After healthcare ruling, conservatives again misplace their ire

By Nicholas Wapshott
July 2, 2012

Last week’s ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional has thrown conservatives into consternation. Rick Santorum says he is “very disappointed … It was a folly of a mistake.” Conservative radio host Michael Savage suggests Roberts must be on mind-altering medication. Even those, like John Boehner, who said they respected his jurisprudence disagreed with his decision.

Roberts now finds himself in the same bad standing with conservatives as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Bernanke’s credentials as the heir to Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan’s monetarist guru, have not been enough to save him from abuse either. When good conservatives like Roberts and Bernanke are traduced by their own side for being closet liberals, letting Barack Obama introduce European social democracy through the back door, something strange is afoot in the conservative universe.

The definition of a conservative used to be someone who values institutions above all as the bulwark against tyranny. That is the lesson left by the father of conservatism, Edmund Burke. But America’s most valued institutions, and those who operate them, are under attack from the very people who at one time would have been their stoutest defenders. People who like to call themselves conservatives, and set themselves up as arbiters of who is a true conservative, now despise the very institutions that safeguard our fragile freedoms from tyranny.

It’s hard to find a “conservative” today who has anything good to say about the Office of the President. The current head of state and chief executive, chosen fairly by the American people, suffers a daily barrage of personal attacks by those who question everything about him: his name, his nationality, his religion. His integrity is impugned as if he were a common criminal. Not long ago true conservatives would think such vicious attacks upon any president tantamount to treason.

The same people have little time for members of Congress, whom they accuse of venality and theft. Once it was the guiding principle of votes taken in either chamber that a simple majority was majority enough, a clear reflection of the wishes of the majority of Americans. No more. Now, to frustrate the operation of the federal government, votes in the Senate routinely need a two-thirds majority, and the system of representative democracy that has served the nation since the Founding Fathers is dismissed as “the tyranny of the majority.”

The Federal Reserve was until recently considered an apolitical body charged with maintaining the value of the currency. It was off-limits to partisan assaults, and its impartial head automatically served one president after the next. Thus Paul Volcker, appointed by Jimmy Carter, continued to serve Carter’s nemesis, Ronald Reagan. Yet in the Republican primaries, each of the final six candidates promised to fire Bernanke, even though Bernanke, by no stretch a liberal, is a distinguished monetarist chosen by a Republican president.

The Supreme Court was not a target of the soi-disant conservatives so long as its built-in conservative majority, with four liberals and four conservatives and a deciding vote held by Chief Justice Roberts, nixed liberal laws. But now that Roberts has gone offtrack, deeming that the penalties levied on those who do not take out private health insurance amount to a federal tax and thereby ruling the Affordable Care Act constitutional, his character has been besmirched and his sanity called into question.

When conservatives denounce all three branches of government and the impartial Federal Reserve as unfit to carry out their proper functions, it is worth asking whether conservatism itself needs to be redefined. Moderate Republicans who think themselves conservatives and independent voters who tilt toward conservatism must look at the antics of libertarians posing as conservatives and wonder whether the sort of reasonable conservatism they prefer is on offer this November.

Before he set out on his current quest for the presidency, Mitt Romney was hardly a revolutionary. As governor of Massachusetts he embraced a conservative healthcare program that is to all intents and purposes the Affordable Care Act, complete with an individual mandate. But to secure the Republican ticket he has been obliged to trim his own middle-ground beliefs and embrace a far more radical creed.

When mainline conservatives like Roberts, Bernanke and Romney are treated with suspicion and contempt by the rank and file of the Republican party, and heaped with abuse by conservative commentators, the political pendulum has plainly swung way too far in one direction. Yet the conservatives’ response to the Roberts verdict is to double down. Like John McCain picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, they are taking a reckless gamble. For the GOP to stand any chance of electoral success it would do well to tack back fast toward the middle ground where elections are won and lost.

11 comments

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Well maybe the cowardly conservatives would have more pride if they remembered that even liberals were worried about his medical condition several years ago. Naturally, both sides chose to forget:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/01/health  /01seizure.html

Posted by tpm2271 | Report as abusive

Too many on the Right have bought into the idea that all government is bad. They have almost become anarchist ideologues in that they do not propose solutions to problems, but seek to solve everything by voting for ever-more extreme politicians and hamstringing institutions. Recent polls indicate most Americans like most of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, but dislike the law. They hate the Individual Mandate but would scream even louder if they were told directly how much they have to pay to support non-insured health care.
This bizarre stance is reflected in Romney’s desperate attempts to follow the demands of the Rights’ extremists rather than leading from the front with his own policies and solutions. And this is not just a Romney phenomenon. The Tea Party input to Congress after the last election was almost fanatically devoted to the idea of destruction. To some, this idea makes sense. They think that the sheer size of government is the problem and making it smaller cures all ills. But as soon as specific programs are targeted, large majorities resist any change. Seniors are conservative as a group, and among those most concerned with intrusion of government into private lives, but they will fight to the death to avoid any changes to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.
The stupidity of this contradiction is borne out daily by Republicans in Congress who try to introduce some legislation to get at the root of problems only to be instantly attacked by the ‘fundamentalists’ of their party. This highlights a major problem with the perception of representative democracy. The concept used to be that we elect people to provide leadership and solutions that engendered the greatest good for the greatest number. Now people demand that politicians react like puppets to the screams of the most vocal minorities, and live up to promises made to the likes of lobbyists like Grover Norquist. It does not appear that the Republicans can even recognize that they need to move to the Center, much less make any attempt to do so.

Posted by steve778936 | Report as abusive

The “agendas” Republicans and Democrats reveal to “we, the people” are, under close examination, so irrelevant as to be ridiculous. They leave voters motivated only by individual responsibility, a frustrated determination to deny majority power to those they believe would most misuse it. The result of each and every election cycle is thus reduced to a “holding action”. Until that changes there can NEVER be “progress”.

Individual responsibility and/or accountability is today increasingly deemed hopelessly archaic. Both parties agree America must be “put on a diet”, but differ strongly as to what to cut and how much. Neither is willing to negotiate the specifics necessary to stop the steady growth of government at every level (and inseparable expense of same). So, year by year they take turns mindlessly ever increasing a “Debt Limit” that is mere words that have yet to limit ANYTHING.

“The process” of candidate selection guarantees that the eventual “winner” is hopelessly obligated to act (or not act) according to the best interests of those individuals, organizations or corporations whose funds and influence “bought” the majority of votes necessary to win. Is it any wonder that those best interests differ significantly from the best interests of “we, the people”? There is but one “way out” of this endless loop.

Without agreement as to what government must provide, there can be no limit to government expense! Just as one’s weight will stablize in balance with calories consumed over time, so, too, will a country’s budget be stable and sustainable when in balance with available revenues. America needs fair and honest debate to choose what kind of society it can afford to be. It would seem logical to begin with ascertaining “available” revenues and then priorities for allocation and efficient utilization of same.

“We, the people” know we can’t have EVERYTHING we want, but our politicians haven’t. We citizens of this rich nation are extremely fortunate to be able to afford ANYTHING we need. Most nations can’t. Is but for us to put greed and impatience behind us, together with our addiction to instant and complete gratification.

In a world well past SEVEN BILLION (and accelerating) humanity has failed spectacularly, both as steward and manager of this planet. The huge number that make nothing and have no or few skills are the very ones that breed like rabbits. They act as if this world is a lottery awarding them (and their children) more for each mouth.

Precisely the reverse is true. Such people presently own NOTHING of a world already 100% owned. None of the present owners are likely to relinquish arable land, drinkable water or breathable air.

Equally out of date with reality is the economic premise that more people make for more commerce, and more commerce raises all “boats”. No. People with no way to “make their way” are a burden on their own society. More people merely produce more human urine and feces and must compete from the back of the pack in a race that started long ago for available food, water and shelter.

World economies must figure out how to improve the quality of life on earth given the necessity of somehow reducing the existing population to a level this planet can sustain, given the ever present inequalities that have always attended human affairs. If man will not restrain his own boundless fertility via education and birth control, history suggests that war, starvation, and/or disease will. We may choose HOW, but not WHETHER.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

The simple answer is deport the Murdochs and return the government to fact-based decision making, instead being driven by rabid hysteria screamed by Fox infotainers and their wanna-bes about small government. Ask the people in Colorado Springs how they feel about small government this week. I strongly hope there is a core element of the Republican Party that is pro-business and not anti-government that will eventually grab the reins from the nutballs and crack pots like Rand Paul who was quoted as saying “just because a bunch of people sitting on the Supreme Court say it (healthcare law) is legal doesn’t make it legal”, and this from a US Senator. is the whole state on meth?
Every country where Murdoch takes a majority ownership in media entities dissolves into a heathenistic brawl of disfunction, starting on islands (Australia and Britain) and moving to the former colonies. I have yet to see one article explore how new health law is so fundamentally different from Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security where all wage earners pay separate taxes in case of Medicare and Social Security that we have mostly accepted as fair, reasonable, humane and Constitutional for almost fifty years now.
One thing is positively on display. Republican white dudes are about to give themselves a hernia when they don’t get their way. None of their Constutional experts were yelling when the Supreme Court picked the president a few years back, and I’d challenge to find that clause in their handy pocket sized Constutions they revere. And maybe before hernia repair you need a good rectal exam while being forced to watch on camera.

Posted by sylvan | Report as abusive

Article way too long. Three paragraphs at most would do the job.

Both Roberts and Bernanke are not conservatives. Both are out only for themselves. Liberal or conservative does not matter to them, just do whatever it takes to benefit themselves. Neither has acted as a bulwark against tyranny, just the opposite.

The rest of the article was anti-Republican, anti-conservative rant.

Author is a liberal putting out liberal propaganda.

The facts no one wants to read.

Posted by ALLSOLUTIONS | Report as abusive

“The facts no one wants to read”? Mister, you better read them and pay attention to them too because if you want to find a real solution you’re not going to get very far adhering merely to your right wing dogma that worked so well in Iraq.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive

The day the ACA was introduced we saw McConnell, Boehner and Cantor pounding on a bunch of papers and declaring “the American people do not want this bill.” Interesting, since no one had read it at that point including many members of congress. The act was demonized by the likes of Sarah Palin who stated it contained death panels to others who called it socialism and used scare tactics that people would not be allowed to choose their physician, the government would be in the exam room with you and the list goes on. Lies! Where are the GOP alternatives? Sadly, the President and Democrats did a lousy job of selling the benefits and informing those who have insurance that approximately $1,000 of their premiums go to pay for the uninsured who present at hospitals. There is no such thing as “free care.” It is the insured and taxpayers who pay for those who chose not to have insurance.

Posted by AlexVallas | Report as abusive

The day the ACA was introduced we saw McConnell, Boehner and Cantor pounding on a bunch of papers and declaring “the American people do not want this bill.” Interesting, since no one had read it at that point including many members of congress. The act was demonized by the likes of Sarah Palin who stated it contained death panels to others who called it socialism and used scare tactics that people would not be allowed to choose their physician, the government would be in the exam room with you and the list goes on. Lies! Where are the GOP alternatives? Sadly, the President and Democrats did a lousy job of selling the benefits and informing those who have insurance that approximately $1,000 of their premiums go to pay for the uninsured who present at hospitals. There is no such thing as “free care.” It is the insured and taxpayers who pay for those who chose not to have insurance.

Posted by AlexVallas | Report as abusive

The Republican party is a tool by which very wealthy people manipulate the government for their own financial benefit. The puppet masters of the Republican party created the Tea Party to appeal to the ignorant and to demogaogue those ignorant followers into controlled behaviors. It is all about money. I repeat, it is all about money. Republicans receive vast sums of money from the very wealthy and return even greater sums of money to the very wealthy through the government. “Just put more money in the hands of job creators.”

Posted by wauker | Report as abusive

Conservatives ignore the thoughts of Edmund Burke because they find it easier to think as Martin Luther did. “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.” —Martin Luther, Table Talks in 1569. There is a good article July 12 issue of Scientific America by Daisy Grewal page 26 “How Critical Thinkers Lose Their Faith in God. Basically we have two thinking systems one for immediate situations the other for long term situations. Conservatives use only the first. The second is the one for reasoning. The part of the brain Martin Luther wanted crushed. They have come to define conservatism as reaction thinking. Like when a rat reacts to being cornered. They use part of the brain the makes us common with all animals, even simple being. Not the brain that makes us different from animals.

Posted by donnieholdfast | Report as abusive

I am worried that the real loser is the American people, who now have the propaganda that this good law is a tax. Wauker’s comment above is on all 4s correct. To digress, the voters are being told that our President is responsible for not helping get more people employed, but the American business community is holding back 4 Trillion dollars in cash reserves which could easily be used to create new jobs and get Americans back to work. The scandal is that the American Chamber of Commerce and K Street are waging a war on the middle class in America and the under or unemployed members of society: the most vulnerable and some of the least educated and sucked in by Fox News thus, not even getting the facts about unemployment and health care. The insurers take $16 dollars more than medicare to administer and profit from their misuse of medical moneys and that is applauded by the Republican ilk as American. I think it is fascism at its worst.

Posted by asmith36 | Report as abusive