Why am I a Conservative? Part I

By Cliff Springs

My name is Cliff.  And I’m a conservative. 

I feel like I should be in a 12-step program to acknowledge and turn away from my shame.  The term “conservative” is a bad word anymore.  We’ve been branded as bigots and hatemongers. 

Despite the recent election results, I assure you the conservative movement is not dead.  I and many others like myself believe that we came to this precipice because too many of our elected officials abandoned or chose to ignore the conservative principles upon which they were elected. 

There is hope.  I know that if Barack Obama fails to reach across the aisle as he has promised to do, that if Congress runs leftward with a liberal agenda, it will be only two short years before conservatives get another opportunity to live up to our true ideals.  In the meantime, it will be a goal of mine to reclaim the true definition of conservativism and to remind others why conservative principles are the foundation of this great country. Conservatives look at people and see people, see human beings, see Americans. We think that our ideas lift everybody regardless of their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or what have you.

The good news is that conservative ideals are not the problem.  I know with all of my being that this country identifies with conservative beliefs much more so than with liberal ideology.  I’ve often said–and even had liberal friends readily acknowledge–that if you went point-by-point down a list of core beliefs (removing discussions of policy from the equation), this country will overwhelmingly side with conservative principles.  As stated on the About page of this site, I think our beliefs diverge at the point of how to address certain issues through taxes, law, and government policy.

But our political dialogue is so ingrained and intertwined with policy discussions, that the belief system at our core has been thoroughly muddied to the point that we’ve lost focus on what those beliefs are.  So I’m trying to redirect the conversation.  As a country, let’s talk about our beliefs FIRST, then move on to policy.  If we take this approach, we just might remember how critical conservative beliefs are to every aspect of our lives AND to a harmonious, functioning society.

This is Part 1 in an ongoing discussion of what conservative beliefs mean to me. 

Part 1:  Personal Responsibility

First of all, I believe in personal responsibility–perhaps my most deeply held connection to conservative ideology.  This comes from my passionate belief in the power of the individual.  We are all endowed with an innate sense of right and wrong.  We all have strength, hope, and an ability to endure the most trying of circumstances and triumph over them.  Though many choose not to embrace their inner strength, and though some have more difficulty than others in discovering it, I firmly believe that strength resides within us all.  Responsibility emanates from these traits and the recognition that we all have a role in this world–a role that unravels the moment we fail to acknowledge that our actions have direct and indirect consequences beyond ourselves. 

For me, it seems liberal ideology fails to recognize this truth.  Everyone’s struggle is different.  And living through that struggle is what makes everyone unique, gives power to their life testimony, and solidifies their inner fortitude.  At every turn, it seems that liberal ideology is telling people, “You can’t achieve your goals without the help of government regulation.  You are incapable of scaling obstacles on your own.”  And when lawmakers pursue a utopian goal of absolute equality of life and circumstance, they ultimately inhibit the very essence of that which makes us capable of greatness–in much the same way that parents who coddle their children deprive them of the many hard lessons life teaches us in preparation for adulthood. 

I am absolutely for equality of opportunity.  Nobody should ever be denied the chance to better themselves without artificial obstacles resulting from prejudice or bigotry, but we also have to realize that the path of opportunity differs for each of us.  It’s what makes us unique, and ultimately, what makes us stronger.  A mentality of entitlement makes for weak individuals and thus a weaker society.  Thinking someone or something OWES you, pits people against each other.  By definition it means that someone MUST be forced to give so that someone else can take. 

Now I will readily admit that some of the overreaching efforts by the government to “do for the least of us” is a result of the failure of the Church to do so.  We Christians have not held up our end of the deal in that regard, but I would rather challenge Christians to rise to the occasion instead of the government taking money from one person to give to another.  Along those same lines, I think we do a disservice to human generosity to FORCE people to care for one another.  Our society would fare better on many levels were giving and caring for each other to originate within our hearts.  When we have no say-so in the matter, neither society nor our spirits benefit.

How much easier is it for us to give or help someone who is struggling instead of someone who demands or expects us to do so?  Again, we are better as a society mentally, financially, and spiritually when gifts are given, not taken.  It also develops greater faith in each other because we recognize that we’re all in this together–we view our neighbors and fellow citizens as being like us rather than labeling others as some “category” of people who want what we have.

When I was a kid, I was perfectly content to be lazy.  It’s amazing how difficult it seemed to just put my clothes in the hamper, make my bed, or other tasks that, in actuality, required little effort.  As I got older, I eventually realized that there are things you do because you should-not because you must.  In fact, it’s often the little manifestations of responsibility that work to shape the bigger picture-returning the shopping cart to the racks in the parking lot or picking up a piece of trash on the ground that isn’t mine. 

Eventually, you develop a mindset that rises above individual rights and legalities and focuses rather on what SHOULD be done.  For me, I believe one critical difference–and an ironic one at that–between conservative ideology and liberal ideology rests in whether what SHOULD be done is chosen freely or forced upon us by laws, taxes, and regulations.  It seems that conservatives are raked over the coals as “holier than thou” for just speaking out on issues, while those criticizing them are all too eager to implement laws forcing their agenda.  I’m all for standing up for what you believe, speaking out on things that matter.  I’m not too crazy about the government confiscating my money to do so for me. 

Now I don’t want to just point fingers at the government here.  I can’t overemphasize the role that “loving thy neighbor” plays in this whole equation.  Personal responsibility has to be embraced on every level, and that begins and ends with turning your focus outward–taking care of your responsibilities at home, at work, at church, in your neighborhood, and your community. 

How do we do this?  I have come to the very clear realization that time and money can easily fly out the window–always struggling to keep up; never enough time.  To use tithing as an example, God asks us to give Him 10% right off the bat.  Why?  Because you spend ninety cents differently that you spend $1.  You buy the seventy-five-cent candy bar instead of the one that costs ninety-five cents.  It actually makes a lot of choices easier.

It works the same with your time (I won’t preach about the Sabbath here at this moment, but it definitely applies).  You can occupy every minute of your time concerned with yourself and your family and still need a 25-hour day to get it all done.  OR you can give of your time and money–adjusting and spending what you DO have with the full knowledge that you’ve committed your time at the church on Wednesdays or volunteering on Tuesdays or whatever it may be (the same applies to your money).  Loving your neighbor is not an emotion.  It’s very much about action and very much part of personal responsibility.

To sum up Part 1, I know we are all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.  Personal responsibility is at the heart of conservative beliefs, but as I hope I’ve made clear, the ramifications of embracing our responsibilities as individuals translates, grows, and reaches so far beyond any one person.  It’s the foundation for living the good life and helping others to do so as well.  If we all do our part-inwardly and outwardly–we’ll be in a much better position to demand that government stop doing it for us. 


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