Thursday, February 07, 2008

Tell Me Once Again: What Does It Mean To Be a Conservative?

The debate between John McCain and Mitt Romney has centered on the question: who is the most reliably conservative? But it's a confusing debate because, anymore, who in the world knows what it means to be a conservative?

McCain was recently quoted as saying, “And I promise you, if I am so fortunate to win your nomination, I will work hard to ensure that the conservative philosophy and principles of our great party -- will again win the votes of a majority of the American people, and defeat any candidate our friends in the other party nominate”

But what is the conservative philosophy and conservative principles that McCann is referring to? Is it the conservatism of George W. Bush? George W. wants to present himself as a conservative. But, I don’t think that true conservatives could possibly believe that he is. Didn’t conservatives use to rail against interfering in the affairs of other nations, didn’t they use to rail against the whole concept of “nation building”? Didn’t conservatives at one time obsess over the importance of fiscal responsibility? Yet, George W. has increased our national debt by over $3 trillion -- all empowered by a Republican Congress that presents itself as conservative.

Wouldn’t a true conservative object to Bush’s practice of issuing legislative “signing statements,” that changes the intent of legislation approved by Congress? Since when is it a conservative principle that the executive branch should be given lopsided power?

It would be interesting to attempt to make a complete list of the many ways that a conservative, if true to his or her principles, must be appalled by much of what George W. Bush has wrought.

You would think that a philosophy of conservatism would be a philosophy that agreed with original principles that founded our nation, a philosophy that would embrace the original vision of our nation — that in this country all are created equal and that there should be freedom and justice for all.

But conservatism, as I hear it from the Republicans, isn’t all that concerned about justice, economic justice, anyway, and seems eager to worship a market system that blatantly unfairly distributes wealth — a system that causes a large segment of citizens to be working poor, bereft of the most important freedoms that every citizen should be guaranteed: freedom from want, freedom from fear.

Amazingly, spokespersons for conservatism advocate the use of torture as one way to define conservatism. John McCain’s conservatism, according to Ann Coulter, is called into question because of his anti-torture stance. This article says, “Ann Coulter took aim at McCain’s positions — particularly his fervent anti-torture stance — and said he and Clinton differ little on the issues.”

Evidently, according to Coulter, if you are a true conservative you should have a pro torture stance. But the conservatism that Coulter advocates for Republicans, that justifies torture, is strikingly at odds with traditional conservative principles. I especially appreciated The Limb’s recent quote denouncing torture from someone, I assume, conservatives would want to claim as their own, George Washington. To advocate the use of torture, seems to me, is not to advocate conservatism at all. Yet Coulter, Limbaugh, and other self-serving big mouths have the audacity to claim that a conservative is one who advocates the use of torture.

The above article also says, “McCain has been at odds with some of the conservative base for his support of campaign finance reform legislation and his vote against President Bush’s tax cuts.” So, it appears, according to the Republicans, advancing conservative principles means rejecting campaign finance reform and cutting taxes in time of war.

Since when is a vote against tax cuts automatically a vote against conservatism? Since when is it a conservative principle that taxes should be reduced, regardless, even if spending runs amuck? McCain and Romney, who want to boast how authentically conservative they are, both want to extend the Bush tax cuts -- giving the top 1% of incomes an astounding windfall -- regardless of the many additional trillions of dollars of national debt such an action would cause. This is conservatism?

The conservatism of Republicans, as revealed by the McCain / Romney dispute, is showing itself to be not much of a philosophy at all -- certainly not a philosophy defined by well thought out or consistent principles. It seems painfully obvious that Republicans simply use the term “conservative” as a means to confuse, deceive, and manipulate the public.

Tell me once again: What does it mean to be a conservative?

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