We loosely speak of conservatives and liberals when we talk about ideologies and modern politics as it relates to government. Besides the fact that these labels are often anachronistic, and even widely misused, we infrequently take care to see the downside of the views we personally promote. As in all areas we share in a kind of personal and corporate blindness to the weaknesses of the views we so stridently promote. While I might be labeled a conservative, at least on some issues, I am clearly more progressive when it comes to other modern debates over issues. I view the death penalty, and our modern wars and continual military buildup, with considerable suspicion. I also care for the environment in ways that are anything but consistent with the party line views of most political conservatives. I further believe that our personal liberties are being violated by an over-reaction to questions regarding terrorism and security. (I have named only a few issues to simply give you a sense of my problem with the label.) Yet, I am not a modern political liberal either, at least when it comes to promoting entitlement programs and a great deal of state and federal spending. I am profoundly troubled by the liberal partnership between governments and almost all labor unions. This is why I admire Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. (I believe in the right to form unions and to unionize work but the pendulum has swung too far from the middle through massive entitlements.) The long term well-being of the nation is thus threatened by our out-of-control debt problem. Our present spending could well destroy our economy and then alter our way of life in radically unforeseen ways that could wreck the social fabric of our society. For this reason, the rising debt (and everything connected with solving it) is THE issue that moves me profoundly at the present moment. (What we need is a better, and more realistic, centrist argument about the real size and consequence of our debt.) I do not believe this is a left or right issue. I believe both parties need to give on some of their special projects and stop posturing in order to work together to solve this massive problem. Until after November I am not holding my breath for any real solutions and beyond November I am still not sure that we will see the radical changes that we actually need. If this is a form of political cynicism then so be it. 

Some months ago I heard a prominent conservative express my deep doubts about what happens when conservatives hold power. He said that "the tendency of conservatives is to turn government into a private sector bidding war." That nailed it for me. When this happens we have a government by entrepreneurship. While I believe deeply in the power and initiative of the entrepreneurial spirit I do not believe that governments should pursue entrepreneurship. When they do, bad things always happen. Conservatives need to understand this if they are to ever learn to govern wisely and humanely. I am just not sure most of them do at this moment. 

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  1. Chris Criminger April 25, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Hi John,
    It’s been a long pilgrimage for me but it seems like we are in very similar places politically (except I may be more cynical than you 🙂
    I will say I am encouraged that Jim Wallis who I have viewed as a representative of the religious left wrote a book on the greatest need of our nation of curbing and trying to get rid of our oppressive national debt. This is everyone’s responsibility and not just the government. This gives me hope that those on the left and the right may actually be able to come together even on issues like this? But as long as these two groups simply look at the other as the enemy and blame the “other party” for all our nations woes, we will go no where and have been going no where with this kind of approach.

  2. Jason Kettinger April 25, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Can you explain what is meant by “private sector bidding war”? (In most cases, this seems really good.) I do not make any concession that “liberals” actually care more about the Earth, so I don’t know where you were going with that.

  3. John H. Armstrong April 25, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Jason, when governments turn “bids” into politics then the obvious result is a “bidding war.” Then they sell to the bidder they like, prefer, etc. The private sector should operate on “bidding.” It is a result of the free market. But when governments begin to do the same they try to act like private enterprise and the results will be bad. Just look at how we buy everything from weapons to insurance and note how the government politicizes this into a “bidding war” that is usually resolved by political means, not market means. I am a great proponent of the free market if you’ve read my blogs in the past. As for “green” and “environmental” issues I would say that liberals do not have a corner on this concern but a whole lot of conservatives show little or no concern at all. By the say it was a Catholic social theorist who taught me about governments and why they can not operate on the same principle as “bids” and “markets.” They do not play on the same field.

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