by William Kelvin Moxley
What happened to the Conservative Movement? I mean the Conservative Movement that I grew up with. What happened to the Conservative Movement that was focused on limited government, fiscal responsibility, individual rights and responsibilities? Where is the Conservative Movement that had as its basic tenet if it's not in the Constitution, it is automatically suspect? Where is the Conservative Movement that wanted to beat back the ravenous government beast? Where is the Conservative Movement that, while recognizing the problems, also saw the opportunities?
Like many people, I became a Conservative (or more accurately recognized that my beliefs fit into the category of Conservative) because of the things I was against: libertine lifestyles, criminal coddling, unchecked Communist expansion, gun rights assaults, abjectly-failing education system, and a soul-robbing welfare system. Then Ronald Reagan appeared on my political radar screen.
He brought a message of conservatism overlaid with hope and optimism. Reagan's message was that we can and should defeat Communism abroad and over-reaching government at home because both are threats to the fundamental principles of individual liberty.
There was this almost unspoken idea that if you want to see the face of the ultimate, logical conclusion of expanding central government, you need look no further than the governments of Communist countries. These authoritarian and totalitarian governments rise because the people were led to believe that if they just surrender a little of their liberty, they will get greater security. This notion was a clear danger to Americans (at the micro level) at home and (at the macro level) to mankind across the globe.
Reagan recognized that free people are productive, healthy, creative, and prosperous. Enslaved people are non-productive, sickly, pedestrian and poor. Totalitarian regimes almost have to be expansionist and brutal because people who are subject to their tender mercies will not realize their full individual potential and thus the full national potential. Communism could only work if everyone across the globe were equally poor and enslaved.
Conservatism used to grapple with these ideas. However, with the fall of Communism abroad and during the intervening years between Reagan and now, we seem to have lost sight of these fundamentals. It was not until Newt Gingrich's 1994 revolution brought these ideas back to the forefront that we again had a national discussion on the role, scope, depth and breadth of government, once again overlaid with that optimism of the limitless potential of free men. Bob Dole (though no rock-ribbed movement conservative) picked-up the clarion call by resurrecting the memory of the oft-forgotten Tenth Amendment: (rights not specifically delegated to the federal government belong to the states and the people). Which brings me back to my original question. Where is my Conservatism? Conservatism today seems to be following the well-worn path of Liberalism: captive to a single political party, whipsawed between competing interest groups and is losing sight of those fundamental principles that used to hold it together. Instead of discussing what is the proper role of government and how much liberty should be ceded to the government, we argue over which of our favorite causes should be championed by government.
We ask government to reward people and policies we like and punish what we don't like through tax policy, regulation, or law. We ask government to slather money and power on the most vocal and highest profile interest group, or erect artificial barriers to the consequences of our own bad decisions. In one way or another, we have all become wards of the state. There is almost no independence from the hand of government. By our own actions we have traded the liberty to order our own lives for the security and money that comes from government. We have taken the kings coin and now we are all his men.
At one time the Republican Party embraced the concept of constitutionalism and was the home of traditionalist Conservatism. Now, Republicans seem just as comfortable with a plasticized and rubberized Constitution as are the Democrats and Liberals--so long as the Constitution is being stretched in their direction.
Republicans rose to majority status in Congress because of my old Conservatism. The leaders took it and wore it like a warm cloak to shield them during the dark, cold days when they were on the outside. It appears now that they have made it inside, they have cast off the cloak that served them so well during the dark times in favor of a bright, new cloak called Power.
Power looks enough like the old Conservative cloak to deceive those who rally around the old Conservatism, but it is different in that it gives the wearer access to the treasury where he can bribe with greater efficacy. Unfortunately, Power is a poor substitute for Conservatism, because wearing Power leads you down a dark and dangerous path of financial ruin and hubris. I hope someday soon that leaders (both Conservative and Republican) will find that old reliable Conservatism and put it back on. Meanwhile, If anyone should come across my old Conservatism while walking down a dark, abandoned street, please drop me a note. I will race to retrieve it.
You can contact William Kelvin Moxley at:
Post Office Box 11274
Knoxville, Tennessee 37939