Wednesday, February 06, 2008

An Apology for Conservatism

Conservatism is not, at its heart, a mere collection of policies, a platform, nor a political party, but rather at it's heart it is how one thinks, a particular mindset, a way of viewing the world, the whole world and all its happenings, both days of celebration and days that live in infamy, 11/9 and 9/11. There is no Conservative Manifesto. God willing, there will never be a Conservative Manifesto. Two conservatives may differ on the way to approach any number of issues and yet both still be true conservatives. And in spite of, or perhaps because of all the differing approaches conservatives may hold, conservatism presents a far more unified view of the world than other political philosophies.

Conservatism recognizes that there is indeed a definitive right and wrong. There is great evil in the world, although there is also great good. It is unfortunately not always easy, not usually easy, to discern but that foundation remains nonetheless. It is a foundation for government, the basis for laws. Our founding fathers recognized this. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." And it remains, I think, a necessary component for the functioning of a successful society. Now to be clear, I am not saying we need to institutionalize any particular religion, the founding fathers also saw the dangers of that mistake repeated many times throughout history. But right and wrong is a necessary basis for government.

Conservatives see the hearts of men for what they are, corrupt. This is why we need government, to restrain our passions, our lust, our greed, and our pride. Yes, conservatives see that government is a necessary evil, as are taxes. Taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society. Yes, conservatives believe we need government and taxes, they don't want a world of anarchy. Government protects us within a state from fellow citizens and from threats from other states.

It is the same reason that we need government that conservatives see the need to limit and restrain government, because man's heart is corrupt. People ultimately must run any government. And when you put corrupt people in power their corruption can overtake them. The old adage is true, "absolute power corrupts absolutely." That is why we have a system of checks and balances and separation of powers. No one person or group of people get too much power. And that is why in part conservatives see the need to limit the size and role of government. Many people have come up with and implemented grand plans for utopias, to the ruin of their societies. That men are corrupt, including themselves, is a fact that all these agents of change have sadly failed to recognize. Try to create a heaven on earth and you will end up with a terrestrial hell for this very reason.

Conservatives believe in people, not the government, being responsible for their lives. We have a right to the pursuit of happiness, not an entitlement to happiness. When the government starts doing more and more things for people they become more and more dependent upon the government. You end up with a welfare state, in effect a mommy state that picks up their socks after them. Conservatives on the other hand are for citizens being equipped for running their own lives. They are the proud father that watches as their son experiences triumph and learn's from their mistakes. Conservatives are not for leaving people out in the cold either. Conservatives take the approach of "feed a man to fish, feed them for a day, teach a man to fish, feed them for a lifetime." Hence why conservatives favor job training as opposed to welfare. Help people get the skills they need to compete in the world and they can have more income and more importantly a far more satisfying and rewarding life than they can livng off of government handouts. When a job is outsourced people should be provided the opportunites to learn new skills and go into a new, better line of work rather than live off a unemployment check searching through the classifieds for similar jobs that also are being outsourced. Work is not to be viewed as drudgery. Work should be interesting, rewarding, and challenging. It feels good to bring home a paycheck that you earned, to be the one providing for your family, and even to be a supporter of rather than a drag on your society by paying taxes. Perhaps conservatives have done a bad job both portraying this as their goal and more importantly pursuing it as a goal. Hence the push to create personal savings accounts in social security. Its a person's money first, they should be the one to save and invest it for retirement. In my own opinion the government never should have started social security to begin with; its a massive pyramid scheme about to break when you get down to it. Hence personal responsiblity in health care, individuals are better suited to manage their health than any government program, not to say changes don't need to be made.

When Conservatives trust people to be responsible, they are also trusting the free market to work by invisible hand to the benefit of society. Competitive markets are best at determining prices, not the government. Competition keeps prices low for consumers. Businesses need to make profit to survive drives them to be efficient. The government doesn't work that way. When the government does things inefficiently, they just tax more or borrow more to pay for it. When the government manages things it ends up with an inefficient, cumbersome bureaucracy that would never cut it in the business world. When the government sets price control that are relevant then we either end up with shortages or surpluses, just think gas price limits and agriculture subsidies, neither has ended up well. Conservatives recognize a need for the government to make sure markets don't turn into monopolies and to make sure companies play fair, but in general see that it is better for the government to stay out of the way. Indeed, conservatives believe the economy is helped best by the government when it gets out fo the way by keeping taxes low and minimizing regulation. Conservatives also see that free trade benefits us and other countries in the long run. Yes, some people's jobs go overseas, but that is why there is a need for job retraining to help them get better jobs. If the government has a role in the economy its in helping people transition, not in helping them hold onto the old economy. Conservatives see that some things don't work well in the free market, like defense, but in most cases the free market is better at allocating resources.

Conservatives are for doing just that, conserving. There is a place for tradition and convention in our modern world. There is also a place for change, but that change must be slow and prudent. Conservatives don't fall for change for change sake, they ask the important question of "to what are we changing?" Hastily, unprudent change seldom turns out for the good. The Soviet Union was a great change, but was it a change for the better? Certainly not. No, conservatives have never drunk the Kool-Aid. Conservatives "prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't." Change, no matter how good its intentions, results in disruption. Conservatives weigh the disruption when discerning whether the change is merited. Conservatives believe in making decisions in part based on how it affects later generations. The do not believe we should burden our children and children's children with debt and with problems we've left unresolved out of lack of leadership and political cowardice.

Conservatives in the United States respect the Constituion. It limits the government, it protects our liberty. We cannot get rid of habeas corpus, we cannot get rid of the right to a fair trial, in the name of national defense. Liberty is valued above security. "Live free or die." They value the federal system setup in the Constitution. One of its great merits, besides protecting us from tyranny, is that it allows individual states to experiment with changes without risking the whole nation. If a state tries a new approach and succeeds, then it can spread to other states. If they try and fail, then we all learn from their mistake. Conservatives believe local people are better suited to make decisions that affect them locally then any national institution.

Conservatives, I would submit, should be associated with conservation. We inherited the earth and all its beauty and yes, all its resources from our ancestors. We must likewise keep in mind that our children, our children's children, and their children, will inherit what we leave or don't leave behind. We wouldn't want to leave them a bankrupt government, nor should we want to leave them a bankrupt environment. It would be a shame if our grand-children aren't able to experience the great outdoors because of our action or inaction. We are stewards of this earth, not owners. God gave us the earth for our use but also with the responsibility to take care of it. In addition to allowing our ancestors to have the same priveledge of enjoying the great outdoors, of visiting national parks and snorkeling through corral reefs, there is also the economic impact to consider. We must also conserve the environment so that we will continue to have its renewable resources. We must conserve because climate change can hurt the economy. Conservatives should be at the forefront of conservation, working towards solutions that protect the earth and help our economy. We should remember President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican and a conservationist, who set aside 150 million acres of national parks and nature preserves. When Congress went to block him in 1907 he slipped in 16 million acres the night before by executive order.

Conservatives know that the health of a state, particularly a democratic state, rests upon the virtue, knowledge, and wisdom of the people. And so conservatives see the need for a good education system. Besides keeping taxes low its one of the few positive things the government can actually do for the economy. Having well-educated people will only be more important for getting jobs in the globalized economy as time goes on. This is essential if people are to be responsible for their lives. Students should also graduate knowing how to handle their money as well, in order to avoid credit card debt and the repeat of the subprime mortgage crisis. But education is not just about getting people ready for successful careers in order to make lots of money and thus stimulate the economy. A good education system must create citizens, not just consumers. The children in school today will one day be choosing our leaders, some of them will eventually be our leaders. They must be ready to take that responsibility seriously and cast their sacred ballots. That requires knowing how our government work and knowing history to avoid repeating mistakes of the past. Education must develop students' minds, shape them, make them think critically, even if it means they start questioning their education, especially if it means they start questioning their education. Even if we pump out students with technical skills, we are failing students if they can't think critically. Conservatives believe in an education system which benefits the students.

Conservatives recognize it is both the right and duty of a sovereign state to protect and defend their borders. The government has the right to know and control who crosses the border, and indeed they ought to do so. There are many people from around the world who desire to come to these United States, and it is unfair to them to simply let people cut in line and sneak across the borders. It is, more importantly, a national security issue. We need to know who is in the United States. Conservatives also recognize that our economy is dependent on immigration to fill jobs, and thus see the need to allow legal immigration via a guest worker program while cracking down on illegal immigration. Conservatives think that we need to crack down on the hiring of illegal immigrants, which will put a stop to people coming here in the first place. We definitely differ on what to do with those already here. Many have sympathy for those illegal aliens who are here and already have families and would rather pardon them than uproot them and send them home. Others conservatives think that the only way to put a stop to illegal immigration is to send a message by deporting those here. Its alright to have disagreements. We can disagree on the particulars and still be conservative, as long as we recognize the need to address illegal immigration and can arrive at a compromise solution that will take the necessary steps towards putting a stop to it.

I've tried to capture the essence of conservatism. I hoped to show how conservatism is a framework in which each policy fits, rather than a seemingly random collection of different stances. It is by no means complete nor will every self-described conservative agree with all of what I stated. As I said at the beginning, the nature of conservatism means there will be variation in conservative's views.


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