Tired Conservatives

TIRED CONSERVATIVES….Matt Yglesias is upset with the Economist’s increasing right wing hackery. In particular, he’s annoyed with their insistence that liberals don’t have any new ideas. Here’s an example that’s not actually from the Economist itself, but is written by two Economist editors and matches the tone of what the magazine itself often says:

Indeed, the left has reached the same level of fury that the right reached in the 1960s ? but with none of the intellectual inventiveness. On everything from Social Security to foreign policy to economic policy, it is reduced merely to opposing conservative ideas.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind stuff like this so much if the writers would acknowledge that this lack of innovation is actually far more true of conservatives than liberals today. I mean, what’s the conservative agenda these days? Lower taxes, gay baiting, gun rights, school vouchers, business friendly tort reform, kicking ass overseas, opposition to entitlement programs, hatred of collective bargaining, etc. etc. etc. In other words, the exact same stuff they’ve been pushing at least since Ronald Reagan took office, and in some cases since the day the party was born. There’s nothing very new there.

It’s a little remarked fact of modern American life that beneath all the sound and fury our political battles are mostly being fought at the margins, mainly because liberals have built up institutions over the past 70 years that are enormously popular and therefore basically invulnerable to serious alteration. Conservatives might be able to change this if they truly had any new ideas to offer, but they don’t ? and their old ideas aren’t any more popular than they’ve ever been. Because of this, conservatives these days have been mostly reduced to little more than nibbling away at liberal programs. Big new ideas or significant changes to liberal institutions are pretty scarce.

Now, I’m guessing that many of my readers don’t believe this, so let’s roll the tape. What has the Bush administration accomplished in the past four years?

There was No Child Left Behind, a bill that was cosponsored by a legendary liberal in the Senate and has increased federal education spending by $10 billion. Bush’s stem cell decision was a weasely compromise, and even at that is likely to be expanded by Congress soon. Sarbanes-Oxley was opposed by the Republican business base but Bush was forced to sign it anyway. Campaign finance reform has likewise been opposed for years by conservatives, but Bush signed that too. The Department of Homeland Security was originally proposed by a Democrat and later co-opted under pressure by Bush ? though he did manage to get a bit of union busting thrown in. The prescription drug bill was an expansion of a traditionally liberal entitlement program.

How about the conservative side of things? The PATRIOT Act is a bad bill, but let’s face it: compared to previous American responses to acts of war, it’s a marshmallow. The recent bankruptcy and tort reform bills were bad, but in the great scheme of things qualify as little more than nibbling. Social Security privatization is dead in the water. The war in Iraq, after a mere two years, is already going sour. That pretty much leaves tax cuts and judges as the only unqualified conservative triumphs of the Bush administration, and those have been part of Republican orthodoxy for a quarter of a century.

That’s a lot of nibbling and not much in the way of innovative new thinking. It would be nice if the Economist ? and the rest of the media ? could take a few minutes away from their lazy liberal stereotyping to acknowledge this.

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