The Principled Conservative in 21st Century America by C. Scott Litch - HTML preview
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I Military Might And Foreign Policy
II Societal Welfare At Home
III Political Economy
IV Tax Policy: Flatter Is Better
V Environmental Concerns
VI Health Care: A Mess Only A Social Engineer Could Love
VII Education: We Can Do Much Better
VIII What Does It Mean Culturally To Be An “American?”
IX Religion And Public Policy
X Human Sexuality And Public Policy
XI Concluding Thoughts
Principled. adj. based on or having (esp. praiseworthy) principles of behavior.
Illustrated Oxford Dictionary, 1998.
“These are my principles. If you don‟t like them, I have others.”
While this book addresses some serious issues, it‟s not overly serious or else depression might set in. Now is not the time to panic, but the truth is that a strange, weird assortment of leftists, socialists, “progressives” (i.e.
those too cowardly to call themselves liberals), and jihadists are doing their best to destroy America and ruin the world in the process. Some are doing so intentionally, others inadvertently. However, to stand on a street corner shouting about this would only draw stares and questions about your sanity. In politics and public policy, the best strategy is humor that highlights the folly of one‟s opponents. This book attempts —in a mildly humorous vein—to illustrate that principled conservatism offers the right ideas that can revitalize America. This is especially so because opposition to such ideas does not hold up to close scrutiny. But a principled conservative understands human nature and how emotions, repeated (but wrong) mantras, and wishful thinking can cause well-meaning people to embrace bad ideas.
When looking at the nature of public policy issues confronting America in the 21st century, I am often perplexed why the vast majority of all Americans are not aligned with conservative political principles. Even though self-described conservatives consistently outnumber liberals two-to-one in opinion polls, this does not translate into consistent electoral success for conservative candidates. But I am used to political frustration, being a distinct, singular, and often overlooked minority: a Republican Jew.1
Sharing conservative political views does not of course mean reaching the same conclusion on every public policy issue. It does mean we should start from a set of fundamental principles that would help us reach a consensus in many areas of public policy and at least guide one‟s thinking in other areas. For those claiming to be independents or traditional liberals, the heart of the matter is that they really do not understand what it means to be a principled conservative.
This book seeks to remedy this shortcoming and reclaim the moral high ground on the basic principles that should guide public policy matters in 21st century America for those who consider themselves to be principled conservatives. Twenty-first century Americans should be proud to say “I am a principled conservative” and for all to understand precisely what this means, from political campaigns to social conservations. From tee-shirts to bumper stickers to Facebook pages, perhaps in the near future to be labeled “PC” would become a positive short-hand for “principled conservative” versus “politically correct.” I understand the present reality that the brand name of conservatism took a beating of sorts in the first decade of the 21st century. This book does not attempt to dissect why or if such criticisms were always valid. I do submit, however, that part of the problem is a lack of clear communication and consistency of principles.
There is no denying that negative branding of conservatism is attributable in part to the predominant mainstream media liberal bias. Think about how conservatives are usually portrayed in the mainstream media: we always want to “turn the clock back” (presumably to oppress women and minorities); we favor big business over the working man; we seek military spending expansion to help defense contractors; we are intolerant of different cultures and civilizations; we are anti-science; we hate gays and lesbians; we are anti-intellectual; anti-feminist; etc. All these perceptions are gross distortions of reality and often downright wrong. Anyone who reads this book with an open mind, while not necessarily agreeing with every principle and conclusion, will better understand the actual principled conservative vision for 21st century America. It is also hoped that many will contrast it favorably to the prevailing and predominant liberal mind-set in the media.
The reader may have noticed in this brief introduction that the terms liberal and conservative have already been thrown around as though everyone knows their precise definition. While this book does not attempt to create a
“new and improved” brand name for conservatism, I do assert that the historically astute reader will notice that the principled conservative in 21st century America is closer to the traditional 20th century liberal than today‟s self-proclaimed liberal or “progressive.” This is not a new observation. Ronald Reagan summarized it concisely when he stated “I didn‟t leave the Democratic Party, it left me.” Today‟s principled conservative—consistent with yesteryear‟s traditional liberal—is interested in preserving individual liberty and promoting freedom in all countries. In contrast, today‟s self-proclaimed liberal is often pretty darn close to socialist in domestic policy, and in the foreign policy arena is hopelessly addicted to the United Nations and making peace with tyrants at any cost to avoid military conflict. Liberals too, of course, have problems with a negative brand name. At present many have reverted to calling themselves “progressives,” wrapping themselves in positive early 20th century initiatives like banning child labor (good) while ignoring progressivism‟s obsession with social engineering and big government (bad). I would point out that conservatives are proud enough to be called what we are. We are not running and hiding as are liberals from their justifiably unpopular philosophy. But there is of course a strong reason for this; conservative principles are in line with what a vast majority of Americans believe. In contrast, liberals/progressives constantly have to play a shell game to hide their true views and long-term intentions, knowing them to be widely unpopular. We hear them rail a lot about “special interests” that prevent their social engineering dreams from becoming a reality. Perhaps “utopians” would be a better term for them? However, this book attempts to lay out the principled conservative vision, not to sell socialism to the masses. We‟ll leave that task to President Obama.
This book does not aim to merely provide a list of conservative principles, but to clarify key principles and explain how they can be applied to contemporary public policy issues. The underlying conservative principles girding this discussion are certainly not brand new insights by the author. Rather, they build upon basic conservative political principles such as the following:
ty, political freedom, and the right to retain the fruits of
their labor for their family;
every social problem under the sun or moon;
ass of politicians enriching themselves in public service is never a good idea; leads to societal disaster;
jobs in America, businesses should have the freedom to start with minimal government interference;
have a role in determining or influencing individual consumer purchase decisions; o equal rights, justice and opportunities, and they should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society;
demand accountability and results, not just platitudes and good intentions; rship of all faiths, and while not endorsing or establishing any official religion, should not be anti-religion.
Besides embracing classical liberal notions of liberty and freedom and the use of government to protect those freedoms, the principled conservative is also a practical realist—understanding of human nature and highly skeptical of utopian schemes to perfect humanity or of the government‟s capability to solve social problems.
While the above statements sound like good common sense, they stand in stark contrast to how many American liberals/progressives view the world in the 21st century.
This book builds upon these principles for a starting point in analyzing important issues America faces today and for the remainder of the 21st century. If the reader starts from a socialist, class-based Marxist/leftist perspective, she will find little to like in the above principles. But after we discard that thankfully extremely tiny minority of misguided fools, I ask the moderate, the independent, or the self-proclaimed “mainstream liberal” to consider how closely some of the above principles might be consistent with your own world view. Read the rest of this book with an open mind and consider the different public policy conclusions usually reached when starting from such principles. For those self-proclaimed conservatives, do not assume that you already know every conclusion that will be reached. In some areas, this book challenges what is often portrayed as the appropriate conservative position. I suspect there are some things in this book with which self-professed liberals/progressives will agree, and with which self-professed conservatives will disagree. I do so not to gain favor with my liberal friends and gain admission to their cocktail parties, but to be truer to the vision of a principled conservative. My aim is not to be deliberately provocative, but to analyze and synthesize what should be the standing ground of the principled conservative. I do not attempt to reach a moderate position simply to achieve political consensus. And it is acknowledged that on some policy issues, principled conservatives may arrive at different policy recommendations because the principles do not yield a precise answer to every policy question that exists. The hope is that they do offer guidance and direction on many critical issues. For example, if a core principle is that government spending (absent a world war!) generally helps only a small number of individuals and firms who receive government contracts without spurring growth in private sector employment, you are less likely to be enthusiastic about an economic stimulus package than someone who believes the government can create jobs by simply spending more money.
This book is also a very practical effort, which will not delve very heavily into political philosophy as compared to other recent efforts in this area.2 This book is more of a primer. It is also understood that every principle
cannot be turned into immediate policy, given the normal course of political negotiations and compromises. For example, if the principled conservative believes that the government should not be in the business of subsidizing prices for sellers of consumer products, does that mean every price subsidy scheme ever devised by Congress gets repealed tomorrow or we go home crying? Of course not.
I firmly believe that America today at its heart is a centrist country, not easily definable in policy preferences as conservative or liberal. Some might even call it pragmatic—Americans like solutions and the “average person”
doesn‟t spend a lot of time having academic debates on political philosophy or the nature of man and the state.
Political enthusiasm has always been about a compelling vision for the future. People generally do not take time away from work, family, recreation, etc., for bland or non-inspiring reasons. To succeed politically, conservatives must convince such folks that our ideas are an optimistic vision of the future that will result in better government, a strong economy, and a safe country. Conservative optimism may seem a contradiction to some, since conservatives typically view the world as it is (not as a possible utopia) and can easily come across as negative, cynical, and pessimistic. Perhaps that is the nature of being conservative, although conservatives who point to the relentless optimism and spirit of President Reagan would disagree. The reader may also note that while the principled conservative often stands at odds to what the current Democratic party believes in, it is also sometimes contrary to Republican party positions. The goal here is to stay consistent with these principles even though in some cases it means convincing your political friends that they are on the wrong path.
My purpose in writing this book is not to describe the history of the conservative movement in 20th century America, punch holes in every bit of liberal dogma, or give political advice for electoral “messaging.” Many others have written (or consulted) with far greater skill and insight on these matters than I profess to offer.
What I do offer is a fairly concise overview of a principled conservative vision for 21st century America that I believe will appeal to a wide range of individuals—especially those who give thoughtful attention to the big questions of our time (or at least wish to take a “time out” from the vast amounts of time we all spend following entertainment and/or sports, and the gossip surrounding those who participate). Such questions include: gions and non-believers exist peacefully?
My hope is that many Americans of all political persuasions will find something compelling and agreeable for them in the world view of the principled conservative. It should be a uniting exercise and this is important because much is at stake in making America a more perfect union in the 21st century. As the world‟s oldest and most successful self-governing democratic republic3 it is in the interest of all Americans, and indeed all lovers of freedom around the world, to do everything in our power to ensure America‟s success and continued existence into the next millennium.
While this introduction began on a very pessimistic note, now is not the time to abandon hope that things can be turned around. But it‟s going to take a lot of persuasion and hard work and persistence. This book by no means has all the answers or even the most eloquent arguments. But, it does have a lot of things you can use to state your case and make sure you elect more principled conservatives to political office. Not the author per se, although I will consider hefty consulting and speaking engagements.