So I’m going to write a blog.
This one, hopefully, will be a bit different from many others in the ‘sphere, even different from many of those with a political orientation. Because I don’t intend to shout with all the others in the loud amen chorus on my side of the aisle. My intended audience is on the other side – among progressives. And my intent is persuasion.
To begin with, my aims are modest. I want to contribute to a reasoned, respectful dialogue on the many pressing issues of the day. I will not seek to deligitimate liberals or their point of view (although I guarantee I will be unable to resist the occasional jab at their periodic inanities); I will not SHOUT with all-caps typing (well, rarely). I will not write in anger. I want to contest on the field of ideas, argument, hortatory combat. I respect the other side. That doesn’t mean I expect to agree with virtually anything they say or do, but I will seek to draw them to the side of truth and light with facts, wit and compelling logic.
For starters, I want to dispel some misperceptions denizens of the left appear to have of those of us on the right.
Conservatives are not bad people. This might sound unnecessarily defensive, but a very dear friend, a liberal-minded person who lives in a progressive enclave in the Bay Area, once confided that her friends asked her, “How can you be friends with Republicans?” Seriously. Now, I think this says more about the friends than it does about Republicans, but I was frankly shocked to hear it expressed. Is it the choice of policies Republicans prefer that makes us bad, or is it something deeper, some dark Nixonian taint that marks us all as beyond the pale, unfit for respectful company? Admittedly, this particular conversation took place in the midst of the controversy over the Iraq war, and I suppose some on the left couldn’t bring themselves to contemplate having a civil conversation, never mind actually breaking bread, with someone who supported that misbegotten exercise in neocon hubris. But I have since heard similar sentiments, and I wonder that liberals seem so intolerant of non-believers that they have trouble seeing us as people.
Ahh, maybe it’s the talk-show stuff. You know, Hannity, Beck and Michael Savage, also Ann Coulter, and all the rest of the angry right. But here’s the thing – why are they any more representative of the conservative parade than Frank Rich, Michael Moore, Keith Olberman, Maureen Dowd etc., etc. are of the left? Both sides generate their over-the-top polemicists. Big deal. Frankly, the Angry Left was a lot more intemperate during the Bush years than this crew is now. And don’t tell me that doesn’t count because Bush was so bad. That’s just policy differences.
Conservatives as a rule are happy and generous (more so than liberals, according to Arthur C Brooks in Gross National Happiness), go to church, raise families, lead productive lives. We are not bad people. And we make good friends.
Conservatives are not dumb. At least, no more so than liberals. But it seems progressives like to portray us as thick as stumps. Maybe it’s because so many of us live in flyover country – after all, the coasts are where the stylish, with-it, clever people live. It was to a San Francisco audience – largely approving – that Barack Obama mused about the poor confused folks (in rural Pennsylvania) clinging to their guns and their religion in the face of perplexing changes in the world. Maybe it’s because so many of us live in the South – and Lordy, doesn’t that slow drawl sound stupid. And all those Southern politicians who lead the Republican party! Haley Barbour, Trent Lott, Mitch McConnell, and of course, George W Bush. Dumb dumb dumb. Maybe it’s because many of us are church-goers. For the enlightened, religion is little better than superstition, a bit of mental illness, a darkling intellectual dwarf compared to the gleaming jewel of science. Any argument that has its basis in moral precepts rather than test tubes and spreadsheets is unsubstantiated and insubstantial.
Democrats, on the other hand, love the intellectual in their leaders. Jimmy Carter, nuclear physicist; not quite sure that’s a good recommendation; Bill Clinton, Rhodes Scholar – ample proof that character matters at least as much as brains; Barack Obama, Harvard Law – it remains to be seen how that’s going to work out.
On the other hand, think of the following, none of whom earned a college degree – Bruce Catton, the best Civil War historian our country ever produced; William Safire, long-time columnist and language expert; Walter Cronkite, say no more. There is lots more to it than a graduate degree.
My style of conservatism is the thinking kind, reaching back to Hayek, Friedman, William F. Buckley and the like. I hope my arguments do them justice.
Conservatives are not heartless and mean-spirited. I think I know where this comes from. Buckley, for instance, famously said he viewed the role of his National Review as “stand[ing] athwart history, yelling STOP.” Conservatives, after all, are the opposite of progressives. And if you’re not for progress, you must be for returning to the benighted days from which we have progressed – back-alley abortions, children in sweatshops, good ol’ sexism and racism, when the lowly folk knew their place and stayed there without making a fuss. But progress is not invariably toward the good. Lemmings progress toward the edge of the cliff. Diseases progress. And a strong case can be made that the direction of our society’s progress is not indisputably positive.
Does anybody seriously think the progressive vulgarization of our films, music, and art is a symptom of a healthy society? How about when sports stars get a pass for all manner of antisocial and pathological behaviors because the fans would rather win? When schools become battle grounds? When science takes us closer and closer to the day when people can sift and sort through genetic possibilities to have the children they prefer? Standing against this is heartful, not heartless. It promotes the worthy, as opposed the prurient or the self-interested.
Conservatives (not necessarily Republicans, mind you – there is a difference) also yell STOP to government creep. This also seems mean-spirited. After all, governments spend money to help people who need it. To oppose that is to condemn these people to a life of need. Conservatives often don’t do a great job of making the argument against this. Yet the proof is in public experience – government spending tends to be self-perpetuating, to develop constituencies that rely on it and resist its being taken away. And it does not resolve the problems. The war on poverty resulted in more poverty not less, as those subsidies bred a culture of dependency. Most insidiously, politicians get votes by spending other people’s money on their constituents. There is very little natural pressure against this and it is at its base immoral. Someone needs to yell STOP to its progress. This is also heartful, though – conservatives stand for the freedom of the individual to make his or her life the best it can be. To prosper, to invent, to create. Government programs crush this with one-size-fits-all rules and programs. The chaos, the destruction, the rise of the next, the hurly burly of the free economy is the best way to prosperity, and that requires less government, not more.
When conservatives say NO to the current plans for health care, it’s not because they are heartless and care not for the unfortunate millions who do not have insurance. It’s because they don’t believe that that much government interference will do the job. If only someone would listen, the conservative approach could enlist the power of individual choice and the discipline of the free market to truly bend the cost curve downward. Stay tuned