The Evil that Conservatives Do
Wednesday, April 26, 2006 :::
This morning's Wall Street Journal has a book review of Mathhew Continetti's "The K Street Gang" written by Governing Magazine executive editor Alan Ehrenhalt. For much of it's course, this is a fairly non-descript review (in spite of the author's errors Ehrenhalt points out along the way). That is, until the end, when the reviewer jams his prose into the ditch:
There is, however, an alternative explanation for the embarrassments of Mr. Abramoff and company -- to me at least, a more plausible one. It is that the Republican scandals of the past decade were scandals of a special kind, perpetrated by political activists whose common characteristic was disdain for government of all forms, at all levels. It was Grover Norquist, Mr. Abramoff's longtime ally, who became famous for vowing to make government so small that he could 'drown it in a bathtub." Mr. Abramoff expressed similar sentiments.
If one truly believes that -- believes that public enterprises essentially amount to coercion and theft -- then it is only a small step to deciding that, since the money in the federal Treasury doesn't belong there, one might as well liberate some of it and get rich in the process. This is what Mr. Abramoff and his associates believed, and this is what they did.
It is actually a small step if one is already predisposed to depravity. But it is an enormous and impossible step for the overwhelming majority of people -- including me.
But for Ehrenhalt, it seems, linking people who disdain the overweening state together into one, gigantic criminal enterprise is useful -- even necessary. How better to discredit an entire philosophy than by casting it as but a step removed from the big house?
Ehrenhalt's antidote to this perceived predisposition is former House Minority Leader Bob Michel, whom he describes as the proper sort of conservative who "profess[es] a sufficient respect for government to try to keep it honest and efficient, and limited." Michel, "believed in government enough to try to shrink it; [he] also believed in it enough to abhor the very idea of stealing from it."
I would say these qualities are neither unique to Michel nor to a certain "form of conservatives." There are those, to be sure, who view government as a scourge and a threat. And I wander into that camp myself when I read or see some of the incredibly daffy things it does (the recent assault on free speech to serve the supposedly higher goal of "campaign reform" is one such instance). But does that mean I and others like me are only a wink and a nudge away from larceny? Of course not.
But I'd have a tough time trying to get Ehrenhalt and the great minds at Governing Magazine to believe that.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 4/26/2006