Dems and GOP v. Conservatives

Member Group : Jerry Shenk

There is little in modern liberalism to match the rich intellectual tradition of classical conservatism.

America’s founding documents are conservatives’ cornerstones, but modern conservative thought is also grounded in ancient teachings of Confucius (551-479 BC) and Cato the Elder (234-149 BC). John Locke (1632-1704) and Edmund Burke (1729-1797) inspired modern conservatism. Conservative, free market economic principles are expressed in the works of economists Adam Smith (1723-1790), Friedrich Hayek (1899–1992), Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973) and Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman (1912-2006).

America’s progressive (modern "liberal") phenomenon is a more recent, post-, often anti-constitutional development with roots in both major parties.

Progressives, the predecessors of modern left-wing agitators, appeared in the late 1800s protesting rapid industrialization, and gradually gained influence. Republican President (1901-1909) Teddy Roosevelt first called for a "Progressive" revolution in politics, economics and society, and a radical expansion of governmental control. But many American progressives/liberals trace their political genesis to Democratic President (1913-1921) Woodrow Wilson. At Princeton University, Wilson, then a professor of political science, taught that there are no principled, even constitutional limits to government’s powers.

Somewhat analogous to the European monarchic tradition from which America liberated itself and Europe’s 20th Century tendency to dictatorial centralization (Russia, Italy, Spain, Germany), Roosevelt’s and Wilson’s strong-executive, big-government philosophies were antithetical to America’s founding principles.

Nonetheless, Roosevelt and Wilson reached receptive audiences. During the rapid industrialization and urbanization of 1880-1920, America received more than 20 million immigrants, the majority from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, few of whom possessed even rudimentary understanding of America’s founding values and to whom strong, centralized governments were commonplace.

Having inherited Wilson’s war debt and a recession, President Warren Harding cut spending in 1921, and righted the economy. Upon Harding’s death in 1923, his successor, Calvin Coolidge, further reduced government spending, cut taxes, balanced budgets and governed a booming America.

Respectful of government’s constitutional limits, fiscal hawks Harding and Coolidge were arguably America’s last truly-conservative limited-government presidents.

But, after Franklin Roosevelt became president, the Supreme Court undermined the framework of limited and enumerated federal powers central to our Constitution by approving his overambitious "New Deal."

Since then, liberals in both major parties have been so successful at expanding government that, today, the national debt exceeds America’s Gross Domestic Product. Our government has become a ubiquitous, massively-intrusive, increasingly-repressive political, social and cultural presence unwelcome to Americans who believe government controls too much.

As government grew, so did the political stakes, the opportunities for graft and the spoils of power. Today, Democrat and Republican antagonists argue less over the size and reach of government than they do over the rate at which government will expand and who will hold and pull the levers of power.

For now, Republicans are in charge. Do enough Republicans still understand conservative principles and possess enough wisdom to reverse the prior administration’s liberal, extralegal excesses that enabled GOP majorities? Will congressional Republicans scale back government and reduce spending in which their own members were complicit?

They had better. America is watching.