The Oppressiveness of Conservative Identity

Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponuru, in a tribute to American exceptionalism/identity, explain how mass transit is evil:

The Left’s search for a foreign template to graft onto America grew more desperate. Why couldn’t we be more like them — like the French, like the Swedes, like the Danes? Like any people with a larger and busier government overawing the private sector and civil society? You can see it in Sicko, wherein Michael Moore extols the British national health-care system, the French way of life, and even the munificence of Cuba; you can hear it in all the admonitions from left-wing commentators that every other advanced society has government child care, or gun control, or mass transit, or whatever socialistic program or other infringement on our liberty we have had the wisdom to reject for decades.

Matthew Schmitz points out that calling mass transit “socialistic” is stupid, given that highways and roads are also provided and maintained through government spending and taxation, but I think Yglesias’s critique of this as simply another instance of conservatives demarcating what does and does not count as “American,” as dismissing anything outside of that narrow conception subversively pro-European, is more accurate.

For my part I’ll just note that this yet again proves that the critiques you hear from conservatives from time to time about how liberals want to use public policy to force changes in peoples’ lifestyle is complete bullshit. It’s not so much that liberals don’t want to do this (basically any change to public policy, or lack of change for that matter, is going to effect lifestyle decisions at the margins), but rather that conservatives want to do this to. Yglesias points out that you never really hear conservatives or libertarians complain about local regulations designed to maintain the low-density, car-centric nature of suburbs. I would add that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movement conservative complain that things like the federal tax preference for homeowners over renters induces people to live in suburban or exurban areas over urban areas, or that the lack of quality mass transit systems in most American cities basically forces the people who live their into car-centric lifestyles, whether they like it or not. Which again, isn’t to say that using public policy to drive lifestyle patterns is bad, per se, it’s just to point out that conservatives who talk about “small government,” individual choice, etc. are usually full of crap, and that they’re just as comfortable, or even moreso, with using government policy to influence the decisions people make.

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