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The Plaint of An Abandoned Conservative


Once upon a time, conservatism was not a dogma so much as an outlook. And, for a dogma, it’s been made rather vague this past decade.

I wanted to grow up to be a right-winger, albeit a bleeding-heart liberal version, but I really have no idea of what either term means to people anymore, either. They just sort of get tossed out as labels, whether for good or ill, but only labels.

In recent years, "left" and "right" have become empty words, more pejorative than descriptive. "Liberal" and "conservative" are similarly being bashed beyond all meaning.

Once upon a time, we had standard terms indicating one’s position in the political spectrum, one’s attitude toward change and one’s willingness to inflict change on one’s neighbor for their own good. Where has this terminology gone? Abused to death by the unthinking, no doubt.

Once upon a time, at least in my memory, the world wasn’t black-and-white. The labels "Republican," "militaristic," "elitist," "conservative" and so one were not interchangeable.

I consider myself a progressive Republican, a voter without a candidate. I don’t think I’m a "right-winger," I mean, I’m not anti-Communist, but I’m having a lot of fun with capitalism and would never consider living under a government influenced by Russia, or even China. I don’t hate, but I do not choose to follow.

The Republican slate has always been sort of bleak for me. My favorite president, and the only presidential candidate I’ve ever voted for, is Jerry Ford; I’ve forgiven him for his role on the spineless Warren Commission. I like Barry Goldwater, who had the guts to say that one-issue groups like the Moral Majority "give me a pain in the ass."

Where I grew up, right-wingers are anti-government. They hate laws and regulations with a passion; no quarter given, none asked. They are conservative in the basic sense of the word: They move slowly, and for the most part enjoy things just as they are.

The liberals, meanwhile, want all sorts of restrictions, safety laws, a strong police force, social welfare, and lots of other items that require taxes, which have their own laws, enforcements, punishments and incentives to be codified.

To borrow from author Robert Heinlein, the first type tends to be surly, distrustful, and a far better neighbor than the second. The former will ignore anything that doesn’t impinge on his or her own rights; the latter will call the housing inspector every time your empty garbage can falls over.

The conservative is the critic of government, back home. The liberal backs government all the way, "for the greater good," even if this requires stifling whispers of corruption. The town newspaper, owned and managed by small-town liberals, never mentioned when the mayor had been picked up yet again for drunk driving, or that a half-dozen police officers were stealing bikes and repainting them for resale; we had to subscribe to a paper from 40 miles away to learn what was really happening down the block.

I suppose I could put up with Reagan – a friend of mine said he’d probably be a great guy to sit down and have a few drinks with. But Ronnie is two-faced. He talks about deregulation, then adds new departments, new laws, new taxes. He tells a bunch of Christians that this country was founded by Christians, for Christians, but forgets about that 24 hours later when he addresses an audience of Jews.

On a national scale, the hardening of the "us versus them" dichotomy has screwed up politics. Sure, the Democrats are disorganized, but that’s hardly novel. The Republicans, meanwhile, are so convinced of the might of their own invincible Titanic that the officers and passengers are singing gaily as the crew heads for the lifeboats.

This has a sort of pleasant irony to it. The new conservatives, as opposed to the older, slow-moving type, went crazy, building an ambitious shrine to a past that never was. The Republicans worked so hard to build the seamless "pro-family, pro-life, pro-decency" front, to be led by Ronald Reagan, but the whole ghastly rococo edifice is crumbling under its own weight, gargoyles, minarets, and all. Being conservative, the occupants hold fast, claiming the stabilizing force of Tradition, never fully aware that the structure, fantasy aside, is only a decade old.

I don’t trust the Democrats as far as I can throw them, but they are entertaining. But the Republicans have gone out of their way to avoid being my kind of "just folks."

I want my party back.

article © 2003, 1988, W. Gregory Zeuner, Albermarle ARG

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