Why Conservatives Can't Govern

I have long held the belief that conservatives are especially ill-suited for the important work of government. Which makes it all the more comical to watch as they trip over themselves, scrambling to take charge of government programs they want to eliminate, spending their hard-earned corporate profits to win the White House, Congress or the NC state legislature.

This month's American Prospect has an excellent article on the subject that is well worth your time and attention. Though it focuses on the decline of competence at the federal level, there are valuable insights for those of us working on state and local government. I've pulled out a few choice paragraphs to give you a flavor for the piece . . . with some commentary to follow.

The collapse of the Bush presidency is not just due to Bush's incompetence (although his administration has been incompetent beyond belief). Nor is it a response to the president's principled lack of intellectual curiosity and pitbull refusal to admit mistakes (although those character flaws are certainly real enough). And the orgy of bribery and special-interest dispensation in Congress is not the result of Tom DeLay's ruthlessness, as impressive a bully as he was. This conservative presidency and Congress imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.

Contemporary conservatism is first and foremost about shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. This mission, let us be clear, is an ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world problems, such as managing increasing deficits or finding revenue to pay for entitlements built into the structure of federal legislation. It stems, rather, from the libertarian conviction, repeated endlessly by George W. Bush, that the money government collects in order to carry out its business properly belongs to the people themselves. One thought, and one thought only, guided Bush and his Republican allies since they assumed power in the wake of Bush vs. Gore: taxes must be cut, and the more they are cut--especially in ways benefiting the rich--the better.

This is, of course, the central mantra of our own coven of conservatives here in North Carolina. With the John Locke Foundation infecting every aspect of governance with its free-market mania, they are a band that plays a single, sour note no matter what the occasion. From their Freedom Budget to their continuing calls for "tax relief," these people care not a whit about solving problems or promoting progress. Their only mission is gaining power so they can crush the government they aspire to control.

But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions--indeed, whose very existence--they believe to be illegitimate. Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.

Make no mistake. This is the fate that awaits North Carolina if Art Pope succeeds in buying the state legislature. With no interest in public health, public education or public service, PopeCo aspires to replicating the Bush/Rove model of irresponsible governance right here in our own backyard.


Just in case you think I'm the only person

who worries about the Puppetmaster, consider this much more restrained piece by Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch.

As the session winds down the anti-government forces are mounting one last offensive to distort the budgets passed by the House and Senate and reinforce the simplistic anti-tax message that this year seems further from reality than ever before.

The group, part of Pope, Inc. and misleadingly named Americans for Prosperity, is running radio ads and conducting a grassroots campaign to convince lawmakers to vote against a final budget agreement because it spends too much and doesn’t cut taxes enough. The groups written appeal attacks “special interests with their hand out” and complains about the legislature’s “summer spending binge.”

Most of the money in the House and Senate budgets is spent on education and human services, like mental health and child care. Apparently single mothers who want to work are special interests. So too must be students at universities and community colleges and kindergarten teachers, who finally may get a decent raise.

The radio ad distorts provisions passed last year to end special treatment in the tax code as “even raising taxes on candy.” North Carolina is part of a multi-state tax agreement to streamline the sales tax on all products, which means goods like candy would no longer be taxed at a lower rate than other products, like paper plates.

That tax change was made last year and has nothing to do with this budget. But specifics aren’t the point of the ad. The theme is clear in the tired old charge repeated in the commercial, that “the liberal politicians keep spending money on their pet projects.”

Pretty odd definition of liberal, since the majority of House Republicans voted for the House budget that also cuts taxes while making investments in the state’s future.

It is also not clear what a pet project is, since the budgets have been widely praised as being free of the pork barrel spending that weighed down budgets in recent years. Maybe providing services for people who are developmentally disabled is their definition of a pet project.

Most interestingly, the groups proposed letter to lawmakers mentions that the legislative fiscal staff projects a billion dollar budget shortfall if the proposed budget passes. That’s half right. There will be a billion dollar budget problem next session, but only if lawmakers cut taxes this year and follow through on their promises to cut them again next session.

There are not many specifics proposed in the campaign against the budget, only a link to a report by another branch of Pope, Inc. that recommends lawmakers cut Smart Start, housing for the mentally ill and health care for children. There’s a progressive blueprint for the future. Tax cuts for the wealthy, less health care for kids, less housing for people with mental illness.

Poor Puppetmaster. Spendin' all that hard-earned corporate cash and no one gives a hoot what he has to say.