The differences between liberal and conservative principles are simple enough to spell out: the primary concern of liberals is people, all of them; of conservatives, money, stability, which are expected to help people.
Of course it’s not as simple as that. Conservatives dislike change. They want to conserve things as they are for as long as possible. Liberals realize that change cannot be retarded, it will happen one way or another, particularly in our fast changing world.
But this explains the conservative fear of people who aren’t exactly like themselves, because they are, or represent, change. Since most US conservatives are pale like me, they fear people with darker skin because they are “new”, different, and weird. Languages they speak are suspicious: those housekeepers are probably plotting something. Arabic spoken on an airplane must be about the hijacking being planned. Even German, the language of the ancestors of many US citizens, elicits fright.
“Speak English!”, some of these fearful people shout at the startled newcomer. People who speak only one language, in contrast to those they castigate. People who expect someone fresh off the boat to speak fluent English, it having never occurred to them that they themselves would be utterly baffled for years if they moved to virtually any Asian country. (But of course they wouldn’t make such a move, because that would be change.)
Liberals celebrate these differences. They make our experiences richer, with foods, art, music, and culture that are fresh and interesting. Liberals feel ashamed when they themselves haven’t mastered another language than American English.
But these are individual differences between conservatives and liberals, whereas the inoperative principles are most apparent in the practice of government, and especially of economics.
In each incoming Republican conservative administration, the president-elect spells out the goals of reducing taxes, cutting wages, reducing or eliminating bureaucracies or whole departments, and reducing taxes on the rich. The assumption is that taxes are too high, government operations are inefficient and better left to private enterprise, and that it is the rich who will build the economy if they are given the right conditions.
Each and every one of these assumptions is easily proven to be false, yet conservatives have built an unshakable faith around them that has endured for a long, long time.
The US has some of the lowest taxes in the modern world. That’s because we prevent the government from providing certain efficient services and instead entrust it to private enterprise, where the primary goal is always profit maximization. We remain the only modern nation that doesn’t have nationally sponsored health care.
If you don’t believe that the profit motive drives up our health care costs, then you must explain why these costs are so high where doctors are free to determine how many tests they order, where they profit from ordering more, yet costs are much lower where doctors do not have such a free hand. In national plans Big Pharma’s disgusting greed is not given free reign either, yet in the US it routinely crushes the household finances of families when someone has a serious disease and they have only moderate income. This never happens with national plans, yet in the US the most common bankruptcy is caused by disease.
Health care costs here are double what the rest of the modern world pays, and insurance is the primary reason. The insurance industry contributes absolutely nothing to health care, yet consumes a huge part of the cost, as much as one in three dollars. Nearly this entire cost vanishes with national health care, yet for some reason conservative Republicans continue to recite the rosary of private enterprise in the face of such facts.
The belief that government is incapable of efficient operation is equally false. Numerous government operations have been models of efficiency, including Census, Environmental Protection, Social Security, and so on. Except, of course, when Congress meddles, particularly with the purpose of proving how inefficient they are, something that is easily accomplished with big budget cuts.
We have had several recent illustrations of how inoperative is the belief that improvement occurs when money is given to the rich. Kansas under Brownback is the poster child. Tax cuts for the rich always result in a decrease in tax revenue. This is not offset with new factories, as claimed, because the very rich don’t build factories. They invest in “investments”, and send manufacturing jobs overseas, along with their hidden income. The resulting decrease in tax revenue creates budget cuts in essential services, greater unemployment, and a general decline in the quality of life.
We would all be better off if conservative Republicans occasionally took time off to consider their beliefs and assumptions. The same is true of liberal Democrats, of course, but it is the Republicans who have held us back. It was Harry Truman who said, “Even the Republicans are better off under the Democrats”.
There are many important things to debate in Congress, but nothing will improve until Republicans quit making obstruction their sole operational principle and examine their beliefs in view of the evidence.
Let us hope they do so before the country collapses.