Reason Writers in Commentary: Matt Welch on the Future of Conservatism


Planet Freedom

The January issue of Commentary features a large cross-section of conservative scribblers–William Kristol, Jonah Goldberg, Michael Gerson, David Frum, David Brooks, and so on–answering the question "What is the future of conservatism in the wake of the 2012 election?" The magazine was nice enough to solicit my two cents, which you can read here. The opening and closing paragraphs:

Conservatives have long since taught themselves to handle with tongs any political advice from non-Republican libertarians like me. But amidst the depressing-to-some meteor shower of post-Romney headlines about how the GOP needs to "go more libertarian," I come from Planet Freedom bearing unseasonably happy tidings: You don't need to become a heroin-legalizing, amnesty-embracing, blame-America-firster in order to reassert conservatism's electoral and philosophical relevance during President Barack Obama's second term. No, the only two transformations required are re-learning a grand tradition's intellectual commitment to reducing the size and scope of government and recalibrating electoral tactics and even the basic selling proposition around the notion of playing defense, not offense. […]


More Americans than ever think that government is trying to do too much. All conservatives need to do now is provide those people with a believable place to go.

For the stuff in the middle, click here.

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  1. Just let it die. Those of us in the reality-based community are rightly exhausted by trying to communicate and negotiate with people who believe in fairy tales. Conservatism doesn’t mean anything, especially in a world in which conservatives are the ones calling for radical change. “Small government” doesn’t mean anything either, because when you actually poll people they like the idea in the abstract but also like just about every single government program out there, especially the expensive ones. The conservative movement maintains relevance only in the way toddlers demand attention by throwing tantrums. It just needs to go away.

    1. The conservative movement maintains relevance only in the way toddlers demand attention by throwing tantrums.

      Project much, Tony?

      1. Those of us in the reality-based community

        OK, that made me laugh. Let no one say Tony doesn’t have a sense of humor, even if inadvertent.

        1. “Small government” doesn’t mean anything either, because when you actually poll people they like the idea in the abstract but also like just about every single government program out there, especially the expensive ones.

          They like the idea of what those government programs claim to do, but are mostly too ignorant, too incompetent, or too lazy to realize that desire does not equal outcome. The war on poverty made poverty worse, not better… the war on drugs didn’t do a thing to eliminate drug use and arguably aided in the creation of far more dangerous drugs.

          Most human beings, like yourself, are incredibly naive (borderline retarded) when it comes to applying critical thought to the true nature of reality. The hubris with which most people, including yourself, believe to understand the nature of things would be laughable, if it had not done so much harm to the improvement of humanity’s lot.

          Skepticism, not faith, in mythical gods or mythical benefits of gov’t programs is a good place to start.

      2. I don’t know if Tony is projecting. That’s about what all my non-conservative acquaintances believe.
        There is a strong cognitive dissonance in the American people with first one side and then the other being able to assemble a majority totemporarily supporting one side of the dissonance.
        Until one side or the other comes to its senses and realizes “more free stuff” and “limited government” are
        incompatible we will have the political landscape we have.

    2. I love how the so-called “reality-based community” believes that you can have an economy based on unlimited debt go on endlessly with no repercussions at all.

      You and your ilk are more disconnected from the real world than anyone else on the planet.

      1. No one believes that, you idiot. That is why Democrats want to raise taxes – to pay for “free” stuff like SS/Medicare/caid.

        The “more debt” party is the GOP who expand those programs and lower taxes.

        1. The unrealistic part of the Democrats and other left-liberals is their apparent belief that there’s a magic money tree out there that provides all the wealth to support this stuff.

          In reality, their actions antagonize the very wealth creators they need to subsidize all that Free Stuff they want to spread around to their constituents.

          1. Hey, both parties like to expand government but only one party wants to pay for it.

            They don’t suck equally, in other words.

          2. I’m ignoring the lying griefer shitbag from here on out, but you nailed it. The left delusionally acts like we can have government spending of $17 billion a day (at all levels) with the rich only paying for it all.

            That’s not reality, that’s pure Fantasyland.

        2. But Democrats don’t want to raise taxes.

          Oh sure they want the evil rich to pay more in taxes but that is not the same thing as actually raising tax revenues since they also want to cut taxes (or more typically increase “tax expenditures”) for the sainted poor.

          Even to the extent that they do want to raise taxes and even cut military spending it is not by anywhere near enough to pay for more than a tiny fraction of the free stuff they want.

    3. anytime a congress or a parliament has existed, there are usually at least sets: one defined as “conservative” and one the more liberal progressive wing.

      So once again Tony wants one ruling party.

      Fascists gotta be fascist.

      1. I want the far right to be marginalized and for the center to move to the left–that is, a true conservative party and a true progressive party.

    4. Here’s some reality for you, Tony. Left-liberalism of the type you espouse is nothing more than the Mafia in government clothing.

      The operating principle of both is to forcibly extract wealth from some in order to spread around money and favors to favored constituencies in return for their support.

      Compassion has nothing to do with it, and twerps like you who think it does provide a ready supply of useful idiots for the gangsters who run our government.

      1. If the best countries to live in the world are wrong, I don’t want to be right. Come up with a plausible alternative to the social welfare state, then try it out on some South American country or something and demonstrate its effectiveness before you lecture the population on exactly what they are allowed to have.

        1. I shouldn’t respond, but I can’t help myself. You obviously haven’t the slightest understanding of libertarianism or classical liberalism. I don’t “lecture” anyone on what they are “allowed” to have. It’s your side that does that, Sparky.

          Social welfare states are slowly failing all across the developed world, Tony. The numbers simply don’t add up. When you incentivize takers over makers, you get a lot more takers and a lot fewer makers. That’s happening all over the place.

          My goal is that we get off that train before it derails.

          1. Dividing the world into takers and makers is flawed empirically, morally, and is pretty much downright fascist. All of us make (except in general the elderly, the infirm, and children) and all of us take, not least the wealthy, to whom I assume you are referring.

            When your worldview is based on a borderline fascist view of humanity, how are you expected to know what good social policy is?

            1. The word fascist. You also apparently don’t know the meaning of that, either.

              There’s really a lot you don’t know.

              I well understand that many of the makers are also takers in the American entitlement system. It’s one of the most pernicious aspects of it. It also furthers the gangster government’s purposes to do it that way. If everyone’s on the take, no one complains.

        2. By the way, nice non-response to my original point, Tony. You apparently have no effective response to it.

  2. “…the social- conservative agenda (which I do not endorse) lose its off-putting taint by switching to a defensive posture.”

    Off-putting taint? Take a shower!

    1. That’s the thing, though: Most so-con positions are basically a defensive posture.

      Take gay marriage. The so-cons are defending the traditional definition of marriage, and don’t want it changed. How is that not a defensive posture? Yet this position is one of the two that most taints them.

      1. Yeah, I don’t get that either. It’s nothing more than a simpler way of describing William F. Buckley’s comment about “standing athwart history, yelling stop.”

        The biggest problem with that idea is that it concedes that the “history train” is inevitably moving in a direction away from liberty and individual responsibility. It also casts the classical liberal as nothing more than Grandpa railing against modernity. Whatever scorn you want to heap on Ayn Rand, she was quite successful in selling classical liberalism as a positivist philosophy, much in contrast to what Buckley was saying.

  3. Frum? Brooks? Kristol?

    Does conservative mean slightly right of center left now?

    1. That, or people who manage to worm their way into Public Life without actually doing anything.

      1. That list is bizarre. Steyn,Goldberg, Hanson, a Hillsdale prof, the editor of First Things al seem to meet the definition. Medved, Hewitt, Ponnoruru…not what I like to think of as “conservative” but it is a big tent.

        But at least 1/3, if not 1/2 of that list make a cosmo like Welch look conservative.

  4. a grand tradition’s intellectual commitment to reducing the size and scope of government

    I often hear about this “tradition,” but I never seem to hear any examples that pass the laugh test. Conservatism is a big-government philosophy.

    1. Well yeah, but they don’t like paying taxes to pay for it.

    2. The Old Right believed just that. And practiced it.

      Unfortunately, what is now called “conservatism” is something LBJ would have been quite comfortable with.

      Part of the problem is that conservatism in this country is usually defined as an oppositional philosophy, not as an ideology of its own. It’s a moving target. What was “liberal” in the 1960s is now “conservative.”

      1. Yes. He was the archetypal member of the Old Right.

  5. I don’t think Matt should have responded. These are not our friends. Let them stumble upon the Expose Root of Truth themselves or else continue unimpeded on their Path to Obscurity (difficulty: easy).

  6. I declare that from now on, every day is “Treat Every Troll As If They Argue in Good Faith, Ignoring Heaps of Evidence to the Contrary”. Enjoy!

  7. It is stunning how often T o n y gets his ass handed to him and he never responds. He is oblivious to it. Stunning.

    Yesterday I heard a caller on the Dennis Miller show. The caller was a black guy asking how the republican party planned to reach out to the african american community and what did mittens mean when he said he would help them more than captain zero. How so?

    The host said that by strengthening the economy and making more jobs the black community would benefit more so than from more handouts. Yeah, I know, it is debatable that mittens could have pulled that off. The back and forth boiled down to the stand -in host asking the guy if he would rather have a job and stand on his own, or take govt handouts paid for by other people. The caller kept trying to dodge the question. He had to ask him a dozen times but the guy finally admitted he would rather have handouts.

    There you have it folks.

    Until we run out of free shit, T o n y and his despicable ilk are basically running the show.

    1. Listening to Chris Christie, a guy I actually had a lot of respect for until now, throw his bitch fit the other day because some of our representatives were reluctant to hand him a $60 billion blank check made me absolutely sick to my stomach. Their fucking state budget for FY 2013 is only $31 billion!

      1. Christie is a big government guy (in several ways). He’s just the least horrible guy we could elect here in NJ.

        He’s been a lawyer, a lobbyist, and an Attorney General. Not exactly the career path of a small-government radical.

    2. You could have also mentioned that Tony’s fact-free speech at the beginning of this thread is one he has repeated over and over. Like a comedian who keeps telling the same joke again and again hoping someone will find it funny, Tony NEVER writes new material. Best line from the “reality-based community” was –

      “Conservatism doesn’t mean anything, especially in a world in which conservatives are the ones calling for radical change.”

      Radical change. Like cutting one percent of the INCREASE on the deficit. Like continuing tax cuts. Like promising to run the welfare state slightly more efficiently than Obama. Yep, that GOP is a bunch of radicals. Yawn.

      1. Keep in mind that the left is ALWAYS disingenuous. The rhetoric they use is meant to obfuscate. Their terms are bereft of specific content, misleading, and full of innuendo. They always have a hidden agenda.

        That agenda, of course, is total control. Like a little kid trying to ‘reason’ with his parents for something he wants, they start with their conclusion and work backward from there using anything that works.

        As someone mentioned already, you can have a conversation with a conservative, but with the left it is pointless.

      2. You missed the cognitive dissonance in its saying

        Conservatism doesn’t mean anything, especially in a world in which conservatives are the ones calling for radical change.”

        I’ve become convinced that Tony is an elaborate performance art Moby.

  8. As much as I would like the Republican Party to become libertarian, it won’t. You don’t win elections by promising to cut Medicare and Social Security and abolishing the army.

    Conservatism’s best bet is to become a Radical Fairness and Government Competence movement: government transparency, greatly simplified taxes, rejection of corporate privilege and welfare, equal rights for gays, women, and people of color, and a fierce commitment to making government programs work well and be cost-effective.

    1. Ditch the so-cons, and make the trains run on time?

    2. In the present environment, libertarianism won’t win elections, since Free Stuff is a lot easier to sell. What will have to happen is for the true cost of big government to become clear to more people.

      If you don’t believe that’s possible, then you’re conceding that we’re basically fucked.

      1. The true cost doesn’t matter to people like the Obama phone lady or Jeff Immelt. Both are fine with a zero sum game that impoverishes many so long as they get their benefits.

    3. Patriot? More like…tovarishh.

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