I’m writing this because I know so many traditional conservatives who are in shock over what the Bush administration has been doing. I think these conservatives, because our government has moved so far to the right that basic conservative values now seem progressive, are our natural allies and not the enemies of progressives. We need to stop using the term “conservative” to describe the activities of this administration and find some new term for them. Fascist doesn’t quite describe it — just yet, Neoconservative implies some kind of relationship to genuine American style conservatism, and there is none. Real conservatives try to conserve the best aspects of public institutions and customs — and the environment, and prefer a limited amount of government interference. This surely does not describe the current gang in office.
I think, rather than concentrate on all the problems the Bush administration has raised for the conservative members of his party, I’ll use just one as an example; setting up the idea of the free market system as the new sacred ideal and allowing it to run rampant, as though everything can be turned over to it, including most government functions, and nothing should touch it or interfere with what any greedy psycho in power wants to do. I’ve worked for corporations, and my experience has been that on the whole they care terribly about what both their employees and their customers want, and their safety and welfare. For one thing, nothing hurts the bottom line faster than a public disaster like, say, poisoning people with contaminated food or killing one’s workers. It’s this concept of a sacred free market system that’s sabotaging any sense of public, shared values.
In a secular commonwealth, the common goal has to be the common good. The goal of a democratic government has to be to provide the protections and services that individuals can’t possibly provide for themselves. Genuine conservatism understands this and the real conservative value of a secular limited government is to provide these things without going to extremes or interfering in people’s lives. Some activities have to be collective and under governmental control. That is not socialism. Obvious examples: the military, police, fire departments. Public works. The huge improvements in public health and longevity we’ve enjoyed didn’t come from medicine as much as from the large collective public projects such as safe water supplies and sanitation constructed in the last century. Public health departments on the alert for epidemics. Highways, bridges and tunnels. People can’t provide these things for themselves.
One obvious example of an obvious failure to hold to these conservative values — the failure of the levees in New Orleans, in spite of warnings that they would fail in a severe enough hurricane. Ignore the need to protect the common good, as the present administration does, and the only possible result is, sooner or later, a series of disasters and chaos. Individuals can’t possibly monitor and protect themselves from things like the failure of levees, epidemics, unsafe working conditions. There have to be limits and laws. Otherwise, there’s nothing but barbarism.