If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircles us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.
— Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
Dear Planet Waves Reader:
Conservatism is all the rage. I guess it has been for a while. I’m usually late picking up on trends; I finally joined the New York State Conservative Party a few weeks ago, with a plan to reform the organization from within.
I got out of politics in the mid-1980s (when I was an aspiring campaign writer) because in that role, one of your daily tasks is to lie to the public. I got sick of having to make false statements of various kinds. For example, to get your candidate elected, it’s generally necessary to tell the public what they want to hear, or what gets them to vote the way you want, rather than what your candidate actually stands for.
The financial statements created by the campaigns I worked for were routinely exercises in covering up spending 10 times more than you said you did, and if you didn’t do that, there was no way to compete. All the candidates knew this and it was like we all tacitly agreed to the alternate set of on-the-ground rules.
But now that I’ve found my identity as a conservative, I feel like I can finally tell the truth. One thing that’s always confused me is the word conservative. It sounds a lot like conserve, which means “to protect from loss or harm; preserve,” or “to use carefully or sparingly, avoiding waste.”
My fellow conservatives seem to do a lot of bombing other countries, which is hardly protecting them from harm. They’re busy-bodies wondering who everyone sleeps with, and spendthrifts who literally ship truckloads of money into war zones, which then goes unaccounted for. I always thought the thing that made you a conservative was that you had a tight accounting system. It meant recognizing the value of a dollar, and respecting an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.
And we all know that conservative public officials don’t waste the taxpayers’ money. Spending $1 million a year per soldier in Afghanistan makes the bonuses of Wall Street execs look like a bargain. And we’re doing what? Intervening in the affairs of a foreign country?
Why do people put up with this?
I got my answer one morning this week. I was up early and flipped on the tube. I was treated to one of those endless call-in programs on C-Span that was only open to Republicans and members of the Teabag Party. This is the program to watch if you’re sick of hearing from the pundits; instead you get all the people the pundits have so meticulously misinformed.
In one call after the next, it was the onslaught of the clueless. There were people commenting on immigration who sounded like they’ve never personally crossed an international border. There were old people calling for cutting Social Security benefits in half — as if they’re not low enough already. People went on and on about entitlements, without noting that companies such as Bank of America and General Electric pay zero corporate taxes and get plenty in corporate welfare.
Candidates pandering to this constituency are promising to eliminate the minimum wage, take away health care, give the Social Security fund to Wall Street. The Teabag Party is running 81 candidates who are committed to criminalizing abortion even in the case of rape and incest: 71 candidates for the House, seven for the Senate and three for governor of different states. And women voters are leaning Republican this year. They are being manipulated by hundreds of millions of dollars worth of anonymous attack advertising, allowed by a new Supreme Court decision called Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. I don’t understand this. Lots of conservatives are Christians, and Jesus said we should take care of the poor. And as for those ads, why would you conceal your identity unless you have something to hide?
After I listened to these callers for an hour, Sal Russo came on as a guest. He’s the ‘chief strategist’ of the Tea Party Express, a political action committee that funnels money into the campaigns of Teabag candidates. Mr. Russo got his start shining the shoes of Ronald Reagan, who looks like a bleeding heart liberal these days — he raised taxes dozens of times, granted amnesty to illegal immigrants and did quite a bit of deficit spending. Russo rambled on for an hour about how the (Democrat-controlled) government is over-regulating business and therefore creating the recession. All we need to do is get rid of these pesky regulations and the recession will disappear, he said (about 14 times). There used to be an expression for this — putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop.
We need a new plan. We need to put the conserve back into conservative. The following is my proposed platform.
Plan for the New American Decade
1. Conserve the natural environment. There are a lot of planets as nice as the Earth, but we can’t get to any of them at the moment. So we may as well take care of the one we have, if only to make it a more pleasant place. Teddy Roosevelt loved bird sanctuaries and saw the sense in creating them. That’s true conservatism.
2. Conserve resources in all forms. That includes everything from energy to trees to money to effort, and focus them where we really want and truly need. We can cut plenty of waste out of government spending and we can start in our homes.
3. Generally, advocating a more modest way of life. There’s a difference between abundance and needless overindulgence. This is not about denying ourselves anything other than the privilege of waste. Why waste, when you can put the resources into something constructive? Gluttony is not a value. Cultured people enjoy what they have, and grow their lives consciously and within their means.
4. Respect separation of church and state. Conservatives follow the Constitution, and this provision is in the First Amendment. It’s extremely liberal of politicians to ignore this important boundary. Conservatives don’t impose their religious values onto other people. Quakers, one of the most conservative religions, does not allow its members to proselytize. We started as a Protestant nation. Every person has his or her own relationship to God and nobody has a right to impose theirs on anyone else
5. Respect for individual rights, including privacy and free speech. The United States is based on keeping private things private: including our personal papers and private property. That’s what the law says. In the United States, citizens are sovereigns, not subjects of the crown. A smaller, less invasive government stays out of your private life. It does not have time, resources or authority to monitor every single pregnancy. Family planning is a family matter. Then, as citizens, we mind our own business. What your neighbor does in the privacy of his or her home is none of your business, unless it directly impacts your life in some way.
6. Non-interventionist military policy. We need to take care of our own country before we conquer or ‘help’ any other country. That might translate to shorter, more efficient wars — or no wars at all. The purpose of the military is to defend our nation, not to randomly attack other countries, or worse, to steal their resources. We have more than enough here in magnificent North America.
7. Audit the Federal Reserve. A conservative knows how much money he or she has; the checkbook balances at the end of the month. Your money is your power, and we need to audit the ‘federal’ bank so we know how much money we have. Of course when we do this, someone will have to explain the quarter-quadrillion-dollar hole in the books. We might want to ask an astrophysicist familiar with dark matter to be part of the audit team. Maintaining the treasury is a public trust, and those who violated this trust need to be exposed and put on trial.
8. Offer sex education to students — consistent with science. Or, said another way, offer complete science education to students, including scientific knowledge on the environment, resource conservation, and sex education. Family planning is essential to having functional families. Young people have a right to know about how their bodies work, and need to have information so that they can take care of one another.
9. Speaking of education, it’s money well spent. We need to invest in the future, and an effective, economical way to do that is to support education. Parents should have a diversity of options for educational philosophies available: different kinds of schools to suit different values and ideas about life. Public higher education needs to go back to majority funding by the state, remembering its primary mission, which is access to all citizens; this in turn will create a prosperous, functioning economy. We have to stop this whole business of student loans and go back to grants.
10. Redeploy military resources to peacetime civilian duties, like planting trees, helping in disaster zones and civil works projects. Put soldiers to work teaching inner city kids to read, fix cars and work computers.
11. Conservatism advocates a more natural way of life, like that of our great grandparents: stuff like gardening, home canning, respect for the land and other basics. Conservatism implies a measure of self-sufficiency, as well as taking care of your neighbors.
12. Help for those in need. The purpose of a society is to take care of all its members. Why bother otherwise? We are a nation based on abundance, and there is plenty to go around, especially if we’re talking about food, shelter, clothing and health care. Many of my fellow conservatives these days say they read the Bible. Remember this part? “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.”
13. Respect Life. That means not encouraging or compelling killing, and creating a culture of respect for the mystery of existence. Build a memorial in Washington and in every state capital to the many people who committed no crime and who were given the death penalty.
14. Tell the truth. Stop believing lies.
Yours & truly,