“A Conservative Vision of Social Justice,” by Rick Santorum and Iain Smith (from Britain’s Conservatives), published in the Wall Street Journal this morning, and thankfully made available online, posits that conservatives should push the growth of the Nanny State. Let’s look at the rhetoric and see what’s going on.
For all the differences between the United States and Europe, we share a
common challenge: how to improve the social well-being of our citizens without a
massive growth in the size and intrusiveness of government. We’re convinced that
conservatism–properly understood–offers the surest road to social justice.
So far, so good. What’s going on here is a clarification of what it means to be conservative, and, naturally, an assertion that conservatives stand against the Nanny State.
In many conservative circles, “social justice” is synonymous with socialism
or radical individualism. No wonder: For decades, the political left has used it
as a Trojan horse for its big-state agenda. Yet the wreckage of their policies
is obvious. Compared to the U.S., most European economies are struggling with
inflation, unemployment, low growth and a declining tax base; nearly all
European societies are burdened with increased crime and family breakdown; and
there is a draining away of hope and opportunity.
Europe is a leftist basket-case and Social Justice is synonymous with socialism, yep yep yep. Social Justice is synonymous with radical individualism? Where’d that come from? Where has a spirit for the radical individual, oh, heck, even the moderately individual individual, shown its face on the political left?
Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond are charting a new
vision of social justice. It recognizes that the problems caused or aggravated
by the growth in government cannot be corrected by a crude reduction in its
size. Policy must also deliberately foster the growth of what Edmund Burke
called “the little platoons” of civil society: families, neighborhood
associations, private enterprises, charities and churches. These are the real
source of economic growth and social vitality.
Hold on a second. First, one castigates the left for being big-government – while simultaneously accusing it of rampant libertarianism (or, for the Brits, classical liberalism). But, hold on a second, conservatives aren’t for the diminution of government, either, but instead for an activist government implementing their own social policy (naturally, a better one than the leftists come up with.) Since when is cutting pork and getting rid of ineffectual agencies “crude?” And, maybe that Burkean quote plays big in Britain, where people are used to being treated like sheep by their government… but the notion that families are units to be deployed in a great government march to victory is a notion that sits more comfortably with the Great Leap Forward, than with anything I’ve ever known as the Republican Party.
The social justice agenda we endorse is grounded in social conservatism.
That means helping the poor discover the dignity of work, rather than making
them wards of the state. It means locking up violent criminals, but offering
nonviolent offenders lots of help to become responsible citizens. It endorses a
policy of “zero tolerance” toward drug use and sexual trafficking, yet insists
that those struggling with all manner of addictions can start their lives
So social justice means getting rid of the miasma of the welfare state… and a hodge-podge of blatantly self-contradictory pablum regarding crime. So, where does a non-violent pot-smoker stand in Mssrs. Santorum and Smith’s view? In jail for zero-tolerance? Or not locked up, because they’re not violent? Is the state going to help them to quit their habit via a well-meaning program? Or is the conservative idea of helping somebody with a drug addiction to lock them up in a metal cage surrounded by sodomite gang-rapists? What aid should we be giving to an embezzler or car thief in order to help him become “responsible?”
In America, this vision emerged a decade ago with bold conservative
initiatives aimed at empowering individuals and grassroots groups helping the
nation’s neediest, such as the Community Renewal Act and other antipoverty
initiatives. Today’s CARE Act is part of the same tradition. Likewise, the Bush
administration’s plan to create a Gulf Opportunity Zone after Hurricane Katrina
would offer tax relief and small-business loans to support a culture of
I’m not a policy wonk, but how precisely do FEMA’s “pass go and collect two thousand dollars” cards equate here?
Britain and America have long enjoyed a healthy exchange of ideas. British
Conservatives are learning from America’s experiences with zero-tolerance
policing, welfare reform and school choice. George W. Bush’s vision of an
“ownership society” owes a great deal to the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. These
efforts seek to empower individuals and families, not bureaucracies, and unleash
the creativity and generosity of neighbor helping neighbor.
At this point, we can see Reagan rolling in his grave. Does Ms. Thatcher know her name is being taken in vain? The views of Santorum and Smith are in stark opposition to those of us who listened to the Gipper… why on earth do we need the government to “unleash” what already exists, except insofar as it’s busy dodging well-meaning but stupid ideas put out by conservatives in Washington?
The rest of the paragraph continues, with the notion that conservatives can do better than liberals at building just societies. Okay, fair enough, if one equates “liberals” with trade unions that are saved from well-deserved extinction only because they’ve managed to infest the government, or the Democratic Party’s collection of hyperbolic moonbat leftists. When Rick Perry got his “mandatory child seats until eight years” policy pushed through here in Texas, was that any less intrusive than similar well-meaning ideas that nevertheless make the State the master, and destroy individual creativity? Sure, it does great things for keeping the SUV market afloat, given one’s chances of successfully maintaining three child seats in the back of the Honda Accord hatchback we repeatedly took cross-country… sometimes, in the –gasp—front seat!
What happened to the Republican Party? You know, the party that used to at least give lip service to getting government out of our lives before screwing us over in the mid-term? Is this the best that a conservative movement can come up with? “We’re the nanny-state, but at least we’re better than that other nanny state?”
The Reagan Coalition used to be made up of conservatives and libertarians. To the point that many folks actually equate some of libertarianism’s (or liberalism, if you’re in Europe), with being conservatism. Now, I don’t mean the Libertarian Party. They were never in the coalition, and thus have no room to gripe… but once again, it seems like the Republicans have failed to learn from history. Bush Senior got his po-po whacked politically when he went big-government, and decided he’d balance out his (sudden, inexplicable) polling numbers by going big-government even faster. It seems very much like the Republicans’ “trouble with the base” is being, once again, healed through the sovereign expedient of ignoring that base completely and trying to spend his way back to high approval numbers. Well, guess what? Republicans can’t do that. That’s what Democrats do. There may be fewer Republicans who know the difference in political philosophies, thereby calling libertarianism what it is… but there are plenty of Republicans who think they’re conservative, and want Washington DC to get the hell out of their wallets, and the hell out of their way.
To which one can easily see a number of conservatives saying “we own your butts politically, so why should we care? We know you’re not voting for the Dems.” Well, the reason that the conservatives should care is a matter of numbers. There aren’t enough conservatives to win the Republicans office on their own. If the (small-l) libertarians stay home, guess what? The Democrats win. And why shouldn’t they? To paraphrase a Croatian politician, “Keep us in power. We’ve already stolen everything we want. What will these new guys want to steal?” We know how to stonewall and work around the Democrats’ version of the Nanny State… we’ve been listening to their arrogance and condescension for years. We know that the Clintons are shamelessly corrupt, power-mongering elitists who hold their electorate in disdain and believe that government is a piggy bank that exists in order for them to rightfully plunder it. Bill may be a world-class wuss, but does anybody seriously think that Senator Clinton will hold back and pull a John Kerry when it comes to foreign policy, or allow her hands to be tied by people like Jacques Chirac?
Is their well-known perfidy really all that distinguishable from the new brand that’s starting to come to light?
Tell me, Mr. Santorum, why are you taking rhetorical potshots at your own constituents? if we don’t like their Nanny State, why should we vote to let you implement yours?