I am a Conservative, Not a Jerk
By Leland Conway
I recently gave a speech in which I stuck around to answer questions from the crowd. One question that was posed was “How do we change the public perception that conservatives are jerks?”
As a conservative, I’ve never thought of myself as a jerk, but the question was perhaps the best question that could be asked of one who would see conservatism re-establish itself on the stage of American thought – because the more you think about it, the more you realize that this is exactly the way the conservative ideology is painted in the mainstream.
The mainstream accuses us of being jerks because we apparently don’t want to help the poor, we don’t want every child to have free health insurance, we want to tighten border security and we believe in things like sovereignty and actually defeating the enemies who attack us. We must be jerks because we want to keep what belongs to us so we must by extension also be very selfish people. We are cold hearted because we push policy that increases personal responsibility and does not necessarily mitigate individual risk.
This false perception of conservatism is exactly the reason I’ve always hated the term “compassionate conservatism,” which George W. Bush made popular during his 2000 campaign.
I never liked that term because words mean something to me. By putting the term compassionate in front of conservative, you are implying that there is no compassion in conservatism. You mean to say that compassion is an additional ingredient which, like kitchen spice, must be added to our ideology in order to make it more palatable.
By making this term popular, the Republicans may have unwittingly set their party back a generation. They were admitting to the American electorate that to live by the ideology of conservatism was indeed selfish and uncompassionate and that we somehow needed a strong dose of leftism in order to make us whole.
Where we, as conservatives went wrong, was in not rejecting this notion outright the moment it was introduced into the mainstream. Instead we embraced it. In so doing we became fearful of practicing our own principles and while we had theoretical control of government we didn’t actually implement very much conservative policy.
As a consequence, the American electorate was left confused about what a conservative actually is. Therefore it was easier for them to be confused and misled by a false messiah – Barack Obama.
Conservatism does not need the word compassion attached to it, because it is by its very nature the most compassionate form of political ideology.
Before you reject my premise, answer honestly the following questions.
What is more compassionate than the conservative notion of preserving the vision of our founding fathers in the protection of individual liberty? What is more compassionate that the protection of individual property rights? What is more compassionate than believing in and attempting to inspire individuals to reach their fullest potential and limiting the amount of government involvement in their lives? What is more compassionate than lowering American’s tax burden so that they can keep more of what they have earned with their own hands? In short, what is more compassionate than an ideology that when practiced with principle simply promotes individual liberty?
What you are seeing in the main stream of late has been a systematic intolerance of conservatism, ironically under the banner of tolerance for other ideologies. The widespread perception of conservatism as a selfish ideology simply will not change until we begin to effectively articulate the truth about what we believe. In doing so, rather than attaching platitudinous words like “compassion” to the beginning of our thought process, we should actually demonstrate how what we believe is actually more compassionate by its nature.
The Republican Party is at a crossroads. They can no longer afford to co-opt conservatism with other words while not actually practicing the principles of conservatism. These principles can be easily boiled down to one word, liberty. By practicing this word in action, for all people, conservatism will rise again as the primary thought process of the average American.