Blogs > Liberty and Power > Wretched Republican Rhetoric

Aug 8, 2005 1:06 pm

Wretched Republican Rhetoric

Can someone explain to me how conservatives can look themselves in the mirror after they say things like this?

What was determinative is that the two political parties view the American people very differently. The Republican Party has become the party of individualism, believing that free enterprise, market economies, and individual choices give people the best chance of a good life; that if ordinary Americans are left alone to make their own decisions, they will generally be good decisions, so they--not the government--should have the power to make them.

That's Pete Du Pont in today's Wall Street Journal.  It's beautiful rhetoric, but too bad it has little to do with the reality of most Republicans today.

Aside from the obvious fact that government has grown enormously in the last four years, and that very few Republicans have actually supported clear moves in the direction of more free enterprise, I'd sure like to know when the Republicans have let me alone to decide what substances I can ingest, whether to continue a pregnancy, who I can marry, whether or not my tax dollars should subsidize God's presence in the public schools, what sorts of things I can watch/listen to on broadcast TV or radio, not to mention that whole "war is the health of the state" thing.

In a point I've made before, the wall that conservatives attempt to build between the market and the culture is completely a product of their imagination.  If you really believe in free enterprise and individual choice, then you have to recognize that the growth of wealth and evolution of the marketplace is bound to produce cultural change in their wake.  In the example I know best and seems most obvious, the changes in the American family, from the increase in female labor force participation rates to the increased visibility of gays and lesbians, to the current debate over same-sex marriage, to the higher divorce rate, are all to some large degree a consequence of the dynamic change that a market economy generates.  (I'll be happy to spell out those arguments in detail if anyone wishes.)  To imagine that one can unleash the unpredictable forces of economic change yet turn back the cultural clock is utopian in the worst sense of the term. 

For this reason alone, we should all doubt claims by social conservatives to be champions of the marketplace.  They simply cannot have it both ways:  either you really do believe in free enterprise and thus recognize and accept its unpredicatable feedback on the culture, or you really believe in "traditional values," which entails that you attempt, probably in vain, to intervene in the market to squeeze the toothpaste back in the tube.  I think this is just another way to cut Virginia Postrel's "dynamist vs. stasist" framework.

Of course this argument is also a challenge to those on the left to recognize the "capitalist underpinnings" of cultural change.  So much of the cultural change that the left applauds has been made possible by the growth in wealth that can be, in my view, attributed to the forces of free enterprise.  Capitalism is, on this argument, a highly progressive force, while attempts to squelch it are ultimately reactionary.  One good piece to read on this, for my friends on the left, is John D'Emilio's "Capitalism and Gay Identity."  In that essay, he gets at why capitalism has made gay identity possible, yet spends the last two pages with the obligatory "of course, this doesn't mean 'we' should support capitalism" and he then goes on to the usual laundry list of bogus problems with capitalism.  (Here's another nice blog piece that includes some discussion of D'Emilio's argument.)

What's nice about Postrel's "dynamism" is that it gives us a language to start to build conversation and coalitions across the usual ideological boundaries that could help those who claim to support markets see why they of necessity produce (desirable) cultural change and help those who like the changes see why this a crucial good thing that markets do and that other economic systems can or do not.

In the meantime, someone hit Pete Du Pont over the head with the ever-expanding Federal Register and the FCC fine list.

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Sheldon Richman - 11/29/2004


Re Du Pont and his ilk: It's called "compartmentalization." They said Clinton could do it too.