Where are the American conservatives?
Where are the American conservatives?

The conservative political philosophy is a great one, on par with its partner, the liberal political philosophy. One is not better than the other on every issue. Both can offer a needed worldview and the remarkable and innovative solutions that come with it. For Americans, however, the conservative seems absent from the debate of ideas.

Swirl paw

Meowpolis, Purristan – Thursday 24 September 2015

My first post on the blog, in fact, the first post on the blog, sans the introduction from the editorial staff, was titled "That Rascally Radical Reactionary Lurks Behind the Conservative". That was to a human audience, and mostly is an analysis of political terms and what they mean, and how they may be better used. This post is a related post, though its target is specifically Americans.

We here in Purristan are not conservatives. Nor are we liberals. Nor libertarians. We are enlightened. Many of us, obvious to longtime readers, take some measure of pride in our cultural achievement of enlightenment. This is not to say that an opinion from a random Purristani regarding a particular issue is undefinable using conventional labels of political philosophy. Sure, they can - in fact, very easily by you, the human in the imperfect human world. Much of what various Purristani's, myself included, may opine about in this forum are our individual views regarding human problems, not the formal views of the Enlightened Republic itself on human problems, or even the various feline problems. Thus, from a Purristani point of view, I am enlightened, and from the imperfections of the human perspective, my core political philosophy leans conservative. I feel it is important that you understand this point before I move forward.

Politics

Though there are numerous political philosophies, two of the most common, and most often compared, are conservatism and liberalism. Neither the conservative nor the liberal is the enemy of the other. They are partners. Both seek to improve their community, ensure opportunity to their fellows, and make their community a better place. Partisan and entertainment politics strive to make these two enemies. Politics is power, and an ideology "wins" if it is in power and enacting policy reflecting its "winning" philosophy. This approach, though presently the norm is generally problematic, for myriad reasons. Most humans are infinitely complex, seldom holding views and values that, in every case, fits neatly within one end of the ideological spectrum. As political parties continue getting more, so-called, "ideologically pure", these complex humans must make choices that will surely counter their views and values on many issues, or they must change their views and values to reflect whatever is being, often subjectively, defined as the "pure" position of the moment. In this context, no label, no party, and no individual is immune.

The good ideas

Within the United States, and around the world, enacted policy from conservatives and liberals, in different times and manners, have each met great successes and great failures. This fact alone proves neither hold a monopoly on which offers the best answer to vexing questions. This is something I believe most humans are well aware of, but often forget in the daily battle of "purified" partisan politics. I further am of the view that, of the two dominate political parties in the United States, each promotes ideas rooted in either of these two political philosophies, though often being ignorant of it or actively reframing it.

What I mean here, and I have written of this example before, is that those humans whom advocate for being good stewards of the environment, while seeking to present to future generations a planet in the same condition as they found it, if not better, are coming from a fundamentally conservative mindset. Partisan politics screw up the labels applied to these environmental advocates, and specific policy solutions proposed to help ensure this conservative goal may diverge along the philosophical spectrum too, further clouding this. Regardless, at its root, having a philosophical preference for being a conservationist is being conservative. I feel if liberals acknowledge this point, the next step would be to concede that a conservative political philosophy is not always a bad one, nor a wrong one. Conservative readers, if they outright reject this logically consistent point, may need to consider the possibility they are not conservative, or are not on this particular issue.

Congress and the 2016 Presidential Campaign

My principal concern is what I have been witnessing in contemporary American politics. I fear the conservative is missing from the public debate of ideas. To be sure, there are many candidates claiming to be conservatives. However, I am seeing it only as a claim, a buzzword, or a rhetorical device. I wish to illustrate what motivates my view.

Deportation and building a wall

Donald Trump
2016 GOP Presidential Candidate Donald J. Trump (R)

There seems a great amount of support for building a literal wall along the southern border of the United States, which it shares with Mexico. Paired with this is an earnest desire to round up and deport some 10-15 million humans (though interestingly, not felines) who may be in the country illegally or otherwise lack documentation. Even more, there is sincere support for ending "birthright citizenship" – meaning that if you are born in the United States, you are a citizen of the United States. I have tried my best to understand all of this. How is any of this conservative? I remain at a loss.

The Round Up

Locating, confirming, and detaining these 10-15 million humans would be enormously expensive - not just its social costs, such as the bad press of broken families and endless other possiblities, as well as costs to local economies and more, but also in direct expenses - the personnel, administrative, facilities, housing, food, transportation, and so on. Furthermore is the talk of having this not only implemented within a year, but also completed in a similar timeframe. It would be one of the greatest undertakings in the history of the nation - and not just any nation - a democratic one. For context, consider that a totalitarian regime sought to remove all those they deemed "undesirable" - a similar number of 10-15 million - and single-mindedly set about this task. With the full resources of this totalitarian state committed to the endeavor, they still failed to achieve their goal. Worse, they failed in spite of several years of total, unwavering commitment, not the one or two years American "conservatives" appear to fancy. Of course, I am talking about Nazi Germany, and their efforts regarding political dissidents, social "deviants", Jews, Roma, and various others.

Yet, the presentation of this is as a serious point, seemingly unquestioned, and an applause-line notion. Inaugurating one of the largest government run social engineering projects in human history, and its unaccounted cost, is conservative? Not to this cat.

The Wall

The Wall
Likely Wall-Related Graffiti Art

Building a wall, first, is bad optics. Another comparison is the infamous Berlin Wall. It was conservative icon and U.S. president Ronald Reagan who implored that wall must come down. Imagine a world where other leaders stand at the American wall making similar pronouncements to great applause. Such a wall would cost money - but no worries, Mexico is going to pay for it! How? Who knows? All one need is to assert they will, and that seems to be enough. Another paradox for the conservative is how the federal government will get rights to all the privately owned land along its border with Mexico. Will it claim eminent domain? Is that action one favored by conservatives valuing property rights? Wall or not, it does not solve much. A great amount of immigration, whether legal or not, comes by boat and airplane - or the northern border with Canada. It, therefore, is not only bad optics for a literal wall, it also serves as a physical representative that a certain ethnic group is unwelcome. Making this worse is another problem; the unwelcome ethnic group is already an enormous multi-generational part of the whole population of the nation. Surely, few will look on this wall as a proud American accomplishment.

Birthright Citizenship

One of the things that makes the United States unique and adds to its greatness is birthright citizenship, found in the constitution. It has become popular within American conservatism to seek to amend the constitution and remove the provision. The question is the same for all the other points: how is this conservative? If a human is born in the United States, they are a citizen. It is administratively easy. If removing this, then the administration of citizenship will become yet another large government bureaucracy - large agencies most other nations already have - that will be on a scale new to the American public and its government. If there is a philosophical principal of limited government, then taking a wholly unregulated affair - birthright citizenship - and then inject government by making it thoroughly regulated, where all those in the nation, no matter who they are, must prove satisfactorily to a bureaucrat they are a citizen, makes for a forsaken conservative principal.

Much of what I read and hear from self-professed "conservatives" in the context of immigration makes me question if any are conservative at all. When they make arguments of conservative principals, and then make or support these arguments made on immigration, I have to ask if they understand what a principal is. I suppose it would be one thing if it were only the issue of immigration - a case where they lapse from the ideal of individual liberty to that of free-spending big-government advocates - but there is more worth noting.

A religious test

Widely known, or at least I assume it to be, is that the constitution of the United States forbids any religious test of those whom seek public office. One thing that may confuse people is the tradition of presidents applying "so help me God" to the end of their oath of office. The oath comes from Article Two, Section One, Clause Eight, of the constitution and reads as follows:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:— "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

This is buttressed further in the constitution as follows:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Ben Carson
2016 Presidential Candidate Dr. Ben Carson (R)

Note the option to affirm rather than swearing their oath. This is the most obvious example that their Founders considered and formally gave an atheist a constitutional route for affirming their oath. You may also see that "so help me God" is not part of it. Its addition is only a tradition - an ad-lib rather than a constitutional formality.

Further confusing contemporary matters is that during the height of their Cold War with the officially atheist Soviet Union, the nation added "under God" to their Pledge of Allegiance in nineteen fifty-four, and in nineteen fifty-six made their official motto "In God We Trust". The "In God We Trust" motto formally replaced the one their Founders used: "e pluribus unum" which means: "out of many, one." This latter motto, given the United States is a pluralistic society with freedom of and from religion is inclusive and on par with the more considered oath found in the constitution, whereas the former is clearly not inclusive for a pluralistic society.

Perhaps rooted in these matters confusing and confounding the contemporary American, is an issue suggesting persons of the Muslim faith are somehow unqualified for public office, based solely on their faith. American conservatives often profess their support of the constitution, and promote an idea they are those most patriotic. However, if such claims asserting a Muslim cannot hold office receives praise from this group, then they clearly have not read, or simply do not understand, the constitution they otherwise admire. Being objectively wrong is not a conservative principal.

Planned Parenthood

Speaking of religion, a recent effort to display supposed conservative bonafides has been to attack relentlessly an organization called Planned Parenthood, one of the largest providers of family planning and reproductive healthcare services in the United States. What confuses me is why attacking a group that helps ensure family planning would be considered a conservative thing to do, rather than being a complete affront to a seemingly erstwhile conservative principal - namely that of responsible family planning. It is true that, as an organization providing comprehensive reproductive healthcare services to human males and females, some of their facilities provide abortion services. In spite of the obvious point, abortion in the United States is perfectly legal; I do understand that for many conservatives, abortion is an abomination - a view rooted in their religious faith. This particular part of Planned Parenthood represents about 3% of the services they provide. This then suggests it is somehow conservative to thwart 97% of their family and reproductive healthcare services, seemingly only to score some political points on the other 3% of what they do. Furthermore, though Planned Parenthood, in addition to fees and donations, receives a fair amount of public money, largely because they provide much of their services to women and families of limited financial means, current federal law prohibits use of these public funds for otherwise legal abortion services. What then is conservative about cutting off 100% of their public assistance from supporting 97% of their family care services? It strikes me as being not too dissimilar from seeking to cut off 100% of the budget of the Justice Department because some of that money goes to local law enforcement, joining money from other sources (state and local), and occasionally, a local law enforcement officer kills an innocent person. Whether innocent or not really does not matter in the religious context of Christian doctrine, for taking a life - any life - is a sin. Taking one life is no more of a sin than taking another.

A plan to cut off this modest Planned Parenthood funding is to shut the entire federal government down. So-called "conservatives" have done this before. In various supposedly conservative efforts, they have managed to cost the people of the United States hundreds of millions of dollars in bizarre and failed efforts to save a comparative couple of bucks. The attack on Planned Parenthood seems like a contradiction from the principal of responsible family planning, and the plan to hurt Planned Parenthood seems like a contradiction from the principal of fiscal responsibility.

Voter ID

There are numerous studies out there showing in-person voter fraud is almost non-existent, and that requiring specific types of photo identification to vote does indeed serve to disenfranchise tens of thousands if not millions of Americans, so I will not get into that part of this. Widely used photo identification is a relatively new thing in the United States. The most common is a driver's license. In fact, this identification started the trend of most people carrying identification in the first place. Obviously, those who do not drive have no reason to get a driver's license. An alternative option is a U.S. state ID card, modeled after the driver's license, but in most cases, this is not required. The driver's license, traditionally, only ensured the individual holding it could legally operate a motor vehicle in the state issuing it. Other states, by convention, honor the earned driving privilege conferred by another state within their states. Over time came the addition of photos to these forms of identification, mostly beginning in the nineteen-eighties. Amending laws allowing a driver's license to serve as proof of identification for other matters followed. State ID's were created as an option for those who do not drive, so they too may have this kind of proof of identification for other matters. Regardless, what none of it does is prove you are a voter, or even a citizen of the United States. The U.S. passport is the only form of identification that unquestionably ensures and confers all rights of citizenship upon its holder. Interestingly, a passport is also one of the least carried forms of identification in the United States. This is likely because humans only carry the forms of identification they need. For a driver, they carry their license, and simply get used to having a government-issued photo identification card with them at all times. It is easy to forget that many do not have a driver's license, and are not used to carrying government-issued photo identification around. Those not actively carrying a U.S. passport around might find this reality a bit easier to understand.

Voter ID
Voter ID

The United States successfully operated from its founding until within the last decade allowing voters to register and vote without requiring specific forms of government-issued photo identification. This is a new big-government regulation. The act of obtaining a government-issued photo identification card is overtly to place one "on the grid". A conservative principal is individual liberty, so it seems odd to me that conservatives would require going on the grid, giving your likeness and in many cases, your thumbprint, to big government, so you may then exercise your constitutional right to vote. Furthermore, these ID's have to be "valid", which also makes no sense from an individual liberty perspective, given the person already proved they are who they say they are to get the ID in the first place, and just because they lost their privilege to drive, or had one too many birthdays, they are prevented from exercising a right? They must continuously give up some of their individual liberty, going to some agency, paying money, continuously to keep a government-issued ID valid, all in an effort to exercise a right that did not require all this expense and rigmarole for 230+ years. Heck, what happened to tradition? Is that not another conservative principal tossed out, in addition to individual liberty, by these voter ID efforts?

All of this big-government intervention and regulation placed at the heart of this fundamental individual right is to thwart the event of one person physically going to a voting place, actively impersonating a registered voter, and nefariously casting a ballot in their place, while avoiding a sweat and with it, possible detection. All of that risk and effort for casting ONE vote. Forget studies, just think about how unlikely that is! Voting fraud does occur, to be sure. Ballot stuffing in a precinct (voter ID law has no influence here), and perhaps most often of all with absentee ballots (voter ID law has no influence here). Where voter fraud happens is not in-person - one person doing so in-person will not influence the outcome of an election - stuffing ballots or intercepting and casting thousands of absentee ballots, on the other hand, can influence the outcome of an election. Voter ID laws do nothing to address the actual ways voter fraud occurs. Perhaps confusing matters is media reporting voter registration forms sometimes include names like "Mickey Mouse" - but this is not an example of in-person voter fraud. Many organizations and parties seek to register voters, with all, by law, required to turn in each registration form submitted, no matter what is on them (including "Mickey Mouse"). The election officials then validate the forms, and toss out the news making fake ones. This is how the media learns about them in the first place - when discovered by officials. Regardless, even in the unlikely event a Mickey Mouse actually got through the registration process, Mickey is not heading to the polls on Election Day.

This is a policy effort I find to both be anti-conservative in every measurable way, while also being completely pointless and stupid. This assumes the intent is sincerely rooted in an erroneous belief that in-person voting fraud not only actually occurs but also is rampant. It is, perhaps coincidentally, a stunningly effective way to disenfranchise many voters.

America Needs Conservatives

Conservatism is one of those great governing philosophies. I fear that many claiming to be "conservatives" are possibly something else entirely. I fear that allowing for xenophobia, intolerance, disenfranchisement, fiscal mismanagement, and other examples of the worst of humankind (yes this is an incomplete list) to be aligned, in the public consciousness, with conservatism has great potential to ultimately hurt the nation. Conservatism is too great and too important to allow its association with small-mindedness. A great nation cannot endure if conservative principals are missing from the debate of its future and its public debate.

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