I’m not entirely sure why The Awl ran a piece yesterday entitled “Dear Conservative Movement: Stop Ruining My Life, by Michael Brendan Dougherty”. I suppose it’s topical, given this week’s shift in the U.S. senate shell game. (I don’t see Scott Brown’s election as a “groundswell” as some do, but in logistical terms, yeah, it’s a pretty big deal.) And I suppose that it’s nice for a progressive media outlet to give a voice to outside opinions now and then. And I suppose it’s also in keeping with The Awl’s tone, which is equally, intelligently critical of both parties, and also Joe Lieberman. Especially Joe Lieberman.
But whatever: they ran the piece. And I read it. And as in a certain well-known fairy tale, the scales fell from my eyes.
Backstory: like many arrogant, contrarian assholes, I don’t enjoy being pigeonholed, and although I’ve voted Democrat for as long as I can remember, I like to think of myself as open-minded. I work with Republicans. I have Republican friends. My adoptive family is a bunch of gun-toting bible-thumpers (but they thump in such a lovable way). So I admit it: I’ve fallen into that terrible trap of saying that I’m “fiscally conservative but socially liberal”.
But you know what? Fuck it. I don’t think anyone can be both those things. Well, not simultaneously.
In his piece, Dougherty more or less takes the fiscal conservative/social liberal position. He asks the Republican party to drop headline-grabbing distractions like abortion and gay marriage and focus on core issues like lower taxes and smaller government. But while those may sound like laudable goals, what’s far more important to me than smaller government is efficient government — specifically, efficient government that provides important services to the public. And frankly, if you put the public’s best interests at the top of your priority list, I don’t think you have time to get hung up on the size of an organizational chart. Providing services like education (e.g. public schools) and health care (e.g. Medicare/Medicaid) is a big job, and to do it properly requires big government. Even if those jobs are outsourced, the bills and oversight required will be huge. And until the U.S. government is able to generate its own revenue by selling, I don’t know, Ultimate Snuggies maybe, then taxes are the only way to fund these programs. It’s the price we pay for living in a first-world country. Suck it up.
Dougherty’s young, edgy, gay-friendly attitude also fails to seduce me on libertarian, fend-for-yourself policies. As I’ve said before, those would be fine if the world was full of nothing but doughy, middle-class self-starters, but some people just can’t make it on their own. They need help. Republicans have shown that they’re not immune to those pleas for assistance — hell, even Rush Limbaugh has supported giving to Haitian relief efforts (just not through WhiteHouse.gov). So how is it that giving to the sick and homeless in Haiti is “charity”, but giving to the sick and homeless in America is a “handout”? It’s human to want to help others; why would anyone fight that impulse tooth and nail? (Answer: to prove their manhood. Libertarians dream of being the financial world’s equivalent of Bear effing Grylls.)
And don’t get me started on Dougherty’s isolationist babble. Those sort of policies — especially today — are doomed to failure. No communication, no collaboration = no growth.
So apparently, even Republican hipsters (two words rarely jammed together) can’t persuade me that there’s any redeeming elements in the conservative platform. Which means that as of yesterday, I’ve become completely comfortable wearing the mantle of a Tax-and-Spend Liberal. Anyone wanna make an iron-on patch for my tie-died denim housecoat?