June 19th, 2011
02:58 PM ET

Zakaria: Conservatism has lost touch with reality

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

I've been watching the Republicans on the campaign trail and what strikes me so far is that conservatives in America have gone through a strange transformation.

It used to be that conservatism was a hard-headed set of ideas rooted in reality.

Unlike the abstract theories of Marxism and socialism, it started not from an imagined society, but from the world as it actually exists.

"This is the way things work," conservatives would patiently explain to wooly headed liberal professors. "Whatever you may want it to look like, this is what it really looks like."

But consider the debates over the economy these days. The Republican prescription is cut taxes - slash government spending, then things will always bounce back.

Now, I would like to see lower tax rates in the context of simplification and reform, but what is the actual evidence that massive tax cuts are the single best path to revive the U.S. economy? Taxes as a percentage of GDP are at their lowest levels since 1950. The U.S. is among the lowest taxed of the big industrial economies.

So the case that America is grinding to a halt because of high taxation is not based on facts, either past or present. It is simply a theoretical assertion.

The rich countries after all are in the best shape right now with strong growth and low unemployment are ones like Germany, Denmark and Canada - none characterized by low taxes.

Meanwhile, many Republican businessmen have told me that the Obama administration is the most hostile to business in 50 years.


More than that of Richard Nixon, for example, who presided over tax rates that reached 70 percent, regulations that spanned whole industries like airlines and telecommunication and who actually instituted price and wage controls?

In fact, right now any discussion of any government involvement in the economy - even to build vital infrastructure - is impossible because it is a cardinal tenet of the new conservatism that such involvement is always and forever bad.

That's the theory.

Meanwhile, in practice across the globe the world's fastest growing economy, China, has managed to use government involvement to create growth and jobs for three decades.

From Singapore to South Korea to Germany, evidence abounds that some strategic actions by governments can act as catalysts for free market growth.

But conservatives now resemble the old Marxists who refuse to look at actual experience. "I know it works in practice," the old saw goes, "but does it work in theory?"

Republicans often praise businessmen. Well, one of the first steps any business now takes when confronting a problem is to ask, "How are other companies around the world handling this? Is there a best practice we can learn from?" But in any area, from infrastructure to health care to education, to ask these questions is heresy on the right.

It's a shame. I think we need smart, market-friendly conservative reforms that streamline government, cut costs in health care and empower individuals, but they need to be rooted in reality, drawn from best practices around the world and based on practical measures of what seems to work.

What we have instead are policies that are simply recitations of some free market theory taken out of some book based on no actually existing national economy.

It turns out conservatives have become the wooly headed professors after all.

For more on this, you can read my column in this week's TIME Magazine.

soundoff (298 Responses)
  1. M.K.

    Whether or not everything Fareed has said is 100% correct misses the point. His views of the Republicans are too modest if anything. All of you middle class and under folks who vote for the Republican candidates do so at your own risk. The Republicans would never have gotten into power if they had not played on the ignorance of male, Southern voters during the civil rights battles of the sixties. Look at the political map and see for your self. The folks in the southern states would vote for Hitler if he were alive, and would go to the country clubs in the south and pat the good old boys on the back and tell them what they want to hear. Folks in Mississippi have outdoor bathrooms, make a living cutting pulp wood, and vote for the Billionaire Republicans Go figure.

    June 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Reply
    • Scott

      Another blind sheep that believes whatever BS the left-wing media feeds them. If you're poor or middle class and want to stay that way, vote for Democrats. If' you're poor or middle class and want to improve your economic status, vote for Republicans.

      Democrats prey on the poor and ignorant. They spout off about how they're for the "average American". They gloat about their social welfare programs. Well, Democrats have done more to oppress minorities and poor people than any other group of people. They get people hooked on welfare, and turn that into a lifestyle. Instead of helping people work their way up the ladder, they ensure that they stay poor, and barely get by. And they do this just because they want your votes. They NEED your votes. If they didn't have poor people and minorities voting for them, Democrats would NEVER win an election. The Democrats and their programs will ensure that the gap between the poor and the wealthy continues to grow, yet they'll blame the Republicans for it. And the sad thing is that morons like yourself will continue to believe them because you aren't intelligent enough to look at the facts and see what's actually going on.

      June 21, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Reply
      • I fart in your general direction

        Fareed is spot on, taxes are at their lowest level since 1950. The reason the economy is tanked is due to NAFTA and sending all of our manufacturing (and corporate HQ) overseas so that the GE's of the world pay no US taxes. I say give a tax break for manufacturing with jobs in the US and tax the churches as they are nothing but PACS anyway.

        June 22, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  2. CommonSensical

    It is amazing how people can miss the point of the article.

    What he is saying is that conservatives were at one time pragmatists, who used to scoff at liberals for being ideological, but that now coservatives are making decisions based on ideology. The belief about tax cuts spurring the economy and tax increases slowing economic growth it is an example of something which can be true but is not necessarily always the case. He points out examples of government action helping the economy, business and individuals and contrasts this with the idealogical belief that many conservatives have against government led programs and solutions.

    June 20, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Reply
  3. barrymillay

    So nice of you to try to set conservatives right here, Fareed. But, taking your advice would be like a fly accepting directions from a spider. Worry more about your own party, Fareed, and leave conservatism to conservatives. Why not write a column on Obama's bustling economy? How about the success of the Democrat Party's war on poverty? Fareed, bought and paid for by Barack H. Obama and George Soros, and wearing snappy black loafers.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  4. Fareedsn_idiot

    China is not running around acting as the world police, they dont have the social programs that the liberals want to dish out. The people there are not wealthy, they live largely well below our standards. How can you use China as a standard against the united states? The Chinese leaders are playing against us (financial warfare), using their workforce at the expense of their people. Liberal socialism is a problem not a solution, look at the states that are broke, California for one, one of the most liberal. Fareed, go home! Americas problem is social liberal and military spending. We need to be more of a republic and less of a democracy. Fareed, you and people like are you are the problem.

    June 21, 2011 at 12:22 am | Reply
  5. José M. Pulido

    "Conservatism has lost touch with reality," Mr. Zakaria says. Did you just barely noticed that? How long have you been living in the USA? Conservatives have always been out of touch with reality. They portray themselves as rich, religious and sinless Puritans guided by a supreme being.
    It is a great idea to be in good terms with the Creator but it is wrong to fake to be in such great terms with Him as these self-styled religious Conservative Republican Puritans do. Republican Conservatives assume that if a person is poor, unemployed and receiving public assistance, it is because such person is an irresponsible, lazy liberal Democrat. Nowadays, there are many unemployed republicans on public assistance because of the inflation recession started by the Republican presidents. Nevertheless, in their speeches, they twist reality and history to make it sound like it is the Democrats' fault of this recession. They assume the American people is too stupid to know the truth.
    There are many Christian Democrats but we do not boast to be religious sinless puritans as the Republican Conservatives do in order to deceive the American voters. We Democrats do not use the name of God in vain.
    Republican so called Conservatives seem to assume, believe and portray the idea that all Democrats are liberal atheists who supports middle eastern terrorists; that is not the case. We Democrats want the best for the USA; we are in touch with reality. We do not want to turn this government to a fascist totalitarian state as the one the Republicans are leading it to because they are out of touch with reality.

    June 21, 2011 at 1:24 am | Reply
    • Mickey25

      Well said.

      June 21, 2011 at 1:40 am | Reply
  6. Mickey25

    As conservatives don't believe in the Constitution or learning American history, and as they seem to owe their allegiance to foreign powers rather than their own, they seem to have also given up Patriotism as well. They've completely botched their election campaign so far, with fringe crazies getting all the publicity while front runners are picked with no personality or new ideas and no chance to win an election. The GOP seems to be the party of self destruction and self defeat on every level.

    June 21, 2011 at 1:39 am | Reply
  7. Jackie

    WAIT WAIT WAIT rewind!!


    2008: The end of Conservatism....

    Is this like Al Gore's prediction concerning when the world will implode?

    So, conservatism has lost touch? What happened to the end of it??

    Yeah...stick to something you know, which does not include any clue of conservatism, what it is, what it should be and what it was.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:00 am | Reply
    • skytag

      I notice you made no attempt to address any of his points, opting instead to reference an article about something completely different.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  8. Frank

    dear Fareed, there is basically nothing wrong with Conservatism. The Republicans could not prevent america from beginning to go downhill. The Obama administration could not stop the slide which had already commenced. This shows that the forces operating from china , india etc had already created a massive momentum. China had already taken away america"s jobs, due to america"s 15 dollars per hour workers, and china"s 5 dollar per hour workers. You were going up the value-scale, and china took advantage of this opportunity. Next to benefit will be the vietnamese, the indians etc. What can you do to revive american jobs and economy. ? Most of your funds are are being wasted in meaningless wars. What will you get from the afghanistan misadventure. What did the 20 billion dollars to pakistan give you. It gave you bin ladin sleeping with the pak generals. How naive and childish can the americans be. The Pakistanis will again snatch your additional 20 billion dollars and send nukes against usa and all the countries. Some countries do not learn.This is america"s fate.

    June 21, 2011 at 10:08 am | Reply
  9. Ken

    Scott, you hit all the conservative propaganda talking points with this one: "Profits are higher because they're paying 50-75% less in taxes, and wages are cheaper because they don't have to deal with greedy unions. In other words, they don't have people like Obama, Pelosi, and Reid driving them away." Tell me this, why did the exodus of manufacturing jobs take place during the 6 years of a Republican Congress and Republican Presidency? My answer: because the laws, and the enforcement thereof, rewarded their greed. Obama, Reid, and Pelosi had nothing to do with that. It was, and still is, greed pure and simple.

    June 21, 2011 at 11:26 am | Reply
    • Scott

      The answer is simple. They didn't. Go look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data. When Republicans were in control of the White House and Congress, the unemployment rate was 4.6%. After 2 years of Democratic rule in Congress, it nearly doubled to 7.8%. After 3 years of Obama, the unemployment rate is now bouncing around between 9 and 10%.

      Unfortunately for you, the actual numbers don't support your radical left-wing agenda. Republicans grow businesses and create jobs. Democrats destroy businesses and kill jobs. Then, they rob from the wealthy, spend most of it on pork projects and paying off crooked cronies, and then give a few of the leftover crumbs to the poor just to convince them that they "care". And stupid people like yourself continue to swallow it hook, line, and sinker. It saddens me that people like you aren't intelligent enough to realize that the Democrats are oppressing you and keeping you dependent on them just so that they can win elections. And it scares me that people like you are allowed to vote and help determine the direction of our once great nation.

      June 21, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Reply
      • realist

        oh scotty scotty scotty.......I remember the good 'ol days of Bushy.....2 wars and a housing bubble started when your boys controled the whitehouse and congress.....blinders too tight?. Now look at your pictures of Rush and Hannity on your nightstand and blow them a good night kiss........

        June 21, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  10. Misconception-spiker

    Zakaria's understanding of economics needs some refreshing. When he speaks of the proportion of GDP taxed by the government he uses the wrong metric. The appropriate measure is government spending as a proportion of GDP, since that measures what resources are left for private spending. And that proportion is higher than it has been in many years, not lower. Fareed, you can look it up.

    June 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Reply
  11. Pitdownman

    Don't confuse me with the facts.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  12. Richard Siegal

    No other country has the freedoms we have in the USA. We are the best and safest and freest place on earth. Why? Because of our constitution. If someone want our constitution to be like Iceland's, then move to Iceland. I believe the world would be better if every nation would adopt a constitution like ours instead of us changing ours. Amendments from time to time are okay. But to rewrite from the ground up is suicide for our country. Only those people who want the USA to fall would propose such a change or else they are totally ignorant of history. I love this country for the freedoms I have and the safety I enjoy in my freedom.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  13. Ken from FL

    Yeah, Fareed, if Republicans become Keynesian Democrats, then all our problems will be solved. "Some free market theory out of books" that doesn't work. Under what rock has this guy been living?

    June 21, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  14. blake

    Wrong Mr. Zakaria. You and the left have lost touch with reality. Big government, big debt, and Marxism are not the answer.

    June 21, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Reply
  15. Greg Gilbert

    Last article I read from Zakaria he seemed to think raising taxes is a solution to fix the debt. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

    June 21, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Reply
  16. Anon9001

    We're becoming a plutocracy and oligarchy, where the wealthy controls everything, even yourself!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:17 am | Reply
  17. Zulu

    Lol, Mr. Zakaria saying something good about China? Well, here's the news: China's boom is a derivative of Marxism, which, contrary to Mr. Zakaria's opinion, is nothing but based on reality. The same reality the free-market laissez-faire capitalist theories were based of, that any conservative preaches like a gospel. Only Marxism took a look at the only logical conclusion of the free market – a recurring global crisis – something conservatives refuse to admit.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:54 am | Reply
    • Clueless

      China's economic success has nothing to do with Marxism. It has every thing to do with a government that realizes that it's number one priority is growing the economy faster than its population.

      June 23, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Reply
  18. Zelda

    Yes, the destruction of a nation by liberals is more realistic than ever.

    June 22, 2011 at 10:42 am | Reply
  19. Randy

    Fareed, what's your take on troop withdrawal in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as limited or no involvement in other Mideast countries? I would like to see us pull out altogether but have grave fears that radical groups will gain a strong presence in many areas and ultimately lead to more attacks on American soil. If that were to happen where does that leave us? What course of action if there for us but to either bomb a country into oblivion or send troops back to fight in other lands. Diplomacy would work with civilized and willing counterparts but I don't see radical extremists as either.

    June 22, 2011 at 11:25 am | Reply
    • skytag

      "but have grave fears that radical groups will gain a strong presence in many areas and ultimately lead to more attacks on American soil."

      Were we to stop meddling in the affairs of Muslim countries as we have for the past six decades the extremists would have little incentive to attack us. It's our history of meddling in the region that created the problem in the first place.

      June 22, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Reply
  20. Daveil

    The story's headline should read "Zakaria has lost touch with reality" considering his misrepresentation of the facts to justify the standard liberal mantra of raising taxes on the rich to solve their spending problem. Journalists with a degree in Political Science don't make the best economists.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  21. Matt

    I love that CNN is failing, once again, to mention that Fareed Zakaria is an advisor to the Obama administration. Sort of like how last election Donna Brazile was nuetral and a good moderator for a debate and then was hired as a Democratic analyst.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  22. Stephen

    This piece has 'lost touch with reality.'

    Conservatives (not republicans or democrats) are among the few people in Washington who ARE in touch with reality, because they are among the few people willing to deal with the bottom line, REVENUE and SPENDING.

    Zakaria states that, "Taxes as a percentage of GDP are at their lowest levels since 1950. The U.S. is among the lowest taxed of the big industrial economies" Not once did it mention the issue of REVENUE. That's what he should be talking about. The reason that "tax percentage of GDP is so low" is because REVENUE is so low. The reason REVENUE is so low is because so many people are out of work. One of the reasons reason SPENDING is so high is because so many people are getting checks FROM the government instead of writing checks TO the government. Conservatives aren't against taxes, conservatives are against punishing the people who create jobs. When you punish the job creators with higher taxes and greater regulations, then they won't hire, and if they don't hire then the growing jobless masses will continue to collect money instead of paying taxes themselves. Thus, REVENUE goes down!

    Conservatives measure success by how many people are working and paying taxes, liberals measure success by how many people they are 'helping' with unemployment checks. How is that loosing touch with reality?

    June 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Reply
    • Sniff my behind as it emanates a noxious gas

      Quote: "Conservatives measure success by how many people are working and paying taxes, liberals measure success by how many people they are 'helping' with unemployment checks. How is that loosing touch with reality?"

      First Off – you misspelled "losing"

      Secondly – Liberals are tired of Conservatives that supposedly espouse limited government while passing multiple religious based abortion laws. There are actually just as many well-off liberals as there are conservatives (most artistic right brained folks tend to be liberals – writers, actors etc.. I

      June 22, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Reply
  23. Taggert

    To quote John Stewart when he blasted the Crossfire hosts. "Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America."

    Just reading some of the comments here makes my blood boil. Neither side is helping solve the issues at hand. At this point, both sides just want to be right and are putting whatever spin on reality they think will suit their interests... America be damned. The sad part is, the zombies on both sides just take their chosen talking head's viewpoints to heart and don't think for themselves anymore.

    What has the country become? Will we ever be able to have reasonable political discourse in this country without the polarized sides drowing out every discussion. The solutions to this country's problems are not on the right or the left. They are somewhere in the middle.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Reply
  24. Radicalll

    Maybe we should might as well split America into two countries of Democrats and Republicans and see which economy thrives more. Seems more peaceful than putting the elephant and the donkey in a dog fight with large corrupt corporations betting for the win.

    June 23, 2011 at 12:34 am | Reply
    • what1ever

      One country would have 60% tax rates and 30% unemployment. The other would have 5% unemployment, 15% tax rates, but no museums, no outdoor space and a very high disparity in wealth.

      June 24, 2011 at 2:41 am | Reply
  25. Ben

    I don't mind that he is liberal and now openly expresses it. However, with this attitude, he should no longer be the moderator of round table shows that claim objectivity and should instead take an opinion driven show like Maddow, Hanity and others.

    June 23, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  26. Maire

    As a moderate, I'd just like to say that articles like this, whatever their merits, are only for moderates and other conservatives. According to liberals, conservatives have never been in touch with reality, and you can't lose what you've never had. If back in the day conservatives were genuinely realistic–as opposed to "wooly-headed" Marxist-friendly liberals–they were dismissed for being not abstract enough. Now they are being dismissed for being too abstract. Zakaria may well be right, but the fact is, when people want to dismiss you, they'll find a reason.

    June 23, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  27. Edward

    Ron Paul 2012!

    June 23, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  28. jamesthedog

    socialism will never replace conservatism, woof!

    June 23, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Reply
  29. Duh!

    And recall Alan Greenspan's remarks about de-regulation at the end of his career "It was all dogma." The challenge in the US right now is we are a rhetoric and not a fact based society. The rabid dogs at both ends of the political spectrum have become so effective at "stiring the base" that there is no idealogical middle in the parties or media anymore – even thought most Americans sit in the middle.

    The important benchmark is, if fact, what is going on overseas. Instead of service based economies built on healthcare, banking/financial services and media/entertainment we have vibrant balanced economies with a balanced distribution of jobs across sectors. Nowhere in the "ObamaCare" debate was it mentioned that in the US we pay twice per person for healthcare than Japan – the second highest spending country in the world. That fact had it seen the light of day may have helped reshape the debate. But industry lobbiests are too effective to ever let that happen.

    June 23, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Reply
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