Today, Antle and Continetti discuss what freedoms conservatives should value. Previously, they debated the president's fiscal policy and determined whether foreign interventionism has any place in conservative ideology. Thursday and Friday, they'll discuss the religious right and social engineering through tax policy.
Rediscovering our libertarian sideBy W. James Antle III
Conservatives are often accused of a major contradiction: We are said to be interested in maximizing individual freedom in the economic sphere but contemptuous of freedom when people want to live contrary to traditional values in the social sphere. In short, we stand accused of opposing big government in the boardroom while championing it in the bedroom.
Occasionally, this is unfair. Some champions of legal abortion, for example, are all too happy to talk about choice until it comes to the taxpayers' choice not to subsidize abortion. Then their reluctance to impose their values on others quickly goes out the window. Ditto for some proponents of gay rights who don't just want to be free of restrictions on personal behavior, like oppressive anti-sodomy laws, but are actually willing to drive the Catholic Church out of the adoption business because of the church's opposition to placing children with same-sex couples.
"Freedom for me and not for thee" is a very common refrain in politics. But the right is indeed often guilty of some serious inconsistencies when it comes to individual liberty. Let's leave aside for a moment conservatives' increasing tolerance for high levels of federal spending, provided that the spender has an "R" next to his name. Conservatives no less than liberals often trample on the principles of federalism or seek to serve as lifestyle police.
Frank Meyer, former National Review senior editor, explained the conservative balance between liberty and virtue this way: "Truth withers when freedom dies, however righteous the authority that kills it; and free individualism uninformed by moral value rots at its core and soon brings about conditions that pave the way for surrender to tyranny." The pendulum has swung too far away from conservatism's libertarian tendencies.
Conservative politicians have become doctrinaire about the federal war on drugs, supporting a massive expenditure of tax dollars and high rates of imprisonment. Without minimizing the destructive consequences of drug abuse, many conservative intellectuals -- including the recently departed William F. Buckley Jr. -- have argued that our federal drug laws often do more harm than good. Few of us encourage the Republican elected officials we support to do much to liberalize them.
Even greater flexibility for states in regulating medical marijuana use would be a positive step. Alas, we are trending in the opposite direction. When Californians sought a measure of freedom in this realm, the current administration was quick to assert its jurisdiction. We understand the virtues of federalism in other areas. Maybe the laboratories of democracy could cook up a better drug policy.
We may also be too cavalier about the balance between civil liberties and national security. Let's be clear: The federal government needs the tools to prevent terrorist attacks. But we shouldn't automatically dismiss all concerns about warrantless searches and surveillance on the grounds that this means giving rights to terrorists. We should jealously safeguard the rights of Americans. It is not an easy balance to reach, but it is essential that we try.
I know you have your differences with Grover Norquist. But sometimes, even when the issue isn't economics, we should listen to the American people when they say, "Leave us alone."
W. James Antle III is associate editor of the American Spectator.
Our government isn't the enemyBy Matthew Continetti
Here are a couple of thoughts on "false choices" before we move on to today's topic. One "false choice," you write, is the distinction between "perfection" and "progress toward policy goals." You say that if President Bush "had made progress toward restraining the growth of the federal government," then you wouldn't criticize him "for not doing perfectly." I agree. That is why it is reasonable for conservatives to criticize Bush for not restraining the growth of the federal government. He hasn't.
That wasn't my argument, however. My argument was that, when you look at the entire universe of domestic public policymaking, the Bush administration has been, on balance, more conservative than not. This administration has great faults, which I readily concede. But one should not deny, dismiss or ignore its successes.
You further misconstrue my argument when you write that I "contend" that Medicare Part D "isn't as bad as its conservative critics allege" because it is "under budget" and seniors are "happy." Yes, those are two reasons I gave for why the program isn't the disaster some had made it out to be. But I also gave two additional conservative reasons: expanded health savings accounts and the introduction of price competition into Medicare. Surely those are both conservative victories. Newt Gingrich, for one, supported Medicare Part D mainly because it included the health savings accounts, and no one doubts his conservative bona fides.
On foreign policy, I am curious as to which U.S. commitments are "unsustainable" and which are not. The United States has sustained its commitments in Europe and east Asia for more than half a century rather well. Those sustained commitments, I argue, are the pillars of an international order that has benefited not only U.S. citizens but also people throughout the world. Europe can afford its postmodern society because the U.S. has paid for its defense. The benefit to America is that it does not need to worry about tyranny returning to the continent that launched the most destructive wars in human history.
Meanwhile, U.S. commitments in east Asia have given rise to a regional stability that has allowed Japan to rebuild peacefully; capitalist democracy in South Korea and Taiwan to flourish; and China and the countries of southeast Asia to prosper. If U.S. policymakers decided our east Asian commitments were "unsustainable" and left, China would move to fill the void, Japan would rearm and conflict would ensue. This has happened before.
The region where some conservatives might say America's commitments are "unsustainable" is the Middle East. But here, too, American power is a net force for good. The United States has ensured the steady flow of oil from the region for decades, guaranteeing the stability of a major pillar of the global economy. The U.S. also guaranteed that neither Saddam Hussein nor his sons would possess weapons of mass destruction. America is currently denying Al Qaeda in Iraq a safe haven from which it could plan attacks on civilians throughout the world. America has done much to prevent another regional war from breaking out between Israel and surrounding Arab states. And, while the struggle for liberty is just beginning, Bush has also established that democratic freedoms apply to the Middle East.
Certainly it is possible to oppose the invasion of Iraq and still assent to the postwar, U.S.-led international order. And it is true that every policy (or lack of a policy) has intended and unintended consequences. My fear is that if America were to withdraw precipitously from Iraq, the potential disastrous consequences would cause America to turn away from the world even further. And the powers that would attempt to profit -- Iran, China and Russia -- do not want the type of world in which I would like to live. No free man -- no conservative, no liberal -- wants to live in a world in which illiberalism is on the march.
And now, today's topic. We largely agree that the political "pendulum has swung too far away from conservatism's libertarian tendencies." Federalism and individual freedom are some of the American ideals that folks on the right seek to conserve. The nanny state fosters dependency and stifles individualism and entrepreneurship.
Still, I am interested in your choice of examples. You write that "conservative politicians" have become "largely doctrinaire" about the war on drugs, supporting a "massive expenditure of tax dollars and high rates of imprisonment." I'm a little unclear as to what the problem is, however. Is it that the federal government is spending too much money? That 1% of 300 million people in the U.S. are incarcerated because a jury of their peers found them guilty of a crime? Neither criticism has much to do with the federal government's battle against illegal drug use per se. When conservatives say they support individual freedom, they are not usually saying that they support individual indulgence in dangerous, addictive chemical substances tied to global crime. At least I'm not.
Yes, there is still illegal drug use in the United States, and there is still crime. But these phenomena do not exist in a vacuum. How high would levels of drug use and crime be if we had not adopted the tough policies conservatives had long advocated? Indeed, since those policies were adopted in the early 1990s, crime and teenage drug use have declined precipitously. European nations have a history of drug liberalization. But now they too are restricting access to drugs and increasing penalties for their illegal use. That is because European elites reluctantly have become aware that cultures of permissiveness give rise to crime and social deterioration.
On national security, it is true that "we shouldn't automatically dismiss all concerns about warrantless searches and surveillance on the grounds that this means giving rights to terrorists." In a democratic republic, informed and civil debate is a necessity. But when it comes to the Bush administration and civil liberties, we do not have an informed and civil debate. We have a debate in which the White House is routinely accused of war crimes and feeding the Constitution into a paper shredder. And such claims are just as routinely based on shoddy evidence and a widespread conviction that the U.S. government operates in bad faith.
Which is wrong. Americans have many enemies in the world. The U.S. government isn't one of them.
Matthew Continetti is associate editor at the Weekly Standard and author of "The K Street Gang: The Rise and Fall of the Republican Machine."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times