Have you heard the tale of the frog that carries the scorpion across the river? The scorpion promises to not sting the frog if he will give him a ride. But halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog.
"Why did you sting me?" said the frog. "Now we will both drown!"
"I couldn't help it," replied the scorpion. "It's my nature."
I was reminded of this story while reading a column by E.J. Dionne Jr. in the Washington Post, questioning if the modern conservative movement is dead. Dionne contends that fiscal irresponsibility at home and military adventurism in Iraq has severely weakened the conservative movement, perhaps to the point of self-destruction.
And the more I read, the more I thought about that scorpion.
The clues to the movement's downfall were there for everyone to see. Conservatism is based on the belief that everyone acts in their own self-interest, and to base government policies on altruism violates this basic principle.
And so when conservatives found themselves in complete charge of government, they did exactly what their principles said they would. They acted in their own self-interest.
They handed out tax cuts to the rich who fund their campaigns, and dished out more pork than a Kansas City barbecue. They rewarded their friends who keep them in office and power the revolving door that provides riches for them in the private sector.
Conservatives convinced we, the people, that they should run the government because they hate government. And we fell for it.
Would you take your car to a mechanic who hates cars? Would you trust your life to a doctor who hates sick people?
I'm not going to brand everything conservatives have done as bad. Government needed, and still needs, reform in many areas. There are several programs that need to be slashed and burned.
And conservative assaults on government have forced Democrats to reexamine who they are and what they stand for, tearing them away from the old altruistic liberal ways. The fact that the most fiscally responsible president in the last 30 years was Bill Clinton speaks volumes for what conservative pressure has wrought on the forces from the other side of the aisle.
But the last five years stand as a stark example of the dangers of one-party rule. Would Clinton have been as successful if he didn't have a Republican congress for six of his eight years? I highly doubt it.
With little real opposition, Republicans acted like the scorpion on the frog's back. Their thirst for power led them to violate many of their basic beliefs in small, responsible, honest government. It pitted the principles of self-interest and altruism against each other, and self-interest won out. They stung the frog, and now they will go down with him.
Democrats now have a lot of ammo to shoot down the Republicans this election cycle, just like the GOP did to them in 1994. The question is will they let this success go to their heads, leading them to sting the frog, too?
I would not care to see a government dominated by liberals any more than I like the conservative-dominated government we have now.
Finding the right balance between to two extremes is where the answer is.
One of the reasons our system of government has survived for so long is the wisdom of the founding fathers to embed the concept of checks and balances into the Constitution. They clearly saw that having any one side dominate government was detrimental to democracy, so they set up the structure to prevent that from happening as best they could.
The restrictions they put into place often confound us. We complain that government acts too slow, and gets nothing done. Yet that is the genius of the system that allows our diverse population to live together in relative peace.
I may not agree with a majority of the ideas presented by conservatives, but I would be much more willing to have many of these implemented than swim across a river with a scorpion on my back.
Kirk Caraway is editor of NevadaPolitics.com.