This week is a career milestone for me. I appear in Time magazine writing about the state of the conservative movement. As a kid living overseas, my American history teacher subscribed us all to Time and U.S. News and World Report. So it is kind of cool to be in an issue of, between the two, the still printed survivor.The point I try to make is that the conservative movement is going through a necessary transition after the Bush years. You can read the whole thing here but a really relevant part is here:
The internecine fights we are witnessing are about a conservative movement starting to separate itself again from Republican Party. Unfortunately, neither of the front runners have legitimate conservative integrity to claim the banner of conservative movement leader, but they will both try. Romney will hold the banner for conservatives within the GOP and Gingrich will hold the banner of the traditional alliance of conservatives with the GOP.
I see this playing out in, of all things, my friend Ann Coulter’s column defending Romneycare. Mark Levin offers the definitive rebuttal, which you can listen to here, but there is a point that too few are making that needs to be made.It relates to the dangers associated with supporting Mitt Romney and Ann Coulter’s column is exhibit A on why supporting Romney portends disaster for the conservative movement.
There is no need to fisk Ann’s column line by line. I’ll only quote the first paragraph, which is
If only the Democrats had decided to socialize the food industry or housing, Romneycare would probably still be viewed as a massive triumph for conservative free-market principles — as it was at the time.
I love Ann. She is brilliant. In fact, she is too brilliant to think that Romneycare is a “massive triumph for conservative free-market principles.” It is free market economics 101 that a free market requires that individuals have the right to opt-out of a transaction. In other words, zero must be contemplated in the equation. Consider it a null function. When individuals are, through state power, forced to opt-in to a transaction as individuals are forced to buy health care as a condition of breathing in Massachusetts, it is inherently not free market because a free market depends on the freedom to not purchase. Forcing demand is more akin to the keynesian economics Obama is pushing, not Milton Friedman or Adam Smith.But it also is not conservative.As Mark Levin notes in his monologue, when the state — whether it is a nation or one of the fifty states — can force an individual to engage in commerce it upends the relationship between the individual and the state. The conservative view of government is that the individual is supreme. The socialist view is that the state is supreme for the betterment of the collective.In other words, in Ann Coulter’s first paragraph she calls Romneycare both free-market and conservative, when any intellectually honest review of the facts would have no choice but to conclude it is neither. She confuses federalism and conservatism. Certainly, in our federal system, a state has plenary power to do as it wishes except for those powers it chose, in adopting our federal constitution, to cede to the federal government. But just because something is federalist does not make it conservative.To use an analogy based on hyperbole as Ann does in her column, under the constitutions of one of the fifty states that state could constitutionally require all people buy a copy of the Communist Manifesto. It would be arguably permissible under the concept of vertical federalism, but it sure would not be conservative. Delete “Communist Manifesto” and insert “health insurance” and you have Romneycare.During the Bush years, conservatives all too often sided with the Republican Party rather than their own principles. As I note in this week’s Time:
By the time George W. Bush arrived in Washington, the conservative movement had fully moved within the Republican Party. Conservative Democrats had walked across the aisle making bipartisan outreach unnecessary. By the the mid-point of George Bush’s Presidency, people were talking non-ironically about “big government conservatives,” which prior to Bill Clinton’s term would have been merely Republicans who put party ahead of principle.As George Bush left office, conservatives who had seen his father put David Souter on the Supreme Court were championing Harriet Miers, fighting each other over immigration policy, supporting TARP, were okay with saving General Motors, and turning a polite blind eye to Bush’s claim that he had to kill the free market to save it.
Leaders and strong voices within the conservative movement have an obligation to speak up in favor of, so to speak, true north within conservative principles and then leave it to the politicians to decide how far away from true north they must drift to build a coalition to enact policy.Debasing ourselves with silly defenses of Republicans along with a willingness to put party politics ahead of principle will, yet again, see voters rejecting conservatives. Groups like the American Conservative Union, the Heritage Foundation, etc. have all made mistakes and have usually had to repent. But in making those mistakes, they have opened up both conservatives and the Republican Party to temptation and temerity that ultimately caused collapse at the polls or ceding issues in debates. Look at the Heritage Foundation and healthcare mandates. Look at the Republican politicians who expand the federal government’s budget while hiding behind their ACU rating as proof that they are conservative.The conservative movement has been sick for the past decade. The further it became absorbed within the Republican Party, the less it could shine with conservative ideas. It compromised with itself because it had become part of the Republican Party and was as much about the acquisition of political power as it was about advocating particular policy.I am afraid supporting Mitt Romney will undo a lot of the repairs made to the conservative movement in the past few years. Already people are defending inherently not conservative ideas by calling them conservative. Already people are too willing to keep their mouth shut to do no harm to the party and, in the process, are doing harm to the intellectual capital built up within the conservative movement.Ann Coulter’s defense of Romneycare, released on the same day Romney rejected years of conservative arguments against the social safety net and the welfare state, is a canary in the coal mine. We are returning to that point where the voters decided they could no longer trust conservatives to be principled.