During President George W. Bush’s Administration, which Democrats loathed as ultra-right or ultra-conservative, government grew and the economy collapsed. Two years of President Obama and a Democrat super-majority, and Americans were looking for “real conservatives” with “conservative solutions”. Why? Because we all know that Democrats are liberal, progressive, and quasi-socialist; therefore the opposition should have an opposite ideology. We’ve been calling this mythological opposite ideology, in government, “Conservatism”.
Now, while Conservatism is real as an ideology amongst “the Right” there is also a lengthy tradition of “Conservative Thought” in England and in the United States, a tradition of public policy approaches based on experience, as opposed to ideology. Thus, we’ve adopted this duel-identity within conservatism between the idealists and the empiricists.
Republicans in Congress aren’t conservative in either respect (either as empiricists or idealists). They represent a philosophy best described by the aphorism, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”. They represent corporate and well-financed clientele. We’ve often described this as “Corporatism”. This new Republican Healthcare Bill is a good example of “Corporatism”. It’s good for large, well-financed stakeholders, which includes the federal government. It’s time we realize that the largest and most powerful special interest in America is the Federal Government itself.
There is no “conservative party”. There is no “conservative movement”. There are thousands of independent conservative groups with limited agendas and limited cooperation with the larger whole (like Virginia’s worthless VCDL-PAC).
Now, as long as the Baby Boomers control the Republican Party and the Grassroots, conservatism will remain a term in active usage; but I would suggest that the Millennials drop it for the benefit of all future generations. I have some suggestions of language more appropriate to our cause. For example, returning to “classical liberalism” would be a great idea, though in our 144 character world, we’d end up being called “Classicists”, which while not offensive to me, might be hard for a younger generation to swallow. So what is it that we actually support? Labels should describe the actual beliefs of the people who believe them.
I will no longer vote for “conservatives” or candidates who hang their candidacies on “conservative rhetoric”. This rhetoric is almost always dishonest and aimed at appealing to older generations who are far less cynical and astute than Gen X’ers and Millennials. What do legislators do? Legislators pass laws which instruct the Executive (i.e. the bureaucracies) on the limits and purposes of public policy. The bureaucracy (which includes both political appointees and career bureaucrats) then interpret the laws and establish policies, rules, and regulations to be administrated by the State. Therefore, if politicians (those who represent us within the legislatures) do not have a firm grasp on the realities of public policy, then they are relatively useless when it comes to designing and writing legislation. Unlike most voters, our elected officials understand this. This is why they don’t write the laws they vote on.
A combination of special interests and career bureaucrats with lifetimes of institutional knowledge craft the bills the elected bloviate, grandstand, harangue over, and eventually vote upon.
Therefore, the politicians I’m most interested in voting for are the ones with the greatest understanding of public policy, bureaucratic practices, political philosophy, and institutional knowledge. In other words, our politicians need to have specialized institutional knowledge in order to be worth anything in a legislature. For example, our economic problems in this country may well be the result of there only being one qualified economist in the United States Congress. We may want to listen to those elected officials with experience as healthcare professionals, rather than ideologues spouting dumbed-down Locke and de Montesquieu on FOX News. Experience in regulated fields (which is essentially the entire economy right now) matters.
I have a long history of supporting the most “Conservative candidate”, but this has finally come to an end. Not because I am somehow less Classically Liberal than I used to be, but because politicians that espouse conservative rhetoric are rarely Classically Liberal themselves. So this idea that somehow what we call conservatism dates back to Classical Liberalism is a myth. The empiricist-conservatives are all gone. It is no longer the best wisdom of our time, predicated upon the lessons of human experience that drive ideological conservatives in government, but rather, special interests, personal interests, and career advancement.
This is why I’ll be voting for Glenn Davis in June. He doesn’t have the most conservative rhetoric in the Lieutenant Governors race, but he does have the best ideas when it comes to public policy and he does have experience in fields over which he legislates. He’s not just a hack lawyer interested in politics because that’s where future power and money is derived. He’s a policy wonk with good ideas and a lifetime of experience pertinent to policy. He runs his campaign based on the policies he supports, not the ideologies to which he is bound.
The candidates I’ll support in the future should be the answer to important questions, such as: Do they have good ideas which, in turn, could become good public policy? Are they experienced and specialized in fields over which the federal or state bureaucracies have authority? Are they willing to interact honestly with their constituents and supporters? Do they understand economics and the effects that legislation and public policy have on the economy?
I’ll support candidates with politically astute, empirical knowledge in various areas fundamentally important for wise governance over public policy.
Rhetoric Be Damned.
I am a classical liberal. I believe that good government comes from good policy and that good policy comes from experience and an understanding of how government’s laws, rules, and regulations affect the economy, the currency, and the liberty of the people. I believe in good government, which is a pragmatic idea. Like the Progressives of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, I believe in efficiency and efficacy. If laws, rules, regulations, or programs fail to do what they were designed to do, then they ought to be replaced. I believe in government that functions well.
Classical Liberalism, empiricism, pragmatism, or functionalism – these labels better describe what we are realistically after. Unless we believe that, as voters, we have the numbers, the wealth, and the power to override the most powerful special interest in the entire world (the United States Federal Government), then we need to be realistic and purposeful in who we choose to represent us. Once elected, all the rhetoric and idealism is meaningless. It’s the elected’s knowledge and experience and commitment to good government that will make a difference in ways which may likely benefit those they represent.