Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Coming Conservative Schism?

I’ve written a lot about the hypocrisy coming from the right on a number of issues, particularly federalism and “judicial activism.” There are signs that these issues are beginning to split conservatives as well, roughly along the line dividing those who actually believe the things they’ve been saying and those who have just used such issues to gain political power only to ignore them once they get that power. The St. Petersburg Times has a fascinating article about it pointing to lots of other examples as well:

The trend is becoming a source of squeamishness among many conservative intellectuals, who warn that Republicans’ frequent disregard for the limiting principle of federalism won’t come without a price.

Last week, House Republicans pushed an energy bill that would limit the ability of coastal states to challenge offshore oil and natural gas projects. And states couldn’t require more energy-efficient ceiling fans.

An immigration proposal, called Real ID, would strictly dictate how states could issue drivers’ licenses, and to whom. And the recent Terri Schiavo case set a new level of congressional involvement in an issue that historically has been handled by the states.

“There is a level of hypocrisy here that is breathtaking,” said Norman Ornstein, an expert in Congress at the American Enterprise Institute, who echoed the sentiments of scholars at other conservative think-tanks in Washington. “You’ve got conservatives who have just absolutely wrapped themselves in the cloak of the 10th Amendment who miss no opportunity to talk about how government closer to the people is better, and how the federal government should be curbed. Then they go to these incredible lengths because they don’t like the decisions that states are making.”

This highlights the distinction I have made between the intellectual right and the pedestrian right, and it’s heartening to see some of the intellectual conservatives speaking out. It began with Judge Birch and his scathing rebuke of Congress for their actions in the Terri Schiavo case. Now others are speaking out as well:

“Now you’re seeing Republicans embrace that idea” of federal intervention, said Stephen Moore, president of the Free Enterprise Fund, a conservative lobbying group in Washington.

The trend is most apparent on two fronts: undercutting the regulatory authority of states, particularly on environmental matters; and advancing a conservative social agenda, such as with the Schiavo case and the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Matthew Spalding, director of the Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation, the nation’s largest conservative think-tank, suggests looking at the problem from a different angle: Name a recent case where Republicans in Congress chose not to act because they felt constrained by the Constitution. “It’s extremely difficult to point to an example of that,” Spalding said.

They list numerous examples in addition to the ones previously mentioned: the recent bill that moved class action lawsuits from state courts to federal court; federal action to overturn Oregon’s assisted suicide law and California’s medical marijuana law; and an administrative rule change that determined that state consumer protection laws no longer apply to federally-regulated banks. It’s time for people to wake up and see the distinction between rhetoric and action. When they talk about wanting “smaller government” or less federal intervention in state affairs, they simply don’t mean it, any more than the Democratic party means it when they talk about being the party of the “common man”.

Comments

  1. #1 SharonB
    April 19, 2005

    A schism in conservtism-dom? One can only wish this would be true before they do too much damage.

  2. #2 raj
    April 19, 2005

    Coming Conservative Schism?

    Don’t bet on it. Cathy Young of the pseudo-libertarian Reason Magazine (they purport to be libertarian, but really aren’t) had a column published in the Boston Globe in the last few weeks, in which she commented about the “tension” (such as it is) between social conservatives and self-described libertarians (they’re not really libertarians, in my book, but that’s another issue). The long and short of it–this from her column–is that there’s a bit of tension there, but her conclusion was that self-describd libertarians would stick with the social conservatives. They–most of the self-described libertarians don’t have anything to lose by doing so.

    Um, OK.

    Having observed self-described “libertarians,” it’s fairly clear that their primary issue is gun control. And social conservatives appear to be sympathetic to their view on that issue. So, it’s a perfect match.

  3. #3 spyder
    April 19, 2005

    On this anniversary of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, and the ongoing court proceedings for E. R. Rudolph, i find it hard to believe that these discussions of federalism, judicial activism, etc are really making any difference in the minds a vast number of “true believers.” The bombers in Oklahoma were and still are supported by a number of good folks who feel put out by government in general, except when it acts specifically to their own desires and beliefs. Rudolph was aided and abetted by citizens all over the South, who helped him hide for years from Federal authorities. The Rovian minions know full well that they have these people on their side, no matter what they do to them. That is the cripplingly tragic part of the whole story.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    April 19, 2005

    raj wrote:

    Having observed self-described “libertarians,” it’s fairly clear that their primary issue is gun control. And social conservatives appear to be sympathetic to their view on that issue. So, it’s a perfect match.

    Or perhaps you’re using far too small a sample of “self-described libertarians” and projecting that on to all such people. One can easily counter that with the four self-described libertarians in this immediate blog neighborhood – Timothy Sandefur, Jon Rowe, Jason Kuznicki and myself. All small “l” libertarians, self-described. And while we probably all support the second amendment and think that one has a right to own guns, you’d be hard pressed to find many posts on the subject from any of us. On the other hand, you will find innumerable posts from all of us on sexual freedom, religious freedom, intellectual freedom, libertarian judicial theory, and so forth. You will also find us all being highly critical of social conservatism in all its various forms, even while disagreeing on issues like foreign policy.

    I should also note that this post really wasn’t about a split between libertarian conservatives and social conservatives, but between consistently federalist conservatives and ones who merely mouth federalist platitudes for political gain. Personally, I’m not that strong on federalism, particularly when it comes to questions of individual rights. I don’t believe it makes any difference whether our liberty is taken away by a state or a federal government; unalienable means it is unjust to infringe upon them, not that it is only unjust to infringe upon them at a certain level. That’s why I reject the Lew Rockwell/Thomas Woods school of “libertarian” thought (scare quotes because I don’t think they’re libertarian at all) that holds that rights reside with states rather than with individuals and that federal prevention of state tyranny is itself tyrannical. But on policy questions that aren’t directly rights-related, I’d generally rather have the states in charge than the federal government.

  5. #5 Troy Britain
    April 19, 2005

    One can easily counter that with the four self-described libertarians in this immediate blog neighborhood – Timothy Sandefur, Jon Rowe, Jason Kuznicki and myself. All small “l” libertarians, self-described.

    Count some of your readers as falling into that category as well.

  6. #6 raj
    April 20, 2005

    Or perhaps you’re using far too small a sample of “self-described libertarians” and projecting that on to all such people. One can easily counter that with the four self-described libertarians in this immediate blog neighborhood – Timothy Sandefur, Jon Rowe, Jason Kuznicki and myself. All small “l” libertarians, self-described.

    Could be. I’ve been posting on a variety internet message boards for almost ten years, though. It has became clear to me that there were more than a few people who wanted to call themselves “libertarians” (small “l”), so that the label is virtually meaningless. About like the label “christian.” Nobody owns the trademark. Nobody owns the trademark “christian” and nobody owns the trademark “libertarian.” So nobody knows what the label means. And more than a bit what some self-described “libertarians” tout is kind of silly.

    Item. On one board, a self-described libertarian suggested that cities and towns should not own and pay for the upkeep of roads. Technology allows abutters to charge drivers for the privilege of driving on the roads. Um, OK, whatever. Sounds kind of silly to me.

    Item. Five or six years ago, Independent Gay Forum had a message board. Justin Raimondo–of “anti-war.com” fame–posted a draft of an article that he had written for American Enterprise Institute (of all things) opposing equal marriage rights for gay people for comment. He claimed to be a libertarian (small “l”) I did a little investigation of his other articles, and it was obvious to me that he wasn’t what I would consider a libertarian at all. He claimed to be a “Murray Rothbard Natural Law” libertarian. Give me a frigging break. Libertarian? The discussion was kind of interesting, although it became clear that Raimondo’s objection to equal marriage rights for gay people had nothing to do with libertarianism. It became clear that his objection to equal marriage rights was that he got something of a thrill from the fact gay sex was something of a demimonde. (No, I’m not joking.) Hey, whatever. A self-described “Murray Rothbard Natural Law” libertarian. NB: “Natural Law” and “libertarian” is an oxymoron.

    Item. The Libertarian Party (I know, big “L”) in MA runs Carla Howell as a candidate in virtually every major election. She has run for election to the US Senate against Kennedy and she ran for governor in the last election. She has started out with ads talking about “small government is beautiful” and ended up sounding like “Annie get your gun.”

    I could go on, but I’ll refrain. Actually, no I won’t A few years ago, we received a fund-raising letter from–I believe it was–Harry Browne. I forget the name, but he was a Libertarian candidate for president a few years ago. He is currently–or at the time was–a representative to the federal House from Texas. The fund-raising letter was for–get this–Jesse Helms. A supposed libertarian supporting Jesse Helms? Sorry. That’s a joke.

    You do a wonderful job here, Ed, as do most of the people that you link to. But “libertarian”–the word–is pretty much meaningless.

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