Ross asks:

Another thing on this subject – is opposition to wealth-spreading in principle really now a litmus test for being a conservative? I thought that being on the right meant that you wanted a welfare state that’s small in size and limited in scope – that’s what I signed up for, at least – and the most just and reasonable way to shrink and/or restrain the American welfare state that I can see is to make it more redistributive, rather than less so.

I suppose a friendly way to reply to this would be to say that someone who wants a welfare state that’s “small in size and limited in scope” is on the right, but that is not why he would be identified as being on the right, except by comparison to those who want universal entitlements and who speak of government support in terms of rights.  Nonetheless, Ross’ frustration with McCain’s schizophrenic hatred of socialism (or as McCain has been quoted as saying: “we loves redistribution of wealth, we hates it!”) is understandable.  As I noted before, labeling Obama as the wealth-spreading candidate is not only politically stupid, but philosophically misguided as well.  It used to be that conservatives believed and could articulate the belief that market economies were on the whole better at allocating resources and equitably distributing wealth than economies subject to a great deal of state intervention.  The time was when broad and even distribution of wealth was a Jeffersonian and conservative goal to provide for a broad class of property-holders as the basis for social and political stability.  It was not a description of a left-wing or welfarist plot.  So much for that.      

The bailout was redistributive, McCain’s crazy mortgage bailout pander (which is essentially a gift to lenders) is redistributive, and federal subsidies are classic examples of redistributing wealth, and McCain supports at least two of those three, but when Obama proposes tax credits for low and middle-income taxpayers (even if this results in additional subsidies) that is suddenly unacceptable socialism for McCain.  It’s true that these subsidies are going to be funded out of general revenues, but McCain and a lot of his supporters do not oppose these things in principle.  So what McCain and his supporters have been saying as they parse Obama’s supposed “tax cut for 95%” is the following politically savvy message: “If you are working-class or middle-class and did what you were supposed to do, you’re not going to get back any more of your money from the state, but if you are a financial institution that made bad loans or bought up mortgage-backed securities all the people who played by the rules are going to help you out.”  Solidarity for financiers is not exactly a compelling message.  What is even more incredible is that McCain and Palin have the gall to portray themselves as the ones who want to put the government back “on the side of the people.”     

Bizarrely, rather than focus the attack on Obama’s proposed new entitlement spending or Obama’s raising of the payroll tax cap, McCain and his allies have spent the last week obsessing over the proposed tax credits/subsidies, which also go to those who don’t pay income tax.  It’s not as if McCain opposes redistribution as such, but he does seem to be very much opposed to any kind of relief for most responsible taxpayers.