Libertarian Medved Response Team
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Medved Tries To Debunk Cato’s Conservative Clinton Contention

by Phil Jensen (August 12, 2002; posted Sept 18, 2002)
About Phil: For almost 30 years now I have been a student of liberty and Austrian economics. (In the words of Mark Twain, I never let schooling get in the way of my education.) I am also a freelance fine artist and illustrator, dba Liberty’s Artist, out of Redmond (WA).

On Michael Medved’s radio show of August 7, 2002, he commented on a recent contention raised by a member of the Cato Institute that President Bill Clinton could be considered more conservative than George W. Bush. The Institute’s analysis indicated that Bush has already presided over more expansion of government than eight years of Clinton.

His main concern seemed to be that this contention most inappropriately applied his cherished term “conservative.”  How dare someone mix the meanings of “liberal” and “conservative” (again)! How dare someone ascribe his own label to one of his political opponents!

In typical Medvedian fashion, he proceeded for a good part of the hour citing all the empirical evidence to disprove the claim, and his method exposed him for the political hack that he is, giving only lip service to liberty.

Reading from Cato’s release, Medved brought up that Clinton’s “major policy mistake was the 1993 tax increase”, and the statement that the welfare reform bill, NAFTA and  GATT, as well as farm, telecommunications and financial services deregulation, moved policy in a market-oriented direction. “Using the growth of domestic spending as a benchmark, Clinton was the second-most conservative president of the post World War II era, trailing only Ronald Reagan.”

Medved got a bit technical here, claiming that this is all either blaming or crediting the President for all that happened during his term—that most accomplishments were by a Republican Congress. While he may be correct in properly placing the credit (blame?) on those who created these interventions, he completely missed the point that they were interventions nonetheless.

A caller, who identified himself as a “Bush sympathizer”, made the point that politically the Republicans are always on the “defensive”. They have not “taken the offensive” in dealing with the push toward expansion of government; they have been poor at playing the game of politics to “get more of the legislation THEY want done.” Medved is so entrenched in his Republican statism, he was blind to the caller’s error that, by and large, even Republican programs and legislation still equate to government expansion.

On taxes, Medved made a big plea for understanding—as if the issue of tax cuts versus tax increases alone can spell the difference between conservative and liberal policy. Intervention is intervention, regardless whether they are labeled conservative or liberal.

At one point he tried to divert attention away from the Presidents to contrast Attorney’s General John Ashcroft and Janet Reno to illustrate who’s conservative and who’s liberal.

It is interesting how Medved shows his colors when defending statist policies. For example, he agreed that W’s Farm Bill was “a stupid piece of legislation, but that it was an inevitable one in an election year…with so many key states in the mid-West and farm states.” In other words, he accepts bad legislation if it serves to put his party ahead at the expense of liberty.

A second point, regarding the role of government during periods of economic “growth” and recession, Medved said, “…I think you could say that government has increased under the Bush administration, but for goodness sake, no one, no one would talk about, oh, for instance, cutting back radically on the defense budget, cutting back radically on governmental programs or most governmental programs during a recession. It was easy for Bill Clinton to cut back on government during a booming economy…but during a time of hardship and recession and people out of work, and people deeper in debt, which is basically what Bush has experienced since before be became President, the economy slowed down before Bush became President—you understand that?...and all of that has a great impact, of course on the size of government.” In other words, Medved believes government to be properly a regulator of economic activity, completely oblivious to the fact that such “regulation” is the cause of our economic woes in the first place.

A third point, regarding campaign finance reform, on which Medved agrees with Cato, he simply said, “Money and politics is like water running downhill: you can’t stop it.” Well, I suppose it is true that as long as politics is more important than liberty, it cannot be stopped, as principles take a back seat to whatever promise is necessary to win votes.

Medved, the self-proclaimed former liberal-turned-conservative, is at best a “liberal” dressed in “conservative” clothing, caught up in his own little box of political mumbo jumbo, his childish bickering, name-calling and tit-for-tat hairsplitting. This only obfuscates his ability to see that there is really no meaningful difference whether either liberal or conservative policy expands an already burdening leviathan. And he probably will never see this, because as many conservatives are, he remains a statist, holding the underlying premise that the function of government goes beyond the protection of life, liberty, property and the enforcement of voluntary contracts.

A major flaw in Medved’s thinking is the all too typical notion of “the economy”—the collective, all-encompassing socialist aggregate, falsely representing the Keynesian totality of individual human exchanges. To it all the usual characteristics are applied: heating up, slowing down, (un)stable, sluggish, cautious, etc. With this notion and characterization, it is natural to think or believe that the State’s purpose is to manipulate it for the good of the people. And I’ll bet that Medved would say that he is not a Keynesian either! The reality is that “the economy” predominantly consists of attempted voluntary exchange hampered by already pre-existing interventions and perverted incentives imposed by the State. Further intervention, rather than elimination of it, can and will only aggravate those exchanges further.

Too, hanging on to the old flat-earth belief that government must have a monopoly over or control our medium of exchange, Medved is not likely to understand, or even consider, the consistent Austrian monetary theory of the trade cycle that explains how inflation of the money, money substitutes and credit cause clusters of errors, as the market information of prices become deceiving and misdirect resources and energies. The “booms” and “downturns” seem to just happen, as he sees it, with causes that must be rooted in partisan politics—but of course, not his own party.

This whole “liberal/conservative” nonsense is a sad joke, and anymore is almost as meaningless as the use of the terms “left” and “right” (see Leonard  E. Read’s article, Neither Left Nor Right, or that of the same title by Mark Skousen).

In a sense, Michael Medved is the embodiment of today’s political conservative ideology—a confused mix of half truths and inconsistent reasoning that is just as responsible for the growth of the state as the opposing, unabashed “liberal” socialists. He is part of the problem of discussing issues and ideas on liberty. He is like a compass without a needle. He digs in his heels only to slow the slide down that slippery slope—because that’s what his party is doing. Like his party, he doesn’t have what it takes to turn around and climb back up. To those true champions for the cause of liberty he is just a tired ache that gets in the way more than anything else.