Many conservatives experience President Obama's budget as a radical lurch to the left. Obviously, they conclude, President Obama is a radical lefty.
Unfortunately it's worse than that. President Obama is not leading from the left of his party. He is leading from the center.
Scratch a liberal and you will find someone who believes in universal health care run by the government. But President Obama's budget doesn't do that, not yet. It just sets a clear course towards that long-term liberal goal.
Scratch a liberal and you will find someone who believes in universal education from "early-childhood education" to graduate school. She will nod approvingly when her European guest relates how she got a government stipend while doing post-doc work at a university in the United States. President Obama's budget doesn't do all that. Not yet.
And we all know that liberals are getting ready to believe that global-warming skeptics are ethically close to being Holocaust deniers.
If you are a moderate -- and that usually means you are not that engaged in politics -- why would you argue with a president who wants to improve access to health care, expand educational opportunities, and do something about climate change? Don't we all want health care, education, and a habitable planet?
Of course we do. But isn't there a better way than turning the United States into a nation of freeloaders ever searching for a "free" government program to meet its needs?
Liberals have made freeloading into a way of life -- even for the well to do. There's the well-to-do woman who cadges free meds from a physician relative. There's the well-to-do woman who's signed up for her state's basic health plan. There's 2007's S-CHIP poster child whose parents can afford late-model cars and private school tuition but not health insurance. The great problem of human society is the problem of the freeloader. How do you get people to pull their weight instead of take advantage? Religion, it turns out, is mankind's best answer to the problem. If you don't have religion then you have to pursue freeloaders with force, as the liberal welfare state is finding out. You can see the conservative problem in this battle of ideas. Conservatives say that people should pay for their own health care; that's the only way to get costs down. It's the only way to find out what people really value when it comes to protecting their health. But liberals say that health care is a right. Conservatives approve of parents that remove their children from the public schools to teach them at home; they think that's the difference between a 13 year-old philosopher like Jonathan Krohn and a whiny adolescent in thrall to his whiny adolescent peers. Liberals say that homeschooled children aren't properly socialized.
Moderates go along to get along. Why should they push against the stream? It's just too hard.
"There never was an age of conformity quite like this one," wrote William F. Buckley, Jr., half a century ago, and sometimes it seems like conservatives are the only ones around that won't conform to the liberal line. Conservatives advance the idea that there ought to be a wall of separation between government and society. They talk about "little platoons" and empowering people in voluntary mediating institutions between government and the individual. They talk about the movement "from status to contract."
Back in the nineteenth century this was all new and unprecedented. But it got such a head of steam that liberals took fright and spent the next century putting the lid back on. Health care shouldn't be arranged in friendly societies and mutual-aid assocations, they said; much better let liberals run it from the government. Education shouldn't be done by amateurs; much better let liberals run it from the government. And they've never liked Americans driving around using energy without permission.
Our liberal friends tell the world that conservatism is a reactionary movement. It is not. It is a movement of gentle reform that is trying create a new world of ordered freedom that escapes from the rigid status society once run by a warrior aristocracy and and now dominated by a liberal oligarchy.
Today the liberal oligarchy is in the ascendant. Perhaps it will succeed in ratcheting up the level of compulsion in health care and in education.
But let us hope for better things. Let us hope that the American people will revolt against the further expansion of the liberal freeloader culture.
But our fellow Americans won't have a chance without a broad conservative movement willing to risk life, fortune, and sacred honor in the cause to persuade them with the truth.