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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Conservative Compassion and the New Tone

(c) 2011 by Tom King

Philosopher John Locke - Noted Liberal
and champion of individual rights.
There are those who would say those two words are an oxymoron. Conservatives get constantly painted by the left-wing media as tub-thumping, gun-toting Neanderthals who are, let me see if I remember this correctly - racist, homophobic, bigoted, ignorant, knuckle-dragging, cold-hearted, selfish and narrow-minded drones.

I'm sure I didn't get them all.

Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware what epithets some of the knuckle draggers on my side of the political aisle have tossed out about the left. They aren't any better than their liberal adversaries and deserve a slap-down from their fellow conservatives. They get it too - pretty regularly. If we're going to argue with our liberal friends we need not - indeed must not - use the same techniques they do. Most conservatives would find it repugnant to dip into the Saul Alinsky/Karl Marx playbook to make their argument anyway.  It would feel slimy and besides it's not in our nature. Lying for a good cause doesn't sit well with those for whom telling the truth is one of the commandments.

The problem is the label conservative. A conservative today is not what he was 200 years ago. Those who are now tagged conservatives embrace a philosophy that was once considered liberal in this country. John Locke, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the like were considered the great liberal minds of their day.  The conservatives wanted to preserve the nobility and the monarchy. They opposed the revolution because it dethroned the elite and took away what they considered their birthright - the right to rule the ignorant masses.

In the 1800s the once powerful conservatives searched for a way to transmorgrify themselves in America into something that preserved the right of the privileged class to rule.  They found it in a movement that on its surface was meant to "free the masses" - progressive socialism. The tenant of this new movement was that the ignorant masses needed the guidance of smart people - people that the new Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest said would pass along their superior intelligence to their offspring. So with the aid of poorly understood science, some political sleight of hand and a conserted effort to redefine the meaning of "liberal", the nation's high and mighty put on the mantle of the founding fathers for a while - for as long as they needed it to consolidate their power which was the whole point of the thing anyway.

Meanwhile the constitutional liberals who believed in liberty, freedom, self-reliance and treating others the way you want to be treated found themselves becoming what conservatives have always been - people opposed to radical change.  In America, however, we had already built a foundation on liberal principles and instead of like European conservatives who fought to maintain the power of the noble elite and to convince the "masses" willingly to submit to their governance, America conservatives, instead,  fought to maintain the power of the people, to break the power of the high and mighty who would create an American nobility if they could and convince the "ignorant masses" that they should come along quietly like good little workers.

Conservatives today believe what liberals of the 1700s believed. We believe that all men are created equal, that they have the right to life, liberty and the free pursuit of happiness. We believe that no man or woman has the right to lord over us, to arbitrarily take our rights to self-govern and hem us about with regulation, interferance and bureaucracy.  We give to the poor and needy far more than our so-called liberal opponents who consistently give a tiny percentage of income compared to their conservative neighbors. We believe your faith is your business so long as you leave us to worship as we see fit.

There are racist homophobic bigots among us on both sides of the political aisle, just as there are profoundly unChristian people who sit in a pew every Sunday, prayerbook firmly in hand. Today's conservative principles do not preclude a person being loving, charitable, compassionate and good. They are, in fact, the same principles that guided the framers of the Constitution, which in turn framed the real change that took place in our country and led to emancipation, women's suffrage and a level of general prosperity unknown in history. Our poor are fat, our sick are cared for better than anywhere else and our nation, though we fight fiercely among ourselves in the arena of ideas, we have renounced empire building and settled into our current role as the world's peacekeeper.  We have defeated enemies and built them back up again, better than they were before - Germany, Italy, Iraq. We have shed American blood to try and save others from invaders - Kuwait, Korea and Vietnam. We have done wrong and regretted it and tried to make amends. We carry guilt for our mistakes - for Native Americans and slavery in particular.

But it has always been stubbornly clinging to the great liberating ideas of the Constitution and Declaration that has transformed us into the bastion of liberty we are today. We who believe you shouldn't mess with a good thing are painted as selfish and bigoted by our opponents, when every principle we hold dear argues against selfishness and bigotry.  There are those who would toss aside our founding principles in the name of change, offering the illusion of "security" in exchange for a bit less liberty.

Given the history of rule by the special people, we conservatives, though disposed by nature to be compassionate, can, perhaps be forgiven for believing that's not a good idea and getting a bit riled up about the whole thing. 

Just sayin'

Tom King

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