As we head for the home stretch in our political season and each party reins in the votes of its membership, the focus will become those who label themselves as independents or moderates. Both sides will seek to claim them for their own. But what is meant by the political labels we attach to ourselves?
Most are divided into two main groups; what we call conservatives and liberals. Both sides have long accused each other of a kind of religious fanaticism in pursuit of their goals and this is in many ways true. But how to understand them? As John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson on this subject many years ago: "You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other."
To be a conservative means favoring a return to or the preservation of values that should not change with the times. A conservative believes there are absolute moral truths; rock foundations strong enough to bear the enormous founding weight of even a sovereign nation. That many of these are religious principles should come as no surprise, since real truth, real justice and real freedom -- all necessary to a governing system they favor -- have their basis in the realm of faith. These were most gloriously enumerated by our founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence.
And because these moral underpinnings are as wedded to the conservative mind as they are to his soul, these truths are non-negotiable and inform not only his personal life, but his professional and political ones, since they are extensions of that life. Moreover, they tend to be students of history; admiring and adopting what they see as workable economic, legal and social ideas and using them as blueprints with which to govern a nation. Among these are the notions of Natural Law and a limited republican form of government. These were most gloriously enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.
To conservatives, because the truths upon which they are based are inviolable, the Declaration and especially the Constitution are and always should be the unmovable pillars of this country. The Constitution is to be revered, and not an iota of its premise -- that our government is of the people, by the people and for the people and under God -- is to be altered. To conservative minds, the genius of its self-contained yet deliberate adaptability only confirms its worth as our national governing foundation. To understand the conservative mind, read the Constitution, to look into his heart, read the Declaration.
And then there are liberals, or progressives as they now wish to be known. Many of them also lionize our founding fathers and revere the documents they produced; but not necessarily as originally written or conceived. They rightly see America as a shining city on a hill, but one whose ethos must change with the times. They also see things in moral absolutes, but feel that the basis for these lies in human nature and are therefore as soaring and changing as the aspirations of the human heart itself.
Liberals are motivated by the desire to do good to a people who need big government to make them better, while conservatives feel that if a people are good, they are best fit to make government better. That is why, if things don't go their way, liberals often lay the fault at the imperfect feet of the American people -- if Barack Obama doesn't win, it will surely be because we are racists -- while conservatives try and take their case to the common sense of the people themselves. Conservatives feel that this common sense must be rooted in firm adherence to a moral code upon which all laws and governments should be based; liberals feel that such immovable premises are an unconscionable horror, unworthy of a great nation.
This is why the failure of liberals to garner the "religious" vote so frustrates and angers them; that these people cannot see that it is they who truly represent the brotherhood of man. If the God served by Christians does not exist to call his followers to make a heaven here on Earth, if he does not exist solely to eliminate racism and injustice in this country; if Jesus is not a community organizer, he is a failure; an unwitting tool of the dark forces of conservatism.
Liberals here and around the world have used the specter of Islamist terrorism, not to point out the radical differences between that murderous ideology and the civilizing influence of Christianity on the world, but to caution that all religious orthodoxy is dangerous. And they have had great success, even in this country which was founded on the premise that our rights come from God, and not from government.
Is there room in this country for both political points of view? Am I my brother's keeper? Yes, but my government need not be.