It is unfortunate that in today’s political climate, discourse often focusses solely on consequences, or supposed consequences, to evaluate the merit of any given political position. This is not to say that weighing and considering the outcomes of social policy is not vitally important. It is. However, it seems political bickering wherein both sides quote pet studies and throw out statistics in favor of their favored position, often masks the shared moral values that underpin these disagreements.
Such is the case with contemporary debates surrounding guns and gay marriage. Broadly speaking these issues draw clear ideological lines with urban liberals supporting tight gun control and suburban and rural conservatives opposing gay marriage. In truth, support for both guns and gay marriage is rooted in the same moral and political principle: In a free and pluralistic society, individuals should be at liberty to pursue their own conception of the “best life” without paternalistic governmental intrusion by beauracratic moralists, be they religious or secular.
Gay marriage is about liberty. The US constitution offers equal protection under the law for the simple reason that unequal treatment is inherently unjust. Equal protection is not sacrosanct because of of the outcomes it produces. Rather, equal protection is a moral principle; something that if violated, represents an affront to justice itself. We do not argue about equality under the law in terms of consequences — although they are often part of a the wider discussion.
Private firearm ownership is also about liberty — both individual and collective. Before continuing, allow me to say that no rational person believes that the United States is on the brink of a tyrannical oppression. However, Ronald Reagan was correct when he said:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
Those who, during the Bush administration, raised concerns about portions of the Patriot Act were doing their part to ensure that the United States remain true to its founding principles of liberty — even in the face of new and emerging outside threats to national security. Similarly, and broadly speaking, advocates of the 2nd amendment are doing the same thing. Reasonable people can, and do, disagree as to the original intent of the 2nd amendment — whether it applies to a private right or a collective right of the people to band together to form state militias. Even the framers of the Bill of Rights debated this point. Regardless, the Supreme Court has consistently affirmed the right of individual citizens to keep and bear arms completely separate from the formation of state militias.
There must be an open and civil dialogue regarding both gay marriage and private gun ownership. Gay marriage represents a new paradigm in the modern era that will result in unforeseen and perhaps unintended consequences. Yet, we cannot let a fear of the unknown or the potential for negative social outcomes (whatever they may be) prevent us from removing the existing chains of oppressions from gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans.
The social costs of ubiquitous gun ownership are well known and must be addressed holistically. Countries like Switzerland, with similar levels of private gun ownership, do not experience gun violence as seen in the US. What is is about the US that leads to such violence? I don’t know. But it is an issue that must be thoroughly studied and we must act. The 2nd amendment, as interpreted by the courts, does not mean firearms are to be unregulated. The must be regulated to ensure that those who have forfeited their right (felons) and others incapable of owning firearms responsibly cannot — through legal means — obtain firearms.
Again, I support both guns and gay marriage. At their root, both issues are about liberty and individual rights; American values that must never be abandoned.
I am writing today to provide a political perspective which unfortunately, has been hijacked and manipulated by some on the extremes: political conservatism. In the minds of many, conservatism has come to represent a repressive ideology that seeks to impose its moral will, protect and serve only the rich, and promote a WASP-oriented society though various means of social engineering. Such a perspective is not unwarranted. The modern Republican party, as the supposed party of conservatism, is neither conservative, nor does it promote the philosophical underpinnings thereof. This is not to say that caricatures of the Republican party do not abound and are promulgated via opposing partisans. They do; just as similar caricatures of the Democratic party are promoted.
For these reasons I have, for the past 12+ years, called myself a political moderate because I support true conservatism as well as true liberty in the form of gay marriage, abortion rights (although my views on this issue are more complex than the simple, and false, pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy), and similar social issues. What I have come to realize, however, is that I have been pushed into the moderate “box” by false conservatives because my views are, in fact, truly and authentically conservative.
The purpose of this letter is not to persuade or convince the reader to adopt political conservative ideology. Rather, its purpose is simply to 1) explain what conservatism actually is and 2) demonstrate that the ideology is motivated by a very specific set of values and assumptions.
Above all else, true conservatism seeks to maximize the liberty and freedom of the individual. This idea is rooted in the philosophy of Locke and Montesquieu; a philosophy that promotes the notion of a social contract with few, but massively important, constraints. In particular, John Lock discusses how any social contract — regardless of the specific form of government — must not restrict an individual’s pursuit or maintenance of “life, liberty, and property.” It is important to note that when Locke refers to property, he does not necessarily mean real-estate. Rather, property, within the context Locke discusses it, describes an individual’s means of providing sustenance for themselves and for their family. Thus, a blacksmith’s “property” could be described as 1) the opportunity she had to learn blacksmithing and 2) the freedom utilize that skill in the form of trade.
Locke argues that any social contract that protects an individual’s life, liberty, and property, is valid and should be maintained. However, if the social contract does not protect these things and in fact, violates them, then parties to the contract (citizens) have not only the right, but also the duty to restore those protections using any means up to and including violent revolution. This, among other things, the foundation of the American Revolution. American colonists were being denied their right to pursue life, liberty, and property and ultimately, in an effort to restore these three basic rights, revolted against Great Britain. I am, of course, greatly simplifying the history here but suffice it say that the concept of individuals being free to pursue life, liberty, and property played an incredibly important role in the founding of the United States.
Political conservatism, then, seeks to protect these three essential rights and conservative political philosophy evaluates all aspects of the social contract (government policies/actions) by assessing the impact any given policy would have on promoting or restricting these rights. In other words, political conservatism is not based on consequentialist thinking. That is, government policies are not evaluated solely on the basis of their effectiveness in solving a given problem. Surely, policy effectiveness and consequence are, and should always be part of policy discussion. However, for a political conservative no policy, however effective it may be, is tenable if it hinders the individual pursuit of life, liberty, and property.
Therefore, if a conservative questions the individual mandate of Obamacare for example, she does not do so because she revels in the fact that many Americans go without essential health care. Instead, she may be concerned that the individual mandate — especially on the federal level — may infringe, to one degree or another, on individual liberty. When faced with difficult problems such as health care, a conservative looks for ways to address them using means seen as non-threatening to the three basic rights.
I should stress that conservatism is not proscriptive. That is, it does not provide clear-cut answers to any given government policy. Rather, it provides a conceptual framework for thinking about the proper role of government. Any person who claims conservatism promotes capitalism, republicanism, federalism, etc… Is going well beyond what base conservatism seeks to protect. Now, compelling, and in some cases self-evident, arguments can be made that specific forms of government or certain economic systems are well-suited to protect individual rights. Certainly there are forms of government that simply cannot align with the three basic rights. Fascism in any form, for example, cannot protect these rights. Similarly, capitalism does not guarantee protection of these rights and, in the case of what has colloquially become known as “crony capitalism” stands in direct opposition to the pursuit of liberty and property. It is possible, as in the case of Nazi Germany, to have a fully functioning capitalist system within the context of a fascist dictatorship. In theory, a benevolent dictatorship utilizing economic socialism can be completely aligned with conservative principles. But, I believe, history has shown that representative democracies (not pure democracies because they tend towards a tyranny of the majority) are more likely to protect and promote life, liberty, and property than other forms of government.
Conservatism in the United States has been corrupted by those who seek to impose their moral will on others (let’s call it fascism lite). Especially in regard to issues of abortion, gay rights, civil rights, etc… True conservatism has absolutely nothing to say on these specific issues. If anything, true conservatism promotes true liberty for all. Thus, attempts to limit the rights of any group, be it women, gays, minorities, etc. — done in the name of conservatism — are actually betraying the basic tenets of true conservatism.
Perhaps Barry Goldwater said it best:
Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions of equality, ladies and gentlemen. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.
Goldwater speaking of the religious right:
On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.
I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?
And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”
It is time for true conservatives to oppose false conservatism and marginalize those individuals who would use “conservatism” to promote their own moral, economic, and political ideology.
To Whom It May Concern:
I am one of the many independent and undecided voters you may have heard about on TV. I know Bill Maher thinks we should have made up our minds by this point but what Mr. Maher fails to recognize is that to voters like me, asking us to make a definitive choice is like putting two types of dog food on fancy plates, serving it up and then forcing us to choose which delicacy we’d prefer. The problems is, we don’t like dog food and are hoping that if we hold out long enough, a nice steak will be served up instead.
Living in Seattle means that my vote for President is essentially meaningless. Washington State’s electoral votes will go to Obama no matter whether I vote or stay home. Unlike Al Gore, I’m ok with this. If my fellow Washingtonians prefer to reelect President Obama, then their collective voice represent the State as an autonomous entity. But there is more to my vote than simply whether it will influence the final electoral college vote count. Putting pen to paper in the ballot box is about principle, not strategy.
Below is a small sampling of issues that are important to me, and I’m guessing are important to many other independent American voters as well. I don’t think wanting adult and intelligent dialogue is asking too much of men who are seeking the highest office in the land. We’ve got six weeks so let’s see what happens.
- Fair Taxes: I don’t care what % bracket you fall within, all Americans should pay taxes within the context of a fair system. When a significant portion of the population pays no tax or a small portion at the top pay too little tax, there is a problem.
- Foreign Entanglement: You know that statement about fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me? I was fooled once about the Iraq war and I won’t be fooled again. Preemptive war is NEVER right and I’m ashamed that as an American I allowed the previous administration to convince me otherwise. Mr Romney: stop the sabre rattling with Iran. Mr. Obama: please take the time to meet with Mr. Netenyahu and tell him that if he chooses to strike Iran, he’s on his own. Mr. Netenyahu: do you really think Iran has nuclear weapons and that war will somehow make things better for Israel even if they do? All: Let’s take Iran’s nonsensical rantings for what they are, total BS. IF Iran is stupid enough to attack Israel, the US, or another US ally — especially using nuclear weapons — they would lose all friends in the world and all support. American should speak softly and carry a big stick. If Iran wants to put on any show of force — rather than just meaningless rhetoric — then the US should take that stick and beat Iran senseless. Until that point, let’s just speak softly.
- Fiscal Responsibility: the US is deeply in debt and our credit has been downgraded twice in just over 12 months. This is unacceptable. I appreciate that Paul Ryan has put a plan on the table that addresses waste and inefficiency in social entitlement programs. However, Mr. Ryan needs to sharpen his pencil and revisit defense spending. If we are going to trim the budget, let’s do it intelligently and eliminate waste everywhere — including the military.
- Calling President Kennedy: Can we please do something to counter, but not necessarily prevent, the rise of China and Russia? I don’t have a problem with a strong Russia or a strong China. Both can help contain North Korea. What I have a problem with is Russia discussing permanent bases in Cuba or their sending of warships into Syria. This is all a big game of Chicken but it’s a game we have to play. Take a cue from Reagan. Talk tough and then have a beer with Vlad. The US and Russia should be close allies, not bitter enemies. Working together, the US and Russia could bring a lot of stability to the world. As frosty friends or even as enemies, we make the world a more dangerous place. Stand up for US interests but be flexible enough to form meaningful alliances.
- China: It is time for the Chinese to stop manipulating the Yuan. This manipulation causes serious price distortion and is a major reason American manufacturing jobs are going overseas. We have plenty of partners to help us fulfill our production needs: India, Vietnam, Indonesia, just to name a few. If China doesn’t want to play fairly then we can take our ball and play elsewhere. Yes, I know that prices on some goods may rise if the Yuan is actually valued based on market forces but this is only an indication that these prices have been artificially low! Also China, stop all this nonsense about those small Japanese islands. I have an acre here in WA state with more natural resources and strategic value and I’m only asking $50M. That’s a lot cheaper than sailing warships and dropping bombs.
That’s it for now. If I think of additional issues I may decide to post again before the election.