Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Conservatism has been hijacked and dumped in the trash by a bunch of people who don’t believe in government, which means that they don’t support the idea of America and that they resent its ideals.
As a child in the 1950s, I saw President Eisenhower, a conservative, send troops to Little Rock to assure that Negro children could go to school unmolested by ordinary bigots and organized Klansmen because the Constitution afforded equal protection for all Americans. Eisenhower also supported the building of the interstate highway system, a big government program that has aided everyone, from families on vacation to truckers hauling the stuff of commerce.
Of course, there were a few wingnuts who called themselves conservatives during the post-World War II era. They were the progenitors of today’s Tea Party wingnuts, though I accept that not all Tea Partiers are unreasonable crazies. The 1950s wingnuts wanted to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, a position they announced widely on billboards. They took out threatening ads against President Kennedy in the Dallas Morning News the day he was assassinated in that city. But most conservatives in those days mainly did not want the government to interfere in the lives of Americans except to protect the health, safety, and welfare of everyone.
Now, so-called conservatives want to get into everyone’s bedroom, living room, and life. They want to tell us whom we can love and marry. They want to tell us where we can work. They want to control with whom we associate. They want to tell us where we can visit. They want to control the doctor-patient relationship. They want to use government to promote their own religious views and values.
Why does it matter what my private choices are about relationships if those choices are made between consenting adults? Previously, conservatives wanted to be left alone in their private lives. Now we have people who call themselves conservatives who want to legislate against same-sex marriage, and the ersatz conservatives of Utah (and elsewhere) are outspoken in support of criminal laws banning polygamy and cohabitation among consenting adults because they want to use the laws to control such private and personal decisions, usually for religious reasons.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote the standard by which all of us, including conservatives, should judge governmental action: “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.” To use Jefferson’s standard, if another person’s actions “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg,” it is no business of the government or those who want to control my behavior. The conservative position should be that it is no one’s business.
The allegedly conservative representative from south Florida, Mario Diaz-Balart, wants to restrict Americans’ travel to Cuba still more than our laws already do. These authoritarian restrictions have been in place for fifty years in one form or another and should be anathema to conservatives and all freedom-lovers. The restrictions were eased minimally when Obama became president, but any restrictions at all offend Jefferson’s standard.
While polygamy may make for great entertainment on television (“Big Love” and “Sister Wives”), it is a serious matter for many consenting adults who find value in the practice and is a choice that does no harm to others. I am not writing here about the Warren Jeffs kind of polygamy that abuses children sexually and emotionally. The state has a legitimate interest in protecting children from abuse. I am writing about the use of the criminal laws to prohibit private relations between consenting adults. It is of no consequence whether it is something you or I would like to do. As Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and counsel of record in a law suit challenging Utah’s criminal polygamy laws, has written, “the right to live your life according to your own values and faith” is the main issue. So long as one’s actions do not harm others, including children, the government has no legitimate interest in interfering in anyone’s choice of life partners.
The same can be said of homosexual relations. Conservative icon Barry Goldwater opposed banning gays from the military. He put the matter in his blunt way: “You don’t need to be ‘straight’ to fight and die for your country, you just need to shoot straight.” Were he alive today, it would be consistent with his philosophy to keep the government out of the battle over gay marriage, as well. He would recognize the religious basis for the gay marriage prohibition, as he did on other matters, when he said, “Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives.” Goldwater and Jefferson had a lot in common.
Have you heard about “The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage & Family,” a declaration of mostly anti-conservative principles being foisted on the candidates for the Republican nomination for president? It is a project of The Family Leader, a fundamentalist religious group based in Iowa, which is attempting to get presidential aspirants to sign on to its agenda. Among its provisions are declarations of personal behavior that are not my business, all related to marriage fidelity, monogamy, whom one marries, how much one enjoys sex, impediments to divorce, religious beliefs, and having lots of children.
Protecting women and children from illegal acts and protecting everyone from sexual harassment, along with support for the First Amendment, are among the few legitimate aims of government covered by the Declaration. Author, therapist, and political analyst Dr. Marty Klein has written about the Declaration, summing it up nicely: “Let me repeat: those who wish to be U.S. President are being asked to pledge their opposition to contraception, pornography, ‘easy’ divorce, and the separation of Church & state, while affirming their support for heterosexual monogamy. This policy position should be understood by all as radical, rather than ‘traditional’ or somehow ‘normal.’ ” It certainly is not conservative.
In an interview in 1975 in Reason Magazine, Ronald Reagan, a self-declared conservative and one dearly loved by nearly all Republicans, said, “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” Today’s conservatives have forgotten the lessons and views of their predecessors, largely because they have become dominated by the religious right and are willing to forget or distort the views of their former leaders. They have become radical reactionaries against personal freedom, rather than proponents of slow but steady progress toward the ideal of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The current debt ceiling imbroglio is but another example of the transformation of true conservatism. Since 1960, according to the Treasury Department, the debt limit has been raised or altered 78 times. Most of those times were under conservative Republican presidents, including 18 times under President Reagan, who recognized that honoring our financial commitments is the foundation of conservatism. That’s all the debt ceiling debate concerns. Previous congresses have spent money that they borrowed. The country is obligated to make payments to retire that debt. About 78% of the debt that has built up since George W. Bush took office until the present was caused by his fiscal policies according to the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, which bases its analyses on nonpartisan authorities such as the Congressional Budget Office, the US Census Bureau, and the Government Accountability Office.
The deficit is another matter entirely. When President Clinton prepared to leave office in 1999, the budget of the US was balanced (due to his budgeting and that of his predecessor, George H. W. Bush), and the national debt would have been paid off by 2009 if President George W. Bush and a feckless Congress, including most members of both major parties, had not reduced taxes on the wealthiest Americans, started two wars, and passed a Medicare drug program, financing all of these actions with borrowed money.
This country has done well under both conservative and moderately-liberal rule from World War II until 2000. None of the presidents during this period were ideologues. They were largely pragmatists who wanted to make government work more than they wanted to adhere to a rigid ideology. But with the presidency of George W. Bush and now the dominance of Tea Partiers among congressional Republicans, adherence to rigid ideologies threatens to destroy what has been a government devoted for the most part to solving problems. For these ideologues, comity, consensus, compromise, and conservatism are not only dirty words, but are conditions to be avoided even if their absence destroys the Republic, which they may well do.
© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San MarcosEmail | Print