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.
Matt Welch the editor-in-chief of Reason Magazine recently sat down with David Kirby, the Vice President of Opinion Research and Data Analysis, at FreedomWorks. The discussion was about “why more people are self-identifying as libertarian.”
During my younger days in the mid 90’s during my senior year in High School up until just after the events of September 11th, I myself self-identified as a full fledged “big L” libertarian. I voted for Libertarian party candidate Harry Browne in the 2000 election as I felt that both Al Gore & George Bush just plain sucked. Post 9/11 I got swept up in emotions, wanting “revenge” for the attacks and disassociated myself from identifying as a “big L” libertarian when the Libertarian party came out against the war in Afghanistan.
But truth be told I don’t think being a “conservative” is really all that much different with being a libertarian. As a matter of fact I believe that the two are nothing more then different leaves on the same branch of the tree of liberty. Ronald Reagan in fact felt very much the same way.
It was Barry Goldwater who said “…the Conservative’s first concern will always be: Are we maximizing freedom?”
The problem lies in that 1. “conservative” and “republican” do not mean the same thing. 2. Modern conservatism has been hijacked by social statists in the religious right and 3. the liberal left through their use of pop-culture have pretty much won the war in bastardizing conservatism in the minds of the American people. So I find the emergence of the term “libertarian” as a much needed breathe of fresh air into our current political discourse.
Wanting to maximize freedom is never a bad thing.
“The wisest choice would be the one who would win. No sense running Mona Lisa in a beauty contest. I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win.” – William F. Buckley, Jr.
The above quote is the basis of what is now commonly known as the Buckley Rule, which basically means that conservatives should ‘in a primary vote for the most conservative candidate who is electable in the general election.’ I would agree with that sentiment, for the most part that is. The one caveat would be to not compromise your principles. More often then not however, compromising our principles is exactly what Republicans have been doing. We let ourselves get fooled by a candidate talking a good game and spinning all the right rhetoric while out on the campaign trail and then once they take office politics becomes a “team sport” as they take a large dump all over everyone who supported them as they swing hard to the left.
Maybe it is about time that we start to reconsider the Buckley Rule, after all Buckley himself didn’t even follow it when he ran for mayor of New York city against the RiNO John Lindsay while knowing full well that he had a snowballs chance in hell of winning. Or maybe the problem isn’t the Buckley Rule and the way we follow it, but with the way we define what exactly does it mean to be the ‘most conservative candidate.’
Talk radio host Dennis Prager likes to say that he prefers “clarity over agreement,” I don’t listen to Mr. Prager very often at all, but I have always been a fan of that line of thinking. What I am also a big fan of is clear and precise definitions to terms and for those terms to not only be used in the proper context, but when used as adjectives for those terms to be attributed correctly.
I am not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point I believe that the definition of Conservatism and the way in which we attribute the term has completely lost all meaning.
The former Pennsylvania Senator, in his bid for the GOP nomination for the chance to battle it out against Barack Obama in November, is running as the self proclaimed “principled conservative.”
Rick Santorum who admittedly “took one for the team,” in his vote for No Child Left Behind is a principled conservative? Or the vote for Medicare Part D, which he also now has backtracked on, is a vote of a principled conservative?
Or how about these votes below, are they the votes of a principled conservative?
- Voted for taxpayer funding of the National Endowment for the Arts.
- Voted against a 10% cut in the budget for National Endowment for the Arts.
- Voted for a Schumer amendment to make the debts of pro-life demonstrators not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
- Voted to require that Federal bureaucrats get the same pay-raises as uniformed military.
- Voted to allow food and medicine sales to state sponsors of terror and tyranical regimes such as Libya and Cuba.
- Voted for mandatory Federal child care funding
- Voted for minimum wage increases six times.
- Voted to require a union representative on an IRS oversight board.
- Voted to allow illegal immigrants to receive the earned income credit before becoming citizens.
- Voted to give SSI benefits to legal aliens.
- Voted to give welfare benefits to naturalized citizens without regard to the earnings of their sponsors.
- Voted against a flat tax.
- Voted to increase tobacco taxes to pay for Medicare prescription drugs.
- Voted twice for internet taxes.
- Voted to allow gas tax revenues to be used to subsidize Amtrak.
- Voted against repealing the Clinton 4.3 cent gas tax increase.
- Voted to increase taxes by $2.3 billion to pay for an Amtrak trust fund.
- Voted to allow welfare to a minor who had a child out of wedlock and who resided with an adult who was on welfare within the previous two years.
- Voted against food stamp REFORM.
- Voted against Medicaid REFORM.
- Voted to increase spending on social programs by $7 billion
- Voted for a $1 billion bailout for the steel industry
- Voted against paying off the debt ($5.6 trillion at the time) within 30 years.
- Voted to give $18 billion to the IMF.
- Voted to raid Social Security instead of using surpluses to pay down the debt.
- Voted to allow states to impose health care mandates that are stricter than proposed new Federal mandates, but not weaker.
- Voted to increase spending for the Department of Education by $3.1 billion.
Principled conservative? Really? That is just a small snippet of Rick Santorum’s voting record.
Now set aside the voting record of Senator Santorum and take a look at his words:
“This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone.”
Now contrast that with the official Republican Party Platform of 1964, which incidentally contained twenty-six instances of the word ’individual.’ Below is just a portion:
To Republicans, liberty is still today man’s most precious possession. For every citizen, and for the generations to come, we Republicans vow that it shall be preserved.
In substantiation of this belief the Republican Party submits this platform. To the American people it is our solemn bond.
To Stay Free
The shape of the future is our paramount concern. Much of today’s moral decline and drift—much of the prevailing preoccupation with physical and material comforts of life—much of today’s crass political appeals to the appetites of the citizenry—can be traced to a leadership grown demagogic and materialistic through indifference to national ideals rounded in devoutly held religious faith. The Republican Party seeks not to renounce this heritage of faith and high purpose; rather, we are determined to reaffirm and reapply it. So doing, these will be our guides:
1. Every person has the right to govern himself, to fix his own goals, and to make his own way with a minimum of governmental interference.
2. It is for government to foster and maintain an environment of freedom encouraging every individual to develop to the fullest his God-given powers of mind, heart and body; and, beyond this, government should undertake only needful things, rightly of public concern, which the citizen cannot himself accomplish.
We Republicans hold that these two principles must regain their primacy in our government’s relations, not only with the American people, but also with nations and peoples everywhere in the world.
3. Within our Republic the Federal Government should act only in areas where it has Constitutional authority to act, and then only in respect to proven needs where individuals and local or state governments will not or cannot adequately perform. Great power, whether governmental or private, political or economic, must be so checked, balanced and restrained and, where necessary, so dispersed as to prevent it from becoming a threat to freedom any place in the land.
Any reasonable person would take a look at the facts as they are clearly laid out and come to the conclusion that not only is Rick Santorum not a “principled conservative,” be he isn’t a conservative of any kind. Yet, his supporters would vehemently deny this, ignore the facts and proclaim loudly that Rick Santorum is a Conservative because they are a conservative and support him. Which brings me back to my earlier point, at some point along the way since Goldwater in ‘64, Reagan in ‘80 and today — the word ‘conservative’ has lost all meaning.
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