Recently I spent an evening with some people I just met, including one gentleman of a very conservative bent. He went on a number of fairly familiar conservative rants. I didn't engage him, as despite this I found him pretty pleasant, everyone seemed to be having a good time, and over time I've found that it's neither productive nor worth the effort to debate in these settings. It did, however, leave me puzzled the more I thought about the things he said.

While this is a forum for extreme sarcasm and general rudeness, I'm going to pose this question in earnest. If anyone can shed some light on this, I legitimately want to know. There are a few conditions, though. First, this is not a question for the small subset of libertarians who believe in the absolute abolition of government. The question presumes that for most people on the right, there is some acceptable level of government and some functions that are properly public. It might not be much, but when pressed very few conservatives actually believe there should be no government. If you happen to be of this school of thought, this question is not for you. Please go elsewhere and, I don't know, hand-load ammo or skin a deer or check the filter seals on your bunker's ventilation system or whatever it is you do for fun.

OK. Without recourse to "Government should be abolished" as an answer, consider this: How can "Less government!" be the solution to every problem if government is also, as conservatives consider fundamental to their beliefs, inefficient and incompetent?

If government cannot do anything right, then it is inefficient at allocating its resources. That would mean, logically, that there are some things to which the government is devoting far too many resources and others to which it devotes far too few. There should, in other words, be some problem to which "More government!" is the answer. An incompetent or inefficient government could not get everything wrong in the exact same way – i.e., by over-governing. There is a stochastic element to incompetence, and inefficiency in particular is a common accusation made by small government advocates.

In essence, I see this as a more sophisticated version of a problem common among the nuttier, less intelligent elements on the right – that is, the simultaneous belief that government can't do anything correctly but it somehow orchestrates massively complex conspiracies. Barack Obama secretly controls the entire government and the Fed secretly runs the world yet the government is incapable of running a lemonade stand.

I'm perplexed. Enlighten me.

Be Sociable, Share!

47 Responses to “THOUGHT EXPERIMENT”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    It's the kiss of death to cite Orwell, but fuck it, it's apt: Doublethink. He nails it–human beings, particularly of the uneducated/indoctrinated variety, have the bizarre capacity to hold two completely irreconcilable ideas and yet have no trouble behaving as if both were true. You see this a lot with conspiracy theorists–All Powerful Secret Forces do terrible things (9/11, the Kennedy assassination, blowing up the levees, etc.), yet despite their ability to do these things, which would indicate a pretty staggeringly impressive set of skills, none of them can be bothered to do them well enough to prevent basement-dwellers with wi-fi from discovering The Truth.

    Shorter answer–there's really no conflict. Once you accept a single underlying tenet–Government can do nothing right–then all other evidence is merely proof of this theory–if government does too little, it should have done more–if government does something badly, it should have done less–there should always be less government (mostly tax-acquisition and firearm regulation and voter registration) unless there should be more (keeping the brown hordes on their side of the border, keeping the homos in the closet, keeping prayer in school)–point is, in all cases, it is the government's fault.

    God damn Ronald Reagan for allowing these people to feel good about their idiocy.

  2. middle seaman Says:

    Our "conservatives" aren't conservatives. They are radical nuts. Hopefully, you aren't serious about looking for a coherent theory of the crazies.

    A nut wants to climb the light from a flash light to reach the ceiling, but he isn't stupid. He knows only too well that you might turn the flash light off and cause him to fall down uncontrollably. Theory?

  3. Monkey Business Says:

    It's important to remember that, when speaking to a large percentage of conservatives, you are speaking to someone whose knowledge of how the government works started and stopped with learning the pledge of allegiance.

    Consequently, it is entirely possible for the solution to a problem involving the government to be either more or less government, just in radically different ways than anyone that reads at above a fifth grade level would generate.

    Let's start with low hanging fruit: taxes. Taxes, to conservatives, are bad. It's the government taking money out of their pockets to give to someone else less deserving, who is presumably a minority. Nevermind the fact that the vast majority of welfare-type social services are utilized by non-minorities (read: white people), the taxes the government takes from their paycheck is almost assuredly going to some urban (read: black or brown) youth who will use it to buy guns, drugs, T-Bone steaks, and a nicer car than the average, hard working American drives. In this case, they believe that less government is the answer, as presumably less government would mean less taxes, which would mean more money for you and less for the people that don't look like you.

    Now, let's take a look at gay marriage. Conservatives, generally speaking, are against gay marriage. I'm going to take that a step further and say that there are 15-20 states where you could propose legislation creating a Department of Morality that would register and track homosexuals and ensure that they are not engaging in homosexual activities of any kind, and have it pass not only the state legislature but a referendum by the general public as well. I don't know if it's possible to have the government interfere in someone's life more than that, short of having the President and all of Congress follow you around and directly interfere with every aspect of your life.

    So really, it's not some deep and irreconcilable dichotomy of thought. It's just a dramatic reprioritization that is diametrically opposed to anything remotely rational. You can't assign rational actor status to actors that have demonstrated over and over and over that they are clearly irrational.

    TL;DR – All things are possible when you are stupid.

  4. Sean Says:

    Becuz FREEDUMB…LIBTARDTREE…and, and, umm, 'MURR'KA!!

  5. Sean Says:

    By the way, your picture on FB of the Waldorf Salad guy, 'Mind BLOWN' is BRILLIANT (I noticed the first time I saw Jedi back in the day and had to go to the library to confirm it, lol).

  6. Sean Says:

    Sorry, saw 'Empire'.

  7. Elusis Says:

    Texas is trying to pass a law banning Tesla from selling cars in the state, because letting a car company run its own dealerships would run afoul of the car dealer franchisees' mafia, I mean lobby.

    There is no more perfect example of conservative hypocrisy than this kind of "the free market will sort everything out, unless it threatens my business model, in which case HELP HELP SOMEONE SAVE ME WITH LAWS!!!!" We shouldn't infringe on banks' and credit card companies' ability to jack fees and penalties around to make the maximum amount of money off their unsuspecting and mostly helpless customers, but man, let a car company sell a car at a clearly-stated price directly to the consumer without a middleman? PURE THEFT.

    I have no idea how this works without one's head exploding.

  8. Xynzee Says:

    Your problem is that you don't see the missing link.

    You're assumption is that the government is *the government*. The reality is that the government has been infiltrated being run the by Illuminati.

    St. Ronnie was going to save us from this, but JH.jr shot him full of mind destroying chemicals. So really it's a plot to enslave us.

  9. Coises Says:

    You are starting from a fallacy.

    Conservatives do not generally believe that less government is the solution to every problem. The idea that "government is the problem" was always restricted to a select (but unspecified) subset of problems. Conservatives rarely mind it when government stops and frisks black people, tells women how they may and may not manage their own bodies, tells everyone what substances they may and may not put into their own bodies, makes war on other nations (and lies about the reasons), tries to declare what words and images may not appear in a book, on television or on the Internet…

    It seems to me the only time conservatives ever oppose government activity is when it might tend to reduce, in some tiny way, the gap between the very wealthy and powerful and the rest of us.

    It's not government to which conservatives object: it's democracy. Government is fine so long as it's a tool to be used by the strong to exploit the weak more efficiently. Only when it threatens to ameliorate, rather than reinforce, the spread between the most and least fortunate of our citizens is it a bad thing.

    Of course, that's not very palatable for mass consumption. Probably even many conservatives would have difficulty thinking in such stark terms. (I believe there has been some academic work done on the psychology of conservatives. I wouldn't be competent to assess its quality. My recollection is that it boils down to high levels of xenophobia and reverence for authority. I suspect the epitome of authority in the modern United States might be wealth, rather than political or religious office.)

    Enter the image of government as a heavy-handed, self-important bungler — it's hard for anyone to resist. (Take a look at a few politicians, and try not to think of a pig in lipstick.) Still, I notice conservatives don't often suggest that this characterizes the NSA, the DEA or the New York Police Department. It's an image of convenience. Anyone can use it. It's apt often enough. It doesn't specifically characterize conservative thinking, but it works when conservatives need a way to explain why doing things they don't want government to do is a bad idea.

    "If government cannot do anything right, then it is inefficient at allocating its resources. That would mean, logically, that there are some things to which the government is devoting far too many resources and others to which it devotes far too few."

    Conservatives would agree: government cannot possibly do a good job of allocating resources. Their answer is to privatize everything that can be privatized, leaving government to do only what we cannot figure out how to convert into a profit-making business.

    One ubiquitous conservative axiom is that private enterprise is always more efficient than any alternative. Therefore, anything that can be done by private enterprise will be accomplished more efficiently by private enterprise than by government. (If data contradict this, the data must be wrong. This is an axiom, not a conclusion.) So, Medicare, prisons, armies, schools, domestic security, social security, etc. would all be better replaced by private, profit-making enterprise: the trick is to figure out how to get there from here. And if, given the chance, private enterprise decides not to do some of those things at all, then that, too, must be best.

    If they could replace Congress with a corporate board of directors answerable to shareholders according to their investments, they'd be thrilled. Oh, wait…

  10. Major Kong Says:

    Conservatives just want to return government to its proper functions, which as far as I can tell involves regulating everybody's sex life and promoting evangelical Christianity.

    Oh, and blowing up brown people overseas. Can't forget that one.

  11. c u n d gulag Says:

    Conservatives, are Manichean's at heart.
    As well as something else, which I'll mention later.

    Manichean's, divide the world into two camps:
    Pure good v. pure evil.
    Pure white v pure black.
    God v. Satan.

    No shade of gray is acceptable – because then, depending on the shade, you either have a lot, or at least some, evil, mixed in with the good.
    And any level of evil, is completely unacceptable!

    And so, in politics- NO COMPROMISE!!!

    And their Conservative/Manichean minds automatically jump from one extreme to the other, and both extremes can be held in their heads, simultaneously.

    And that's why to them, one minute, they think Obama is a mewling and cowering little kitty-cat, and the next, he is, "Oba-Mao-LeninStalinHitler – DESTROYER OF CIVILIZATION!!!!!"

    If you tune either to Reich-Wing talk radio, or FUX Noise (though, I don't recommend doing either of those, if you want to maintain your sanity), you'll see hosts and guests leaping from one extreme to the other, often on the same show.

    Though this was stated by a British philosopher well over a century ago, it certainly applies 100% to this country today:
    John Stuart Mill said, “Not all conservatives are stupid people, but most stupid people are conservatives.”
    I would amend that, to say, "all."

    And, I'll also add that, while not every Conservative is a racist, or a misogynist, or a xenophobe, or a homophobe – but every racist, misogynist, xenophobe, and/or homophobe, is a Conservative.

    And, being stupid, no facts, figures, charts, or other evidence you show Conservatives to prove the error of their ways and beliefs, will change their minds.
    Instead, they will double down on, what the great American philosopher, Stephen Colbert, called, "Truthiness!"

    And, on top of being Manicheans, Conservatives are also Authoritarians.

    And Authoritarians are hierarchical.
    Once the Authoritarian leaders assert and establish control, the Authoritarians followers will follow their leaders, not matter where they lead them.
    And like any other herd animals, Conservatives will follow the asshole in front of them, no matter how big an asshole the person is, who's in the front of them.
    All that matters is, that asshole is in front of them, and they MUST follow the asshole in front of them.

    "Truthiness," trumps all!

    "Truthiness," is a belief system.
    Conservatism, is a belief system.
    And, while you can change some people's minds about something, you can almost NEVER change their beliefs.

    And, that's what I "believe!" ;-)

  12. RosiesDad Says:

    In my experience, it isn't productive in any environment to engage the truly conservative over the inherent cognitive dissonance that underpin their belief system.

    It can be fun to fuck with some of them (much the way 6 year old boys have fun pulling the wings off of flies) but that's not exactly the same thing.

    Because what you are likely to get is akin to that "I Am Spartacus" post: "IRS. Benghazi. Fast and Furious. Benghazi. IRS. Benghazi. Fast and Furious. SOSHULISM!!!"

    How about a nice game of tic-tac-toe?

  13. Elle Says:

    I was struck by Milton Friedman, writing in Capitalism and Freedom, when he said that the role of the state was to enforce private contracts and to care for disabled people. (I couldn't find my copy this morning, so may be misremembering, but I think he may have narrowed that to people with mental impairments.)

    The book, for those who don't know, is based on a series of lectures he gave in 1956. Published pre-The Feminine Mystique, I assumed that he assumed that the care of children and older people would automatically be done by women in family units, but that those people with mental impairments would properly be cared for out of sight.

    It's a strange, offensive-to-modern-eyes, and feeble attempt to grapple with the Commons. It's possibly less strange than attempts that result in the state overseeing the enforced provision of bogus medical advice to women having abortions, but it's strange nonetheless.

    I was reading Friedman and some of his brethren to see if there was a kernal of an idea in there that was worth a hill of beans. I remain persuaded that neo-liberalism is a shallow ideology, and that is has little of value to say about the function of the state. There are so many big and important discussions to have about the shape and purpose of the public sector, but starting from a position of aggressive disdain for all of it is sophomoric.

  14. Rjb Says:

    I'm not a conservative, but this answer seems a good start. Government actors always seek more power, which they acquire by expanding their budgets and reach. So there needs to be a constant opposing pressure to shrink government. Even if more government would seem to help in a particular case, you are only enabling the bigger problem. Not saying I agree, but I've heard versions of this argument before.

  15. Figs Says:

    Rjb, I think that's a decent explanation. Any explanation for why that formulation (as far as conservatives are concerned) is completely non-applicable when it comes to business and unions?

  16. Elle Says:

    Government actors always seek more power, which they acquire by expanding their budgets and reach. So there needs to be a constant opposing pressure to shrink government.

    In most states that's the Treasury and the legislature (with the judiciary singing backup) respectively.

  17. Doctor Rock Says:

    I mean. It is possible that the MIC killed Kennedy yet has its soft points where it's a little inept. Not every agency is the same.

  18. greennotGreen Says:

    Rjb,that's not just government, that's any reasonably large organization. I'd guess that's a big reason that the administrative side of academia has grown exponentially in the last twenty years. Administrators are the ones doing the allocating, and everybody likes to think what they're doing is really important, and the more subordinates you have the more important you are personally, and the more people doing the work shows how important the work is…

    Since Congress does the allocating in this case, it's a little more complicated, but the answer should be somewhere in between explosive growth of government and shutting it down. Obamacare is *not* an explosive growth of government (I think you'd come closer to that with Homeland Security and the TSA,) but we do have one side talking seriously about shutting down the government.

    And no to the general question. You will not find a rational basis to the ideas of irrational people.

  19. beergoggles Says:

    Like anything conservatives say (activist judges, medicare, etc.) what they really mean by 'less government' is actually less government of the things I don't like (like SCHIP, firearm safety, schools). They're all for more government for the things that they do like (forced birth, marriage discrimination).

  20. GunstarGreen Says:

    You can get a little more fundamental than that, Ed.

    "If the government can do nothing right, how can you support the military? Surely if the government can't even get the taking of money (via taxes) right, you can't possibly trust them with the taking of lives?"

    "Speaking of life-taking, how can you be pro-life and yet support the military and the death penalty? Innocent people die in war, this is a known and provable fact. Innocent people have been sent to death row, only to be exonerated decades later by DNA evidence, this is a known and provable fact. If it is wrong to kill a fetus that has not even been born yet, how can you justify killing a person that has established some sort of life, and may have others that depend on them for survival?"

    "If you do not trust the government to regulate business, how can you trust the government to regulate interpersonal relationships (in the form of anti-gay-marriage legislation)? If government over-regulation of our lives is bad, how can you justify government regulation of what day and time we can purchase alcohol, or government regulation of who we marry or have sex with? If government needs to get out of the way of business, how do you justify laws prohibiting one of the oldest businesses in the world, prostitution?"

    The answer to all of these is that right-wingers tend to be right-wing authoritarians, and they are perfectly capable of holding and using multiple mutually-exclusive views. If you haven't yet, I highly recommend reading Bob Altermeyer's "The Authoritarians":

    Much of it stems from the authoritarian culture they are raised in. Do not question authority. Obey. Do what the preacher or parent tells you to, even and especially when they're telling you what to think and what to believe. Don't think about it, just do it.

    The are two kinds of American right-winger: Idiots, and Grifters who are using those Idiots for personal profit. The core tenets of conservatism fail to hold up to even the most cursory scrutiny, as I've demonstrated with the hypotheticals above. The logical reasoning capacity of a child is sufficient to find severe problems with the ideology — but truly, can it even be called an ideology? It's not a core set of beliefs consistently applied to every situation. It's a grabbag of piecemeal declarations of correctness, many of which are conflicting. It doesn't work as a consistently-applied worldview, it can only function by selectively evaluating each individual situation against the arbitrary 'correct answer' established by The Authority.

    In short: Things are the way they are because 'conservatives', in large part, are just idiots telling you what they've been instructed to tell you.

  21. MarkfromHydePark Says:

    Less government means two things. To a conservative voter it is the above mentioned anti-social program mentality received from Faux and Rush that they imagine will lower taxes (from which they are not overly burdened in the first place but I digress). To a conservative politician it means less federal employees. Federal employees tend to vote for Democrats. Federal contractors tend to vote republican. Republicans have not shrunk government at all nor do they desire to. They have reduced the number of federal employees by a significant amount (with plenty of collusion from the Dems) but increased the cost and inefficiency of government by hiring boatloads of contractors to replace all those Dem voting cheap suits. It aint about money or ideology It's about steering the vast amount of government resources in a direction that will keep the powers that be in power.
    Libertarians think that by eliminating government we will stop the hypocrisy of the two party system. We'll all pitch in where our best interests lie and all will be well. That's just crazy talk.

  22. Larry, the Barefoot Bum Says:

    Read The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin and The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer.

    The fundamental premise of the reactionary mind, according to Robin and Altemeyer, is that government, power, and authority is about control. The superior must control the inferior. This kind of control goes beyond administering public goods: the inferior are bad, and if left to themselves, would behave not just anarchistically, but immorally; thus, the superior have the obligation to force the inferior to behave morally.

    There is a hierarchy of superiority and inferiority; those in the middle accept, usually as right and proper, the control of their own superiors, and they control their own inferiors.

    In earlier feudal ages, this kind of hierarchical moral organization was explicit and uncontroversial. In today's more superficially democratic age, hierarchical moral organization is somewhat out of fashion. In public discourse, therefore, reactionaries, i.e. those who still believe in hierarchical moral justification, are often circumspect about implementing their preferred social organization. They don't want to come right out and say that the poor (or blacks, jews, Mexicans, gays, etc.) are morally inferior and must be controlled by their superiors; instead, they find a convenient rationalization to oppose anything that would make the inferior more autonomous, and promote anything that would make the inferior more dependent.

    When you have a lot of people rationalizing in concert, the rationalizations become systematic. Whether these rationalizations are hypocritical or sincere is, I think, a distinction without a difference. I spent long enough arguing with Christians to know that, if you allow yourself enough ad hoc premises, you can systemize anything without contradiction. Indeed, the process is very similar to what real scientists do; the difference is only what kind of evidence drives the systemization. Otherwise, the intellectual process is the same. Reactionaries seem inconsistent and hypocritical to progressives and left radicals not because they are fundamentally illogical, but because they are employing logic to ends completely incommensurable to progressive ends. Understand reactionary ends, and their discourse is perfectly logical.

  23. laie Says:

    Several people beat me to it, but it's worth repeating: read that Altemeyer booklet.


  24. laie Says:

    excellent. Quote again, without any marks:

    [...] authoritarians’ ideas are poorly integrated with one another. It’s as if each idea is stored in a file that can be called up and used when the authoritarian wishes, even though another of his ideas — stored in a different file — basically contradicts it. We all have some inconsistencies in our thinking, but authoritarians can stupify you with the inconsistency of their ideas. Thus they may say they are proud to live in a country that guarantees freedom of speech, but another file holds, “My country, love it or leave it.” The ideas were copied from trusted sources, often as sayings, but the authoritarian has never “merged files” to see how well they all fit together.

  25. proverbialleadballoon Says:

    @J Dryden:
    You know, I used to believe that Doublethink was the answer to this question, but through interactions with conservatives in real-life, on websites like reddit politics, etc, I've found that the answer is even more simple than that. They're lying. They're lying their asses off, they know all their rhetoric is just a bullshit smokescreen for their true reasons, a return to 'might makes right'. The reason that conservatives won't change their minds, no matter how many holes you blow in a conservative argument, no matter how wrong they are shown to be, is because they never believed all their own bullshit in the first place. Sure, you just blew a hole in their argument, but so what, you're just one person, and the next guy's probably a sucker. They don't care who they hurt or what they have to do, as long as they get what they want. To tie it back up with Orwell, they are those who would happily boot someone in the face, forever, because they're fascists.

  26. Stefan Says:

    The funny thing is, that the inefficiency brought in by overhead is unnecessary.

    We could just let small independent organizations handle one thing at a time and call that government. Unfortunately people then start screaming about accountability and control and bam overhead is back. So then they scream about inefficiency. You cant have both total efficiency and total accountability/control. Its the same thing as with freedom vs security.

    But thats THE right wing problem. Black and white thinking and lack of empathy. (i.e. others need to be controlled, other do wrong, others dont deserve social aid) And ultimately trust issues and lack of self reflection and accountability.

    Im sorry i cant answer your question. I am not sure right wingers can. Because they dont know what they want, they only know what they dont want. And that depends on their mood …

  27. ladiesbane Says:

    If you are earnestly asking how smaller government is the answer if government is inefficient and incompetent, the answer lies in the question. Our government is inefficient and incompetent because of its sheer size. You don't have to be a conservative or a libertarian to recognize that this is true.

    The problem is that often, the people who can see this believe that these traits are not sufficiently compensated for in other ways. Inefficiency can stall zealots in their lawmaking, for example, and keep us from rushing into war. Used to, anyway.

    It's true that there are heartbreaking pockets of inefficiency (FDA, I'm looking at you) but I generally attribute that to operator error (such as idiotic appointments) and consider it correctable. But that is really non-size-related incompetency.

    Size-related competency is something we do not have too much experience pursuing and we can't be expected to achieve it without practice. We're not China, who has had thousands of years of trial and error and still is not so hot. We're more like the former Soviet Union, still experimenting based on principles of idealism rather than pragmatism.

    If you want to watch a conservative's head explode, suggest that if efficiency and competency are the most desirable traits, we should abolish states (and states' rights) to allow Federal government freedom to organize the nation's laws and resources more purposefully. Kaboom. Until then, understand that inefficiency is a feature, not a bug, and incompetency is how we learn.

  28. Diana Says:

    I see Larry has beaten me to it with the Corey Robin reference, so I am just posting to say "amen to that." The right amount of government is government that empowers the patriarchy. Also amen to Elle, Major Kong and Coises.

    If you want to see this philosophy in action, may I refer you to Shakespeare's histories. Seriously. I was reading them for a non-philosophical reason, but it occurred to me that the ruling philosophy is pure conservatism: If there's peace at home, the ruler and his aristocrats go off to make war in France, or (if they're feeling especially virtuous) against the infidel in the Holy Land. The only practical difference between a good king and a bad king is the degree of his courage, which represents the sum total of what is required to start wars and win battles. The only theoretical difference between a legitimate king and an illegitimate king is whether he always was the proper heir or not, and provable only by his courage in starting wars and winning battles. The only crime for which his soldiers can be punished is desecrating religious authorities (sacking cities, raping and killing civilians, and living off the land during wartime come with the territory). The only authority superior to that of your feudal liege lord (or your most recent conqueror, who now automatically becomes your new liege lord) is that of the Church. The only function of government is enforcing obedience to feudal laws, collecting rents and taxes, and waging war. The only comfort any of the power structure owes to you, the peasant, is that if you have a courageous king, your home community is less likely to be sacked, and your lands and family less likely to be at the mercy of an invading army.

    Is it intellectually consistent? I would argue yes. The entire non-conversative political spectrum consists of arguments that "it doesn't have to be this way." And I have not been able to find any trace of this way of thinking in any of Shakespeare's histories.

  29. Robert Says:

    Stefan, good point. During my career as a Federal civil service purchasing agent, there were multiple layers of accountability, regulation and oversight related to the issue of 'this is the taxpayers money we're spending '. It inspired me to create the 90/10 Rule – the first ninety percent of your job takes the first ninety percent of the time and effort, while the remaining ten percent of the job takes the other ninety percent of time and effort.

    Oh, and after twenty years there, my gross salary was a princely US$54K. Every time I saw a story about civil servants being under worked and overpaid, I'd wonder how I missed THOSE cushy berths.

  30. Major Kong Says:


    In the IT field we had something similar except we called it the 80/20 Rule – you spend 80 percent of your time on 20 percent of the work.

  31. IdroppedmyFlag Says:

  32. Dan E Says:

    I feel like understanding that conservative thought process was really helped along when I read the book 'Don't Think of an Elephant' by George Lakoff. His 'strict father' analogy to explain modern conservatism made a lot more of their completely hypocritical viewpoints make sense. There's a pretty good overview here:

  33. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Diana: Your reading of the Histories is quite correct, though Shakespeare's wider misanthropy (which is the same as Swift's misanthropy–he likes people on a case-by-case basis, but thinks that the collective worth of humanity is less than dirt) always seems to give him a back-door to supporting patriarchal absolutism–namely, that the common people (illiterate, religiously indoctrinated, hypocritical, selfish) are not to be trusted with government. Shakespeare's Kings may be conservative, but Shakespeare's populace is the Tea Party. Prescient mo-fo, that Bard of A.

  34. Brian Says:

    Personally I think the answer is one of definitions.

    Too Much Government:

    1) Any regulation or law enacted by the Government that threatens to diminish Christian White Male Privilege.

    e.g. Taxes on the wealthy, Civil Rights law, or Welfare

    Therefore, a law that would increase White Male Privilege (forced trans vaginal ultrasounds, onerous voter registration processes, sodomy laws, etc) is by definition not Too Much Government.

  35. Matt Says:

    I suspect part of the disconnect is that what reality-based observers think of as "government" and what the average RWNJ thinks of – the two are wildly far apart, as surveys regularly show (people think NASA and foreign aid are each 50% of the budget if you ask them).

    So when said RWNJ starts screaming about "smaller GUBMINT", it's really the Lee Atwater switcheroo at work: somebody's told RWNJ that shouting about how we need to stop buying Cadillacs and steaks for "young bucks" and "welfare queens" is impolite, so this nonsense is the sanitized version.

  36. cromartie Says:


    "More Government" resources should be spent on whatever benefits me personally the most while "Less Government" resources should be spent on whatever those other people who aren't like me and need to spend more time and effort pulling themselves up by their bootstraps are given to them many times over.

    Glad we could clear that up. Next question.

  37. Dave Dell Says:

    I, too, think government overspends on some things such as National Defense and various corporate welfare programs and spends too little on others mainly in the categories of health and welfare. As such I am in favor of less government and more government at the same time. Does this make me similar to everyone else of whatever political stripe?

  38. Talisker Says:

    Coming in late I know, but I think Ed and others are missing a simple explanation, which does not involve conservatives being hypocritical, stupid or evil. (Some individual conservatives are all three, but that's beside the point.)

    Capitalism is based on the notion that everyone is fundamentally selfish. So a business owner attempts to increase his profits — ideally, by doing better than his competitors on price and/or quality. But a government employee has no direct competitors, and can only increase his personal income by extracting more money from the taxpayers. So in the conservative viewpoint, the government does exactly that. Instead of (or in addition to) being blindly incompetent, it is actively selfish.

    There is a grain of truth to this. Does the Pentagon *need* some of the absurdly expensive weapon systems it develops? Of course not. It develops them because it can, and because it lines the pockets of politically-connected contractors (who in turn line the pockets of retired generals).

    Of course, people are complicated, and have plenty of motives other than greed. As others have pointed out, many public sector employees could make a lot more money in the private sector. But considering the greed motive isn't fundamentally unreasonable.

  39. Talisker Says:

    @Diana: What you're getting from Shakespeare is the political thought of a totally different culture. He was writing almost 200 years before the American or French revolutions. If you want a modern insight into his mentality, watch The Godfather. You give the boss your service, and he gives you protection. Voting doesn't come into it. This is seriously how a medieval government worked, once you strip away the religious propaganda.

    Even by the standards of his time, Shakespeare was politically conservative. He supported the monarchy in general, and the current ruling dynasty in particular. This is why Shakespeare's Richard III is such an utterly evil villain — because Richard had been overthrown by Queen Elizabeth's grandfather, and Shakespeare wanted to show that Elizabeth was the legitimate ruler of England. It's similar to a modern Hollywood blockbuster presenting the US government as fundamentally good and noble. Artistically Shakespeare is far superior to Michael Bay, but neither one of them is in the business of challenging the political power structure.

    Some of the same authoritarian instincts still exist today, but I don't think modern conservatives literally support the divine right of kings.

  40. Hazy Davy Says:

    Late to the party, but I think the answer is that:
    1) The belief is that government *does* get it wrong, in the same direction. Sure, they misallocate resources, but every single-dingle resource they allocate is not used as efficiently as a privatized, for-profit operation would use it (whether the application is to overfund or underfund an initiative…both are going to use the $$$ wrong.)
    2) There are some things that are within the purview of government, rather than private industry. Very few, and depending on the ideologue you are talking to , it varies. Typically, military is one. Waterways are often another. And so, because they are within the auspices of government, government must run them—and it's a shame that they will do it inefficiently.
    3) Anything that is not met by #2 should NOT be in government, should be sent to private industry, which will result in our money being spent more efficiently.

    Ultimately, though, it's that some people never learned (or refuse to believe) that a Union is an "us". They believe the objective is to ensure maximum capital potential for them as individuals, rather than to ensure that everyone is cared for, first, before that.

    So the right stereotypes the left as wanting to disincentivize initiative, and make everyone the same (which is bullshit). And the left stereotypes the right as wanting to privatize everything and let "market forces" determine who wins and who loses, and it's a fixed pie, and some people have to lose.

    And the muddled masses of morons—on both sides, but it looks more severe on the right—succumb to bumper-sticker platforms like "less government". Ultimately, it's just a way of saying "have them do only the very few things the government should be involved in to ensure the continued existence of the Union. They'll do even that, inefficiently, but that's the price we have to pay. That maximizes my potential to game the system. I seriously believe that I will do better that way, and be better than someone else, and feel superior, but mostly, I believe it because I'm an idiot."

  41. Graham Says:

    The reason Conservatives can display breathtaking cognitive dissonance is that there is no philosophy of Conservatism.

    There is a philosophy of Socialism, like it or leave it, in which there exists a command economy the fruits of which are distributed more or less evenly among the citizenry. It is a cohesive thought.

    But there is no corresponding cohesion of thought in Conservatism. Every Conservative is out for himself: every thought and speech bubble is in fact the Id-dominated bellow of an infant who wants not only his own rattle, but yours too.

    Conservatives can not put away childish things.

  42. Karma Fubar Says:

    Recent scientific theories have postulated that at the subatomic (quantum theory) level, that the universe can, in fact, operate with contradictory or mutually exclusive behaviors, and that the problem is that the human mind tries to force its reason and logic on subatomic phenomenae that are not bound by such human concepts.

    Reason and logic still work pretty darn good once you get into and above the atomic scale. The problem is that many people have, without the benefits or rigors of science, already absolved using reason or logic in favor of accepting and embracing constant contradictions, and use this framework to "evaluate" Fox News or a McDonalds Value Meal.

  43. don Says:

    Late again but Gunstar poses two ostensibly indigestible conundrums to the conservative less-government mind:

    "Speaking of life-taking, how can you be pro-life and yet support the military and the death penalty?…"

    "If you do not trust the government to regulate business, how can you trust the government to regulate interpersonal relationships (in the form of anti-gay-marriage legislation)?"

    These are not problems. You just need a big squirt of vindictive Christianism on those corn dogs and you'll be deepthroating them like a Texan.

  44. NickT Says:

    I think Woody Allen got the logic of the conservative mind-set pretty well:

    "The food here is terrible."

    "Yes, and such small portions!"

    In practice, follow the money and you'll discover that conservatism is about enriching oneself at the tax-payers' expense, whether one calls it school reform, the free market or going Galt, while making sure that there are plenty of self-victimizing angry white men who don't get their turn at the swill trough – and so can be relied upon to vote for anything that hurts The Enemy. By a happy, but not entirely coincidental quirk of the conservative system, this means voting for conservative daddies to enrich themselves at the tax-payers' expense. And so the mad merry-go-round keeps on awhirling.

  45. Shamash Says:

    For conservatives, the answer to your question is simple:

    1) We're not spending enough on the military
    2) We're not spending enough in pork for my district
    3) We're spending too much on everything else

    See, you're just overthinking it.

  46. Ruthie Says:

    Taxes…. Low-hanging fruit…. Conservatives hate taxes, but why is it you never hear them complain about things like:

    1. Federally funded bridges and highways to nowhere in godforsaken states like Alaska and West Virginia? (Or any other state….)

    2. Federally funded tax breaks for petroleum producers, to insure that gas costs less in this country than it does in Europe–despite the fact that the crude is shipped from farther away.

    3. Using Medicare to pay for free scooters.

    4. Schools that treat THEIR children like the little geniuses their parents think they are, while also inculcating them in manners, separating their kids from the "social undesirables, and emphasizing the "right" religion, and totally unoffensive literature (–yes, I know that's an oxymoron.) And also, no gay/lesbian anything!

    5. Anything to support the War on Terra/military–including billions for planes that don't fly, and installing TSA in every airport to insure that travel is as inconvenient as possible for the greatest number of people.

    6. Congress. We could reduce the number of senators to one from each state and representatives to 1 per every million per state–with a minimum of 1, and get the same amount of "stupid" for a significant savings in salary and benefits–not to mention faster floor votes and smaller junket expenses!

  47. Stephen Says:

    I suspect conservative politicians and pundits are mostly cynical and talking out both sides of their mouth about it.

    The conservative base, however, probably DOES believe it, but conceives of "government" as a fundamentally bloated thing far off in the state capital or D.C. If everything were farms and small towns they'd probably never think about "government" at all. Probably because they'd know everyone in charge that much better, go to church with them, etc. and generally be small-town chummy.

    Except that small towns contain a lot of bullshit, but I suspect that's genuinely not on the typical Middle American conservative's mind.

Leave a Reply