Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Conservative and liberal

Now that we've all had a chance to catch our breath after that election, I thought I'd just share a couple insights that meant a lot to me.

First, I read this lovely definition of conservative:

"Contrary to caricature, to be conservative is not necessarily to be racist, or retrograde, or close-minded. It is, rather, to be driven by a fundamental human impulse to preserve what one has and loves." (Newsweek, "It's not easy being blue," Jon Meacham, Oct. 27, 2008)

This got me thinking (as Meacham's stuff always does). I have things I love, and I fight to preserve them. I love a happy home, I love my freedom, I love my family. I suppose this makes me conservative! Meacham goes on to say:

"Liberals and moderates share this impulse, of course; and many conservatives, like many liberals and moderates, are generous, future-oriented and interested in reform."

Generous, future-oriented, and interested in reform. A nice definition of liberal, if you ask me. But these qualities are not owned by those who label themselves liberal.

On the other hand, one thing I think I did observe about the two "camps" if you will in this election involves what I think of as the "social contract."

Basically, it seemed to me that those who were voting red fundamentally believe that what a person has is what he or she has earned. And, if you've earned that dollar, it's yours, because it's due to your own hard work and effort. Therefore, any attempt to force you to share part of it will grate on you, because you believe that dollar is yours and yours alone. You don't mind choosing to share, but you don't want the government compelling you to do so.

Those who were voting blue had a different outlook. They seemed to be more comfortable with the belief that the ability to be prosperous in this country has to do not only with one's own effort, but also the vast infrastructure that exists here. The dollar you make, therefore, while it is certainly due in part to your own efforts to be educated, to get work, and to perform well, it's also due to the collective environment of this country. Preserving that environment and even enhancing it across the board for everyone will only increase your own wellbeing and opportunity.

Here's a passage from an article that takes issue with that "social contract" idea, calling it "socialism." But I like the way the author has articulated what I mean here, even in a negative article.

But what about a milder form of socialism? If reckoned as an attitude rather than a set of guidelines for running an economy, socialism might well describe Senator Obama's economics. Anyone who speaks glibly of "spreading the wealth around" sees wealth not as resulting chiefly from individual effort, initiative, and risk-taking, but from great social forces beyond any private producer's control. If, say, the low cost of Dell computers comes mostly from government policies (such as government schooling for an educated workforce) and from culture (such as Americans' work ethic) then Michael Dell's wealth is due less to his own efforts and more to the features of the society that he luckily inhabits.

Wealth, in this view, is produced principally by society. So society's claim on it is at least as strong as that of any of the individuals in whose bank accounts it appears. More important, because wealth is produced mostly by society (rather than by individuals), taxing high-income earners more heavily will do little to reduce total wealth production. (Donald J. Boudreaux, "Is Barack Obama really a socialist?" Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 30, 2008)

While I didn't agree with the article's conclusion, I did agree that wealth is produced by society, as well as by individuals. Also, I believe that by living here, we are part of a social contract to take care of each other.

To combine the two ideas above, I'm thinking that preserving our infrastructure, by investing in healthcare, better schools, roads, fire fighters, etc., is actually a conservative stance, since it's about preserving what I love. And sharing part of each dollar I earn is an acknowledgment that my opportunities rest on the backs of those who work hard, every day, to keep my community safe and healthy and to do jobs I'm overqualified for, and who face obstacles I've never had to due to background or education level.

So I'm both conservative and liberal. Who knew?

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or submit a question.
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At 12/13/2008 10:10:00 PM, Anonymous Debra M said...

I really appreciate your thinking on this. Thanks for sharing it.


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