Still Conservative

If you’ve followed anything I’ve written on this site, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve read something that says that I believe that I have conservative roots. And that I even consider myself, still conservative.

Some might find that a bit puzzling. Some have even gone so far as to ask me, what exactly about my views is conservative?

It’s a fair question, I think. Because there’s nothing particularly conservative in how troubled I am about the growing income gap between upper and working class America. Or the long standing culture of race and gender inequality either. There’s nothing at all conservative about my views on immigration and the logical path to a legal status for the 12 million undocumented people we have living in America that solves most of the issue. There’s absolutely nothing conservative in how fondly I feel about the millions of Muslim people that have been fighting the war on terrorism with us. Or the fact that I’d rather the government stay out women’s reproductive health issues or marriage.

Call me soft I guess. But I need a reason to advocate for things that hurt people. A material one. Not a magical one that involves a slippery slope that’s never that slippery and not much of a slope. Feeling the way I do about many of those political hot-buttons summarily disqualifies me from calling myself a card carrying member of the Republican party. Perhaps, in the eyes of some, that makes me a liberal.

What if I told you, they’re wrong?

What if I told you that I believed something that sounds quite a bit like what Tyler Cowen wrote in The Great Stagnation?  What if I told you I believed that the American productivity gains over the last twenty years were the worst types of productivity gains imaginable. And that I believed that growing government, education and healthcare were not good ideas. What if I told you that the idea of counting government expenses as part of our GDP the way we do other revenue generating activities despite there being no clear way to value the impact on those expenses was nonsense.

Is $200,000 spent on three teacher’s salary’s worth the same as a single police officer cashing out unused sick days when he retires because the union negotiated a deal that enables them to accrue? Most would say no. But it’s counted the same. Because no one is buying that good. So there’s no price. And since it’s fair to say that the very most important things were paid for first, than it’s logical to say that the more you spend on government, the less effective your spending becomes. So we should grow it at our own risk. And take hard looks at how we’re using it now.

What if I told you that when we remove equivalency tests from the data, we graduate a lesser rate of high school students today than we did 40 years ago. And at a less proficient level relative to other nations. And that the wages we pay our teachers have stagnated about as bad as any profession in America over the same time. And during that time the cost of education in America has grown enormously. So we’re spending more on education for worse outcomes. And we’re doing it in a way that appears to be other than investing in the labor force. And that as a result, I believe we need education reform in a way that does not include spending more money. Maybe even spending less.

And what if I told you that nearly one out of every five dollars spent in America was on health care. And that the number was growing out of control-before and after Obamacare. And that most of the increase is going to the elderly. And that we’re not living any healthier or longer. And relative to other countries we’re not having better results at large. What if I told you our present path will bankrupt our country in service to ensuring that we have slightly more comfortable end of life care and greater access to addictive pain medicine.

How about now? Still liberal?

Does it change your opinion of my views if I tell you I believe that government, healthcare and education need reform to yield better outcomes? And that I believe that one of the primary goals of that reform should be different or less investment instead of more or the same? Because our current path at the federal, state and municipal level is a generation out from only being able to fund pension and healthcare needs. And almost nothing else. And that the most important near term problem that our government has to solve is reform in those areas to the ends I just stated.

Now what if I told you that, because of that, I was extremely excited to vote Republican in the 2016 Presidential election?

Still liberal?

Well, I didn’t vote for the Republican candidate for president. So maybe.

Or maybe not.

Here’s the deal. Reform that reduces spending in healthcare, education and government is a really tough thing to sell. It’s impossible to sell to liberally minded people. And it’s damn hard to sell to the honest middle. It’s so hard that it usually doesn’t happen until it’s too late. Ask a half dozen European countries how that went for them over the last ten years as they defaulted on their debt or got bailed out by the European Central Bank. Ask the Governator how easy it was to reign in spending in California. If we’re going to do it, we need the right leadership delivering the right message.

That message sounds like this:

The American people are going to have to make some hard decisions in the near future. They’re going to have to take a hard look at how we spend our resources and either spend less of them, or spend them differently. And that’s going to mean at a minimum, some disruptive change. And at a likely maxium, some sacrifice. And it will be painful. And there will be people who’s near term outcomes are worse. But it is an absolute necessity in order to ensure the better, more sustainable outcomes for those that come after us.

Go slap that on a bumper sticker or a yard sign. You can’t. Because it’s not a shallow sell job. Which is the only club we’ve got in the bag right now.

The leadership that delivers that message has to be drawing on a deep reservoir of trust and credibility in the eyes of the American people that they understand how painful it is to sacrifice. That sometime in the distant past they’ve been in the shoes of someone who had given up something for another. Someone who can make you believe that those sacrifices that are being made will one day pay off. And that it’s not about us. It’s about countless others whose collective fates are in our hands.

There may not be a man standing on this planet described less by that than Donald J. Trump.

And that’s why he’ll never have my vote.

And that’s why, I’m a conservative.






10 replies »

  1. I follow your blog because you declared yourself a conservative (which I don’t consider myself) yet I am deeply committed to understanding points of view different from my own. Interestingly, I find your writing and points of view understandable, moving and often in complete alignment with my ‘liberal’ view. Maybe these labels just aren’t useful anymore.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Sean, I think you pose your position by asking the wrong question: how can we reduce the cost of healthcare, education, etc. I think the right question (and the right approach) is: how can we create the best, most competitive healthcare, education systems possible? What do they look like? Start from ground zero. Then price out the results. I KNOW the price will be lower, but to say that up front you want to cut costs, you immediately put the negotiating parties into opposition.

    Assuming you are dealing with relatively bright, common sensical people of good will, you will probably end up with some pretty good systems.

    I’m a liberal Democrat. Have been all my life. I agree with 90% of what you posed above.

    When you planned a military mission, did you ask how you could get the costs down; or rather what did you need to succeed at your mission?

    The opening question, and people of good will are the critical pieces of solving a problem, I think.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I think the best approach is to think of these two questions together. To wit: how can we create the best systems possible (part 1) given our limited resources (part 2)? This implicitly suggests that we because we are constrained by limited resources, we cannot create perfect system(s), and therefore, we need to approach the solution knowing that sacrifices need to be made. But we cannot find a solution until we understand our resources are limited. I agree that the best approach is likely starting from ground zero.


  3. Affordable health care is PREVENTATIVE. Alongside our advanced medical knowledge, it deploys and practices wellness, ‘alternative’ medicine (gosh how I HATE that term) and holistic protocols like homeopathy, acupuncture, kinesiology, nutrition, physical therapy, exercise, etc. It addresses serious public health issues like the continued precedence of prescribing the opiates unleashing a scourge on communities across the US and the raging gun violence epidemic. Competitively priced health care does not live in service to insurance companies’ profits. It lives in service to healthy lives of its consumers. The distribution model probably looks something like the current Medicare system. How do we get there? Not by caring about how we label ourselves or others, but by electing leaders and working together to begin the difficult conversations and start on the road to bring these solutions to fruition. Long, long way to go. Right now it looks like it gets way worse before it gets any better. Party or political orientation labels are utterly useless in mustering up the collective will necessary to solve both US healthcare and education crises.


  4. Well, I consider myself liberally minded, and I don’t think the middle is really that different–it’s the language that is different. It’s not impossible to sell this idea to liberally minded people, because I agree with it. But, like patlowenstam above, I would use different words. Not exclusively, just additionally. I think the language we use has become shorthand for other people to label us, so I think it’s critical to use language that avoids partisan shibboleths.

    I found your blog because you are a smart, careful conservative. And I don’t agree with everything you write, but I always respect your perspective because it is nuanced instead of knee-jerk.

    I wish more of our discourse was like this, because I want to read things by smart, careful people I don’t always agree with. That’s how my own ideas get better.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sean, I was going to leave a comment, but looking through the comments above I see all the points I intended to make! I’ll leave it at this: three or four hundred years ago, it seems to me that the idea of “liberalism” got started when certain people started thinking that maybe letting the aristocracy beat their serfs senseless, with impunity, as of feudal right (and not to mention such things as droit de seigneur), was maybe not such a good idea. You know, like maybe those serfs were people too?

    Which is maybe how America got started? Anyway, you make good points — wonder what Teddy Roosevelt would make of the present situation?

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  6. It’s fascinating to me that none of the positions you take in the third paragraph are intrinsically liberal. They only have that label because the table-tennis-playing parties have happened to declare them liberal because of their own strategic goals.

    Liked by 1 person