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100 ?’s for Gov’t: Why do these conservatives have to be so… conservative ?

March 23, 2013

This is Question 20 from “100 Questions for Government” series

With forty-one percent of Americans identifying themselves as conservatives[1], it’s probably worth understanding what they’re all about. From an international perspective, US conservatives tend to be judged by their commitment to “traditional values”. However, they have significantly more dimensions than that:

“Conservatives tend to favor economic freedom, but frequently
support laws to restrict personal behavior that violates “traditional
values.” They oppose excessive government control of business,
while endorsing government action to defend morality and the
traditional family structure. Conservatives usually support a strong
military, oppose bureaucracy and high taxes, favor a free-market
economy, and endorse strong law enforcement”[2].

With the Republican party regarded as the “home” of US conservatives, it is interesting to note the common ground they share with libertarians – economic freedom, opposition to bureaucracy and taxes. While the lack of tolerance for diversity and changing morals is a point of divergence, it is also possible for strong law enforcement to fit into a libertarian model (possibly with some effort).

The conservative approach to government gives the country the ability to “slay the dragon” through a strong military, be a “beacon of justice” through strong law enforcement, create a “Foundation of greatness” through taxes (as long as they’re not too high) but offers limited support for “protecting the unprotected”. This preparedness to let the disadvantaged fend for themselves is another belief they hold in common with the libertarians.

As always, taking the generalized concepts and applying them in the real world leads to contentious issues like:

1)   Abortion rights

2)   The death penalty

3)   Gun control

4)   Gay marriage

5)   Taxes

6)   Economic regulations

7)   Welfare programs

With the conservatives inherently against change in personal rights[3], it’s not surprising to see the continual tension between them and more liberal voters. If your beliefs support an unchanging moral landscape, it must be extraordinarily hard to acquiesce to any change without feeling some level of having given in to “peer pressure”. While I believe issues like slavery, women’s rights and racial discrimination show change can be necessary and a sign of greater social enlightenment, and many conservatives might agree, it doesn’t guarantee the next “social change” issue deserves the same weight.

Similarly, conservatives’ commitment to economic freedom, while not as aggressive as the libertarians, is based on a belief in the individual and self-reliance. This leads to a concerted belief in minimizing taxes and keeping government small. During the Obama administration this has led to stand-offs on the US debt limit and raising taxes on the wealthy[4]. Once again, the conservatives “sticking to their guns” is understandable in the context of their underlying beliefs.

Initial Opinion:

Conservatives are “so conservative” because their values demand it. As we’ll discuss later, strict adherence to their values limits the potential for compromise on a number of social and economic issues. Given the “checks and balances” instituted by the founding fathers this can lead to legislative gridlock when one group doesn’t control the legislature and presidency. If you’re a conservative, this inability to implement change is probably better than change which moves you away from your core values.


[3] As offered by the US – this is not a debate about who’s right – yet

[4] The stand-off on extending payroll taxes seems to have been driven by other factors

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