Saturday, April 23, 2011

Feel-good conservatism - A threat to the GOP

I've been doing some thinking over why some people say things they know are stupid. Liberals, for example, are famous for this (although they are for from the only people who engage in the practice).

They just wanna feel good.

There is a big different between feeling good and being good, and everyone who has ever been good knows that you don't always feel good while you are being good. Sometimes, doing what's right is tough and makes you feel heartless.

Politically, this takes various expressions. Take entitlement reform for example. Who doesn't feel heartless saying the US has to reform social security and at a minimum tell all those who are still young or middle-age that once they retire, they won't be getting a pension from the government (which for a lot of people means they won't be able to retire at all, or at least not until they are 75 or something)?

If you're conservative, however, you should care about being good, not feeling good. It really doesn't feel good to support entitlement reform, but anyone who has taken a look at the federal budget and where the money is spent can tell you that the budget cannot be balanced without it. And without balancing the budget, the country is bound to go bankrupt at some point in the future.

Would rather feel good, or would you rather be good? Liberals choose feeling good. It makes them feel like such heroes when they talk about taxing the rich and not betraying the elderly.

Sadly, many conservatives make the same choice. Cutting taxes as a solution to everything is the most obvious example of "feel-good conservatism" as I would like to call it. Pablo called it "talk radio conservatism", but I think what really unites all these people isn't talk radio as much as their desire to "feel good".

Being good means thinking about both sides of the story; thinking both short term and long term and learning from experience. This means you may have to take unpopular stances at times, but if you believe that belonging to the good guys is important, you have to do it.

Cutting social security doesn't give you that warm, fuzzy feeling in your stomach that you get from talking about cutting taxes and defunding NPR (or from talking about "change we can believe in" for all that matters), but it is a much more urgent issue. Unless the US has a plan for balancing the budget by 2013, the AAA credit rating will be gone (in another post, I'll explain how 2012 candidates should deal with that). It's impossible to balance the budget without cutting entitlements (take a look at the numbers yourself if you don't believe me).

It's time to toughen up. Feeling good is for liberals. We're conservatives and we should be good, no matter how it makes us feel. I remember from reading Economics in one lesson (one of the first books in economics I read which really got me interested in the field) that:

"The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."

That, I think, summarizes things quite well. And it is something for conservatives in general to consider as well, not just economists. It doesn't give you the same warm, fuzzy feeling to consider long-term effects and society as a whole - it's actually quite a boring process, but it has to be done by anyone who claims to be worthy of occupying the White House, or for that matters worthy of representing the American people in the House and Senate.

If conservatives want to prove themselves worthy of governing, they need to stop all that feel-good nonsense and get real about what has to be done. We have to tell the people that "this might hurt a little". We will have to say things that can't be turned into catchy slogans. Right now, it seems unlikely that the "feel-good conservatives" who are more interested in symbolic fights are going to let go of the party. Those feel-good conservatives are exactly the kind of people who would vote for Donald Trump if he were to run as an independent; his tough talk about China and the birth certificate is like music to their ears (these conservatives seem to hate Obama so much they would probably like to see his death certificate rather than his birth certificate).

If we can get back to discussing real solutions to real problems, then we deserve to win in 2012. We may or may not win, but even if we don't, we can certainly say we deserved it. If we don't, not only do we not deserve to win, but in the long term we won't, because sooner or later the public is bound to understand we're not really interested in solving the problems the country faces.

I hope you understand what I'm trying to say. Please leave a comment.

1 comment:

GetReal said...

This piece is very well written and you've made a great point, and our leaders would do well to remember this.

I'm confused, however, with how you might square this with your support of Mike Huckabee for President of the United States. "Feel-good conservatism" would make a great name for much of his platform.

I'm not trying to take a pot shot at you here, I respect your opinion a great deal from the articles you've written, even back at RightOSphere. I just want to understand your reasoning.