Robert Maynard
Glenn Beck takes on the Leviathan
By Robert Maynard
March 2, 2010

Conservative "blogs" and radio shows are still buzzing about the keynote speech that radio and TV host Glenn Beck delivered at this year's "Conservative Political Action Conference," or CPAC. Mr. Beck is being simultaneously hailed and denounced in conservative circles for his view that the Republicans have not shown that they can be relied on to halt the expansion of statism. His critics are not happy with him because they claim that he is putting the GOP in the same category with the Democrats when it comes to culpability for the expansion of the state. In one sense they do have a point. Beck does often sounds like he sees no difference between the two parties. When one pays more attention to the whole of what he is doing, I think that his critics miss the bigger point that he is making. The question is not whether there is a difference between the two parties, but whether that difference is big enough to expect that the GOP will actually REVERSE the course that the "progressive" movement has worked set us on for over a century.

Beck has spent a good deal of time looking at the progressive movement and its efforts to expand the role of the State. His efforts in doing so actually represent a return to the roots of the modern day conservative movement in America. In his book "The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945," George H. Nash details the rise of the conservative movement in America as a movement of ideas that rose up in opposition to the social engineering vision of the progressive movement. The movement started by what he called "The Revolt of the Libertarians" and ended up as a "fusion" of a libertarian concern for individual liberty, a traditionalist concern for acknowledging an enduring moral order and an opposition to totalitarian threats abroad. This "fusion" was provided by the principles that were the basis of American's founding as expressed in our Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The movement's first real political expression came in the presidential campaign on Barry Goldwater.

In time political calculation watered down commitment to roll back the expansion of government and conservatives broke up into a series of issue related activist groups. There even arose a "Big Government" conservatism that sought to use big government means to serve conservative ends. Conservatives could still be counted on to oppose new schemes proposed by the left, but they no longer were interested in rolling back an expanded state. In fact, in some areas, conservatives themselves proposed an expansion in the role of the state.

There have been several books written about this abandonment by conservatives of a commitment to limited government. One such book was called "The Triumph of Politics: Why The Reagan Revolution Failed" by former Reagan Budget Director David Stockman. Others are "Dead Right" by David Frum, "THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM" by Ryan Sager and "Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution" by the Cato Institute's Michael Tanner.

There was a brief time when it seemed that the GOP really was serious about taking on the Leviathan right after the 1994 elections. That time passed quickly and the GOP has not shown any evidence since then that it is willing to do so. The fact that they are finally united in an effort to oppose the new proposals being put forward by Obama and crew does not prove that they are ready to actually roll back creeping statism. The last time that happened in American was under Calvin Coolidge. Since then, the best that conservatives and the GOP haves been able to achieve is to slow the rate of increase of statism. Under President Bush and a GOP Congressional majority, there was even a significant increase in statism.

We have no idea what the current GOP team would do if they got in power. They have done a good job of opposing the schemes advanced by the left and for that they are to be commended. It is also quite clear that they are far preferable to the Democrats for those of us who want to see the role of government limited. While I do not see a moral equivalency between the two parties when it comes to opposing statism, I do not see a clear champion of the cause either and appreciate the work that Glenn Beck is doing to put pressure on those who wish to present themselves as such champions. In doing so, he and the Tea Parties are not only dropping anchor for a GOP adrift, but for the conservative movement overall.

© Robert Maynard


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