Recently, the liberal city of New York banned trans fats in restaurants, and is requiring them to list the calories of the items on their menus. Last week, Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman held a press conference regarding their sponsorship of the "Family Entertainment Protection Act" that would legislate video games. The new Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is promising a minimum wage hike in the first one hundred hours of Congress. And all over blue-state America, we see states and cities banning smoking in more and more privately-owned places.
I know how Matt Stone must have been feeling when he said, "I hate conservatives, but I really f---ing hate liberals." Why? Well, let's grant for the sake of argument that conservatism is based entirely on prejudice and superstition, and liberalism is based entirely on tolerance and reason. If this is so, at least conservatives inherited their authoritarian beliefs from their culture and religion, whereas liberals have no excuse.
Of course, just because right-wing talk show hosts call some people liberals, doesn't mean they are really liberals. Just as George W. Bush isn't really a conservative. But what the words meant a decade ago, or a century ago, is perhaps irrelevant. These days, maybe "liberal" means Democrat and "conservative" means Republican. If that is the case, however, then both the liberal and conservative movements today are opposed to the values that once gave them life.
The conservative transformation was more recent and drastic."Peace through strength" became "peace through war." The "crony capitalism" of special-interest favors became more important than the interests of small businesses. The "helping hand" of Compassionate Conservatism replaced the Invisible Hand of free markets. A commitment to balanced budgets gave way to record deficits. Federalism was replaced by micro-management in areas like education. Checks and balances were replaced by assertions that the President had virtually unlimited power; liberty was sacrificed for supposed security. And, as Brink Lindsey has noted, the view that Big Government was a threat to traditional values was replaced by the view that Big Government must impose traditional values.
Lew Rockwell wrote of "the dramatic shift of the red-state bourgeoisie from leave-us-alone libertarianism, manifested in the Congressional elections of 1994, to almost totalitarian statist nationalism" which he calls Red-State Fascism. Of course, authoritarian elements have long been present on the Right. The difference is, the new emphasis on absolute power has replaced the older, small-government conservatism.
And so it goes with any movement. Once movement leaders and intellectuals conclude that the ends justify the means, the original ends disappear. When illegitimate power becomes the means, illegitimate power becomes the end. But power and its corresponding corruption leads to bad policy. Sooner or later the voters will tire of it and throw the bums out.
But who will replace the Red-State fascists? Blue-State fascists?
Long before the Conservative Movement betrayed conservative values, "Liberalism" went through a similar abandonment of liberal values in at least three key areas. First, liberalism's commitment to individual liberty was replaced by "democracy," the idea that government can do anything it wants as long as it reflects the will of "the people." Yet their idea of democracy is a farce: centralized bureaucracy is favored over community action, and decrees by federal judges are favored over the will of elected representatives. Laws passed by representatives who represent 600,000 to millions of people are favored over laws passed by representatives who represent one-tenth, one-twentieth, or one percent as many people in the states. To the modern liberal, national majorities are enlightened and progressive, whereas local majorities are stupid and tyrannical. Government isn't the problem, as long as the "right people" are in charge.
The second key betrayal is that Liberalism ceased caring about the interests of the middle and lower classes, and embraced "diversity" instead. Genuine civil rights - equal rights and equal freedom under the law – have always been a part of the liberal program. But instead of encouraging policies that would increase the number of jobs and thus the wages of workers of all races, sexes, and sexual preferences, liberals focused on making more laws and regulations that could only stymie job growth and close the door on opportunity for workers of all races and ethnicities. Instead of promoting the common interests of the lower classes, liberals have been more concerned with identity-group politics:
anti-discrimination laws that stifle free speech and prevent freedom of association;
welfare policies that keep families mired in poverty and hopelessly dependent on the government;
as a form of reparations for past and present discrimination, divisive and patronizing racial preferences for "victimized" groups that only serve to perpetuate racism;
border and immigration policies more concerned with Political Correctness than with the impact of an increased labor supply on the wages of Americans;
a dangerous foreign policy that says, "If we intervened in the (white) Balkans, we must intervene in Africa;"
The third betrayal of liberalism is that it sacrifices the basic privacy and autonomy of individuals to the interests of "society." Every behavior is judged by its real or hypothetical social costs. How much is spent on the health care costs of smokers, of fat people? What are the costs of gun-related crime, accident, and misuse? Of hard drugs? Or marijuana? Of not using seat belts? How do violent video games and movies corrupt young minds?
This is the "eat your peas" morality which is just as offensive to a free people as the "fire and brimstone" view of the Religious Right. The old liberal values of "live and let live" and "do your own thing" are now subject to actuarial tables. It is assumed that for "your own good," and for society's good, some unhealthy products and behaviors should not be permitted. But even if we grant that "society" or the State is responsible for the health care of individuals, everyone has to die sometime. The costs of caring for a brief hospitalization of a life cut short by "vice" will be less than the cost of several years of nursing home care. In any case, to criminalize consensual behavior is at the heart of anti-liberalism. Modern liberals would sacrifice freedom in the precious War on Second-hand Smoke. Is it any wonder, then, they often rolled over when civil liberties were attacked in the War on Drugs and the War on Terror?
There are other problems with this "authoritarian liberalism," with Blue-State Fascism. But it is characterized by unlimited government justified by mass democracy, political correctness that favors paper equality over the common good, and a paternalism that treats grown-ups like children "for their own good." No wonder conservatism was more appealing to many Americans over the past quarter-century; for all their shortcomings conservatives at least paid lip service to individual freedom.
Democrats must realize that they won in November not because the people yearn for meddlesome, intrusive government, but because they believe that the Republicans had themselves become too meddlesome and intrusive. The American people don't want a right-wing Big Brother State, but they don't want a left-wing Mommy State either. The Democrats would do well to provide a check on the Bush Administration and repeal its worst policies. But if they try to impose Blue-State fascism on America, expect their time in power to be brief.