Economics

Does Social Conservatism Explain Opposition to the Bailout?

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According to a New York Times "news analysis," Monday's House vote against the Wall Street bailout "captured just how much the Republican Party has changed from its 19th-century roots as the party of business and economic stewardship." Reporter Jackie Calmes continues:

The party's base has shifted to the more socially conservative and populist South and West, and away from its historic roots in the Northeast, including Wall Street. House Republicans, most of them in districts purposely drawn to be packed with like-minded conservative voters, reflect that shift.*

While opposition to a taxpayer-funded bailout of Wall Street fat cats clearly has a populist aspect to it, I'm not sure what role social conservatism plays. Weirdly, Calmes does not mention anti-statism or free market principles as a motivation for Republican opponents of the bill, although she closes her piece by quoting the Brookings Institution's Thomas Mann, who says, "This is a function of a group of House Republicans who are philosophically opposed to doing anything like this bailout." The philosophical opposition to which Mann alludes is not rooted in populism or social conservatism.

Calmes is right to call the 19th-century GOP "the party of business and economic stewardship," if by that she means to suggest that the party of Lincoln was more inclined toward economic intervention than the party of Reagan, and in certain respects more pro-business than pro-market. The most conspicuous example of the Republican Party's departure from laissez faire was its support for high tariffs, a policy that is pro-business in the sense that it benefits certain domestic businesses but certainly not pro-market. Protectionism does have a populist appeal, however, and it seems implausible that increasing populism explains the GOP's embrace of free trade, or of free market economics generally. In short, I'm not sure what Calmes is driving at here, unless she is simply insinuating that opponents of the bailout are backward, insular, and irrational.

[*This is the text as it appears in my copy of the paper; the online version is somewhat different.]

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  1. I can see the Drudge-style headline:

    NY TIMES SHOCKER! REPORTER TWISTS FACTS TO SUIT PERSONAL BELIEFS!

  2. In the mind of a NYT reporter, doing anything that they don’t like automatically makes you a conservative. It is also not unique to the Times. I once was listening to NPR and one of their talkers described the regime of Louis XVI to be “conservative” and then after the revolution to be “liberal”. Whaaaa?

  3. She doesn’t know the difference between being pro-business and being pro-market. Most people don’t.

  4. The Democratic Party used to be the party of free trade and anti-imperialism before it was invested with the Populists and Progressives at the end of the 19th century / early 20th century.

  5. In short, I’m not sure what Calmes is driving at here, unless she is simply insinuating that opponents of the bailout are backward, insular, and irrational.

    If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on that one.

  6. I know it isn’t too popular an idea ’round these parts but a hell of a lot of “social conservatives” are anti-statist and pro free market. Christian debt counselor/radio host Dave Ramsey calls himself a socially conservative libertarian on the occasions in which he ventures into political discussion. Look at Congressman Ron Paul’s constituent supporters for another example.

  7. You know, I’m starting to get the impression that the people at the New York Times don’t have a very deep understanding of the different strains of conservative and rightist thought in this country.

    No, really.

  8. “””[*This is the text as it appears in my copy of the paper; the online version is somewhat different.]”””


    Winton Smith?

  9. SIV-

    Someday I will be able to call Dave’s show and scream I’m DEBT FREE!

  10. Winston Smith

  11. Weirdly, Calmes does not mention anti-statism or free market principles as a motivation for Republican opponents of the bill,

    Maybe not so dumb. I think people noticed the bizarre interest Dr. Paul generated in the technerati, among others. She might feel the need to push the “Anti-bailout people are religous nuts” meme instead of the “Anti-bailout people might have some interesting economic ideas” meme.

  12. It’s a really split up landscape on the conservative side. There’s the free marketers, the social conservatives, and the hawks. And even the free marketers are split up into a big faction that are really pro-Big Business with a light conservative facade, and a smaller faction of true free marketers that normally gets respect, but gets ruthlessly rolled at times like this.

    When the hard rain comes down, which of those conservatives will be left standing, and who’ll take the blame? I wouldn’t be surprised if the hard core free marketers and small government types become scapegoats, and have to make way for a populist Sam’s Club sort of Republicanism, sort of Douhat–meets–Huckabee.

    Even if I’m wrong, it’ll be fun to watch.

  13. SIV-

    BTW, I agree with your take on Dave Ramsey. Given that you have listened to him, you know that he can be a hard ass on some of his callers. I have only listened to him while on the road, outside of New England, but when one is in Virginia or the Carolinas en route to Naples, he sure beats Rush, radio Fox frauds or NPR.

  14. Are social conservative and economic conservative the same thing?

    Oh, “American Theocracy” by Kevin Phillips details the shift of power in the U.S. toward a southern baptist convention led republican party. I know a lot of you regulars here have realized what a lightweight and nonthinking fool I am, but this book is very enlightening in a scary, I’m scared for my country, kinda way.

  15. NY TIMES SHOCKER! REPORTER TWISTS FACTS TO SUIT PERSONAL BELIEFS!

    More likely, it’s a case of someone at the NYT not knowing enough about history, the Republican Party, or various ideologies to realize that their entire piece is incoherent.

  16. The Democratic Party used to be the party of free trade and anti-imperialism before it was invested with the Populists and Progressives at the end of the 19th century / early 20th century.

    Quibble. The Democratic party (and the Jeffersonian proto-democratic party) were *not* anti-imperial. Unless you don’t count westward expansion and manifest destiny (and generally pushing around native americans) as ‘imperialism’. (See also the war of 1812, Monroe doctrine, and Texas Rev/Mexican war, although technically the last was fought by a whig).

    However, *no one* was really ‘anti-imperialism’ until about the 1870’s. The notion that ‘imperialism’ as we would call it today was anything other the normal state of nature for all practical purposes did not exist in the political realm. (although thoreau and emmerson has some prototype thoughts along this line – and of course marx.).

  17. Kolohe-

    Don’t forget Lysander Spooner.

  18. So reporters at the NYT don’t know anything about and are 110% unsympathetic to conservatism. Is this supposed to be a surprise to me?

  19. In the Seattle papers (not exactly conservative), about 55% of respondents were against the bailout, with only about 26% in favor. Looks less like social anything, and more like people are losing faith in the govt. to fix stuff.

  20. Kolohoe,

    There were anti-imperialists before 1870. Samuel Johnson’s November 3 1759 essay (Idler Number 81) is an indictment of European treatment of the North American Indians. And I doubt he was alone. Johnson’s essays are actually available online, should you be curious.

    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Idler/No._81

  21. Don’t forget Lysander Spooner.

    I did. He ain’t taught to much to those with a public school/university education.

  22. mporcius-

    I thought I editted in both places, but see I did not. I should clarify that the notion of ‘anti-imperialism’ did not exist as an *American* political idea – i.e. was not champoined nor opposed by any major political parties; it simply was a non-issue. It did as you and mike point out exist as an intellectual issue. But, prior to the civil war, there was a broad consensus toward western expansion (and that native americans didn’t count), for example ‘the era of good feelings’. Also, prior to the civil war, the notion of overseas imperialism was a non-issue because of the lack of capability; it made no more sense for that era than debating off shore drilling would have been. Now after the civil war, america started to gain a sense of a peer among the great powers of the world. So ‘imperialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ became poltical memes. But, imperialism was always the political winner until Wilson (and even then really didn’t represent any political shift). Americans love empire, as long as it’s done on the cheap, and most importantly, sucessfully.

  23. Amazing. Is it really beyond the grasp of members of the Froth Estate that Americans might act together as individuals, based on individual standards of integrity, rather than as a herd driven by some mysterious instinct behavior?

  24. Constituent Rebellion Now!

    Millions wrote and called to say No! and still the Senate said Yes? It is time for a housecleaning! Time to show them that they work for Main Street, not Wall Street.

    Based on quick analysis, it looks like there are 2-4 Senators who voted Yes who are in tight races, and 3 or 4 more who are vulnerable.

    In the House, the analysis is similar, 7 or 8 vulnerable races where a little bit of influence might make all the difference.

    Targeting these so-called representatives of the people, with print and radio ads highlighting their betrayal, could really make an impact on their chances for re-election — and put the fear of constituency back into the Washington elite.

    Are you interested in making it happen? There isn’t much time before the election, so it will take funds and effort. Can you participate by offering time, skills or funds?

    Let us know.

    Contact the Constituent Response Team at constituentresponse@gmail.com.

  25. “In short, I’m not sure what Calmes is driving at here, unless she is simply insinuating that opponents of the bailout are backward, insular, and irrational.”

    I think the problem is that Calmes cannot quite wrap her mind around the idea that “pro-free market” and “pro-big business” are not equivalent positions. As a result she has to desparately search for reason why people who in her mind should be supporting a bill that rescues their supposed buddies on Wall Street would be opposing it instead. So she goes after the social conservatism that many of them also hold because she really does not understand that.

  26. I may be talking out of turn here, and this may not add anything of substance to this particular conversation, but historically, I do believe that religious puritains had a strong disbelief in government intervention into markets. I believe this can be traced back to the 15th and 16th centuries.

    People who, by modern standards, would be considered religious zealots felt the king had no business meddling in religion and commerce.

    Criticism welcome.

    As a result she has to desparately search for reason why people who in her mind should be supporting a bill that rescues their supposed buddies on Wall Street would be opposing it instead.

    MJ:

    And conversely, she has to grab for any hand-rung which helps her deal with the fact that Democrats have just extended massive– I say again MASSIVE– corporate welfare to Wall Street, and are standing arm-in-arm with President Bush.

  27. You know, I’m starting to get the impression that the people at the New York Times don’t have a very deep understanding of the different strains of conservative and rightist thought in this country.

    Then maybe they shouldn’t be presuming to write with smug certitude about that which they don’t understand.

    For instance, I would never pretend to know the interactions between the various factions of liberal Amerika. I would just write that these people are weird and I don’t like them very much.

  28. In short, I’m not sure what Calmes is driving at here, unless she is simply insinuating that opponents of the bailout are backward, insular, and irrational.

    Well, sure. To Upper West Side liberals, “Republican” and “backward, insular, and irrational” are one and the same.

  29. are these the same anti-statist conservatives who have supported the drug war and the invasion of iraq for years? just wondering.

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