The Corner

What Conservatives Hath Wrought

Matt Yglesias chimes in on that odd op-ed from yesterday in the Times. He agrees that it’s — again — odd to say the GOP today is more conservative than Goldwater, though he comes from a more hostile perspective. He goes on to suggest, not entirely outlandishly, that the allegedly “more conservative” conservative movement hasn’t accomplished much.

I don’t want to take the bait on trying to list everything conservatives have or haven’t done. A few things come immediately to mind. First of all, so-called liberals were increasingly useless in the second-half of the Cold War. Second, conservative free-market arguments brought about a wave of deregulation which created immense material prosperity and improved health (see David Frum’s book on the 1970s). Third, James Q Wilson’s “broken windows” theory helped reverse America’s seemingly permanent descent into criminal violence more than any liberal idea in the last half-century. I can think of plenty of other examples, of course. But you get the point.

And one last thing. Whenever I point out that America’s environment has gotten so much better or that the “Population Bomb” was a dud, environmentalist liberals always say these benefits were the result of activists raising the alarms and causing changes in public policy. It’s a fair argument as far as it goes, but it hardly justifies the lies of the environmentalists. Nonetheless, I think it’s fair to remind folks of how unbelievably bad the ideas of the left in the 1960s and 1970s were. From the National Welfare Rights Organization insisting that welfare payments constituted reparations for slavery (and should therefore be increased and expanded) to the Nuclear Freeze movement and so on. I wish conservatives had accomplished more, but the one accomplishment I’m very grateful for is that they stopped the left from translating so many of its ideas into policy.

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