Liberalism vs Conservatism

Contents
Traditional Definitions
  • Liberalism is the doctrine that the core responsibility of government is to protect individual freedom.
  • Conservatism is the view that a core responsibility of government is to protect traditional institutions, values, and practices
Two Kinds of Liberalism
Presumption of Liberty
  • Principle of Presumption of Liberty
    • The state may restrict individual liberty only if it has proven that the restriction is justified.
  • John Stuart Mill
    • “The burden of proof is supposed to be with those who are against liberty; who contend for any restriction or prohibition…. The a priori assumption is in favor of freedom…” 
Liberal Democratic Policies
  • Environment and Climate Change
  • Gun Regulation
    • Brady Bill, Assault Weapons Ban, Biden Bipartisan Gun Bill
  • Internationalism and Multilateralism
    • Paris Climate Agreement, Iran Nuclear Agreement, North American Free Trade Agreement
  • Regulation of business and industry
    • Federal Reserve System, Federal Trade Commission, Dodd-Frank and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Rights
    • Civil Rights
      • Voting Rights Act, Civil Rights Act
    • Equal Rights
      • For women, gays and lesbians, the physically and mentally disabled
      • Violence Against Women Act
    • Privacy Rights
      • Right to abortion
  • Social Programs and Redistribution of Wealth
Two Sides of Conservatism
  • Economic Conservatism (Economic Libertarianism, Pro-Business Conservatism)
    • Free enterprise
    • Limited regulation
    • Low taxes
    • Small government
  • Social Conservatism (Cultural Conservatism)
    • Upholding traditional values and institutions, e.g. family, marriage, gender roles, religion, morality, patriotism
Conservative Republican Policies
Long-Standing Conservative Republican Policies
Sources, Color-Coded
  • To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party, 2014, Heather Cox Richardson, Professor of History at Boston College.
  • Other
Overview
  • To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party, 2014, Heather Cox Richardson
    • “Over the one hundred and sixty years of their history, Republicans have swung from one pole to another: sometimes they have been leftists, sometimes reactionaries. Today, once again, the Republican Party has positioned itself on the far right. How did the Republican Party—the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower—become the party of today?”
    • Heather Cox Richardson is an American historian and Professor of History at Boston College, She previously taught history at MIT and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
    • She is a founder and editor at werehistory.org, which presents professional history to a public audience through short articles.
  • Britannica Online at britannica.com
    • “The 1860 election is today regarded by most political observers as the first of three “critical” elections in the United States—contests that produced sharp and enduring changes in party loyalties across the country. After 1860 the Democratic and Republican parties became the major parties in a largely two-party system.”
    • “In the country’s second critical election, in 1896, the Republicans won the presidency and control of both houses of Congress, and the Republican Party became the majority party in most states outside the South. The assassination of President McKinley in 1901 elevated to the presidency Theodore Roosevelt, leader of the party’s progressive wing.”
    • “In the election of 1932, considered the country’s third critical election, Republican incumbent Pres. Herbert Hoover was overwhelmingly defeated by Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Republicans were relegated to the status of a minority party.”
Limiting Immigration (*)
  • 1920s
    • The arrival of a Republican Congress in 1919 revolutionized immigration restrictions. In 1921, Congress set a limit on the number of immigrants allowed per year, and it established a quota system for immigrants based on country of origin. The number of immigrants coming to America plummeted in the first year of the act’s operation, from more than 800,000 to about 300,000. The 1924 Immigration Act lowered immigration numbers further. It established that, beginning in 1927, total annual immigration to America be lowered to 150,000. Congress designed quotas to keep Jews, southern and eastern Europeans, and Asians from coming to America.
  • Warren G Harding (Britannica)
    • Other achievements were more in keeping with the Old Guard Republican views with which Harding had long been associated: a higher protective tariff (Fordney-McCumber), lower taxes on business, and a sharp reduction in the number of immigrants allowed to enter the United States from southern and eastern Europe.
  • Calvin Coolidge 
  • Tea Party Movement (Britannica)
    • Tea Party movement, conservative populist social and political movement that emerged in 2009 in the United States, generally opposing excessive taxation and government intervention in the private sector while supporting stronger immigration controls.
  • Donald Trump (Britannica)
    • In September Trump issued a third version of the ban, which continued to apply to immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries but now included immigrants from North Korea and certain government officials of Venezuela.
    • In April 2018 the Trump administration announced what it called a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy under which all foreign adults who entered the United States illegally (a misdemeanor for first-time offenders) would be criminally prosecuted

View Republican Presidents Promoting Immigration

Reversing Redistribution of Wealth
  • 1870s
    • By the 1870s, more than thirty years before Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution, powerful Republicans were railing against the “socialism” and “communism” that might lead government to redistribute wealth to African Americans and immigrant workers through public works projects and social welfare legislation paid for with tax dollars.
  • Taft Wing
    • FDR’s New Deal caused Republicans to split into two factions over the following decade: one led by Robert A Taft, the other by Thomas E Dewey.
      • The Taft Wing clung to the idea that government activism was socialism and that FDR’s attempts to address the calamities of the Depression with work and relief programs would destroy the country.
      • The Dewey Wing saw that a social safety net, including unemployment and old-age insurance and regulation of food and drug safety, was important in a world where individuals did not control their own food security, housing, or environmental conditions.
    • Republicans in Hoover’s mold, especially the businessmen who had prospered under the Republican policies of the 1920s, insisted that Democrats were redistributing wealth, pure and simple.
    • Taft Republicans scorned Eisenhower’s legislation, which they said redistributed wealth.
  • Movement Conservatism, which took over the Republican Party from 1964 to 1980 
    • Movement Conservatives by 1960 insisted on a strict interpretation of the Constitution that prevented government from responding to the will of the people: the Founding Fathers, they said, had deliberately created a government that would protect rich men from “the tyranny of the masses,” from those who demanded wealth redistribution.
  • 1960 Conscience of a Conservative, by Barry Goldwater
    • The Founding Fathers created a government that would protect rich men from “the tyranny of the masses,” from those who demanded wealth redistribution.
    • “The graduated tax is a confiscatory tax. Its effect, and to a large extent its aim, is to bring down all men to a common level. Many of the leading proponents of the graduated tax frankly admit that their purpose is to redistribute the nation’s wealth. Their aim is an egalitarian society—an objective that does violence both to the charter of the Republic and the laws of Nature. We are all equal in the eyes of God but we are equal in no other respect. Artificial devices for enforcing equality among unequal men must be rejected if we would restore that charter and honor those laws.”
  • Ronald Reagan
    • The Republican Party talked about helping the average American, but, in fact, under Reagan it pulled together a religious, social, and cultural movement that fueled policies to benefit the very wealthy. 
    • The Republican rhetoric about protecting the average American by cutting taxes, endorsing strict constitutionalism, and blocking the power of special interests bolstered economic policies that redistributed wealth upward.
Cutting Social Programs
  • Barry M. Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative (1960)
    • The Constitution limits the functions of government to keeping order, fighting against foreign foes, administering justice, and promoting economic growth.
    • I have little interest in streamlining the government or in making it more efficient, for I intend to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.
  • Ronald Reagan (Britannica)
    • Reagan proposed massive tax cuts he believed would stimulate the economy and eventually increase revenues from taxes as income levels grew. At the same time, he proposed significant cuts in “discretionary” spending on social-welfare programs such as education, food stamps, low-income housing, school lunches for poor children, Medicaid, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). In 1981 Congress passed most of the president’s budget proposals.
  • Ronald Reagan
    • Reagan prohibited federal agencies from hiring new personnel, then he turned to cutting the government regulations businessmen hated, and appointed staunch deregulators to head the Commerce and Interior departments—the ones most closely responsible for economic affairs—and to head the Securities and Exchange Commission 
    • David Stockman slashed through domestic programs: food stamps, education, unemployment benefits, job training. In February 1981, Reagan proposed to cut $47 billion from the previous year’s budget, taking money primarily from antipoverty programs. The administration then turned to tax cuts. Stockman promised that the cuts would so stimulate the economy that growth would wipe out the $55 billion budget deficit projected for 1981 and produce surpluses by 1984. 
  • Ronald Reagan
    • “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”
  • Grover Norquist
    •  ”I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.’
  • Donald Trump (Britannica)
    • Having been unsuccessful in their attempts to repeal and replace the ACA, Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration pursued a series of measures intended to cumulatively undermine the law by making the health insurance it provided less accessible, less affordable, and less effective (through reductions in coverage and other measures), a strategy that Trump described as allowing Obamacare to “explode.” 
Deregulation
  • 1875-1895
    • Over the next two decades, a new generation of Republican leaders solidified the party’s swing toward big business. They abandoned the idea that the economy grew from the bottom up and began to argue that it grew from the top down. They insisted that legislation protecting business benefits all hard-working Americans: strong businesses would create jobs, more people would find work, and the country would grow. Republican officials insisted on a high tariff to protect industry. They cut taxes and attacked any sort of regulation
  • Warren Harding
    • When the party resumed control of the government in the 1920s, its leaders slashed taxes and business regulation, insisting that a strong business sector would create wealth that would make everyone prosper.
  • Calvin Coolidge (Britannica)
    • “The chief business of the American people is business.” 
    • The essence of the Coolidge presidency was its noninterference in and bolstering of American business and industry. Government regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, now were staffed by people who sought to assist business expansion rather than to police business practices
  • Herbert Hoover
    • Treasury Secretary Mellon, whose theories had done much to create the crisis, believed he knew exactly what the government must do: nothing. “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate,” he told Hoover. “It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people.” Handled this way, the pain would be severe but brief. Mellon tried to impress on Hoover that government inaction had worked in the 1870s.
  • Ronald Reagan (Britannica)
    • In keeping with his aim of reducing the role of government in the country’s economic life, Reagan cut the budgets of many government departments and relaxed or ignored the enforcement of laws and regulations administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of the Interior, the Department of Transportation, and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, among other agencies. After the administration and Congress reduced regulations governing the savings and loan industry in the early 1980s, many savings institutions expanded recklessly through the decade and eventually collapsed, requiring bailouts by the federal government that cost taxpayers some $500 billion.
  • Ronald Reagan
    • Reagan prohibited federal agencies from hiring new personnel, then he turned to cutting the government regulations businessmen hated, and appointed staunch deregulators to head the Commerce and Interior departments—the ones most closely responsible for economic affairs—and to head the Securities and Exchange Commission 
  • Tea Party Movement (Britannica)
    • Tea Party movement, conservative populist social and political movement that emerged in 2009 in the United States, generally opposing excessive taxation and government intervention in the private sector while supporting stronger immigration controls.
  • Donald Trump
    • Tracking Deregulation in the Trump Era Brookings Institute
    • The Trump Administration Is Reversing Nearly 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List. NYT
Tariffs (*)

View Republican Presidents Supporting Free Trade

Reducing Taxes
  • 1875-1895
    • Over the next two decades, a new generation of Republican leaders solidified the party’s swing toward big business. They abandoned the idea that the economy grew from the bottom up and began to argue that it grew from the top down. They insisted that legislation protecting business benefits all hard-working Americans: strong businesses would create jobs, more people would find work, and the country would grow. Republican officials insisted on a high tariff to protect industry. They cut taxes and attacked any sort of regulation.
  • Warren Harding
    • When the party resumed control of the government in the 1920s, its leaders slashed taxes and business regulation, insisting that a strong business sector would create wealth that would make everyone prosper.
  • Calvin Coolidge (Britannica)
    • Key to the conservative, pro-business focus of the Coolidge administration was Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon. A multimillionaire himself, Mellon believed strongly that reducing taxes for the rich was the best way to expand the nation’s wealth. He held that, as the rich invested funds that otherwise would have been taken away in taxes, new businesses would form and older enterprises would expand and that the result would be more jobs and greater national production. Under the leadership of Coolidge and Mellon, Congress sharply reduced income taxes and estate taxes. 
  • Herbert Hoover
    • The Hoover administration’s initial answer to the depression was straight out of Mellon’s financial theories: it cut taxes and raised tariffs.
  • Taft Wing
    • FDR’s New Deal caused Republicans to split into two factions over the following decade: one led by Robert A Taft, the other by Thomas E Dewey
    • The Taft Wing clung to the idea that government activism was socialism and that FDR’s attempts to address the calamities of the Depression with work and relief programs would destroy the country.
    • The Dewey Wing saw that a social safety net, including unemployment and old-age insurance and regulation of food and drug safety, was important in a world where individuals did not control their own food security, housing, or environmental conditions
    • Over Truman’s veto, Taft and his Democratic allies cut income and estate taxes, although they continued to rail at the nation’s huge debt.
  • Barry M. Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative (1960)
    • “The graduated tax is a confiscatory tax. Its effect, and to a large extent its aim, is to bring down all men to a common level. Many of the leading proponents of the graduated tax frankly admit that their purpose is to redistribute the nation’s wealth. Their aim is an egalitarian society—an objective that does violence both to the charter of the Republic and the laws of Nature. We are all equal in the eyes of God but we are equal in no other respect. Artificial devices for enforcing equality among unequal men must be rejected if we would restore that charter and honor those laws.”
  • Movement Conservatism, which took over the Republican Party from 1964 to 1980 
    • To free up money for investment in new businesses, Movement Conservatives argued, the government must cut taxes. Wealthy people would invest their accumulating money, inspiring new businesses that would hire more workers. The principles of the 1920s had come back to life, but this time they seemed to carry the authority of economic science. Led by Professor Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, economists embraced the Laffer Curve, which purported to prove that tax cuts produced increased revenue. This old vision of the American economy also got a new academic-sounding name—supply-side economics—for it promised to fix the economy not from the bottom, the demand side, but from the top, the supply side.
    • The whole idea of supply-side economics was really just new language for the old pre–New Deal Republican idea of cutting taxes for the rich and letting the good effects “trickle down” to everyone else, David Stockman explained.
  • Ronald Reagan (Britannica)
    • Following the so-called “supply-side” economic program he propounded in his campaign, Reagan proposed massive tax cuts—30 percent reductions in both individual and corporate income taxes over a three-year period—which he believed would stimulate the economy and eventually increase revenues from taxes as income levels grew.
  • Grover Norquist (Britannica)
    • In an effort to preserve the enacted tax cuts, he wrote a short pledge that committed those legislators who signed it not to raise taxes. The pledge became popular among congressional Republicans, and George H.W. Bush’s promise of “no new taxes” was a central feature of his 1988 presidential campaign.
    • By the early 2010s nearly every Republican member of Congress, as well as hundreds of state politicians, had signed the ATR pledge, and Norquist found himself at the centre of debate over whether taxes needed to be increased to tackle the growing federal debt.
      • ATR = Americans for Tax Reform
  • George W. Bush
  • Tea Party Movement (Britannica)
    • Tea Party movement, conservative populist social and political movement that emerged in 2009 in the United States, generally opposing excessive taxation and government intervention in the private sector while supporting stronger immigration controls.
  • Donald Trump
Why do Republicans Talk About …
  • Critical race theory
  • Wokeness
  • Cancel culture
  • Investigating gender-affirming medical care
  • Protecting young schoolchildren from being groomed
  • Limiting classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Replacement theory
Theory that Republicans Obscure their Economic Policies
  • Theory:
    • Republicans are fundamentally opposed to redistributing income from the wealthy to the poor.
    • When in power, therefore, the Republican Party tries to reverse the redistribution of income: cutting taxes on the wealthy and weakening social programs like Obamacare.
    • This policy is so unpopular that if Republicans openly ran on it they would lose elections.
      • In fact, in the eight presidential contests since 1988, the GOP candidate has won the popular vote only once, in 2004. (Dana Milbank)
    • Therefore, to win elections the Republican Party obscures its economic policies, agenda, and objectives.
  • So Republicans distract voters with hot-button, wedge issues:
    • Critical race theory
    • Wokeness
    • Cancel culture
    • Investigating gender-affirming medical care
    • Protecting young schoolchildren from being groomed
    • Limiting classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation
    • Replacement theory
  • And they spread disinformation
    • The Big Lie
    • The Jan 6 attack on the Capitol was a legitimate protest.
      • More Republicans now call Jan. 6 a ‘legitimate protest’ than a ‘riot’ Blake WaPo
        • 61 percent of Republicans say the Jan 6 attack on the Capitol was a ‘legitimate protest.’
  • Philip Bump, WaPo, 7/31/2018 (Analysis)
    • Trump’s two-track strategy: The rich get richer, and the poor get distracted
    • “For years, many Republicans have worked to effect sweeping cuts and benefits for the wealthiest Americans while maintaining a non-wealthy voting base by engaging in robust cultural fights. Trump has nearly perfected it.
    • But this is part of Trump’s political gambit. He’s a blue-collar guy who lives in a gold-plated penthouse. He is the embodiment of the political pitch he makes: obsessed with cultural issues as the policies he passes benefit his enormous wealth.”
  • Paul Krugman, NYT, 3/15/2018 (Opinion)
    • Voters May Be Wising Up
    • “There’s no mystery about the Republican agenda. For at least the past 40 years, the G.O.P.’s central policy goal has been upward redistribution of income: lower taxes for the wealthy, big cuts in programs that help the poor and the middle class. We’ve seen that agenda at work in the policies of every Republican president from Reagan to Trump, every budget proposal from party stars like Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House. 
    • This policy agenda is, however, deeply unpopular. Only small minorities of voters favor tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations; even smaller minorities favor cuts in major social programs. So how does the G.O.P. stay politically competitive? The answer is that the party has mastered the tactics of bait and switch: pretending to stand for one thing, then doing something quite different in office.”
  • Paul Krugman, NYT, 3/26/2018 (Opinion)
    • Putting the Ex-Con in Conservatism
    • “Their sustained, invariant agenda has been upward redistribution of income: cutting taxes on the rich while weakening the social safety net. This agenda is unpopular: Only a small minority of Americans wants to see tax cuts for the wealthy, and an even smaller minority wants cuts to major social programs. Yet Republicans have won elections partly by denying the reality of their policy agenda, but mainly by posing as defenders of traditional social values.”
  • Catherine Rampell, WaPo, 10/26/2018 (Opinion)
    • Republicans are mischaracterizing nearly all their major policies. Why?
    • “Republicans have mischaracterized just about every major policy on their agenda, eg. tax cuts, family separations, protections for those with preexisting conditions, junk insurance.
    • The question is why. If they genuinely believe their policies are correct, why not defend them on the merits?
      • For instance, they might argue that in their ideal capitalist society, it’s not government’s job to shield Americans from the financial risks of serious health conditions. Every man (or woman) is an island, responsible for his or her own health care. If expensive illnesses befall some unlucky members of society, and they lacked the foresight or haven’t saved enough to plan for this risk on their own, then too bad. Life ain’t fair.
    • You might wonder if maybe Republican politicians are mischaracterizing so many of their own positions because they don’t fully understand them. But given that Republican leaders have occasionally blurted out their true motives — on taxes, immigration and, yes, even health care — this explanation seems a little too charitable.
    • Republican politicians aren’t too dumb to know what their policies do. But clearly they think the rest of us are.”
Republican Presidents Promoting Immigration
  • Republican presidents who promoted immigration (ontheissues.org)
    • Reagan
    • George HW Bush
    • George W Bush
Republican Presidents Supporting Free Trade
  • Republican presidents who supported free trade (ontheissues.org)
    • Eisenhower
    • Nixon
    • Reagan
    • Ford
    • George HW Bush
    • George W Bush
  • IS THE GOP STILL THE PARTY OF FREE TRADE? Reagan Foundation
  • Are the Republicans Switching Places with the Democrats on Trade? Cato Institute
  • Republicans, especially Trump supporters, see free trade deals as bad for U.S. Pew Research
  • Trump’s trade agenda takes the GOP back a century Vox
    • Republicans were protectionist until the 1930s
    • After World War II, the Republican Party’s stance on trade began to shift. Dwight Eisenhower, the first Republican president of the postwar era, championed free trade agreements and helped lay the groundwork for the complex system of deals that govern the international trade system today. 
  • By turning their back on free trade, Republicans are returning to their roots WaPo
Inflation Reduction Act (Climate, Tax, and Healthcare)
  • A Detailed Picture of What’s in the Democrats’ Climate and Health Bill NYT Upshot
  • There’s a Miracle in Washington, and It’s All About Taxes  Steven Rattner NYT
    • While substantially less ambitious than its previous incarnation, Build Back Better, it would reduce the deficit (by the most in more than a decade) rather than increase it, and it would do so without the gimmicks built into B.B.B.
  • How the New Climate Bill Would Reduce Emissions  NYT
  • Analysis Deems Biden’s Climate and Tax Bill Fiscally Responsible  NYT
    • An analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional nonpartisan scorekeeper for tax legislation, suggests that the bill would raise about $70 billion over 10 years. But the increase would be front-loaded: By 2027, the bill would actually amount to a net tax cut each year, as new credits and other incentives for low-emission energy sources outweighed a new minimum tax on some large corporations.
    • That analysis, along with a broader estimate of the bill’s provisions from the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, suggests that the legislation, if passed, would only modestly add to federal spending over the next 10 years. By the end of the decade, the bill would be reducing federal spending, compared with what is scheduled to happen if it does not become law.
    • And because the bill also includes measures to empower the Internal Revenue Service to crack down on corporations and high-earning individuals who evade taxes, it is projected to reduce the federal budget deficit over a decade by about $300 billion.