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The Conservative Phony War


“There is something phony about this war,” said U.S. Sen. William Borah (R-Idaho) about the relative lack of military action by the Allies during the early months of World War II after Germany invaded Poland. “You would think that Britain and France would do what they are going to do now while Germany and Russia are still busy in the East, instead of waiting until they have cleaned up the eastern business.” The “phony war” ended after Germany invaded Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg in May 1940.

There is another phony war raging right now, but this time it is between allies.

There is a war raging among conservatives, we are told, a war for the soul of the Republican Party. The GOP is facing an identity crisis. There is a civil war in the Republican Party. There are four faces of the Republican Party.

This conservative phony war has been couched in a variety of terms. It is grassroots conservative activists versus the Republican National Committee. It is big-government Republicans versus limited-government Republicans. It is conservatives versus moderates. It is strong conservatives versus weak conservatives. It is principled conservatives versus unprincipled conservatives. It is real conservatives versus conservatives. It is party leaders versus insurgents. It is libertarian-leaning Republicans versus traditionalists. It is Reagan Republicans versus Rockefeller Republicans. It is Republicans versus Republicans in Name Only (RINOs).

Most recently, it is the establishment versus the Tea Party.

The Republican-conservative-populist-libertarian Tea Party movement is a loose-knit coalition of national and local groups that are generally united on their opposition to Obamacare, government bailouts, the size and intrusiveness of government, out-of-control federal spending, and the exploding national debt on the one hand and on their support for the Constitution, tax reform, a balanced budget, and the Second Amendment on the other.

The Tea Party name can be traced back to 2007. Ron Paul supporters organized a “money bomb” on December 16, 2007 — known as Tea Party ’07 — to coincide with the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. In January 2009, Trevor Leach of the Young Americans for Liberty in New York organized a “tea party” to protest the New York governor’s proposed new obesity tax on soda. Several of the protesters, wearing Indian headdresses reminiscent of American colonists who dumped tea into Boston Harbor in 1773, dumped soda into the Susquehanna River. The next month, Rick Santelli of CNBC, when reporting from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, suggested to “capitalists” that they should hold a “tea party” and dump “derivative securities” into Lake Michigan to protest the federal government’s mortgage-bailout plan.

But are there really any differences of substance between establishment Republicans and Tea Party conservatives? Are there really any differences of substance between the various conservative factions?

There is no difference between conservative factions when it comes to foreign aid. Sure, some conservatives sometimes call for foreign aid to a particular country to be reduced or eliminated, but only if the government of said country does something particularly egregious. Conservatives are very selective about when they oppose foreign aid. They en masse support foreign aid to Israel. They are not opposed in principle to the taking of billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers and giving it to corrupt foreign governments.

There is no difference between conservative factions when it comes to the drug war. Although some may give lip service to legalizing medical marijuana, and others may evade the issue by talking about the Tenth Amendment and leaving drug policy up to the states, nary a conservative in or out of the Tea Party believes that the DEA and all federal drug laws should be abolished because they violate individual liberty and private property. That the DEA and all federal drug laws are unconstitutional is not reason enough for them.

There is no difference between conservative factions when it comes to health care. Although they all oppose Obamacare, which is a good thing, how many of them likewise oppose Medicare and Medicaid? How many of them oppose the greatest expansion of Medicare since Lyndon Johnson — Bushcare; that is, the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003? Conservatives may differ among themselves over the details of the myriad of federal laws, regulations, and mandates regarding health care and health insurance, but none of them actually believes in the complete separation of medicine from the state, the complete deregulation of the health-insurance industry, and the imposition of medical freedom. They all support federal grants for medical research, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health while opposing a free market in medical devices, medical schools, and organ sales.

There is no difference between conservative factions when it comes to taxes. They may differ on whether the United States should adopt the Flat Tax or the FairTax, they may differ on various tax-reform proposals, and they may differ on the existence and amount of certain tax deductions and credits, but they are not opposed in principle to the federal government’s having a claim on a certain percentage of the incomes of Americans — as long as the tax code is made shorter, simpler, flatter, or “fairer.”

There is no difference between conservative factions when it comes to the warfare state. Cutting the bloated defense budget is anathema to all conservatives. Closing all foreign military bases is unthinkable. Bringing all of the troops home is not even on the table. Imposing sanctions and “getting tough” with Iran or Cuba is their bread and butter.

There is no difference between conservative factions when it comes to the welfare state. The reason we still have federal welfare programs such as food stamps; Head Start; Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF); Supplemental Security Income (SSI); the National School Lunch Program (NSLP); Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP); the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP); subsidized housing; Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and refundable tax credits is that Republicans in Congress — yes, including the “conservative” ones — continue to vote to fund those programs. They have no philosophical objection to any of them as long as they are run efficiently, don’t grow too fast, and have safeguards to prevent waste and fraud.

There is no difference between conservative factions when it comes to Social Security. They differ only on their reforms to “save,” “strengthen,” and “preserve” it for future generations. They all fully accept the idea that the federal government should provide a safety net to take care of the poor, the aged, the sick, the disabled, the feeble-minded, widows, and orphans.

Now, contrast any or all conservative factions with the simplicity of libertarianism:

  • No country should receive foreign aid for any reason.
  • The federal government has no authority to concern itself with any drug that any American wishes to snort, smoke, or inject for medical or recreational purposes.
  • The federal government should have nothing at all to do with health care or health insurance.
  • Because the income tax is institutionalized and legalized theft, as well as a vast income-redistribution and social-engineering scheme, it should be done away with.
  • The U.S. military should not intervene in any foreign country for any reason.
  • All of the federal government’s welfare programs should be eliminated.
  • Social Security is an intergenerational, social-engineering, income-transfer, wealth-redistribution, welfare program that should be abolished.

The war raging among conservatives is a phony war. There are no differences of substance between the various conservative factions. There is, however, a chasm between conservatism and libertarianism that is impassable.

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