COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Conservatism
Franklin D. Roosevelt
There's no question in the minds of many people that conservatives are extremist freaks, filled with hatred and fear. The standard depiction of anyone conservative in film and television, book and magazine is very consistent: an idiot with no education who clings illogically to insane positions filled with bigotry and hatred and is continually a repulsive hypocrite.
Sexist, homophobic, racist, greedy, Islamophobic warmongers is the usual presumption about conservatives. Weirdos who live on the fringes of society and are potentially dangerous: a pack of Terry McCauliffes waiting for their chance to blow up a government building to demonstrate their hatred of government and everything you hold dear.
Conservatives are shown and believed to be throwbacks to an awful era, thugs who love violence and guns, want women to be barefoot and pregnant submissive cringing slaves, and who think immigration is taking all their jobs.
And of course, every conservative worships wall street and wants to throw all poor people onto the street so they can be stolen from that much easier. There's a long list of evils attributed to every conservative. Even people who aren't conservative are smeared with the same brush, such as Mitt Romney, who several women assured me before the 2012 election wanted to outlaw all contraceptives. The same strange belief was recently attributed to Virginia Governor candidate Ken Cuccinelli, despite neither even remotely suggesting any such thing.
Are any of these things true about conservatives? If they are, how could anyone possibly hold to this position in politics in a modern era?
First off, lets make it clear that conservatism isn't a single, monolithic set of beliefs. Each person who is conservative has their own variations and versions of what they consider the movement to hold to. Some certainly are guilty of a few or even many of these flaws. You can find a racist conservative or an immigrant fearing conservative, just like you can a moderate, or a Communist, or a Democrat, or any other group. That's why sometimes when there's a tea party rally, some knucklehead shows up with a stupid sign and waves it around, getting all the attention from the press and gleeful leftists.
But the movement its self and the general position of conservatives as a whole is none of the above. Not one of those slanders is true, none of them. The problem is that in politics, its a lot easier to smear your opponent than talk to them and learn, so ignorance rules a lot of people's minds when it comes to conservatism.
Further, there is a disagreement between left and right about how to approach problems and what solutions are ideal. For some, this is a difference not of opinions or solutions, but of moral character. If you agree with them, you are not just right but holy and just. If you disagree, you aren't just wrong, but wicked and evil. And thus, any thing this group considers bad, they will attribute to their opponents for disagreeing.
And finally, there's been a deliberate, systematic effort to make conservatives look as bad as humanly possible by a small group of determined people working hard through every system and institution for decades. This group has influence on people who agree with them politically, and the slanders and hate spread out from there. Most people don't have the time, inclination, or even the capacity to think through what they believe or why, they just go along for the ride. When someone they trust says "these guys are racist" well, that's good enough for them.
So what's the truth? Its really not that difficult to work out. All you have to do is ask. We're everywhere, conservatives are. Just find one and talk to them, not as an enemy or some horrific monster that needs to be stamped out, but a fellow American and potential friend. Find out rather than presume; it really is that easy.
Every man for himself - Conservatives are often portrayed as people who think that each person is alone in the world and should have no help. That we're completely isolated and if you can't make it, well the hell with you. In truth, conservatives believe that each individual person is responsible for their own actions, but that we all live together in the same society. See all those flags we fly? That's because we believe we're all part of one nation. Conservatives tend to believe in the "social contract" which means that we work together to produce a better society. That means we help family and neighbors and those nearby us.
What conservatives reject is the idea that it takes a village to raise a family and nothing you do is really ever your fault. Conservatives have no patience with people who blame everyone else for their problems, demand everyone support and care for them without doing anything themselves, and become insulting and bitter when someone suggests they try to deal with things themselves first.
Hate the poor - Conservatives have no hatred or love for the poor any more than anyone else. Each person is judged not by their identity group or socioeconomic status, but by their deeds. This myth comes about because of a basic misunderstanding of conservative policy and ideas, and is somewhat reinforced by some less charitable conservatives who will smear all poor as being lazy. Yet the left is just as guilty by insisting that no poor are lazy and all rich are scum.
The world being what it is, some people will always be poor, and some of them through no fault of their own. A collapse in a sector of the economy, a criminal act against them, a horrendous illness or accident, there are dozens of reasons why someone might find themselves in poverty without any mistake or flaw in themselves.
What conservatives believe is that helping someone who is poor is best done not by giving them fish, but by teaching them to fish and making sure the fishing hole is as available and free to use as possible. The principle is that someone is best helped by giving them the best opportunity to help themselves is one that conservatives not only agree to but often have benefited from themselves. This is not hatred of the poor, it is in fact a greater care for one's fellow man to help them help themselves rather than turn them into a dependent drudge who requires your assistance every day of their lives.
Want to destroy safety net - Actually, no. The problem here is that conservatives have a different idea of what makes a safety net than leftists. For a leftist, the first instinct is to turn to government for all solutions. For a conservative, it is to turn to self, then community. The best safety net is a society in which the maximum opportunity exists for all people with the greatest liberty in a conservative's opinion. that means if someone falls, they can always get back up on their feet by themselves. The film Pursuit of Happyness has a very similar sort of message: be who you can be but don't demand others get you there.
In addition, conservatives believe that the best charity is when it is done by free citizens rather than government compulsion. Taxing everyone and spreading the wealth is not charity at all, it is merely redistribution by force. Conservatives believe that the closer to the home of the person being helped the source is, the wisest, most efficient, and most effective it becomes. The more removed it is, the less so. And since we believe the US Constitution plainly prohibits the government from taking money from some to give to others, we consider it illegal to do so at the federal level.
That means we want the safety net, we just don't want it to be a vast, distant, illegal federal safety net that gets pennies on the dollar to the people in need.
Pawns of the rich - There's a big difference between wanting to be rich and wanting the greatest liberty and opportunity possible in a free society to get there and being a pawn. Conservatives support policies that encourage wealth and achievement not because we are sycophantic worshipers of the wealthy, but because we believe that gives us a greater opportunity to be wealthy and believe in justice and fairness. Further, we believe it is greed to want to take other peoples' money, and not greed to want to earn it.
Conservatives understand that the rich are the ones who hire us and give us our jobs, and are the primary movers of the economy, not our enemies.
All conservatives are rich - well we can't be pawns of the rich and be rich at the same time, can we? Most of us are middle class, as with almost all movements. Many of us (such as myself) are quite poor. Conservatism is about ideas and truth, not about economic status.
Worship wall street/corporate stooges - Actually, conservatives despise cronyism, where super powerful corporations use the government to craft laws that help them and harm competition. Conservatives have no problem with corporations and Wall Street in and of themselves, only with what they may do. There's nothing innately evil about a huge company or big time stock investors, only with what they do and how they go about it.
Most of the reaction in defense of corporations and the wealthy on the right comes in response to hysterical and foolish attacks on them by the left. Condemning everyone who is rich as greedy is simply absurd.
Only about tax cuts - Although tax cuts are often a cry on the right, at present we're reasonably happy with most of the tax system in the US, other than it being ridiculously overcomplicated. There are some more obscure areas in the system we'd like to see changed, such as Capital Gains and Inheritance taxes, but the present income tax rates are tolerable.
Conservatives talk about tax rates mostly because the left keeps crying that they have to be raised, especially on the rich. Since the richest 1% of the country pay over 2/3rds of taxes in the nation, we consider that an absurdity and offensive. Not only that, but we understand that if you increase taxes on the wealthy, the compensate by investing less, hiding money more, and hence damaging the economy.
Won't cut defense - Although conservatives are very protective of the defense budget as being one of the few actually constitutionally required areas of spending, we do support cuts in the budget here. What conservatives resent and oppose is focusing on defense and intelligence budgets to the exclusion of everything else, and wanting deep, slashing cuts that would hurt our security.
Conservatives actually call for defense cuts regularly. Some defense items are there only because they were added to throw money to a district or help a particularly generous campaign donor. Some items such as the F-35 fighter are opposed by many military conservatives as a poor machine that always was controversial. Almost every conservative believes we should cut back on the number and size of foreign military bases. Many conservatives believe NATO should be disbanded entirely, having done its job of stopping Communist Soviet aggression. There are usually several programs in the works that go nowhere and exist only to give suppliers and military industrial contractors money from the federal teat.
There's not a conservative alive who would oppose cutting duplication, waste, and fraud in every part of the federal government, including the military budget. I personally have called repeatedly for military to be the first part of government cut in this manner (after congress and the president cut their personal budgets as a show of good faith).
Anti-government - On the contrary, conservatives are pro-government, because we believe strongly in the rule of law and justice equally applied without regard to identity group or ethnic heritage. However, we do believe in smaller government than at present. And we believe so not because we love little governments but because we love efficient, minimal governments doing their proper tasks and nothing else. Conservatives are all for government, doing its job, in its place.
Warmongers - This charge isn't thrown about much these days (nor the 'chickenhawk' canard) mostly because president "peace prize" Obama has been so eager and willing to use the military. Conservatism believes that the best way to avoid war is to be strong enough nobody wants to attack us. Further, we believe that a vigorous response to an attack makes the next one much less likely.
A strong military is the best way to keep peace and be ready for aggression, and history has absolutely shown that to be a fact. That said, the military doesn't need to be as big and bloated as it is now, as I noted above.
Authoritarian and fascist -First off, fascist doesn't mean "right wingers I dislike" or "people who try to harsh my mellow, man." It has a specific meaning and significance that is so often misused today that it is depressing. In fact, it is not conservatives who keep pushing laws and rules through to control your behavior and limit your liberty. Conservatives didn't ban large sugary drinks in New York City or restrict the flow in your showerhead federally. Conservatives didn't outlaw smoking in public places and it isn't conservatives who are setting up limitations on free speech on college campuses.
The truth is, conservatives are far more lovers of liberty and liberalism these days than the left by an enormous margin. Its just what and where people want restrictions that is bringing up this charge. Conservatives don't care for a continual eroding of society to allow greater and greater license in areas that are fundamental structures upholding and maintaining society. Rejecting the elimination of laws and rules does not mean you're trying to impose new ones.
Hate immigration - Conservatives love immigration, and most of us are immigrants or came from recent immigrants. What we oppose is immigration that bypasses the system and violates the law. We are law and order sorts, and we don't like illegal immigration. I have not heard a single conservative say once in my life "they're taking our jobs." Not one. The only people I have in fact ever heard that from are people mocking conservatives. We don't believe illegal immigrants are taking our jobs.
What we do see is that people willing to violate the law to come to a country are also likely to violate the law in other ways they consider beneficial to themselves. And we see illegal immigrants flooding our welfare system and bankrupting states as they try desperately to deal with the load. We see illegal immigrants working outside the tax system yet using the system to benefit themselves. And that's not just unlawful, its unjust. Everyone should oppose this.
SOCIETY AND CULTURE MYTHS
Stuck in the past - This is a strange position for the left to take, given that their every policy position and argument comes from forty years ago or more. The left is full of dinosaurs who want to fix history in a certain point in time and stay there, only "progressing" as much as is required to achieve their golden era.
Conservatives on the other hand want to try something new that the US hasn't: reduce spending, increase liberty, and create opportunity.
Conservatism does not want to go back to the 50s or any other alleged golden age when things were wonderful. What we want to do is reverse changes that have been damaging while wanting other changes which would be greatly beneficial. No conservative alive longs for the days of Beaver Cleaver. No conservative alive thinks that show was reality.
Racist - Although this charge has been screamed so often lately its losing its meaning and impact, it still deserves addressing. Racism is the treatment of someone differently based solely on their ethic background and appearance. Conservatives oppose this at all levels and in every circumstance. We believe in what Dr King called for in his Dream speech: that people be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
We believe that people's race and identity group is irrelevant to how they should be treated, only the things they do should change that. So conservatives oppose things like affirmative action, because that system specifically discriminates against some for their skin color and for some on the same basis. Conservatives realize that anyone can be racist, that the alleged relative power structure is irrelevant to this evil.
Slavery-supporting Confederates - First off, the confederacy, the KKK, and the racist Jim Crow south was run by... Democrats. This needs to be repeated simply to make sure people don't forget it. Those democrats were often very entrenched in their positions and hated progressivism, but they were still (and usually are still) Democrats.
Second, the reason conservatives aren't always so opposed to everything the confederacy stood for is because we realize it was about more than just slavery and racism. The confederacy was primarily about the federal government adhering to the 9th and 10th amendments of the bill of rights, that states were the primary arbiters of what happens in their borders, and that government should be minimal and liberty maximum for a just and free society.
So when you see a confederate flag around conservatives, that doesn't mean they wish they could own a few slaves, it means they like the rest of what the confederacy stood for. Nobody on the right wants slavery returned, anywhere in America.
Sexist - Conservatives believe women should be treated as everyone else: born equal and judged by the content of their character, not their gender. That means women get no special consideration or protection under law any more than men. Conservatives believe that women-specific issues are no different than any other, and fall under the same category of least government for greatest liberty. So when someone stands up and demands everyone else pay for their birth control, we say "buy your own."
Leftists call this sexist and a "war on women."
Any movement with Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachman all considered stars, plus has columnists like Mary Katherine Ham and Star Parker writing for it is difficult to characterize as wanting to keep down or wage war on women.
Homophobic - Conservatives, like almost everyone, find homosexual activity distasteful and even disgusting, but none of our business. If you keep it to yourself and keep it private as all sexual activity should be, knock yourself out. What conservatives don't care for is huge parades of people flaunting disgusting behavior and spectacle, laws requiring special treatment of a tiny section of the population simply because of their sexual proclivities, and redefining millennia-old basic cultural institutions to make them feel better about their behavior.
And seriously, if you thought a given behavior or lifestyle was not just nasty but wrong and unethical behavior, wouldn't you oppose repeated attempts to mainstream and normalize it in culture? The blatantly manipulative attempt to define this as fear does not make friends of people. Lying never does.
Islamophobic - Opposing the evil acts of radical Muslims does not make one "fear" Islam or have some hatred toward the religion. Further it is not racist to oppose the murder of women for being raped, refusing to allow women to drive or have an independent identity, and sawing the heads off people for rejecting a religion. These are all things the= left should sign on to and lead the way opposing, but do not.
Extremist, Fringe - Approximate half the nation in polls self-identify as "conservative" in the United States. Less than a third identify themselves as "liberal." If anyone is a fringe in the US, its not conservatism. Conservatives are the ones who want to hold to what the US was founded to be and has been culturally for almost two centuries. That's not extremist or fringe at all. It only seems that way because you surround yourself with like-minded people and are shocked anyone could disagree.
Hate and fear science - Actually conservatives love and support science in its place and proper exercise. What we oppose is activism disguised as science, and bad science used for political ends. The more people do this kind of thing, the more skeptical people become of scientific statements. Its like the boy who cried wolf: if you keep crying science and its not only wrong but a lie... eventually people stop trusting science.
If you listen to a discussion between the left and the right on science, you'll most often hear the right using science and data and the left using cute polar bears, angry accusations, and name calling. And its the guys on the right who supposedly hate and fear science?
Hateful - Disagreeing with you on these topics doesn't make anyone "hateful." It doesn't even make them bitter clingers. It just makes them different, and isn't that what America is about? Tolerance has to include tolerating conservatives, or it has no meaning at all.
The truth is, conservatives hold to some very basic common sense positions that cover all this. We believe:
- People are not basically decent
- Government will always grow and take liberty unless kept in check
- People should be judged by their behavior and character, not ethnic background and appearance
- You are the one best suited to fix your own problems
- Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he he'll eat his whole life.
If you consider those positions extremist, radical, dangerous, and hateful... its time to look closely at that person in the mirror and start asking some questions.*This is part of the Common Knowledge series: things we know that ain't so.