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.

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  1. 1
    jt says:

    » Right Wing Confusion Over “Statism” Liberal Values: The conservative movement has become increasingly dominated … http://bit.ly/cXE2ea

  2. 2
    MKS says:

    When help is voluntary, the person receiving it is helped not only by the material received, but also by the love expressed. The helper feels glad to help, because he or she chose to help.
    When help comes from the government, people vote to compel others to surrender their resources to provide this help. Those who receive such help do not feel loved; they feel entitled! Those who provided the help often feel resentful. And the government must grow to administer this involuntary redistribution.
    So, the debate is truly not so much over the SIZE of government as the FUNCTION of government.
    Conservatives think that the function of government is security: defense and justice (real justice, not “social justice”) and not much else. This is what government can do well. Helping people in non-security functions is the duty of individuals, churches, and civic organizations.
    Many liberals seem to fear that if helping people is left up to volunteers, it won’t happen, so the populace needs to be compelled to help by law. So the whole liberal philosophy seems based on the notion that most people are too greedy to voluntarily provide sufficient help, and thus must be coaxed into voting for leaders that will compel others to provide that help.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    A social safety net was created not because of an incorrect belief that voluntary help is insufficient but because it proved to be.

    The people at tea party rallies carrying signs defending their Medicare (under a delusional belief that it is Obama and not the Republicans who threaten the program) are certainly not showing signs of being resentful over this government program–although some didn’t seem to even realize it was a government program. We are also seeing lots of people both attack the stimulus spending and grab as much of it as they can.

    Conservatives speak of limiting government but whenever in power use government to infringe upon civil liberties and exercise more control over the lives of individuals.

  4. 4
    Captin Sarcastic says:

    I think this is one of the amazing of the conservative movement, charity through our greatest pool of resources, the government. When I pull the voting lever, it often includes decisions making to use some of the pooled resources to help improve the lives of others. These decisions could be fairly described as charity, whether it welfare, education, or healthcare. I do understand that if my votes is counted in the majority, the resources of people who voted in the minority would be compelled to comply with the policies I supported, ostensibly against their will. I get that.

    What I don’t get is why people would vote against charity, or, more to the point, why their is an ideological divide of helping people with the greatest pool of resources we have, or not.

    When I was a Republican, my complain with welfare and other social programs was not that they existed, but how they were instituted, and their effectiveness. My naive understanding of what Republicans were about at the time was they agreed with my conclusions. Charity is good, but it must be effective. Charity as a government function should be viewed as an investment, and investments with a positive ROI should be continued and expanded, and charities with a negative ROI should be redesigned or eliminated.

    Programs for underpriviledged kids that reduce the fraction that become criminals can be a very, very good investment. Let’s say that 20% of a defined group of underpriveledged children became career criminals, spending the bulk of their time in prison, and the balance taking or destroying property. Now let’s say a welfare program could reduce that to 15%. In strict economic terms, out of 100 kids, 20 of them would cost taxpayers over one million dollars each for incarceration costs alone, that’s $20 million dollars for this group of 100 alone. By reducing that to 15%, it would save taxpayers $5 million dollars, not including the property loss that would be prevented, and the tax revenues that these productive citizens would supply. So how much of an investment is appropriate? If we spend anything less than $5 Million, we have a positive ROI, and ignoring the human quality of life benefits we have provided, it is a good investment.

    But if someone votes against this, they now argue that the money for this investment is being stolen from them by the force of government.

    I say screw them, by them voting against such investments, they are stealing a lot more from me in the long run.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    That’s the problem with current  Republicans–they don’t want to try to improve programs or to be selective as to which are worthwhile. Instead many of them just claim virtually all are bad while offering no meaningful alternative.

  6. 6
    Mike Hatcher b.t.r.m. says:

    I took a real estate class once where the teacher/realtor advised to avoid litigation if at all possible because in the end, win or lose the case, the lawyers walk away with all the money. So too, I’m starting to feel the arguing between liberal and conservative is somewhat meaningless as it always ends up being the politicians walking away with all the money to themselves and their special interest supporters

  7. 7
    Mike Hatcher b.t.r.m. says:

    going further,republicans talk a better game of financial responsiblity but then don’t deliver, so too the democrats talk a better game about protecting personal liberties, but what have they done while in control? Ah, we are now protected against waterboarding, but those “statist” powers that expanded during the Bush years have not been significantly curtailed with the new administration in my opinion. (Nor in the opinion of the 9th court of appeals apparently-that’s the latest buzz on my right wing radio shows “liberal court” upholds Oregan’s police tracking of individuals with GPS, without even needing a warrant).

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    The powers grabbed by the Bush administration are not being curtailed quickly enough for my taste, but at least we are seeing slow movement in the correct direction as opposed to rapid movement in the wrong direction.

  9. 9
    David Sardinha says:

    I suspect my comments will reveal my beliefs so let me admit upfront that I am a conservative. That description is accurate in both my economic views as well as my social views. However no one that knows me would say my social views are driven by religious beliefs. What guides my belief is knowing the difference between right and wrong based on how I would be affected and understanding human nature. Based on the admission that I am a social conservative you may be inclined to assume what my positions are on various matters. I ask that you don’t assume, instead ask, I will be absolutely honest. In return I will assume nothing about you but will infer based on prior comments and what you say going forward.
    While I have no expectation that you will reply, I am hopeful because as I read your comments I sense that your views are based on core beliefs and not driven by some financial gain or job requirement. What I hope to accomplish is a conversation with someone who is thoughtful and willing to have a discussion rather then an argument. When I engage my Liberal family and friends it always turns into an insult contest rather then a debate about the merits of ones viewpoint. That said I would like to challenge you regarding your agreement with Captain Sarcastic ( CS ) re government run welfare.
    CS makes the point that conservatives are not generous and would be happy to see the poor receive no help if it would reduce their taxes. This is a false premise and the facts will support my contention. Public record shows that conservatives are far more generous then Liberals when it comes to giving to the underprivileged. Example Ted Kennedy, he is a miracle worker with other people’s money but check the record re his personal giving. One individual example doesn’t prove anything but a quick fact check will prove my point. The other false premise is that more government charity, his words “pooled resources” will result in less poverty. If you look at the facts rather then the words/intentions more government charity creates more poverty. Human Nature 
    I will leave you with this thought; I believe we both want to see less suffering but where our views separate is how to prevent it. You think giving someone a loaf of bread is help and I believe showing them how to earn it will truly lift them out of need. I look forward to your comments.

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:

    In a way both you and Captain Sarcastic are right. As you said, there are examples of conservatives giving more to private charities than liberals. However on a society wide level, Captain Sarcastic’s view of conservative versus liberal policies is more significant. Private contributions are not enough to satisfy the needs of a successful safety net, and the result for most of the poor would be as CS predicts. Some conservatives would respond by contributing to charity. Others would be happy to see them receive no help and enjoy the lower taxes.

    Pooling of resources is both beneficial in helping those who truly need help, and in some cases it does create more poverty. Conservatives are correct in some of their criticism of welfare, but I bet greatly overestimate the number who abuse the system and underestimate those who require assistance. It is difficult to find the right balance–and there will always be errors in both directions.

    It would be constructive to have a conservative opposition which questions welfare spending to try to limit it to where it is needed. As I noted above, the problem with today’s conservative movement is that prefers to say no to most government spending as opposed to being willing to engage in the more difficult job of trying to limit government spending rationally to make it more effective and to limit spending to where it is really needed.

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