Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Well... How did I get here?"

Some of you may be wondering how I got to the point where I thought it necessary to express my political philosophy to a wider audience than I can assemble around the dinner table. (After publishing a weblog for a little while, I've begun to wonder the same thing.) The short story begins a few years back. That's when I officially "got it." On that Saturday, I was driving my then nine-year old son to the mall to pick out a gift for his mother. (As usual, I got her a gift certificate.) En route to the store of choice, my son blurted out, “I hate George Bush!” Given that our conversation up to that point had nothing to do with politics, as well as the fact that I was a relatively staunch conservative and that his mother was for all practical purposes apolitical, I was taken aback by this outburst. But I needed to know more. I asked him, “Why don’t you like George Bush?” “Because he’s a liar and a jerk” he replied, adding, “and he started the war.”

It took my best effort to keep from launching into the reasoning behind the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003 and why in fact George Bush was simply and correctly acting upon what everyone in Washington, D.C. (let alone most of the capitals of Europe and much of the United Nations) agreed was the case, namely that the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein was seeking the means to produce weapons of mass destruction and needed to be stopped once and for all. All of my well-reasoned debating points would have been lost on my child. I simply laughed it off and by letting the matter lie, we were able to spend a good time shopping for his Mother’s Day gift.

Predictably, my son’s off-handed comment stuck with me. As I thought about what he said, I wondered how a child who could not pick out Iraq on a map would come to the belief that George Bush was more of a “jerk” than the despot that he overthrew? Just as important, what would George Bush be lying about that would concern a nine-year old kid? (The existence of Santa Claus?) Clearly, my precious child had been “gotten to.” In spite of whatever influence I may have provided, somewhere along the line, or more likely, at many points along the way, my son was led to believe that George Bush was inherently bad. That my son could not, and saw no need to produce any evidence to back up his statement spoke volumes. I’m fairly certain that no hard evidence was produced for him, and in the manner of a child, he did not require any from those who lead him to his conclusions. He was taught more or less by his environment that certain things were just so.

That a child would believe what he was told is not entirely surprising. Unfortunately, the arguments made against conservatives and conservatism by the political Left can barely be distinguished from my son’s assertions. In fact, the arguments are virtually indistinguishable whether they are articulated by a nine-year old school kid, a 25-year old graduate school student, a 30-year old Hollywood actor, a 35-year old Presbyterian clergyman, a 45-year old “Big three” news anchor or a 55-year old Ivy League college professor. Conservatives are liars and jerks. And they start wars. End of story.

Needless to say, I love my child unconditionally and will always be proud of him. But it does appear that I have my work cut out for me with my son as it pertains to politics. It occurred to me that I never really shared my political beliefs with him because I never really had to articulate them to anyone else. My wife and my in-laws are irretrievable liberals, so for the sake of marital harmony, we rarely get into drawn out political discussions. And as I live in the Midwestern outpost of electoral blue outside of the coasts, all of my good friends are similarly oriented. On the occasions when politics are discussed at all, I tend to nod my head and listen. These essays represent my effort to put in black and white what I believe as it pertains to conservatism, as well as some of the issues of the day.

Truth be told, my ability to influence my son’s future political orientation may be limited at best, and certainly won’t be immediate, as children and young adults seem to be liberal by disposition. In an era of unchecked individualism and expansive government power, one could argue that conservatism, that is constructive application of principled restraint - or more succinctly, conserving what we have - is not a belief system that is easily taught at all. Man’s basest nature seems to be to “expand and expend” as in expanding the boundaries of one’s personal freedoms versus one’s responsibilities to the society, and expending the reservoir of social, economic and cultural blessings that have been bequeathed to the present by previous generations.

We expect children to say and do what seems expedient at the time, with no regard for the sequelae, as we know that kids have a difficult time with “what-if” thinking. But many of us are understandably frustrated when adults seem to demonstrate a similar inability to apply abstract reasoning to human events. The Left in its current form seems to have no sense of consideration of either means or ends. They want what they want regardless of how they get it or whether there is lasting benefit once they receive it.

The importance of delaying gratification, affirming one’s commitments to self, others and society and remaining resolute in the face of adversity is not something that is learned readily, particularly in our affluent, post-modern society. And as these lessons do not necessarily come with intellect or age, a person can live their entire life without acquiring an understanding of what true conservatism is about. That is to say, that a person can live their whole life without gaining any sense of how to apply adult reasoning to situations that affect neighborhoods, cultures or societies.

Indeed, that is the strongest and most direct indictment against progressives, that they are children masquerading as adults. They sit in positions of authority and power, responsible for making adult decisions. They teach our children, they interpret the course of events by reporting our news; they entertain us through music, on stage and screen, and through books and magazines. They even preach to us in our houses of worship. And they do all of this with a distinct handicap, the lack of any ability to act from a perspective other than the pursuit of their immediate gratification.

As they preach, teach and train, as they report, and as they govern, they inculcate those around them with their belief system. And because of their interlocking web of influence by position, their view seems to be universal and thereby mainstream. Any divergence from their beliefs therefore is seen as deviant, even heretical. After a period of time, no real proof is required to support their beliefs. Rather, the burden of proof is on those who divert from their orthodoxy. Given that adults seem so susceptible to this way of thinking, it’s a wonder that any child, let alone my child, would believe anything other than the talking points of progressives.

In spite of the foregoing, I do not hold anything against liberals as it pertains to their acting upon what they believe. My grudge against them has to do with the fact that they see no need to rethink their beliefs in the first place. They never seem to ask if they could be wrong about anything, even in spite of the manifest failure of their policies both here in this country and around the globe. Who else but the political Left would advocate for such things as single payer universal health care, a stronger and more intrusive central government and a radically secular society, when all of these things have been consigned to the ash heap of history at the first opportunity by the formerly communist nations of Europe. It is the obstinacy and recalcitrance of progressives that makes them so maddening to the conservatives in their midst and so injurious to the nation as a whole.

Nevertheless, it is my opinion that if America has any sort of noteworthy future, it will be a conservative one. By my lights, it stands to reason that those who place a value on the sacrifices of our forebears and on their own efforts will more than likely find themselves politically right of center, and thus are more willing to exert and encourage the effort necessary to secure America’s future. Those who see their success contingent on the benevolence of others, or through their own idiosyncratic gifts, seem to line up on the Left of the political spectrum. Despite the protests to the contrary, from the long perspective of American history, modern liberalism is aberrational. And although modern liberalism has changed the social and political landscapes of the West, it is still something that must be imposed; its adherents must be indoctrinated. It is neither rooted in America’s past nor does it provide fertile ground for a vibrant future. Modern liberalism is but a vapor, a puff of wind in history’s grand scheme.

In any case, in my experience, one can never rise above their best thinking. I write in the hopes that it might be food for thought for the nine year-old in all of us, so that however we decide to conduct our affairs, it will be with the benefit of an adult perspective. I am not nearly arrogant enough to believe that I have perfect knowledge about everything that I have or will comment on, or for that matter, that I will change very many minds. I would be happy if I simply provide an opportunity to reconsider a closely-held assumption. For it is in thinking things over again (and again, if need be) that we take the best first steps on the path to conserving what we have.

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