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Are You a Conservative?

January 13th, 2013
Five years ago, I put up a post titled, “Are You a Democrat?” I asked questions which I felt demonstrated values held by those on the left. The list still holds true, which I take to support the idea that they are indeed representative of principles and values of liberals, and not just for-the-moment causes or rationalizations. For fun, I thought I would re-post it—in reverse—and ask the questions if they were to point in the opposite direction. While it is true that the two extremes are not always polar opposites, reversing these questions is a fairly good yardstick. Here they are, followed by clarifications and elaborations below:
  • Do you favor going into debt instead of paying for what you get? Do you prefer perpetually maintaining your debts as opposed to paying them off?
  • Do you support only the parts of the Constitution you find appealing?
  • Do you believe that people who have more should support society less?
  • Should people with certain talents and background be treated better than others beyond basic remuneration?
  • Do you believe it is the role of society to tell people what they can and cannot do in their private matters?
  • Do you agree with the idea that everyone in society should fend for themselves, as opposed to everyone supporting each other?
  • Do you favor waiting for something bad to happen and paying greatly for it over paying a lower but immediate cost for preparation and prevention?
  • If you feel certain that a man is guilty, but cannot definitively prove it, would you punish him even though it means there is a chance you are punishing an innocent man?
  • If treatment for a crime works better than punishment, would you favor punishment instead of treatment anyway?
  • Do you respect people more for being effective than for being honest?
  • Do you believe that true patriotism means never criticizing your own country even when it is clearly wrong, or denying that it ever commits a wrong?
  • Could you support the statement “America is better than everyone else in the world” over the statement “America is as good as anyone else in the world ”?
  • Do you believe that your leaders should be average Joes instead of intelligent, people who excel at their work?
  • Would you rather hear news that makes you feel good rather than the truth? Do you feel confident that you are always right on important issues?
I know a lot of conservatives would see this as an unfair or inaccurate portrayal of their values, but that would be more an artifact of their own internal inconsistencies. Inconsistencies between what they say and what they do, sometimes between what they say and other things they say, and all to often, between what they believe and what instead is real. Do you favor going into debt instead of paying for what you get? Do you prefer perpetually maintaining your debts as opposed to paying them off? Conservatives paint themselves as deficit hawks who hate spending. The problem is, they primarily act this way only when the other party is in power, or when it comes to programs they do not support. However, they consistently spend more and tax less, a policy push that was prominent under Reagan and skyrocketed under Bush 43—a policy which is a certainty to create deficits. The Bush years are absolute proof: given a budget surplus, they incurred massive spending increases and revenue decreases, leaving the nation $5 trillion more in debt than when Bush arrived, and the yearly deficit at the level of $1 trillion per year and rising fast. Conservatives say that they hate debt—but only when a Democrat is in the White House. When they hold the presidency, debt is not important, or is even useful. Nowadays you will hear many Republicans say that they were against the deficits racked up by Bush, were against the pork and uncontrolled spending by fellow Republicans, and spoke out against it. Funny how we never heard them during the years they claimed to be speaking out, nor did any of their words sway their fellow conservatives one bit. In the end, despite what conservatives say, what they do is more important—and what they do is to borrow and spend, in ever more massive amounts. As for perpetually maintaining that debt, remember that when we were just beginning to get budget surpluses and so could pay off our national debt, conservatives argued that a surplus meant taxes were higher than they needed to be, and therefore we should cut taxes. In short, never pay down the debt you have accrued. Do you support only the parts of the Constitution you find appealing? This should be self-evident. Total dismissal of the Ninth Amendment, disparagement of the fourth through eighth, and the virtual enshrinement of their specific interpretation of the second. The ninth is dismissed because it grants the right to personal privacy, a right that conservatives do not wish to be recognized. William Rehnquist himself defined a strict constructionist as someone who will “generally not be favorably inclined toward claims of either criminal defendants or civil rights plaintiffs.” And the Second Amendment, clearly an outdated “historical document” if there ever was one, obviously refers to militia and not personal ownership (although personal rights to keep and bear arms are, ironically, guaranteed under the Ninth Amendment). I could go on—in particular in regards to how the First Amendment is considered—but I think the point is clear. Do you believe that people who have more should support society less? Do I even have to explain this? Recent events make this painfully clear. Should people with certain talents and background be treated better than others beyond basic remuneration? This is a bit tougher, as it overlaps universally accepted areas of meritocracy, and what one might define “better treatment” to mean. However, the question is not posed to mean whether you agree or disagree about people getting a better salary if their talents or efforts justify it; I think everyone agrees that this should be the case, no matter what the nutballs on Fox & Friends seem to think. What I mean in this question regards what could be called a “level playing field.” If your background is that of a poor family, should your education, at the very least K-12, be less than that of someone from a wealthy family? Should your baseline health care be significantly worse? Should the opportunities you are presented—not what you do with them, but just the doors that are opened for you—be less? Should people of equal talent be forced to work harder and perform better in order to receive equal benefit? If you are a conservative, this is what your stand on the policies generally says. Wealthy families get to have a first-rate education while poor families get crap; people who cannot afford private insurance deserve to die alone and cold in the street; people with connections deserve them, no matter how much they hinge on accidents of birth or other forms of discrimination; and women, minorities, gays, and other groups discriminated against deserve no “special rights” to protection that white males do not need because they are not even remotely set back by such discrimination. Again, you may mouth approval of equal treatment, but when it comes to what you will actually approve and support, reality differs greatly with the platitudes. Do you believe it is the role of society to tell people what they can and cannot do in their private matters? For all of the right-wing talk about individual liberty and freedom, and how conservatives just want to be left alone, this sentiment only applies to them when it is something that they want to do, like owning guns and not paying taxes. When it comes to anything else, including things that do no harm to anybody, they make every effort to push their way into the lives of others and tell them what to do. Their views on sexuality allow them to tell you who you can have sex with, how, and whether or not you are allowed to wed. Their beliefs on when life begins allows them to dictate whether you can have an abortion or even take a day-after pill. Their ideas about the value of life allow them to tell you that you have to suffer horribly for months or years with an incurable illness which has robbed you of any meaningful existence, destroying your family and your own dignity as you go, as they decide whether you have the right to put a merciful end to your life. Their values of what drugs are dangerous allows them to drink and smoke as much as they want, but allows them to tell you that you'll go to jail for smoking marijuana. But if they begin to stockpile military grade weapons with no safeguards in their house next to where your kids play, you have no right to tell them anything, no matter what the threat to your children's safety. Do you agree with the idea that everyone in society should fend for themselves, as opposed to everyone supporting each other? Again, recent events make this painfully clear. Do you favor waiting for something bad to happen and paying greatly for it over paying a lower but immediate cost for preparation and prevention? Again, there is a void between what is said and perhaps believed, and what comes to pass. If it is an imaginary threat of nuclear war, you will feel your answer to this is “no,” but in practice, it has led to paying greatly rather than otherwise. When it comes to providing a quality education, maintaining strong infrastructure, deploying preventative medicine, and a host of other wise and profitable long-term investments, the answer is a definitive, “Hell yes we shouldn't pay for that stuff!” “Let the private sector do all the work,” you'll say, and they won't, and we'll pay the price. In general, conservatives are all too often short-sighted in such matters, preferring immediate gratification in the short run rather than building vital foundations in the long run. If you feel that a man is guilty, but cannot prove it, would you punish him even though it means there is a chance you are punishing an innocent man? This is another of the fuzzy ones, as “proof” is often conflated with guilty verdicts. This refers in part to those who would feel it better to be safe than sorry, and/or to convict on faith rather than fact. In a larger sense, this question is intended to refer to the death penalty as well as recent “national security” policies which ensnare innocents in a panicked rush for security or justice, and the fact that conservatives usually seem to prefer to sacrifice the archetypal innocent man lest, not one hundred, but even one guilty man go free. If treatment for a crime works better than punishment, would you favor punishment instead of treatment anyway? Again, do I really need to go in to this. Not just recent events, but the events of the past half century make this one rather clear-cut. Conservatives see treatment as coddling, as unnecessary spending (again a reference to pound-foolish avoidance of prevention), a dodge for people to milk the system, or simply as a way for liberals to avoid blaming people for their own actions. Any and all of these are easier than actually recognizing what has been proven again and again, as it would then lead to the next step of actually acting on it. Do you respect people more for being effective than for being honest? Then why did you vote for Mitt Romney? Not the best example though; he was neither effective nor honest. This question actually came out of the debacle of the Bush administration and the recent decades where conservatives prefer lying bastards who can get the job done over honest people who do what is right instead of what is popular. I have heard more than one conservative state a direct preference for the former over the latter, and certainly conservative behavior in general bears this out. Do you believe that true patriotism means never criticizing your own country even when it is clearly wrong, or denying that it ever commits a wrong? Once more, need I even explain? Conservatives hate any American who suggests America has done wrong (except when it's about Democrats they happen to despise). Bombing Hiroshima, going to war in Vietnam and Iraq, covert meddling in politics in the Middle East and Central America, the genocide of American aboriginals, so forth and so on. The entire swagger about “American Exceptionalism” and “Apology Tours” make their stand on this clear. Could you support the statement “America is better than everyone else in the world” over the statement “America is as good as anyone else in the world ”? This is an extension of the point above. Again, it should be obvious. Do you believe that your leaders should be average Joes instead of intelligent people who excel at their work? There are some fascinating contradictions here. First, they sneer at those they call “elites,” a term which should indicate actual intellect and capability. What they mean, of course, is the definition wherein the “elite” are “a small group of people who control a disproportionate amount of wealth or political power.” Does that describe Obama? Biden? Clinton? Carter? Mondale? Dukakis? Kerry maybe, but most Democrats? Nope. How about Romney? McCain? Bush? Recent GOP candidates and presidents have not just been elites, they have been extreme elites. Conservatives claim to detest “elitists,” and yet they vote for them over and over again. Mitt Romney was the epitome of an elitist, both Bushes were elites (the first literally and the second by association), and even Reagan was a rich movie actor—if he were liberal, they'd use his Hollywood connections to vilify him as elitist. In contrast, Obama, Clinton, and Carter all had very humble roots. You'd have to go all the way back to Kennedy to find an elected Democratic president who could be called an “elitist.” Here we see an interesting contrast: GOP candidates tend to be far more rich, entitled, and elitist, but Republican voters always claim they want the man they vote for to be an ordinary person they'd feel comfortable having a beer with. In a more specific sense, conservatives paint those they call elite as people who think they know better than anyone else. That, however, describes pretty much everyone, including themselves. Nevertheless, conservatives usually loathe the idea of highly intelligent, capable leaders. Would you rather hear news that makes you feel good rather than the truth? Do you feel confident that you are always right on important issues? Do I even need to mention Fox News? Not that this is the entirety of the extent that conservatives feel this way, but it stands as an exceptionally clear example of it. Regarding faith as more important than reason and facts is another. Self-doubt is hardly endemic among right-wingers.
Finally, there is one last question, not in the list, which would really nail you down as a conservative: Will you, upon reading this list of questions, ignore it, dismiss it, argue not the list but rather set up straw men, or attack only the least persuasive point within the list, instead of either answering each point honestly and in detail with reasonable logic and cited basis in fact, or, heaven forbid, regarding this list seriously to reflect on your values? Or, instead of that, I might just as easily have asked, “Did you quit reading long before you got to this question?”

  1. Troy
    January 13th, 2013 at 02:46 | #1

    they consistently spend more and tax less, a policy push that was prominent under Reagan and skyrocketed under Bush 43

    http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=euE

    is a graph of inflation-adjusted deficits (2005 dollars).

    unfortunately, the 2009-2011 peak overshadows former rises of 1980s and 2000s.

    In fact, during the W years deficits were falling again.

    But this was just an effect of the administration standing aside while the mortgage credit boom dumped ~$5T into the middle-class economy, 2003-2007:

    http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=euG

    adds in mortgage debt take-on in red to show how we were just substituting consumer credit for government debt in the ~2005 period.

    The Republicans were running a scam economy 2002-2006 and they should have known it, I don’t know which is worse, they did or they were too stupid to see it.

    The critical chart to see what has been happening is simply total debt over wages:

    http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=euH

    here you can most clearly see the big run-ups in debt, under Reagan and then under Bush II.

    The big spike in Obama’s first 2 years was just trying to create a “soft crash” of what was the Bush Economy with stimulus spending and tax cuts.

    The ninth is dismissed because it grants the right to personal privacy

    “protects” not “grants” ! We all have a right to be left alone that pre-exists government. And I agree that the conservative majority recently finding a right to self-defense in the 2nd is utterly ludicrous.

    Do you believe that people who have more should support society less?

    http://taxfoundation.org/article/summary-latest-federal-income-tax-data-2012#table1

    shows the top 10% make less than half the income but pay more than two-thirds of the income taxes. I think this is about right, as when you undertax the working class all that happens is rents and home values rise to fill the vacuum as the masses bid up the cost of housing with their extra disposable income.

    We saw that in the 2000s after the Bush tax cuts, and even after the 2% FICA tax cut.

    It is my hope that Japan’s declining population will be the first nation to break this cycle, as real estate oversupply kills this treadmill effect.

    As for elites:

    “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” — Texas GOP

    The Republicans have finally been taken over by their whackadoodle contingent. Took 50 years since Goldwater, and even he wasn’t half as bad as the current batch (he had no time for all the fundie BS for one thing).

    What the modern conservative movement is now is a coalition of the religious conservatives (fundamentalist theocrats), got-mine/screw-you fiscal conservatives, neocons and others dependent on the trillion-dollar national security state-within-the-state, and rural people who are vaguely opposed to government attempting to make life better for other people.

  2. kensensei
    January 14th, 2013 at 12:05 | #2

    Do you favor going into debt instead of paying for what you get?

    This point is really on-target because the GOP always pumps itself up as the part of fiscal responsibility. It is truly laughable to hear a Conservative going on about the mess the Dems have made of the budget. They think the whole exploding debt was created the day Obama took office. History, however, tells a very different story.

    The national debt is only an issue when there is a Democrat in office fighting for the causes that support the middle-class. The GOP’s approach to balancing the budget through supply-side economics has been proven wrong time and again, and yet they stick to the old “trickle-down” model and push for more tax breaks for the “job creators”, ignoring the devastation toll those policies have taken on the national debt.

    Could you support the statement “America is better than everyone else in the world” over the statement “America is as good as anyone else in the world ”?

    The funny thing here is that so few Conservatives have actually traveled outside of the United States (aside from military service) for any significant period of time. If all your knowledge of the outside is based on American news broadcasts and reports, you are missing any real foundation for an honest comparison. It may also warp your opinion even more by reinforcing your own self-projected, if not antiquated or exaggerated, prejudices.

    Unfortunately, many Americans are quite uninterested in foreign travel because they may discover some unexpected advantages to living abroad. This pure “self-inflicted ignorance” is rampant in many parts of the U.S., especially the South, and is a driving force behind most of the Conservative ignorance about what’s going on abroad.

    I have noticed a growing trend in this pride in one’s own ignorance; a sort of “the less I know, the more patriotic I become” mind-set that is very unsettling to me.

    –kensensei

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