Tea Parties, Principles and their Application
I’m a big fan of the personal finance speaker & author Dave Ramsey… when our oldest was born nearly five years ago and my wife prepared to stay home to take care of her and her siblings-to-come, I didn’t know how we were going to manage on my income alone; Ramsey’s book and radio show provided us with a straightforward, systematic approach to managing our finances, and for that, I am grateful… his is the talk radio show that I still listen to most.
But when it comes to politics, Dave is far too typical of many mainstream conservatives: he confuses principles for their application, just like Limbaugh, Hannity, et al.
Yesterday — as Donald noted in a previous post — thousands of Americans held hundreds of protests across the country, complaining about overspending at the federal level. I am in agreement with their general sentiments, but I honestly don’t expect that they’ll have the effect which people like Ramsey think they will (Dave’s of the “throw all the bums out” opinion… conservative, but very unhappy with the DC GOP, let alone the Dems). I don’t think it will have the effect hoped for because I don’t think the outrage felt by the tea-partyers is widespread enough… in fact, it seems that the majority of Americans — especially the working classes — desire more help from the government right now, not less. NB: that’s not an endorsement, just an acknowledgment of what seems to be the reality. Abstracting from yesterday’s tea parties, that leads me to my thesis…
As I noted above the break, I think people like Ramsey and the big mainstream conservative talkers are confusing conservative principles for their contingent application. Specifically, it seems to me that they err by taking the application of principles in the early 80′s as the principles themselves, as evidenced by the continual search for the “next Reagan”. To state the obvious, though, it’s not 1980 anymore; the circumstances are very, very different, but I don’t think Dave, Rush et al. get that: they seem to think that the application of conservative principles — said application being, in short, lower taxes, less domestic spending — is the same thing as the principles themselves, but it’s not. “Cut taxes” is simply not a principle of conservatism, but can be the appropriate application of them, depending on the set of contingencies being faced at any particular time.
What happens, though, when the application becomes the principle? An shrinking echo chamber is created, in which “less taxes, less spending” becomes an ideological (i.e. un-conservative) principle which simply must be enforced, regardless of how appropriate it is an any particular moment or how attractive it is to the voter. So, you get what we seem to have today: mainstream conservatives and (at least some) Republicans going back to the 80′s well, think that since it worked then, it’ll work again. But I don’t think it will: I think the situation most working Americans are facing today is leading them to want more help from the government, not less. What is necessary, then, is a re-application of conservative principles to our new situation, an application which will take the struggles of today’s working Americans into account instead of imagining that they are the same struggles which their parents faced thirty years ago. Contra Rush, then, this isn’t an abandonment of conservative principles, but rather is the application of the same principles to new circumstances.
For more on this — especially some concrete examples of such an application — I heartily recommend Grand New Party by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. No, Rush doesn’t care for their ideas, but that’s okay… he’s living in the 80′s.