The No-Government Lobby

Need more evidence that today’s conservatives have drifted from a relativistic “let’s rein in government excess” to an absolutist “let’s gut government” posture? Check out this quote from right-wing war horse Michael Medved from a Daily Beast column:

As Washington staggers into a new year, one side of the political spectrum polarizes and paralyzes all ongoing debates due to its irrational reliance on a higher power.

The problem isn’t religious conservatives and their abiding faith in God; it’s mainstream liberals and their blind confidence in government.

Consider the current dispute over the right response to gun violence. At its core, this argument comes down to a visceral disagreement between relying on self-defense or on government protection. Gun-rights enthusiasts insist that the best security for law-abiding citizens comes from placing formidable firearms into their hands; gun-control advocates believe we can protect the public far more effectively by taking guns away from as many Americans as possible. In other words, conservatives want to address the threat of gun violence by giving individuals more power while liberals seek to improve the situation by concentrating more power in the hands of the government. The right preaches self-reliance while the left places its trust in the higher power of government.

Penetrate, if you can, the standard cant this passage utilizes and think about what the man is actually saying: it’s idolatrous of progressives to insist that government perform one of its bottom-line, core responsibilities: maintaining as strict a monopoly as possible on the use of deadly force. Why do we have government to begin with? To protect law-abiding citizens from those who would deploy violence to threaten life and property, right? Maybe not, if your position is that “self-reliance” requires individuals to serve as their own police force.

Misguided as they may be, those who are arguing in the wake of the Newtown massacre that we should place armed cops in public schools at least understand that civilized societies try very hard to protect citizens via public institutions, not by legitimizing vigilantes or leaving everyone to their own peace-keeping. If that’s “concentrating more power in the hands of government,” then it’s hard to imagine what kind of government Medved wants. And it’s particularly ironic since Medved is so famously enthusiastic for the uninhibited use of government violence overseas.

Medved gets around this contradiction with a familiar maneuver:

The same dynamic characterizes most of today’s foreign-policy and defense debates. Right-wingers passionately proclaim the ideal of “peace through strength,” arguing that a powerful, self-confident America with dominant military resources remains the only guarantee of national security. Progressives, on the other hand, dream of multilateral consensus, comprehensive treaties, disarmament, grand peace deals, and vastly enhanced authority for the United Nations. Once again, liberals place a touching and naive faith in the ideal of a higher power—potential world government—while conservatives insist that the United States, like any nation, must ultimately rely only on itself.

Suddenly, the scary government liberals worship by suggesting it should regulate guns becomes an individual when it comes to national defense. The Pentagon, it seems, is Uncle Sam, exhibiting “self-reliance” against the foolishness of treaties or alliances or other harbingers of “potential world government.”

As is often the case with fanatics, it’s unclear whether Medved actually buys his own rhetoric, or thinks his readers and listeners are very dim children. But in arguing that gun control is inherently totalitarian while glorying in military adventures, he’s hardly alone.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.