Re-posted from March 5, 2011:
So let’s leave it alone, ’cause we can’t see eye to eye.
There ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys.
There’s only you and me and we just disagree.
- Dave Mason, “We just disagree”, 1977
Why do we disagree? I’ve been considering this question a lot as the Liberal/Progressive vs. Conservative rhetoric starts to intensify in the run-up to the 2012 elections. The Wisconsin public sector union battle has brought this divide into razor sharp focus. Something I said during a discussion of one of my friends who supports the unions in the Badger State got me to thinking – excerpted from that conversation is this:
“I agree that you don’t hate freedom, you just define it differently. Modern conservatism is about “freedom of“, as in freedom of opportunity, self-determination, liberty. Liberals define it as “freedom from“, freedom from economic, political and social risk. The former requires minimal regulation and control, the latter requires maximum regulation and control.
Seems that classical liberals (modern conservatives) wish everyone to experience life to its fullest and on their own terms, modern Liberals want to use government control to protect everybody from life.”
Then it hit me.
The reason that “progressives” (I’ll combine the liberal points of view with “progressive” views because this seems to be what they want to be called these days) and Conservatives rarely can have a constructive discourse is that even though we use the same words – they mean very, very different things to the opposing groups…same denotation but very different connotation.
To them, the American Dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness means that: 1) the government “protects” you life by providing for universal health care and tells you what to eat, drink, what to drive and how to live, 2) liberty is not about you being free – it is about restricting any activity that offends contemporary ideas of politically correct behavior and ending the need for anyone to worry about making financial decisions (they just want to carve it all up and give everyone an equal share (Michael Moore says that your money doesn’t belong to you anyway, it is a national resource) and 3) happiness means never having to deal with unpleasant situations, just let the government handle it.
To us, it means “get out of the way and let me achieve what I can”.
Let’s take the term and concept of “freedom”. Several months ago, I wrote a piece called “Modern Progressivism Revealed” using these exact words from Kyle Gillette, PhD of the Commonweal Institute, a self professed “progressive” organization:
“Progressives believe that the government should give individuals Freedom of choice and speech and allow people to determine the course of their own lives…The differences between what progressives and conservatives mean by “Freedom” have to do with the role of empathy and responsibility, and the definition of who counts as an individual…In other words, adhering too strictly to principles of free market economics can backfire and undermine the ability of average Americans to participate in that very Freedom that ostensibly belongs to them.”
As we can see, the “progressive” idea of freedom is a defined or “constrained” one. The statement that “…the government should give individuals…” implies that freedom comes not from the will of the people but at the actions of a benevolent government, a government made up of men. That government, in turn, must regulate social and economic activity to provide “empathy and responsibility, and the definition of who counts as an individual” and to control the economy to provide “economic justice” and prevent the free exercise of commerce from undermining ” the ability of average Americans to participate in that very Freedom that ostensibly belongs to them.”
In a condensed version, freedom is defined as what latitude to exist you are given by a government and that latitude is fungible, it can change based on the “fairness” of your actions as compared to another – all determined by some authority acting in an arbitrary manner. This is a “managed” freedom (as if there could ever be such a thing), an attempt to equalize a life experience to “protect” people from themselves and their fellow citizens. The Progressive definition of freedom is a definition of collective freedom, not individual freedom. This is what I meant by the term “freedom from”. Contrast that with these ideas from the Statements of Principle of the American Conservative Union, written in December of 1964:
- We believe that the Constitution of the United States is the best political charter yet created by men for governing themselves. It is our belief that the Constitution is designed to guarantee the free exercise of the inherent rights of the individual through strictly limiting the power of government.
- We reaffirm our belief in the Declaration of Independence, and in particular the belief that our inherent rights are endowed by the Creator. We further believe that our liberties can remain secure only if government is so limited that it cannot infringe upon those rights.
- We believe that capitalism is the only economic system of our time that is compatible with political liberty. It has not only brought a higher standard of living to a greater number of people than any other economic system in the history of mankind; more important, it has been a decisive instrument in preserving freedom through maintaining private control of economic power and thus limiting the power of government.
- We believe that collectivism and capitalism are incompatible, and that when government competes with capitalism, it jeopardizes the natural economic growth of our society and the well-being and freedom of the citizenry.
These statements embody the essence of what I have termed “freedom of”, an affirmative individual right to perform in the society and the economy with total choice, to accept as much risk as individually warranted, to succeed or to fail based on individual effort. Conservatives do not believe in a “collective freedom”, we do not believe that our freedoms are determined by the actions of others or how our interactions are perceived by any collective body. It is a clear right to self-determination solely based on competitive effort, will and individual desire.
A couple of posts on the Panama City News Herald comment threads indicate our next definitional challenges.
Last year, on July 14th, the ever charming commenter “annola” posted this in reference to Conservatives: “You sir need to take a chill pill. Utter nonsense. Conservatism is all about me, myself and I. You really need to get a life.” Another commenter posted that Conservatives were “selfish and self-indulgent“. I think these are meant to imply that we don’t care about the less fortunate and care only for ourselves. In my view this is because we tend not to support big programs including wealth transfer in specific and the welfare state in general.
What Liberals/Progressives see as selfish is really our commitment and belief in self-reliance and self-determination. Those perhaps are best defined in the Sharon Statement, the pronouncement of modern conservative values written by M. Stanton Evans and adopted by the ACU on September 11, 1960.
- That the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government, and that it is at the same time the most productive supplier of human needs;
- That when government interferes with the work of the market economy, it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation; that when it takes from one man to bestow on another, it diminishes the incentive of the first, the integrity of the second, and the moral autonomy of both…
Our belief systems are such that these two components of individualism, self-reliance and self-determination are essential to our definition of freedom. Rather than accept that poverty is a permanent, ongoing societal condition that requires an ever growing system of benefits and transfer of wealth, we believe that there should be temporary support offset by the individual’s ability to create his or her own wealth. It is our belief in the inherent superiority of an individual to control their own destiny that sets us apart for Progressives who believe that the individual is not capable of same and requires the guidance and support of a collective authority.
We also get tagged as ”racist” and “anti-immigrant”, neither of which has basis in fact.
The racist tag gets assigned any instance where a Conservative objects to spending on any social program or opposes set-asides or affirmative action based on race. It seems inconsistent that to eliminate discrimination based on race; we choose to discriminate on race. I believe that this is the real root of the Progressives’ beef with the Tea Party movement. This movement is not racially motivated, has never been (this can be objectively proven) but because they are for lower taxes, less spending and smaller government that puts them in opposition to the groups in America who depend on government funding because the very things that the Tea Party movement stands for puts these programs and groups in danger and as these groups are traditionally made up of racial minorities; ergo the Tea Party movement must be racist. Progressives, in alliance with group like the NAACP, are working overtime to delegitimize a grass roots movement by assigning a false motivation to their efforts. Even the president has given voice to that lie.
The same holds true for opposition to the President. The Progressive logic goes something like this: the President is a mixed race man (he is not “black” other than as a definition of convenience to advantage him in debating his agenda – his mother was Caucasian. I’m sure that I will be called a racist for pointing that out.), the President presents a “progressive” agenda, Conservatives oppose the “progressive” agenda, since Progressives can’t imagine why people would oppose an agenda dipped in pure awesomeness, Conservatives must ONLY be opposing Obama because he is bi-racial. That might have been true if Conservatives hadn’t been opposing “progressive” agendas for 50 years during the administrations of Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton – all Caucasian, by the way. The very people who decry racism are usually the first to use accusations of it in attempts to shame, silence and delegitimize their opponents.
The “anti-immigrant” charge has similar weaknesses. This is largely an offshoot of the “racist” charge. In the Progressive mind, crossing the border illegally should be excused due to economic circumstances in Mexico, the need to keep families together and a belief in “open borders”. This last one is a relatively recent development and in my opinion is due to a lust for the political enslavement of yet another minority population (better watch your back NAACP). While being sympathetic to these situations, the Conservative mind cannot ignore a basic principle – and that is a respect for the rule of law. Ignoring that law is being broken when crossing borders without permission of the US government ignores the fact that this is a breach of national sovereignty. Again, from the Sharon statement:
- That we will be free only so long as the national sovereignty of the United States is secure; that history shows periods of freedom are rare, and can exist only when free citizens concertedly defend their rights against all enemies;…
The fact is that immigration is and will continue to be a positive for America is not lost on Conservatives, but this must be offset with the need to maintain sovereignty. A nation with no borders is no nation at all.
So we can see that the root of our disagreements is not in the words but the meaning associated with them. We have vastly different visions of how to “progress”.
Even though they hold their hands over their ears and scream like a 3 year old when anyone accurately defines them, the American left/progressives/liberals can be defined in no other way other than as collectivists/socialists/Marxists and proto-communists. Look at their actions, not their words because their identity is in what they do, not what they say or what signs they carry. Their protests and rhetoric are all about class struggle and redistribution cloaked as “fairness” and “collective bargaining” (two words/phrases that have very different meanings when uttered by an SEIU or AFSCME members). Look at who supports the protests for a clue to what they believe.
In my column that I referenced earlier, I also wrote:
…Who could disagree with the concepts of freedom, security, community, truth and justice? These guys could be Superman, professing the ideals of “truth, justice and the American way” but almost all of the beliefs stated are contradictory to each other. The Progressive agenda as stated is an exercise in opposing points of logic.
In fact, the Progressive agenda fits like a glove with the pillars of Marxism, those being: 1) socialism, 2) the labor theory of value, 3) dialectical materialism 4) class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
There is nothing traditionally American about it.
And there isn’t. They have more in common with the ideology of the former Soviet Union and Marx than they do the original 13 colonies and Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington and Adams.
America is defined as that set of founding beliefs in the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If you are part of the American promise, these are the basis for your principles. Using this definition, the collectivists/socialists/Marxists and proto-communists aren’t anti-American, they really aren’t American at all.
Conservatives seem to be allowing our movement to be defined in very, very inaccurate ways. We must work to change that on a personal level. As long as we keep allowing freedom to be defined as what the government allocates to us and not what we give it, as long as we allow self-reliance and self-determination to be defined as “selfish” and “self-indulgent” behavior, as long as support for capitalism is defined as “heartlessness” instead of true economic freedom, as long as the position of absence of regulation instead of active legislative prohibition is defined as attempts to disadvantage minorities, the Conservative movement will always be in a defensive position, this has to change…and it needs to change soon.