Why I’m a Conservative — Not a Libertarian

I am a William F. Buckely, Jr. conservative. This means I believe in limited Constitutional government.

William F. Buckley, Jr

I am not a libertarian. The Constitution is not a libertarian document.

The Constitution certainly has a presumption in favor of liberty. But the Constitution is also a practical charter for government.

The Constitution allows the government to put a road through your property if it serves the “general welfare” of the country.

This is why we are able to have Interstate highways that are straight, not winding all over the place.

Many libertarians are ideologues. They are hostile to government. They think everything should be done with private contracts — even the building of roads.

Conservatives believe government to be essential — essential, as the preamble to the Constitution says, to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.”

Conservatives are anti-ideological. Conservatives are guided by principles — the principles outlined in America’s Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights.

Conservatives are also guided by facts — the empirical data. Conservatives favor what works best.

Conservatives defend Western Civilization because Western Civilization has produced, through time and trial and error, the best overall product in terms of human progress and respect for the individual.

The libertarian ideology advances the thesis that the free-market can solve all, or almost all problems.

But that’s clearly not the case.

Libertarians see government as the enemy. Libertarians would not have favored John F. Kennedy’s commitment to put a man on the moon within ten years. Libertarians would argue that the free-market would have achieved that . . . in time.

Libertarians don’t think government should be permitted to plow a road through someone’s farm. They think the private sector will build roads if roads are needed.

Of course, this is just not practical. This is why libertarians will never get more than one percent of the popular vote.

If we had to wait for the private sector to build roads, we would not have an Interstate highway system. We would still be an agrarian society, probably governed by local warlords — something like Afghanistan.

Libertarianism is just a silly ideology.

What William F. Buckley-style conservatives want are practical solutions. Conservatives want what works best for the country as a whole. I sometimes describe myself as a utilitarian tempered by Christianity and the Bill of Rights.

The utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and David Hume is that public policy should be determined by whatever produces the best results for the greatest number of people — or whatever is in the national interest. These philosophers happened to conclude that liberty generally works best — ordered liberty — that is liberty made possible by the “rule of law.”

But the guiding principle for them was “what works best for the greatest number of people.”

The problem with that principle is that “what works best for the greatest number of people” can (and often does) involve trampling on the rights of minorities, the government justifying the seizing of private property for the national interest, crushing freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the freedoms we cherish.

Utilitarianism can lead to an “ends justify the means” approach to public policy.

That’s why I say I am a utilitarian tempered by Christianity and the Bill of Rights. That is, I subscribe to the Bill of Rights even when it’s inconvenient to what I would like to see accomplished . . . because the Constitution, including the “Bill of Rights,” protects all of us from being trampled by the national interest.

The utilitarian part of my philosophy says that we should do “what works best” for the nation as a whole. But that must be tempered by a presumption in favor of liberty — the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights.

So America’s founders got it right.

The Constitution states that the primary purpose of the federal government is to “secure the blessings liberty.” But the Constitution also says the federal government should promote the “general welfare” — that is, the good of the whole.

So the Constitution was a practical document. It was not an ideological document. It left lawmakers a lot of discretion as to what constitutes the “general welfare” — too much discretion, in my view.  But that’s another topic for later.

History has certainly shown over and over again that free-market capitalism creates the most wealth for the most people and that Socialism creates poverty and misery wherever and whenever tried. North Korea has universal health care, but spends $1 per year on each citizen. So the health care is not very good. North Koreans literally have to perform their own amputations. But it’s universal health care.

Health care in Cuba isn’t much better than in North Korea, but everyone has access to it.

So the verdict is in. Free-market capitalism works; socialism doesn’t.

But that doesn’t mean we should not have a Social Safety Net.

In my view, the modern American conservative movement is misfiring by becoming too closely aligned with libertarianism. Ron Paul makes some interesting points about the Federal Reserve and other issues, but his get-government-out-of-almost-everything philosophy can never get traction with a majority of Americans.

Conservatives Certainly Support a Social Safety Net

Libertarians, heavily influenced by Ayn Rand, don’t favor a social safety net.

But Americans overwhelmingly want and support a social safety net because we don’t want to see people starving on the street. We don’t want to see grandma thrown out into the snow.

Most Americans believe that we are a wealthy enough country to  be able to provide an acceptable standard of living for those who cannot provide for themselves. Most people want to know that if they ever become too sick or disabled to be able to provide for themselves that they will still be able to eat, have a roof over their heads, have medical care.

There is much wrong with the current welfare state in America.

The incentives are all wrong, rewarding dependency.

There are more than 150 separate “means tested” federal welfare programs.  How an uneducated poor person can even navigate this maze is anyone’s guess.

President Obama’s policy focus has been to increase the public’s dependency on government. He has expanded the number of Americans on Food Stamps by 50 percent. He has done this by heavily advertising and marketing the Food Stamps program in poor communities and even to college students.

He has created an entire new entitlement called ObamaCare. Today, more than 110,000,000 Americans are recieiving some form of “means tested” government assistance — more than one-third of the entire country.

That’s because Obama and the Democrats use welfare and public assistance to buy votes. Welfare and public assistance has become a giant vote buying operation. The more poverty and the more people dependent on welfare, the better politically it is for Obama and the Democrats.

The more people who have private-sector jobs and own businesses, the better it is for the Republicans.

So what we have in America is a battle between the party of government dependency and the party of self-reliance, and liberty.

But just because we, as conservative Constitutionalists, believe in self-reliance and liberty doesn’t mean we don’t believe in a social “safety net.”

And just because we find serious structural problems with the current welfare state, also doesn’t mean we oppose a social safety net.

I favor a social safety net — a limited social safety net — not the current “vote buying” version we have now.

The type of social safety net we should have is one that encourages able-bodied Americans to get off it.

Bill Clinton signed welfare reform into law that required able-bodied Americans on welfare to work.

Millions of Americans left the welfare roles for jobs as a result.

President Obama canceled the work requirement for those on welfare. The result: a 50 percent increase in the number of people on Food Stamps, and one third of the country on some form of “means tested’ welfare.

The difference between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama is that Bill Clinton saw it as an important public policy goal to wean people off welfare, while Obama’s primary goal has been to put more people on welfare, to addict as many Americans as possible to government assistance.

What a Conservative Social Safety Net Would Look Like

If I were to design America’s social “safety net” policy, it would look like this:

1) Assistance to the Unemployed Able-Bodied Adult

The unemployed would receive a maximum of nine months of unemployment insurance payments.

It’s significant that almost everyone receiving unemployment benefits manages to find work during the last month or so before their benefits run out. So many use their unemployment checks as a way to have an extended paid vacation.

So here’s the concept . . .

If after nine months, the able-bodied continue to need public assistance to survive, they would have to report to a facility that looks something like an army barracks and would be run much like an army barracks. Tenants there would be put to work, just like a “work release” program that prisons use for non-violent offenders. They would be expected to pick up trash along the side of the road, do whatever work is needed around the community, or go out to find work, or get schooling so they can qualify for work. They would be expected to be back in the barracks after work. It would be a spartan existence. They would have clean facilities and good nutrition, but very little freedom. Their day would be highly structured, with regular testing for drugs. They would be required to attend evening educational programs focused on developing marketable skills.

Some people might choose to live this way for the rest of their lives. Most able-bodied people would like to find a way to get out of the barracks, get their freedom back, and move back into the productive economy — which they are free to do at any time.

But so long as they are on public assistance (living in the barracks) every minute of their time is scheduled.

By the way, this is how dead-beat dads are treated. If you are a “dead beat” dad not paying your child support, you are jailed. You are then put in a “work release” program where you either find a job and go to work each day, or the jail gives you a job picking up trash on the side of the road, or whatever other job needs doing.

The government then confiscates your paycheck, which is then used to feed your kids.

You then get out of this situation when you persuade a judge that you’re ready to start paying your child support. Most find a way to start paying their child support again.

This Barracks-style welfare system, by the way, would just about eliminate the dysfunctional drug and prostitution economy of the inner-city. People engage in these underground, black-market activities to earn cash that’s not reported to the IRS so they can keep their welfare benefits rolling in.

This “tough love” barracks system, boot-camp-style of welfare for the able-bodied ends all that nonsense, and would likely put the drug gangs out of business.

If you are an able-bodied adult, public assistance must become a last resort, an emergency situation — not a way of life . . . and certainly should not be used by Democrats as a way to buy votes. If you are long-term unemployed, we’ll find things for you to do. We’ll structure your day for you.

By the way, this probably won’t be cheaper than the system we have now. But it would be far more effective.

And welfare should all be handled at the state level — with perhaps some block grants from the federal government to assist in areas of the country that have extreme poverty. There should be almost no federal administration of welfare on the principle that government works best when government is close to the people. Most of the governing in America should take place at the state and local level.

2) Crack Down Hard on Disability Fraud

The Barracks-system of welfare described above is for the long-term unemployed able-bodied adult who needs government assistance to live.

So this “tough love” welfare system would certainly create a big incentive for people to fake back injuries and the like so they could go on long-term disability. Clearly, we would have to step up enforcement of laws against disability fraud — increase penalties, and the like.

Again, this becomes easier if we shift responsibility for all welfare and poverty programs back to states and local governments — where local officials are on the scene and are in the best position to police disability fraud.

3) Social Security

Social Security is not a “means tested” welfare program, so really doesn’t belong is a discussion about the social safety net.

It’s supposed to be a supplemental retirement program. You pay for it throughout your life with your FICA payroll taxes. And you are compensated in retirement according to how much you’ve paid in.

If I were to start over again with Socialist Security, I would certainly set it up differently.

Social Security contributions would not go into the federal treasury for Congress to take and use for whatever it pleases. Social Security contributions would go into personal retirement accounts that would belong to each individual.  Congress could not touch these accounts.  And the individual would manage and direct their accounts, much like they manage their own IRA and 401-k retirement accounts.

Chile went this route, and it’s been very successful.  Of course, it required a dictator to make it happen.  Chile’s Social Security system was privatized by Augusto Pinochet in the early 1980s.  This produced an economy in Chile that became known as the “Miracle of Chile.”

How Chile’s Economy Has Performed Since It Privatized Its Version of Social Security

 

Libertarians say scrap the Social Security system.

The big problem with that is people have built their lives around the system, have paid into Social Security their entire lives on the promise that the money would be there for their retirement.

We’re conservatives, not radicals.  We look at life and reality as they are. The current Social Security system is here to stay.

It will be tough to change and reform in a Chilean direction because of all the demagoguery.  And we aren’t governed by a dictator who can do what he wants, as Chile was under Pinochet.

He was a dictator who was sold on free-market economics by Milton Friedman.  Chile has prospered enormously as s result.

Our Social Security system, far from perfect though it is, has also accomplished a lot of good.

It’s kept people from falling into poverty during their old age.

Most Americans see Social Security as a success. Most people don’t want to see grandma forced to eat dog food to survive.

Social Security now faces financing problems for two principal reasons:

FIRST, politicians have been using the Social Security Trust Fund for other government expenditures rather than to ensure the long-term health of the system; and

SECOND, people are living much longer today than they were when Social Security was enacted.

Both are simple problems to fix. Politicians must be stopped from using Social Security as a piggy bank to fund the rest of the federal government. Even Al Gore campaigned in 2000 on the idea of passing a “Social Security Lock-Box Law” that would stop Congress from doing exactly this.

Of course, the only way to have a true “Social Security Lock-Box” would be for each American to actually own their own Social Security account, just as you own your IRA and 401-k.  Short of that, Congress won’t be able to stop stealing from the Social Security piggy bank to spend on other things.

When Social Security was first passed in 1935, the life expectancy for the average man was 58, for the average woman 62. Social Security benefits kicked in at age 65 — which, back then, was considered extreme old age. The purpose of Social Security was to assist those in extreme old age who were no long physically able to work. Only 54 percent of Americans in those days lived long enough to receive any Social Security benefits. And most of them would only receive benefits for a few years.

So financing this system was not a problem.

Today, average life expectancy has reached 78 years of age. The average baby born today will likely live into their 90s.

Clearly, Social Security can’t pay benefits to people for 30 years.

We must raise the retirement age.

Right now, retirement age to receive full Social Security benefits is 67. But you can start receiving benefits at age 62 if you want to accept 30 percent less.

The retirement age for Social Security should be raised to 72 and then indexed to average life expectancy.

That would take care of the Social Security financing problem.

4) Medicare

The best way to protect and preserve Medicare is to repeal ObamaCare.

Like Social Security, Medicare is designed to provide good medical care in our old age — when we most need it. Health insurance for younger Americans can be purchased relatively cheaply (if government would mostly just out of the way).

As with Social Security, we have been paying into Medicare our entire lives on the expectation that the system would be there.

As with Social Security, Medicare also has a Trust Fund that Congress has been raiding to pay for other expenditures, having nothing to do with Medicare.

Now, ObamaCare is stealing $716 billion from Medicare in order to pay for ObamaCare.

Because of ObamaCare, doctors and hospitals are now scheduled to be paid just 33 percent for Medicare patients of what private insurers pay for the exact same treatments — again, because of the need to fund ObamaCare.

As a result, doctors and hospitals are increasingly turning away Medicare patients.

Health insurance premiums have risen 32 percent since ObamaCare passed into law in 2010. The IRS now estimates that the lowest priced health insurance plan for a family (a “Bronze Plan) will cost $20,000 per year in 2016, when ObamaCare fully kicks in.

How is this happening?

Well, because whenever government takes over an industry (in this case one-sixth of the U.S. economy) costs always go up, while quality and service decline. So now we have the equivalent of the Post Office managing our health care — except worse . . . because it’s the IRS that will be the enforcer of ObamaCare.

The best way to save Medicare is to repeal ObamaCare.

We can then talk about ways to improve and strengthen Medicare and America’s health care system generally, such as with . . .

  • Expanding tax-free health care savings accounts
  • Allowing health insurance costs to be tax-deductible for individuals, not just for businesses.
  • Allowing health insurance companies to compete across state lines.
  • Providing subsidies to low-income Americans and to people with preexisting conditions.

The Guiding Theme of American Conservatism

The guiding theme of American conservatism must be exactly what the preamble to the Constitution says: “to secure the blessings of liberty” and to “promote the general welfare.”

It is not government’s job to redistribute wealth. That’s Marxism. That’s inconsistent with liberty. The American idea has always been to allow people to achieve whatever they can achieve. We don’t believe in punishing achievement the way Obama does.

There should be no ceiling on success.

Furthermore, punishing achievers doesn’t work. The achievers can take their money and businesses elsewhere.

This was Ayn Rand’s great point in Atlas Shrugged — where she posits the question of: What would happen to society if all the producers, achievers, and innovators just quit, just took their marbles and went home? What would happen to America if all the producers got fed up and pulled a John Galt.

To a large extent, this is happening right now to America. The stock market is the only aspect of the U.S. economy right now that’s sort of working because large companies have figured out how to make money by building their factories overseas where the labor is cheaper. Apple devices are mostly built now in China — which is now more business-friendly than America. The U.S. now has the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world.

What made America great has always been that the achievers were not punished, as they had been everywhere else — that, in America, we have an “unalienable” right to the “pursuit of happiness,” as our Declaration of Independence says.

That’s the American idea.

But, as conservatives, we also adjust our thinking in accordance with reality — to meet the facts.

We aren’t driven by ideology the way libertarians are. If the free market isn’t working in certain areas, we reserve the right to make adjustments, to patch it up, to make rules that make the economy work better.

The NFL changes its rules all the time — in the interest of making the game better.

Generally, the NFL has adjusted the rules to make it easier for offense to score and the quarterback to complete passes . . . because that’s what the public wants. Defense always eventually catches up to whatever the offenses are doing. So if the NFL was still playing with rules that were in place during the 1960s, the offense would never score. So the NFL had to adjust the rules, and is constantly tweaking the rules to solve this problem or that problem.

That’s the job of the lawmaker and policy-maker — or at least should be their job: To adjust the rules to make the system work better.

True Conservatism Must Be Grounded in Reality

As conservatives and as constitutionalists, we have a strong bias in favor of freedom.

Freedom produces more wealth, produces innovation. It’s great to live in freedom.

But what if freedom didn’t work? What if every time we tried freedom, it failed — and produced more poverty and misery?

As fact-based, reality-based conservatives, we would have to adjust our philosophy, our worldview, our principles.

Fortunately, this is not the case. It’s actually socialism that has failed so dismally.  It’s actually freedom that works, for the most part.

But the free-market clearly does not work on its own in all areas.  The free market could not work at all without government, without rules.

You can’t have a football game without rules.

You can’t hold an NFL football game without infrastructure. You need stadiums. And you need a governing body to set the rules.

The same is true for a civil society.

An ordered civil society is more than just whatever makes the economy work best.

People also want things that the free-market can’t provide.

People want clean air and clean water. We need rules to make sure that happens.

For the stock market and the economy to run well, we need transparent reporting requirements for publicly traded companies. We need an SEC to enforce these rules. Building codes are a good idea. I certainly want to know the house I’m buying isn’t going collapse due to shoddy construction.

The Hoover Dam was a great idea. It worked. It made life better for tens of millions of people.

There are lots of things I want government to do.

Conservatives believe in ordered liberty.

This is why I’m a conservative, not a libertarian. I am biased in favor of freedom. I have a strong presumption toward freedom. But I also want law and order and a strong national defense.

I don’t want a weak government.  I want a very strong government where government is supposed to be strong.

I want a government that is strong enough to hunt down and kill terrorists.

The Patriot Act certainly infringes on my liberties, but I’m willing to put up with it because there are real threats out there. I don’t mind the TSA security system at the airports, as libertarians complain about.  I don’t find it all that intrusive to have to take my shoes off and go through the scanners.  I really don’t care if some government official sees my naked body in all its glory to make sure I’m not carrying a bomb on the plane.

The world is a dangerous place.

Video surveliance of the streets is fine by me if that helps us catch terrorists and criminals.

Libertarian concerns about that make little sense.

Conservatives believe in freedom, but make adjustments based on reality.

I’d also like to get back to having a JFK-style space program again. Why haven’t we landed a team on Mars yet — a half century after we landed on the moon?

And most Americans don’t want to see people starving on the street — won’t stand for it.

When I go to Third World countries, I see people starving on the streets. We don’t see that often in America.  We see it some, but we’re shocked when we see it.

We pride ourselves in being a prosperous, civilized country where that doesn’t happen, or shouldn’t happen.

When we see a homeless person freezing and starving, we want to take action. We want to help.

What’s the libertarian answer to that?

Rely on private charities to step in?  Churches?

Sure, these institutions have their role.  But that’s not the scale of the solution Americans are looking for.

Conservatives make a mistake by sounding sometimes like they want to scrap the welfare state.

We certainly want to scrap or redo large sections of the current welfare state because it’s clearly not working and is counter-productive. It’s also being abused by politicians who are using expansion of the welfare state as a vote buying scheme. But we don’t want to sound like we are opposed to a social safety net.

That’s a losing proposition. We’ll never win elections standing for that.

Yes, people want freedom, want opportunity. But they also want safety. They want to know if they fall on hard times, if they fall through the cracks, someone or some system is there to ensure they don’t starve, freeze, or die of some easily-cured illness.

The question is not whether we should have a safety net. We certainly need one. The question is: what does this social safety net look like? Conservatives want a social safety net that works because fact-based conservatives want results, not just good intentions.

Conservatives also point out other considerations that limit what we might want to do — such as the $16.5 TRILLION national debt that threatens to collapse our economic system.

We can only do what we can afford to do. I might want a nicer car, but if I can’t afford it, I don’t buy it.

Politicians in Washington aren’t constrained by that common-sense rule.

The U.S. government today borrows 46 cents of every dollar it spends. We can’t continue long at this rate of borrowing and spending..

Every baby born today owes $55,000 on the national debt. Conservatives worry about this. Liberals, not so much.

Has the American economy performed better or worse as we’ve been adding all this new government spending and debt?

Answer: worse.

A reality-based conservative looks at the last 70 years or so and asks: When was America doing best?

Well, it looks like America was doing best from about 1944 through 2000 when federal spending as a percentage of GDP hovered in the 18 to 20 percent range.

Today, federal spending has spiked up to 26 percent of GDP. That is, federal spending is about 33 percent higher as a percentage of GDP than at the end of Bill Clinton’s term as President.

The economy was doing very well then, very poorly now. So let’s return federal spending to the level it was in 2000 — 18 percent of GDP.

And let’s have a law (preferably a Constitutional Amendment) that says federal spending must be capped at a maximum of 18 percent of GDP moving forward. I could even live with capping federal spending at 20 percent of GDP. Fine.

That’s what a reality-based conservative does.

We look at the facts. We look at history. We look at what has worked and what hasn’t worked. We then make proposals based on that, not ideology.

That’s what most Americans want. Most Americans are not ideological, not especially political.

Most Americans just want the country to work.

Most Americans know the country is not working well now.

If conservatives propose practical solutions to obvious problems that people sense and see, we can get back to winning elections again.

Ronald Reagan was great conservative. He was also a practical politician.  Liberals accused him of being a war-monger, too quick to pull the trigger, a saber-rattler. But when a terrorist truck bomb blew up that Marine barracks in Beirut killing 299 American Marines, Reagan’s response was not to launch a war, as some might have expected. Instead, his response was to reassess why we had a Marine barracks there in the first place. His response was to pull back our military presence in the area because he did not see our presence there serving any practical purpose.

Reagan was a pragmatist, a realist — as true conservatives are.

Conservatives are not ideologues. Conservatives are anti-ideology.

Ideologues persist in their ideology even when the facts prove their ideology to be wrong. Conservatives subscribe to a set of principles — principles mostly derived from historical experience– that is, by looking at what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. But these principles can and must be adjusted by facts as we meet them — just as a scientist starts with a hypothesis, then tests that hypothesis, then adjusts the hypothesis in accordance with the facts.

This is why libertarianism is such a flawed ideology. This is why I’m a conservative, not a libertarian.

That’s why I sometimes describe my views as “utilitarian tempered by the Bill of Rights.”

Like most Americans, I just want America to work well.

That’s what patriotism is.  Patriots want what’s best for the country as whole.

The goal of government is exactly what the Constitution says: to “secure the blessings of liberty,” “provide for the common defence,” “insure domestic tranquility,” and to “promote the general welfare.”

Not to use government power to steal from one group of people to give to another group; not to redistribute wealth; not to punish one group of people; not to use the federal treasury to buy votes or reward donors to political campaigns — but to secure liberty and make life better for the people as a whole.

We believe in equal treatment of all American citizens under the laws. We believe in the unalienable right to pursue happiness, as our Declaration of Independence says, not to be happy.

America’s Founders had principles, had strong beliefs. They were also practical statesmen who built a nation that worked — that allowed America to quickly emerge as the freest, most prosperous nation in human history. The American Civil War showed that what they built had to be tweaked some, had to be adjusted. The Civil War demonstrated a need for a stronger federal authority.

But America’s founders got a lot right.

Why Ideologues Are So Dangerous

My big problem with Obama is he’s an ideologue — a leftist ideologue.

And he doesn’t let facts get in the way of his ideology.

Average annual GDP growth under Obama has been 1.53% — the worst of any President since Herbert Hoover.

Only Hoover is worse.

A rational person would look at this and begin to conclude that perhaps his theories are wrong and proceed to make adjustments. But not Obama.

He proceeds with his socialistic schemes (most notably the implementation of ObamaCare) regardless of actual results. Facts never alter the thinking of an ideologue.

Obama rammed ObamaCare into law without a single Republican vote — not one.  Not even Olympia Snowe.

That’s what ideologues do.

They don’t care what anyone else thinks or wants.  They just do what they want..

No massive piece of legislation, such as ObamaCare, can succeed without a single vote from the opposition party

But Obama doesn’t care.  He just wants what he wants — which is why I believe ObamaCare will soon become like the Iraq War for the Democratic Party.

Iraq was a mistake. There were no weapons of mass destruction — not that we could find.  That was the premise behind that war.

Yes, Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator.  He was also a counter to the even-worse Iran and a bulwark against al Qaeda, which he hated.  We supported Saddam in his war with Iran.   So the Iraq war was a huge error — a very costly error in terms of blood and treasure.  America is worse off today because of the Iraq War.

Those are the facts.

The GOP paid dearly at the polls in 2006 and 2008 for that error.

I believe Democrats will pay dearly at the polls in 2014 and 2016 for the ObamaCare mistake — as this mistake becomes more apparent to voters.

Obama believes in using government power to redistribute wealth. He has said over and over again that this is his goal.  He promised to “fundamentally transform” America.

This suggests that he’s no fan of America — at least not a fan of America as it was founded.  He attacks capitalism.  He attacks producers.  He loves to point out all that’s wrong with capitalism. Rarely does he praise our free-enterprise system that has produced so much prosperity.

If I were to tell my wife that my goal is to “fundamentally transform” her, I doubt she would take that as a compliment.  I doubt she would interpret that statement as any indication that I love her. Can you really love something that you want to “fundamentally transform“?

One tenet of conservatism is to be very careful to try to fix something that’s not broken.  We believe in, first, doing no harm.

Conservatives tend to respect tradition more than liberals do because conservatives respect the accumulated wisdom of the ages.

We have learned a lot over the thousands of years of Western Civilization about what works and what doesn’t work.  So conservatives are reluctant, for example, to change the definition of marriage.

We think marriage can only be between a man and a woman, that there are good reasons for that, and that this institution has worked well for thousands of years.  But Obama and the Left want to throw all that out the window for what they think is right — to expand marriage to include gay marriage.

Now, perhaps not much harm will come from that.  Who knows?  But why throw thousands of years of tradition out the window on a whim?

The reason the state has an interest in marriage is because of children.  If children were not the natural result of marriage, the state would not have much of an interest in the institution.

Conservatives are conservatives because we know we don’t have all the answers. We’re not ideologues.  We look at what has worked up until now and we favor that, until another idea comes along that proves to work better.

But Obama is not that way.  He says he wants to “fundamentally transform” the most successful nation in human history.  Why?

Why not just tweak a few things here there to make America work perhaps a little better — like what the NFL does every year. Why “fundamentally transform“?

That’s the language of an ideologue.

The NFL owners don’t want to “fundamentally transform” football into a new game.  They love the game. They try to fine-tune the rules here and there to make the game better, to preserve the game.  Sometimes they succeed.  Sometimes they fail and find they have to change the rules back to the way they were.

That’s the conservative approach to public policy.

Cut Defense Spending by One Third

It’s time for conservatives to stop reflexively screaming over even the most modest proposed cuts to the Pentagon’s budget.

We need to cut defense spending by at least one-third because we simply cannot afford what we’re spending now.

America now spends $950,000,000 a year on defense.  That’s nearly $1 TRILLION, or about 26

percent of our $3.8 TRILLION yearly federal budget.

Right now, 43 percent of the entire world’s military spending is, well, us. We are spending six times more on our military than #2 China.

We are spending 14 times more than Russia. Both Britain and France spend more on their military than Russia.

Russia is really just a Third World country, no longer much to worry about.

There’s no Hitler on the horizon and aircraft carriers are not needed to kill terrorists.

Surely the 12 aircraft carriers we now have are enough.

No other country in the world has more than two aircraft carriers. China and Russia each have one aircraft carrier.

The main threat to us is terrorism. Aircraft carriers and enormous standing armies are not what we need to defeat terrorism.  What we need to defeat terrorism are excellent intelligence, more special ops forces, more drones, and the like.  But these are not high-ticket items, like aircraft carriers.

We are now building a tank that costs $500,000,000 apiece. The Army says it doesn’t need or want this tank, but Congress insists on building it anyway.

President Eisenhower (no liberal) warned America about the “military industrial complex” and the threat it presents to our liberty and wallets.

I think it would be fun to own a 100 guns to protect my family and home.  I’d like to have AK-47s, grenades, M-16s, bullet-proof vests, night-vision goggles, tear gas launchers, percussion bombs, smoke bombs, all kinds of cool stuff.  But I can’t afford all this.  I’ll have to made do with two guns — a revolver and a shotgun.  We can’t afford our trillion-dollar military industrial complex either.

We Need to Unwind our Foreign Entanglements

President George Washington had it right when he warned against foreign entanglements.

Here’s what he had to say on the subject:

  • “Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”
  • “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.” -(George Washington, farewell address, 1796.)
  • “I have always given it as my decided opinion that no nation has a right to intermeddle in the internal concerns of another; that every one has a right to form and adopt whatever government they liked best to live under themselves; and that if this country could, consistently with its engagements, maintain a strict neutrality and thereby preserve peace, it was bound to do so by motives of policy, interest, and every other consideration. (George Washington, from Letter to James Monroe, August 25,1796.)
  • “Hence, likewise , they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.”

Wise words. What good has come from our decades of meddling in the Middle East?  Has there been a single positive outcome from the trillions of dollars we’ve spent trying to “fix” the Middle East?

I can’t think of one.  We’ve just made a lot of enemies.

There are about seven billion people in the world — about five billion of whom hate us . . . not because we are free and prosperous.  Switzerland is also free and prosperous.  But no one hates Switzerland.  Most of the world hates America because of our meddlesome foreign policy.

As conservatives, we get plenty ticked off when our nanny-state government meddles in our lives.

So why are so many conservatives (mostly neoconservatives) surprised when people in other countries resent it when our government (not even their own government) meddles in their lives?

The British Empire collapsed because its empire was too expensive to maintain.  This is why all empires end up collapsing.  War after war after war to maintain order is just too costly.

We need to get out of the Middle East.  Israel will have to defend itself.

Switzerland’s done quite well by staying out of foreign entanglements.  Switzerland hasn’t been the target of any terrorist attacks. And it’s a whole lot cheaper to stay out of the affairs of other countries.

If a really dangerous Adolf Hitler type emerges, we take him out.  We need a military that can do this.  Hunting down and killing Osama bin Laden is fine.

But no more “nation building.” No more foreign aid.

And let’s get the heck out of NATO, the IMF, the World Bank, the World Court, and especially the United Nations.

We need a Navy that can protect our commercial ships and keep the sea lanes open and safe.  We need a military that can take out the regime in Iran and the midget in North Korea if it’s in America’s interest to do so.  Those are prudential judgments for a President and Congress.

Thomas Jefferson hunted down the Barbary Coast pirates in North Africa to protect our commercial ships and keep the sea lanes open.  Good call.

We probably should have done more to stop Hitler earlier.

“How serious is the threat?” is always the question.  ”Is a preemptive strike called for?”  These are situational judgment calls we pay our President to make, in consultation with Congress.  But the guiding principle must always be:  Is a vital American interest at stake?

Pat Buchanan is right when we says we need a strictly “America First” defense and foreign policy.  And there should be a heavy burden of proof on intervention.

It’s certainly a tragedy when 500,000 Rawandans are murdered by their own government and when the Syrian regime uses poison gas on its own people.  But there’s no vital American interest to protect here.  So there’s no job here for the U.S. military to perform.

I’m not suggesting we cut our military down to pre-World War Two levels.  That would be dangerous, as we found out.

But do we really need 294 U.S. embassies? Do we really need 662 military bases in 38 foreign countries?

Not if we stop following the siren call of the neoconservatives to intervene in another Middle East conflict. Not if we stop being the world’s biggest busybody.

This is how we cut our military and foreign policy spending by at least one-third, if not 50 percent, and end up stronger, richer, and more free in the long run.

Immigration: A Huge Difference Between Conservatives and Libertarians

Libertarians don’t like borders.  They think anyone who wants to should just be able to come to America.

This is beyond absurd.

America, of course,  is a nation of immigrants.  Conservatives are not opposed to immigration.  But it must be controlled immigration.

You cannot move to Switzerland unless you bring a lot of money with you.

The Boston Marathon bombers illustrate the need to control immigration — to make sure new immigrants have assimilated into American life, to have actually become Americans. We want to make sure those who have green cards and who become U.S. citizens actually like America.

The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, said that he did not have a single American friend, did not understand Americans.

Who were his friends? Clearly, not Americans.

Now it turns out the Tsarnaev family received more than $100,000 in welfare benefits.

Did American taxpayers help pay for the bombs they built to kill and maim all those Bostonians?

Apparently so.

No, we don’t need loose borders or open borders, as Ron Paul and the libertarians want.

No nation can survive that doesn’t control its borders.

Look at Afghanistan.  That’s a country that has no control of its border.  And look what you get — a nation governed by war lords and tribal chieftains, al Qaeda and terrorists going back and forth at will between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Is this what we want — Mexican drug cartels (who are more powerful than the Mexican government) and terrorists going back and forth over the U.S.-Mexican border with impunity?

A recent Pew poll of Mexicans finds that 35 percent of Mexicans say they would move here if they could.  At that point, of course, America ceases to exist.  We basically become Mexico.  And Mexico’s drug cartel crisis becomes our drug cartel crisis.

Rule of law becomes gang rule. Ordered liberty turns into a “Road Warrior” situation.  All of America starts to resemble the worst parts of Chicago’s south side (at best). Perhaps we could rename this new country Americo or MexAmerica.

If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country.

A country without borders is like house without a roof and walls.

Libertarians don’t really believe in America.  They don’t believe in the nation state.

This is why I have very little in common with libertarians philosophically.

I appreciate their critique of socialism and defense of capitalism.

But we can’t have capitalism without laws and rules — and tough enforcement.

We need government to be strong, very strong, where it’s supposed to be strong – “to insure domestic tranquility.”

Taxes are the price we pay for civilization — for law and order.

Law and order includes securing our border and not rewarding the 11,000,000 Mexicans who broke into America illegally with a path to citizenship.  The only path to citizenship for them should be to return to Mexico and go to the back of the immigration line.

As conservatives, we believe in the “rule of law” — not rewarding lawlessness.

Not only must we secure our borders. We also need an immigration policy that allows the rate of immigration to be at a level where we can be reasonably be sure new immigrants are truly ready to be Americans, understand what makes America special and different from the rest of the world.

We don’t want people here, like the Tsarnaevs, who hate America, who don’t understand America.

We want people here who love America.

What Conservatives Are Trying to Conserve

Conservatives see America as exceptional in world history.

America, in a very short period of time, produced unprecedented prosperity . . .

  • because of  America’s Constitution (including the Bill of Rights), which limits government power;
  • because of freedom;
  • because America’s founders (James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, George Washington, John Adams, and others) who designed our government were so brilliant;
  • because of George Washington’s leadership (“The Indispensable Man“);
  • because of the “rule of law” and the principle of “equality under the law” for all citizens;
  • because Abraham Lincoln saved the union, abolished slavery, and brought the Bill of Rights protections to black Americans; and
  • because of America’s “protestant ethic and spirit of capitalism” (as Max Weber called it in his classic book on why America was so successful so quickly).

America is exceptional because of the unprecedented freedom and prosperity created by this unique combination of circumstances, events, thinkers, and leaders.

Nothing like America had ever existed before.

It’s not arrogance to say this.  It’s not that we are an exceptional people. We’re not better than anyone else. But we have had an exceptional system, a Constitution designed by America’s founders, but tweaked along the way with Constitutional amendments.

America is the first country in history to be founded on an idea — a proposition.

The American idea is this — set forth in our Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Then the Constitution, adopted in 1787, underscores this by saying the purpose of the federal government is to “secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”

Slavery was clearly a major blemish on what our founders had achieved in writing the Constitution and getting the Constitution ratified by the states.  The Constitution, of course, was was the result of all kinds of compromises and tradeoffs.  This is how laws are passed in a democracy.

The inherent contradiction between this and slavery was remedied by the Civil War (at a cost 750,000 lives on the battlefields).

The important point is: America was founded upon this proposition: that “all men are created equal” — not equal obviously in talents, but equal before the law.

Slavery was a contradiction that could not survive this moral principle.

By the way, America’s founders were well aware of this fact.  They also believed ratifying a Constitution that tolerated slavery in some states was better than not having any law at all.

Most of them knew America would have to address this contradiction later.

Nevertheless, America’s Declaration of Independence, winning a seven-year war of Independence against the British Empire, and the ratification of the Constitution in 1787 were magnificent achievements that laid the groundwork for the abolition of slavery.

Slavery, of course, was the norm in the world at that time.  It’s still the norm in much of the world today. But it was ended in America.

It was ended in America because it could not withstand the principles set forth in America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution. The hypocrisy of allowing slavery to continue was too glaring.

In America, everyone would be treated equally by the law.

America was the first nation in history to be “conceived in liberty.”

America was the first nation in history to enshrine freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association as rights.

In America, criminals are presumed innocent until proven guilty unanimously by a jury of one’s peers. That was new. America’s Constitution prevents the government from entering our homes without a court-issued warrant (“unreasonable searches and seizures”).

In America, we can’t be forced to testify against ourselves (no torture, no forced confessions). We have the secret ballot. Government cannot take our property without just compensation and due process of law.

These are amazing achievements — still not found in 90 percent of the world.

We’re now losing these achievements.

Liberty (made possible by our Constitution and the “rule of law”) turned out to be the oxygen that fuels human innovation and progress.

The reasons for America’s stunning and rapid growth were chronicled brilliantly by Alexis de Tocqueville in his great work Democracy in America.

I also try to shed some light on this miracle called the United States of America in a book I wrote titled Faith & Freedom: The Christian Roots of American Liberty.

A few other countries have since been able to approximate America’s level of prosperity by imitating the key elements of the American system.

But most of the world still lives in abject poverty.

Most of the world would move here if it could — which is why we need a secure border and controls on immigration.  We can’t handle most of the world moving here — not if we are to preserve what makes America exceptional in world history.

The United States of America — including our Constitution and free-enterprise system —  is the civilization American conservatives are trying to conserve.

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