The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing
Why conservatism equals terrible government-and always will
Tax cuts that produce gargantuan budget deficits, an ill-conceived war that has diminished America’s ability to defend itself, the quiet evisceration of laws that protect public health, safety, and the environment—after six years of virtually absolute conservative rule, the results of nearly every right-wing policy, program, and initiative can be summed up in a single word: failure. How could a vast, carefully constructed political movement, which so recently patted itself on the back for winning “the war of ideas,” be so utterly feckless when it comes to governing the nation?
In The Conservatives Have No Clothes, the respected policy expert and journalist Greg Anrig offers a scathing indictment of right-wing ideology and reveals point by point how and why the conservative agenda pro-duces terrible government. In a series of devastating critiques, he examines ideas and policies espoused by the right and assesses the degree to which they have delivered (or not) on promises to make America stronger and safer, and our government smaller and more efficient.
According to Anrig, conservatives have developed an unusual—and unusually disastrous—method of governing. The first step is to drown out attention paid to a genuine policy problem, like abysmal inner-city schools or Osama bin Laden, with alarms over an imaginary crisis like the failure of all of America’s public schools or weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The second step is to trump up reasons why the imaginary problem requires weakening the government’s domestic capabilities, as with private school vouchers, or exerting unilateral force abroad, as with the Iraq invasion. The third step is to make up stories explaining why the failure isn’t really a failure. The fourth and final step is to leave it to the Democrats to solve both the original problem and the new one created by the conservative policy.
Anrig documents the impact of this sophisticated sabotage on the performance of numerous government agencies, including FEMA, which reverted from a model praised by both parties in the 1990s back into a “turkey farm” for political loyalists under the managerial practices promoted by conservative think tanks. The disastrously inept response to Hurricane Katrina was the result not just of incompetence, but of the right’s ideology. Anrig also shows how movement conservatism’s ideas have inflicted damage on state and local government, causing Colorado’s national rankings in education and health care to plummet to the bottom under the constraints of Grover Norquist’s holy grail, the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.
Despite their decisive defeat in the 2006 elections, right-wing ideologues show no sign of calling off their war on American government. The Conservatives Have No Clothes offers more than a powerful condemnation of their past offenses; it is a field guide for assessing and responding to whatever they come up with next.