One of my grandsons and two of my granddaughters came to spend the night with us recently. My ten-year-old-grandson was barely out of the car before he told me that his teacher had been telling his fifth grade class that Obama would be good for the country and that he was for Obama. I laughed and told him to get back in the car and go home with his father, prompting his thirteen-year-old sister to ask, “Papa Jim, are you a Democrat or a Republican?” A simple, direct question—the kind kids ask—the kind all of us should ask more often. My mind began to traverse the complications of that question and the vast store of knowledge awaiting her young mind, but I resisted the temptation to wander there.
I answered simply and directly, telling her that I was a Republican, but more importantly, I was a conservative rather than a liberal. That was a sentence more than she needed, but she thought a minute before asking, “What’s the difference?”I told her that the essence of conservatism involved the acceptance of personal responsibility. Conservatives like to be responsible for our families and ourselves and want as little interference as possible from the government in our lives. Liberals believe that the government should take a more active role in our lives. I knew that the answer was woefully inadequate, but it was all she seemed to want at the time.
Her questions reminded me of a conversation I had with my sister about whether our father was Democrat or Republican. She remembered him as a supporter of Roosevelt and Truman. I knew that Ronald Reagan was his favorite politician, even though my daddy died a decade before Reagan would become president. I understand the confusion. The parties have switched sides more than once. Today, Democrats are definitely liberal and lean more left each day. Republicans are more conservative and lean right. (I avoided mentioning left vs. right to my curious granddaughter).
I have seven grandchildren. When I am gone, will they have to guess where I stood politically and philosophically? Forty or fifty years from now, conservatives could be called liberals and vice-versa. Democrats could be conservative and Republicans liberal. I want my children and grandchildren to know today’s labels, but more importantly, my beliefs and how I came to have them.
If today’s trends continue, my grandchildren will likely hear liberal college professors describe conservatives in unflattering terms. Conservatives are called warmongers, heartless, greedy, religious zealots, imperialists, racists and capitalists who get rich at the expense of the poor. The terms supply-siders, trickle-down economics, special interests, and greedy corporations have been demagogued with so much fervor that their meanings have been distorted into something evil with no rational explanation as to why. Even free enterprise and capitalism have been associated with something sinister. Nothing could be further from the truth.I believe that liberals are wrong about basic human needs and motivation. Conservatives believe that people want freedom—and we mean freedom to pursue our dreams with as little interference as possible from the government—to control our own destinies. We want and need some sense of empowerment over our own lives. We think this is a necessary ingredient to real happiness. We don’t want to be told how far we can reach or how high we can go. We won’t place those restrictions on you, please don’t place them on us. Failures and successes are our own responsibility and we’ll handle them very well, thank you.
We need and want regular infusions of a sense of accomplishment and self-worth—a sense that we are contributing something that makes our lives and our families’ lives better and yes, maybe even makes the world a better place. It makes us feel good about ourselves and empowers us to do more good things. Turning our great nation into a nanny state takes that away from us and gives it to the government. The comfortable feeling one gets from being taken care of is like taking a sick day when you are not sick. The coziness soon turns into self-loathing.
We want rewards received to have some relation to effort expended. We know that can never be perfect, but when you take it away, sloth is rewarded and effort is punished. Everybody, even the slothful, suffers when we do that. You get more of behavior that is rewarded. Reward slothfulness, you’ll get more of it, and a vibrant economy cannot abide slothfulness.
We believe that the most racist thing a society can do is to grant special privileges or benefits to a group of people based solely on skin color or race. It demeans them. It tarnishes every worthwhile achievement in their lives with the broad brush of unworthiness. It says that this group cannot advance on its own and turns them against their benefactors because they are beholden to them. It takes away their sense of accomplishment and self-worth, freedom, power, and the balance of rewards to achievement. It takes away dignity and replaces it with a sense of entitlement, powerlessness and victimization. We believe peace is attained through strength and determination, not surrender and appeasement. Throughout history, there have always been despots and violent barbarians who thirst for power and who try to gain it through violent means. We abhor violence and war, but when America or Americans are attacked or threatened, the great American Eagle must sharpen its talons and fly to their defense. We believe that there is such a thing as evil and it must be confronted. We believe in fighting to win—it saves lives. That does not make us warmongers; it makes us peace protectors. Being weak and lacking resolve loses lives rather than saving them. We believe that free enterprise and capitalism achieve these human needs more than any form of economic structure. We know that history proves our case. A lot of us have actually read the constitution and still admire our founding fathers. That constitution says that the federal government has very limited authority and that every authority not granted to the federal government though the constitution is reserved by the states and the people. We are, in other words, a republic.
I believe, however, that our founding fathers, though visionary, never envisioned that gluttonous politicians would spend their time creating power and influence for themselves instead of acting in the public interest. They never envisioned that they would feed at the public trough for their entire careers before retiring to live out their lives in luxury at taxpayer expense. Many, of course, become psychologically incapable of relinquishing power and only death rescues us from them. Our founding fathers saw serving in our capitol as sacrifice. They rendered public service without personal gain. They were happy to stay a term or two and go back to live under the laws they had created. We know that presidents and congresses do not create jobs. We do. We create their jobs, also, and get very little in return for our huge investment.
We believe that America should run its government the way we run our businesses and our personal lives. We pay our bills, keep our debt under control, and try to save as much as possible to take care of emergencies and retirement. We expect the government to do the same. We know that most of the money we send to the government is wasted, so we like to send as little as possible. We know that high taxes strangle us and thus, the economy. We are not mad at rich people and do not want them to be punished for being successful. Most rich people got that way by working hard and creating jobs. We don’t believe in punishing that behavior. You cannot help the poor by punishing the rich. A rising tide lifts all boats, except the ones with holes. When our boats spring leaks, we plug them; we don’t wait for the government to do it.
Conservatives love America. Liberals hate it. Their constant carping and complaining about how we are hated around the world damages the most generous country in the world. They talk surrender to our enemies when our soldiers are shedding blood on battlefields to protect our way of life. Liberals have the audacity to call themselves patriots while standing in front of cameras and shouting diatribes against America while our enemies cheer. America is not perfect, but can be judged by the number of people trying to get in vs. the number leaving. By that measure, we are far and away still the greatest country in the world.
Conservatives know that actions have consequences. When we make a mistake, we accept the consequences and make a note not to repeat that particular mistake. We know that money is made when we provide a product or service that someone else can use. When we do something well, we also expect the government to keep its hands off our rewards. We are generous, but like to make our own decisions about how our money is spent or donated. We know that certain people are unable to work and provide for themselves. We pay taxes so that these people can be helped and we are far more generous than liberals with our contributions to charitable causes.Last, we believe that people need to believe in something greater than ourselves—that there is something purer than we are, something perfect that is watching over us, empowering us, but leaving us with the freedom to do better and strive for perfection. Most conservatives like to think that Someone in the Great Somewhere is pleased when we do good for our fellow man. We won’t interfere with your freedom to believe the way you do or to practice whatever religion, spirituality or atheism you choose; we expect the same from you. Prayer rugs do not frighten us, why are Liberals afraid of Christmas trees?
Is there a price for all this? Of course. Sometimes, it is paid in the blood of brave soldiers. All of us must pay the price of accepting personal responsibility for our lives and how we live them. As for the government, just protect us and then get out of the way. We will continue to keep America’s greatness and make it better.
So grandchildren, that is why your Papa is a conservative.
© 2008 Jim Ainsworth [email protected]
A former registered investment advisor, CPA, CFP and CLU, Ainsworth has authored or co-authored five business books, a memoir, and three novels. He has also ridden horseback across Texas.