Remembering Our Purpose

Many politicians come along who claim to be conservative.  Some of them really pitch it well, and sell the notion to their political supporters, but once they get in office, it’s another matter.  Suddenly, it seems at every turn, they shrug their shoulders and continue building big government.  We must begin to ask them to explain their alleged conservatism as a strategy to help us spot those who may not be so conservative as their campaign literature claims.  Many people ask me how I can differentiate between the charlatans and the real thing, so as a conservative, I’d like to present those vital notions I believe must be the hallmarks of conservatism.

A conservative believes that our Constitution established what it specifies:  A constitutional, representative republic.   Notice that nowhere does the constitution mention democracy.  If a politician is so sloppy as to routinely use the term “democracy” to describe our form of government, there are generally two reasons.  Either they are talking in shorthand, or they are expressing a fundamental ignorance that may be entirely accidental.  More often, it’s a willful substitution aimed at following the program on which they’ve embarked, which is to substitute the cheap and tawdry notion of democracy for the much more elegant and enduring notion of our form of government.  Even under a century of assaults, they’ve not yet completely destroyed it, and that is more a testament to the nature of what had been founded than it is to their incompetence.  To replace our form of government with democracy would substantially destroy the country.  A real conservative knows this, knows why it’s important, and fights to maintain that critical distinction.

A conservative believes in federalism, which is to say that our federal government ought to have only such powers as are necessary in fulfilling its mandate to keep the nation secure, attend to foreign affairs, administer justice, prosecute criminals, mint and coin our money, and resolve disputes between and among the several states.  As the 10th Amendment specifies, anything not in the short list of items over which the federal government ought to have control are reserved to the states, and the people, respectively.  Unfortunately, the tendency has been to reinterpret the meaning of the constitution in the name of destroying federalism, and our federal judiciary has long been a tool of the progressives in this end.  Any candidate who doesn’t support federalist principles is not a conservative.

A conservative believes in strictly constructionist views of the constitution.  This means that a plain reading of the text as understood in the language of the time of its adoption along with the common law precedents of antiquity are the only rightful basis for weighing the constitutionality of an act of government.   It is the job of legislators to author law, but not the role of the judiciary to re-write its meaning to suit their own policy preferences.  A conservative candidate will know this and act accordingly.

A conservative believes in the irrelevancy of the question “What can governments do?” Governments can do many things, but most of them are not within the scope of legitimate government powers.  The question isn’t whether government can do a thing, but whether it ought to do it.  Those candidates whose first reflex is to find ways to employ government power as the solution to perceived problems are dangerous because they’re suggesting government authority as a surrogate for private choices.

A conservative believes in capitalism.  Neither crony capitalism, nor some form of “mixed economy” will satisfy conservatives.  The only restrictions a conservative places on free markets are those that seek to punish fraud and theft, or other actions which violate the rights of real persons.  Any conservative who wishes to raise your taxes isn’t one.  If they speak in terms of “fair shares,” you can know this is not a conservative in the traditional sense.  Conservatives generally abhor taxes greater than those needed to satisfy the mandates of government specified above.  There’s nothing wrong with a candidate who wishes to substitute a different system of taxation, but few have done that.

A conservative believes in a strong and vigorous national defense, but not in global adventurism in pursuit of vague notions of the vital national interest.  A conservative who steps back from wholesale global engagement is frequently derided as an “isolationist.”  The conservative is neither isolationist, nor adventurist, but instead focuses on the security of the nation.  This defense orientation is important to understanding how we’ve gotten into so much trouble globally.  In recent decades, it’s become much to fashionable to deploy American forces around the globe, and into theaters in which we have no real interests except the maintenance of some treaty.  At some point, some enterprising politician might note that these treaties seldom serve the US, but instead act to embroil us in wars where we really have very little interest.  A conservative candidate realizes that to deploy the troops is a solemn privilege of leadership, and should never be undertaken lightly.

A conservative believes in individual rights that are a prerequisite for human existence, granted not by governments or men, but by the Laws of Nature, and of Nature’s God, as the Declaration of Independence affirms.  The reason for this usage was and remains simple:  To place the rights of people above the reaching, grasping hands of power and to rightfully forbid their abuse by others.   In this context, the Bill of Rights takes on a new and largely misunderstood meaning: Intended to restrain government in its predations upon us, these rights were to be enjoyed without fear of mobs.  It’s clear that a conservative must understand the critical importance of this concept.

A conservative does not regard fellow citizens as a means to and end.  Instead, a conservative must hold that each person is an end in and of themselves, and ought not be subjected to the whimsy of others.  A conservative believes in actual justice, and not some petty pretense meant to defile it.  If you’re a conservative, you cannot accept notions of social or economic or even racial justice without negating the concept of  an actual, objective standard of justice.

A conservative believes in balancing budgets and paying down debt.  A conservative does not believe in incessant borrowing and a never-ending spending spree.  A conservative knows it is prudent to maintain a small surplus for the pay-down of debts in good times, enabling one’s government to keep things afloat in the case of a down-turn.

A conservative believes in the exceptional nature of America.  A conservative believes the first duty of a politician is to put the country first, and to set aside one’s personal interests while in office.

This list is not exhaustive, but it should provide a general baseline when considering candidates.  Some will add other things to their own lists, and some will wish to re-prioritize the list according to their own personal beliefs.  That’s healthy, and normal, and you should ignore anybody who tells you otherwise.  By the same token, if you find a candidate is crossing several of these lines, you may wish to consider that candidate as something else, but not as a conservative.  Of course, there are no perfect candidates, but some are more perfect than others.  The important thing to remember is that if you want to restore the nation, it’s going to required elected officials who are inclined to adopt these ideas.  Anything less won’t save the country.  At this point in our history, being careful in our selections has never been more important.