Being Conservative

In my thoughts, attitudes, and passions relevant to American politics, I am conservative. I find this word to be an increasingly negative way to describe myself. First, because many who are older than I am consider themselves “conservative”–but not in the way I do. They pride themselves in rhetoric which says laziness is the only cause of poverty, individualism and individual liberties are the heartbeat of the nation, government is always the problem, homosexuals are the root of all evil, immigr–YOU MEAN ALIENS are destroying this country! And liberals, you may as well hang them for treason. Second, because many who are my age assume that my self described conservatism means I heartily ascribe to the crude list of aforementioned beliefs–but such an assumption couldn’t be poorer. Although, I do have to be fair here, for many my age, this breed of conservative (which i hope to show isn’t really conservative at all) is the only type they’ve seen in action. Radicals like Michele Bachmann and her Tea Party Caucus in the House often describe themselves and their values as “conservative.” Increasingly, conservative is meaning unfeeling toward the poor, bigoted and hateful towards the homosexual, derogatory and unhelpful towards the immigrant. If you’re not conservative, you are dismissed, after all, you hate the country and you want to destroy it. You’re either ignorant about how government works best, or you’re some sort of domestic terrorist. Since this is the sort of crap that most people my age are used to hearing associated with conservative, I don’t blame them for reacting and taking pride in being themselves liberal. But I would like to make petition here. I am pleading with you my fellow millenial, do not let radicals on the far right, a very small and isolated part of the Right in America, define conservatism for you.

I’d like to consider myself a classical conservative. By that I mean that I see order as a good thing, and as a priority over unrestrained liberty. I would like to see traditional social institutions preserved. I prefer continuity and stability to rapid changes. I think that a good way forward for the United States includes a strong economy, and strong government beginning with the states, and brought to fruition in DC. However, unlike many who also call themselves “conservative”, I do not consider those with a more liberal philosophy to be evil. I admire liberals for their deep concerns about education and their compassion for the poor and the oppressed. I think there is strength in preserving tradition and strength in progress and newness.

Conservatism isn’t about rhetoric and winning arguments and angry old white men (with the exceptions of Palin and Bachmann) getting red in the face. Conservatism isn’t about a crazed mob with signs demonstrating their illiteracy. Conservatism isn’t about a lonely mentally deranged individual that kills an abortion doctor. Conservatism isn’t about cheating the poor and enabling the wealthy to accumulate. Being conservative, is about being moderate. It’s about recognizing the security that comes from tradition, tried and true methods of civil government. Conservatism is respecting and honoring those who brilliantly ensured the survival of our young republic, but that does not demand their divination–something the Tea Party is absolutely guilty of. Conservatism isn’t about smear campaigning, name calling, or elitism. Conservatism is a rich tradition of civility. Beginning with Alexander Hamilton–the father of our economy– and flowing up through the journalism of William F. Buckley. Being conservative, very often, means being contrarian, and holding a vast array of opinions. Thinking well about the issues that face us, and not rushing to harmful solutions. Being conservative is not about being trigger happy and seeking military conflict out. It’s about exhausting every possible alternative and weighing in the balance the morals and virtues at stake in that most dreaded capability of men–but of course recognizing that our ability to end oppression sometimes obligates we do so.

A lot to take in, and in typical fashion, I have not been conservative in my writing. Each of these individual inferences could be developed into its own essay, and perhaps someday after college midterms, when i have the time, I will do so. But for now, dear sister, dear brother, I beg of you to see past the “conservatives” of Washington D.C., and understand that there is goodness and a wealth of opportunity and order– both chief to the flourishing of any nation–in preserving traditions. Conservatism is chiefly required because, as Hamilton, my political hero has said: “The passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.” If conservatism hopes to survive as a popular political philosophy in the United States, we must put down the radicals and establish ourselves as the party that prefers order and security rooted in tradition, over an untamed sea of liberty.

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Tea Anyone?

The so called Tea Party Movement has been the object of praise by personalities like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Mark Levin. It’s already being referred to as the rise of the third party in America. A few questions to consider: Will the Tea Party Movement grow into a powerful third contender in the American political arena? What is the message, or what are some unifying elements of the movement? Is the Tea Party the best way to go about changing Washington?

Before delving too deeply in my responses, I’d like to try and discover for a moment why these people have any right to the “tea party” label. On December 16, 1773, patriots in Boston, fed up with countless abuses of power by a mad prince, his cruel courts, and an intolerable parliament, took action. They would not adhere to the seemingly “for kicks” Tea Act passed by an out of touch and proud of it British Parliament. In this one act, the fundamental issue of the American Revolution was masterfully displayed. Taxation without representation demanded no obligation of the American people, except to make a grand last stand for their freedoms. What the Boston patriots did was not simply a waste of perfectly good tea. (which, for those of us who hate the stuff may already put them a step ahead of our modern day “tea partiers”) The magnificence of what they’d just done in challenging the world power. The imagined consequences were nothing less than a miserable life spent in rat infested, plague saturated European prisons, a public tar and feathering, or most compassionately, death by hanging. Their articulate display of liberty cannot and should not be reduced to such nominal displays as we’ve seen by these right wing extremists who march on our nation’s capitol in the name of Thomas Jefferson. (forgive me of the ad hominem, and any others that manifest.) While I very much expect that Mr. Jefferson would have defended their right to do so, I highly doubt that faced with the challenges of today he would be nearly as critical of Washington, or nearly as self-centered. Thomas Jefferson and the tea partiers are most different in this way: Thomas Jefferson was a man of vision and enterprise, he was articulate and practical, fair and dignified, as well as directed-none of which can also be said of the Tea Party. Thomas Jefferson was generally speaking very selfless, always considering how his vision would affect his constituents. He loved liberty, but most of all that his people had it. These same folks who cracked jokes about those in attendance at the inauguration of our first black President, a truly grand and historical procession, now stand in the same place lining the same streets, declaring themselves the onslaught of a new revolution. It is absurd and should be fiercely challenged for anyone to be comparing this rabble to the men who built this nation. (And although it is a secondary issue, Sarah Palin is no George Washington.)

The Tea Party will not become an influential third member in any branch of government, chiefly because their platform, defined in their own crude terms, is porous and irrevocably near sighted. As a lover of history, I quickly noted some similarities between the tea partiers and the group that I believe to be their doomed ancestors, the “Know Nothings” of the 1840s and 50s. I hate to say it, but the majority gives me the awful impression of doomsday preparers and paranoid saps that have never read or considered any of the arguments against their “convictions”. The Know Nothings were nativists and racists opposed to all forms of immigration, legal or not, into the United States. Sound familiar? They proposed harsh crackdowns, strict naturalization laws, and raised anti-Irish, anti-German, and eventually anti-Italian sentiments. No position could be more at odds with the country the founders envisioned and sought to establish. In addition to locked down border nativism, the tea partiers are largely evangelicals, and sticking with tradition, intolerant of other worldviews and perspectives, even amongst themselves. The Know Nothings didn’t last because they ran on hate and isolation, and like all great societies, we evolved out of the primitive states of paranoia that drive such things. I would expect this new second wind for Know Nothing doctrine to succumb to the same fate. The fact of the matter is America is among the most secular places in the world, and this old European style of intolerance won’t be sustained. Most basically however, the platform and reason for this “tea party” is a government that’s too big. Once that problem is fixed, which it will I believe over time, as it always has done, going through flexable periods of growth and downsizing, the Tea Party will die. But perhaps this is what they want, in my understanding, they have no reason other than downsizing government for being. This is why I can say with confidence that this movement will not last or be too influential for very long.

One thing is evident, these people are angry about something. Government being overbearing? The PATRIOT Act? Welfare? Leaders that are too benevolent with “their” money? Legitimate complaints include tax reform, which should be done to make things simpler and promote growth of the private sector, and corruption should be curbed. But for all of us who see these as serious issues, don’t leave it up to the conservative brand of the Occupy Movement for reform.