There is nothing more annoying and hypocritical to me when I hear mainstream conservatives claim to stand for limited government and free markets, as if they have a monopoly on such ideas and actually adhere to them. The simple fact of the matter is that conservatives have never stood and still do not stand for small government or free market capitalism, and the Republican party in general has a long history of violations of these principles going as far back as Lincoln. In the present, if anything, conservatism has gotten increasingly further and further away from these ideals, if not utterly contradicting and opposed to them. If anything, most conservatives seem to be blindly supportive and worshipful of the state and its economic interventions, as long as it is their group that is in power, of course. This atmosphere is so pervasive in modern politics that I am almost drawn to conclude that the average leftist, at least in the modern political atmosphere, actually believes in a smaller government then many rightists.
Government Spending and Welfare
In the modern political arena, where do most rightists stand? Let us analyze the picture solely in economic terms. For the fiscal year 2001, the federal government's budget was 1.2 trillion dollars, a significant sum of money. For the fiscal year 2007, under George W. Bush and a Republican congress, that budget has increased to 2.7 trillion dollars. That means that the budget has increased by around 250% in only six years, which means that the federal government has nearly tripled in size. Add to that an 8 trillion dollar debt and half a trillion dollar deficit. When presented with this basic fact, the typical conservative reaction is either to try to talk away such big spending with the excuse of our foreign policy issues, or they outright don't care. I've heard many conservatives simply take the view that deficits don't matter.
Granted, there are some conservatives who do have a problem with the government's overall spending, but they do little to nothing to oppose it and often get into the semantics of what the money is going to. Some conservatives argue that the big spending on foreign policy is necessary, but the social and domestic spending should be eliminated. But this merely presents them as hypocrites that refuse to apply the same principle to both foreign and domestic policy. The conservative simply has no valid excuse for such things. "The Iraq War" is not a valid excuse, and neither is "it's because of the democrat's social programs". If the government was too big under Clinton, it has comparably turned into a monster under Bush. There is no getting around this. To truly be consistent and principled one surely must call for a significant decrease in government spending across the board. Yet mainstream conservatives and the establishment would never allow even a 1/3 reduction in overall federal spending, let alone 2/3 or 9/10. They certainly would never accept a meaningful cut to the military/defense budget, let alone a decentralization and downsizing of the military.
And what of welfare? Aren't conservatives supposed to be opposed to welfare on the grounds of personal responsibility and the free market? This notion must be called out for being an illusion. To start, back to the split between foreign and domestic policy, many conservatives may be (at least in rhetoric) opposed to domestic welfare, but they strongly support foreign welfare. Foreign aid is welfare going to foreign nations. Just like domestic welfare, the stated goal is to bring people out of poverty, yet this goal never seems to approach actually being completed. The reality of this foreign aid is that it is a transfer from our treasury department to the governments of other countries. It must be noted that many of the governments of these countries are socialist, fascist or generally tyrannical. Some of them are run by dictators. This money has little to no accountability, and often ends up going into the coffers of foreign dictators and bureaucrats, as well as American corporate contractors. In short, it is corporate welfare and tax-payer support of tyrannical governments under the disguise of helping the needy people in those countries.
Many conservatives also support domestic welfare, both corporate and personal, perhaps without realizing it. Farm subsidies is personal and corporate welfare for farmers. Faith-based initiatives is government welfare that goes through religious organizations. No-bid military contracts is corporate welfare. Conservatives are no more opposed to welfare then liberals are - the only difference is the special interests that the welfare is going to. For conservatives, that usually means welfare for the south, agriculture, business and religious institutions. Billions of tax payer dollars goes directly to entire industries and corporations, such as pharmaceutical and oil companies. And, on the front of the old welfare for the poor that was started by the old left, these things have only been increased under Republican governance. While Democrats in congress ramble about the Republicans making "cuts", the reality is that there is no cutting going on at all. At best, the Republicans increase overall spending while slightly slowing the rate of future growth of select programs and policies. At best, they shift spending around while increasing the general budget.
Want to talk about social programs? Republicans supported, voted for and signed into law a Medicare prescription drug bill that set a social and fiscal liability over twice the size of social security. Of course, this functions as welfare for the pharmaceutical companies at the expense of the multitude. Education? Republicans have increased federal spending on and federal involvement in education (which the No Child Left Behind Act is part of), yet I remember not to long ago when the abolition of the federal department of education was actually on the GOP's platform. These days they push for various uniform standards in the schools based on personal, religious and ideological opinions; such as intelligence design and abstinence. Very few modern conservatives seem to have the understanding or bravery to question any of this.
Taxation, Monetary Policy and Trade
Taxes? While it is true that Republicans have had a policy of cutting taxes (1) they have not cut spending on par with that tax reduction, which inherently yields the deficit (2) in the grand scheme of things, they've barely cut taxes at all/enough, especially as it affects the average person (3) their huge spending increase inherently represents future taxation, which in turn means tax increases and (4) they use the federal reserve to print excess paper money out of thin air to function as an alternative to taxation, which in reality constitutes a form a special indirect taxation on the middle class and below, regressive wealth redistribution essentially. It must be realized that all government spending represents a tax, because the government's money inherently is acquired through taxation. In this sense, the big spending of conservatives in the government represents a future tax increase on you. It must be realized that a deficit is the result of government revenue being lower then the government's spending, and therefore a deficit is inherently the result of excessive spending. Furthermore, some conservatives support special "sin taxes" on various "politically incorrect" or risky things, such as alcohol or fatty foods. Republican politicians tend to pledge not to raise taxes, but they always do it in some form or another.
And then we get to the federal reserve and monetary policy, which is used as a means to finance and/or sustain that deficit and the debt through inflation. Of course, when we make it to this point, the reality of Republicans and taxes starts to become particularly dire. In short, the federal reserve functions as an alternative to taxation. Republicans raise your taxes through printing paper money. When the money supply (which is no longer backed by a gold standard) is increased, the value of the individual dollar naturally lowers. When the value of the dollar lowers, the market reacts to this by raising prices to make up for it. This increase in prices inherently raises the cost of living, which lowers the standard of living. In turn, this functions to erode the middle class.
This is nothing short of a hidden tax on the middle class and poor. It is at the heart of "the middle class squeeze", and it constitutes legalized counterfeiting. When the money is freshly printed, it is used on the government's wars and special interest programs (many of which go to the rich and corporations - and is also used to bail out private banks that would have gone bankrupt on the free market) before the affects of the inflation settles in. By the time the dollar gets down to the average person, it has already been diluted and therefore has less purchasing power. Ever since after WWII, the printing press has been on auto-charge essentially, varying in its rate from time to time. Not coincidentally, ever since after WWII, prices and therefore the cost of living has been perpetually increasing.
To make matters worse, the federal reserve and its credit expansion is at the heart of "the business cycle". Central banking and credit expansion always creates a speculative "boom". This "boom" is usually or always hailed as economic growth and prosperity. But as described above, it is detrimental to the economic growth and prosperity of the average person. In truth, the credit expansion "boom" only gives prosperity to whatever or whoever the government's excess spending is on, which is often special interests, corporations and the rich. It is simply impossible to create prosperity by printing and spending, it is only the illusion of prosperity. Inflation is not prosperity; a price increase for most of everyone is not prosperity. It can only distort the economy, destroy the standard of living and be misleading to investors and speculators.
The biggest problem of all, as the great Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises theorized long ago, is that the boom created by the credit expansion always turns into a "bust". In other words, a depression or recession. A boom cannot be sustained forever, and it inherently distorts the economy. The great depression was the result of huge credit expansion to fund WWI and the special interests of the day, during the "roaring twenties" (It is very important to note that the Federal Reserve was created in 1913). Eventually it could not be sustained, and the economy tanked. A recession or depression (recession is just the "light" word used for the same thing) is the painful but necessary process of the market clearing itself out of the distortions of the preceding boom. Thus, the best or ideal thing to do during the recession is stay out of the economy and let it heal itself, so to speak - and then not start a new boom ever again. Refrain.
Typically, the market is allowed to adjust for a while, and then the government starts a new boom again, pushing the illusion on the people that it is the boom that helps them prosper. This process has been played out over and over again, from the WWII "boom" to the Oil "bust" in the 70's to Reagan's "recession" in the late 80's to Clinton's "boom" in the 90's to the inevitable recession at the turn of the millennia to the modern war-time "boom" that we are in right now. And I predict that on the horizon is the inevitable recession, no matter how much they try to stall it in the present. Where do most conservatives stand on this matter? Mostly in support of inflationism. It was Nixon that officially abolished the gold standard and switched to pure fiat money in the 70's, and he also imposed wage and price controls.
Chicago School economist Milton Freidman spent his whole career making excuses for and outright endorsing inflationomics. There is a whole school and breed of conservatives that spend much of their time trying to blame the problems of the federal reserve system on other factors. But these people are either misinformed, corrupt or both. By the very least, the Gold standard needs to be reinstituted. The principled and bold thing to do, however, is abolish the federal reserve, liquidate its assets and then follow the constitutionally mandated law of coinage, which requires a gold and silver standard. This would function as a strict restraint on the ability of the government and private bankers to increase the money supply, and a strict restraint on government spending.
Free Trade? Yes, many conservatives ramble and lecture to you endlessly about free trade. However, many of them wouldn't know free trade if it was under their nose. The North American Free Trade Agreement and its later versions are anathema to what free trade really means and is. What they really support is selective protectionism. For example, we still have a total barrier to trade with Cuba. The rationale of this for many people is likely the cold war, but the cold war is over. There is no good reason not to trade freely with such countries. Ironically, at least in the case of Cuba, a leftist may actually be more likely to side with free trade than your typical rightist. I've heard many conservatives call for a boycott, which amounts to a barrier to trade, with Venezuela. Regardless of the threats of the Venezuelan president, the true free trade way would be to react with that with the message of neutrality and free trade, not to start a trade war.
The Bush administration has been more then happy to be protectionist about the exaggerated "Bird Flu" threat. There also seems to be many conservatives that are blatantly protectionist about China. There are paleo-conservatives that believe in completely sealing up the borders, ending all foreign immigration and throwing 100% barriers to trade up with particular disliked countries. The Republican Party has a long history of tariffs on steel, going back to the party's conception in the 19th century. And to this day, conservatives support steel tariffs, which functions to protect certain corporations from competition in the global economy. No, the conservative's globalization is not one of free trade and cooperation. It is one of special privilege to certain special interests, and dictating the markets of other countries.
Individual Liberty, Peace and Foreign Policy
And what of social and personal matters? And peace? If anything, conservatives have the worst track record in this regard. Domestically, conservatives tend to strongly support the drug war and police powers. Surely, a police state does not adhere to a principle of limited government. Conservatives have greatly expanded executive powers and diminished civil liberties with the Patriot Act. Conservatives support government spying on American citizens, which has been demonstrated based on Bay's Theorem to be virtually useless to find terrorists. Habeas Corpus is being slowly nullified. There are moves being made in congress to essentially censor the internet. And of course there is the FCC itself, which is used as government control and censorship of the media. The prison system is filled to the brim, partially with innocent, non-violent people who were "victims" of the drug war or a bad trial. I will guess that this group constitutes at least 1/3 of the prison population. If the media reports the truth for once about something questionable the government is doing, the modern conservative's reaction is to punish them for treason.
The creation of the Department of Homeland Security took all of the government's intelligence and defense agencies and departments and centralized them into one monstrous bureaucracy. Republicans in congress push for something as trivial and outrageous as a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning. There are huge data mining databases that soak up information about everyone. Video cameras on the street corners increases in populated areas. There are detention camps in which torture is being used that are being given immunity from both federal and global law. Prisoners of war are being given secret military trials outside of U.S. law. The country is in a guerilla war with a nation that did not aggress against us. The typical modern conservative supports most if not all of these things, with little to no concern for the individual's liberty in their person or property. They seem determined to expand or at least preserve police powers no matter what.
Many conservatives, the religious right in particular, spend their time focusing on stopping homosexual people from getting married, forcing creationism or mandatory prayer into the public schools, taking television shows they don't like off the air, stopping a person in a vegetable state from being "put to sleep" at the consent of their spouse and/or based on their will, and outright banning abortion. In the realm of "victimless crimes" (which shouldn't be called crimes at all, rather, voluntary human action that has unjustly been criminalized), conservatives are little to no help. Prostitution prohibition, Gambling prohibition, Suicide prohibition, "Assisted Suicide" prohibition, Pornography prohibition, State-wide smoking bans, "Click It Or Ticket" laws. Most conservatives range from passive to supportive of these things. Very few are against them. The only "victimless crime" that a majority of conservatives seem to be against is gun prohibition.
The modern conservative seems to be unquestioningly supportive of war and the military industrial complex, regardless of the big spending, taxing and printing that it inherently requires, and the general ethical concerns that any war should present a civilized human being with. Foreign intervention is their preferred tool, especially for Neoconservatives. It is my view that the neoconservatives use the religious right and social conservatives as dupes for support of their policies and laws. Some of these people have a Trotskyite or Straussian view of perpetual war. In short, the idea is that war is necessary for the health of the state, essentially as a means for expanding the state through empire. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". Leo Strauss theorized that the only way to unite a nation is to be against an enemy, and therefore it is necessary to always have an enemy, even if one has to falsely manufacture one. Such is the dangerous view that lies behind the foreign policy concocted by the Project For A New American Century and various figures within the Bush administration. Famous and powerful figures ranging from Irving Kristol to Donald Rumsfeld are former students of Leo Strauss himself, and take this kind of view on foreign policy.
This leads to huge nation building projects that drain the taxpayer, transfer wealth to the rich and special interests and cause other countries to hate us, which in turn fuels terrorism and economic hostility. It also leads to the mass-murder of civilians, the mass-destruction of private property, endless insurgencies and puppet governments. Economically, all wars seem to come with an increase in credit expansion, which of course only makes inflation worse. While the boom may be stalled, the bust is inevitable and you are only going to make the coming recession worse by prolonging the falsely manufactured boom. Many conservatives don't seem to see any problem with spending tax payer dollars to build schools in the middle east while tuition costs rise exponentially from inflation here at home. Indeed, tax payer dollars are sometimes used to fund foreign elections, and this has become a rather common practice for the Bush administration. If one dares to question or criticize Israeli policy, they are automatically branded as an anti-semite. If one dares to question or criticize middle east policy, they are automatically branded as unpatriotic and supporting "the enemy".
On a much grander scale, the government is trying to centrally plan the economy of an entire country (Iraq). The typical modern conservative will defend this practice and then criticize central planning of the economy domestically. It is a complete contradiction between foreign and domestic policy. If central planning of an economy fails and is socialism, then also means that centrally planning another country through nation building will be no different. So, in truth, many conservatives are socialists or leaning in that direction on foreign policy matters. War is equated to liberty and the state and its military industrial complex are worshiped as infallible defenders of freedom and "security". If liberals believe in a nanny state, conservatives believe in a daddy state. Military might and police power is equated to freedom.
Many conservative administrations have used the CIA and the military to assassinate foreign leaders, place in puppet dictators, meddle in foreign elections and build extensive military bases. There have been quite a few military occupations, both in official wars and special or even secret military operations, of foreign countries in a guerrilla war (Korea, Vietnam, etc.) for completely political reasons. There has also been many questionable allies of the past, which are often turned into enemies later on due to politics. In the early 1950's, the Eisenhower administration assassinated the democratically elected leader of Iran and placed the Sha in power. Reagan had his Geneva and Panama escapades, as well as the famous Iran-Contra deal.
During the Reagan years, Saddam Hussein was a U.S. "ally" that we funded through foreign aid and supplied weapons to; "we" even supported his invasion of Iran based on politics. Many conservatives brush such things off as insignificant, or even try to argue for them ethically, but it all adds up. The foreign interventions inherently come back to haunt us, and they were wrong in the first place. It should be no wonder why so many people around the world seem to hate America so much, especially in the middle east. Supporting the tyrannical actions of foreign dictators and oligarchies and then occupying those countries, overthrowing the tyrannical governments while tyrannizing the people through war and placing in new tyrannical governments. And then have the gall to imply that you are "freeing people" and "spreading peace and democracy around the world" through military conquest. Nation building, foreign intervention - these things do not work.
So, what is the modern conservative movement? It is a bunch of global crusaders, puritans, collectivists and socialists. They stand for rigorous social control of people's personal choices and actions, special privilege to certain groups at the expense of others, inflationism, big spending, perpetual war, a police state, protectionism, and stifling dissent. A welfare/warfare state. In short, big omnipotent, paternalist government. To the modern conservative, the state is an all-knowing father that protects you from "the enemy", protects you "from yourself" and keeps you "safe". The government is allowed and encouraged to expand in the name of enforcing "order", "tradition" and "morality". The only thing that they are willing to "conserve" or limit is your liberty. The only kind of "order" they stand for is the use of force to mold you into a particular mold. The only "tradition" they stand for is force; the bayonet. The only "morality" they stand for is coercion. They do not stand for free markets, they stand for a government-business alliance and welfare state under the disguise of free market rhetoric.
In the first half of the 20th century, it could be said that the Republican Party contained elements within it that were libertarian-leaning or even anarchist. It wasn't ever the mainstream, but it certainly was an existing and populated sub-group. The general ideology of the party leaned closer to it then it does now. There was a clear anti-war subsection of the GOP during that period, which started with WWI and peaked during the Korean War. Such elements had something of an understanding and true principle of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and free trade. These terms have been hijacked and perverted by people who violate them religiously. That old libertarian-leaning, individualist strand of the GOP either faded into obscurity or went on to become libertarians long ago. It was replaced with ex-socialists, war-mongers, traditionalists and fusionists that twisted the original ideas into their diametric opposites. Eventually, somehow, these people became the mainstream of Republican politics.
There was a major ideological change within the GOP in the 50's and 60's, lead by a new breed of "fusionists" such as Bill Buckley. If the "conservative spectrum" could be divided into three parts, it would have a libertarian, fusionist/centrist and authoritarian strand. The early ideological change was the fusionists, during the cold war. The fusionists accepted some of the socialist welfare state ideas and started a trend of hawkish foreign policy; they also accepted a warfare state, and that was their emphasis. In the 60's and 70's, these ideas eventually evolved more into the authoritarian strand of conservatism, neo-conservatism and totalitarianism at its farthest reaches. Neo-conservatism functioned to provide authoritarian policies to conservatives while disguising them in the quasi-libertarian rhetoric of the "old right". In the 60's and 70's, the religious right was brewing, but not quite into a position of power federally. It officially became powerful in the Reagan era and has increased in power considerably since then. The Reagan and Bush I Era succeeded in adopting the Neoconservative ideas, but the Bush II Era is clearly currently taking it further then they did. The modern conservative era is essentially the epitome of an authoritarian welfare/warfare state, with a right-wing flavor. It is a nationalistic, moralist and reactionary kind of socialism, but socialism all the same.