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Conservatives Cost a Lot of Money

Let's put it this way: Carpet bombing is much more costly in every way than good intelligence and loyal allies. It's a pocketbook issue.
 
 
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The general effect of conservative governance, I mean other than criminal malfeasance, neglect of the
citizenry, mashing of constitutional protections, trashing of the environment, bashing of real patriotism, and crashing of the ship of state into the nearest hundred-foot-high cliff (bad metaphor, but here's a contest: think of a better one!) is that it's so damned expensive.

What costs more -- routine prenatal care of a poor woman during pregnancy that she would be able to get if we had universal healthcare, or the intensive care that results when she shows up at the emergency room with preeclampsia in her ninth month?

What costs more -- finding Bin Laden with a few specialty forces and some back-channel bribes and contacts, or a war in Iraq?

What costs more -- enforcing pollution controls when they are first put into law or allowing private industry to evade them year after year as they spew pollutants into the air and fight pollution laws through the courts while the plants deteriorate, the cost of controls goes up, and the earth, air, and water are more and more contaminated?

What costs more -- conserving our use of materials and energy, or ripping off the tops of mountains in West Virginia and Kentucky, destroying landscapes, ecosystems, towns, villages, and lives?

What costs more -- supplying the army with good equipment and good medical care and deploying the army cautiously in situations where we are mostly likely to win, or destroying the army (by sending the soldiers into a war they not only don't understand and can't win, but also do not have the equipment to win) and then having to rebuild it?

What costs more -- a government that functions smoothly or one that is riven with investigations and conflicts? A government where experts can do their jobs, or one where experts are continuously interfered with so that finally they leave in droves, to be replaced by know-nothings who can't do the job? (Let's not forget that the right wing's war on the government continues whether they are in power or out of power.)

What costs more -- having sensible regulations for consumer product safety or having no regulations -- which leads to injuries, illnesses, deaths, medical bills, lawsuits, bankruptcies, loss of productivity, and years of inconsistencies in the marketplace that hamper product design?

What costs more -- a vast middle class who can support themselves and their towns and cities and schools and children and elderly relatives, or a vast class of working poor who can barely support themselves and certainly cannot take care of failing schools, deteriorating housing stock, surging crime, and chaos proliferating all around them? Just because the conservatives don't want to pay for something doesn't mean costs are not incurred; they are simply put off for another day, when they will be geometrically higher.

The root problem of conservatism is that it is tribal -- conservatives cannot or will not believe in such basic concepts as epidemiology, ecology, or even Keynesian economics (not to mention brotherly love). But even though conservatives have been fighting interconnectedness forever, it continues to exist (that "reality has a liberal bias" sort of thing). Regulations and benefits like healthcare and diplomacy exist not out of soft-hearted liberal guilt, but because taking care of matters before they get out of hand is cheaper, while hiding your head in the sand, clinging to us-and-them beliefs, and arming yourselves to the teeth is ever more expensive. In Bleak House, Charles Dickens pointed out to a ruling class that was reluctant to assume the expenses of public sanitation that smallpox could not be excluded from the houses of the rich simply because the rich disdained the poor. That was a hundred and fifty years ago, and we are still having to point the same thing out today. You don't have to recognize the connection (as in smallpox, as in global warming) in order for it to be there.

The fight, since Reagan, has been literally for the soul of the US. Conservatives are determined to define the nation as a hierarchy in which white Christian men are at the top, unchallenged by other groups, but able to extend favor to nonthreatening men or good-looking women as individuals. They want to define the world as a place where what America says goes, no matter how far away other countries are, or how much they disagree with our policies. Liberals assume that our nation is a place where work, citizenship, and simple humanity can claim certain rights and where no single group should predominate under the law. They assume that the world is never going to be a uniform place, but that other nations don't lose their humanity just because they disagree with or distrust us.

White men produced the Constitution. Liberals assert that what they produced is primary, while conservatives assert that who they were is primary. Increasingly, conservatives seem ready to throw everything away in order to maintain dominance -- the Constitution, the good opinion of the rest of the world, the lives and limbs and sanity of our soldiers, the health and habitability of the Earth, and their own claims to common sense and decency. Conservatives want to return us to a primitive conception of the world, even though we know better.

The case is frequently made that conservatives and liberals have different temperaments, and this is surely so. Cheney's 1% Doctrine is the quintessential conservative idea -- the world is so dangerous that if there is a 1% chance of an attack on America, then we have to go all out to stop it. There is a sort of surface bravery about this idea, but beyond that, it makes absolutely no sense tactically or strategically. It is like going to the track and betting the house on a 99 to 1 shot. Many conservatives refuse to be convinced that a subtler approach is safe enough or effective enough. But let's put it this way: carpet bombing is much more costly in every way than good intelligence and loyal allies. It's a pocketbook issue.

Jane Smiley is a novelist and essayist. Her novel A Thousand Acres won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992.

 
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