The Conundrum of Political Conservatism

From the September 2, 2007 Doonesbury: “Since 1776 the United States has accumulated a national debt of $9 trillion, over half of which was incurred while a Bush was on watch! What a family legacy! If you throw in Reagan [the Grand Poobah of modern conservatism], fully 70% of the national debt was created under just three Republican presidents. What’s more, they didn’t even try to restrain spending! Out of 19 submitted budgets, only two were balanced!” What is the word to describe this kind of fiscal policy? It certainly isn’t “conservative.”

I still consider myself a conservative. Now, while my brothers clean up the milk that just gushed from their noses, let me explain. I believe that the federal government has—by constitutional mandate—a very limited role in public administration. The problem is that every time anyone, no matter how unreasonably, says, “there oughtta be a law,” there are a good number of lawmakers willing to champion the cause to show they are worthy of the votes they got, and those they hope to get next time.

The Republican Party at lists as their issues Safety & Security, Spending Restraint, Immigration Reform, Jobs & Economy, Energy, [Judicial] Nominations, Tax Reform, Legal Reform, Social Security, Education, Faith & Values, and Healthcare. I’ll address most of these individually.

Safety & Security: I don’t call “conservative” drumming up a false justification for a war. Conservative would have been a measured and targeted response to the actual perpetrators of 9/11. Because of the liberal use of the country’s military, we are LESS safe and secure than before.

Spending Restraint: Already addressed.

Immigration Reform: Unfortunately, the conservative approach has won out on this, contrary to Bush’s good intentions.

Jobs & Economy: Contrary to popular belief, I believe, the government has little to do with economic performance. Moreover, the booming economy has not created jobs like it should have, and it definitely hasn’t increased the real wage of middle and lower-class Americans. So where is all the money from the boom going? See Tax Reform below.

Energy: Conservatism should dictate that the country become independent as quickly as possible from foreign energy sources, not by invading oil-rich countries, but by investing heavily in alternate energy sources. For some reason, “conservatives” don’t regard this as a top priority.

Judicial Nominations: In this sense, “conservative” means three things: 1) anti-abortion, 2) pro-business, and 3) pro-government. It really has nothing to do with adherence to the letter or spirit of the Constitution.

Tax Reform: What’s being conserved here is the wealth of the wealthy. A truly conservative approach would be one in which citizens would willingly pay whatever taxes were necessary for the well-being of the country, not subsidizing the wealthy through taxing the middle class. A taxable income of anything over $71,500 (married filing jointly) is taxed at a higher rate than are capital gains. Conservative? Nah. Moreover, the much-touted tax cuts have indeed served to stimulate investment and the economy in general. What has the booming economy done for John Q. Public? See Jobs & Economy above.

Legal Reform: This is a euphemism for “taking the ability to sue from the little guy and letting big business keep more of its money while grinding the bones of society.”

Social Security: Let’s see, how would the $454 billion spent so far on the Iraq War have affected the SS trust fund? True conservatism would require that we bite the bullet and do the necessary to ensure the future of our seniors and our seniors-to-be.

Education: A true conservative would admit that dictating education reform from Washington is like spitting into an ant-hole from 30,000 feet. He would realize that what is working for Bloomberg in New York won’t work for Tintic, Utah. He knows that education MUST be under local control.

Faith & Values: Real conservatives acknowledge religious freedom, even for those who wear turbans and head-scarves. They also acknowledge that there are more “values” on the line than abortion and gay marriage; there is eradicating racism, helping the poor, extending aid to the innocent victims of war, truly reforming (not simply incarcerating) the malefactor, giving due process equally, and giving second chances. Real Christian conservatives (who believe in the Author of their liberty) have faith that goodness can overcome all, and that violence will never win anything.

Healthcare: I’m not sure what the true conservative position would be on this, but it’s definitely not “we don’t want to take money away from private healthcare providers so we’ll just refuse to cover more children, even if private healthcare providers say that even if the bill goes through not many patients will switch from private to state-funded health insurance.”

I’d like to hear from a couple of self-labeled conservatives what their opinions are on these issues. I think of real conservatism as a movement toward more local control and less federal control of government. The only presidential candidate I see moving this direction is Ron Paul (but he’s a little cooky). I also think it is a movement toward preserving what is best in humanity. The problem with political conservatism is that it’s inherently an oxymoron: politics needs movement to survive, but true conservatism is always pulling on the reins.


Mike W. says:


Did you read the Crunchy Cons yet? I think you would agree with alot of what he says. Also Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich (sp) are the only two candidates (with Bill RIchardson to a degree) to actually have a foreign policy clue of how to increase the security of the U.S. What about Ron Paul is really that kooky anyway?

You’ll get alot of arguments from self-proclaimed conservatives on some of your issues (not the fiscal spending, but the tax stuff mainly). Just read Crunchy Cons.

Centrist says:

I have just started reading Crunchy Cons and this is part of what has spurred these thoughts in my head. The author is so adamantly a “conservative” and invests so much pride and identity into it, but at the same time, he’s slamming other “conservatives” who aren’t his type of conservative. I think I’m a conservative too, but not a Reagan/Bush conservative. I’m a Dave conservative. I would seriously like to hear how other “conservatives” regard the issues. I’ll do a similar post on the issues of the liberals.

Ron Paul wants to abolish the IRS. That sounds nice to a knee-jerker, but then how do we pay to run our country? I guess we could raise import duties and drive away all those cheap Wal-Mart prices we all enjoy so much. Maybe I need to look more at his ideas.

Mike W. says:

The IRS is a money drain. Paul probably is more anti-tax than I feel comfortable with, but there needs to be serious tax reform. I think that there should be a federal sales tax (perhaps on everything except food and other essentials). That way consumption, not income, would be the fundamental tax. It’s more of the indirect tax that the Founders had in mind. Another important thing would be to have the taxes administered at the local level.

The IRS costs so much money. If the tax code were simpler, there would be fewer loopholes for the rich and a greater hit for those large purchases that the exceedingly wealthy make.

Centrist says:

I decided to get INformed and looked at Ron Paul’s website. His plan is to basically cut spending (including debt repayment) to the point where we wouldn’t need the income tax. He says it ONLY 42% of the national revenue. I guess if we stopped fighting a war that cost us $2 billion per week, we might be able to wing it.

I like the idea of a value-added tax (VAT) like most of the world has or is moving toward. But the government would still have to administer the VAT and you can change the name of the IRS, but it would still exist. Besides, if you talk to our European friends, a VAT would not make anything simpler–it’s just as complicated (at least the way they do it) as the U.S. income tax code is.

Mike W. says:


I don’t think you are a conservative. Nor are you a liberal in the current sense. You are probably more a liberal in the classic sense with less emphasis on economic liberalism than old-time classical liberals.

Sometimes I see myself as a compassionate libertarian (I think it’s a less in-your-face way of saying Christian Anarchist).

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