Elusive Conservative Mission

Washington Times  05.05.96
Balint Vazsonyi

There is a reason for the difficulty in formulating a conservative ideology. Those who are called "conservative" today are intellecutal descendants of the Founding Fathers, themselves disciples of thinkers such as John Locke and Adam Smith. To them, the very idea of an ideology was anathema. Ideologies, by definition, require that individuals conform in thought and deed - they cause personal incentive to wither. By contrast, Locke, Smith and the Founding Fathers provide guiding principles that unleash the creativity of individuals to its fullest potential.

Those who in truth carry on the most progressive of traditions are already disadvantaged by the "conservative" label. (Friedrich Hayek lamented this aberration as early as 1944.) The perceived need for an ideology to counter the one on the other side is a veritable handicap that, by now, amounts to a crisis.

Of course, the one on the other side is not just any ideology. It is an enticing, intoxicating blend of emotions and slogans, pretending to be science. Throughout this century, it has traveled the globe, chancing costumes as often as necessary in order to create the appearance of an indigenous product. In our land, it has taken on the most irresistible attire yet, appealing to a broad constituency by staking out an impressive array of issues.

In the early days, few were inclined to argue with the notion that the segregated and the poor in our midst needed and deserved special attention. In time, however, it began to appear as if such issues behaved like heads of the Hydra, with the Ideology as its central, immortal head. Whenever the nation resolved an issue, two sprouted in its place. By now, the roster is long indeed, and it appears to be of great variety. Multi-culturalism, school prayer, affirmative action, wetlands, sexual harassment, bilingual education, speech codes - yes, the roster appears to be of great variety, but a closer look reveals the common theme.

Every one of these issues has to do with the legal recognition sought for a segment of those who live here. At first it was simply a matter of making certian that no one be excluded from those rights that were meant to, and indeed must, benefit all of us. But after civil rights, we had Women's Rights; and Gay Rights; and Animal Rights; and Rights of the Disabled; and Rights of Persons with Limited English Proficiency; and Rights of Persons with Multiple Chemical Reactivity. Every time such rights are sought, another segment is about to be detached from our voluntary union of individuals. Every time such rights are granted, we have acquiesced in the secession of yet another group.

Conservatives have been taking on the heads of the Hydra one-by-one. The central, immortal head - the Ideology - has yet to be engaged.

While it is true conservatives do not possess an ideology of their own, they have a mission, rooted in Republican tradition and precedent. The Encyclopedia Britannica chronicles the adoption of the name "Republican" as appealing to those "who placed the national interest above sectional interests," That, surely, motivated the leader this new party was to elect a few years later. Saving the Union became the task history had entrusted to Abraham Lincoln.

Then it was a single, large portion that had detached itself from the body of this nation. Today, it is a growing number of smaller, although not necessarily small, groups who choose to secede. Every time a group is granted rights and status that do not apply to the rest of us, that group has effectively seceded. Every time a group secedes, the union's reservoir of assets is depleted, its underpinnings eroded.

Conservatives do not need an ideology. They need to recall history. They must save the union, again.

On the other side are those who, concurrent with the redistribution of private property, have expropriated all the "good" phrases. Theirs is the victory on the battlefield of words. They even succeeded in suppressing the fact that Republicans were the ones who declared war on slavery. No matter. We ought not to fight battles we cannot win.

We cannot win on battlefields chosen by the other side, accepting rules of engagement as defined by them. No one will be moved by suggestions that conservatives care more for those who are presumed disadvantaged than so-called liberals. No one will cast a Republican ballot come November because we will have proven that the number of homeless has been wildly exaggerated, or that school lunches are here to stay. Yet millions will follow when Republican conservatives assume responsibility for the task they once performed with valor and honor.

Save the union! Accepting the call took much courage then. It will take much courage now. It caused much pain then. It will cause much pain now - not symbolic, but real, pain. This nation grew prosperous by welcoming not only the have-nots, but also the cannots of the world. The cannots found that in America they could; the have-nots eventually became haves. But over the last decades the winning principle "if you have it, I can have it too, by working hard" has been supplanted by the loser "if I don't have it, you should give it to me." Recovery will take time and patience.

Meanwhile, the truth ought to be faced: Every move on the other side is driven by ideology - one that harnesses the emotions of the many from which to derive power for the few. If not confronted head-on , the Ideology - like the immortal head of the Hydra - will keep on sprouting "issues" until exhaustion and attrition do their work. Defeat surely is the fate of those who are always on the defensive. And as long as the other side defines the issues, remaining on the defensive is inevitable. With the "Contract With America," the Class of '94 have demonstrated that the tables can be turned, and that the other side does poorly when engaged head-on.

Therefore, let us state unequivocally that the ideology that fuels most of the Liberal agenda seeks, over time, to establish a country fundamentally different from the one founded here in 1776. Let us openly resist every fresh attempt at securing special rights for any one segment or group. Finally, let us resolve to dismantle those laws, already on the books, which drive wedges between American and American.

Like a circle of fire, the other side has surrounded its achievements with words supercharged emotionally and applied indiscriminately. Labels such as "Mean-spirited," "insensitive,", "racist," "sexist," homophobe," stand guard at the gates of the Liberal encampment, which has Divide and Conquer written on its banner. Pleading what Conservatives are not has made little impression; the time has come to assert what we are.

That may be the rhetoric of war, but then war was declared on the union some 30 years ago. The conflict is not about Medicare, Goals 200, or defense costs - important as they are, yet mere surrogates for the real matter at hand. So, even, is the argument about big government and small government. As on that field outside Gettysburg, the real matter at hand is our resolve that this nation under God - that government of the people, by the people, for the people - shall not perish from the Earth.