Throughout most of the last decade I have noticed a rift beginning to form within the Conservative movement. This rift, has become more prominent over the course of the past year-or-two with the emergence of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.
Ronald Reagan was known as the shining voice in the GOP, the leader that was able to connect the ‘three-legged stool’ of conservatism and put it on solid ground with a strong foundation. Now that stool, the coalition of small government liberty loving conservatives, national security conservatives and the religious right has grown more wobbly in each year since the Gipper’s passing.
The problem, as I see it, is not necessarily that the three legs that hold up the stool that is Conservatism are against each other — the problem is that somewhere along the way in building that three-legged stool and bringing into the mix all the materials that make up that stool, we’ve somehow managed to completely change the definition of what a Conservative is.
Take former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, whom in a recent interview with the Associated Press slammed the ‘libertarian wing’ of the GOP highlighted by his potential 2016 primary foes Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas.
“There’s a strain within the Republican Party now that smacks of the no-government conservatism,” Santorum said. “That wasn’t Ronald Re[a]gan. It wasn’t Teddy Roosevelt. It wasn’t Abraham Lincoln. It wasn’t any Republican that I’m aware of. . . . [T]here seems to be this creation of this strain of conservatism that has no basis in conservatism.”
I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement, there is no such strain of ‘no-government conservatism’ as Santorum preaches. It is just the rhetoric he uses to prop up his political record while in office, a record of a love of government spending run amok. It is actually Rick Santorum’s ‘strain of conservatism’ and Rick Santorum himself ‘that has no basis in conservatism.’
The traditional view of conservatism, holds that collectivism is the enemy of the individual. “Every man, for his individual good and for the good of his society, is responsible for his own development.” Barry Goldwater wrote. The good of the individual and the good of society go hand in hand, all the government needs to is get out-of-the-way. However, in Santorum’s version of conservatism it is the individual that is the enemy of the social order and the family.
Former Reagan speech-writer Peggy Noonan wrote an excellent article back in 2007 where she wondered in then current climate of the GOP, if Reagan would have even been able to be nominated. I can’t seem to find the link to her full article any longer, but I had quoted it in a post that I had written about former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and what it means to be a “Conservative.”
Christian conservatives have been rising, most recently, for 30 years in national politics, since they helped elect Jimmy Carter. They care about the religious faith of their leaders, and their interest is legitimate. Faith is a shaping force. Lincoln got grilled on it. But there is a sense in Iowa now that faith has been heightened as a determining factor in how to vote, that such things as executive ability, professional history, temperament, character, political philosophy and professed stands are secondary, tertiary.
But they are not, and cannot be. They are central. Things seem to be getting out of kilter, with the emphasis shifting too far.
The great question: Does it make Mr. Huckabee, does it seal his rise, that he has acted in such a manner? Or does it damage him? Republicans on the ground in Iowa and elsewhere will decide that. And in the deciding they may be deciding more than one man’s future. They may be deciding if Republicans are becoming a different kind of party.
I wonder if our old friend Ronald Reagan could rise in this party, this environment. Not a regular churchgoer, said he experienced God riding his horse at the ranch, divorced, relaxed about the faiths of his friends and aides, or about its absence. He was a believing Christian, but he spent his adulthood in relativist Hollywood, and had a father who belonged to what some saw, and even see, as the Catholic cult. I’m just not sure he’d be pure enough to make it in this party. I’m not sure he’d be considered good enough.
In 2012, while participating in an event called iPledge Sunday, Santorum made some very interesting comments about the ‘pursuit of happiness’ and what The Founding Fathers meant by that term. “America is more than ‘stuff,’ our founders said so, in that founding document,” Santorum said. He went on to state that his view of what the founders meant of the ‘pursuit of happiness,’ was doing ‘God’s will.”
Rick Santorum’s interpretation of the meanings of the phrases and intent behind our Nation’s Founding Documents is a gigantic departure from not just the vision of the founders but from the traditional views of Conservatism. They are nothing more than the views of a theocrat.
Now there is no doubt that The Founding Fathers were spiritual man, history makes this clear. What there is just no evidence in existence of, is this belief by Rick Santorum and many others on the hard-core fundamental religious-right that the founders goal was to create a republic in which government and religion played an intertwined role in the lives of its citizens.
As lawyer and libertarian columnist Doug Mataconis wrote:
Moreover, the Founders own religious beliefs are far less orthodox that religious conservatives would like to believe. Jefferson, for example, was a Diest who believed in a Creator who played absolutely no role in the affairs of the world, and considered much of the New Testament to be mere superstitions, which is the reason he created his own version of the teachings of Jesus which completely deleted any reference to his being of Divine origin.
And Jefferson wasn’t alone. John Adams signed a treaty with the pirates of Tripoli that contains this famous phrase:
“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen [Muslims]; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”
Rick Santorum’s distorted brand of ‘blue collar conservatism,’ embraces the progressive worldview that society has a duty to help the poor, and takes it one step further by suggesting that it is not just a ‘duty’ but a ‘moral obligation.’ This is the 2000 Presidential candidate George W. Bush’s brand of ‘compassionate conservatism,’ on steroids.
Both distorted views are a far cry from the tried and true Conservative principles of smaller government, individual responsibility and personal freedom.
That does not mean that Conservatives are cold and uncaring, or that many republicans, as Rick Santorum stated in the article mentioned at the beginning of this piece, ‘care less about person at bottom of ladder than Democrats do.’
Conservatives look at people and when they see them, they see potential. Progressives look at people and they see victims. The left, and as well as many on the big-government loving religious-right, want to use government to try to “help others.” We Conservatives, don’t trust the government and don’t want to use the government towards those means – we want the government out-of-the-way, so people can lift themselves up and succeed on their own merits.
Barry Goldwater in ‘The Conscience Of A Conservative’ wrote: (emphasis added)
“The Conservative realizes . . . that man’s development, in both its spiritual and material aspects, is not something that can be directed by outside forces. Every man, for his individual good and for the good of his society, is responsible for his own development. The choices that govern his life are choices that he must make: they cannot be made by any other human being, or by a collectivity of human beings. If the Conservative is less anxious than his Liberal brethren to increase Social Security “benefits,” it is because he is more anxious than his Liberal brethren that people be free throughout their lives to spend their earnings when and as they see fit.
So it is that Conservatism, throughout history, has regarded man neither as a potential pawn of other men, nor as a part of a general collectivity in which the sacredness and the separate identity of individual human beings are ignored. Throughout history, true Conservatism has been at war equally with autocrats and with “democratic” Jacobins. The true Conservative was sympathetic with the plight of the hapless peasant under the tyranny of the French monarchy. And he was equally revolted at the attempt to solve that problem by a mob tyranny that paraded under the banner of egalitarianism. The conscience of the Conservative is pricked by anyone who would debase the dignity of the individual human being. Today, therefore, he is at odds with dictators who rule by terror, and equally with those gentler collectivists who ask our permission to play God with the human race.”
Much like the word ‘liberal’ has been stolen co-opted by the philosophical left and completely changed definitions from its classical foundation in the limited-government tradition of Adam Smith & John Lock — allowing Rick Santorum and other believers of his warped views of conservatism to continue unchecked with their attacks on the ‘libertarianish right’ will only serve to forever change the definition of Conservative.
Libertarianism and Conservative go hand in had, they are but different leaves on the same branch of the tree of liberty, as Ronald Reagan himself said “libertarianism is the heart and soul of conservatism.”
True conservatives everywhere would be wise to shun Rick Santorum and not allow his damage to the ideas of conservatism to continue.