Daniel McCarthy is rightly puzzled by Francis Fukuyama’s assertion that conservatives need to “get over their ideological aversion to the state” and rediscover the strong-government, reform-minded conservatism of Alexander Hamilton and Theodore Roosevelt.
What, Dan asks, is the party that gave us a new prescription drug entitlement, more centralized education policy, and the “ownership society” if not thoroughly statist?
Compassionate conservatism. Faith-based initiatives. Medicare Part D. No Child Left Behind. Bush tried to help the middle class and blue-collar Americans by using government to ensure they could all own homes and invest in the stock market — the “ownership society.” If you wanted a Republican who had made its peace with the welfare state and promised to be a uniter, not a divider, the last occupant of the Oval Office was just that.
Fukuyama’s piece was apparently a contribution to a Financial Times series on the future of conservatism. It seems to me he phoned it in. By Fukuyama standards, it’s uncharacteristically muddled. His argument is with the rhetoric of the Tea Party, obviously, but he never explicitly says so. He just takes the post-Bush party line at face value and simply ignores the context of the last decade — rather like the GOP itself, come to think of it.
The question Fukuyama, and the rest of us, should be asking is not whether the GOP is too anti-statist, but, rather, whether the Tea Party is truly anti-statist. I’ve written about this obsessively over the last two years. In summary, my opinion is this: The Tea Party was a fraudulent ideological freakout. Its adherents saw the electoral disasters of 2006 and 2008 and refused to believe that they bore any responsibility for them. And so they contrived a feeble narrative in which government, by spending too much and by forcing mortgage lenders to act like idiots, caused the financial crash. Long-term exposure to the Tea Party has shown it to be a rebranded version of the religious right with an abiding, self-interested commitment to preserving the entitlement state.
Fukuyama fears what this movement might accomplish if it gets its way in 2013 and beyond. Judging from his FT piece, what he’d like to see in its place is a conservatism that tames rather than truckles to corporations, and gets real about the need for more federal revenue.
But what we’re likely to get from a Romney administration is what you might call Tea Party Statism: a large militarized state that inordinately benefits the wealthy and is even more insanely financed than the one we’ve already got.
Fukuyama is not crazy to worry about this prospect.