It’s Campaign 101 sort of stuff -define your opponent before he defines you. For years, there has been a struggle to define terms in American politics: conservative, liberal, tea party, leftist, socialist, big government, crony capitalism, etc. The list could go on and on.
Many of these terms are bandied about by politicians and pundits with no real attempt to actually define them. In recent years, politicians and others have taken great liberties to slap whatever label they want to on a given issue and hope that it passes muster.
Those of us who follow the inside baseball of politics remember when Matt Latimer wrote that George W. Bush and those inside his administration either 1) didn’t know there was such a thing as a “conservative movement” or 2) felt they could redefine what conservative meant. We remember reading Matt’s articles and the write-ups on his book, Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor, and chuckling at some of the stories he told. They seemed impossible, but No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, TARP and other legacies from the Bush Administration said otherwise. On all of these was slapped the label “compassionate conservatism.”
Frankly, none of them were either compassionate or were they conservative. They were bald-faced attempts to buy off constituencies and special interests and soothe conservative angst by slapping “conservative” on them.
So what do we mean by “conservative”? How do we define “conservatism”? Words and the definition of them are fundamental for so many things, not the least of which is to be able to argue definitively for or against something.
Consider for a moment if words lost their meaning. How would people interact? How would conversations have any sort of meaning if words had no definitions?
This is our attempt to at least start a conversation. There will be some who will disagree with us and that’s fine. Our goal with this blog and others to follow is to answer the questions: Are there hard and fast tenants of conservatism and if there are, what are they?
So let’s start by defining “conservative” and for the sake of keeping things simple, a simple definition with suffice.
A conservative is one who believes in limited government, the free enterprise system, the sanctity of life, lower taxes and the freedom to make individual decisions within the parameters of an ordered society. In other words, for society to function properly, there must be a list of do’s and don’ts.
Here’s where things get interesting.
What is “conservatism”? Are there core tenants to it, principles to live by?
The answer is yes.
Let’s follow up with this question: Is expanding government conservative? The question itself seems trivial, but there are many in Washington, DC and state capitols that tie themselves in knots trying to justify the expansion of government in the name of conservatism (see “compassionate conservatism” above.).
Take for example the Internet Sales Tax pushed by some who call themselves conservative. The argument made by them and their corporate funders is that it is conservative to take the Internet sales tax away from the federal government and give it to the states. Better yet, this tax creates jobs.
At first glance, the argument seems sound enough until you realize that this now gives 49 states the ability to collect taxes from the 50th and so on and so forth. The latter is the argument big government advocates make all the time: this new government program creates jobs!
So ask yourself: does the Internet Sales Tax create more or less government? Does it create more dependence on government or less? There are fundamental tenets of conservatism. You cannot be for the expansion of government and dependence on it and call yourself or the issue you are pushing conservative.
The argument will be made that it is the “fair” thing to do as brick and mortar retailers like Wal-Mart are taxed differently than online entities like eBay. But is a conservative solution one that creates more red tape or reduces it for all parties? Is it fair to create more government bureaucracy for small online businesses?
The obvious answer is to reduce the intrusion of government into the marketplace, not expand it.
Over the next few weeks, we will dig deeper into this issue and next week tackle the question: can you be fiscally conservative and socially moderate and still be considered a conservative?