Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Why Conservatism Lost

 

It’s no secret that I’m gleeful about the crack-up in Conservatism. I’ve made that clear in audio-meetups and in the live chats. If I may be so bold, I would like to propose a simpler reason for the demise of Conservatism than many of the reasons currently floated by political analysts. It doesn’t involve climate change or demographics, and it is only somewhat related to economic growth. It is not beyond the control of Conservatives themselves. Conservatives caused their own demise for one reason, and that reason comes down to Conservatism’s lack of quantitative explanations for middle class problems.

Before I go deeper into this explanation, let me just add that Progressivism does not have this problem. Indeed, Progressive control of academia has allowed Progressives to analyze many discoveries made in economics, political science, mathematics, statistics, etc. and craft explanations for many of these phenomena through the development of models. Some of these models offer great insight, while others do not. Still, Conservatives have ceded academia to Progressives, and Progressives have been the ones to make the discoveries and apply an understanding of these discoveries to government policy. This is done directly, through government research institutions (such as the Federal Reserve), or indirectly through advice given by think-tanks and academics to Liberal politicians, who then seek to turn this advice into policy.

Now let me get back to Conservatism. Conservatives do not have the mechanism described above. Their contempt for academia has harmed them more than they would like to admit. In place of the above, Conservatives must rely upon comforting heuristics that are derived from nothing more than mere musings.

For example, consider trade. The government has mechanisms to recognize whether or not a country is engaging in harmful trade practices against the United States. The government has the means to act upon what it recognizes. The mechanisms and the means were developed through a mathematically rigorous process of creating a model of trade under certain assumptions, adding and removing assumptions to understand how this affects concepts of trade, and then using these assumptions (or lack of assumptions) to write a proof. This proof, which for the sake of an example we will suppose to be a proof of the optimal response by a government to dumping, then offers insight into what the government should do in a dumping situation. This rigorous explanation for dumping then makes its way to politicians (separate from bureaucrats at the federal trade agencies) who offer a solution to middle class communities that have been affected by dumping.

It is my understanding that the Conservative response to dumping, or any trade phenomenon for that matter, is to simply say something along the lines of “People are engaging in free exchange. If anyone tries to stop it, they are against freedom.” There is no proof that is offered. There is no deep and mathematically rigorous explanation. The framework does not exist to offer a policy prescription. Instead, Conservatives merely point to the musings of Hayek, Smith, Rand, or sometimes even Aristotle.

Now consider the above and apply it to any issues currently affecting the middle class. The Progressive can offer an explanation in quantifiable terms, with a policy based upon measurable outcomes. Conservatives can merely quote “great men and women” whose explanations for a particular phenomenon are no better than yours or mine (and often involve vague terms such as “freedom” and “virtue”). In so doing, they place many middle class issues and anxieties in a mystical twilight, seemingly beyond the realm of Man’s ability to measure. When Conservatives do this, they fail to assuage or confront the anxieties of their base, who ultimately turn to a bastardized version of Progressive explanations and solutions to their problems.

And that’s why you have Donald Trump.

And that’s why Conservatism lost.

There are 246 comments.

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  1. Chuck Enfield Coolidge

    Let’s assume for a moment that you’re correct about the failings of conservatism. Why are voters so comforted by rigorous mathematical models which suggest solutions that have been tried and consistently failed to correct the ailments? It’s not like progressivism hasn’t had a chance to show it’s worth. It reduces individual liberty for no constructive end.

    • #1
    • April 22, 2016, at 8:48 PM PST
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  2. MJBubba Inactive

    Conservatism has suffered from allowing academia to become dominated by Progressives, but that is not much related to the current low estate of conservatism.

    The big problem is the way mass media has become dominated by Progressives.

    • #2
    • April 22, 2016, at 8:57 PM PST
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  3. Mike H Coolidge

    The reason it is wrong to stop other people from engaging in “trade” has little to do with “freedom” and much to do with it just being wrong.

    If two entities decide it is beneficial to each of them to make a trade, then a third party requires an extreme reason to stop them. And that their trade may leave a separate third party slightly less better off doesn’t begin to rise to that level.

    • #3
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:01 PM PST
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  4. Profile Photo Member

    When it comes to economics, I am very low information. I am conservative on abortion, and kind of libertarian when it comes to drugs; I think pot should be legal, and when it comes to things like heroin, dealers should be prosecuted, but users should be offered treatment, or simply left alone. But as someone who is very low information on economic issues, I think you are definitely onto something. According to some economic conservatives, anyone who doesn’t accept Ayn Rand as gospel truth-meaning, the vast majority of Americans-are haters of freedom. Liberals are haters of freedom, and now, supporters of Trump are haters of freedom too. It should surprise no one that this strategy is not working And yes, this is how we got Trump.

    • #4
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:04 PM PST
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  5. Viruscop Member
    Viruscop Post author

    Chuck Enfield:Let’s assume for a moment that you’re correct about the failings of conservatism. Why are voters so comforted by rigorous mathematical models which suggest solutions that have been tried and consistently failed to correct the ailments? It’s not like progressivism hasn’t had a chance to show it’s worth. It reduces individual liberty for no constructive end.

    Actually, the methods have not failed. The methods, when applied, have been successful. The difficulty comes through proving a particular trade policy is being practiced. To return to the dumping example, a company would have to file a complaint with the relevant US trade bureau, who then often has to take the complaint and make it into a case with the WTO, who then resolves the arbitration. The US can engage in anti-dumping practices unilaterally, and this has occurred. In the late 1990’s, the US engaged in anti-dumping measures that helped stem the loss of jobs in the steel industry when the US had to import more steel from Japan; however, foreign steel manufacturers then sued the United States and the case was taken up with the WTO. So if there are issues with trade policy, it comes through the legality of the methods with regard to international agreements, but the methods themselves work.

    • #5
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:08 PM PST
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  6. Chuck Enfield Coolidge

    MJBubba: Conservatism has suffered from allowing academia to become dominated by Progressives

    I don’t mean to be argumentative, but how did conservatives allow it? There’s no cabal that can direct intelligent conservatives to be college professors. Some career fields attract certain types. Some career fields benefit directly from policies, so people in those fields migrate toward political views that favor those polices out of self-interest. Academics and journalist tend to lean left. Financiers and entrepreneurs trend conservative. If we’ve “allowed” anything it’s not by capitulation. We lost the battle over the Department of Education, and failed to convince the public to reject the self-serving fabrication of new academic disciplines. But we have and continue to contest both.

    • #6
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:21 PM PST
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  7. Chuck Enfield Coolidge

    viruscop: The difficulty comes through proving a particular trade policy is being practiced.

    Sorry, I assumed that dumping was an example. Are you suggesting it’s the whole story?

    • #7
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:24 PM PST
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  8. Viruscop Member
    Viruscop Post author

    Mike H:If two entities decide it is beneficial to each of them to make a trade, then a third party requires an extreme reason to stop them. And that their trade may leave a separate third party slightly less better off doesn’t begin to rise to that level.

    This explanation is filled with more assumptions then many proofs that academics have written.

    First, you are implicitly assuming that the choice to engage in trade was the optimal choice. To be more specific, both parties had perfect information and awareness of all of their alternative choices. That is rarely, if ever, the case.

    Second, you might think that the government cannot produce a better outcome (measured by dollar amount of economic activity) than two parties freely engaging in trade, because the government cannot know more than the two parties about their optimal choices. Well, sometimes it does. The government often does have access to more information than two parties do about the possible choices they can make. Even if it doesn’t, we have the means to determine what the optimal outcome should be, in the aggregate, from a particular trade policy. If it appears that a policy is not yielding anything close to this optimal outcome, then we can make changes in the aggregate. We need not embrace a particular policy because it allows the accumulation of something as vague and unquantifiable as “freedom.”

    • #8
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:28 PM PST
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  9. Viruscop Member
    Viruscop Post author

    Chuck Enfield:

    viruscop: The difficulty comes through proving a particular trade policy is being practiced.

    Sorry, I assumed that dumping was an example. Are you suggesting it’s the whole story?

    Dumping is just an example. I’m using dumping as an example to show that it is often difficult for the US to follow through on many punishment mechanisms in international trade.

    • #9
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:32 PM PST
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  10. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member

    So, I finally found an article on Vox worth reading. I think it might be helpful here.

    • #10
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:32 PM PST
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  11. Viruscop Member
    Viruscop Post author

    DrewInWisconsin:So, I finally found an article on Vox worth reading. I think it might be helpful here.

    Wasn’t that article on the Main Feed?

    Don’t you think that Conservatives have been smug to their base? Instead of giving the base the rich explanation that they deserve about the problems in their communities that stem from complex phenomena and concepts in political science and economics, they have simply said that the issues can be chalked up to “freedom”, “virtue”, and “liberty.” Don’t they deserve more as US citizens from their elected representatives? Don’t they deserve be treated like mature students, instead of attempting to pacify them with lofty but meaningless terms?

    • #11
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:34 PM PST
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  12. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member

    viruscop:

    DrewInWisconsin:So, I finally found an article on Vox worth reading. I think it might be helpful here.

    Wasn’t that article on the Main Feed?

    Was it? I’ve been out of commission for awhile. I might have missed it.

    Anyway, I think it applies here. ; )

    • #12
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:37 PM PST
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  13. Profile Photo Member

    DrewInWisconsin:So, I finally found an article on Vox worth reading. I think it might be helpful here.

    YMaybe it’s because I am conservative, but the smugness of some economic conservatives bothers me far more than the smugness of some liberals. I am not totally ignorant of Ayn Rand; I actually read one of her books all the way through when I was in college.I am sorry, but the idea that we should look to her for serious economic advice just seems very strange to me, and her fans strike me as being closer to religious fanaticism than to an intellectual movement. I am very aware that most Ayn Rand fans are probably smarter than I am. Members of the heaven’s gate cult were smarter than I am too. Except when they weren’t. I am sorry, but I just cannot take these Ayn Rand people seriously. Liberals sound like intellectuals; economic conservatives sound like people who believe they have found the one true faith, and who may be prepared to burn non believers at the stake. I don’t know nearly enough to say that they are wrong, but their approach isn’t working, and it’s never going to work. And they are at least as smug as any liberal.

    • #13
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:44 PM PST
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  14. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    viruscop: Now let me get back to Conservatism. Conservatives do not have the mechanism described above. Their contempt for academia has harmed them more than they would like to admit. In place of the above, Conservatives must rely upon comforting heuristics that are derived from nothing more than mere musings.

    VC, good to see you. The problem here is that you understand neither side of the equation, and therefore it seems to add up to you.

    “Comforting heuristics derived from mere musings” is how you dismiss an awful lot of fact and theory, which unlike your own side, has been proven over millennia, rather than dubiously touted for mere decades. This is a dismissal you must make, for without it you get to confront the “musings” as ironclad laws about the way people and societies work.

    Good luck with that. I stopped reading right there.

    • #14
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:45 PM PST
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  15. Palaeologus Inactive

    viruscop: Second, you might think that the government cannot produce a better outcome (measured by dollar amount of economic activity) than two parties freely engaging in trade, because the government cannot know more than the two parties about their optimal choices. Well, sometimes it does.

    True. See: Trump University.

    I do think you’re overstating the broader case, viruscop. Yeah, Conservatism has taken a few standing eight counts this cycle, but the fight ain’t over yet.

    Though it doesn’t look too great from my seat.

    • #15
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:45 PM PST
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  16. Chuck Enfield Coolidge

    I reread your post. I read too much between the lines the first time. I think I follow now.

    • #16
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:48 PM PST
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  17. Viruscop Member
    Viruscop Post author

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    viruscop: Now let me get back to Conservatism. Conservatives do not have the mechanism described above. Their contempt for academia has harmed them more than they would like to admit. In place of the above, Conservatives must rely upon comforting heuristics that are derived from nothing more than mere musings.

    VC, good to see you. The problem here is that you understand neither side of the equation, and therefore it seems to add up to you.

    “Comforting heuristics derived from mere musings” is how you dismiss an awful lot of fact and theory, which unlike your own side, has been proven over millennia, rather than dubiously touted for mere decades. This is a dismissal you must make, for without it you get to confront the “musings” as ironclad laws about the way people and societies work.

    Good luck with that. I stopped reading right there.

    How has it been proven? Perhaps many Conservative theories can be proven, but has this been done? Have some Conservative theories been proven, and these theories fly in the face of the framework built up by many academic economists?

    • #17
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:49 PM PST
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  18. Mike H Coolidge

    viruscop:

    Mike H:If two entities decide it is beneficial to each of them to make a trade, then a third party requires an extreme reason to stop them. And that their trade may leave a separate third party slightly less better off doesn’t begin to rise to that level.

    This explanation is filled with more assumptions then many proofs that academics have written.

    First, you are implicitly assuming that the choice to engage in trade was the optimal choice. To be more specific, both parties had perfect information and awareness of all of their alternative choices. That is rarely, if ever, the case.

    No, you are assuming I am assuming those things. That’s the only way you can conclude there’s something wrong with people making the choices they make. No one makes decisions with perfect information, but that doesn’t make their decisions any less legitimate. The people who propose to overrule them don’t necessarily have better information, especially since the decisions they are making are not for themselves and thus it is extreamly unlikely they are making sufficiently better decisions for others.

    Second, you might think that the government cannot produce a better outcome (measured by dollar amount of economic activity) than two parties freely engaging in trade, because the government cannot know more than the two parties about their optimal choices. Well, sometimes it does.

    Outcomes don’t always matter. Even in cases where a third party might make a “better” decision, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are justified in overruling the will of another. The outcomes must greatly outway the outcomes that people will determine on their own in the vast majority of cases before anyone might be justified in coercing others.

    The government often does have access to more information than two parties do about the possible choices they can make. Even if it doesn’t, we have the means to determine what the optimal outcome should be, in the aggregate, from a particular trade policy. If it appears that a policy is not yielding anything close to this optimal outcome, then we can make changes in the aggregate. We need not embrace a particular policy because it allows the accumulation of something as vague and unquantifiable as “freedom.”

    The government may possess more information than individuals, but that’s completely different than being able to apply that information in close to optimal fashion in the majority of cases. That the same flawed individuals are remotely capable of reaching optimal outcomes in the form of government is a huge assumption on your part.

    • #18
    • April 22, 2016, at 9:54 PM PST
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  19. Viruscop Member
    Viruscop Post author

    Mike H:

    viruscop:

    Mike H:

    No, you are assuming I am assuming those things. That’s the only way you can conclude there’s something wrong with people making the choices they make. No one makes decisions with perfect information, but that doesn’t make their decisions any less legitimate. The people who propose to overrule them don’t necessarily have better information, especially since the decisions they are making are not for themselves and this it is extreamly unlikely they are making sufficiently better decisions for others.

    I believe that my second point covers this. I mention that the government may not always have better information, but there is still something that can be done.

    Outcomes don’t always matter. Even in cases where a third party might make a “better” decision, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are justified in overruling the will of another. The outcomes must greatly outway the outcomes that people will determine on their own in the vast majority of cases before anyone might be justified in coercing others.

    Outcomes do matter. That is why we concern ourselves with policy. We seek to achieve a desired outcome, and we often measure this outcome in dollar terms.

     That the same flawed individuals are remotely capable of reaching optimal outcomes in the form of government is a huge assumption on your part.

    Not necessarily optimal outcomes, but better ones can be reached, given that more information is known by the government.

    • #19
    • April 22, 2016, at 10:13 PM PST
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  20. Chuck Enfield Coolidge

    DrewInWisconsin:

    viruscop:

    DrewInWisconsin:So, I finally found an article on Vox worth reading. I think it might be helpful here.

    Wasn’t that article on the Main Feed?

    Was it? I’ve been out of commission for awhile. I might have missed it.

    Anyway, I think it applies here. ; )

    I missed this too. Thanks for the link.

    I did want to take issue with one comment in the article. Mr. Rensin wrote:

    Of course, there is a smug style in every political movement: elitism among every ideology believing itself in possession of the solutions to society’s ills.

    I don’t mean to suggest that there are no smug conservatives, but I’m a conservative because I know I don’t have the solutions to all of societies ills. Furthermore, I recognize that many of these problems are intrinsic to human nature and can’t be solved for large communities. This is why I oppose progressive solutions and advocate for individual liberty and free association.

    • #20
    • April 22, 2016, at 10:13 PM PST
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  21. Jason Rudert Member

    What you’re leaving out here, probably because you’re too young to remember it, is that Progressivism already had its crack-up in the Seventies. Whatever political stripe you are, we are all grappling with Modernism. Shorthand definition of Modernism is this process you’ve described of studying, quantifying and optimizing. It worked wonders in a lot of fields, but Modernism bumps up against some hard limits that you’re ignoring.

    First, you can only optimize so many things before they start to compete with each other. In the built environment, you have historic preservation, energy efficiency, handicapped access, function of the building, etc. The more the academic experts are allowed to try to maximize these things, the quicker the system freezes up.

    Second, any of these attempts to help the middle class (as you have defined it) harm the overall economy. For our business, the cheap steel years were great, and it sucked when George W Bush won his tarriff case. The same situation goes for sugar. Yes, you sort of help one particular narrow bunch of people, but every time the government does this it hurts the economy as a whole. For a while, a Progressive government could indeed get the votes of the middle class with this strategy, but over time it would cripple the overall economy.

    Third, you start to bump into problems inherent in the meatbots. This is where, say Aristotle might come in handy. For example, Progressivism gravitates inevitably toward some really

    • #21
    • April 22, 2016, at 10:17 PM PST
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  22. Jason Rudert Member

    creepy [stuff] that’s completely logical and reasonable. Euthanasia, selling baby organs, sterilizing the unfit–there are still plenty of humanists on the left, and eventually the quantitatively-minded academics will get into things that freak them out. The big train coming down the tracks nowadays being the conflict between what science is discovering every day, and keeping quiet about, as it studies racial differences. That alone will tear Progressivism apart, because you can’t have scientifically rigorous policies and egalitarian fantasies at the same time. Reality intrudes eventually.

    So by all means, enjoy your Progressive Moment. But bear in mind your systems worked, on the surface at least, from Hoover to Nixon. And then they all crashed. You don’t have the same conditions in place to keep them afloat for that long this time around.

    • #22
    • April 22, 2016, at 10:29 PM PST
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  23. Profile Photo Member

    Jamal Rudert: I share your horror at the selling of baby parts, and abortion, period. Unfortunately, there are plenty of economic conservatives who see no problem with abortion, and probably even more who support euthanasia. These things cannot be laid totally at the feet of liberals. So, I am not sure what your point is.

    • #23
    • April 22, 2016, at 10:35 PM PST
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  24. Joseph Stanko Member

    viruscop: Outcomes do matter. That is why we concern ourselves with policy. We seek to achieve a desired outcome, and we often measure this outcome in dollar terms.

    But we don’t all agree on which outcomes are most desirable. Your analysis makes it sounds like politics is just about different means to reach the same desired outcomes, but I think most political debates boil down to disagreements about core values.

    For instance, I think progressives place a higher value on equality, entitlements, and safety while conservatives place a higher value on opportunity, personal responsibility, and freedom.

    • #24
    • April 22, 2016, at 11:13 PM PST
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  25. Profile Photo Member

    Joseph Stanko:But we don’t all agree on which outcomes are most desirable. Your analysis makes it sounds like politics is just about different means to reach the same desired outcomes, but I think most political debates boil down to disagreements about core values.

    For instance, I think progressives place a higher value on equality, entitlements, and safety while conservatives place a higher value on opportunity, personal responsibility, and freedom.

    I believe that in order for an economic system to be legitimate, it must work for most people, not all the time: nothing will always be optimal all the time, but most of the time. This is why I support free markets, but I wonder sometimes if conservative politicans are more concerned with pleasing their donors than they are with free markets. For example, why can’t we purchase health insurance the way we buy car insurance? Conservatives occasionally pay lip service to that idea, but they don’t really fight for freedom in that area., and because of that, I get the impression that it’s not something they really care about. In other words, I get the impression that providing more freedom and opportunity to middle class families is not something conservatives really care about. I am far more amenable to free markets than most people are, but even I often feel as though economic conservative politicians care deeply about their own freedom and not at all about anyone else’s.

    • #25
    • April 23, 2016, at 12:21 AM PST
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  26. Profile Photo Member

    The liberal narrative is that our current economic system is really only working for the top 1%. If that is true, than the vast majority of Americans will find that outcome unacceptable. I realize that it probably isn’t true, but I also realize that it’s far more expensive to be middle class than it used to be. To the extent that conservatives sometimes acknowledge this, they offer vague answers as to why: they say that it’s the government’s fault, but what does that even mean? Keeping in mind that I am a low information voter, I want specifics. Liberals offer very specific remedies to problems; conservatives lecture people about responsibility and claim to love freedom. Conservatives are usually vague and they usually claim to love freedom more than other people do, which is an outrageous claim, when you think about it. If conservatives are unable to describe in specific terms why their policies are better, they will lose. When conservatives start talking about how much they love freedom, I don’t even listen anymore: I assume that they talk about freedom because they would rather not get specific about their economic policies. Needless to say, I distrust them.

    • #26
    • April 23, 2016, at 12:40 AM PST
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  27. Profile Photo Member

    Having said all that :) I have always voted Republican and I will support whoever the Republican nominee is. I see republicans as the lesser of two evils, but that doesn’t mean that I like them.

    • #27
    • April 23, 2016, at 12:49 AM PST
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  28. TKC1101 Inactive

    Conservatism has failed in the trade area not on theory but on implementation. The actual negotiations either were countries versus much smaller companies, an inherent disadvantage, or crony capitalism driven negotiations to benefit a few while conceding unequal protection to others.

    We have not had free trade except in very few instances, the sheer size and power of the American economy hid the fact that it was being slowly hollowed out. Since conservatives have lost any instinct for national interest, no one cared.

    • #28
    • April 23, 2016, at 12:58 AM PST
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  29. Joseph Stanko Member

    Judithann Campbell: I wonder sometimes if conservative politicans are more concerned with pleasing their donors than they are with free markets

    I’m sure many (most?) of them are. They are politicians, after all.

    This is another major difference between conservatives and progressives. Progressives like to paint pictures about how smart people in government will use data and science to craft policies that will solve all our problems e.g.:

    viruscop: Progressives have been the ones to make the discoveries and apply an understanding of these discoveries to government policy. This is done directly, through government research institutions (such as the Federal Reserve), or indirectly through advice given by think-tanks and academics to Liberal politicians, who then seek to turn this advice into policy.

    That might actually work if we were governed by selfless altruistic angels, but real world politics is less like that and more like House of Cards or Yes, Minister. Consequently conservatives believe in limiting the power of government over our lives, since we don’t trust anyone to run it wisely. Even if they call themselves conservative and have an R after their name on the ballot, we still don’t trust ’em much.

    • #29
    • April 23, 2016, at 1:49 AM PST
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  30. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Conservatism as a brand certainly has been mismanaged. Unlike the lefty isms, conservatism itself is borne out rather than blamed when actually experienced and assessed.

    • #30
    • April 23, 2016, at 2:54 AM PST
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