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Conservatism for Dummies
More than once, I have been approached about writing a book on the subject of conservatism. I have chosen not to because I don’t need a book to explain it. I need a paragraph.
Besides, no one on the left or in the media would ever read a book on conservatism. It will be hard enough to get them to read a paragraph. For the record:
A conservative believes in limited Constitutional government as close to home as possible, the enduring worth of traditional values, and a strong national defense.
Media reports about the death of conservatism worry me not at all for one simple reason: a principled conservative (PC) never abandons his principles.
Principled liberals, on the other hand, often do. Ronald Reagan comes to mind. So do John Dos Passos, Whittaker Chambers, David Horowitz, the founding fathers of neo-conservatism, and thousands of less prominent Americans “mugged by reality.”
Indeed, there is a whole literature of conversion from the left, even the very hard left, to the principled right. For inspiration, I would recommend Chambers’ Witness or Horowitz’s Radical Son. There is no comparable literature on the left.
To test this theory, ask a roomful of PCs for whom they cast their first ballot. Depending on age, you will inevitably hear “Kennedy,” “Johnson,” “McGovern,” “Carter,” “Clinton.”
As for myself, I was a dedicated “pre-teen for JFK.” I abandoned the Kennedys only when Teddy abandoned my former neighbor, Mary Jo Kopechne.
One hears a good deal about a split between “social conservatives” and “fiscal conservatives.” This is largely a fiction.
The social conservatives of my experience, almost to a person, are fiscal conservatives. They understand that a too powerful central government is as much a threat to their wallets as it is to their values.
There is another untitled sub-class of PC that lives a less than conservative lifestyle—Rush Limbaugh comes to mind—but who support social values because they understand that a strong family is the single greatest bulwark against socialism.
If there is a threat to conservative ascendancy within the Republican Party, it comes from neo-Whigs, who are often confused with neo-cons.
These are the alleged “social liberals/ fiscal conservatives.” Like their 19 th century predecessors, neo-Whigs mostly just want to see stuff get built and get their own palms greased in the process.
Private? Public? Public-private? Private-public? Court decreed? Who cares as long as they and/or their pals get to a do at least a little of the deal.
When neo-Whigs run for office, they run on the ticket most likely to get them elected. Arlen Spector could not even be coy about this when he switched parties in April.
Said the Washington Post, “He bluntly admitted that his decision was tied to his belief that he could not win reelection as a Republican next year.”
In our part of the world, neo-Whigs tend to be Republicans on the Kansas side and Democrats on the Missouri side.
The Republican neo-Whigs pretend to care a little bit about lower taxes, gun rights, and family values. The Democrat neo-Whigs meanwhile pretend to care a little bit about gay rights, global warming, and labor unions.
When the power equation shifts, Republican neo-Whigs will inevitably make noises, as Spector did, about the party moving too far to the right. “I’m not leaving the party,” they say, “the party is leaving me.”
Those were exactly the words, by the way, of current neo-Whig Democratic Kansas governor Mark Parkinson. As Kansas state Republican Party chairman in 2002, he said of candidate gubernatorial Kathleen Sebelius:
“I would say that any Republican who supports Kathleen Sebelius for governor is either insincere or uninformed. She is a left-wing liberal Democrat and no Republican in good conscience can support her.”
Parkinson supported George Bush in 2004. When Governor Sebelius offered Parkinson a spot on her highly favored 2006 ticket as lieutenant governor, the party, he noticed, had unexpectedly lurched to the right and left him behind.
Neo-Whigs have, and have always had, a disproportionate share of the nation’s wealth. While others have been busying themselves with abortion, illegal immigration, judicial activism, stem cell research, crime, school prayer, the second amendment, pornography, property rights, taxes and other such distractions, they have been out doing deals.
Neo-Whig donations typically go to the candidate with the best chance of winning, unless that candidate is sufficiently principled that he or she threatens their deals.
Some principles upset the neo-Whigs more than other. Their noisy hostility to embryonic stem cell opponents, for instance, has nothing to do with science or ethics and everything to do with their fear of losing potential bio-science deals.
Although tolerable on Main Street, when neo-Whigs reach critical mass, as they have on Wall Street, their collective amorality imperils our commercial republic.
In the long-run, democratic capitalism works only in a moral environment in which the law is minimal, equitable, and reliable.
Only a principled conservatism has been able to provide that environment over time. It will do so in the future as well. So stay strong and keep those pitchforks sharpened!
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