Conservativism and its many paradoxes

Dana EttingerLet’s talk about hypocrisy. Not the girl in your history class who berates you for procrastinating but is still stuck in Brody finishing her paper the night before it’s due with everyone else. I’m talking, “I don’t believe in X on principle but I want to use it for my own purposes because it suits me.”

I’m talking so-called “small government” social conservatives who don’t want any government involvement in their businesses, but want to use it to spy on American citizens or dictate who they can be or whom they can love. I mean proud children of immigrants refusing to accept refugees seeking the same opportunities for their own families.

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MICHAEL SCOTT VADON/CC-BY-SA-4.0 Marco Rubio, son of immigrants, protests the incoming refugees.

Take Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Their entire campaign narratives ride on the story of their immigrant parents fleeing Castro’s Cuba and coming to America to make a better life for themselves and their children. They talk about the hard work those brave people did, struggling to get by and give their children the American Dream. But when it comes time for Cruz and Rubio to use the success they’ve had because of those sacrifices to help other families realize the same goals, they fall short.

According to Marco Rubio, “We can’t allow anyone into this country that we can’t vet,” never mind that there is no “vetting” process for refugees fleeing Cuba. Ted Cruz said a few weeks ago that “legal immigration needs to be structured so that it serves America’s needs,” rather than welcoming people who want new lives; He forgets that his father was a revolutionary in Cuba who wanted freedom regardless of whether America wanted him.

The distinctly nativist approach is characteristic of both of them.

The hypocrisy here is perhaps some of the most blatant, given how frequently Cruz and Rubio cite their parents and their upbringings in their qualifications to lead the country. But it is no less insidious when Cruz expounds on the benefits of a smaller federal government with less power while endorsing the NSA’s privacy invasions or trying to ban marriage equality.

Social conservatism and fiscal conservatism at some point become incompatible. Fiscal conservatives who want lower taxes and less government interference in their lives must contend with social conservatives who would use the government to uphold a moral agenda — an agenda, moreover, that is not universal. This is the beauty of libertarianism.

Libertarians fundamentally want to be left alone to live their lives as they see fit. They have no use for a bloated federal government interfering in their business or personal lives, nor will they stand for such intrusions in the lives of others. There is no need to impose a specific (generally Christian) moral code on a nation made up of many different value systems. As long as everybody agrees to — and the law protects — the principle of doing what you will so long as it does not infringe on anyone else’s right to the same, there is no need for a federally mandated morality or cumbersome regulation of economic life.

The paradox of modern American conservatism is the desire to let the market run as freely and uninhibited as possible, to free the economy from the constraints of government regulation while at the same time using it to enshrine a singular, disputed moral authority, to intrude into people’s personal lives in a way the would never dare intrude on economic life. Libertarianism does not resolve this paradox. With libertarianism, it doesn’t arise in the first place.

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