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Conservatives Are Suffering From Radicalism Envy

I’m beginning to notice a pattern among the anti-crony-capitalist set.

They’ve adopted a view of the interaction between government and business that is manichean at best, New Leftism in conservative drag at worst.

National Review’s Jonathan Strong passed on this thought from Rep. Raul Labrador:


Now there’s no middle ground between being in the pocket of big business and not blowing up the global financial system.

And yesterday, Forbes’s James Poulos mused [2] that Sen. Ted Cruz was waging a quixotic battle against both Big Finance and Big Government:

Orderly non-default would go a long way to prove to Americans that our complex financial-political system does not need to run things. Who needs the Fed? We don’t even need to raise the debt limit! You can imagine the fallout. It seems impossible to me that Wall Street and the world’s key money elites would ever even consider throwing in the towel on this level. If the financial elite loses the popular perception that they and their ways are essential to basic economic order, the jig is up. And if you can bet on one thing, it’s that the financial elite isn’t going to opt for the jig to be up.

That’s why I rate it extraordinarily likely Cruz and Company will be whipped and the debt limit raised. They thought they could take on big government and big business without any radical-left allies. My expectation is that, come the end of this non-crisis, that was their only miscalculation that mattered.

Again, this notion that preventing a default on our national debt is some kind of sop to Wall Street. By all means, let’s have a debate about the financialization of the American economy [3]. But let’s do so without bringing the system to ruin and hurting millions of ordinary participants of the real economy, shall we?

The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney, bless his conflicted heart, wrote a column [4] recently lamenting that a repeal of Obamacare’s medical device tax was the only concession Republicans would win in the shutdown/debt ceiling standoff. He acknowledges that the tax is “bad,” and that “Congress is correct to repeal it”—but then spends the rest of the column making a nearly airtight case for why the tax should remain in effect. (Read the piece from the sixth paragraph on, and tell me I’m exaggerating.)

The libertarian-populist take on the medical device tax was shared by enough Republicans that language to repeal it was actually stripped out of the House leadership’s final attempt at a bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.

Finally, this morning I made it about a fourth of the way through Kevin D. Williamson’s piece [5] on the tempest-in-a-teapot controversy over the closing of national monuments during the shutdown. He writes, jauntily, “Every American has a little sedition in his soul, and this is a very good time to give it free rein.” To be charitable, Williamson has in mind Thoreauvian civil disobedience here, not outright sedition, but all the same, I find the whole tone utterly disturbing.

RedState’s Erick Erickson actually wrote the following sentence [6] with a straight face: “Mitch McConnell is the single obstacle we have this week to taking our country back from the death spiral instigated by Obama and his merry band of community organizers.”

This talk of death spirals, storming barricades, of cleaning the Augean Stables of K Street, of exposing the naked emperors of Wall Street, of constitutional conventions [7]—it seems painfully apparent to me that many folks on the right are suffering from radicalism envy. They are drama queens of the apocalypse [8].

Movement conservatism has always been half-crazy.

Lately it’s more like three-quarters crazy.

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#1 Comment By Myron Hudson On October 16, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

“New Leftism in conservative drag at worst.” Funny. I wonder what Spiro Agnew would have had to say about them?

#2 Comment By Gene Callahan On October 16, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

“But let’s do so without bringing the system to ruin and hurting millions of ordinary participants of the real economy, shall we?”

Sorry, Scott, what you are saying is “Let’s debate the power of Wall St., but please, without ever actually endangering it, because good God, so many of us are invested in it!”

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 16, 2013 @ 6:06 pm

The title gave me a laugh.

#4 Comment By JasonG On October 16, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

“Sorry, Scott, what you are saying is “Let’s debate the power of Wall St., but please, without ever actually endangering it, because good God, so many of us are invested in it!””

Yep. People are invested in it – that would be millions of us schlubs in fly over country, in an era with declining company pensions, needing a healthy Wall Street for our savings and retirement.

Let’s just burn the whole thing down, uh, huh.

#5 Comment By jamie On October 16, 2013 @ 6:57 pm

I wonder what Spiro Agnew would have had to say about them?

He’d say they were “parsimonious pugnacious pugilists.”

#6 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 16, 2013 @ 7:31 pm

The salient difference, which seems to always be passed over when these comparisons are made, is that the “New Left” never really had Congressmen, much less Senators, among its ranks. At most, elected DC Democrats in the late Sixties/early Seventies sympathized, somewhat, with New Left, anti establishment, anti Wall Street, burn it all down and let’s start again, radicalism, but were never of it. Those Reps and Senators were liberals, not real leftists, and were considerably closer to the center than today’s Tea Party Congressmen and Ted Cruz. There was no Senator Abby Hoffman.

#7 Comment By Ken Hoop On October 16, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

Sorry. I’ve met people who, when we were discussing the masses in European streets protesting run amok bankster control , voiced their agreement with the protestors.
But when you suggested Americans should do/have done the same at the very least since the crooks were bailed out, they’ve blanched.
That might lead to further unstability, even chaos…let my kids become adults and get settled with careers before any of this
starts to get cleaned out, was the attitude.
If then. Better, after my grandkids are grown…
Which of course will only make the cleaning out harder to do when it must, absolutely must be done.

#8 Comment By Chris 1 On October 16, 2013 @ 9:00 pm

I wonder what Spiro Agnew would have had to say about them?

“hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history” springs to mind.

#9 Comment By Clint On October 16, 2013 @ 9:08 pm

Ronald Reagan,
“Our people look for a cause to believe in. Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people?”

#10 Comment By Reinhold On October 16, 2013 @ 9:27 pm

“millions of us schlubs in fly over country, in an era with declining company pensions, needing a healthy Wall Street for our savings and retirement.”
You are dead right that working-class people are being screwed by Wall Street and are simultaneously dependent on it; but according to conservatives, “needing a healthy Wall Street for our savings and retirement” is a coherent statement, but “needing a healthy government for our savings and retirement” is not. Obviously it is ok to be sickly dependent on Wall St., but not on the Gov’t––THAT would be slavery to have publicly-insured medicine, but for my wages to depend entirely on the uncontrollable fluctuations of speculative financial markets? Freedom defined.

#11 Comment By WorkingClass On October 16, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

If I thought it was about Crony Capitalism (polite term for Fascism)I would be more sympathetic. It was about fear/hatred of Obama and the Democrats and opposition to public assistance to the poor. Ron Paul is the GOP’s baby. These folks are bathwater. Or maybe they are drama queens of the apocalypse.

#12 Comment By Sheldon On October 16, 2013 @ 10:59 pm

Very good piece by Zakaria on the disconnect between the dark, declinist view of America that conservatives seem to hold and the reality, here:


#13 Comment By Aegis On October 17, 2013 @ 2:07 am

“Sorry, Scott, what you are saying is ‘Let’s debate the power of Wall St., but please, without ever actually endangering it, because good God, so many of us are invested in it!'”

Well, wait there Gene. It seems to me that there is a damned good conservative argument to take just that position. Lets start with Wall Street: even if it is corrupt in some respects, the institution arose for a reason and messing with it too radically almost certainly will result in unforeseen, adverse consequences that most of us would rather like to avoid. It seems to me that a conservative could very reasonably say “lets discuss this, but lets not get so carried away as to needlessly upset the finance industry.”

Likewise, a conservative can very reasonably say “lets look into government overreach, but typically our governmental institutions arose in response to specific problems–some of which aren’t in the forefront of our minds right this second–and if we push too far we risk bringing about complications that we didn’t really take into consideration.”

As I understand it, it is supposed to be the radicals that say “F_ck established institutions, things are wrong and we need to set them right, regardless of incidental adverse consequences.”

#14 Comment By Dave On October 17, 2013 @ 7:58 am

Spiro would have waited until you slipped that envelope full of cash into his pocket before talking. From everything we know of the man he wouldn’t tell you the time without a little payoff.

#15 Comment By Ethan C. On October 17, 2013 @ 10:37 am

Some of us non-Tea Party conservatives are feeling pretty radicalized too right now, due to the farce that just ended in the Congress. It seems to signify how dysfunctional our governmental system has become, so it raises the question on how radical a solution would have to be to actually work. Personally, I’m contemplating the virtues of abolishing state legislative control of congressional districting to do away with gerrymandering.

Also, some of the ideas put forward in this magazine are pretty radical, like Ron Unz’s ideas for raising the minimum wage.

Scott, you’re right that defaulting on the national debt would be an absolutely terrible way to go about radically attacking the crony-capitalist system, but it’s seeming like any strategy that would actually *work* would have to be pretty radical.

Or at least the powers-that-be would be certain to define any such thing as “radical”. Even something as moderate as actually enforcing the laws we have, and sending criminals to jail.

#16 Comment By Dan Davis On October 17, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

[Personally, I’m contemplating the virtues of abolishing state legislative control of congressional districting to do away with gerrymandering.]

Why don’t you just skip the pretense of conservatism altogether and contemplate the abolition of state charters? Or the abolition of the House of Representatives?

#17 Comment By dotJenna On October 17, 2013 @ 9:27 pm

We don’t like Obamacare. We don’t like socialized medicine. We don’t like the fact that the Republicans that we elected are voting contrary to party principals. We don’t like that the President of the US is closing down monuments to Veterans.

Your article is pompous and clearly out-of-touch. You seem to be living in a glass house with no clue of how it feels to be a real American. When is the last time you felt the grass under your feet? Judging from your dripping face, it’s been a while.

The average American is not privy to the luxuries that you afford. We are not heartless. We are empathetic, compassionate and passionate about our Country. We are not like you. We cannot sell out our country and defy reason for monetary gain. Our conscience is not capable of lying like yours.

I think YOU have Tea Party envy. I’m sorry, cronies need to create their own team.

#18 Comment By Ed On October 19, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

Movement conservatism has always been half-crazy.

Only them? Craziness doesn’t have a fixed abode in any one part of the political spectrum. For example, people who are always going on about how the wrong side won the Civil War or how the government should be no larger or more powerful than it was in 1930 or 1910 or 1830 or 1810 may also have a screw loose somewhere.

And is this really “movement conservatism?” I thought the Tea Party was an attempt to get away from the compromises and insiderism of the established conservative movement. Williamson, Poulos, Strong, and Carney may be insiders of the old “movement” trying to catch up with the new movement of disaffected outsiders, but whatever the new movement is, it’s not their creation or something under their control.

Reading Williamson’s article, it’s not as crazy as selective quotation might suggest. It’s on par with the salutes to American unruliness that we saw coming from the left in the Bush years.

I’m no fan of the Tea Party or Cruz or the shutdown, but there’s enough of the
“anarchist,” “nihilist,” “secessionist,” descriptions of the Tea Party and congressional Republicans coming from the left — even comic comparisons of the shutdown to Abbie Hoffman or the conservative Woodstock — that you might want to tamp down the rhetoric and be a bit less pejorative in your account.

#19 Comment By Carl On October 22, 2013 @ 11:32 am

This article confused the heck out of me.

Who are the conservatives? Which ones are “movement” and which ones “radical”? Does conservative mean “votes GOP”? None of the terms get defined.

It’s probably a good article, but I can’t make any sense out of who is who!

#20 Comment By Jim Blackwell On October 22, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

You miss the entire essence of the issue. What it is in a nut-shell is the inside the beltway culture and establishment elites from “both” political parties and the establishment mainstream media and elite writers of opinion that are waging an all out effort to destroy the conservative populist movement that challenges the establishment. Lord Acton stated that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and that is where we are with the Washington establishment. The establishment has become totally corrupt. And they do not want anyone to rock the boat when it comes to their power, position, privilege, and perks. The current system as manifest by both party elites is sodden with money, influence peddling, and yes outright corruption. Anyone like Cruz who challenges that is bound to get everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them.