I have to laugh! It seems that nine out of ten campaign signs I see for this mid-term election all have the word CONSERVATIVE prominently displayed on the banner. Where did these neo-conservatives come from? More importantly for me as a conservative is to ask the question: Where have you been!?
So, what exactly is a conservative?
After a speaking engagement to a men’s group at a Presbyterian church in Sacramento, I was listening to a talk-radio program during the 80 mile drive home. A couple of different terms were used when referring to conservatives. There was the “Consistent Conservative,” and the “Convenient Conservative.” The radio discussion focused on just what defined these two. A consistent conservative is someone who has been a conservative before it was fashionable. A convenient conservative is someone who simply identifies himself as a conservative because it works to their advantage politically. The reality is this person is not a true conservative. That is to say, at the core of their being, they do not believe in conservative values.
This begs the question: What does it mean to be a conservative? I guess at this point I should mention that this is my take on this topic. There is not a set construct of conservative beliefs that all who claim to be conservative will agree upon.
“Conservative issues in America include beliefs in free-market capitalism, anti-communism, patriotism, American Exceptionalism, a strong national defense, Christianity, civic morality, law and order, stricter law enforcement regarding immigration, smaller federal government, and lower taxes.” This is as good as any when it comes to identifying the positions Conservatives take on the issues confronting our nation. “According to a June 2009 Gallup poll, 40% of Americans identify themselves as conservative, compared to 35% moderate and 21% liberal. According to the same survey, few Americans consider themselves either ‘very’ liberal or ‘very’ conservative.”
The late Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona was the first modern conservative to emerge on the political scene. After securing the Republican nomination for president in 1964, he was soundly defeated in the election by Lyndon Johnson. I was sixteen years old at that time and can well remember the heated debates over various domestic issues, but most notably on national defense, there loomed the impending conflict in Vietnam. Goldwater was described as a “hawk,” which means he was portrayed as a war monger. This was an easy association to make since Goldwater had served in the Army Air Corps achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and later in the United States Air Force, retiring as a Major General. He served in both World War Two and the Korean War. He was castigated by his political opponents for not caring about our troops. Furthermore, he was accused of seeking some sort of glory for himself by pursuing a war footing should he become the President, the Commander in Chief. His opponent, President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), took the opposite approach: We don’t want to get into Vietnam (even though we had military advisors in there, and had had them there for several years). Of course, history correctly records that LBJ won the election and then turned around and proceeded to send American troops into this little known Southeast Asian nation which would be the cause of nearly sixty thousand American deaths and a nation seriously divided over “the war” and many other issues. This war snow-balled into ten years of chaos and mayhem at home. When it was finally over, more than two million of our military men and women served in this war. The Vietnam War, along with other social and political issues, served as a catalyst where Conservatism and Liberalism would draw the lines of their own conflict, widening the philosophical gap between these two parties ever since.
In the 70s, a minister by the name of Jerry Falwell created a political revolution by announcing that there were many Americans who did not agree with much of what was happening inside the hallowed walls of our nation’s capital. Thus was formed the conservative religious movement, the Moral Majority.
In the 80s, a former actor-turned-politician hit the political scene like a tsunami. His name was, of course, Ronald Wilson Reagan. He completely reinvented conservatism in the United States. His primary target for support was the newly emerging Evangelical Christians that came primarily from the Moral Majority. The next eight years became known as the “Reagan Era.”
Next week we’ll look further into this conservative phenomenon.