What does that have to do with McCarthy's argument? He is too enamored of the heuristic that what's constitutional is liberty-enhancing and what's unconstitutional is liberty-destroying. It's a good heuristic, but it doesn't always hold.
Arguing with him, I normally point out why I think that his expansive views of executive power betray Madison's vision. Today let's imagine, for the sake of argument, that he has been right all along: that strict adherence to the Constitution really does permit secret kill lists, torture, massive surveillance, and indefinite detention; and it really does prohibit, say, Social Security and Medicare.
Even if that were true, it would not change the fact that the national-security state and its open-ended concentration of unaccountable power poses a far greater threat to liberty than federally bankrolled social-welfare spending (even if you think, as I do, that the spending could be improved upon). That McCarthy is extrapolating from ideology rather than observing fact is illustrated by that line about how "Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare are prosperity killers—and inevitably so."
Inevitably so? Really? It's possible America would be more prosperous today if Social Security had never passed. It's impossible to disprove the counterfactual. But this we can say with certainty: Social Security did not kill American prosperity. A nation in the middle of a Great Depression actually did pass Social Security ... and went on to win history's biggest war, build the most prosperous country in the history of the world, and provide its future citizens a level of wealth and comfort the Americans of the 1930s and 1940s could scarcely imagine.
America from the New Deal to the present is, on the whole, a success story. We're richer, less unjust, and offer more freedom to our more numerous citizens. The unprecedented War on Terror poses a bigger threat to that than decades old programs.
A social safety net administered at the federal level may or may not be better than efforts administered by the states. But it is not a fraud by design, it need not be incompatible with a prosperous society, and it need not destroy our liberty. That is so even if it is unconstitutional. And even if the national-security state is technically constitutional, that is no guarantee that it won't infringe on our liberties.
It is infringing on them.
The Constitution ought to play a prominent role in our politics. But I'd like to see McCarthy construct an argument for his favored policies without any mention of or recourse to the document. Perhaps that would make it clearer that suspending due process puts a country farther along the road to serfdom than old-age pensions.
I say that his position is not conservative because, while conserving our constitutional design is certainly a coherent part of a conservative approach to governing, McCarthy isn't proposing to conserve something that still exists—rather, he is proposing that we take an approach to social-welfare policy that hasn't been tried since the early 1930s and apply it to the modern economy: a radical change, whatever one thinks of it. The radicalism and unpredictability of what might happen next doesn't necessarily make him wrong. But conservative is a weird word for it. Subject to the vagaries of his interpretations, he is a constitutional fundamentalist. The truth is in the text, so why grapple with the world as it is?