Friday, June 22, 2018

Conservative vs. Republican: The new political landscape

The Republican party, from around 2000 to the present day, has been the central focus of the ire of the left. But it's also been a problem for another political grouping: conservatives. Generally, in the US, we label everything right of center, "conservative," and everything left of center, "liberal," but this is not what those terms actually mean. The mashing up of political terminology has lead to some very strange political bedfellows, and it's only creeping into further disarray. I'm not sure if I can address the issue, even as a seed of discussion, but I'm going to try.

Conservatism is, historically, a position divided between two fundamental positions: that the structures of society are our lifeline, and that no matter what we may think of them, any change to their status should be viewed with skepticism and resistance; and that land-ownership is the currency of social influence and should remain so. The latter position has waned over the centuries since conservatism first appeared, and for the most part, conservatism is now mostly the former: the idea that change is dangerous and should be accompanied by a restraint that is thoughtful, skeptical, but not absolute.

Inherent in the conservative position is a rather unpleasant fact that many conservatives do not care for: we're often wrong. As with the sciences, the assertion is not that we're right. The assertion is that change should be accomplished methodically and with a tendency to take one step back as needed, not because where we started was right, but because where we started was functional, even where it was not always just or equitable.

The modern US Republican party, on the other hand, is not generally acting as a conservative organization. It's a progressive party that favors the interests of certain socioeconomic groups (mostly business) and of fundamentalist Christian churches. This can be seen clearly in the legislation that the Republican party advances, almost all of which is not conservative in the least.

Let's take health care as an example. There's nothing particularly liberal/conservative inherently about health care anymore. In FDR's time, it was clearly a liberal/conservative issue, and FDR's creation of Medicare and Medicaid was a starkly liberal policy move, which conservatives opposed strongly. You can look back at the debates around those moves and see the profound split between the two. Some people were arguing ideologically that the government should not be in the business of what they viewed as charity, or at the very least insurance, and that's both a conservative and not a conservative position. In so far as it had not been the job of the Federal Government up until that time, it's clear that this is a conservative position: don't change the nature of the government.

But the ideology that says that it shouldn't be the job of the government isn't conservative. It's actually unrelated to the conservative position entirely. You might agree as a conservative, but that's not because you're a conservative.

Today, however, health care is not the same issue. Medicare and Medicaid are established parts of our Federal Government's role, and they have rotted. They are fundamentally not working, as evidenced by the fact that nations with far, far more comprehensive offerings spend less per capita on their health care policies. This doesn't mean that the US should have universal heath care. It's simply that what we have doesn't work financially, and yet we have become a nation that provides, to some extent, for those who cannot provide for themselves, due to injury, age, illness, poverty, what have you.

So, what is the conservative position on health care? It's simple. What we are doing now should be maintained in so far as it works and shifted toward known operable solutions where it is failing. Notice that none of that is pro- or anti-health care. None of that is about "Obamacare" either positive or negative. None of that is about ending or shifting any benefits or privatizing anything. None of those positions have anything to do with conservatism. They are Republican or Democratic policy points, and that's it. The conservatives are the adults in the room saying, "look, whatever you do, don't break the country," and we have to say that to Republicans just as often as to Democrats, but because the Republicans are believed by the general public to be the conservative party, they often get a pass on these issues, and get to brand their version of progressivism as conservatism.

Saying doesn't make it so, though. Conservatives are ultimately locked to the middle of the spectrum because we must favor the established structures. We're the ones saying, "a smooth transition of power around elections is more important than who wins." We're the ones saying, "the continuity of the role of the Federal Government is more important than rolling back policies that offend your ideology." We're the ones saying that working with those of any political party is more valuable than enshrining your political wins.

When you see any major policy change being claimed by "conservatives," ask yourself, "is this change being made with skeptical hesitation and a preference to existing structures or is it an attempt to push an ideological shift in the way the government works?" If it's the latter it's not conservative.

So what is the right and what is the Republican party if not conservative? Generally, the Republican party tends to favor a modified version of conservatism that's sometimes called "traditionalism." That is, the idea that there was an "original" established order that changed at some point and that order is what we must return to. It's not about preventing unwarranted change to the existing status quo, but about unsettling it in favor of a (perhaps imaginary) past status quo. Traditionalism is the true foil of progressiveness, because it will arbitrarily align itself against the goals of progressiveness, whereas conservatism will re-align itself with formerly progressive ideas over time, as they prove functional and entrench themselves within the status quo.

I hope this has allowed you to re-think what conservatism is, and will inform your views on what conservative policy really is going forward. And as a personal plea, I ask that you consider that not everyone who thinks that reaching out in all directions to he hand of rational and hard-working members of our society is ever a problem. I want you to ask your "opposite" number to help, aid and assist in the rebuilding of whatever social structures fail. I want you to be a community, not a collection of insular islands of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Love your neighbor, not just in theory, but in absolute terms. Respect their views and see the world through their eyes. If you're a tree-hugging liberal and they are a gun-toting traditionalist, ask them over for lunch and talk about the good you can do together. Embrace our society over your ideology. When the right does something terrible, attack it, but don't attack the people on the right. When the left does something terrible, attack it, but don't attack the people on the left.

We are not the government. Render under Ceasar what is Caesar's but do not forget what doesn't belong to him. We don't belong to our government. The opposite is true. It is one of our most valuable creations, and we must protect it, defend it, and nurture it as we would our own child, but never elevate it to the status of an ideology.