Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A genuine conservative

As I understood it when I was growing up, the term "conservative" meant an inclination to preserve what is, rather than embracing the new for its own sake. I've felt for a while that many self-identified conservatives today don't match my understanding of the term. My impression, though I admit I haven't thought too hard about it, is that while they claim to be trying to restore some kind of lost glory to the nation, they are in fact indulging in radical social reengineering to create the nation of their fantasies. The nation of low taxes and infinite freedoms that they imagine simply never existed. The actual country once may have been simoly too spread-out and thinly populated for the federal government to exercise more than token control, but that is simply no longer the case. Nor should it be, since in our densely populated society, a myriad of powerful technologies and economies of scale make it altogether too easy for our neighbors — businesses as well as people — to affect us adversely without some sort of referee acting to support our individual right to well-being.

Therefore it was with some relief that I read Maurice Manning's Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, "My Old Kentucky Conservatism".

... I don’t see how a man who has multiple homes around the country, whose business has been to serve investors seeking purely monetary gains — that is, people with no interest in local preservation or local well-being, and those who do not live side by side the community into which they are invested — can be considered conservative.

That kind of extravagance has not been good for our country or anywhere else; it places making money ahead of making sense.

Mr. Manning is referring to Mitt Romney in this passage, but Mr. Manning recognizes that Romney is simply embodying his party's inclinations.

The freedom to make money doesn't trump every other value we might have. Mr. Manning's piece does a good job of reminding us what some of those other values are: a reverence for the land, concern for our neighbors' well-being, a desire to "enhance our shared prosperity". Republican politicians pay lip service to these values, but the policies they put into place undercut them.

The conservatism espoused by most Republican politicians, in fact, places a greater emphasis on freedom than responsibility. Mr. Manning's is the kind of conservatism I can respect and even embrace: it's a balanced and thoughtful response to novelty rather than an excuse to indulge greed and intolerance.

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