November 6, 2006

Memo to Conservatives: Next Time You Have to Share a Ride With a Liberal, Volunteer to Use Your Own Car

Carroll Andrew Morse

David Jaffe of Kmareka provides a rare moment of insight into the eternal debate between liberals and consevatives: An America without conservatism is like a SUV without brakes...

In the sedan (or SUV) that is America, liberals are the gas pedal, and conservatives are the brakes. One group seeks forward progress, while the other seeks to halt or even reverse direction.
Except that Mr. Jaffe then goes on to argue that brakes (i.e. conservatism) are inherently bad things…
The irony of Bush’s words is that, rather than masking, they expose the inherent intolerance and meanness of the conservative cause.
Then, after butchering the analogy about as thoroughly as is possible, he has the audacity to talk about conservatives being the stupid ones! At least most conservatives I know prefer cars with brakes over cars without them.

(NOTE: The spelling of "brakes" has been corrected from "breaks" in the original version of this post)

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And most conservatives would spell 'breaks' as 'brakes' if you're talking about the things on your car...

Posted by: Greg at November 6, 2006 2:18 PM


Posted by: Andrew at November 6, 2006 2:22 PM

Typical Anchor Rising "rebuttal" of a substantive post. OK, the metaphor doesn't quite work. Oh, my, I guess that simply invalidates the rest of it.

The thing is, if not for liberals, the country would still look like it did in the 1890s. Think: child labor; wages in the pennies per hour; no weekends; no 8-hour day; sweatshop conditions would be the norm; thousands of people every year killed or maimed in on-the-job accidents; no GI bill that created the middle class; virtually all wealth concentrated in very, very few hands (and the rest of us lucky if we get a job as a servant in one of the Newport mansions....) Home ownership? Ha!

Do I really need to go on? Or is that the sort of world you really want to live in? That's Karl Rove's ideal. Sure, it's great, if you're one of the top dogs. But the point is, they represented less than one percent of the population.

So, OK, the metaphor is tortured. Big whoop. It's the rest of the content that really matters. Because that's what he meant when he said conservatives are the brakes. They would have stopped all of that progress.

Posted by: klaus at November 6, 2006 5:54 PM

The problem, Klaus, is that "liberal" and "conservative" aren't useful categorizations of actual demographic groups across time. The average liberal of today has no standing to take credit for your list of advances.

Take 19th century Progressives, for instance: transport them, with beliefs intact, to the modern day, and they would be most sympathetic to the group we now call "conservatives." Although the labels aren't easily applied to Nathaniel Hawthorne, he offers my favorite illustration of what I mean at the end of The Scarlet Letter:

[Hester] assured them, too, of her firm belief that, at some brighter period, when the world should have grown ripe for it, in Heaven's own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness. ... The angel and apostle of the coming revelation must be a woman, indeed, but lofty, pure, and beautiful; and wise, moreover, not through dusky grief, but the ethereal medium of joy; and showing how sacred love should make us happy, by the truest test of a life successful to such an end!

In modern terms, that's an extremely conservative vision. It takes a sorely needed change in society and applies wisdom and reason to determine the circumstances and approach that would yield that change in the least disruptive and longest-lasting way possible.

The archetypal modern liberal, in contrast, is wealthy, white, and seeking, in their guilt and vanity, to falsely claim the struggles of history's real "determined and visionary lot" (in Jaffe's words) as their own.

The reason that "liberal" has become a dirty word is that our society has so thoroughly absorbed the principles of classical liberalism that to set one's self apart as being even more liberal than the average is to admit a sort of impatient recklessness. It's stunning that Jaffe (for one) should presume to invoke evolution as the validation of modern liberals' insistence on manifest destiny. Evolution is a slow, organic process, not a quick, linear one.

And sometimes it has to stop in order to avoid the obstacles that liberals' hubris prevent them from believing could exist.

P.S. — As a sort of case in point, I have to laugh at your assertion, on Kmareka, that "conservatives would like to reinstate... 60-70 hour work weeks." I'm thoroughly convinced that it is the liberal collection of economic and social policies, as particularly emphasized in this state, that have generated the circumstances that require me to work 80-90 hour work weeks (with a household total of 120-130 hours).

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 6, 2006 7:49 PM


OK, some good points. However, I really have to take exception to your contention that it was "liberal" policies that created the environment where it's necessary to work 60-70 hour weeks. Do you have any evidence to support this contention? If so, is there a reason you didn't provide it?

Think about it: the 2-income household started to become commonplace in the 80s. Some of this was due to the Women's Movement. However, one would think that two incomes would provide a level of economic security higher than that provided by one. Stands to reason, doesn't it?

But the opposite has happened. Why? Because while *household* income has increased, wages for *individuals* have stagnated. In other words, twice as much work, but perhaps only 60-70% more income.

And this stagnation of income starts to happen in the late 70s, and accelerates through the 80s. Which, oddly, coincides with the Reagan Revolution, the breaking of union power, and the rise of Voodoo Economics.

The post-war economic expansion ended in the 70s. However, because of tax cuts, corporate-friendly policies, and the enormous growth of the deficit in the 80s, the expansion, when it occurred, led to a "swiss-cheese" economy, which benefitted some and totally neglected others. Good-paying industrial jobs started to disappear. Then, in the early 90s, good paying white collar jobs started disappearing, too. This white collar recession cost GHWBush his job.

The situation reversed itself under Clinton, but the return of Voodoo economics--this time on steroids--has eroded the middle class even further.

In effect, Reagan began to undo the great Liberal accomplishments of the 30s and 40s. The process continued under GHWB, slowed or reversed under Clinton, and then re-accelerated under the current regime.

Ergo, we have an environment hostile to the individual worker, where asking for raises is difficult, working way more than 40 hours is expected, and we're being pushed back into the pre-Progressive era. And this is happening BY DESIGN. These are the conservatives' goals. They want this to happen.

Hence, my contention about what conservatives actually stand for. Read BusinessWeek some time. Or Investors Business Daily. Or the WSJ editorial page. The attitude is there. The corporate ideal is to undo all of the safeguards and protections that protect individual workers from corporate power.

And corporations exist to make money. Period. There are legions of lawyers and accountants and others whose sole purpose is to continue to invent ways of making money and avoiding taxes. Can you say Enron? Hear about backdating of stock options?

And people are working 60-70 hour weeks everywhere; it's not soley a RI phenomenon. People are afraid to take vacations, or take time off, or complain about unsafe conditions.

So given this, how can you claim that liberals were somehow responsible for the current situation? That's laughable when you consider the stagnation of wages set in about the time that the conservatives came back to power. It's the rolling back of liberal ideals that left us where we are.

Posted by: klaus at November 6, 2006 9:00 PM


Here is my reality, which seems to differ quite a bit from yours. Our shareholders, which include a number of union pension funds, demand high returns because they have liabilities to fund. They also have fiduciary obligations under ERISA and other legislation that requires them to pursue the highest possible risk adjusted returns.

Obtaining those returns today is very difficult. We face competition from all over the world, not to mention customers with ever rising expecations for more functionality, better performance and a lower price.

Simultaneously satisfying the needs of our investors and customers demands ever increasing productivity improvements on our part. These do not come cheap, and usually involve some combination of new investments (e.g., in capital equipment or information technology), increased spending on R+D, more training, and changes in our processes and organization. Sometimes, it also requires that we outsource parts of our supply chain and support functions that are not core to our business.

And you know what, Klaus, when you get done with all this, the brutal truth is that there often isn't any money left for big pay increases. Especially after we're done paying for the ever rising employer's share of our workers' health insurance costs. And before you start screaming about CEO pay, let me assure you that, in mid and small size companies struggling to survive, that isn't the problem when it comes to why people have to work longer and longer for relatively stagnant real wages.

So, maybe unionization is the answer? I don't think so, Klaus. Bradford Soap showed why -- somebody has to pay for those higher wages, either through lower returns (if you want the shareholders to pay), higher prices and less market share (if you want customers to pay) or higher productivity (if you want the workers to pay). But shareholders aren't going to pay. And neither are customers. That leaves the workers -- and if they reject changes that will generate higher productivity, the company will simply move to another location where it can achieve the productivity levels -- and continuous increases -- it needs to survive.

Klaus, the sad truth of the matter is that, while your rhetoric looks nice on a blog, it doesn't cut it when you have demanding shareholders, demanding customers, and a payroll to meet. But if you have some magic solution that we poor ignorant business managers have missed, we're all listening...

Posted by: John at November 6, 2006 10:35 PM
one would think that two incomes would provide a level of economic security higher than that provided by one. Stands to reason, doesn't it?

No, it doesn't. Two incomes per household means two workers per household means (simplifying) twice the pool of workers means cheaper labor for companies. Mix in another dynamic that is particularly prominent in Rhode Island: begin dictating, through government, terms of companies' relationships with their employees — involving, for one example, healthcare — or decreasing the attractiveness of a particular area or industry through taxation and social engineering, and companies will hire less, change locations (e.g., oversees), go out of business, or invest in productivity technology. Now there are fewer jobs for that doubled workforce.

That's not to say that there aren't balances to be struck, sometimes involving government action, but I'm simplifying here because my central subject is liberals' approach, across the broad range of issues.

I would also point out that you measure economic effects in much too short a timeframe. However, as I haven't the time to get into a debate about what Clinton actually did, economically, apart from being elected just after the Reagan era, I won't elaborate.

I will note, though, that this statement is completely contrary to my experience in both the white and blue collar worlds that I currently inhabit:

People are afraid to take vacations, or take time off, or complain about unsafe conditions.

I truly have no idea what you're talking about. However, I do agree with you that "corporations exist to make money." That's why it makes no sense to think of them in moral (or immoral) terms. Their behavior is entirely predictable, and (to get back to the ideological distinction at hand) the conservative approach — in keeping with the approach of the classically liberal founders of our country — is to harness inevitable behavior rather than, as liberals do, attempt to rein it in dictate to it.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 6, 2006 10:58 PM

Is there a need to mention that Kmerica is run by social workers? Stop burning time trying to figure them out.

Posted by: WJF at November 6, 2006 11:00 PM
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