Quote of the Day

Newt is so pro-marriage, he can’t stop doing it. He is so morally upright, that he’s only had sex after he was married. Just not always to the woman he was married to.” —Stephen Colbert

Right Wing Confusion Over “Statism”

I find that in recent years I find far less worth reading from conservative writers and those I still read are no longer accepted by much of the conservative movement. The conservative movement has become increasingly dominated by the religious right and those who prefer Sarah Palin style ignorance over science and reason, with many now accepting the misinformation spread by Fox and right wing talk radio as fact. There are many false beliefs spread in right wing writings which lead me to ignore them. One is the claim that liberals support more control from big government.

Conor Friedersdorf, sitting in for Andrew Sullivan, has a few recent posts explaining Why Statism Is The Wrong Frame which continues here. He points out, using some views held by Matthew Yglesias, that “The desired end of Matthew Yglesias isn’t to grow the American state.” Liberals such as Yglesias will support more government action in some areas than conservatives (and less in others) to fulfill their goals, but this is far different from holding a philosophical view based upon making expansion of state power a primary goal.

Actually Matthew Yglesias does support a bigger government than I do. Yglesias, like Kevin Drum, are significantly  to the left of both the Democratic Party and many liberals. The left in the United States today actually includes a wide variety views which have been lumped together due to an opposition to today’s conservative movement. Many former conservatives now identify with the left (a trend which began as far back as Barry Goldwater describing himself as a liberal in his later years in opposition to the religious right). Others such as Andrew Sullivan, as well as many of the more rational Reaganites, might continue to call themselves conservatives but their views are not welcomed by the conservative movement. E.D. Kain summed up the differences:

One thing I’ve realized over the past few months is that liberalism is a pretty big tent. This in stark contrast to contemporary conservatism which is, if anything, a few small embattled tents each trying to out-crazy the other. I’ve also realized, perhaps a little late, that a lot of people on the left think pretty much like Matt does here – a lot of people don’t but you’re not tossed out of the movement for it (not yet anyways)

Matthew Yglesias is a blogger who I frequently quote when I am looking for a sensible view to the left of me, plus there are many issues where we do agree.  As with most of today’s left, the primary overlap in our views stems from opposition to the restriction in civil liberties and expansion of the warfare state as an irrational response to the 9/11 attack by the right wing, support for civil liberties, opposition to the expansion of Executive power during the Bush years, and support for reality-based polices.

I might have philosophical differences with some of the more liberal economic views of Yglesias and Drum but at least, for the most part, we are basing our arguments upon facts. In contrast, right wing arguments in recent years start with their goal and make up the facts to support them under the assumption that if enough right wing sites make the same claim it becomes “true.”

Often in modern conservative writings liberals are distorted to sound like Ayn Rand villains, with any desire to use government action dismissed as “statism” and tyranny.  Even when I disagree with some views from some liberals, such as with some of Kevin Drum’s views outlined in his response here, I understand enough of where they are coming from that I don’t see their views as evil or tyranical.  Drum concluded:

When it’s all said and done, if we lived in Drum World I figure combined government expenditures would be 40-45% of GDP and the funding source for all that would be strongly progressive. “Statist” is an obviously provocative (and usually puerile) way to frame this, but really, it’s not all that far off the mark. It wouldn’t be tyranny, any more than Sweden is a tyranny, but it would certainly be a world in which the American state was quite a bit bigger than it is now.

My utopia would have a  smaller government than that of Kevin Drum. Drum provides far stronger ammunition for charges of “statism” than many other liberals who are far more moderate on economic positions, making a blanket attack on the left for “statism” absurd. This comes off as even more ridiculous considering that among the strongest areas of agreement in the big tent which makes up the left is opposition to the far more odious statism of the right.

Conservatives dwell on the size of government–except when it involves invading other countries, torture, or imposing the agenda of the religious right upon others. As a consequence, much of the actual growth of the United States government in recent years came under Ronald Reagan and George Bush. A supposedly smaller conservative state is also far more likely to interfere with personal decisions which should be left to the individual.

In contrast to conservatives, many liberals (and “liberaltarians” as mentioned in the previous post) see limitations on the power of government in the lives of individuals as being the more important than dwelling over the actual size of government. If the question is tyranny, those who support the agenda of the modern conservative movement are on pretty shaky ground.

Update: It looks like Steve Benen was also working on this topic  as I was writing this. His post is also useful for links to other liberal bloggers on this topic.