Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.
Republicans and Conservatives: The Gap Is Growing
The Republican defeat in the November election, and the decision of voters to give Democrats a majority in both the House and Senate, has been described by some as a defeat for conservatism. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is, in fact, nothing conservative about the policies of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress that was rejected by the voters. In his book Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government, Stephen Slivinski of the Cato Institute shows how earmarks-or pork-barrel projects-multiply for each home district or state. In the last Democratic Congress, earmarks numbered 1,549. The Republican Party in its first year got the number down to 958. But in 2005 and again in 2006 the yearly total zoomed to over 15,000, or an annual average of some 30 earmarks per member of Congress.
Such earmarks are also a gateway to corruption. Mr. Slivinski notes that indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff once called the Appropriations Committee, birthplace of most earmarks, a "favor factory." Rep. Floyd Flake (R-AZ) refers to earmarks as "the currency of corruption." California Republican, former Rep. Randy Cunningham, who confessed to taking bribes for promises of earmarks, got a jail sentence of eight years and four months.
At the National Review summit of conservatives, held in Washington in January, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush told his audience that Republicans lost the 2006 elections because they abandoned their principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility. David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, points out that:
The Republican Congress came to power in 1994 promising "the end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public's money." But for the past six years, with Republicans controlling both the White House and Congress, they have instead delivered the biggest spending increases and the biggest expansion of entitlements since Lyndon Johnson, the federalization of education, the McCain-Feingold restrictions of political speech, and the Sarbanes-Oxley regulatory burden. When you combine that with a misguided war and a series of scandals that remind voters why no party should stay in power too long, is it any wonder that conservatives were dispirited in the 2006 elections?
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, notes that:
The historic core of the (conservative) movement has revolved around the relationship of the citizen to the state with conservatives of most, if not all, stripes arguing that a small government that is minimally involved in running the economy and the way people live their lives is superior to a larger government that wants to do more and more "for the people." In power, however, conservative politicians have tried to retain the rhetoric of small government while governing in a way barely distinguishable from their Democratic opponents.
Discussing the decline of conservatism and conservative ideas, Paul M. Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation, and William S. Lind, director of its Center for Cultural Conservatism, write in The American Conservative:
Conservatism has become so weak in ideas that during the presidency of George W. Bush, the word "conservative" could be and was applied with scant objection to policies that were starkly anti-conservative. Americans witnessed "conservative" Wilsonianism, if not Jacobinism, in foreign policy and an unnecessary foreign war; record "conservative" de-industrialization and dispossession of the middle class in the name of Ricardian free trade and Benthamite utilitarianism. No wonder the American people are confused and disillusioned by conservatism if these are its actions when in power. . . . If conservatism is to be re-established as an intellectual force, and not merely a label for whatever the establishment does to its own benefit, it must first reawaken intellectually.
A supreme irony of today's Big Spending-Big Government Republicans, argues William H. Peterson, an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and the Ludwig von Mises Institute:
. . . is their run-in with the anti-Big Government thinking of the American voters themselves. For according to polls such as ABC News/Washington Post and CBS/New York Times, American voters prefer a smaller state.
Indeed, poll numbers for the last 28 years on Americans opting for smaller government trend upward-from 44 percent for smaller government against 41 percent for larger government in 1978 to 64 percent for smaller government against only 22 percent for larger government in 2004.
In Stephen Silvinski's view:
It seems there is a large constituency that would respond favorably to a political party that can enunciate a clear program to make the federal government smaller, less powerful and less intrusive. It's those sorts of voters-Republicans, Democrats and independents alike-who catapulted Reagan to the White House. Those voters are still up for grabs. The Republican Party cannot take them for granted anymore.
Before the 2006 election, conservative commentators Kate O'Beirne and Rich Lowry, writing in National Review, had one word to describe the Republican Congress' approach to spending the big deficits: "Incontinence." They argued that the relevant question for conservatives was not "Can this Congress be saved?" but "Is it worth saving?"
Not long before his death, Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman said that the previous four years of Republican spending increases were "disgraceful" and a betrayal of the party's principles. "I'm disgusted by it," he declared:
For the first time in many years, the Republicans have control of Congress. But once in power, the spending limits were off and it's disgraceful because they went against their principles.
Federal spending as a share of the entire economy was 18.4 percent when Mr. Bush took office in 2001. Since then, the government's annual spending levels have grown by $610 billion or to 20.2 percent of the economy, according to figures compiled by the Heritage Foundation. "This is not a happy time for fiscal conservatives. We have had way too much spending," said John F. Cogan, an economist at the Hoover Institution who has been a frequent adviser to the Bush White House.
The critiques of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress have been increasingly harsh-and perhaps the harshest of these is from conservatives. Columnist George Will, discussing the administration's Iraq policy, wrote: "This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts." Robert Kaga, a neoconservative supporter of the Iraq war, wrote:
All but the most blindly devoted Bush supporters can see that Bush administration officials have no clue about what to do in Iraq tomorrow, much less a month from now.
In a book published in 2004, former Bush Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill described Bush as "a blind man in a room full of deaf people" and said that policymakers put politics before sound policy judgments. O'Neill said that "the biggest difference" between his time in government in the 1970s and in the Bush administration:
. . . is that our group was mostly about evidence and analysis, and Karl (Rove), Dick (Cheney), (Bush communications strategist) Karen Hughes and the gang seemed to be mostly about politics.
The growth of government power, the diminution of individual freedom, and a soaring deficit are not the policies one would expect from a self-proclaimed conservative president and Congress. Still, perhaps we should not be too surprised.
The Founding Fathers understood very well that freedom was not man's natural state. Their entire political philosophy was based on a fear of government power and the need to limit and control that power very strictly. It was their fear of total government that initially caused them to rebel against the arbitrary rule of King George III. In the Constitution they tried their best to construct a form of government that through a series of checks and balances and a clear division of powers, would protect the individual. They believed that government was a necessary evil, not a positive good.
Yet, the Founding Fathers would not be surprised to see the many limitations upon individual freedom that have come into existence. In a letter to Edward Carrington, Thomas Jefferson wrote that: "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." He noted that:
One of the most profound preferences in human nature is for satisfying one's needs and desires with the least possible exertion; for appropriating wealth produced by the labor of others, rather than producing it by one's own labor . . . the stronger and more centralized the government the safer would be the guarantee of such monopolies; in other words, the stronger the government, the weaker the producer, the less consideration need be given him and the more might be taken away from him.
The written and spoken words of the men who led the Revolution give us numerous examples of their fear and suspicion of power and the men who held it. Samuel Adams asserted that:
There is a degree of watchfulness over all men possessed of power or influence upon which the liberties of mankind much depend. It is necessary to guard against the infirmities of the best as well as the wickedness of the worst of men.
Therefore, "Jealousy is the best security of public liberty."
Conservatives, if they are sincere in their advocacy of limited government and fiscal responsibility, must be as vigilant when Republicans are in power as when Democrats are in control. There is a tendency for the party in power-whichever party it may be-to expand that power and build upon it. We have seen this tendency in full bloom with the Bush administration. Finally, perhaps too late, conservatives have now come to understand that reality.
With Growing Immigration and a Population of More Than 300 Million-It's Time to Fire-up the Melting Pot
In October, 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of the United States reached 300 million, behind only that of China and India.
One key ingredient in this population growth has been immigration. Over the past four decades, immigrants, primarily from Mexico and Latin America, have reshaped the country's ethnic makeup. Of the newest 100 million Americans, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, 53 percent are either immigrants or their descendants.
Nearly half of the nation's children under 5 belong to a racial or ethnic minority. The face of the future is clear in our schools. Writing in the Smithsonian Magazine, Joel Garrau notes that:
Our kindergartens now prefigure the country as a whole, circa 2050-a place where non-Hispanic whites are a slight majority. . . . The numerical study of who we are and how we got that way does have a refreshing habit of focusing our attention on what's important, long-term, about our culture and values-where we're headed and what makes us tick.
Many believe that the changing racial and ethnic makeup of the nation signals a fundamental change for our society. Political historian Michael Barone disagrees. In his important book, The New Americans, Barone, a senior writer at U.S. News and World Report, reminds us that the U.S. has never been a homogeneous, monoethnic nation:
The American colonies, as historian David Hackett Fisher teaches in "Albion's Seed," were settled by distinctive groups from different parts of the British Isles, with distinctive folkways, distinctive behaviors in everything from politics to sexual behavior. And this is not to mention the German immigrants who formed 40 percent of Pennsylvania's population in the Revolutionary years and who, Benjamin Franklin feared, would never be assimilated. Many different religious groups-Catholics and Mennonites, Shakers and Jews-established communities and congregations, making the thirteen colonies and the new nation more religiously diverse than any place in Europe. We were already, in John F. Kennedy's phrase, a nation of immigrants.
Barone shows how the new Americans of today can be interwoven into the fabric of American life just as immigrants have been interwoven throughout history. He believes, however, that it is essential we heed the lessons of America's past, and avoid misguided policies and programs-such as bilingual education-that hinder rather than help assimilation. The Melting Pot, he believes, can work as well today as it already has.
"The minority groups of 2000," writes Barone:
. . . resemble in important ways immigrant groups of 1900. . . . America, in the future, will be multiracial and multiethnic, but it will not-or should not-be multicultural in the sense of containing ethnic communities marked off from and adversarial to the larger society, any more than today's America consists of unassimilated and adversarial communities of Irish, Italians, or Jews. . . . We are not in a wholly new place in American history. We've been here before.
While the American society of a century ago sought to assimilate immigrants and make sure that they were taught the English language and the history, culture, and values of their new country, many in today's society, particularly among the nation's elites, have abandoned that goal.
In Barone's view,
In the last third of the twentieth century . . . elite Americans have not been preoccupied with immigration and have tended to regard "Americanization" as an uncouth expression of nationalistic pride or a form of bigotry. . . . Elites came to see Americanization as the unfair subjection of members of other races and cultures. They came to celebrate . . . an America that would be made up of separate and disparate "multicultural" groups, fenced off in their own communities, entitled to make demands on the larger society, but without any responsibility to assimilate to American mores.
Programs that have been adopted in recent years, Barone argues have hindered the integration of newer immigrants into the American society:
By stepping back from the prevalent view of the immigrant and minority groups, we see how misguided some of our policies and programs are. It is absurd, for instance, to grant immigrants quotas and preferences that are based on past discrimination because, as John Miller points out, "foreign-born newcomers almost by definition cannot have experienced a past history of discrimination in the United States." Even more absurd and counterproductive have been the so-called bilingual education programs, which have kept Latino immigrants' children in Spanish-language instruction and denied them knowledge of English that they need to advance in American society. What these immigrants need is what Americanization supplied the immigrants a hundred years ago-a knowledge of English and basic reading and mathematics skills, an appreciation of the American civic culture, a fair chance of moving ahead as far as their abilities will take them. We need to learn the good lessons our forebears taught, even as we strive to avoid their mistakes.
Most immigrants, Barone shows, are hard-working and are committed to making better lives for themselves in the American society. They are not the problem. He believes that:
The greatest obstacle to the interweaving of blacks, Latinos, and Asians into the fabric of American life is not so much the immigrants themselves or the great masses of the American people; it is the American elite. The American elite of a century ago may have looked on immigrants with distaste. . . . But it also championed the cause of Americanization and promoted assimilation of immigrants into the mainstream. . . . What is important now is to discard the notion that we are at a totally new place in American history, that we are about to change from a white-bread nation to a collection of peoples of color. On the contrary, the new Americans of today, like the new Americans of the past, can be interwoven into the fabric of American life. In many ways, that is already happening, and rapidly. In can happen even more rapidly if all of us realize that interweaving is part of the basic character of the country and that the descendants of the new Americans of today can be as much an integral part of their country, and as capable of working their way into its highest levels, as the descendants of the new Americans of a hundred years ago.
Clearly, the time has come to fire up the melting pot. Former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm makes this point:
The U.S. is at a crossroads. If it does not consciously move toward greater integration, it will inevitably drift toward more fragmentation. Cultural divisiveness is not a bedrock upon which a nation can be built. It is inherently unstable. . . . America can accept additional immigrants, but must be sure that they become Americans. We can be Joseph's coat of many nations, but we must be united. One of the common glues that hold us together is language-the English language. We should be color-blind but linguistically cohesive. We should be a rainbow but not a cacophony. We should welcome different peoples but not adopt different languages. We can teach English through bilingual education, but we should take great care not to become a bilingual society.
Professor Seymour Martin Lipset points out that:
The history of bilingual and bicultural societies that do not assimilate are histories of turmoil, tension and tragedy. Canada, Belgium, Malaysia, Lebanon-all face crises of national existence in which minorities press for autonomy, if not independence. Pakistan and Cyprus have divided. Nigeria suppressed an ethnic rebellion. France faces difficulties with its Basques, Bretons and Corsicans."
Remembering the way American public schools once served to bring children of immigrants into the mainstream, Fotine Z. Nicholas, who taught for 30 years in the New York City schools and for many years wrote an education column for a Greek-American weekly, notes:
I recall with nostalgia the way things used to be. At P.S. 82 in Manhattan, 90 percent of the students had European-born parents. Our teachers were mostly of Irish origin, and they tried hard to homogenize us. We might refer to ourselves as Czech or Hungarian or Greek but we developed a sense of pride in being American. . . . There were two unifying factors: the attitude of our teachers and the English language. . . . After we started school, we spoke only English to our siblings, our classmates and our friends. We studied and wrote in English, we played in English, we thought in English.
Discussing recent bilingual education programs, Mrs. Nicholas declares that:
It was a simple concept at first: Why not teach children English by means of the home language? A decade later, "disadvantaged" children were still being taught in their parents' language. As federal money poured into the program, it gradually became self-perpetuating. . . . Bilingual education seems to be developing into a permanent means of ethnic compartmentalization. Cultural pluralism may be the norm for a multi-ethnic nation, but is the family's role to build a cultural identity in children. The School's role is to help them enter the mainstream of school life, and eventually, the mainstream of the United States of America.
America has been a nation much beloved. Germans have loved Germany. Frenchmen have loved France. Swedes have loved Sweden. This of course, is only natural. Yet, America is not simply another country. To think so is to miss the point of our history. America has been believed not only by native Americans, but by men and women throughout the world who have yearned for freedom.
America dreamed a bigger dream than any nation in the history of man. It was a dream of a free society in which a man's race, or religion or ethnic origin would be completely beside the point. It was a dream of common nationality in which the only price to be paid was a commitment to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship.
In the 1840s, Herman Melville wrote that "We are the heirs of all time and with all nations we divide our inheritance." If you kill an American, he said, you shed the blood of the entire world.
At a celebration in New York several years ago of the 150th anniversary of Norwegian immigration, news commentator Eric Sevareid, whose grandfather emigrated from Norway, addressed the group-in the form of a letter to his grandfather. He said:
You knew that freedom and equality are not found but created. . . . This grandson believes this is what you did. I have seen much of the world. Were I now asked to name some region on earth where men and women lived in a surer climate of freedom and equality than that Northwest region where you settled--were I so asked I could not answer. I know of none.
In 1866, Lord Acton, the British Liberal leader, said that America was becoming the "distant magnet." Apart from the "millions who have crossed the ocean, who shall reckon the millions whose hearts and hopes are in the United States, to whom the rising sun is in the West?"
Our new immigrants must be taught our history and must understand that what drew them to America will be lost if it is replaced by an ethnic and racial Balkanization, which some appear to seek. The melting pot worked well in the past. It will work well in the future if we will permit it to do so. *
"Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solution." -Edward R. Murrow