce.
One thing is certain: conservatives who worked and voted for less government in the Reagan years and welcomed the takeover of the U.S. Congress and the presidency in the 1990s and early 2000s were deceived. Soon they will realize that the goal of limited government has been dashed and that their views no longer matter.
The so-called conservative revolution of the past two decades has given us massive growth in government size, spending and regulations. Deficits are exploding and the national debt is now rising at greater than a half-trillion dollars per year. Taxes do not go down – even if we vote to lower them. They can’t, as long as spending is increased, since all spending must be paid for one way or another. Both Presidents Reagan and the elder George Bush raised taxes directly. With this administration, so far, direct taxes have been reduced – and they certainly should have been – but it means little if spending increases and deficits rise.
When taxes are not raised to accommodate higher spending, the bills must be paid by either borrowing or “printing” new money. This is one reason why we conveniently have a generous Federal Reserve chairman who is willing to accommodate the Congress. With borrowing and inflating, the “tax” is delayed and distributed in a way that makes it difficult for those paying the tax to identify it. For instance, future generations, or those on fixed incomes who suffer from rising prices, and those who lose jobs – they certainly feel the consequences of economic dislocations that this process causes. Government spending is always a “tax” burden on the American people and is never equally or fairly distributed. The poor and low-middle income workers always suffer the most from the deceitful tax of inflation and borrowing.
Many present-day conservatives, who generally argue for less government and supported the Reagan/Gingrich/Bush takeover of the federal government, are now justifiably disillusioned. Although not a monolithic group, they wanted to shrink the size of government.
Early in our history, the advocates of limited, constitutional government recognized two important principles: the rule of law was crucial, and a constitutional government must derive “just powers from the consent of the governed.” It was understood that an explicit transfer of power to government could only occur with power rightfully and naturally endowed to each individual as a God-given right. Therefore, the powers that could be transferred would be limited to the purpose of protecting liberty. Unfortunately, in the last 100 years, the defense of liberty has been fragmented and shared by various groups, with some protecting civil liberties, others economic freedom, and a small diverse group arguing for a foreign policy of nonintervention.
The philosophy of freedom has had a tough go of it, and it was hoped that the renewed interest in limited government of the past two decades would revive an interest in reconstituting the freedom philosophy into something more consistent. Those who worked for the goal of limited government power believed the rhetoric of politicians who promised smaller government. Sometimes it was just plain sloppy thinking on their part, but at other times, they fell victim to a deliberate distortion of a concise limited-government philosophy by politicians who misled many into believing that we would see a rollback on government intrusiveness.
Yes, there was always a remnant who longed for truly limited government and maintained a belief in the rule of law, combined with a deep conviction that free people and a government bound by a Constitution were the most advantageous form of government. They recognized it as the only practical way for prosperity to be spread to the maximum number of people while promoting peace and security.
That remnant – imperfect as it may have been – was heard from in the elections of 1980 and 1994 and then achieved major victories in 2000 and 2002 when professed limited-government proponents took over the administration, the Senate and the House. However, the true believers in limited government are now shunned and laughed at. At the very least, they are ignored – except when they are used by the new leaders of the right, the new conservatives now in charge of the U.S. government.
The remnant’s instincts were correct, and the politicians placated them with talk of free markets, limited government, and a humble, non-nation-building foreign policy. However, little concern for civil liberties was expressed in this recent quest for less government. Yet, for an ultimate victory of achieving freedom, this must change. Interest in personal privacy and choices has generally remained outside the concern of many conservatives – especially with the great harm done by their support of the drug war. Even though some confusion has emerged over our foreign policy since the breakdown of the Soviet empire, it’s been a net benefit in getting some conservatives back on track with a less militaristic, interventionist foreign policy. Unfortunately, after 9-11, the cause of liberty suffered a setback. As a result, millions of Americans voted for the less-than-perfect conservative revolution because they believed in the promises of the politicians.
Now there’s mounting evidence to indicate exactly what happened to the revolution. Government is bigger than ever, and future commitments are overwhelming. Millions will soon become disenchanted with the new status quo delivered to the American people by the advocates of limited government and will find it to be just more of the old status quo. Victories for limited government have turned out to be hollow indeed.
Since the national debt is increasing at a rate greater than a half-trillion dollars per year, the debt limit was recently increased by an astounding $984 billion dollars. Total U.S. government obligations are $43 trillion, while total net worth of U.S. households is just over $40 trillion. The country is broke, but no one in Washington seems to notice or care. The philosophic and political commitment for both guns and butter – and especially for expanding the American empire – must be challenged. This is crucial for our survival.
In spite of the floundering economy, the Congress and the administration continue to take on new commitments in foreign aid, education, farming, medicine, multiple efforts at nation building, and preemptive wars around the world. Already we’re entrenched in Iraq and Afghanistan, with plans to soon add new trophies to our conquest. War talk abounds as to when Syria, Iran and North Korea will be attacked.
How did all this transpire? Why did the government do it? Why haven’t the people objected? How long will it go on before something is done? Does anyone care?
Will the euphoria of grand military victories – against non-enemies – ever be mellowed? Someday, we as a legislative body must face the reality of the dire situation in which we have allowed ourselves to become enmeshed. Hopefully, it will be soon!
We got here because ideas do have consequences. Bad ideas have bad consequences, and even the best of intentions have unintended consequences. We need to know exactly what the philosophic ideas were that drove us to this point; then, hopefully, reject them and decide on another set of intellectual parameters.
There is abundant evidence exposing those who drive our foreign policy justifying preemptive war. Those who scheme are proud of the achievements in usurping control over foreign policy. These are the neoconservatives of recent fame. Granted, they are talented and achieved a political victory that all policymakers must admire. But can freedom and the Republic survive this takeover? That question should concern us.
Neoconservatives are obviously in positions of influence and are well-placed throughout our government and the media. An apathetic Congress put up little resistance and abdicated its responsibilities over foreign affairs. The electorate was easily influenced to join in the patriotic fervor supporting the military adventurism advocated by the neoconservatives.
The numbers of those who still hope for truly limited government diminished and had their concerns ignored these past 22 months, during the aftermath of 9-11. Members of Congress were easily influenced to publicly support any domestic policy or foreign military adventure that was supposed to help reduce the threat of a terrorist attack. Believers in limited government were harder to find. Political money, as usual, played a role in pressing Congress into supporting almost any proposal suggested by the neocons. This process – where campaign dollars and lobbying efforts affect policy – is hardly the domain of any single political party, and unfortunately, is the way of life in Washington.
There are many reasons why government continues to grow. It would be naïve for anyone to expect otherwise. Since 9-11, protection of privacy, whether medical, personal or financial, has vanished. Free speech and the Fourth Amendment have been under constant attack. Higher welfare expenditures are endorsed by the leadership of both parties. Policing the world and nation-building issues are popular campaign targets, yet they are now standard operating procedures. There’s no sign that these programs will be slowed or reversed until either we are stopped by force overseas (which won’t be soon) or we go broke and can no longer afford these grandiose plans for a world empire (which will probably come sooner than later).
None of this happened by accident or coincidence. Precise philosophic ideas prompted certain individuals to gain influence to implement these plans. The neoconservatives – a name they gave themselves – diligently worked their way into positions of power and influence. They documented their goals, strategy and moral justification for all they hoped to accomplish. Above all else, they were not and are not conservatives dedicated to limited, constitutional government.
Neo-conservatism has been around for decades and, strangely, has connections to past generations as far back as Machiavelli. Modern-day neo-conservatism was introduced to us in the 1960s. It entails both a detailed strategy as well as a philosophy of government. The ideas of Teddy Roosevelt, and certainly Woodrow Wilson, were quite similar to many of the views of present-day neocons. Neocon spokesman Max Boot brags that what he advocates is “hard Wilsonianism.” In many ways, there’s nothing “neo” about their views, and certainly nothing conservative. Yet they have been able to co-op the conservative movement by advertising themselves as a new or modern form of conservatism.
More recently, the modern-day neocons have come from the far left, a group historically identified as former Trotskyists. Liberal Christopher Hitchins has recently officially joined the neocons, and it has been reported that he has already been to the White House as an ad hoc consultant. Many neocons now in positions of influence in Washington can trace their status back to Professor Leo Strauss of the University of Chicago. One of Strauss’ books wasThoughts on Machiavelli. This book was not a condemnation of Machiavelli’s philosophy. Paul Wolfowitz actually got his PhD under Strauss. Others closely associated with these views are Richard Perle, Eliot Abrams, Robert Kagan and William Kristol. All are key players in designing our new strategy of preemptive war. Others include: Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute; former CIA Director James Woolsy; Bill Bennett of Book of Virtues fame; Frank Gaffney; Dick Cheney; and Donald Rumsfeld. There are just too many to mention who are philosophically or politically connected to the neocon philosophy in some varying degree.
The godfather of modern-day neo-conservatism is considered to be Irving Kristol, father of Bill Kristol, who set the stage in 1983 with his publication Reflections of a Neoconservative. In this book, Kristol also defends the traditional liberal position on welfare.
More important than the names of people affiliated with neo-conservatism are the views they adhere to. Here is a brief summary of the general understanding of what neocons believe:
- They agree with Trotsky on permanent revolution, violent as well as intellectual.
- They are for redrawing the map of the Middle East and are willing to use force to do so.
- They believe in preemptive war to achieve desired ends.
- They accept the notion that the ends justify the means – that hard-ball politics is a moral necessity.
- They express no opposition to the welfare state.
- They are not bashful about an American empire; instead they strongly endorse it.
- They believe lying is necessary for the state to survive.
- They believe a powerful federal government is a benefit.
- They believe pertinent facts about how a society should be run should be held by the elite and withheld from those who do not have the courage to deal with it.
- They believe neutrality in foreign affairs is ill-advised.
- They hold Leo Strauss in high esteem.
- They believe imperialism, if progressive in nature, is appropriate.
- Using American might to force American ideals on others is acceptable. Force should not be limited to the defense of our country.
- 9-11 resulted from the lack of foreign entanglements, not from too many.
- They dislike and despise libertarians (therefore, the same applies to all strict constitutionalists).
- They endorse attacks on civil liberties, such as those found in the Patriot Act, as being necessary.
- They unconditionally support Israel and have a close alliance with the Likud Party.
Various organizations and publications over the last 30 years have played a significant role in the rise to power of the neoconservatives. It took plenty of money and commitment to produce the intellectual arguments needed to convince the many participants in the movement of its respectability.
It is no secret – especially after the rash of research and articles written about the neocons since our invasion of Iraq – how they gained influence and what organizations were used to promote their cause. Although for decades, they agitated for their beliefs through publications like The National Review, The Weekly Standard, The Public Interest, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and the New York Post, their views only gained momentum in the 1990s following the first Persian Gulf War – which still has not ended even with removal of Saddam Hussein. They became convinced that a much more militant approach to resolving all the conflicts in the Middle East was an absolute necessity, and they were determined to implement that policy.
In addition to publications, multiple think tanks and projects were created to promote their agenda. A product of the Bradley Foundation, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) led the neocon charge, but the real push for war came from the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), another organization helped by the Bradley Foundation. This occurred in 1998 and was chaired by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol. Early on, they urged war against Iraq, but were disappointed with the Clinton administration, which never followed through with its periodic bombings. Obviously, these bombings were motivated more by Clinton’s personal and political problems than a belief in the neocon agenda.
The election of 2000 changed all that. The Defense Policy Board, chaired by Richard Perle played no small role in coordinating the various projects and think tanks, all determined to take us into war against Iraq. It wasn’t too long before the dream of empire was brought closer to reality by the election of 2000 with Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld playing key roles in this accomplishment. The plan to promote an “American greatness” imperialistic foreign policy was now a distinct possibility. Iraq offered a great opportunity to prove their long-held theories. This opportunity was a consequence of the 9-11 disaster.
The money and views of Rupert Murdock also played a key role in promoting the neocon views, as well as rallying support by the general population, through his News Corporation, which owns Fox News Network, the New York Post and Weekly Standard. This powerful and influential media empire did more to galvanize public support for the Iraqi invasion than one might imagine. This facilitated the Rumsfeld/Cheney policy as their plans to attack Iraq came to fruition. It would have been difficult for the neocons to usurp foreign policy from the restraints of Colin Powell’s State Department without the successful agitation of the Rupert Murdock empire. Max Boot was satisfied, as he explained: “Neoconservatives believe in using American might to promote American ideals abroad.” This attitude is a far cry from the advice of the Founders, who advocated no entangling alliances and neutrality as the proper goal of American foreign policy.
Let there be no doubt, those in the neocon camp had been anxious to go to war against Iraq for a decade. They justified the use of force to accomplish their goals, even if it required preemptive war. If anyone doubts this assertion, they need only to read of their strategy in “A Clean Break: a New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” Although they felt morally justified in changing the government in Iraq, they knew that public support was important, and justification had to be given to pursue the war. Of course, a threat to us had to exist before the people and the Congress would go along with war. The majority of Americans became convinced of this threat, which, in actuality, never really existed. Now we have the ongoing debate over the location of weapons of mass destruction. Where was the danger? Was all this killing and spending necessary? How long will this nation-building and dying go on? When will we become more concerned about the needs of our own citizens than the problems we sought in Iraq and Afghanistan? Who knows where we’ll go next – Iran, Syria or North Korea?
At the end of the Cold War, the neoconservatives realized a rearrangement of the world was occurring and that our superior economic and military power offered them a perfect opportunity to control the process of remaking the Middle East.
It was recognized that a new era was upon us, and the neocons welcomed Frances Fukuyama’s “end of history” declaration. To them, the debate was over. The West won; the Soviets lost. Old-fashioned communism was dead. Long live the new era of neoconservatism. The struggle may not be over, but the West won the intellectual fight, they reasoned. The only problem is that the neocons decided to define the philosophy of the victors. They have been amazingly successful in their efforts to control the debate over what Western values are and by what methods they will be spread throughout the world.
Communism surely lost a lot with the breakup of the Soviet Empire, but this can hardly be declared a victory for American liberty, as the Founders understood it. Neoconservatism is not the philosophy of free markets and a wise foreign policy. Instead, it represents big-government welfare at home and a program of using our military might to spread their version of American values throughout the world. Since neoconservatives dominate the way the U.S. government now operates, it behooves us all to understand their beliefs and goals. The breakup of the Soviet system may well have been an epic event but to say that the views of the neocons are the unchallenged victors and that all we need do is wait for their implementation is a capitulation to controlling the forces of history that many Americans are not yet ready to concede. There is surely no need to do so.
There is now a recognized philosophic connection between modern-day neoconservatives and Irving Kristol, Leo Strauss and Machiavelli. This is important in understanding that today’s policies and the subsequent problems will be with us for years to come if these policies are not reversed.
Not only did Leo Strauss write favorably of Machiavelli, Michael Ledeen, a current leader of the neoconservative movement, did the same. In 1999, Ledeen titled his book, Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, and subtitled: “Why Machiavelli’s iron rules are as timely and important today as five centuries ago.” Ledeen is indeed an influential neocon theorist whose views get lots of attention today in Washington. His book on Machiavelli, interestingly enough, was passed out to Members of Congress attending a political strategy meeting shortly after its publication and at just about the time A Clean Break was issued.
In Ledeen’s most recent publication, The War Against the Terror Masters, he reiterates his beliefs outlined in this 1999 Machiavelli book. He specifically praises: “Creative destruction…both within our own society and abroad…(foreigners) seeing America undo traditional societies may fear us, for they do not wish to be undone.” Amazingly, Ledeen concludes: “They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission.”
If those words don’t scare you, nothing will. If they are not a clear warning, I don’t know what could be. It sounds like both sides of each disagreement in the world will be following the principle of preemptive war. The world is certainly a less safe place for it.
In Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, Ledeen praises a business leader for correctly understanding Machiavelli: “There are no absolute solutions. It all depends. What is right and what is wrong depends on what needs to be done and how.” This is a clear endorsement of situation ethics and is not coming from the traditional left. It reminds me of: “It depends on what the definition of the word ‘is’ is.”
Ledeen quotes Machiavelli approvingly on what makes a great leader. “A prince must have no other objectives or other thoughts or take anything for his craft, except war.” To Ledeen, this meant: “…the virtue of the warrior are those of great leaders of any successful organization.” Yet it’s obvious that war is not coincidental to neocon philosophy, but an integral part. The intellectuals justify it, and the politicians carry it out. There’s a precise reason to argue for war over peace according to Ledeen, for “…peace increases our peril by making discipline less urgent, encouraging some of our worst instincts, in depriving us of some of our best leaders.” Peace, he claims, is a dream and not even a pleasant one, for it would cause indolence and would undermine the power of the state. Although I concede the history of the world is a history of frequent war, to capitulate and give up even striving for peace – believing peace is not a benefit to mankind – is a frightening thought that condemns the world to perpetual war and justifies it as a benefit and necessity. These are dangerous ideas, from which no good can come.
The conflict of the ages has been between the state and the individual: central power versus liberty. The more restrained the state and the more emphasis on individual liberty, the greater has been the advancement of civilization and general prosperity. Just as man’s condition was not locked in place by the times and wars of old and improved with liberty and free markets, there’s no reason to believe a new stage for man might not be achieved by believing and working for conditions of peace. The inevitability and so-called need for preemptive war should never be intellectually justified as being a benefit. Such an attitude guarantees the backsliding of civilization. Neocons, unfortunately, claim that war is in man’s nature and that we can’t do much about it, so let’s use it to our advantage by promoting our goodness around the world through force of arms. That view is anathema to the cause of liberty and the preservation of the Constitution. If it is not loudly refuted, our future will be dire indeed.
Ledeen believes man is basically evil and cannot be left to his own desires. Therefore, he must have proper and strong leadership, just as Machiavelli argued. Only then can man achieve good, as Ledeen explains: “In order to achieve the most noble accomplishments, the leader may have to ‘enter into evil.’ This is the chilling insight that has made Machiavelli so feared, admired and challenging…we are rotten,” argues Ledeen. “It’s true that we can achieve greatness if, and only if, we are properly led.” In other words, man is so depraved that individuals are incapable of moral, ethical and spiritual greatness, and achieving excellence and virtue can only come from a powerful authoritarian leader. What depraved ideas are these to now be influencing our leaders in Washington? The question Ledeen doesn’t answer is: “Why do the political leaders not suffer from the same shortcomings and where do they obtain their monopoly on wisdom?”
Once this trust is placed in the hands of a powerful leader, this neocon argues that certain tools are permissible to use. For instance: “lying is central to the survival of nations and to the success of great enterprises, because if our enemies can count on the reliability of everything you say, your vulnerability is enormously increased.” What about the effects of lying on one’s own people? Who cares if a leader can fool the enemy? Does calling it “strategic deception” make lying morally justifiable? Ledeen and Machiavelli argue that it does, as long as the survivability of the state is at stake. Preserving the state is their goal, even if the personal liberty of all individuals has to be suspended or canceled.
Ledeen makes it clear that war is necessary to establish national boundaries – because that’s the way it’s always been done. Who needs progress of the human race! He explains: “Look at the map of the world: national boundaries have not been drawn by peaceful men leading lives of spiritual contemplation. National boundaries have been established by war, and national character has been shaped by struggle, most often bloody struggle.”
Yes, but who is to lead the charge and decide which borders we are to fight for? What about borders 6,000 miles away unrelated to our own contiguous borders and our own national security? Stating a relative truism regarding the frequency of war throughout history should hardly be the moral justification for expanding the concept of war to settle man’s disputes. How can one call this progress?
Machiavelli, Ledeen and the neocons recognized a need to generate a religious zeal for promoting the state. This, he claims, is especially necessary when force is used to promote an agenda. It’s been true throughout history and remains true today, each side of major conflicts invokes God’s approval. Our side refers to a “crusade”; theirs to a “holy Jihad.” Too often wars boil down to their god against our God. It seems this principle is more a cynical effort to gain approval from the masses, especially those most likely to be killed for the sake of the war promoters on both sides who have power, prestige and wealth at stake.
Ledeen explains why God must always be on the side of advocates of war: “Without fear of God, no state can last long, for the dread of eternal damnation keeps men in line, causes them to honor their promises, and inspires them to risk their lives for the common good.” It seems dying for the common good has gained a higher moral status than eternal salvation of one’s soul. Ledeen adds: “Without fear of punishment, men will not obey laws that force them to act contrary to their passions. Without fear of arms, the state cannot enforce the laws…to this end, Machiavelli wants leaders to make the state spectacular.”
It’s of interest to note that some large Christian denominations have joined the neoconservatives in promoting preemptive war, while completely ignoring the Christian doctrine of a Just War. The neocons sought and openly welcomed their support.
I’d like someone to glean anything from what the Founders said or placed in the Constitution that agrees with this now-professed doctrine of a “spectacular” state promoted by those who now have so much influence on our policies here at home and abroad. Ledeen argues that this religious element, this fear of God, is needed for discipline of those who may be hesitant to sacrifice their lives for the good of the “spectacular state.”
He explains in eerie terms: “Dying for one’s country doesn’t come naturally. Modern armies, raised from the populace, must be inspired, motivated, indoctrinated. Religion is central to the military enterprise, for men are more likely to risk their lives if they believe they will be rewarded forever after for serving their country.” This is an admonition that might just as well have been given by Osama bin Laden, in rallying his troops to sacrifice their lives to kill the invading infidels, as by our intellectuals at AEI, who greatly influence our foreign policy.
Neocons – anxious for the U.S. to use force to realign the boundaries and change regimes in the Middle East – clearly understand the benefit of a galvanizing and emotional event to rally the people to their cause. Without a special event, they realized the difficulty in selling their policy of preemptive war where our own military personnel would be killed. Whether it was the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin or the Maine, all served their purpose in promoting a war that was sought by our leaders.
Ledeen writes of a fortuitous event (1999): “…of course, we can always get lucky. Stunning events from outside can providentially awaken the enterprise from its growing torpor, and demonstrate the need for reversal, as the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 so effectively aroused the U.S. from its soothing dreams of permanent neutrality.”
Amazingly, Ledeen calls Pearl Harbor a “lucky” event. The Project for a New American Century, as recently as September 2000, likewise, foresaw the need for “a Pearl Harbor event” that would galvanize the American people to support their ambitious plans to ensure political and economic domination of the world, while strangling any potential “rival.”
Recognizing a “need” for a Pearl Harbor event, and referring to Pearl Harbor as being “lucky” are not identical to support and knowledge of such an event, but that this sympathy for a galvanizing event, as 9-11 turned out to be, was used to promote an agenda that strict constitutionalists and devotees of the Founders of this nation find appalling, is indeed disturbing. After 9-11, Rumsfeld and others argued for an immediate attack on Iraq, even though it was not implicated in the attacks.
The fact that neo-conservatives ridicule those who firmly believe that U.S. interests and world peace would best be served by a policy of neutrality and avoiding foreign entanglements should not go unchallenged. Not to do so is to condone their grandiose plans for an American world hegemony.
The current attention given neocons usually comes in the context of foreign policy. But there’s more to what’s going on today than just the tremendous influence the neocons have on our new policy of preemptive war with a goal of empire. Our government is now being moved by several ideas that come together in what I call “neoconism.” The foreign policy is being openly debated, even if its implications are not fully understood by many who support it. Washington is now driven by old views brought together in a new package.
We know those who lead us – both in the administration and in Congress – show no appetite to challenge the tax or monetary systems that do so much damage to our economy. The IRS and the Federal Reserve are off limits for criticism or reform. There’s no resistance to spending, either domestic or foreign. Debt is not seen as a problem. The supply-siders won on this issue, and now many conservatives readily endorse deficit spending.
There’s no serious opposition to the expanding welfare state, with rapid growth of the education, agriculture and medical-care bureaucracy. Support for labor unions and protectionism are not uncommon. Civil liberties are easily sacrificed in the post 9-11 atmosphere prevailing in Washington. Privacy issues are of little concern, except for a few members of Congress. Foreign aid and internationalism – in spite of some healthy criticism of the UN and growing concerns for our national sovereignty – are championed on both sides of the aisle. Lip service is given to the free market and free trade, yet the entire economy is run by special-interest legislation favoring big business, big labor and, especially, big money.
Instead of the “end of history,” we are now experiencing the end of a vocal limited-government movement in our nation’s capital. While most conservatives no longer defend balanced budgets and reduced spending, most liberals have grown lazy in defending civil liberties and now are approving wars that we initiate. The so-called “third way” has arrived and, sadly, it has taken the worst of what the conservatives and liberals have to offer. The people are less well off for it, while liberty languishes as a result.
Neocons enthusiastically embrace the Department of Education and national testing. Both parties overwhelmingly support the huge commitment to a new prescription drug program. Their devotion to the new approach called “compassionate conservatism” has lured many conservatives into supporting programs for expanding the federal role in welfare and in church charities. The faith-based initiative is a neocon project, yet it only repackages and expands the liberal notion of welfare. The intellectuals who promoted these initiatives were neocons, but there’s nothing conservative about expanding the federal government’s role in welfare.
The supply-siders’ policy of low marginal tax rates has been incorporated into neoconism, as well as their support for easy money and generous monetary inflation. Neoconservatives are disinterested in the gold standard and even ignore the supply-siders’ argument for a phony gold standard.
Is it any wonder that federal government spending is growing at a rate faster than in any time in the past 35 years?
Power, politics and privilege prevail over the rule of law, liberty, justice and peace. But it does not need to be that way. Neoconism has brought together many old ideas about how government should rule the people. It may have modernized its appeal and packaging, but authoritarian rule is authoritarian rule, regardless of the humanitarian overtones. A solution can only come after the current ideology driving our government policies is replaced with a more positive one. In a historical context, liberty is a modern idea and must once again regain the high moral ground for civilization to advance. Restating the old justifications for war, people control and a benevolent state will not suffice. It cannot eliminate the shortcomings that always occur when the state assumes authority over others and when the will of one nation is forced on another – whether or not it is done with good intentions.
I realize that all conservatives are not neoconservatives, and all neocons don’t necessarily agree on all points – which means that in spite of their tremendous influence, most members of Congress and those in the administration do not necessarily take their marching orders from AEI or Richard Perle. But to use this as a reason to ignore what neoconservative leaders believe, write about and agitate for – with amazing success I might point out – would be at our own peril. This country still allows open discourse – though less everyday – and we who disagree should push the discussion and expose those who drive our policies. It is getting more difficult to get fair and balanced discussion on the issues, because it has become routine for the hegemons to label those who object to preemptive war and domestic surveillance as traitors, unpatriotic and un-American. The uniformity of support for our current foreign policy by major and cable-news networks should concern every American. We should all be thankful for C-SPAN and the Internet.
Michael Ledeen and other neoconservatives are already lobbying for war against Iran. Ledeen is pretty nasty to those who call for a calmer, reasoned approach by calling those who are not ready for war “cowards and appeasers of tyrants.” Because some urge a less militaristic approach to dealing with Iran, he claims they are betraying America’s best “traditions.” I wonder where he learned early American history! It’s obvious that Ledeen doesn’t consider the Founders and the Constitution part of our best traditions. We were hardly encouraged by the American revolutionaries to pursue an American empire. We were, however, urged to keep the Republic they so painstakingly designed.
If the neoconservatives retain control of the conservative, limited-government movement in Washington, the ideas, once championed by conservatives, of limiting the size and scope of government will be a long-forgotten dream.
The believers in liberty ought not deceive themselves. Who should be satisfied? Certainly not conservatives, for there is no conservative movement left. How could liberals be satisfied? They are pleased with the centralization of education and medical programs in Washington and support many of the administration’s proposals. But none should be pleased with the steady attack on the civil liberties of all American citizens and the now-accepted consensus that preemptive war – for almost any reason – is an acceptable policy for dealing with all the conflicts and problems of the world.
In spite of the deteriorating conditions in Washington – with loss of personal liberty, a weak economy, exploding deficits, and perpetual war, followed by nation building – there are still quite a number of us who would relish the opportunity to improve things, in one way or another. Certainly, a growing number of frustrated Americans, from both the right and the left, are getting anxious to see this Congress do a better job. But first, Congress must stop doing a bad job.
We’re at the point where we need a call to arms, both here in Washington and across the country. I’m not talking about firearms. Those of us who care need to raise both arms and face our palms out and begin waving and shouting: Stop! Enough is enough! It should include liberals, conservatives and independents. We’re all getting a bum rap from politicians who are pushed by polls and controlled by special-interest money.
One thing is certain, no matter how morally justified the programs and policies seem, the ability to finance all the guns and butter being promised is limited, and those limits are becoming more apparent every day.
Spending, borrowing and printing money cannot be the road to prosperity. It hasn’t worked in Japan, and it isn’t working here either. As a matter of fact, it’s never worked anytime throughout history. A point is always reached where government planning, spending and inflation run out of steam. Instead of these old tools reviving an economy, as they do in the early stages of economic interventionism, they eventually become the problem. Both sides of the political spectrum must one day realize that limitless government intrusion in the economy, in our personal lives and in the affairs of other nations cannot serve the best interests of America. This is not a conservative problem, nor is it a liberal problem – it’s a government intrusion problem that comes from both groups, albeit for different reasons. The problems emanate from both camps who champion different programs for different reasons. The solution will come when both groups realize that it’s not merely a single-party problem, or just a liberal or just a conservative problem.
Once enough of us decide we’ve had enough of all these so-called good things that the government is always promising – or more likely, when the country is broke and the government is unable to fulfill its promises to the people – we can start a serious discussion on the proper role for government in a free society. Unfortunately, it will be some time before Congress gets the message that the people are demanding true reform. This requires that those responsible for today’s problems are exposed and their philosophy of pervasive government intrusion is rejected.
Let it not be said that no one cared, that no one objected once it’s realized that our liberties and wealth are in jeopardy. A few have, and others will continue to do so, but too many – both in and out of government – close their eyes to the issue of personal liberty and ignore the fact that endless borrowing to finance endless demands cannot be sustained. True prosperity can only come from a healthy economy and sound money. That can only be achieved in a free society.