We have an ironic set of definitions running around the political world today about what it means to be conservative and what it means to be liberal. Conservatives are generally defined as those who want a smaller government (fiscally), want a large military presence, and want to pass legislation that says everybody should have the same moral values I have. Liberals, on the other hand, need a bigger government to solve every problem, want a somewhat smaller military (although the reality is they tend to use it even more), and believe that their absence of moral values should be forced on everyone. You may not like these generalizations but you know they’re true.
However, the traditional understanding of conservatism and liberalism are quite different. Traditionally a conservative is defined as someone who believes in a conservative use of government. This was probably best encapsulated by Thomas Jefferson who once said, “That government is best which governs least.” Conversely, a liberal is someone who believes in a liberal use of government. Some people say that liberalism is “progressive” in that it never stops finding new ways to spend money and presumably help the very people they’re taxing.
However, I would like to suggest for your thoughtful consideration that true conservatism should cover all areas of governance. Not only should true conservatives believe in a smaller government fiscally (less welfare systems, fewer entitlement programs, less health care, etc.), but also they should believe in a more conservative use of the military and less moral regulation. Think with me. Is not a smaller military fiscally conservative? And isn’t legislating morality actually an expansion of government?
Let’s be clear. No reasonable person is advocating anarchy. For instance, we don’t want to be so fiscally conservative we have no military, because that would be suicidal both from an economic and freedom perspective. But perhaps having military bases in merely 100 countries around the world rather than the present 150 would be a reasonable amount of governance. And nobody is saying we should not legislate morality when it comes to issues like murder. But maybe allowing people to practice homosexuality even though some believe it is sin is a more conservative use of government. Clearly there are degrees of governmental necessity and all of us fall somewhere in the continuum.
But today I see something happening in our government that concerns me. Not only are we going broke because we want to rule the world (thus all the military bases), but also we are going broke because we want to rule our own citizenry. It’s not enough that we manage our own resources and clean up our own environment; we want to demand the rest of the world does it as well. It no longer seems enough that individuals find out what’s good for their own health and implement it in their own life; we now want to pass laws that say things like nobody can eat Big Macs. Do you see the dilemma? In our desire to fix all the problems of the world, we become so financially disabled we are unable to address any of them effectively.
And this issue becomes particularly aggressive when the Democrats and Republicans begin to compromise. As an example, Republicans tend to desire religious and moral legislation while Democrats tend to oppose it. However, Democrats tend to desire social legislation (like not eating Big Macs) that Republicans oppose. But in our trend toward bigger government and our tendency to compromise, what do we end up with? Historically the Republicans would have blocked the social legislation the Democrats wanted, and the Democrats would have blocked the religious legislation the Republicans wanted. This traditional battle between the two parties resulted in a more conservative government. But today the spirit is one of compromise. When that happens the Democrats tell the Republicans, “listen we’ll give you the moral mandates you want.” And the Republicans, in the spirit of unity, tell the Democrats, “Great, we’ll give you the social requirements you desire.” And the result is bigger government. I hope you get this: Compromise always results in a more liberal, expansive government.
Therefore, as I look at the upcoming election and evaluate how I want to vote there is one thing in particular that I hold as an irrefutable value: Freedom may not be free, but it is always worth the price. Even if that price means other people are allowed to do things I think are stupid (like smoke cigarettes). Even if that means other countries are allowed to do things we think are stupid (like have nuclear weapons [even if we only think it’s stupid when they want them]). While granting sovereign rights will always be fraught with potential calamity, taking those rights away will always result in the greater calamity of dictatorship. This election, choose freedom not compromise.