My Kind of Conservative

As a teen and young adult during the divisive Vietnam War years, I enjoyed watching the Firing Line debates between Wm. F. Buckley, Jr. and noted liberal voices on PBS.  Though my sympathies usually lay with his guests, I was frequently impressed with the Buckley intellect and his broad base of knowledge.  Debates were content-rich and devoid of insult.  For a few years (1977-1981) Steve Allen's Meeting of the Minds brought together historical figures to discuss contemporary issues.  Imagine Marie Antoinette, Sir Thomas More, Mohandas Gandhi and Karl Marx sharing thoughts on some weighty issue.

That world of respectful informed exchanges between different viewpoints is sorely missed.  Today I hear mostly exchanges of insults between political opponents.  The soundbite has displaced the nuanced disagreements; in fact there is an entire generation that has perhaps never witnessed a civil informed debate between political opposites.  As a liberal living in a conservative community, discounting the other side is simply not an option.  Building community requires respect for the differences that exist within my community.   Our community could be stronger for those differences.  Still, let me indulge my fantasies about discourse and describe my kind of conservative.

My kind of conservative questions the "welfare state".  He wonders if our economic safety net helps or hurts disadvantaged families.  He looks at issues of independence and family strength.  He is concerned about generational poverty.  He does not base his concerns however on a feeling that the poor are unworthy of assistance.

My kind of conservative worries whether we are becoming too much of a "nanny state".  She prizes individual choice and responsibility and believes that government intrusion into private lives should be minimized, based on some core tests that weigh "common good" against "individual rights".  Her concerns extend beyond consumer protections and helmet laws though and she questions restrictions on marriage, reproduction and personal privacy as well.

My kind of conservative is a super-patriot.  He cares deeply about the future of his nation.  He puts national interest above personal gain.  If a sacrifice is necessary for his country, he will make it.  That includes speaking unpopular truths, paying higher taxes or bucking lobbyists and media moguls who bribe or threaten him.  He has the courage to see beyond immediate personal benefits and to stand up for his nation's best interests.

My kind of conservative is passionate about capitalism and the free market.  She does not like government interference in the free market.  That includes excessive regulation of business but also subsidies and favoritism toward businesses.  She believes businesses like Haliburton and Xe should not receive no-bid contracts from the government, that businesses should not receive special tax breaks or incentives that prejudice their market decisions and that labor should be treated as reverently as capital.

My kind of conservative is passionate about the U.S. Constitution.  He believes in limited power, balanced power and the Bill of Rights.  He reveres the 8th Amendment's proscriptions against torture.  He stands up against ever-increasing state encroachment on 4th Amendment search and seizure rights.  He weighs individual liberty against national security (or feigned security) interests and does not proclaim "I have nothing to hide so don't care" when new surveillance measures, TSA inspections, drug testing or finger-printing are proposed.

My kind of conservative cares about religion.  She does not cheapen her personal convictions by subjecting them to a public circus.  She demands the right to believe and practice her religion without state interference or representation of one set of beliefs over another.  She does not subject others to a "religious test" any more than she would tolerate being subjected herself to one.  She does not disparage Islam, Judaism or New Age spirituality.

My kind of conservative is intensely interested in the world around him.  He is a voracious reader.  Like me, he might read the conservative Economist magazine, local newspapers and a national newspaper.  He is not impressed with tabloid journalism or the infotainment and suspect journalistic integrity of the populist Fox News or other Murdoch productions.  He demands scholarly treatment of important scientific, political and social issues.  He is aware of major issues in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa and can see parallels in our own circumstances.

My kind of conservative engages more than she disengages.  Her conservative values shape her perspectives on issues but she recognizes that there are differences among us that might bring me to see these issues another way.  She wants to understand where I'm coming from and appreciates that we both have something to offer our communities and our nation.

I actually know some of my kind of conservatives.  They challenge and intrigue me.  Unfortunately I see none of them on the national stage or speaking out for their unique and valid perspective.  Instead I see demagogues and attack dogs presenting the public face of conservatism.  They are not conservatives.  They are opportunists.  Please, please bring back conservatism.  We liberals miss the real thing.