Conservatives Are Hitting Rock Bottom
Continued from previous page
Libertarian-conservatism has no answer to the twin banes of modernity - growing inequality and declining opportunity. Indeed, it does not, and cannot, even admit that these problems exist. Moreover, any attempt to address them is instantly (and reflexively) denounced as government overreach, or worse, a cover for creeping totalitarianism - socialism! For this reason, libertarian-conservatism is, correctly, perceived as being indefatigable in, to quote John Gehring, its " tireless defense of struggling millionaires."
Congressman Paul Ryan is a darling of the libertarian-conservative movement. His budget proposal - a document endorsed by most major Republican political figures, including Romney, provides a useful example for differentiating common-good conservatism's concern for economic justice from the "let them eat cake" approach characteristic of libertarian-conservatism.
Simply put, Ryan's budget is a thoroughly libertarian-conservative document. The wealthy win; the rest of us lose. It's as simple as that.
Like Ryan's earlier budgetary proposals, the current version combines a slash-and-burn approach to social programs that benefit the poor and the middle class with additional tax breaks for the wealthiest members of our society. As Jonathan Chait previously noted, the "overwhelming thrust" of Ryan's proposals is a desire "to liberate the lucky and the successful to enjoy their good fortune without burdening them with any responsibility for the welfare of their fellow citizens." This is inexplicable from a policy standpoint and indefensible from an ethical one. But it makes perfect sense if you see the world from a libertarian-conservative perspective. For the libertarian, the wealthiest deserve the right to accumulate vast hordes of wealth without being troubled by the responsibilities of the social contract - their success is a mark of their virtue.
The libertarian-conservative penchant for preferring the interest of the wealthy over the needs of the rest of society was also on full display during the debt-ceiling limit negotiations. Congressional Republicans were willing to drive the nation to the very brink of a potential financial catastrophe rather than consider even slight tax increases for the wealthiest Americans.
In the "Book of Genesis," God famously asked, "Cain, where is your brother Abel?" This question still resonates today - it reminds us of our duty to care for the poor, the elderly, the disabled and the most marginalized members of our society. Libertarian-conservatives, however, apparently no longer see any role for government in providing for these groups.
Every American understands that sacrifices are necessary. But sacrifices demand a balancing of benefits and burdens. Is it right and just that those Americans who have benefited the most from the economic growth over the past 30 years and from the recovery should see their burdens lightened, while those who have benefited the least - average Americans who have seen their jobs outsourced overseas, their wages stagnate or decline, their benefits reduced or eliminated and their children burdened by huge amounts of student loan debt - are told to carry an additional share? For common-good conservatives, the answer is obvious - it is not.
We must ensure that our economy and our government equitably distribute the benefits and burdens generated by both booms and busts. Taxation is also a mechanism for putting reasonable moral boundaries on greed. We must abandon libertarian-conservatism's reflexive opposition to any proposals to increase revenue - a millionaires' tax, ending the Bush-era tax cuts, or returning the top personal income tax rates to their levels during the Clinton administration, are all measures that we should discuss and consider. At the same time, we must identify and eliminate subsidies, loopholes and exemptions that benefit giant corporations, like the famous corporate jet tax break, in order to ensure that they also contribute their fair share.