The Corner

‘No-Government’ Conservatives and the Meta-Narrative

The key to understanding the Left is knowing that they inhabit a Manichean fantasy world in which history is controlled by roiling, magical forces, in which signs, symbols, and portents are more important than empirical reality and in which their opponents are not just wrong but evil. They see life as a zero-sum game of winners and losers, with themselves cast as the heroes of their own overarching ur-Narrative, from which all other their other dialectic narratives (rich vs. poor, black vs. white, “privileged” vs. the undeserving poor, the “war on women,” etc.) flow. 

Now along comes former Obama wunderkind speechwriter and Hillary Clinton fan Jon Favreau in the Daily Beast, indulging in a particularly revealing flight of “progressive” fantasy. In this latest installment, the not-entirely-irredeemable “moderate Republicans” have been routed by the orcs and uruk-hai of the far Right, who have finally “purified” the Republican party of its humanitarian streak and can now proceed with their villainous campaign to cast the rest of the world into benighted, perpetual darkness. After hailing a predictable list of “good” Republicans — new pin-up boy Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and, yes, John McCain and Lindsey Graham — for their enlightened responses to such things as federal aid for Hurricane Sandy victims and the recent capitulation on the filibuster, Favreau proceeds to whale the tar out of his revanchist and irredentist straw men:

None of these actions have endeared the small-government conservatives to their rivals for power, the no-government conservatives. No-government conservatives take their inspiration from Grover Norquist’s famous quote that government should be shrunk to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub. These Republicans, who make up most of the House and a healthy portion of the Senate, are on an uncompromising mission to abolish most government services, benefits, regulations, and taxes.

The goals of no-government conservatives are not primarily economic. They will propose more tax cuts in times of surplus and times of deficit. They care little when the nonpartisan experts and economists at the Congressional Budget Office say sequestration will cost up to 1.6 million jobs next year, or that immigration reform will boost our GDP, or that Obamacare will reduce the debt over time. No-government conservatives are not compelled by the evidence that temporary benefits such as food stamps and unemployment insurance put money in the pockets of those most likely to spend it at local businesses that will grow and create jobs as a result. Their only jobs agenda, their only growth agenda, their only deficit agenda is eliminating government, no matter how many people it helps or how big a boost it provides the economy.

Nor are the goals of no-government conservatives primarily political. They have advisers, they can read polls, and most of them probably know that shutting down the government or forcing a default would be, among other catastrophes, highly unpopular. They realize that rampant hostage-taking and filibuster-abuse are the chief contributors to the obstruction and gridlock that Americans of both parties hate.

They just don’t care. Jonathan Chait has written about the recent embrace of “procedural extremism” among many congressional Republicans, who have “evolved from being politically shrewd proponents of radical policy changes to a gang of saboteurs who would rather stop government from functioning at all.”

But for no-government conservatives, this has been their primary policy goal all along.Their fundamental philosophy is purely ideological—the idea that since government can’t do everything, it should do nothing. So as long as the public continues to see Washington as a dysfunctional circus of petty children, the conservative philosophy of government is vindicated. That is also precisely why no-government conservatives view the successful implementation of Obamacare as an existential threat—because it would prove that limited government intervention in the market can still be an effective force for good. It is why some Republicans are threatening a shutdown unless Obama agrees to defund the Affordable Care Act—a step they know can’t even be achieved through the annual budget process.

As if. In politics, the opposite of something is not necessarily nothing, as Favreau would have it — it’s a different something: in this case, responsive, responsible and limited government. 

Citing fellow lefty Jonathan Chait in an argument from authority and offering Grover Norquist as the poster boy for movement conservatives are just two of Favreau’s many fallacies. You can read a brief fisking of his pipe dream here, and of course you’re free to write your own, to which I would just add that I don’t think even Favreau believes what he’s written — not rationally, anyway. Rather, he’s articulating the Meta-Narrative, the fairy tale that regressive Neanderthals tell each other in order to try and make sense of a world that fundamentally frightens them. It’s the only way they can deal with such an inimical universe, one whose laws of gravity, physics, and economics constantly contradict their tribal beliefs and in which their beautiful theories are subject to relentless muggings by a gang of brutal facts from the Cro-Magnons on the other side of the river. 

Michael Walsh — Mr. Walsh is the author of the novels Hostile Intent and Early Warning and, writing as frequent NRO contributor David Kahane, Rules for Radical Conservatives.


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