July 21, 2005


A Competent Conservative (DAVID BROOKS, 7/21/05, NY Times)

[J]ohn G. Roberts is the face of today's governing conservatism.

Conservatives who came of age in the 1960's did so in an intensely ideological time when it was arduous to be on the right. People from that generation are more likely to have a dissident mentality, to want to storm the ramparts of the liberal establishment, to wade in to vanquish their foes in the war of ideas.

But John Roberts didn't enter Harvard until the fall of 1973. He missed all that sturm und drang, so he lacks, his former colleagues say, the outsider/dissident mentality. By the time he came of age, it was easier for a conservative to be comfortable in mainstream institutions, without feeling embattled or spoiling for a fight.

Roberts has chosen to live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, not the Virginia ones, where the political climate is 30 degrees to the right. He submitted his wedding notice to the wedding page of The New York Times, which is perceived as alien turf by ideological conservatives.

Roberts is a conservative practitioner, not a conservative theoretician. He is skilled in the technical aspects of the law, knowledgeable about business complexities (that's why he was hired to take on Microsoft) and rich in practical knowledge. He is principled and shares the conservative preference for judicial restraint, but doesn't think at the level of generality of, say, a Scalia. This is the sort of person who rises when a movement is mature and running things.

Depending on how you want to count, we're 25, 11 or 5 years into a permanent Republican majority and demographics mean that the dominance is going to increase. Sooner or later even the Right is going to have to accept that it's winning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 21, 2005 12:02 PM

Let's actually see a few important conservative victories when it comes to policy. Any of eliminating the income,corporate and estate taxes, getting rid of food stamps, ending affirmative action, ending gun control, ending bilingual education, closing the NEA an the NEH, stopping agriculture subsidies, leaving the UN might be a good start.

Right now we are in a period of GOP dominance which means that its contributors and apparat get to leech off the taxpayer first.

Posted by: bart at July 21, 2005 12:42 PM

Connect this post to the earlier "Loss after Loss" post. We are in a period of transition. The Dems, and their allied social institutions, still believe and behave as if they were the governing party. The Reps, and their associations, do not exhibit the confidence of a governing coalition. It takes time for the reality to sink in and behavior to change accordingly. One interesting point is that the voting public has already made the shift, and their expectations have changed as well. To bart's point, if the Reps do not act with decision as the enduring governing group, and instead continue to exploit leverage for short term gain in the view that "It can't last, so make the most of it.", the change will be short lived.

Posted by: Luciferous at July 21, 2005 4:38 PM

What Arthur Clarke said about established scientists applies to established politicians as well. He said that the big changes come only when the old ones with their obsolete ideas retire or die, and the new cohort (who don't have the old anchor-chains) come in.

IOW, we are seeing a steam-kettle with the lid on tight and the burner on high. Nothing seems to be happening yet. But it will!
Who are the old cadre that will be leaving in the near future? Do Teddy Kennedy & Robert Byrd ring a bell? How about McCain, Snow, Specter?

Posted by: ray at July 21, 2005 7:41 PM


Why getting rid of food stamps ?

Yes, it is in effect a subsidy for agribusiness, but neither food stamps nor the school lunch programme have that as their PRIMARY purpose.

Besides, what's more conservative than food vouchers for the needy ?

Let them decide who best serves their interests.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 22, 2005 5:29 AM


'...neither food stamps nor the school lunch programme have that as their PRIMARY purpose.'

Sez you.

Normally, I would agree about the idea of vouchers, except that it's my money. Just as I believe we should have mandatory Norplant for people on welfare, because they shouldn't be allowed to produce babies they cannot support but shouldn't be prevented from the joy of sex, I am interested in finding the most efficient means possible to provide poor people with nutritious food.

Food stamps and school lunch programmes don't do that. As I discussed in an earlier post, I'd rather see us using private-public partnerships to hand out baskets of generic foods to people than giving them a voucher and letting them loose in a supermarket or bodega with insane markups. Let them get a can of Shop-Rite green beans which sell for 3/$1 rather than a can of Green Giant which costs $.79 a can. I do that and the money doesn't make a difference in my life. I just abhor the waste.

If you ever visited the website of a local school where the school lunch menu is posted, you would not make the absurd assertion it is about anything other than a subsidy for agribusiness. They serve junk food, not food. It's my money so they eat what I tell em to eat. It would be easier and more nutritious(and that is what we are after isn't it?)to give kids MREs like the military uses or even something modelled along the lines of the airplane food available to business class or first class. If the kids want junk food instead, it's like my parents used to tell me when I was a little kid and they made a dinner I didn't like. 'You have two choices. You can eat the meal we give you, or you can choose not to eat.'

Posted by: bart at July 22, 2005 10:11 AM

No, it isn't. It's our money.

Posted by: oj at July 22, 2005 11:19 AM

I'm afraid Bart is always going to think we are losing if his list is serious. Other than the death tax, none of those things are going to happen.

Posted by: Bob at July 22, 2005 1:29 PM


In your case, it's your wife's money.


There is a significant constituency in the Congress for ending the personal and corporate income tax. The vast majority of Americans oppose 'affirmative action' and 'bi-lingualism'. Most Americans would close the NEA and NEH. Seventy-four members of the House voted to pull out of the UN last year, it's a start. Agricultural subsidies are unpopular with consumers, they don't like paying 3-4 times the world price for sugar and they don't like milk that goes bad in a week, when foreign milk doesn't. Food stamps are offensive to most of us who actually shop and see people buying overpriced items like TV dinners and frozen pizza with them.

Taking tough stances requires leadership. Unfortunately, the GOP lacks this, instead perhaps, as others here are saying, seeing their time in power as temporary. But what is the point of being in power if you cannot actually change policies which your voters know to be wrong-headed? What is the point of voting for people who renege on their promises?

Posted by: bart at July 22, 2005 3:00 PM

End income taxes. Ok, and for revenue the government will do what? Yes, I know VAT or national sales tax. At 25% or more? Yes, increase the cost of everything by a quarter. That will work politically.

74 votes against the UN. OK, only about 300 more to go for a veto proof majority in both houses.

I doubt that the good conservatives in the midwest would agree that agriculture subsidies are bad. (What do agriculture subsidies have to do with quality of milk by the way?)

Food stamps. I can see the commercials now about evil, heartless GOPers. I don't see the conservative outpouring to stop poor kids from eating, perhaps the conservatives you know.

Posted by: Bob at July 22, 2005 4:48 PM


Actually, a 15% sales tax gets us where we are now.

The UN will be a slog, but if we were to run commercials every day highlighting UN actions against America and its mere thievery, I have little doubt we could create a groundswell.

Very few Midwesterners are farmers. The rest are consumers.

Give people food rather than food stamps. The health lobby will back it too.

Posted by: bart at July 22, 2005 8:34 PM

A 15% sales tax WILL NOT "get us where we are now".

27% is more like it, certainly 23%+.

The school lunch programme IS NOT intended to enrich agribusiness, it was started after WW II to beef up high school boys for the infantry.

It DOES serve the interests of the beef and dairy lobbies, but only indirectly.

I agree that giving food stamp recipients a basket of healthy foods would be better - but there's no chance of that happening.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 23, 2005 3:48 AM

The genius of the two party republic is that what bart suggests will never happen (neither Dems nor Repubs could garner the majority). Change comes gradually and you must be satisfied with Bush standing firm on terrorism or appointing good justices.

If you had a system that could do what bart wants, you wouldn't be arguing whether to end food stamps, you would be listening passively to men argue seriously on state run T.V. that all religious groups should be government regulated. ----> This is Canada.

Be glad for what you've got.

Posted by: Randall Voth at July 23, 2005 4:15 AM


You're just babbling. What has weakening the power of government to poke around our bank accounts to do with state-controlled communications?


Our budget is at about $2 trillion, our GDP is over $12 trillion. You do the math, and don't forget to factor in the obvious diseconomies of the current system including the cost of enforcing the tax code and the cost of compliance with the tax code( alone estimated at $750 per taxpayer, plus lost opportunity costs).

'...beef up high school boys for the infantry..'

Please, Michael, don't go all OJ on me, trading theory for reality.

Take a look at the menu of your local school lunch program. Pizza, Chicken Nuggets, Burgers, Hot Dogs, Potato Chips. It's not about feeding people, but about buying crap from agribusiness. Also, the quality of the inputs into the school lunches are notoriously poor, we give our kids lower quality food than we give prisoners. If we were interested in giving kids nutritious lunches, and there is every reason we should be, we could easily do it. MREs etc would more than cover it. But there would be a lot of people from the Lunchlady Dorises of the world to the nabobs of agribusiness who would be out of work. Not that I give a rat's derriere about them.

Go to a French high school and you'll see people getting nutritious school lunches. They even use kids from the culinary vocational program to do the preparations. It can be done.

About getting rid of food stamps. I think once you demonstrate that it can be done more cheaply and better through private-public partnerships handing out baskets of food, you can create interest. Certainly, the AMA would be behind it.

Posted by: bart at July 23, 2005 4:58 AM

Look around you, bart. If I'm just babbling then the rest of the world does not exist. Of course, I know that you know what I mean, you just like avoiding the point.

Strong governments that can push conservative agendas onto an unwilling public do not remain content with getting rid of school lunch programs. (Thus the reference to our CBC -- maybe too subtle for you?)

I agree with you on the school lunch issue you're pushing. I just don't believe that a good system of democracy will ever foment a benign coalition capable of undoing the welfare state. That is why libertarians will never form a government and must be content with carrying water for social conservatives.

Posted by: Randall Voth at July 23, 2005 6:39 AM


I think you are missing my point. By taking away the power of government to poke around people's bank accounts, to yelp that businesses aren't hiring enough one-legged Aleutians, to grab people's only realistic means of self-protection, to create artificial linguistic and ethnic ghettos whose existence politicians can exploit to their advantage, to waste our money on debating societies for cannibals and criminals from the Third World or to sponsor chosen artists and entertainers, I am weakening government. This is not about 'strong governments that can push conservative agendas' this is about weakening government so eventually it can't push any agenda.

The school lunch-food stamp issue is a different one. Our society believes that it is a good thing to give kids at least one decent meal a day and to help poor people have access to good nutrition. Once that threshhold has been crossed, the important thing is to deliver the goods as efficiently as possible. The changes I propose are designed to do simply that.

Nutrition is a matter of science, not politics. We know that French fries are bad for you but that green beans are good for you for example. Thus, in a school lunch we should be giving people green beans and not French fries. That is not Big Government, that issue was already decided when we chose to give them lunch in the first place. All I'm saying is if we are going to undertake something we should at least do it right.

Posted by: bart at July 23, 2005 7:24 AM

Sure, but how do you get the middle voters to vote for you while watching ads slandering "evil Republicans" stealing lunches from children or letting "corporate pirates" take away your pensions?

Do you have a plan to win the next election better than Rove?

Posted by: Randall Voth at July 23, 2005 8:26 AM

Big government is always what someone else wants to do, not what you want to do.

Posted by: oj at July 23, 2005 8:36 AM

Scary how Canadian Christians can't see the writing on the wall. The gay marriage act was a dagger to the heart of religion and I could soon be thrown in prison for saying it.

That is the alternative to the Republican (Bush flavor) form of "big government". Do not wish it upon yourselves.

Posted by: Randall Voth at July 23, 2005 9:35 AM


You know the old saying: you can bring a child to green beans, but you can't make him eat. What if the choice is between providing children french fries which they will eat, or green beans which they won't?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 23, 2005 3:17 PM


I already told you what my parents told me. They have a choice of eating or not eating. Anything else is letting the inmates run the asylum.

What self-respecting Nanny Stater is going to be encouraging kids to eat junk food? They're the same folks who complain about 'Fast Food Nation' or about smoke in public places, or a million other personal liberties. The Nanny Staters, given their druthers, would have us all eating unseasoned kelp boiled in distilled water. If they see little kids not eating their green beans, they'll grab sets of pliers and force feed the little snotnoses themselves.

Posted by: bart at July 23, 2005 4:59 PM