Thursday, February 25, 2010

What Do Conservatives Want?

This has been making the rounds of blogs:
This chart comes from John Sides, who gathered information from the 2008 American National Election Study about spending priorites. Self identified conservatives, it turns out, aren't actually in favor of cutting spending on much of anything. Child care scored the worst for some reason, getting more hostility than even perennial bogeymen like foreign aid and welfare. Still, even at that, only 20% of conservatives wanted to cut child care spending, and scores dropped precipitously from there.

Drum goes on to say that the 12 programs listed account for about 95% of the federal budget. He concludes that conservative politicians are actually representing their base rather well:

They like to yammer endlessly about cutting spending, but when push comes to shove, there's not much they really think we're spending too much on. It's all just venting.
I touched on this yesterday when I questioned why Republicans keep yammering for tax cuts, then threaten to filibuster a bill that is nothing but tax cuts, then vote for the bill anyway when the filibuster fails.

It is indeed all just venting.

So, you folks are pissed off, we get that. Join the club. But until you can figure out what exactly it is that you want, please take some happy pills.

This chart has prompted much head-scratching among liberals as we try to figure out what the hell is going on in the conservative brain. Digby has an idea:
Maybe we could be a bit more polite and just call them "magical thinking" conservatives, but "conflicted" would imply that they feel some sort of dissonance, and it's quite clear that they do not. They truly believe that government should provide all the services they use but that nobody should have to pay any taxes to support it.

I believe it's the central economic difference between liberals and conservatives. We all like the welfare state and want more of it. They just think it should be paid for with fairy dust and we think progressive taxation is the more logical choice. Sadly, the political system has chosen to go with fairy dust. It's more marketable.

I’m going to offer a different interpretation. I don’t think they believe no one should have to pay for the services everyone says they want. They just think someone else should pay for it. They think they personally are taxed enough as it is (Lord knows we hear that often enough from conservatives, right?). They happen to think they’ve already paid their fair share.

And if that’s the case, then I don’t understand why they don’t think the wealthy shouldn’t pony up and pay more. Maybe it’s a mistrust of the system (“First they came for Paris Hilton, but I wasn’t Paris Hilton so I said nothing ...”). Maybe they aspire to be Paris Hilton someday. I dunno.

Often enough I’ve heard right here on my own blog that conservatives want “charity” to pay for things like healthcare or welfare programs. Well that’s great but who is going to pay the charity? Where are they going to get their money from? Everyone thinks they pay enough taxes and I guarantee you everyone thinks the $100 or $500 donation they made to charity is enough, as well.

It’s the unique conundrum of living in the wealthiest, most privileged country in the world. Wealth inevitably breeds fear; it’s a universal law, a flaw of human nature. Those who have much have a tendency to be closed, to want to hold on to what they’ve got, to hoard. That’s why the Bible is full of verses about giving your wealth away; even the ancients understood human nature and our tendency to think we've given enough. It's why the Old Testament is full of ideas like debt forgiveness every seven years, a 20% production tax during times of plenty to prepare for times of shortage, leaving a portion of your harvest aside for the poor, etc.

So, nothing has changed. People want services but they want someone else to pay for them. Yawn.

Anyway, the good news is that apparently most of us all agree that programs like bridges and highways, aid to the poor, Social Security, and environmental protection are worthwhile programs. That’s a starting place.