Principles over Policy

May 16, 2009

Matt Zeitlin is tired of the conservative spiel on radical change:

It just so happens that this suspicion of radical change only seems to manifest itself when the change is a liberal one. So, totally doing away with the post New Deal regulatory/welfare state, which is probably the most radical set of policy proposals supported by a wide range of respectable figures in the US, is radical change that conservatives are OK with, but undoing American apartheid and institutionalized white supremacy was just like the French Revolution.

I’m not saying that there’s not a place in our policy debates for skepticism about radical change and worries about unintended consequences. But to pretend that the modern American conservative movement has ever been a principled voicers of those concerns is just insulting to the historical record.

Conservatives have a policy agenda, liberals have a policy agenda. Let’s just debate those policies!

There’s definitely something to be said for considering just how radical the Republican Agenda has become in recent years, and how ungrounded its outlook is. But to me this is less proof that we should focus on the policies than a demonstration that we haven’t had anything approaching a genuine conservatism in a very long time, and that those currently holding the mantle make a mockery of Burke’s position.  Focusing on the debates spawned by that incomplete conservatism will not help that problem, and as we saw during the results-over-principles Bush years, actually diminishes the possibility of a genuine conservatism to emerging. (Or, for that matter, a genuine liberalism!)

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