I revisited a brief essay this morning, one written by Facebook friend (and fellow political junkie) Ken Gardner. In it, Ken decried the use of the term “true conservative,” preferring instead the much simpler “conservative.” Ken argues convincingly that such delineation rests on false logic, and succeeds only in forcing discussion into specious territories where no real dialogue can ever occur. Ken writes that:
A person may argue that Candidate A is a “true conservative,” while Candidate B is a phony conservative or even a RINO. Or that no “true conservative” can hold Position X on a given issue.
Arguing with such people invariably proves to be a waste of time and energy. No matter what points you make, they will…simply change their definition of true conservative to shield their point of view. And see what gets lost? Any discussion on the merits of Candidate A or Position X, regardless of who is ultimately right.
Ken’s comments drove pen to paper in the hope that I might clarify the reasons I believe conservatism--absent any illogical qualifier--provides support for three very important—and traditionally “liberal”—issues.
I’ve never really understood why conservatives don’t embrace gay marriage. Sanctioned, committed, loving relationships in which two parents raise children seems the Norman Rockwell exemplar of conservative belief. The practical alternative is to support—even encourage—non-matrimonial relationships (the proverbial “shacking up” of the sixties and seventies), an arrangement which reduces the level of long-term commitment between partners. Marriage of any kind, I conservatively argue, strengthens the kinds of societal and familial bonds that are good for everyone.
Perhaps no one said it better than David Cameron, the UK’s Prime Minister:
Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.
The only arguments I ever truly see against gay marriage (despite attempts at obfuscation) rely on religious, rather than conservative, opinions (and the two are so not the same thing). Based on a narrow (one might say “myopic”) reading of biblical scripture, The “con” argument hypocritically suggests that this one particular “sin” is the one we should all be obsessing over, even while conveniently ignoring both other sins we regularly commit (Shrimp, anyone?) and non-sins that we’ve demoted into sinfulness (“Take my wife and my wife and my wife and my wife, please!” as a 2000-year-old Henny Youngman might have said.) I’m not discounting religious objections, but I am saying that they’re not conservative objections; conservatives, as I’ve said, shouldn’t have any.
However sadly, many find the conservative resistance to immigration reform easier to understand. Conservatism has always carried with it an element of protectionism, an illogical desire to shield those-who-are-here from those-who-would-come, fearing that the changes arising from unknown cultural shifts might augur dramatic—and uncomfortable—shifts. However, history has shown that this weakness in conservative thinking is unfounded. Our country has historically enriched itself when welcoming the new—whether they’ve come from Ireland or Germany or Korea or Vietnam. Despite the commonality of resistance, we’ve always emerged better as a nation, particularly when we remember that our land of the free was established, in part, just for this one purpose: to provide a place to come to for those who would strive for more. Add to that the traditional conservative role of caring for others, and what emerges is a philosophy that should invite—perhaps even embrace—immigration reform.
Recognize, too, that there is another traditionally conservative reason to embrace immigration reform in this country, one that argues from a conservatively economic perspective: the vast numbers already here represent an enormous yet untapped economic market which, should this population ever find itself embraced by mainstream American, could, of itself, offer untold opportunities to fuel growth across the economic spectrum, perhaps sparking a dramatic example of trickle-up economics.
I prefer this term—Pentagon Reform—to the more common rant against defense spending for the simple reason that the Pentagon has gotten out of hand—we simply don’t even know how much we’re spending, and so how can we know where to cut? Last April, Politifact reviewed a claim by Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio in which he accused the Pentagon of an inability to even track its own budget—despite continually asking for more money. Politifact rated the charge “True,” confirming DeFazio’s statement:
"Despite the fact that the Pentagon is the largest and most expensive department in the federal government, it has never passed a financial audit," [DeFazio] says on his House website. "In fact, under current law, the Pentagon is exempt from a federal law that requires all federal agencies to complete annual audits."
Any first-year business student can tell you that the odds of waste within an unmanaged budget are somewhere close to 100%.
Fiscal responsibility is the conservative herald’s cry, and conservatives everywhere should join the push to audit the Pentagon. The last time it was done, just about two years ago, showed that $70 billion had been wasted. As recently as last week, Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat representing Oakland, CA, introduced yet another audit-the-Pentagon bill, and Rand Paul has renewed cries for the same thing. Strange bedfellows, indeed, and while their motivations may be different, their outcomes are fundamentally conservative: If you’re going to collect a dollar of tax and then spend it on something (whatever it is), then let’s make sure it’s at least responsibly spent. That’s not happening today and so, irrespective of ideological concerns about what to cut, it’s fundamentally conservative to want to cut—if only through clean up and accountability.
These are only three of many so-called “liberal” issues that are just as surely conservative issues. It is not hard, ideologically, to embrace these positions while still maintaining one’s conservatism. In fact, not supporting these points of view is fundamentally counter to the primary conservative principles of strong family foundations, free and robust economic growth, and responsible spending.