Do conservatives have a point?

Yeah, but...

Auguste Rodin's The Thinker under fair use license

As frequent readers of this blog thread and subscribers to Dirk’s Tribe know, I’m active on several online forums. Recently on one such forum, the question appearing as the title to this post was raised. After reading several responses, I felt more or less obliged to respond. I’ve decided to share my answer here, because I think not only the question deserves serious consideration, but because I think that we have to even ask in the first place screams volumes about America, at the tailend of the second decade of the 21st Century.

Ultimately, what we “buy” we have to pay for. So yes, there needs to be a plan for that. It’s called revenue in the form of taxes, tolls, etc. That doesn’t mean we can’t borrow for the purpose of investment, or to do things that government is best suited to do. It also doesn’t mean that taxes are a dirty word, Grover Norquist’s opinion notwithstanding. Some of our most prosperous times have been periods of high taxes, especially on corporate America. Most discussions of corporate taxation ignores the maze of deductions that make it possible for many of them to pay little or no taxes. In our current low interest rate environment, it’s hard to come up with an argument against borrowing now for thoughtful long-term investment. Which brings me to my next item.

A caveat emptor, first...

One caveat emptor before I answer. I don’t really think of myself as liberal so much as a progressive. Some may consider that to be a distinction without a difference. It isn’t, IMO. A liberal as practiced today as someone who is kind of a knee jerk “if it’s new it must be better.” A progressive, IMO, is someone who tends to agree with a liberal most of the time, but has more of a cautious anchor out to windward. Liberals say, “yeah let’s try it, while a progressive says, “uh, maybe…but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Fiscal Conservatism

Ultimately, what we “buy” we have to pay for. So yes, there needs to be a plan for that. It’s called revenue in the form of taxes, tolls, etc. That doesn’t mean we can’t borrow for the purpose of investment, or to do things that government is best suited to do. It also doesn’t mean that taxes are a dirty word, Grover Norquist’s opinion notwithstanding. Some of our most prosperous times have been periods of high taxes, especially on corporate America. Most discussions of corporate taxation ignores the maze of deductions that make it possible for many of them to pay little or no taxes. In our current low interest rate environment, it’s hard to come up with an argument against borrowing now for thoughtful long-term investment. Which brings me to my next item.

Infrastructure

Used under fair use license

It’s a very conservative idea to build things that promote prosperity and to take care of them. (Roads, bridges, port facilities, airfields, schools & hospitals) all come to mind. The things that help the economy hum. Recall that (for example) the interstate highway system was begun during the Eisenhower administration and was responsible in part for pole-vaulting America into prosperity.

And in maintaining that infrastructure, we also promote fuller employment. I should add that as we maintain/replace infrastructure, we need to incorporate new technology & to rebuild in ways that environmentally sound & sustainable. No one with the sense to avoid falling over backwards in the toilet really believes climate change is hoax. I should add that innovation in the energy and conservation sectors not only serves to facilitate efficiency and a better quality of life, it also encourages innovation.

Immigration and Border Security

If we’re perfectly honest, most of us recognize that an open border, isn’t smart, over the long pull. What the Trump administration has been doing at the border isn’t either. Comprehensive immigration reform is a better answer than a border wall or the draconian measures of separating children from their families. True conservatives I know are as appalled by his practices as are liberals. 

From wikipedia under fair use protocols

It isn’t just principles that matter…so does execution. In the long run, a balanced immigration policy that welcomes contributors (especially contributors with innovative ideas) keeps the American experiment young and vibrant.

Strong Defense

Under Creative Commons License

. Long a conservative cause, I’m firmly behind that. It isn’t yours if you can’t defend it. Note the word defend. Over the past few decades, we’ve poked our collective noses in places it doesn’t belong for (often) the flimsiest (even demonstrably false & self-serving) reasons. There’s a difference between a strong defense and an officiously interfering foreign policy. We used to understand that difference and we’d do well to remember it. It’s also worth remembering that every dollar we spend on unnecessary defense expenditures are dollars not available to invest in the things that contribute to long-term sustainability and continuing prosperity.

Privacy

This has generally been a conservative cause and I happen to agree with it. So what’s up with this surveillance state thing? Is it possible that we’ve taken the Homeland Security thing a bit too far? Just wondering out loud…

Second Amendment

With no apologies to  my liberal brothers and sisters, this is a protected right and should so remain. Has the NRA gone overboard? Yep. Is the NRA probably in bed with Remington, Winchester & Colt? Yeah. But I’m not for the government rounding up private citizens’ weapons.

I think there’s room (and a lot of it) for debate over what weaponry should be proscribed. I can’t make a compelling case in favor of unlimited access to whatever weapons a citizen can afford and I do believe there’s a sound argument that some weapons just don’t belong in the hands of private citizens. That said, liberals ragging on men and women who are knee-jerk obsessive about protecting their second amendment rights only complicate the search for consensus on what constitutes common sense gun legislation and/or licensing mandates.

Law and Order

I’m aboard and so are most thoughtful citizens. The absolute minimum we should expect of our government at all levels is the enforcement of laws, rights to life and property and whatever safety laws have been enacted in the name of everyone’s quality of life.

But can we all agree that law enforcement needs to be even handed? That, too, is a conservative principle. We should really get back to that & it should not matter what color you are or whether you’re wearing a turban, a hijab or a yamaka.

The notion that legitimate Black Lives Matter protests over objectively unjust policing of brothers and sisters of color are somehow more egregious than (for example) tiki torch carrying anti-semetics shouting “Jews will not replace us” or Proud Boys running amock over mask-wearing mandates is not simply ludicrous, it is antithetical to the very principle of law and order.

First Amendment Rights

Freedom of the Press. We need a robust, open press. Frankly, I think Sinclair & Fox News aren’t open and often not even news. But freedom of speech is protected, which means, (technically) we are obliged to accept 45’s railing against the MSM as “fake news.” But if you’re truly conservative, you recognize his thin-skinned whining as wrong-headed demagoguery…and damaging to both strict applications of constitutional principles and the representative democracy we’d all like to believe we have.

Freedom of religion. (Also a first amendment protection). I get that there are some who feel threatened by Islam, but it wouldn’t be smart to re-write the Constitution because we’re scared. The first amendment provides that: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or the free practice thereof.” That includes Islam and (if you’re so inclined) whatever brings you closer to the Maker, however you choose to define that personally. For clarification, based on some feedback I’ve gotten, these protections extend to all religious practices not otherwise enjoined by law. When I wrote this, I thought this should be obvious without actually stating it, but those protections extend to Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Native American Spirituality B’hai, etc. And yes, atheists and agnostics.

All of that said, it's still a bit more nuanced...

So yeah. In overarching summary, there are a number of conservative principles I can and do get behind, despite my “liberal” leanings. But as thoughtful readers have already detected,  there’s underlying thread of this post. All principles and their application take place in a context. In common with many progressives, I believe our principles and their application should pay deference to that context and the undeniable changes that should be influencing our behavior. As our contextual realities change, so should the laws and the practice of applying those principles by which our lives are governed. 

As an independent  who’s been paying attention, it seems to me that a bunch of stuff has happened since the Constitution was written. Having regard for that painfully obvious reality, can we agree that the specific application of those conservative principles may be in need of a nod to how our world has changed? The world changes…we need to grow into those changes. You can’t build a fire with yesterday’s ashes.