It’s no accident that politics has two poles. Conservatives and liberals have debated each other for centuries. The wisest in both camps always acknowledged some virtue in their respective opponents’ views, even while opposing them. Liberal and conservative values are equally rooted in human nature. Each influences all of us personally, and that‘s not going to change in the recognizable future. How liberal and conservative values shape policies offered to promote and protect Americas general well being is the stuff legitimate politics derives from. Not all politics, however, is fundamentally legitimate.
America is a society born from revolution, founded on revolutionary ideals. We as a people, as proudly proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, do not bestow legitimacy on a government simply for effectively wielding power. Governments must genuinely seek to serve the interests of all the people governed, not just a chosen segment of that people, in order to have legitimacy.
Virtually all Americans, conservatives and liberals alike, are in philosophical agreement with that view– though our own human frailties can sometimes obscure the clarity of that conviction. That single assertion more than anything else, more than any predominantly liberal or conservative belief system, is the basis of American political unity. It is an inspiration that predates our Constitution.
A world of legitimate differences can, and does, coexist on that shared political foundation of American society. How to best serve the American people will no doubt always be hotly debated. If one rigid political orientation consistently provided the clear best answer to that question it long ago would have made ideological debates moot among the vast majority of fair minded Americans. That hasn’t happened, and it won’t in the recognizable future either. the most fundamental debates endure for centuries.
We should no more suppress most liberal or conservative values in pursuit of a healthy body politic than we should oppress most fauna or flora in pursuit of a healthy ecosystem. There are few if any prefab solutions that can prevail by rote against most difficulties we face as a people. Devoid of proper context, lacking an honest appraisal of potentially broad ramifications, political prescriptions are apt to devolve to spin. Of course it is wise to prudently invest. Of course it is foolish to throw money at a problem. Every cliché has a separate but equal counterpart.
Political debates our healthy for our democracy when they delve deeper than mere slogans, because there are always hard choices that must be made. Our vibrancy as a nation depends on continuous vigorous debate with our often complimentary, but sometimes divergent, core values honestly and strongly represented. Increasingly over the last few decades the National Republican Party has identified itself as the leading political champion of conservative values in the United States. Doing so bears with it a significant responsibility.
I am not a Republican, and I do not identify myself as a conservative. Nonetheless I have respect, and in some cases reverence, for many of the values held dear by most conservatives. To me they essentially are human values; and I honor the core validity that they capture and appreciate how they help illuminate many of the decisions I face in my own life. I believe that even when I find one or more of those values inapplicable or contraindicated in certain situations. Just because a social value becomes identified as “conservative” it no more belongs to conservatives exclusively than “tolerance”, for example, does to liberals.
Love of family, respect for elders, a cautious attitude toward change, a priority on taking care of our own, preserving individual freedoms, providing for physical safety, extolling fair competition, living within our means, planning for the future, a deep reverence for life, empowerment at the local level, protecting personal privacy: these and many other so called conservative values resonate for me as well. They should all strongly, and sincerely, be advocated for in the public sphere wherever and whenever political decisions must be made. The Republican Party seems quite eager to do so, often to the point of implicitly, and in some cases explicitly, claiming that Democrats oppose and are attempting to destroy those very same values.
Unfortunately we all know that there will always be more to the practice of politics than the advocacy of sound principles alone. Surely conservatives understand this, for they especially frequently note that not all people are of good will. Conservatives have long argued that laws by themselves are insufficient, cops are needed too. Legitimate politics “should” always be about the common good, just like people “should” always do onto others as they would have others do onto them, but it isn’t always so. Politics is also about power, gaining it and wielding it -often for purely personal or clannish ends. Those seeking power for self serving ends seldom are squeamish about misrepresenting their intentions.
It is a core conservative value to be wary of concentrated power. That concern underscores a good part of conservative apprehension about government overreaching its appropriate authority. “The Republican Fraud” is the growing rift between the conservative values the Republican Party now professes, and the tenor and ultimate impact of the policies it has aggressively been pushing for in recent years.
The agenda of today’s Republican Party has fallen sway to the gravitational pull of potent and concentrated economic forces. Like a black hole bending the light of a distant star as seen from Earth, the power of those forces can be measured in the consistent arc of distortion those forces impose on specific policies curving contrary to values oft proclaimed by Republicans -frequently in defense of those very same policies..
To an extent any successful political party is subject to some of this, just like any major industry is subject to some corruption or any major religion is subject to some hypocrisy within its ranks. In today’s Republican Party though it has become virtually pandemic, with its leading spokespersons and surrogates all acting in lockstep. Repeatedly it is the same narrow segment of American society that stands to gain from the majority of Republican initiatives, whether or not they run true to actual conservative values.
The Republican Party Fraud is two fold. It is exploiting legitimate conservative values in support of a much narrower economic agenda; and that agenda has ceased to serve the needs of America as a whole. This isn’t a conservative failing, and it isn’t the failure of individuals with conservative values –including most individual Republicans. It is fundamentally the failure of American society to preserve a robust enough system of checks and balances against the corrupting influence of an overly concentrated realm of power, economic power, which is at fault.
Our founders rebelled against the unfair and unrepresentative exercise of political power over them. When they did so however, political and economic power was virtually one and the same. Rebelling against the State in the then form of a monarchy, was simultaneously a rebellion against a form of concentrated economic control over their lives, then exercised through that monarchy. In 1775 Government and Big Business were Siamese twins only fairly recently separated, where they were separated at all.
Americans began creating a different society with a new form of government; one of the people, by the people, and for the people. Democracy, backed by our Constitution and Bill of Rights, was meant as a bulwark against all manner of tyranny; political tyranny certainly, but religious and economic tyranny also. It was the Republican Party, governing through trust buster Teddy Roosevelt, which finally countered the economic erosion of our liberties ushered in by the great monopolies. Republicans stood for the free market then, not one manipulated by the most powerful among us. So much has changed now with the same political party now essentially on the payroll of today’s overpowering financial interests.
How much conservative integrity has been sacrificed to that servitude? “Charity begins at home” is a time honored conservative sentiment, but how is it “taking care of our own” for “conservatives” to defend tax breaks to U.S. Corporations that outsource American jobs overseas? If the family is the bedrock of our society, how is it strengthened by refusing to support a minimum wage sufficient to support a family on? No one still believes the fantasy that minimum wage jobs are only needed by teenagers seeking their first paid experience. Each year fewer moms can afford to “stay home to raise the kids”, even if they want to.
If change is something that should only be approached cautiously, why the “conservative” tacit approval in public (and jubilation in private) over a Supreme Court ruling that overturned a century of legal case law to radically expand the “free speech” rights of corporate “persons”? It enshrines an artificial construct of liberty that no one can seriously pretend was “strictly” intended by the founding fathers, and it ushered in a playing field that can never again be level while it stands.
Conservatives argue that life is sacred, and it is. By why is it seemingly only so at the exact entrance and exit thresholds? If innocent children have the right to live why call for drastic cuts in the food stamps so many of them depend on for the nourishment to stay alive? How is that a pro-life value? It isn’t a Christian value, let alone an American or conservative one, to castigate the poor or abandon them to sink or swim under deplorable conditions, while ones spouse goes shopping for a thousand dollar T Shirt.
Today’s Republican Party rails against fictitious government death panels that want to “pull the plug on granny”, but it is willing to chip away at her retirement benefits until she can’t pay the utilities and is left to freeze in the dark. How does that “respect our elders”? And how is it looking out for our children’s future to choke off government revenue by defending continued tax cuts for the already affluent, while most of the infrastructure of the nation is sliding toward obsolescence?
What parent would feel proud willing their child a home that they heavily partied in during their own prime, but now has holes in the roof and wiring that will melt if connected to any state of the art appliances? That’s not fiscal responsibility, that’s either sloth or greed. It’s called greed if the money was there to maintain that home but it got spent on self indulgent luxuries instead. It’s called sloth if no effort was ever seriously made to bring in the revenue needed to maintain that home. Since when were sloth and greed conservative values?
What are we leaving for future generations under current Republican taxation and investment policies? What use is lower debt if the very tools needed to compete and survive in a future economy have been sacrificed or completely neglected in order to reduce it? That’s like hocking the fishing rod so you can afford buying a fish to stash in the freezer. Is that what passes now for planning for the future?
For most of the last century and even into this one, conservatives warned of the coming one world government that would rise to strip America of her sovereignty and Americans of their freedom. In the guise of conservative rhetoric they now are working to further those ends – but the one world government that is starting to take shape won’t present a standard political face to the world. It will feature the corporate gray blur of interlocking corporate boards. America will retain its technical sovereignty, for what it will then be worth. How will that be a victory for conservatives?