Paul Krugman has a column up at the New York Times called “Death by Ideology.”
The column doesn’t take on the concept of “ideology” per se, like Russell Kirk or Michael Oakeshott might. But it is becoming a recurring theme on the Left to emphasize how (1) conservatives are overcome by an extreme anti-government ideology, while (2) liberals just want to continue with all those venerable (and popular) American traditions like the New Deal and the supremacy of the federal government.
I think traditionalist conservatives tend to gloss over their similarities with the Left. They fail to address the fact that, if tradition is our main guide, things like Social Security and Medicare are pretty huge parts of our American tradition. And if traditionalists value states’ rights and localism–as many do–they fail to fully address that these haven’t been important values in America since the nineteenth century. For these reasons, I don’t think that traditionalist arguments can sustain a critique against Obamacare or the evisceration of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments–only a libertarian, rationalist argument can.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what some left-wing commentators have to say:
Mother Jones on the Obamacare case:
[T]he truth is still the same as it was two years ago: the distinction between activity and inactivity—i.e., whether the federal government can mandate specific activity in addition to prohibiting it—has no historical basis at all. It was invented out of whole cloth. There’s no precedent, no language in the Constitution, and for the most part, not even any discussion about it in the legal literature prior to 2009. It’s simply not something that anyone ever took seriously until it became the only plausible attack line against a piece of liberal legislation that conservatives wanted to overturn.
If the court does overturn the mandate, it’s going to be hard to know how to react. It’s been more than 75 years since the Supreme Court overturned a piece of legislation as big as ACA, and I can’t think of any example of the court overturning landmark legislation this big based on a principle as flimsy and manufactured as activity vs. inactivity.
Andrew Sullivan (who wrote his PhD dissertation on Michael Oakeshott):
I view conservatism as the practical engagement with policy and political institutions to adapt modestly and incrementally to social and economic change with the goal of maintaining the coherence and stability of a polity and a culture. It is a philosophy of moderation and balance, constantly alert to the manifold ways in which societies can, over time, lose their equilibrium. It is defined, along Burke’s foundational lines, as an opposition to ideological and theological politics in every form. And so it is a perfectly admirable conservative idea to respond to capitalism’s modern mercilessness by trying to support, encourage and help the traditional family structure and traditional religious practice. The point is a pragmatic response to contingent events that threaten social coherence. But it is equally conservative to note that a group in society – openly gay people – have emerged as a force and are best integrated within an existing institution – civil marriage – than by continued ostracism or new “civil unions” that have not stood the test of time.
On that pragmatic, non-ideological definition of conservatism, on a wide array of issues, Obama wins hands down.
In a sense all of America is liberalism. “The great advantage of the American,” Tocqueville wrote over a century ago, “is that he has arrived at a state of democracy without having to endure a democratic revolution and that he is born free without having to become so.” With freedom thus a matter of birthright and not of conquest, the American assumes liberalism as one of the presuppositions of life. With no social revolution in his past, the American has no sense of the role of catastrophe in change. Consequently, he is, by nature, a gradualist; he sees few problems which cannot be solved by reason and debate; and he is confident that nearly all problems can be solved. It is characteristically American that every war in American history has been followed by an outburst of historical “revisionism” seeking to prove that the war was unnecessary.
Something has gone seriously haywire with the Republican Party. Once, it was the party of pragmatic Main Street businessmen in steel-rimmed spectacles who decried profligacy and waste, were devoted to their communities, and supported the sort of prosperity that raises all ships. They were good-hearted people who had vanquished the gnarlier elements of their party, the paranoid Roosevelt-haters, the Flat Earthers and Prohibitionists, the antipapist antiforeigner element. The genial Eisenhower was their man, a genuine American hero of D-Day, who made it okay for reasonable people to vote Republican (even in the South), and he brought the Korean War to a stalemate, produced the Interstate Highway System, declined to rescue the French colonial army in Vietnam, and gave us a period of peace and prosperity, in which (oddly) American arts and letters flourished mightily and higher education burgeoned and there was a degree of plain decency in the country. Much too much was made of Alger Hiss and the Hollywood Ten by lefties with a bad case of the yips. Fifties Republicans were giants compared to today’s. Richard Nixon was the last Republican leader to feel a Christian obligation toward the poor. . . .
Once we Democrats were young and rebellious and lobbed eggs at the bewigged and berobed Establishment and now we’re the parents with the thankless job of home maintenance, defending principles that go back to the founding of the Republic, namely, the notion of the common good, the principle of equality, the very idea of representative government. We’ve become the tiresome, repetitive old dad who tells his boys that Progress Depends on Teamwork and All of Us Learning to Pull Together, while the Republicans have turned into the Screw You Party. They tore into the progressive income tax, raked the IRS over the coals for chasing down deadbeats, and succeeded in convincing the American people that they are overtaxed (compared to whom? Albania?), succeeded to the extent that 17% of Americans now believe it is justifiable to cheat on your income tax.