It has always struck me as strange that those who call themselves “conservative” are so often violently opposed to environmentalism. They love to throw stones at the “tree huggers,” even though the tree huggers are also conservatives, which is to say those who want to conserve what is important and beautiful. The stone-throwers are simply what my thesis adviser at Northwestern called “dollar conservatives.” These people just want to hang on to their money and watch it grow.
This all goes back to the loose ways we use words, a theme I have visited before in my blogs. And one of the loosest words is certainly “conservative.” There are a great many types of conservatives among whom I might number myself on occasion. Like George Eliot I enjoy it when “reforming intellect takes a nap, while imagination does a little Toryism by the sly, reveling in regret that dear, old, brown, crumbling, picturesque inefficiency is everywhere giving place to spick-and-span new-painted, new-varnished efficiency, which will yield endless diagrams, plans, elevations, and sections, but alas! no picture.” I am indeed eager to conserve tradition and the classical works of the human mind; I am no devotee of progress for its own sake. Such people, I am given to understand, are called “intellectual conservatives,” as distinct from “dollar conservatives.” The latter want to lower taxes by cutting social programs, such as education, environment, energy, and science, and even veterans’ benefits while at the same time increasing “defense” spending which already comprises 58% of this nation’s “Discretionary Spending” and is a misnomer if there ever was one. I hesitate to suggest that it is possible that dollar conservatives are more interested in conserving the contents of their own pocketbooks than they are the nation at large.
That is, those who seem preoccupied about lowering the taxes don’t seem to realize that lowering taxes might just destroy what is essential about this nation — not just its social programs, which they would as soon see dry up, but the fiscal well-being of a solid middle class which many would regard as the backbone of this society. In fact, lowering the taxes — without, say, reducing such things as defense spending, which is currently 15 times larger than the amount we spend on education — would put is in even deeper debt to nations like China and India to whom we now owe billions of dollars. The notion that we can save the country by reducing taxes is not only short-sighted, it is incredibly stupid. Like it or not, taxes are a necessary evil and we actually benefit by paying more, not less — though there is clearly a point of diminishing return.
As one of my fellow bloggers who understands high finance much better than I pointed out recently: So help me understand this concept of “taxed enough already” as this independent data would seem to indicate we are not taxed enough. To this old fart, we have to be prepared to step up and pay for something. Back in the early 2000′s when I was a Republican when the GOP actually strived for better stewardship, I was very much against the Bush tax cuts. When Bush’s senior tax advisor resigned and Warren Buffett cited we do not need these tax cuts, it confirmed my reservations. Mr. Norquist is fond of citing Ronald Reagan as the paragon, but President Reagan increased taxes five times after he had cut them too much with Tax Reform early in his presidency. Citing Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum in their book “That Used to be Us,” President Reagan hated deficits, so he realized he needed to increase taxes. However, he was smart enough to call them revenue enhancements.
Thus, dollar conservatives are not true conservatives at all. The true conservatives are the tree huggers and those who want to save life on this planet together with those who refuse to let go of the beautiful and magnificent works of the human mind that have defined Western civilization for hundreds of years. In a word, conservatives are preservationists who are focused on things they regard as more important than their pocketbook.