The Three Forms of Conservatism

Robert Kuttner

In this political season, progressives are actually
battling three forms of conservatism — and two of them
have made deep inroads in the Democratic Party,
especially the presidential party.

The first variety — call it Yahoo Conservatism — is
epitomized by the Tea Party and Rep. Paul Ryan, and by
Mitt Romney’s intermittent, clumsy efforts to
impersonate it.

Its credo is: cut taxes, privatize social programs,
slash government, bash immigrants and gays, deny
climate change, dictate reproductive rules, move
America in the direction of theocracy, and valorize
gun-slinging both at home and globally.

This face of conservatism doesn’t represent most
Americans. And on the Yahoo front, Barack Obama has
done pretty well at pushing back. With Hurricane Sandy,
Yahoo conservatism looks even stupider.

But this is not the only brand. The second face is Wall
Street Conservatism.

The collapse of 2008 gave the incoming Obama
administration a rare chance to remake the financial
system. Instead, the team led by Larry Summers and Tim
Geithner elected to prop up the big banks that caused
the collapse, and not change their business model.
Despite the financial fraud and federal rescue, no
major banker got fired at government insistence, much
less faced prosecution.

The Dodd-Frank Act, which was actually stronger than
the legislation that the Treasury sent Congress, is
getting weaker by the day, thanks to lobbying pressure
to water down regulations that is not being resisted by
the administration (with a few heroic exceptions like
Gary Gensler at the Commodity Futures Trading
Commission and Martin Gruenberg at the FDIC.)

The mortgage mess continues to drag down the recovery
and the Administration won’t push stronger relief for
fear of the impact on bank balance sheets and the bond
market. Executive paydays are richer than ever.

So Wall Street conservatism has infected the Obama
presidency. If Obama had not so identified himself with
Wall Street, he might have peeled off some of the
right-wing populists recruited by the Tea Parties as
well as many more independent voters who don’t like the
reign of the one percent any more than progressives do.

Wall Street conservatism also overlaps the third face
of the right — Austerity Conservatism.

The day after the election, the pressure will be on the
White House and Congress to cut a grand budget bargain.
The Peterson Foundation has spent half a billion
dollars to persuade opinion leaders and voters that
austerity is the only road to recovery.

The latest face of the elite austerity lobby, nearly a
hundred corporate CEO’s working with the detritus of
the Bowles-Simpson Commission (the fiscal zombie that
just won’t die), are spending another hundred million
dollars in their campaign to press politicians to “Fix
the Debt.”

The economics of the proposition are insane. We can’t
depress our way to recovery. But the Obama
Administration has drunken a lot of this Kool-Aid.
Obama has pledged to cut the debt by $4 trillion over a
decade. It was Obama who appointed the Bowles-Simpson
Commission, which helped create this pressure.

Friendly Democratic leaders are already being advised
that the administration will offer a grand bargain of
tax increases, budget cuts, and hits to Social Security
and Medicare to head off the “fiscal cliff” created by
the Republican refusal to bargain over the budget. This
grand scheme is the long commended recipe of the
ultimate Wall Street austerity Democrat, Robert Rubin,
whose protégés litter the Obama Treasury and White

Seemingly, Wall Street Conservatives and Austerity
Conservatives are disdainful of Yahoo Conservatives.
The former tend to be relatively liberal on, say, gay
rights, reproductive choice, gun control, and they even
support some higher taxes. Yet they are doing the
bidding of Yahoo conservatives by weakening the
Democrats as a party that might actually produce a
recovery, and might actually speak for ordinary people
devastated by the continuing slump — which will only
deepen if Austerity conservatism prevails.

If Obama wins and he strikes a grand budget bargain
with the Republicans, it will paralyze the government’s
ability to respond to the worst continuing disaster
since al-Qaeda’s attacks of 9/11.

— Excerpt from Huffington Post at


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