Sunday, August 31, 2008

What does it mean to be conservative?

It seems that the labels "conservative" and "liberal" are being thrown around a lot lately. One day I heard a young man at Wal-Mart ask his friend, "What does it mean to be conservative?" The first thought that popped into my head questioned his intelligence. Certainly we all know the definition of conservative and liberal, right-wing and left-wing. As the election season progresses I am forced to re-evaluate my beliefs about this subject.

Being a conservative means that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people believes that the people are intelligent enough, educated enough, and moral enough to govern their own actions. I think that true conservatives neither want, nor need, government intervention in most parts of their lives. I don't want the government to tell me how to live my life. I don't want the government to offer to improve my life. I don't want the government to step in and tell me which moral codes I need to meet. And I'm ok with the idea that if the government doesn't do those things for me, my neighbors might make different choices than I do. I'm ok with the possibility that I might create a mess that costs me everything. I'm ok without the government supplying me with a safety net to catch me when I fall.

I do think the function of government is to supply support for infrastructure (roads, bridges, and some technology). I think the national government is the perfect entity to coordinate a national defense. I think that there are a few offenses so heinous that there should be laws in place to prevent harm to innocents and provide recourse in the event someone commits those crimes. I do not think that most things short of murder and rape should be outlawed. I do think that the judicial branch of the government is incredibly important when it comes to interpreting laws and punishing criminals.

What I am opposed to is the belief that the government is responsible for the health and well-being of each citizen (and sometimes non-citizens). Medical decisions need to be left to doctors and their patients; the legislature should not be involved in any personal health decisions. Food choices should be left up to consumers; although I do believe that labeling laws are important. If the public is so stupid or irresponsible that they can't be trusted to make these choices for themselves then how in the world is a legislature composed of citizens from the same country going to do a better job of taking care of me than I do?

True conservatism is the belief that individuals bear responsibility for their own actions. Eastern philosophy has long held that the more laws you pass to regulate morality the less moral people become. When the people begin to rely on the government for everything they lose the ability to progress. America isn't losing her position in the world because we don't spend enough money on education. America's losing ranking because her people have forgotten that they are the government. Laws should be few and far between. Small differences of opinion require negotiation and tolerance. They do not require that a new law be written.

Whether the issue is running a business, educating our children, painting our houses, or defining a family - individuals need to decide how to proceed for themselves. Perceived harm vs. actual harm is a concept people need to revisit. Some people aren't nice, but if they're not evil (think rape, murder, burglary) then you just don't need to spend time with them. There are all sorts of ways to deal with adversity that don't involve the government at all.

Several years ago I was lucky enough to be with a group of women talking about homeschooling their children. My kids were still very young and I wasn't actually taking part in the discussion, but I am so glad that I did stay and listen. One of the mothers was talking about whether you need to make sure your homeschool is similar to what would be taught in a public school. Her argument was that while there are benchmarks we all need to meet, homeschool should not be like public school. It should be different and it should not be regulated by the government. Her reasoning- public schools are not producing a uniform, satisfactory product. Their benchmarks may be too low, and to bind yourself to them may keep you from achieving everything you should. "The government is not our saviour," was the end of her argument.

She is right. The government is not our saviour and to put all of our faith in it (when it's made up of people like us, whom we elect) is a recipe for disaster. Look at New Orleans. The government didn't get everyone out. There wasn't an adequate plan in place to cope with that magnitude of disaster. The conservative in me thinks that maybe, just maybe, individuals in the affected area should also be held accountable for how events played out during Hurricane Katrina.

So, to end my rambling post: Less is more. Remember the government truly is by the people, for the people and we are the people. The government is not our saviour.

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Jake camping in the living room

Jake camping in the living room