For many years now, and again in this election season, I have struggled to understand what “conservative principles” actually are. For example, I saw a car this afternoon with a bumper sticker that read: Pro-God, Pro-Life and Pro-Gun. How does that even fit into any kind of consistent philosophical system?
Democratic party principles, while not ironclad are, I think relatively consistent. I think it can be summed as “Freedom is a pretty good thing, but needs limits for everyone to get along.”
So, you get a reasonably consistent set of policy proposals. They don’t want to take away all guns, but want to control which guns people can buy and who can buy them. Wants free enterprise, but with limits such as a minimum wage and environmental laws. Not 100 percent consistent, usually close enough that things make sense.
On the Republican side, I have never, ever been able to figure out what the underlying “conservative” philosophy really is.
For example, Republicans are for freedom with little or no limits when it comes to people who own companies. But that same freedom does not apply to people who use drugs or want to have an abortion. Libertarians are consistent on this, but Republicans, not so much.
The same is true of so called “fiscal conservatism.” Republicans hate budget deficits, but only when Democrats run them. When Reagan and W. Bush ran deficits, no problem. Republicans want to count every penny for Zika funding, but when it comes to the Pentagon, they just pour it on. Even one penny less reduces the military to rubble.
Religious freedom, aka social conservatism, is just a muddled. Of course there is the “if Christians do it it’s OK, but Muslims, no way!” But that is just too easy to pick on. In the areas of gay and reproductive rights, the idea of “sincerely held religious beliefs” has become a bit of mantra. When I heard the Hobby Lobby decision, my first thought was “Sincerely held beliefs in what religion? ‘Cause it sure in hell isn’t Christianity!”
I am sure you remember the bumper stickers, “Christians aren’t perfect, they’re forgiven.” And you can look it up, Jesus hung around will all kinds of “sinners.” Seemed to be pretty proud of it, actually, made a bit of a point about it. Oh yeah and Jesus DIED FOR OUR SINS. His whole freaking purpose really. But now, somehow, allowing employees to have access to birth control using their healthcare plan dollars, makes the bosses “complicit” in the sin of the birth controllers. WTF?? Doesn’t Christianity say we are all sinners? Didn’t Jesus die for our sins (at least those who pray to him in just the right way)? So, how is baking a cake for someone making you a sinner? Makes no sense whatsoever, especially WITHIN Christian theology. So, even on religion, there seems to be no real “conservative principles.”
Philosophically speaking that is.
Sociologically speaking, it seems the picture gets a bit clearer and Trump is making it even more transparent. The best way to put it is “in-group vs out-group.” It is not racism strictly speaking, but it can certainly start there or be used to fan the flames. So, let’s take another look at “conservative principles” through this frame.
People who use drugs or women who want to control their fertility are just not “honest hard working people.” They have “no morals.” Lock them up, punish them.
Which explains the military (at the national level) and prisons and police (at the state and local levels). Got to have someone to lock them up.
Honest and hard working people deserve their Social Security and Medicare. But those people, you know who I mean, don’t deserve food stamps and welfare, so we can get rid of those programs. One of the reasons I think it is not straight up racism is people like Paul Ryan are moving toward another in/out distinction where working people don’t deserve retirement benefits, only folks like the Koch brothers should have it easy in retirement. Because of course folks like them are the real “creators” and the rest of us are just takers.
And of course the religious angle is really just for show. No one can convince me that the Hobby Lobby people are really religious. And even if they are, they can’t really believe that Jesus just loves rich people, but can’t stand people who have sex without having babies every single time.
Us versus Them is the only consistent theme I can see in so called conservatism as it is practiced here in the US. I think we need a new name for it. Alt-Right is not a bad start, but doesn’t really have enough punch to it. Suggestions welcome (and I am sorry, but Nazi was already used, so I will discount that one from the start.)
Now, I do believe that there could a consistent conservative philosophy. There is no reason that you can’t be both pro-business and also want to conserve our natural resources. Wanting a smaller government overall can be consistent if it applies equally and includes some kind of cost-benefit analysis. Religious freedom is a good idea if it means not telling other people what to believe and letting them live their lives according to their own principles (until they unduly affect others, of course). These all strike me as “conservative.” But the modern Republican party does not embody any of these ideas.
It is not “conservative” in the least.