Just What on Earth is a Conservative?

A New Conservatism is needed to stop America going down the road of Welfarism

Iowa is upon us. 2012 is upon us. How will it all end? It may just all end in tears. Tears because Obama wins, or tears because the GOP did    not offer a viable alternative. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: this is a time to stand up for conservative principles.

But, just what on earth is a conservative, and can one win the White House this year?

To answer this means agreement on just what a conservative is, and your answer to the second part of my question depends on the answer to the first part.

Simply put, Conservatism is a set of instincts and principles guiding decisions, which are applied according to historical context. Today’s conservative may discuss different situations and policy options then an 18th Century conservative, but then they will adhere to some broad principles as if there had been no intervening centuries. The conservative whom is central to American modern conservatism is Edmund Burke, and he spelled out some core conservative elements of thought:

  1. People are basically religious, and religion is the foundation of civil society. A divine sanction infuses the legitimate, existing, social order.
  2. Society is the natural, organic product of slow historical growth, with institutions drawing on the wisdom of previous generations.
  3. People are creatures of instinct and emotion as well as reason. Prudence, prejudice, experience, and habit are better guides than reason, logic, abstractions, and metaphysics. Truth exists not in universal propositions but in concrete experiences.
  4. The community is superior to the individual. Rights derive from duties. Evil is rooted in human nature, not in any particular social institutions.
  5. Apart from an ultimate moral sense, people are unequal. Social organization is a complex of classes, orders, and groups. Hence, differentiation, hierarchy and leadership are the inevitable characteristics of any civil society.
  6. A presumption exists “in favor of any settled scheme of government against any untried project.  “Man’s hopes are high, but his vision is short.”  Thus, efforts to remedy existing evils usually result in even greater ones.

We find echoes of these elements in the influential 1953 essay “The Conservative Mind”, where Russell Kirk offered what he called “six canons of conservative thought”. Like Burke, the divine plays a foundational role:

  1. Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience
  2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life
  3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes
  4. Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected and that economic leveling is not economic progress
  5. Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophisters and calculators”
  6. Recognition that change and reform are not identical

In 2012, how many of these foundational canons of thought are taught in our educational system? Again the answer is simple: none. What does happen is that these foundational principles are undermined and dismantled at every level of education and public life. To be a conservative is to swim against the cultural tide, against the consensus which is taught in schools and parlayed by the chattering media.

Winning a political election means appealing to the consensus, and today’s consensus is not tolerant of principles, or even thought for that matter. In today’s climate, a conservative cannot win the election. You can only look at the GOP field and vote for the consensus candidate, in other words the nearest thing to an electable conservative. This is not a ringing endorsement of Mitt Romney, but he is the only candidate who can compete with Obama.

But then in the grand scheme of things the presidential election is a mere sideshow, because the real battles lie ahead in establishing a new conservative agenda for an America systemically in doubt and unsure. The enlightenment trajectory of Europe down the road to Welfarism, with its self-destructive repudiation of civilized principles, is the trajectory America is now following.

The answer is not to be found in this election, a new conservatism that tackles the causes of decline in enlightenment civilization is needed. A new Burke or Kirk is needed, because conservatives cannot simply look at Obama as the cause of America’s identity crisis, he is a symptom of the decay of the principles these thinkers set out so clearly.

Loose Change you can believe in!

Bookmark and Share    Amid charges of “class warfare”, “betrayal” and calls to “tax the rich!” lies a very important question:

Just why are we having this debate?

Increasing taxes will not solve the problem, and what money it will bring in will amount to little more than loose change, because it will go into funding expanding government, not fixing the economy. The problem is that all the talk is about raising taxes, and not about cutting spending. The debate is about the burden on the economy, and adding to the burden, and not about generating growth.

President Obama obviously feels that what worked for Osama Bin Laden, a couple of bullets in the head, will work for the American economy too, or at least by holding a gun to its head. President Obama defies anyone to disagree with him on this one, so no change there. “This is not class warfare,” Obama said. “It’s math.” But his rhetoric is about as empty as the brains in the Fed. In case we don’t get it, Obama in his speech used all his favorite phrases: “I’m not going to allow,” “I’m not going to stand for,” “I will not support” and “I will veto.”

Um, this is America’s economy we’re talking about, not your kid’s end of year school report.

To provide support for his claims, the president turned to Warren Buffet. This is one of those maneuvers where you say, look here’s someone who knows, he’s rich! A little like, look, this program works, here’s a rehabilitated drug addict!

Yet, Mr. Buffet did not gain from his income tax deductions, but from his use of investment vehicles. And so did lots of other people. So, yes, the rich benefit greatly from the tax code. But so do the poor and middle class.

The reality is that higher earners do progressively pay more. The most recently available Congressional Budget Office statistics state that middle-class families in 2007, earning between $34,000 and $50,000, paid an effective rate of 14.3 percent of their income in all federal taxes. The top 5 percent of income earners paid 27.9 percent and the top 1 percent paid 29.5 percent. The highest earners, meaning Americans with an annual income above $2 million, paid on average 32 percent of their income in federal taxes in 2005. The very rich, the top 1 percent of earners in America, paid 38 percent of income taxes in 2008.

Meanwhile, nearly half American households pay no income taxes at all, because the Tax Code says they don’t earn enough. Middle-class taxpayers get a large tax break in home mortgage interest deductions. In all, according to government statistics, last year federal taxpayers received $1.08 trillion in credits, deductions and other perks and paid $1.09 trillion in income taxes, so that’s a massive difference of $0.01 trillion.

The real problem is that this is not just a tax on the rich. It is also a tax on wealth creation, a concept that Democrats have a hard time understanding at the best of times. People pursue their dreams, and work for the rewards and to pass them on to their families and loved ones. Some people don’t want to work so hard, and so settle for less. They have a choice in how they seek their rewards in a liberal society.

In our liberal society, however, a different kind of “liberal” comes along and says government needs to intervene and tell people that they, and the government, will decide what people should do with their wealth. They do this because they believe human nature is bad, and people do not want to give their wealth away for the good of the society “liberals” want to make in their own image, so they need government to do this for them.

Yet, as Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute notes, “The top 10 percent of households in income are responsible for at least a quarter of all the money contributed to charity, and households with total wealth exceeding $1 million give about half of all charitable donations.”

In a liberal society, people should be free to decide how to use their wealth, and they should have the decent human nature to give some of their wealth away philanthropically. This is the moral connection, not the facile moral argument that higher taxes mean more a moral society.

When it comes to the Democrats, they are trying to legislate for their own failure of understanding human nature.

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President Obama: a liberal Wolf in conservative Sheep’s clothing

Bookmark and Share     The metaphor works well, and many liberals see it as the perfect strategy, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, there are many concerned liberals who think President Obama is making a conservative-leaning deficit deal, and they are frustrated by what they believe is his conservative-leaning deficit strategy.

The examples they cite are that the White House did not try to tie a debt ceiling vote to the extension of the Bush tax cuts last December, conceded linking any increase in the ceiling to spending cuts, and whenever Republicans dug in their heels President Obama gave ground.

Some liberals are not so worried about this, they think President Obama has a cunning plan, and is giving ground as part of his grand strategy. While Republicans are using the debt ceiling to force bigger spending cuts, President Obama is getting Democrats used to the idea of bigger spending cuts than they would like.

“Cunning, yes?” They say.

They also say, with a more conservative looking deal at the end, President Obama will come out looking good to voters and this will boost his chances of  re-election.

This is Obama, the conservative in sheep’s clothing.

However, inside lurks a Wolf.

On the other side of the 2012 election are the Tax increases much loved by liberals.

The strategy is that President Obama is making concessions because he knows taxes are scheduled to increase when the Bush-era tax rates expire… just after the election.  Whatever deal the Republicans strike by August 2nd will have a sting in the tail.

Are you ready for this?

The New York Times accuses the Republicans of being ideologues, and, of course, President Obama is determined. Why is it that whenever conservatives dig their heels in they are being ideological, but when a liberal does it is a determined effort?

The Republicans need to stand strong on the economy, and it provides a moment for one of the 2012 candidates to come out to champion the economy. Whoever does will have a shot of winning in 2012. However, if the winning candidate has not taken the main chance then in November 2012 they will be conceding to a second term President Obama on the eve of tax hikes they have no control over.

Then we will see who the ideologue is, because President Obama can finally stop campaigning and seek to do what his ideals dictate.

Are you ready for that?

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Three Simple Steps to Solve America’s Debt, but one Giant Leap for the Nation’s Politicians

Nostalgia or integral to the future?

Bookmark and Share   There are three simple steps required to get America working at its best again, but they will require a giant leap in faith by politicians. The final space shuttle launch is perhaps a metaphor for where America is today. America has been travelling the European road towards secularism and dependency in recent years. This journey was not embarked upon by President Barack Obama, though he has hastened the journey’s end greatly.

This European road is one where the apparatus of State is the repository of morality, rules and decisions. This leaves its civil dependents free not to care, because the State cares for society’s ills, it is somebody else’s problem. This is the selfishness of liberalism, it leads to abdicating personal responsibility for the community and leaving the State to deal with it and legislate.

Morality becomes defined by what the rules say you can and cannot do. The responsible individual is therefore one who keeps to the rules, which are increasingly defined by a remote governing and law-making process. The liberals who drive these new rules don’t care about the Poor, or Race or all the other things they pontificate on so eloquently. They are only interested in the IDEA of the Poor, Race and other classes who live far from their zip codes. They can have the best of both worlds: live their own nice life free of any conscience because they care about classes.

The outcome of this is moral malaise, economic stagnation and ever growing cost of government. Sound familiar? Look around you, do you see the evidence?

This mentality has to change, and it is a big ask. It is a giant leap. What is needed is not just a change of leader, but a change in attitude in America. This needs to be a mixture of commitment to the faith and enlightenment ideals which founded America, and, a commitment to applying these ideals to making a better tomorrow.

Liberals like to dismiss all the talk of the Constitution and Founding Fathers by the Tea Party and Conservatives as being at best nostalgic and at worse backwards. It is not. It is integral to understanding the solution to America’s current ills.

So, what about the three steps? They are:

Step 1: Repent and Pray, and remember what the American Ideal means

Step 2: Focus on growing the economy

Step 3: Cut Government deep

The first step:

The hubris of government is rooted in the Enlightenment without God, something the Founding Fathers never intended. The negative proposition of the Founding is that we only progress knowing that we are answerable to a higher order, to God the Creator. This is because of the Fallen nature of humanity. The positive proposition of the Founding is that we progress because God fills us with Hope. This is the uniqueness of the American ideal, which is an ideal for all humanity not just Americans.

Hence, we repent because of our weakness and we pray because of the Hope that God inspires within us to innovate, create for ourselves and community, and to help each other: family, friends and community. The obsession with “human rights” is a denial of this combination of weakness and hope, placing confidence in regulation and courts. Instead of court being the outcome of wrongs, it becomes the starting point of establishing “rights.” The starting point should be God and individuals caring for each other, placing confidence in God to guide us.

The second step:

All the talk about cuts, deficits and taxes is placing the emphasis in the all the wrong places. They are of a secondary order, not just in this list of three steps but in the economic approach now needed. The economy thrives on confidence and energy. Both have been sapped in recent years. During the last presidential campaign, candidate Obama talked up the doom and gloom of the economy, resulting in companies taking more drastic actions they would have ordinarily. Had 2008 not been an election year, the economy would still have entered a recessionary cycle but it would not have been as deep as it has been. Of course, the candidate figured that as President he would be the economy’s savior. How wrong he was!

There is a need to cut government, not just to save money but to stop the dependency and return people to a focus on economic growth. This means people being entrepreneurial, realizing the economy is not a fixed pie to be shared out by government. When you’re short of pie, you bake some more! This means people out of work looking for ideas and opportunities, and for those in work they need to innovate their businesses and take the right kind of risks to generate new business. In short, individuals and businesses need to dig deep to solve problems.

This also means a consumption that is not just consumerism and speculation, but also investment in self and family. The disposable society figured we could dispose of responsibility as well. The great lesson of this recession is that far too many people and organizations had built their economic well-being on shifting sands.

The Third Step:

The 2012 candidates have to be prepared to address voters in a call to taking back responsibility from government. When people say “We want our country back” they should be saying they want to take responsibility back. Governments do not fix economies; they only tax entrepreneurial energy and dollars.
Government has an important role as servant of society, but it makes a very poor master.

These are the small steps, but for politicians they are a Giant Leap. These are not popular suggestions, I know. They do not satisfy human selfishness. Adam Smith, that great Scottish enlightenment figure, distinguished between selfishness and self-interest. It is self-interest which is the motor of the economy, and candidates need to take a giant leap to explain and inspire people as to what is in their self-interest and in the self-interest of America.

Only then will this economy grow at the rate it needs to and to sustain America. The nation needs to raise up a leader who can lead from the heart, not just their own heart but the beating heart of America, and this starts by reminding the American voters of the Soul of America.

Let’s start with Step One. Jesus said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” This is the campaign slogan America needs right now. The current debate is not about the economy. The economy is not the driver of things to be, that is Socialist philosophy. The economy is the reflection of things that are, and right now the economy is reflecting the struggle for the soul of America.

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All the World’s a Stage: Debt will not exit Left or Right

President Obama: Upstage or Upstaged?

Bookmark and Share    You know you’re in trouble when Warren Buffet comes out of the woodwork to offer a plan. And, you know you’re in bigger trouble when you kind of agree with him. Buffet’s plan is this: “I could end the deficit in five minutes. You just pass a law that says that any time there’s a deficit of more than three percent of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election.” Buffet says he was only half joking, but it may be recorded as one of his more sensible observations.

The reality is that the debt talks are theater pure and simple.

Look at the backdrop: We are in a new presidential election cycle, which complicates matters. Then look at President Obama taking center stage. Maybe a reason why the Leftists are going so negative on Obama here is that even they recognize a guy wanting to keep the lead role, sorry running for election, when they see one.

Entering Stage Left is his most trenchant critic Paul Krugman, writing reviews that he hopes will close this show, but he has difficulty closing a toilet seat at the best of times. He says, “let’s be frank. It’s getting harder and harder to trust Mr. Obama’s motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right. In fact, if all you did was listen to his speeches, you might conclude that he basically shares the GOP’s diagnosis of what ails our economy and what should be done to fix it. And maybe that’s not a false impression; maybe it’s the simple truth.” Yes, Mr. Krugman it is the simple truth.

However, theater is about fantasy so let’s move to the next Scene.

President Obama says “Government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can’t afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs.” Krugman says this is conservative ideology, since government should not budget like families, and argues businesses aren’t holding back because they lack confidence in government policies; they’re holding back because they don’t have enough customers. There’s a reason for that Mr. Krugman at a time when the economy is actually growing, it’s called confidence and politicians are knocking the stuffing out of the economy in a staged fight.

So let’s go to the next Act, and the dramatic scene featuring the President addressing the audience directly.

Obama says the debt ceiling should not “be used as a gun against the heads” of Americans to retain breaks for corporate jet owners or oil and gas companies, using some of his most direct dialog to date. He wants to reduce the deficit, in part, through new tax revenue raised by closing loopholes and tax subsidies. Beneath the rhetoric to the audience, however, is a soliloquy to the Democrats of good old fashioned class warfare.

So, entering stage Right, the Republicans oppose measures that raise taxes, demanding steep reductions in the US budget deficit as the price of a debt increase. Leftist rag The Nation (I refer you to the earlier point of Krugman closing the toilet seat), says, “Republicans have been negotiating in bad faith, unwilling to compromise even an inch on their extremist and absolutist positions. Some are no longer willing to come to the table at all.” Leftists sing a chorus that the Republican Party is threatening to default on the nation’s debt and this will sabotage the global economy on the basis of narrow ideological goals. A new verse is being added as you read this, namely that the President should invoke Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, which says that “the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”

Democrats and Republicans remain “far apart on a wide range of issues,” Obama, said wringing his hands as he adjusted his teleprompter prop. “Everyone acknowledged that we have to get this done before the hard deadline of Aug. 2 to make sure America does not default for the first time on its obligations. And everybody acknowledged that there’s going to be pain involved politically on all sides.”

Meanwhile, the Opening Night of this show, August 2, is fast approaching and the cast are still fluffing their lines over raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

At Thursday’s rehearsal, all the lead cast turned up and “All the leaders came here in a spirit of compromise and of wanting to solve problems on behalf of the American people.” So, it will be alright on the night! President Obama hopes Sunday’s dress rehearsal will pave the way for the “hard bargaining” necessary for a deal, because “Everybody acknowledges that there’s going to be pain involved politically on all sides,” he said. And, the chorus joined in with a handful of officials on both sides of the aisle indicating they are ready to give ground.

With all this improvisation, let’s just remind ourselves of the script: •Public debt was $14.3 trillion on 31 May, up from $10.6 trillion when Obama took office in January 2009 •Congress has voted to raise the US debt limit 10 times since 2001 •The largest expenditures of the projected $135 Billion deficit include: $80.9 Billion on Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, $72.9 Billion on government agency expenses, $31.7 Billion on Defense, and $29.0 Billion on Interest on Treasury securities.

In the show Chorus Line, the opening song ends with the lines:

Who am I anyway?

 Am I my resume?

 That is a picture of a person I don’t know.

 What does he want from me?

What should I try to be?

So many faces all around, and here we go.

 I need this job, oh God, I need this show.

Yeah, the show must go on Mr. President…it’s time for your close up.

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