Sunday, January 07, 2007

Education of a Winter Conservative

When you come to conservatism after age 60, as I did, you have a lot of catching up to do. Someone, Churchill I think, famously said that when young if you are not liberal you have no heart (I’m OK there) but when grown up if you are not conservative you have no brain. Now, a succession of Sisters of St. Joseph testified to my having a brain: “Mr. Lama, if you used only half your brain,…” If you can’t believe a nun, who can you believe? The obvious conclusion is that I failed to grow up. I can accept that, but it is a bit embarrassing when your children grow up before you. I sheepishly remember when, just after the 2000 presidential election, both kids asked “You voted for WHOM???”

The question is: What went wrong? My grandfathers were independent businessmen and the grandmothers raised 15 kids between them. Conservatism was in their bones. My parents took over the family business and thought that Nixon was too liberal. Yet Lee and I were Kennedy liberals and we tried to pass on his philosophy to our children, who were named after the Kennedy kids. But when I voted for Gore the kids were appalled. Did the school system account for the radical oscillation from my parents to me to my children? That seems unlikely since our kids went to the same parochial schools we did, and all schools have been increasingly liberal for 50 years and more. Perhaps the conservative trend is a natural phenomenon as Churchill thought, and I was an aberration.

Since seeing the light – 9/11 was the trigger – I have read voraciously on the subject of liberalism vs. conservatism, and done a few blog posts on the subject. I’ve written before about liberal’s loss of faith in America’s goodness and in our use of military force against evil regimes. Today’s liberals are not Kennedy’s children.

The change in the Democratic Party stems from the end of the Vietnam War. Ann Coulter: “Three months after Nixon was gone, we got the Watergate Congress and with it, the new Democratic Party. In lieu of the old Democratic Party (Kennedy, Johnson), which lost wars out of incompetence and naivete, the new Democratic Party would lose wars on purpose. Just one month after the Watergate Congress was elected, North Vietnam attacked the South. President Ford pleaded repeatedly with the new Democratic Congress simply to authorize aid to South Vietnam — no troops, just money. But the Democrats turned their backs on South Vietnam, betrayed an ally and trashed America’s word.”

If you want to see the difference on display today, see who is uplifted by the report out of London that Israel is set to bomb the Iranian nuclear sites and who is railing about the Zionist over-reaction. That is reason enough to abandon the liberal side. New House Majority Leader, Democrat Steny Hoyer, said that preventing a nuclear-armed Iran had to be done through “discussions, negotiations, sanctions” working with the international community but that the use of force hadn't been taken off the table. Sure.

Today, I want to talk about another loss of faith by our liberal friends, a loss of faith in the very American way of life, in our capitalist economy. I’ll begin with a recent real-world example, from the “war on poverty.” There are two competing economic strategies thought to fight poverty. Liberals argue that government can reduce poverty by “redistributing” wealth through ever-more progressive taxation and through government spending. Conservatives, however, say the best way to reduce poverty is through stronger economic growth that creates more jobs, and that you build a stronger economy by reducing taxes.

A recent study, “How to Win the War on Poverty: An Analysis of State Poverty Trends,” tests these different theories by examining state poverty rates. States with the lowest tax rates from 1990 to 2000 enjoyed sizable decreases in poverty. For example, the 10 states with the lowest taxes saw an average poverty reduction of 13% while the 10 states with the highest taxes suffered an average increase in poverty of 3%. The lesson is clear: “Low tax rates lift up the lives of America's poor.” Unfortunately, liberals from California to New York to the Federal Congress don’t understand the lesson.

Liberals keep saying the rich should pay more taxes and complain bitterly about tax cuts. Yet, the IRS study of 2004 income tax data shows that Americans who earned more than $1 million paid about one-third more income taxes than they did in 2002, the year before the Bush cuts in marginal tax rates and dividend and capital gains rates.

The wealthiest 1% of tax filers paid a remarkable 35% of all individual income-taxes in 2004. In fact, the data reveal that there were more Americans filing taxes in every income category from $50,000 and up in 2004. Americans across income categories are making more money thanks to the buoyant economy spurred in part by the tax cuts. Meanwhile, the lowest 30% -- those with a family income of $30,000 or less -- pay no income tax at all. Yet liberals feel that this progressive tax is not progressive enough.

And by the way, capital gains taxes collected were roughly 50% higher in 2004 than before the capital gains tax rates were reduced. Right, lower tax rates, but more taxes collected by the government. It happens every time. Oh, I forgot, federal tax receipts increased about 15% in 2005 and another 12% in 2006, lowering the federal budget deficit to 1.8% of GDP -- lower than the average since 1980. If Nancy Pelosi wants to keep revenues flowing to pay for her liberal goodies, “the best thing she can do is leave the lower Bush tax rates alone to soak the rich some more.”

I’ve been stretching my mind trying to understand how liberals got so mixed up about basic tax policy. I think that I may have hit upon the reason in my conservative studies, from a seminal book by the great William F. Buckley Jr. Buckley wrote God and Man at Yale (Gamay) only months after graduating with a BA in 1950. “I propose, simply,” wrote Buckley, “to expose what I regard to be an extraordinarily irresponsible educational attitude that, under the protective label ‘educational freedom,’ has produced one of the most extraordinary incongruities of our time: the institution that derives its moral and financial support from Christian individualists and then addresses itself to the task of persuading the sons of these supporters to be atheistic socialists.” Golly, even at 24, that boy could write!

Gamay revealed the anti-religion bias and the anti-capitalism bias in the majority of departments at Yale from history, literature, philosophy and economics to the social sciences. Yale, the institution that Time magazine called “the citadel of triumphant of conservatism” was exposed by Buckley to be “agnostic as to religion, interventionist and Keynsian as to economics and collectivist as applied to the relation of the individual to society and government.”

Liberal (ie. hopelessly confused) economic policy crept into Yale under the guise of academic freedom and eventually corrupted the economics philosophy at colleges and universities far and wide. It’s probably a good thing that not very much of the Yale educational experience was absorbed by our President.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Lama, YES you do have a brain. Thanks be to God.

This is a very thoughtful and timely writing, which I am forwarding to many of my favorite people.


11:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Better late than never dad! LOL!

11:01 AM  
Blogger fetching jen said...

Excellent analysis Bill. I never would have guessed that you had been over in the dark side for a few years. However, thinking people (liberal or conservative) who understand basic economics, couldn't possibly vote for a redistribution of wealth and higher taxes - it just doesn't make money the way lower taxes, hard work, self-sufficiency and free-enterprise do.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, stop quoting studies from think tanks! The “How to Win the War on Poverty: An Analysis of State Poverty Trends", was published by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank. You must really believe these are scholarly articles. You automatically know what these "studies" are going to show, so why do you quote them? Talk about redistribution of wealth "Congressional negotiators completed work yesterday on a $14.5 billion package of tax breaks as part of a major energy bill that provides far less support for alternative energy and efficiency than many lawmakers had urged." It's all the same with you guys, giveaways to corporations while whining about raising the minimum wage a measly 2 dollars/hr.

1:39 PM  

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