‘Death of con­ser­vatism’? Dream on

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Strangely, chat­ter about the “death of con­ser­vatism” is cir­cu­lat­ing this fall. I say “strangely” be­cause we are in the midst of the great­est left/lib­eral mo­ment in liv­ing mem­ory. Lib­eral poli­cies are ca­reen­ing out of Wash­ing­ton and mow­ing down in­no­cent by­standers. This is the great­est op­por­tu­nity since the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion to il­lus­trate to vot­ers why con­ser­vatism is to be pre­ferred. So it’s down­right weird that at this mo­ment, we are be­ing asked to pon­der how far we have fallen from the glory days of William F. Buck­ley and Milton Fried­man. “How aw­ful for you,” say those who never sym­pa­thized with con­ser­vatism, “that you have been re­duced to Rush Lim­baugh and Sean Han­nity.”

This is rub­bish. Con­ser­va­tives have al­ways had pop­ulists as well as in­tel­lec­tu­als. In the 1970s there was Buck­ley, yes, but also Howard Jarvis and Richard Viguerie. We had fewer ra­dio voices be­cause the Fair­ness Doc­trine lim­ited free speech. Now we have a cho­rus where once we had only a few soloists. Be­sides, why don’t those cry­ing croc­o­dile tears for con­ser­vatism’s sup­posed de­cline fret that lib­er­al­ism is rep­re­sented by the likes of Keith Ol­ber­mann and Rachel Mad­dow? I’ll see your Rush Lim­baugh and raise you an Al Franken and a Michael Moore.

Far from suf­fer­ing a de­cline, con­ser­vatism is on the cusp of a ma­jor come­back, cour­tesy of Obama, Pelosi, and Reid. That re­vival will be fer­til­ized by their fail­ures. The crop is al­ready beginning to come in:

Cash for Clunkers: The goal of the pro­gram was to re­duce car­bon emis­sions and boost the ail­ing auto in­dus­try. As even “Satur­day Night Live” ac­knowl­edges, the pro­gram suc­ceeded in stim­u­lat­ing the econ­omy — of Ja­pan. The Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion es­ti­mates that 59 per­cent of ve­hi­cles bought with clunker bonuses were for­eign made. As for the Amer­i­can auto in­dus­try, as soon as the pro­gram ended, sales plum­meted by 25 per­cent com­pared with last year, sug­gest­ing that con­sumers sim­ply rushed to pur­chase cars in Au­gust that they were plan­ning to pur­chase soon any­way. The en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact is spec­u­la­tive. Some es­ti­mate that the pro­gram will save 0.04 per­cent of CO2 — or two days worth — over the next decade. Or More­over, the price for this fan­dango came to $2,000 per ve­hi­cle, or $1.4 bil­lion to tax­pay­ers.

Min­i­mum Wage Hike: On the cam­paign trail, can­di­date Barack Obama pro­claimed, “We shouldn’t raise the min­i­mum wage ev­ery 10 years, we should raise it ev­ery year, to keep up with inflation. If you work in this coun­try, you should not be poor.” Con­ser­va­tives warned that in­creases in the min­i­mum wage al­ways re­sult in fewer jobs for the young and un­skilled. The Democrats passed it. It be­came law in July.

What hap­pened? Sea­son­ally ad­justed teen un­em­ploy­ment reached its high­est level in 63 years — 25.9 per­cent. In two months, 330,000 jobs for teenagers just van­ished. As the Wall Street Jour­nal noted, the sit­u­a­tion is most dire for black male teenagers, whose un­em­ploy­ment rate jumped from an al­ready griev­ous 39.2 per­cent in July to 50.4 per­cent in Septem­ber.

The Stim­u­lus Bill: In or­der to pre­vent un­em­ploy­ment from reach­ing 8 per­cent and to boost con­sump­tion and eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, Congress passed a $787 bil­lion stim­u­lus be­he­moth. Six months on, the un­em­ploy­ment rate is brush­ing up against 10 per­cent. And, as economists John F. Co­gan, John B. Tay­lor, and Volker Wieland ar­gue, it seems that just as in the case of the $150 bil­lion Bush stim­u­lus plan in 2008, the tem­po­rary in­fu­sion of cash through re­fund­able tax cred­its and one-time pay­ments (about 20 per­cent of the stim­u­lus) did not budge con­sump­tion at all. Thirty per­cent of the stim­u­lus pack­age is des­ig­nated for un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits and health in­sur­ance subsi- dies, which may or may not be good pub­lic pol­icy but which will not cre­ate a sin­gle new job. An­other 20 per­cent will go to ed­u­ca­tion. Only the most ob­tuse would ar­gue that we weren’t al­ready spending too much on ed­u­ca­tion. An­other 20 per­cent or so is des­ig­nated for pub­lic works. But as a num­ber of crit­ics have pointed out, fed­eral spending on roads and bridges has not nec­es­sar­ily been di­rected to the places with the high­est lev­els of un­em­ploy­ment.

Any stim­u­lus pack­age amounts to tak­ing money from the pock­ets of some Amer­i­cans and plac­ing it in the pock­ets of oth­ers who have bet­ter po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions. (Tax cuts are fairer.) Most of the stim­u­lus money has not yet been spent. And all of the spending will have to be paid for by tax hikes or inflation — or both.

If this is the death of con­ser­vatism, I’m feel­ing like Lazarus.

Mona Charen is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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