As Joseph Cotto pointed out in his recent, very pertinent article, “The True Conservative: A Popular Pipe Dream?”,
Every candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and his or her grandmother cannot stop speaking about how conservative they are. The term itself is used as a simple buzzword; the race’s dialogue has devolved to the extent that somebody could be explaining how to make a tuna fish sandwich, throw in “conservative” a few times, and be met with thunderous applause.
His was a wonderful piece and had me thinking for several days on the subject. These contending gentlemen and ladies seek victory on the premise that each of them feels himself to be the most conservative of the candidates, in which thinking I suspect an equation to reverence for the past, and high regard for the constitution, as written by our dedicated founding fathers.
It occurred to me that the new Republican school of conservatism may be of the “selected” conservatism variety, for the participants seem blind to the radical changes they espouse when they champion this new era of corporate domination of the government, and ignore that many of their peers have become tools of one clandestine power group or another.
Regard for the past is indeed important, but shouldn’t blind us to other influences in modern culture. As people age, they find that when they use their God-given intelligence, they increase it, in some ways, like exercising a muscle. What we failed to see in our younger years becomes clear and obvious as we grow older. So it should be in culture. We study the past but we learn from new ideas, new perspective that arises over the years.
Looking back, we see that President Ronald Reagan, highly regarded as a definer of modern conservatism, was devoted to the principles of entrepreneurship, and the development of new technology. Speaking to an assembly of young students, he said,
The explorers of the modern era are the entrepreneurs, men with vision, with the courage to take risks and faith enough to brave the unknown. These entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States. They are the prime movers of the technological revolution. In fact, one of the largest personal computer firms in the United States was started by two college students, no older than you, in the garage behind their home…
We are seeing the power of economic freedom spreading around the world — places such as the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan have vaulted into the technological era, barely pausing in the industrial age along the way. Low-tax agricultural policies in the sub-continent mean that in some years India is now a net exporter of food. Perhaps most exciting are the winds of change that are blowing over the People’s Republic of China, where one-quarter of the world’s population is now getting its first taste of economic freedom…
Reagan wasn’t one to worship the past; rather he espoused evolution in thinking, innovation, and government,
Go into any schoolroom, and there you will see children being taught the Declaration of Independence, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights — among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — that no government can justly deny — the guarantees in their Constitution for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion….
But freedom is more even than this: Freedom is the right to question, and change the established way of doing things. It is the continuing revolution of the marketplace. It is the understanding that allows us to recognize shortcomings and seek solutions. It is the right to put forth an idea, scoffed at by the experts, and watch it catch fire among the people. It is the right to stick — to dream — to follow your dream, or stick to your conscience, even if you’re the only one in a sea of doubters.
Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority of government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious.
Ronald Reagan, in an extreme example of conservative principle, said while speaking to an evangelical group in March of 1983 that unemployment insurance is a “pre-paid vacation for freeloaders.” Today many will find that remark to be hard-nosed, or offensive. We concede today’s economy differs greatly from the economy of 1983.
In other speeches Reagan said:
The struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.
And on another occasion,
Above all, we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.
William F. Buckley Jr. was a firebrand, a self-made man of the highest order, and a father of modern conservatism. He envisioned a conservatism that learned from history, but moved at a cautious pace. In 1955 writing for the National Review he defined his beliefs thusly:
It is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens’ lives, liberty and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress. The growth of government (the dominant social feature of this century) must be fought relentlessly. In this great social conflict of the era, we are, without reservations, on the libertarian side. The profound crisis of our era is, in essence, the conflict between the Social Engineers, who seek to adjust mankind to conform with scientific utopias, and the disciples of Truth, who defend the organic moral order. We believe that truth is neither arrived at nor illuminated by monitoring election results, binding though these are for other purposes, but by other means, including a study of human experience. On this point we are, without reservations, on the conservative side.
Republican President George W. Bush has a unique set of values, not necessarily in strict compliance with conservative or liberal lines. Bush stressed cutting taxes, increasing spending, minimizing regulation of industry and banking and the use of American military power to fight terrorists, promote democracy, and secure American interests in the Middle East. While Bush promoted a “new world order” some conservatives at that time were in opposition to a one world government.
Sources tell us that schools of conservatism during the G.W. Bush era were skeptical about the importance or validity of various environmental issues, leaning toward the importance of self-reliance instead of reliance on the government to solve problems, strongly supported the State of Israel, supported prayer in public schools, opposed gun control, and promoted strict enforcement of the law, with long jail terms for repeat offenders.
Mr. Cotto mentioned the devotion to conservatism in today’s political debate. This writer couldn’t agree more, and I concede I find fault with the clown-car thinking of many of today’s crop of candidates.