Obama talking about gov't shutdown 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)
There is, without doubt, a growing sense of concern among Americans of all
political leanings, in all parts of the country, with regard to the fecklessness
of the Obama administration. This goes beyond partisan politics. Obviously,
those opposed to Obama and his policies are angry, especially over the disaster
that ObamaCare is proving to be. But it is the dismay of his supporters that is
a more telling indicator that something is very wrong.
It is therefore
all the more remarkable that the more interesting part of the American political
system is its conservative wing, traditionally centred on and in the Republican
Party. Perhaps this is the case because it is on that wing that a major
ideological debate is taking place, whereas on the liberal wing there is no
parallel struggle, at least not on the same scale.
The political Right in
America (unlike, say, in much of Europe) tends to be conservative with a small
c, rather than a big one. That means it has an almost instinctive suspicion of
the state and its power and would prefer to have a smaller government, with less
extensive (and intrusive) reach into most areas of public and private
Conservative thinking tends in the direction that government,
especially central government, cannot provide the answers to all of society’s
problems – and even if it could, that doesn’t mean to say it should. In other
words, even in cases where it is likely that government can provide effective
solutions, there is a need to recognize that these come with a price attached
and that it is therefore necessary to debate whether this price is worth
The cost of any solution is first of all financial, which means
it requires increased taxation to pay for the programs – unless, of course, you
just borrow the money and pass the cost over to “the future.” However, beyond
the money involved, larger government is itself a cost to society – at least
that’s how conservatives look at it.
However, traditional conservative
thinking did not view government as inherently bad, let alone evil. True, Ronald
Reagan’s line that “government is not the solution, it’s the problem” is
far-reaching. But Reagan did not mean that in quite as sweeping a sense as it
sounds. The political Right is now split between the kind of traditional ideas
outlined above and the much more radical ideology espoused by the Tea Party and
the libertarianism of Ron Paul. The Republican Party is now split between the
old-style conservatives, who are regarded as moderates, and the new
This split has spread to the policy research institutions,
known as think tanks, that tend to be the laboratories of new political thinking
and policy initiatives. There are liberal think tanks and conservative ones, and
shades of each. But it is probably fair to say that the Heritage Foundation has
always been among the most prominent of the right-wing ones.
therefore a pleasurable experience to have the opportunity, on a recent visit to
Washington, to find that there are still sane conservatives in the Heritage
Foundation – although outsiders claim that the place has been conquered by the
radicals and now indulges in overt and intensive lobbying for the Tea Party
Maybe that is so, but James Gattuso, who is a senior research
fellow in the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Economic Policy Studies and
who specializes in regulatory policy, is not of that ilk. Our discussion ranged
over the gamut of domestic policy issues; he was careful to stress that he has
no expertise in foreign policy. It was a relief to find that there are still
people on the Right who are looking for practical solutions that will facilitate
the governance of the country, rather than pursuing ideological solutions that
will not be accepted by the majority and hence will not work.
argument, increasingly commonly heard, that Obama’s policies are also
ideologically extreme and hence unacceptable to the majority, may well be
But that is hardly a convincing rationale to adopt equally
intransigent policies based on the diametrically opposite ideology.
details of the policy issues – not just health care of course, but also
education, immigration and much more – are of course the nitty-gritty of any
discussion. But the most encouraging thing I learned from my visit to the
Heritage Foundation, beyond that there are still rational, serious people on the
political Right, was Gattuso’s historical analysis.
He views the Tea
Party as a part of a recurring pattern in American politics: populist and
radical movements that spring up every couple of generations, with fundamentally
similar agendas, but that flare up and then die down fairly quickly. He believes
political pragmatism will reassert itself as soon as the next presidential
election or, at worst, the one after.
For America’s, and everyone else’s
sake, he’d better be right.