The news pages have been replete with conservatives moaning and bemoaning the budget of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. So angry are the true believers they’ve used the absolute worst adjective in their vocabularies to describe the Harper budget: Liberal. Ouch.
As I read the latest columns from disillusioned conservatives over lunch, this time by Gerry Nicholls in the Ottawa Citizen and Tasha Kheiriddin in the National Post, I was reminded of the fall of communism. No, really, hear me out.
In their columns, Nicholls and Kheiriddin, true-believers both, decry the fact that Harper the man who was supposed to be their conservative white night, a fellow ideologue, has, in power, strayed from the path to righteousness and has failed to deliver their promised conservative revolution. I knew Ronnie Reagan and you sir, they complain, are no Ronald Reagan.
But minority or no minority, Mr. Harper could have at least used his position as prime minister to extol and promote the virtues of smaller government and freer markets. But he never did.
Why? Because Mr. Harper and his strategists believe the only way for Conservatives to win elections is to act and talk like Liberals. Or to put it another way, the prime minister was willing to sacrifice his principles for the sake of political expediency.
This is an oft-repeated statement – that he feels he has to act less conservative to get a majority and then be free to act all conservative -- and its an interesting one to me.
What does it say of conservatism if a party cannot run openly and honestly on a conservative platform and then get a majority mandate to implement it? What does it say that they need to either hide their conservative tendencies or shed them, depending on which conspiracy theory you subscribe to, to get elected (and only then with a minority)? And what does it say that, in a time of fiscal crisis, a supposed conservative ideologue turns to deficit-funded stimulus spending instead of employing the conservative economic principles he wrote his thesis on?
Now, Nicholls and Kheiriddin will tell you Harper’s budget wasn’t an acknowledgment that conservative economics don’t work (although there’s a healthy body of evidence to show they don’t), but rather was merely a minority government forced by political and public opinion to open the Keynesian taps. Maybe so. It’s telling though that the conservatives (small c) can’t persuasively make the case for their own deeply-held views as the prescription for our economic ills. For believers in a market economy, they seem unwilling to accept that the public just ain’t buying what they’re selling. Which, it would seem to hold, would mean it doesn’t have worth.
Looking more widely though, while conservatism may sell from time to time in the U.S., in Canada it seems to be a consistent, and increasing non-starter. Which is how I got to thinking about the failure of the communist system.
Ask any old, battle worn, communist ideologue and they’ll tell you communism never failed, despite the historical record, because a) the true system as envisioned by Marx has never been properly implemented, as personal agendas and vanity have interceded, and b) it can’t be properly implemented until the entire world is under a communist utopia. Until that day, resources will always have to be diverted to things like defense, leading to a prevision of the system. It gives them an easy out (in their minds at least) to never have to really examine the failures of their ideology.
Similarly, I suspect ideological conservatives will always be able to find rationalizations and explanations for why small-c conservatism isn’t a failure, and why their ideology isn’t faulty, or at fault. It’s Stephen Harper’s fault for hewing toward centre in the name of pragmatism. It’s the Liberals’ fault for insisting on stimulus spending. It’s Canadians’ fault for not giving them a majority.
At what point do they ask themselves: is it the customer, or is it what they’re selling? Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers