We all call ourselves conservatives and that’s cool, but are we conservative in all things? Does it matter? There are many different areas where ideology defines our beliefs. Is it imperative that a politician or your neighbor share your ideology at every step? Do you know your ideology in every area? Care to take a simple test?
Let’s start by determining all the different buckets that define our ideology. The Tea party has done an effective job in defining just what ones ideology needs to be if they agree with Tea Party principles. Simply believe in strict interpretation of the constitution, fiscal restraint and in limited government and you can call yourself a Tea Party conservative. So most Libertarians might qualify as Tea Party conservatives, and we have identified three buckets. There are those who see hypocrisy in the various Tea Party movements when fiscal and governmental conservatism is preached yet cultural conservatism is practiced. The best example of these conflicts are the 2010 Senate races in Nevada and Delaware and the more recent Senate losses of winnable seats in 2012 Ohio and Indiana.
The religious right asks that to agree with them one should be culturally conservative. That includes a support of marriage between a man and a woman, no special rights for gays, and a hard line on abortion. It also might require a belief in prayer in schools and no gays in the military. Do restrictions on content in movies and television and lyrics in songs bring us to our next conflict? Can someone be considered a constitutional and cultural conservative, should they enjoy R rated movies? What if they are apathetic about homosexuality? Does that have any effect on how conservative they can claim to be? Does our level of distaste or lack thereof cause us to require a “moderately” moniker?
Perhaps the most difficult bucket to properly define is one we’ll call governmental. The tea party touched on it with the desire for limited government but most so called conservatives still desire a strong military and defend defense spending despite a call for fiscal restraint. How governmental conservative must one be before he can jettison the “moderately” adverb? Must someone have Libertarian views on war and nation building? Is there conflict between constitutional conservatism and governmental conservatism when discussing states rights? Can a person advocate governmental conservatism yet be willing to turn a blind eye to imminent domain when used for the greater good?
Generally a fiscal conservative finds his argument centered on domestic spending and issues which require tax payer funding of programs he or she deems as not the responsibility of any form of government, and certainly not federal government. Is that a separate bucket from governmental conservatism? Is it hypocrisy to be fiscally responsible with one’s own resources but willing to spend tax payer monies on questionable foreign policy expenditures? Must we employ the modifier “moderately” once again to properly define our position? Must we cheat and create two buckets, one called government size and another governmental role? Can a governmental conservative differentiate the distinct roles of federal and state government and be true to his chosen ideology? Likewise can he do the same between state and local government?
We tend to judge others on our interpretation of conservatism but it truly is on our definition of the word based on our beliefs. When I hear someone say “What we need in Washington are true conservative leaders”, I ask “in what way?” Do we need a cultural conservative that will spend time and energy overturning Roe v Wade or a fiscal conservative who will rein in federal spending and reform entitlements? Is one more conservative than the other?
If there is or ever becomes a litmus test for true conservatism how many will pass the test? A true and complete conservative would look more like a libertarian in all non cultural buckets yet be a total opposite of the libertarian when it comes to tolerance of anything short of far right cultural beliefs. If strict adherence to all conservatism is required the Party conventions could be held in a high school gym.
The Republican Party faces many obstacles in the years ahead if they are to ever regain power. Perhaps the first obstacle is to prioritize those “buckets” of conservative ideology. The Party has allowed the left to define Republican candidates and the liberal media has completed the portrait by focusing on the cultural rather than fiscal, constitutional or governmental conservative values. The country is not entirely center-right. Culturally it is center-left.
So when asked if you are a conservative, be sure to identify the correct bucket and use the appropriate modifier.
Tom Sullivan is an author and freelance writer. His website is teddysergeant.com.