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Modifying Conservative

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When GOP candidates and sympathizers use the word conservative, what are they talking about? I wonder about it because I do not relate to anything that follows that word in contemporary usage as being conservative. Candidates Romney, Gingrich and Santorum each gave the word necessary lip service at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. Romney went so far as to declare himself a “severely conservative governor” and used the word conservative more than 20 times in a 25 minute speech. That is hardly a conservative way of using any word.

Romney, Gingrich, and SantorumConsider the etymology of the word. Conservative appeared as a name for a British political faction in 1831, replacing the 150-year-old word Tory, which had become a pejorative term. However, conservatism is not a political system as American politicians imply. Instead, it is a shared preference for things that are established, such as institutions and customs, and a desire to preserve them. But that’s etymology for you.

Romney made the distinction that conservatives are a political faction. He told his CPAC audience that he was “the only candidate, Republican or Democrat, to never work a day in Washington. I don’t have old scores to settle or decades of cloakroom deals to defend. As conservatives, you learn to be skeptical of this city and its politicians, and right you are.”

Jimmy Carter said much the same thing and became an outsider elected president. Ronald Reagan succeeded Carter as a Washington outsider. Romney says the words conservative and outsider, but he does not appear to be either.

Reagan led a conservative crusade that began with the failed candidacy of Barry Goldwater. Whether or not Reagan would be considered a conservative by today’s Republican standards is debatable, as is Goldwater’s conservatism. The problem is that in contemporary usage, the word conservative seems to require modifiers, such as extreme or arch. Or conservative requires being associated with a name, such as Reagan or Goldwater.

Perhaps the GOP is looking for an apocalyptic Nixon conservative.

In the competition for any Republican candidate to be seen as the most conservative,Fox News commentator Palin credentialed or otherwise, the GOP presidential candidates at CPAC were all overshadowed by Fox News commentator Sarah Palin.

“We must stand as conservatives,” Palin stirred the crowd. “For the sake of our party, we must stand united with whoever our nominee is.” Although she has not publically endorsed a candidate, she has told her employer that she will endorse Newt Gingrich, a flamboyant Harding conservative.

An accomplished cheerleader, Ms. Palin drew a standing ovation when she declared, “This time next year we will have a true conservative in the Oval Office.” If President Obama is reelected and the etymological distinction of conservative prevails, such as a shared a preference for established things and a desire to preserve them, she will be correct.

Real Conservatism needs no modifier.

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About Tommy Mack

Tommy Mack began his career in broadcasting and is a US Army graduate of the Defense Information School. He worked in Army Public and Command Information and earned a BS in Liberal Studies from the State University of New York, Albany. A marketing communications executive, Tommy became a business management consultant for a major international consulting company and its affiliates before establishing Tommy Mack Organization, a business consulting practice specializing in organization and communications management. A professional writer and blogger, he writes about politics, business, and culture.
  • Glenn Contrarian

    Tommy –

    An accomplished cheerleader, Ms. Palin drew a standing ovation when she declared, “This time next year we will have a true conservative in the Oval Office.” If President Obama is reelected and the etymological distinction of conservative prevails, such as a shared a preference for established things and a desire to preserve them, she will be correct.

    The sad thing is, there’s very, very few conservatives (in the Republican definition of the word) who would understand how very right you are, especially since under Obama, our personal tax burdens are at their lowest point since the Truman administration, and our effective corporate tax rate is among the lowest in the developed world – not to mention the fact that for all the conservative bile hurled at Obamacare, it was still a very Republican idea for at least a decade. But since Obama was the one who got it passed, well, that makes it unconstitutional (and socialistic too)!

  • Cannonshop

    #1 Glenn, a bad idea, even one sold for decades by the perfumed princes in the GOP, is still a bad idea, even if it’s signed by a Democrat.

    I counter Tommy’s statement with this: There is no “True Conservative” in the GOP, the government, or in political noise that passes for dialogue-because it’s as empty a term as “Liberal” (capital “L”) in that same noisome fracas.

    Both terms are, effectively, as meaningless beyond their ability to divide, as “tory” and “Whig”-possibly moreso, since the most immoderate people are the ones who toss them about.

    In a “parlaimentary” structure like our neighbours to the north (canada), the GOP would be a coalition of perhaps as few as a dozen minor parties, or as many as fifty-most of them with contradictory ideologies. In our current duopoly, of course, those groups end up having to pretend to tolerate one another long enough to try and win elections every couple years, against what amounts to a fairly monolithic left. Democrats are better team players than Republicans, right down to the street level. The GOP lacks that fundamental unity, that mass-mindedness, the ability to automatically reattune one’s moral and political compass in order to support the team.

  • http://loftypremise.blogspot.com/ Tommy Mack

    Palin talked about “the good of our party” and not the good of our country in her usurpation of what it is to be conservative. To her it is just a word, it has no further meaning. To others it is a confusing word because it sounds like it has meaning but is confused with the British political party. Confusion and lack of meaning may explain the rise in the number of independents, where the notion of conservatism exists.

    I agree with Cannon’s assessment about the term Liberal since it too is so bandied as to be confused with the British Labour party.

    In 1962 former Democrat Ronald Reagan complained, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.” Parties can do that sort of thing.

    Tommy

  • Baronius

    federalism, military strength, unobtrusive government…the rest is working out the particulars