Dan Popp
AEI's "Reformed Conservatism" is just lawlessness in drag
By Dan Popp
May 27, 2014

And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. – Jesus (Matthew 24:12, NKJV)

Shame on Arthur Brooks, the American Enterprise Institute, Eric Cantor, Mike Lee, and other characters on the recent panel on "Reformed Conservatism." Just like the redundant "compassionate conservatism," this propaganda phrase deserves derision.

Why reform?

There are two reasons something might be a candidate for reform: Either our movement has gone off the rails and must be restored to its original course (as in the Protestant Reformation[1] ); or we need to "get with the times" and update our methods for advocating original principles.

The "Reformed Conservatism" described by the panel in a recent C-SPAN broadcast pretends to be the second of these, the "updating" or remodeling kind. "We have to deal with things as they are," the audience was told. Well, yes, of course. But government interventionism is not conservatism. If reform in this case had meant a return to first principles, the panelists would have called for repeal of the 16th Amendment (which brought us the federal income tax) – not a new way to use the socialist income tax for what Newt Gingrich once called "right wing social engineering."

When conservatives chirp that "Republicans can't just look backward," and, "We can't just say what we're against; we have to tell people what we're for," they're saying something that's disproven by history.

What was the positive agenda for replacing King George? What did the Revolutionaries propose as a substitute for the organizational structure, the ubiquitous presence, the commercial advantages and the protection of the most powerful government on earth? Surely they couldn't just get rid of the Crown's many helpful policies without having a plan to set up something similar!

How about Prohibition? The whole country decided that it was a good idea, then re-decided it was a bad idea and flat out repealed it. No. Not this. Backward was the way Forward then. Where were the solemn pronouncements that Prohibition Art the Law of the Land, and Cannot Be Undone, Yea, Verily, Except it be Replaced with Something Else Like Unto It?

The "positive vision" that's always vaguely outlined as the cure is similar, in all ways that matter, to the disease. It violates the Constitution. It violates reality. It's not even Marxist in a different way. It just carves out different exemptions for the benefit of different constituencies – say, loopholes for small businesses rather than labor unions.

No one on the Distinguished Panel ever says, "It was government shenanigans that drove healthcare prices sky high, that broke the back of the economy by forcing banks to make bad loans, and that made college unaffordable in the first place. Why don't we go forward by backing up to a time when government was not in the Miracle Feeding, Housing, Clothing, Teaching, Pensioning and Healing ministries?"

If the US can never get rid of the income tax or "social security" or Obamacare or any other societal cancer, where is chattel slavery? You see, we've done it. That means it can be done.

But real reform is hard. Too hard, it seems, for AEI.

If it's possible, as Mike Lee believes, to teach Low-Information America the complexities of the neighborhood effect vis-a-vis family size and payments into entitlement programs, why isn't it possible to educate America that entitlement programs are immoral? Which is easer, to say, "I propose another wrinkle to the tax code to benefit another interest group," or to say, "I propose ending the tax code?"

Now, Senator Lee is a smart guy, and he knows the Constitution. Maybe the problem is with me. Maybe I don't know what "conservatism" means. But my concept of the purpose and scope of government is based on the Bible and on America's founding principles. Those are in no need of "reform."

The relevant question is, Does the National Government have a legitimate role in "solving problems," in "making our lives better," and all the happy sunshine that leftist utopians spew from atop their unicorns – or doesn't it?

I submit that there is only one "conservative" answer to that question.

Often, as we've seen with "prison reform," "healthcare reform" and soon, "immigration reform," reformation turns out to be deformation. "Reformed Conservatism" doesn't look like reform or conservatism to me, AEI. It looks like defection.

Shame, I say.


[1]  My point doesn't rest on whether Luther, Calvin, Zwingli et al were right about particular reforms or the extent of reform necessary. Even today, priests and different groups within the RCC advocate various "reforms," by which they mean one of these two things – returning to first principles, or jettisoning what they see as non-essential teachings in order to better "relate" to the culture.

© Dan Popp


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