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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

From the mouths of babes

Last month, Rob Olson argued that I had missed the mark in my account of conservatism’s history. He stated that, “[conservatives] in the past defended the elite,” whereas today, they “defend certain principles which apply equally to all.”

And Rob is right – conservatives of the past did indeed defend the elite. But to do so, they used certain ideas; ideas which sound awfully familiar to the ones they use today.

But you don’t have to take my word for it…

Justifying wars: “We want … only that the people of South Vietnam be allowed to guide their own country in their own way. … There are great stakes in the balance. Let no one think for a moment that retreat from Vietnam would bring an end to conflict. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another.” L.B.J., 1965.

“Our men and women are fighting to help democracy and peace and justice rise in a troubled and violent region. Our men and women are fighting terrorist enemies thousands of miles away…, so that we do not face those enemies in the heart of America.” George W. Bush, 2003.

The poor: “The drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be.” William Sumner, Social Darwinist, 1883.

“The poor … need to hear the message of personal responsibility and self-reliance…. They need to know, too, that they can’t blame ‘the system’ for their own wrongdoing.” Myron Magnet, compassionate conservative, 1999.

Regulation: “If the government interferes with [the market], it can only impair satisfaction; it can never improve it.”

“Such interference makes people poorer and less satisfied.” Ludwig von Mises, 1949.

“To the extent that governments ‘protect’ portions of their populations from what they perceive as harsh competitive pressures, they achieve a lower overall material standard of living for their people.” Alan Greenspan, 2007.

God’s special interest in their lives: “God gave me my money. I believe the power to make money is a gift from God.” John D. Rockefeller, 1905.

“I believe God wants me to be president.” George W. Bush, 1999.

America’s duty: America has “the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.” John O’Sullivan, 1845.

America needs “the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests” and “a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad.” P.N.A.C., 1998.

Marriage: “Connections and alliances so unnatural that God and nature seem to forbid them, should be prohibited by positive law, and be subject to no evasion.” Virginia Supreme Court, interracial marriage, 1878.

“Homosexual behavior is contrary to the Creator’s design, and therefore is entirely unnatural.” William Einwechter, same-sex marriage, 2006.

Recessions: “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate.… It will purge the rottenness out of the system.… People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people.” Former Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, 1930s.

“Recessions are therapeutic. They cleanse excess from the economy. Think about excessive risk speculation, leverage, and housing. Recessions are curative: They restore balance and create the foundation for the next recovery.” Larry Kudlow, 2008.

Terrible predictions: “The ability of the North [Vietnamese] to make war has been greatly reduced.” General Westmorland, 1967.

“I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.” Dick Cheney, 2005.

So there you have it. The themes of “personal accountability, … the individual [and] … the human ability to succeed independent of a fawning and cumbersome government,” as advocated by Rob Olson are all there plain as day, with a little self-righteous godmongering and warmaking thrown in for added flavor.

And I would suggest learning to deal with that flavor – it’s not changing any time soon.


K.C. CODY will see you next time. If you know, or want to know, what TV show he’s just referenced, send him an e-mail at kccody@ucdavis.edu.


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