A neoconservative welfare state?

Nearly "every problem with the Republican Party today could be cured by a neocon revival", says David Brooks. Brooks isn’t talking about the hawkish approach to foriegn policy that urged US military involvement in the middle east, he’s talking about the domestic policy ideas of people like Irving Kristol.

According to Kristol, neoconservatism’s mission is: "to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy."

In a 1976 essay titled ‘The Republican Future’, Kristol argued that Republican conservatives lacked any coherent set of ideals or a strategy for achieving them. So instead of setting out an alternative vision for the country, Republicans spent most of their time criticising Democrats. In office, they were obsessed with budget balancing. "Republican leaders tend to think like businessmen rather than like statesmen," he said , "and therefore bumble their way through their terms in office."

Because they tended to think like accountants instead of political leaders, Republicans saw their job as rescuing the nation from bankruptcy. As a result they ended up administering a policy and program framework constructed by Democrats. As Kristol explained:

Democrats are more interested in the shape of the budget than its size. Republicans are more interested in ists size than its shape. One result of this situation is that Democrats care far less about fiscal integrity and fiscal responsibility than they ought; and this is their weakness, for which they are intermitently chided by the electorate. The other result is that Republicans care more about balancing the books than about what is being balanced. And this is a far more serious weakness. Indeed, it is a fatal flaw. For it means that the Republican party spends practically all of its time and energy trying to bring a Democratic budget into balance.

Kristol argued that Republicans had never managed to come to terms with the welfare state:

The idea of a welfare state is in itself perfectly consistent with a conservative political philosophy–as Bismarck knew, a few hundred years ago. In our urbanized, industrialized, highly mobile society, people need governmental action of some kind if they are to cope with many of their problems: old age, illness, unemployment, etc. They need such assistance; they demand it; they will get it. The only interesting political question is: How will they get it?

This is not a question the Republican party has faced up to, because it still feels, deep down, that a welfare state is inconsistent with such traditional American virtues as self-reliance and individual liberty. Those virtues are real enough, and are a proper conservative concern. But the task is to create the kind of welfare state which is consistent, to the largest possible degree, with such virtues.

As David Brooks writes, neocons want policies that encourage self-discipline. The neoconservative approach is to construct government policies and programs that reinforce virtues like self-reliance, the work ethic, respect for the law, and sobriety.

For those hoping to defend and expand the current welfare state, this is an important thing to keep in mind. Welfare reform isn’t just about cutting back on welfare spending. It can also be about reconstructing the institutions of the welfare state along more conservative lines.

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7 Responses to A neoconservative welfare state?

  1. conrad says:

    “In office, they were obsessed with budget balancing.”

    Obviously neither the author nor the Republicans need to worry about reality in action here. Either that or it’s obsessed with things you don’t do.

    “The neoconservative approach is to construct government policies and programs that reinforce virtues like self-reliance, the work ethic, respect for the law, and sobriety.”

    The Greens would probably tell you their policies do that also. The only party I can’t think of that thinks their policies don’t do at least some of these is the French Socialists.

  2. conrad says:

    oops. That should be can think of that thinks..

  3. Crocodile Chuck says:

    David Brooks? Does the blogger even know what a hack he is quoting?

    The pre eminent water carrier for the 1%.

    New pundits, please.

  4. Alphonse says:

    “One result of this situation is that Democrats care far less about fiscal integrity and fiscal responsibility than they ought; and this is their weakness, for which they are intermitently chided by the electorate.”

    Where Kristol (hence Brooks) got it egregiously wrong (amongst some quotes that were surprisingly sensical).

    The GOP is a tax cutting but still spending outfit that hasn’t shown actual (as opposed to professed) concern for fiscal responsibility since Nixon. Australia’s conservatives are similar blowhards, increasingly.

    • Michael says:

      This is the “starve the beast” strategy. Republicans have worked hard on over-spending on wars and cutting revenue in order to create a crisis they can solve with a radical austerity program.

      If you believe and preach that guv’ment is always the problem then you don’t need to manage government spending competently – that would disprove your contention that it is the root of all problems.

  5. Sancho says:

    Protecting the aristocracy from democratic interference is the conservative movement’s raison d’etre, and the neocons are just as obedient as any of its other incarnations, so Brooks is simply on a flight of fancy.

    He’s also playing the popular right-wing game of attributing everything successful in history to conservatism. So if Americans are overwhelmingly voting in favour of an expanded welfare state, then the welfare state must be reinvented as a long-standing conservative ideal.

    Just watch: at the 2020 US elections, the Republicans will be proudly standing for the Heritage Institute’s Affordable Care Act.

  6. Sancho says:

    Very related: vindictive right-wing blogger at crusading Republican website gets cancer, doesn’t have insurance, and relies on public donations to fund healthcare. Defenders bring hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance to new level.

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