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County Hall Corner: The Case for Conservatism

Consider the philosophy that politics are framed around. In general, Republicans identify themselves as conservative and Democrats as progressive. It certainly seems that ‘progress’ itself is inevitable in society’s development, which is why the wind always seems to be in the sails of the Democratic Party. To be sure, the past has not been fair

Consider the philosophy that politics are framed around. In general, Republicans identify themselves as conservative and Democrats as progressive. It certainly seems that ‘progress’ itself is inevitable in society’s development, which is why the wind always seems to be in the sails of the Democratic Party. To be sure, the past has not been fair to all; thus, heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. state that “the moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.” The Democrats have a mental mandate to right the wrongs of the past for the sake of progress in the future.

Republicans do not disparage progress but have a very different way of looking at the same picture. They believe that the foundation laid down in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution are the cornerstones of all actions that the government should revolve around. The essential freedoms that are contained in those documents are the very fabric that binds the nation together. It is through the foundation laid in the past that should chart our future.
Take any major issue, and these two views come glaringly to the surface. Consider abortion. The 1973 Supreme Court Roe vs. Wade decision was not ‘the law of the land’ as many like to term it, but rather a judicial decision nullifying abortion restrictions. Democrats celebrated this action as it was recognizing the reality of unwanted pregnancies and provided a means for an expectant mother to have the child aborted by medical personnel rather than back-alley butchers, which were necessary in the past. This was progress.

Republicans, on the other hand, objected to the basis of this decision as it did quite a dance to establish as well as was an affront to the sanctity of life itself. The seven Supreme Court justices in 1973 based their decision on a fundamental “right to privacy” that protects a person’s right to choose whether to have an abortion. Yet there is no explicit mention of privacy in the U.S. Constitution. The judges drew this ‘right’ from a dissent in Gilbert v. Minnesota (1920) by Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who stated the First Amendment protected the privacy of the home. Even to a civics novice, this certainly appears the thinnest of threads.

Consider voting laws. Democrats believe that the right to vote should be expanded as far and wide as possible as this presents the greatest representation and, thus, ensures that no one is being marginalized. This is progress. Whereas Republicans would argue that voting laws are established to protect the veracity of the vote and not just accumulate the numbers. All elections should be free and fair based on law.

The same dichotomy can be seen in issues like social justice. Is it fair that bail is no problem for the wealthy but impossible for the poor? The movement toward eliminating bail was seen as a progressive action to establish equity between the haves and have-nots. Conservatives noted that bail itself has a purpose, and to eliminate it virtually begs continual crime. These examples could go on and on.

But here is what must be considered — and forms the bedrock for the conservative position — the United States has stayed together as a nation since March 4, 1789, which is longer than any other country in the world! Yes, the USA has maintained its government when every other country on the planet has had to change their government. In fact, 194 countries have changed their governments in the 20th or 21st century. There are only a handful of countries, such as Canada (1853), Iceland (1845), Norway (1814), and Switzerland (1843), that have maintained their form of government beyond a century or more.

Why is that? Could it be that the Founding Fathers actually put together something rather amazing? Those 7,591 words (including the 27 amendments) capsulated a governmental structure that has stood the test of time over centuries. When the European Union wrote its constitution in 2005, it ran over 70,000 words, and even its advocates admit it is largely unreadable.

Perhaps an illustration would bring home the point. A man was getting a tour of Ohio State University, and the guide was highlighting the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts, America’s first postmodern building. When the man asked what made it postmodern, the guide remarked it was designed by the architect to reflect that life is capricious, so the design has no meaning. Stairs go nowhere; pillars serve no purpose; it demonstrates the uncertainty of life.

The man looked at the building and said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?” The guide remarked, “That is correct.” The man then asked, “Did the architect do the same with the foundation?”

Conservatives are not stuck in the mud deniers of progress as they are often portrayed. Rather, they believe that foundations matter. This is why progressives should at least appreciate the values that conservatives represent. Because without them, we would not be having this conversation right now.