A friend on the other side of the great ideological divide recently challenged me to come up with the high points of conservatism's record over the last 50 or so years.
My thoughtful answer was that there's a continuum, that both the New Deal and the undesirability of confiscatory levels of taxation have captured the center, that Nixon was a liberal and that Bill Clinton was not unconservative, but that was apparently unsatisfactory. (I thought it was we righties who are the simplistic Manichaeans, seeing everything in terms of black and white, but not so, not so.)
I despise laundry lists, especially since I refuse to separate the white wash from the colored on grounds of discrimination. Still, I do credit the ability of conservatives, when asked, to actually answer a direct question. And so:
---That the constantly rising tide of taxation needed to be reversed, as it stifles hard work, entrepreneurship, innovation, and ultimately, prosperity.
---That the constantly rising tide of regulation needed to be halted, as compliance begins to elbow out actual production. (Notice the Tide motif creeping into the laundry list.)
---That deregulation largely results in lower prices for consumers (energy, telephones, airlines, yachts... er, maybe let's lose that last one).
---That communism was an ideological tyranny, an enemy of freedom and of man's spirit, needing to be opposed and rolled back at every opportunity. (The Strategic Defense Initiative, "Star Wars," drove liberals nuts but drove the Soviet Union to suicide. Although we need not credit George Lucas with singlehandedly winning the Cold War.)
---That autocrats like the Shah are more able to reform than totalitarian ideologies like the one that now operates Iran. (We may thank the late Jeane Kirkpatrick for that one.)
---That, per Washington's Farewell Address, religion is not an enemy, but an indispensable ally for any republic based on individual self-governance.
---That the family is the core platoon of society (there is a provable higher incidence of almost every social pathology in its absence), and that the welfare system was crippling it while smothering individual initiative.
---That affirmative action is at best neutral in the short term, its greater access offset by lower graduation rates and suspicion of minorities' genuine achievement.
---That portraying the discrimination against groups as trumping individual effort results in endemic hopelessness and a destructive racial divide.
---That choice in schools (vouchers) is the only real solution to resegregation. (One can be sure that if conservatives had such a monopoly on the schools and the education establishment [without whose money and volunteers the Democratic Party would die], good liberals everywhere would be in favor of such freedom.)
---That locking up pathologically habitual offenders keeps them off the streets and it's a mathematical certainty, borne out by the stats, that crime rates decrease.
---That a person has a right to defend kith and kin, with a gun if necessary.
---That the 55 mile an hour speed limit totally, clearly, and unimpeachably sucked. (With apologies to Liddy Dole who zealously enforced that as Secretary of Transportation. She was clearly not up to speed on that one.)
If all conservatives ever accomplished was the lattermost, I'd say it was all worth it. Yes, there are so many things we take for granted after Reagan and Gingrich that people need to be reminded of just now.
On both sides of the great divide.
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