Recently, I actually had someone ask me “What do conservatives believe?” After answering his question, it occurred to me that there are probably a lot of people out there, who are new to politics, who are wondering,
“What do conservatives believe? Why do we take the positions we do? Are liberals right in the way that they describe our motivations or is something else at work?”
Therefore, I decided to answer “20 frequently asked questions about conservatism”. But, before I get into this, I do have some caveats for you.
First of all, every conservative doesn’t have exactly the same beliefs. Moreover, even when we do agree on certain positions, we may have different motives or reasoning behind our answers. So keep in mind that reasonable and intelligent conservatives may disagree with some of the things I’ve said below.
Furthermore, remember as you read these answers that entire columns, books, and in some cases, whole careers have been spent going into detail on some of the things I touched on. So obviously, what you’re about to read is a very short, simplified, and basic explanation of these issues that can be expounded on at length. In other words, think of this as a cheatsheet for “Conservatism 101,” not a comprehensive guide.
Ok, that’s enough warnings. Shall we begin?
What do conservatives believe? As a general rule, conservatives favor a smaller, weaker, Federal government, less taxes, free trade, a strong defense, a color blind society, and traditional American values.
So who are these “scary” neoconservatives I hear people on the left ranting about?: ”Neocons” are often portrayed as shadowy figures (usually Jewish) who’re somehow manipulating America towards war in order to help Israel or just to stoke their bloodlust.
But in reality, the term neocon was coined simply to describe left-wingers who moved to the right. Because there are a number of hawkish Jews who fit that description, neoconservatism has been identified with Jewishness and hawkishness, although neither is a requirement to be a neocon. Neocons do not have a universal set of beliefs, nor do the prescriptions of prominent neocons for the war on terrorism seem to differ significantly from those of the “average conservative”. More info here.
How ’bout Paleocons?: Paleocons for the most part hold the same beliefs as other conservatives except they tend to be isolationists, anti-free trade, and are debatably even more anti-illegal alien than the average conservative. The best known paleoconservative is Pat Buchanan whose magazine, The American Conservative, is so shrilly anti-Bush and anti-war that large portions of it could have been written by left-wingers like Michael Moore or Ted Rall.
Why do conservatives always seem to favor tax-cuts for the wealthy?: Most people on the right are against a graduated income tax. Put another way, conservatives favor things like flat taxes or national sales taxes over our current tax system because they believe a “rising tide lifts all boats”. A flat tax or sales tax would encourage everyone to make as much money as possible, which would help grow the economy, whereas a graduated tax punishes high achievers for their success, and lessens economic growth overall.
Moreover, if everyone pays the same percentage of tax, that would provide a strong check on the growth of the Federal government. On the other hand, if the large majority of the taxes are foisted on the rich and ordinary people don’t feel any pain if there’s a tax increase, the government will grow larger than it should on the backs of the entrepreneurs who are helping to drive the economy. Eventually you get to a point, as we did in the seventies, where this strangles economic growth.
To sum it up, long term, the flatter the tax system is, the more the economy will grow, and the better off ALL AMERICANS, not just the rich, will be.
Why do Conservatives favor the rich so much? See the answer given above. Furthermore, instead of saying that, “Conservatives favor the rich,” I think it would be more accurate to say that conservatives, unlike liberals, are not hostile to the rich. Conservatives don’t begrudge the wealthy the money they make, think the affluent must have cheated somebody to get rich, or believe that society should “punish” people for success.
What’s so great about Ronald Reagan? Why do conservatives admire him so much?: When the Gipper came into office, our economy was in the worst shape since the Great Depression, Vietnam and Watergate had shattered America’s confidence, and the Soviet Union was considered by many to be the stronger of the two super powers. When Reagan left office he had rebuilt our military, taken the steps necessary to break the Soviet Union (which finally collapsed in 1991), and managed to create a tidal wave of economic prosperity with his tax cuts that America is still riding to this day. To conservatives, Reagan was a titan among men. More details here.
The conservatives I know are opposed to Affirmative Action and racial set-asides. Why so?: Conservatives believe it is wrong to discriminate against, or give benefits to, anyone based on the color of his skin. In other words, Conservatives believe in a color-blind society.
Is Republican a synonym for conservative?: No, no, a thousand times no! The Republican party is the home of the conservative movement, but that doesn’t mean that all Republicans are conservative. Furthermore, even the Republicans who are conservative can’t always do what they’d like because of political pressure.
Just to give you an example of what I’m talking about, keep in mind that President Bush has endured voluminous criticism from the right over his plan to deal with illegal aliens, excessive spending, Steel Tariffs, his support for the assault weapons ban, his large budget increase for the NEA, and a number of other issues.
Is there such a thing as a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?: Let me paraphrase Brian Newport, a cartoon character from ‘This Just In’ and say, “I know that there isn’t a vast right-wing conspiracy because if it existed, I’d be in it”. In other words, there is no vast right wing conspiracy.
So what’s the conservative beef with abortion?: Simply put, conservatives believe life begins at conception. Since that’s what conservatives believe, then it logically follows that conservatives believe an abortion is nothing less than the murder of a baby. And what type of degenerate would you have to be to believe that abortion is infanticide and yet still support it?
Why do conservatives hate the environment?: Unfortunately, most environmental activists today tend to be radical luddites for whom economic considerations are practically irrelevant. We’re talking about people who try to stop almost every new power plant from being built, who oppose drilling a desolate Alaska wasteland laden with oil because they fear it might upset the caribou in the region, and who’d happily drive the US economy into a depression by supporting the Kyoto Accord (more on that next).
Conservatives want clean water, clean air, and a clean planet as much as the average person. However, unlike radical environmentalists, we’re not purists. Conservatives have a sense of proportion, and we’re not willing to drive America’s standard of living back 50 years for some unnoticeable environmental gain. So in effect, conservatives are pro-environment, we’re just moderates about it compared to the zealots in the environmentalism movement.
Speaking of the Kyoto Accord, why are conservatives so deadset against it?:Conservatives believe Kyoto is an incredibly expensive and yet largely ineffective solution to a dubious problem. While most scientists now seem to agree the earth is warming (in the seventies the consensus was that it was cooling), truth be told, we don’t really know exactly why it’s warming up or how much hotter it will get over what time period. Furthermore, even if mankind is causing it, Kyoto is a highly ineffective way to address the problem. As Bjorn Lomborg recently said,
“Implementing the Kyoto agreement on climate change would cost at least $150 billion each year, yet would do no more than postpone global warming for six years by 2100. That is to say, it would cause temperatures to increase slightly more slowly – the temperature we would have reached in 2100 without Kyoto, we would now reach in 2106.”
Well, how about the United Nations? Aren’t they the good guys? How can conservatives have a problem with them?: The UN is a corrupt, incompetent, toothless, largely anti-American and anti-semitic organization, where dictatorships and global small fry have an inordinate amount of power and influence. That is reason enough to hold the organization in contempt. But, more importantly, conservatives believe that the United Nations often tries to insert itself in matters of US law, put itself above the US Constitution, and chip away at the sovereignty of the United States. That is simply intolerable.
What’s the root of conservative anger at Europe?: Conservatives find much of Europe to be far to the left of America, anti-American, and to have an appallingly naive & utopian view of how the world actually works. Furthermore, many conservatives view Europeans as ungrateful pikers who have often come to running to America for help (WW1, WW2, Vietnam (France), The Cold War, Kosovo, Bosnia, etc) but have no interest in returning the favor in the war on terrorism. France in particular is disliked because they have been tacitly trying to undermine the United States in Iraq.
Is there a conservative strategy for the war on terrorism?: Absolutely. In the short term, we’re going after not just Al-Qaeda, but all terrorist groups with global reach along with the rogue states that support them. If you’re wondering why we’re not just focusing on Al-Qaeda, keep in mind that it would be all too easy for Al-Qaeda to reform with another name or for other groups to take up Al-Qaeda’s cause. Furthermore, without the training, shelter, and support of rogue states, terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda become an order of magnitude less effective. So it’s vitally important that we force rogue states that support terrorism to get out of the business the easy way (like Libya) or the hard way (like Iraq).
Long term, conservatives believe that helping to spread democracy and freedom in the Middle-East is a good way to dry up the pools of support the terrorists have in the region and it’s also the best way to improve our image over the long haul. More info here.
Most conservatives I know don’t like illegal immigrants. Why is that?: Well obviously you don’t know anyone who works for the Wall Street Journal – har, har, har (sorry, that’s just a little inside joke for conservatives). The biggest problem conservatives have with illegal aliens is that word “illegal” in front of their name. We’re talking about people who hold our laws in contempt, who sneak into our country, who often don’t pay their fair share in taxes, and yet use our hospitals, our schools, and our social service programs (when they have children here). In the eyes of conservatives, being anti-illegal alien is a basic part of being pro-law and order. Get more details here.
Are conservatives against the minimum wage because they hate poor people?: No, not at all. Look, the minimum wage artificially forces up wages which leads to higher costs of goods for consumers, can make businesses less competitive in the global marketplace, and most importantly reduces the number of jobs available for the very people it’s meant to help. The minimum wage may sound good in theory, but conservatives believe it’s an economically unsound policy. More details here.
What’s so great about school vouchers and why are conservatives always promoting them as a way to fix our schools?: ”Spending more money” is always touted as the “cureall” for the ills of our public school system. However, conservatives believe we’re not getting our money’s worth out of our schools (which are some of the best funded in the world by the way). Therefore, the solution is to give parents vouchers they can use at any school they choose, thereby bringing market forces to bear. If schools have to compete for dollars, conservatives believe their performance will improve. Competition works almost everywhere else in the American economy, so why shouldn’t it work with schools too?
Don’t conservatives believe in separation of church & state?: The phrase “separation of church and state” never appears in the Constitution. What does appear in the Constitution is,
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.
Conservatives believe that what the Founding Fathers were trying to do was prevent the creation of a National Church, not to actually suppress religious liberties. So for example, you may oppose school prayer, mentioning God in the Pledge of Allegiance, etc, etc, but conservatives believe there’s no constitutional basis for your opposition. That’s a very important distinction to make. Read more on this subject here.
Why are conservatives so opposed to gun control?: Not only do conservatives think gun control is only effective at disarming law abiding citizens, not criminals who obviously can’t be expected to follow the rules, we also believe the 2nd Amendment gives us the constitutional right to be armed. Because of that, conservative opposition to gun control is a given.