Where did our bipartisan relationship go wrong, my conservative valentine? Back in the good old days, your liberal northeastern Republicans interested me and you could always get along with my conservative southern Democrats. Even your own Republican President Eisenhower agreed that those opposing social safety net programs were “negligible…and stupid.”

[media-credit name=”Alicia Crismali” align=”alignleft” width=”203″][/media-credit]Oh, well. Those decades have passed — the Evil Empire has fallen and now a social network spies on our daily habits more than the FBI. You are singing a new tune, or should I say philosophy, too. Now everything you say is “free markets” this and “marketplace of ideas” that. “Liberty” became your watchword and “liberal” became your favorite insult (don’t lie to me, I’ve read your letters to conservative fundraisers). Look, I get it. Your contemporary conservatism believes that individual liberty is the most important right.

But your conservative philosophy doesn’t account for individuals depriving other individuals of their liberties. What would you tell the individual who was fired from their job for trying to organize a union? Is that not their individual right to free speech and freedom of association? How would your conservative philosophy help individuals without health insurance because their preexisting condition is bad for the insurance company’s bottom line?

In our broken bipartisan romance, I wish I could say it is my fault … but alas, no. It is you. Your philosophy of free-market conservatism is articulated with misconstrued references to liberty and is based on the myth of the self-regulating market. You forget that much of what has made America great occurred because of the active assistance, not absence, of government involvement.

The Transcontinental Railroad that linked America’s coasts and commerce was heavily subsidized by the government. The internet that allows us to use Facebook was derived from ARPANET, which was created by the Defense Department during the Cold War. Even your loudest free-market supporter, the financial services industry on Wall Street, has been kept solvent since 2008 by the federal government’s T.A.R.P. program (whose loan repayment success and relatively small size has been underreported). My point is that America’s excellent economic progress is intertwined with responsible government stewardship of the economy.

The disasters and calamities that have befallen our nation are a reflection of what happens without government activity. The signs were apparent before both Wall Street’s crash in 2008 and the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The government agencies failed in their oversight of the financial markets and the oil extraction because they were staffed by those free-market ideologues from the industries they were meant to be regulating. My conservative friend, the liberty contained in your free-market political philosophy can spawn technological revolution and enrich our lives.

But that same liberty can crash our stock markets with bad risk-taking and poison our natural habits with unregulated oil rig disasters. Markets will fail, individuals will exploit each other and corners will be cut for profit. These inevitabilities and the taxpayers’ absorption of the clean-up cost cannot be explained by free-market conservatism. Unless the government protects us with robust oversight and regulations of industries, corporations will exploit less powerful citizens and deprive them of their life and liberties.