Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The mindset to which the fact of freedom is utterly alien

In the course of a New Republic observation on Bret Stephens's NYT column on "climate change" and the subsequent uproar, Brian Beutler lets a very telling cat out of the bag.

The first several paragraphs are predicated on the typical Leftist assumption that the global climate is indeed in a dire predicament, fleshed out here with a asteroid-speeding-toward-earth analogy that ignores all the East Anglia and NASA data-fudging that mars the certainty Beutler would like to impart to his position.

But he actually does conservatism a great service - one that it would behoove the likes of Paul "we'll -give-people-more-choices-and-lower-cost" Ryan to recognize. Quite simply, many conservative elected officials lack the balls to argue for conservative policy on the grounds of fundamental principle.

U.S. conservatives face a similar predicament across a wide range of issues, including climate change, but few of them are prepared to do the dull, repetitive, and frequently unconvincing work of explaining why their opposition to an active federal government should trump other urgent concerns. It would be unpersuasive to argue, “Stopping runaway climate change requires federal interventions that I object to on the following abstract ideological grounds” over and over again; applying the same principles to other pressing questions—like whether we should reduce the rate of uninsurance, or provide poor children adequate nutrition—yields similarly unsatisfying opinions. 
The remedy most conservatives have adopted, consciously or otherwise, is to devise more genial justifications for their conclusions and use those to backfill their arguments. New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait called this “a tic of American conservative-movement thought — the conclusion (small government) is fixed, and the reasoning is tailored to justify the outcome. Nearly all conservatives argue this way...”
In Stephens’s case, the tic manifests in his depiction of policies designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions as “abrupt and expensive,” and his intimation that supporters of such policies may harbor unspoken “ideological intentions.” The truth is very nearly the opposite. The debate over how aggressively to limit greenhouse gas emissions is driven, to coin a phrase, by how “abrupt and expensive” it might be if the response comes up short. The unspoken ideological intention, on the other hand, is harbored by conservatives, whose aversion to taxes and regulation outstrips their interest in insuring against worst-case climate change scenarios, and motivates them either to play down the risks of climate change or deny that human activity is changing the climate in the first place. 
It is this same tic that aligned the entire Republican Party behind the claim that a conservative health care bill would cover more people and at a lower cost than Obamacare, rather than admit the truth, as conservative writer Phil Klein admirably did when he encouraged Republicans to say, “We don’t believe that it is the job of the federal government to guarantee that everybody has health insurance.” The tic, in other words, is a fallacious mode of reasoning that commits many conservatives to sloppy thinking or outright dishonesty.
Now, of course, Beutler is up to something different in his discussion of this tic than, say, LITD is up to when it upbraids righties for dodging the real reason for championing certain policies and rejecting others. Beutler is inviting the reader to buy into the assumption that these fundamental principles are actually fundamentally wacky, not to mention mean-spirited. And he's no doubt getting a lot of takers, given the venue in which his piece appears.

But let's take the big three that he intends to disparage in the above excerpt.

We all know damn good and well that by "we," he means government when talking about providing poor children with adequate nutrition.

Listen up, Beutler. There is nothing wrong with responding to that with a series of questions:

  • Where are those kids' parents, and why aren't they feeding them?
  • What particular circumstances are causing poverty in each of the individual households in question?
  • How many of these households are chronically poor, and how many are just going through momentary hard times?
  • Are there not non-governmental sources available for addressing this?
  • On what grounds can the taking of Citizen A's money be justified to address the particular situation of Citizen B?
Hell, yes, we have an aversion to taxes and regulation. They are encroachments on human freedom. Government ought to have to puke all over itself to justify taking one cent from any citizen. Ditto creating laws that tell people and organizations what they can and can't do, which is, by definition, what a regulation is.

And that's exactly right that we don't believe it's the job of the federal government to guarantee that everybody has health insurance. The only things government ought to be guaranteeing are our personal safety from domestic criminals and foreign enemies, a fair trial in the eventuality that we're ever accused of a crime, enforcement of contracts, and maybe well-maintained roads.

(I realize that I am here opening myself up to the quibbling of ankle-biters who will want to know why I haven't included national parks, public libraries, air-traffic safety and prohibitions against child labor. To such I say, go somewhere else to get mired in distractions. You know what the main point is.)

But a kind of backhanded gratitude is owed Beutler for exposing to the light the lameness of a whole lot of our right-of-center public figures who perpetuate the notion that the public is too far gone to digest solid core principles with their appeals to the cattle-mentality desire to know that there is a Mommy-Daddy figure out there earnestly working to see that it's going to be alright.

This realm is never going to be alright, and the only Mommy-Daddy figure worthing consideration beckons us to set our sights on another realm entirely.

Now, that's a core principle for you. And the greater the number of people who understand it, the fewer there will be who buy into Beutler's collectivist snake oil.


  1. I saw where 35% of the Wabash City School students were on the subsidized lunch program. Why? The town was stripped of its factories beginning in the late 70s, early 80s. Of course your ilk blames government for even that.

  2. Sure do. If the tax and regulatory climate had been favorable, they might have stayed. In any event, it's still not the government's job to feed kids.

  3. Not corporations job to hire parents either or to help keep America great either, huh. It all led to our current despot who enough voters believed would make America great again.

  4. Let's review our Milton Friedman. A corporation has one responsibility: to show a return to its owners.