Everyone’s tape is a little red
Ezra points to a piece by Dean Baker in the Boston Review that refutes the myth that conservatives are anti-regulation and liberals are pro-regulation. I enjoy people who try to take wingnut bullshit in good faith and carefully dismantle it, because I don’t have the patience for it.
In general, political debates over regulation have been wrongly cast as disputes over the extent of regulation, with conservatives assumed to prefer less regulation, while liberals prefer more. In fact conservatives do not necessarily desire less regulation, nor do liberals necessarily desire more. Conservatives support regulatory structures that cause income to flow upward, while liberals support regulatory structures that promote equality. “Less” regulation does not imply greater inequality, nor is the reverse true.
Baker’s point is that both liberals and conservatives embrace government power, but just for different ends. Conservatives, of course, want the government to use its power to oppress the working class and enforce social hierarchies that benefit the few at the expense of the many. Liberals want government power to be used to get us closer to the goals of equality and freedom for all. But the misunderstanding about how liberals and conservatives feel about regulation didn’t just happen, and nor is it something that merely bubbled up in our political discourse. That so many people believe that liberals are pro-regulation and conservatives are anti-regulation demonstrates the power of the right wing noise machine. This myth about regulation is something that conservatives made up to disguise their true intentions, and our gullible mainstream media kept promoting it.
Face it: “Fuck all y’all, I’m taking the money and running” isn’t the sort of political stance that gets you that precious slim majority of the vote that it takes to win. If your goal is making sure that there’s a wealthy elite who exploits the labor of the vast majority of people, that vast majority isn’t going to like you at all. Which hurts you in elections, unless you can take away the right to vote of various groups, which is something that conservatives do enjoy advocating from time to time. So, the only real solution is to hoodwink people by misrepresenting yourself, and that’s the standard issue Republican party strategy. That’s why the anti-regulation myth was concocted, because everyone likes the idea of freedom, and since half the population has below average intelligence, you can convince them that the gravest threat to freedom are these ambiguous but very politically correct liberal agenda regulations. To make sure that they snag as many ignorant people as possible, conservative propagandists have implied that Evil Regulations are about getting white people and attacking men for the sheer pleasure of fucking up these much-beleaguered groups. Demonizing regulation is about making conservatives seem pro-freedom even as they push a worldview which would make real freedom nothing but a word and a fantasy for most of us.
And of course the lie works well enough. Most interactions with the hazily-defined group of things we call “regulations” are unpleasant, since you tend to become more aware of regulations when you cross some line and they’re enforced on you. No one likes to get a speeding ticket, and we all think we’re the exception who can easily drive as fast as we want without putting others in danger. Hostility to the mythical liberal “big government” that’s mysteriously larger in the imagination that conservative big government echoes especially nicely with people who feel that they can exert dominance over others in their own sphere and are paranoid that the federal government is going to restrain their power grabs. Most libertarians, for instance, support a system of legalized wage slavery, even though there’s nothing liberating or free about being a wage slave who works for $2 an hour. But economic tyranny is considered good tyranny, and Evil Regulations that grant lower income workers a small measure of liberty are an encroachment on the right to deprive others of their rights.
Maybe the economic crash has made it untenable to parade wingnuttery out as some defense of freedom. But then again, logic hasn’t really done much to chip away at the conservative mythology about how they’re anti-regulation—consider how many wingnuts can screech about big government in one breath, and then suggest in the next that the government has an obligation to use its resources to force women to bear children and deprive gays of rights. You’d think that would have killed the myth that conservatives are inherently anti-regulation and anti-government power, but nope. God knows we’re going to be facing serious rounds of faux concern over lost liberties if we start moving towards universal health care, even though the only reason to oppose access to health care for some groups is that you don’t like the idea of those people being free—free to change jobs, free from the constant fear of unnecessary illness or death.