Bottom line, for me it is about people. I care about people living and succeeding. Everyone. Our lives are our right; our freedoms are our tools to our happiness and success. This is what I defend.
As a general principal, stereotypes exist about every demographic that should be deplored. I am not discounting their bite.
I am a conservative. There are stereotypes about the right that I can laugh at, accept, and even buy into. Does the Republican Party have a lot of ‘elderly white male’ representation? Sure. Are conservatives wealthy? Some are. Are there outlandish and in some cases deplorable stances taken by a fringe that associate themselves with my same ideology? Of course.
However, I am absolutely and unequivocally rejecting the vitriolic stereotypes of conservatism that are regularly assigned all too often by the left. The legitimacy of those labels end here and now.
As one of few openly conservative students at Columbia University, I sometimes have one of these stereotypes lobbed my way. I can take it, but I won’t accept it.
I will deconstruct these stereotypes one by one.
“Conservatives are anti-minority”
No statement could be further from the truth. Conservatism as an ideology is based upon the notion of the importance of the individual and a government that is limited in its capacity to infringe upon individual liberties. As government becomes larger, it must increasingly rely upon the categorization of citizens to dispense public benefits and collect taxes for the public good. To the government, a system of bureaucracies, you are not the smart, good, hardworking, and capable individual that you, your friends, and your family knows you to be. Instead, you are a white/black/Latino/Asian male/female of the Christian/Jewish/Islamic faith in a certain age group and a certain tax bracket, etc. If you don’t believe this reconsider the information you are required to submit every year on your taxes or the questions asked of you by the U.S. Census.
How does a system of categorization protect the interest of the minority? Or the individual?
Democracy, as successful as an institution as it has been for the billions it has lifted from serfdom still has its limitations as a freedom-invoking institution. A democratic majority can still choose to oppress, by majority decision, a minority group. Democracy must be coupled with the idea of individual rights to function at its best – a coupling that occurs beautifully in both the American Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
The American Constitution wasn’t written in a perfect society where all had equal rights at the time. It was a product of the human hand, and thus an imperfect document. Yet the Constitution was designed to be perfectible. The states at the time of the Constitutional Convention would not have accepted a Constitution that called for the elimination of slavery. Yet slavery was and is an evil and antiquated notion, and even in the 1700s, had an expiration date. While many supported its abolition, conservative notions of universal and inalienable rights in the 1860s led the charge on the emancipation movement. It was the party of Lincoln, the Republican Party, which passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, despite strong opposition.
Some say, “the parties are different today” and attempt to negate the history of Republican support for the end of slavery, yet the conservative ideology that rests upon the notion of the importance of the individual – each and every individual – has not changed. Thus this retort is unfounded.
Conservatives want to see a limitation on government’s reach and size. History has constantly shown how minorities fair when governments grow larger. Ask the Jews of Nazi Germany, the Tibetans of China, the Croats of Yugoslavia, the various defeated tribes of Africa sold into slavery by their autocratic rulers or the gays in China ‘disappeared’ by their local and national governments. Any minority group suffers under statism. Conservative principles are the principles of minority empowerment and universal protection from persecution based on demographics.
“Conservatives are waging a war on women”
I’m sure Sandra Day O’Conner, the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice and appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan would have to disagree with this one.
I’ve heard the argument that Republican policies crafted to curb abortion are somehow part of a campaign against women. This is smoke and mirrors rhetoric to distract from the message. Many Republican anti-abortion advocacies are aimed at preserving the value of human life, which many believe begins while still in the womb. While everyone should be advocating for the advancement of women in society and equality of the sexes, disagreement about abortion doesn’t merit a label of anti-woman, and certainly not the charge of waging class warfare.
If the leftist political elite sparking the outrage toward the right were seriously concerned with the treatment of women, the message and focus would be entirely different. Where is the left’s outrage at the treatment of women in Islamic fundamentalist theocratic societies who cannot vote, hold elected office, or even drive a car? What of the women killed for having children out of wedlock or engaging in premarital sex? Doesn’t that seem like a true attack on a woman’s right to make her own choices?
Even back home, what of the left’s own political leaders, like Bill Clinton, who regularly took advantage of women while in the Executive Office while acting as figurehead of the Democratic Party, or Anthony Weiner who acted with no regard to the commitment he made to his wife in marriage? Am I saying only Democrats are guilty of such wrongs? Of course not, but it is by no means exclusive to the right either.
“Conservatives are close-minded and don’t listen”
The very idea at the core of conservatism is, again, the empowerment of the individual to live as he or she chooses and to follow his or her dreams. In America, this is the American dream, and it has been a beacon of hope for the world. But conservatism is not just an ideology fit for the U.S. The benefits of conservatism can apply anywhere, and to anyone.
Conservative ideology in practice means people don’t have to agree, yet they can still live and thrive together. The protection of the individual and his or her basic rights to choose how to live and what to do with his or her earnings is the impetus for the conservative notion of a limit to the size of government. As government becomes larger, disagreement becomes more harshly punished. True close-mindedness becomes coupled with a lack of recourse for individuals living in big-government societies.
How does one insist a government listen? Through limitations.
“Conservatives are only concerned about the wealthy”
Conservatives are ardent believers in the free enterprise system: one that, thanks in no small part to capitalism, has allowed for the highest standard of living in the history of mankind, and the most abundant provision of resources.
Capitalism is an essential part of conservative thought because it is a philosophy that espouses the merits and rewards the achievements of the individual. Capitalism is not a past-time for the wealthy. Anyone can participate in a free-market society; true capitalism has no barrier to entry. Barriers arise when the private marketplace intermingles with big government to produce special interests. Corporate privileges and monopolies are rampant as government becomes larger and less accountable.
Sure, capitalism can sometimes mean an unfair distribution of resources, but in America even the people in the lowest economic classes are better off than some middle/upper-class people in countries that have not had the privilege of a capitalistic society.
And the alternatives to capitalism?
I’m not going to entertain the notion of Socialism or the ‘command economy’. Nor should anyone else. That party is over. People starved, people died.
Conservatives don’t shrug off the idea of helping the less fortunate, either. Good will and humanitarianism is an active pursuit among many on the right. Conservatives simply recognize how inefficient a public system is at providing for those who can’t make it themselves. And the conservative response to public welfare systems is not “getting rid of the public welfare system.” The idea is to make the system more accountable, to make the money flowing into the programs work more efficiently, and to lessen the bureaucratic drain on the financial support for those who need it. These goals, if reached, would ultimately lead to the public welfare system shrinking out of a lack of necessity and supplemental aid coming from private charity. None of that would mean a reduction in aid. Accountability is missing in the public system; the poor can never truly be helped without the accountability that the free-market provides.
Progressivism is the label under which the left espouses to support the poor, yet leftist solutions have been able to show no considerable gains in battling poverty. The root causes of poverty are not addressed through the public welfare system. The Progressive agenda will never truly help people rise from poverty because it discounts the value and accountability of the individual.
Progress isn’t found where there is a sky-scraping heap of entitlements, it happens where and when the individual is empowered. Which school of thought is truly ‘progressive’? As F.A. Hayek, a scholarly proponent of the free-market, notes in The Road to Serfdom: “The guiding principle that a policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy remains as true today as it was in the nineteenth century.”
“Conservative values are dead”
They may be distorted and buried in falsities and inaccurate stereotypes, but they are not dead. So long as I have a breath in my body, I assure you they are not. I am not alone in this assertion. And for the sake of humanity, true conservative values cannot be abandoned.
The stereotypes that conservatives are maligned with are a dishonest ploy. Does the Republican Party have a lot of white senior citizen support? Sure. But the Party also has some of the brightest, most dynamic and passionate individuals of every ethnicity, age, and gender.
Are conservatives wealthy? Some are. Is this a reason to launch ad hominem attacks at conservatives, as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid constantly does with his ubiquitous crusade against his wealthy political opposition? Success in a transfer-payment society or command economy is limited to those in power. But success in a free market society is not mutually exclusive to anyone.
Are there outlandish and in some cases deplorable stances taken by a fringe that associate themselves with conservative ideology? Of course. But this exists in every party. A conservative society however, with limits on the size of government, need not worry about the fringe, because power is never amassed enough for the fringe to use it against the reasonable.
Finally, there are stereotypes of the left that are unfounded and rightly deserve attention in this post. My intention in pointing out the negative labels associated with conservatism is not to say all liberals are guilty of contributing to the vitriol. But these talking points exist and are parroted by many on the left. I also do not believe the majority of the left are advocating for the inequalities or dangers that come with bigger and more extensive government, yet they are an inseparable accessory.
Too often, the narrative of the left paints conservatives, Republicans, or the right in general with any number of negative stereotypes. These stereotypes are bromides used by liberal elite to marginalize political opposition. I will not accept any of these – and neither should you.
The image on this post is a variant of a shirt design from Cafe Press.