Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I have friends, neighbors and relatives with whom I disagree on any number of points such as the role of government, interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, the public and private choices we should be allowed to make, and the purpose of religion. I am a quintessential conservative. If I disagree with them on so many fundamentals, how is it that I manage to associate with them without the regular occurrence of hurt feelings? Quite often it is through realizing what we have in common and building upon that foundation, rather than trying to kick sand at them.

With some, I share a religion. With others, I share professional interests that span a wide range of technical fields. Ah, if politics could have right and wrong answers as straightforward as knowing whether a math equation was correct. With some, I share citizenship in a town, county, state or country that gives us a great deal in common.

With all of them, I share the world.

While I may have some slight influence over the beliefs and attitudes of others, I have no absolute control in those areas beyond myself. If I want to communicate with someone, I first have to understand them. This doesn't mean that I will accept all of their viewpoints. It just means that I can understand how they might feel the way they do. Sometimes I disagree with others at a most basic and profound level, yet I can still communicate if I understand what has made them feel that way.

Take our cat, for instance. She thinks that my arm is fair game for gnashing when she wants to play rough, and I've carelessly left an arm where she can reach. I don't approve of having new puncture marks, but I can understand that she wants to play. I may be able to teach her over time to not chew on me with those sharp little fangs, but my surest way to avoid bloodshed is through understanding her behavior and changing mine to present fewer painful targets. Sure, I still play with her, sometimes when she's in demon mode. I just have to allow her ways to express her desire to hunt, kill and eat small furry things by training her to chew on the toys, not the arm.

Communicating with people takes similar care, but in much larger doses. Sure, you can poke angry trolls with sticks and make faces at them for entertainment, but where is the challenge in that? Want to do something really challenging? Have a pleasant conversation about a controversial topic with someone who has a diametrically opposed viewpoint. Now pulling THAT off deserves praise. Think Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy and their friendship.

Destroying that which we hate is trivial if we don't mind setting aside morals and personal safety. Taking a stand for what you know is right requires getting out of your comfort zone, but is often a solitary effort. Building upon a common foundation is harder, but is much more worth the effort. Who knows? A friend may even grow to understand, then accept your views.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Keeping a Civil Tongue

In the light of recent events and the proposed scope of this new blog, I wish to start things off with a quick comparison of things now to things past. I thank the gracious host of this new blog for asking me to join in this endeavor, and I hope we can generate some interesting dialog.

This republic just finished a contentious and generally aggravating presidential election, coupled with many many races across the country that reflected the presidential campaigns in both tone and content. One of the chief characteristics in this election cycle was the continual advertising that slung personal attacks against all the contenders involved. This characteristic in many ways hid the other chief component of this last election; namely, the deeply divided political stances of our citizens. The mud-slinging was an illustration of the deep-seated frustrations that were and are present, and generally worked to literally beat the citizens down by a non-stop stream of invective. I do not know about you, but I sure got tired of that, and I am happy that this last election is finally over.

I was reminded of another election in 1829. This was also a terrible election that consisted of personal attacks and political hatreds that very nearly tore the nation in half. I quote from the prologue of Arthur M. Schlesinger's book "The Age of Jackson" (copyright 1945, Little, Brown and Company):

"It was no year for righteous men: everywhere they sat in darkness. Two months before, General Andrew Jackson had been elected President of the United States. The ungodly were now in the ascendancy, and those who walked not in their counsels had little but Scriptures for consolation. 'There is more effrontery,' Samuel Clesson Allen, retiring Congressman from Massachusetts, had exclaimed, '...in putting forward a man of his bad character - a man covered with crimes...than ever was attempted before upon an intelligent peoples.' The good Reverend Robert Little, pastor of the Unitarian Society of Washington, sadly chose this text: 'When Christ drew near the city He wept over it.'"

The sentiments reflected here are no exaggeration, as the Federalist opposition to the populist Jackson was bitter and deep-seated. It had begun with the opposition of the Federalists, such as Hamilton and the Adamses, to the utopic, agrarian vision of the Jeffersonian Republicans. As Schlesinger points out, the national need for our own manufacturing and middle class slowly outweighed the vision of Jefferson's nation of gentleman farmers, and it was in Jefferson's own administration that the retreat of the Virginia leaders began, and continued through Madison and Monroe. A National Bank had been established, and while the Federalists were out of power in the executive and legislative branches, they had firmly fixed themselves in the judiciary branch "...as to an ark of future safety which which the Constitution placed beyond the reach of public opinion." (p. 15) The general opinion of the Federalists were that Jeffersonian thought encouraged the rough and uneducated public to gain power that they were not fit to hold.

The four year disaster of the second Adam's presidency was the result of the legislature being generally entirely at odds with his Federalist tendencies. Much like the presidential race between George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, there had been cries of stolen elections and under-handed dealings, and the legislature was in no mood to cooperate with him. Now, with the second contest between Jackson and Adams, the populist President had gained control of the seat of power by using "Mob-ocracy," and the doom of the nation was immanent. Jackson was strongly in favor of dismantling the National Bank, and for the firm establishment of gold as the money of commerce and trade. Jackson represented the unruly and unwashed masses of the new, western states, and he did not look favorably on the "rich bankers" and the new, industrial wealthy class of the north-east.

The comparison I am drawing is, of course, not perfect, but there are some interesting similarities. I noticed that George W. Bush has been accused many times of representing the wealthy interests, most notably companies like Haliburton and the oil interests. He has also been a supporter of the so-called "religious right" in his opposition to things like abortion and the use of human fetuses for stem-cell research. Obama has been anathema to the religious right, and he speaks of strong federal control to bring down the wealthy and force them to enrich the nation further by legislative action. Obama and his party speak to the poor in this country, and, whether you agree with what he said or not, his campaign brilliantly brought them to the polls and they used their franchise to elect him to power. Since that time, I have heard many conservatives say things that are remarkably similar to the arguments against Jackson in the aftermath of his election to the Presidency.

Along political lines, that is where the similarities end and, because of almost 180 years difference, there are newer considerations that have to be taken into account for a fuller understanding. One, for example, is that the modern conservative viewpoint is actually closer to the older Jeffersonian view that a limited government is the better government. Whether George W. Bush actually represented that or not is a point for another debate. The modern conservative viewpoint further maintains that involvement in foreign conflicts can be a necessary place as a policy. Obama has maintained that our involvement in foreign affairs should be limited to diplomacy unless it is absolutely necessary otherwise to use force. That was at one time a conservative view, going all the way back to the first Virginian President, George Washington.

The last, and I think, most essential difference, is that at the time of Jackson, the ideal of the redistribution of wealth was simply a concept that did not exist. The control of wealth was certainly one that the Federalists would have maintained, but the idea of taxing the wealthy to give to the poorer elements of the country through a government entity would not have occurred to either Jackson or Adams. It would not have occurred in the minds of any of the founders, in fact. The evils of slavery did occur to them. The possible abuses of the wealthy class in control of the government occurred to them. The dangers of foreign involvement occurred to them. The question of wealth was for the earlier generations of this country not a question of "do we have the right to accumulate wealth," rather, it was a question of "how much power should the wealthy have in a Republic?" There was never an idea that being wealthy was, ipso facto, being a bad person that was just greedy. That is the newer controversy and one that must be considered whether one is a conservative or not.

My own place in this, and the reason for this analogy, is simply to provide perspective enough to give modern conservatives a hope and a prayer. The movement has been placed in a position that seems hopeless for the moment, and, yet, we have survived as a nation through disappointing results in the past. I am truly enamored by the old Jeffersonian ideals, yet, through the lens of time, I can see that not having an industrial base would have been a devastating blow to this nation. Jefferson hated it, but he also understood that as well. I hate the idea of redistribution of wealth as a "save-all" ideal, yet at this point my own grandmother, father and mother are counting on the government check that they spent years of paychecks buying into. Rather than bemoaning the latest defeat in the election, let us instead look to the future. We have to be able to fight these political battles by winning the minds and hearts of those that vote. We cannot win future elections by wishing for this or for that. We will win elections by having a real set of political goals. Anything else is either outright treason or, at best, a political daydream.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Matters of State

This blog will focus on the issues of today from a conservative view point. We felt that we ought to do our part to help defend the values that are part of the foundation of this great country.