Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 05:12:22 AM EST
The crisis on Wall Street has demonstrated that conservatism has not a single idea remaining. No one attempted an ideological explanation or way forward, and those who tried to frame it in partisan terms just looked foolish.
For more on pruning back executive power see Pruning Shears.
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The crisis on Wall Street that began last week has provided the clearest evidence yet that conservatism no longer exists in any meaningful sense. Its standard bearers gave up the facade of cohesion in foreign policy around the time they realized they could not sustain interest in dictators ruling in areas of no geopolitical import. They have been irretrievably corrupted on domestic policy for much longer - the governmental spending spree and reckless deficits of 2001-2007 is all you need to know about how they really approach fiscal policy - but the enormity of the problem we face now has had a wonderfully clarifying effect on just how bankrupt of ideas the right is.
Some brave souls have attempted to explain it in a way that puts all or most of the blame on Democrats. Republicans controlled Congress from 1994 through 2006, the period of deregulation and neglect that created the tidal wave just now cresting. Conservatives used to forcefully argue for a concept of accountability that meant the buck stopped at the top. Even if those at the top didn't know, couldn't know, they still were expected to stand up and accept blame. Not any more. Now it is all about duck, hide and point fingers. But those who attempt to explain why it is liberals' fault just end up proving Mark Twain's maxim that it is better to keep your mouth shut and have people suspect you are a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.
Kevin Hassett takes the honors in this category with, sorry to be blunt, a laughably stupid explanation: "Fannie and Freddie did this by becoming a key enabler of the mortgage crisis. They fueled Wall Street's efforts to securitize subprime loans by becoming the primary customer of all AAA-rated subprime-mortgage pools." For the sake of the argument I will accept (!) that Fannie and Freddie = politically correct loan policies to unqualified (and disproportionately black) poor people = Democrats.
According to Hassett it had less to do with the Wall Street invention of securitization, which encouraged banks to sell off their loans as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that in doing so their incentive changed from writing a solid loan that would turn a profit only by being repaid into writing as many loans as possible in order to maximize fees before getting them off the books entirely. Nor was the fact that investment banks were (ahem) "working" with rating agencies in order to make sure these questionable securitized loans received the highest grade possible. Surely Moody's was just trying to provide excellent customer service and Merrill Lynch was seeking this guidance out of a heartfelt desire to properly value them. And the insurers that blandly gave their blessing to these bonds with virtually no due diligence couldn't possibly have been expected to know they were in fact pledging to back up worthless paper. No, none of these folks were key enablers. It was Freddie and Fannie, operating as intended: Increasing liquidity in the market by being the final resting place for what to all appearances were high grade, insured, solid, unspectacular mortgages. I do wonder, though, why Hassett did not also blame the state of Massachusetts and those horrible people at the Jefferson County (Florida) school board for their dastardly enabling as well.
Others have (correctly) decided that trying to explain it is a loser's game and are desperately trying to deflect attention elsewhere. Some leading lights want to recast it in terms that no longer appeal to any ostensible conservative principle. Instead we should not "insist on some sort of ideological purity or free-market fastidiousness" and keep in mind that "The global financial turmoil has pulled nearly everybody out of their normal ideological categories." This is "not a time for ideological purity" (via, and it is fascinating to see how a universally rejected (via) transfer of wealth to Wall Street is what finally got some on the right concerned about reckless spending. But under the circumstances it is probably best not to quibble too much.) It is, quite simply, the total elimination of pretense. Conservatism as practiced for the last quarter century has produced the mess we all must now clean up. It has also produced a horrifically costly war based on lies and fear, and crippled our bureaucracy to the point of incapacity in the face of natural disaster. We are now living with the logical result of the authoritarianism, militarism, corruption, fearmongering, callousness and greed that conservatism has meant in practice. It is understandable that its defenders want to change the subject, or feebly claim that we now need some kind of post-ideological paradigm or are reduced to farcical attempts at distancing. But that is no reason for the rest of us to accept such silliness.