Understanding Conservatives

Posted on March 23, 2011 by

Progressive “thought leaders” occasionally ruminate out loud about what really motivates our conservative opponents. 

Here’s one asking if republicans are “just idiots.” 

I honestly don’t think there’s that big a mystery here.

There is certainly a way to understand conservative political values without attributing malice or ignorance to the other side.

From their point of view, it’s simply that government creates a culture of dependency which deprives individuals of their natural impulse toward ambition, initiative and self-improvement.  And that the welfare state displaces other institutions – family, religious and civic – which do a better job caring for us.

Denying revenue to local, state and the federal government through tax cuts and budget crises, therefore, disables those constituencies politically aligned with – and dependent upon – an assortment of spending programs.

We may not like this philosophy but it is comprehensible and those who embrace it are not necessarily demonic or immoral.

Conservative strategist Grover Norquist spells out the republican game plan - and rationale – in his 2009 book Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government’s Hands Off Our Guns, Our Money, Our Lives.

To dismiss Norquist as a liar and hypocrite compromises his value to us as an intellectually honest source.

Click here for a somewhat dated but revealing interview of Norquist by libertarian Nick Gillespie.

I know it’s hard to keep our heads as republican demagogues, for example, scare and manipulate Americans into believing that President Obama is not “one of us.”

It’s important, though, that we not become paranoid or hysterical.

We have to move our message in plain language and with the conviction and self-restraint that we learned from our mentors from Madison.

Comments (12)


  1. William Voegeli says:

    I appreciate your effort, the exception rather than the rule, to walk around the other side of the table and see the chessboard from the opponent’s vantage point. Readers who want to follow your example might want to look at, in addition to Norquist’s book, “Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State,” a book of mine published in 2010.

  2. Alan K. says:

    Okay, so they’re not demonic (maybe) or immoral (maybe) but how about……DELUSIONAL!!!

  3. Robespierre says:

    As a conservative, but not a Republican, I can only suggest that we often find the liberal side unwilling to learn from the lessons of the past. Every time government takes a role in the human drama, they screw it up. Health care and education are just two examples of endeavors that have become more expensive and less capable of delivering services once the government became involved.
    Put government back in charge of building road, repairing pot holes, defending the nation… the things that it was originally designed to do, and get out of the way.
    Please note, I have not called anyone any names.

  4. Ben says:

    “Every time government takes a role in the human drama, they screw it up.”
    This is simply wrong. Can somebody of sound mind, in all seriousness, make such a statement and back it up?
    And let’s see: “building roads, repairing potholes, defending the nation…the things that it (the gov) was originally designed to do.” Is that the extent of what the founding fathers had in mind? Then what have we been arguing about for the last 200 plus years?

  5. Hal says:

    Lets face it!!! If MOST of ‘our’ tax dollars were NOT STOLEN from us through income tax and ‘defense budget’ spending and were TRULY used as ‘investment’ back into OUR States and communities!!! AND if ‘our’ Federal Government was a ‘representative’ body/power that worked FOR ‘We the People’ and was NOT a ‘puppet organization’ for a SMALL group of the SAME HUGE multinationals,Financial Institutions/Central Banks and the Military Industrial Complex………NO ONE would be having these sudo-arguments over Right/Left,liberal/conservative!!!………….MOST ‘Mass Media’ is THEIR propaganda machine that is used to distract/misinform the masses into believing that ‘our problems’ are because of our differences and not the REAL CROOKS!!!!!

  6. kerry c. says:

    Mr Voegeli and most conservatives cannot seem to deal with the critical fact that the United States changed qualitatively during the late 19th century, when corporate rather than proprietary capitalism came to dominate the state. Libertarians have never stopped dreaming about the never-never land of an imagined free market dispensation, somewhere in the past but never located.

    As opposed to reading Never Enough, which as been written several times by others, and can also be found in Mr. Voegeli’s many pieces for the Claremont Review of Books, a strong defense of Liberalism can be found in Paul Starr’s Feedom’s Power: The True Force of Liberalism, a much better defense of the tradition than most.

    I will let libertarians remain Utopian, in the worst sense of the word, in which they are constantly creating blueprints for a society, if it were to come to pass, would be horrid, at least when it comes to the economy.

    On cultural questions, America is already libertarian for the most part. That battle has been won, with only trace elements, murmurs and complaints left from a defense of the old order. On the present-day economy specifically and the nature of advanced capitalism in general, they haven’t a clue, which is why Daniel Bell remained to his dying day a liberal in politics, a socialist (read social democrat) in economics, and a conservative in culture. Not a bad troika. Bell lost the battle on his third category, culture, but not the first two, which will remain strong if liberals don’t go weak, Lou.

  7. John Connolly says:

    Iam grateful to Kerry C who has said — with more clarity and fewer words — what i was feeling in response to Lou’s post above … and the … interesting … responses to it.

    I have only this to add:

    The main function of “Libertarians” has been to act as democratic (small “d”) cover for the organized, legal thievery of the capitalist class and its main political claw in the US, the modern Republican Party.

    “Libertarians” — Rand Paul is the current best exemplar — yowl against Big government and proclaim their fealty to individual liberty, and all the while have nothing to say about the iron fist of Big Government capital as it engineers continued massive transfers of wealth from ordinary Americans to the top 2% of the population.
    All nicely done of course under the Rule of Law.

    They spout on about the inherent “collectivist” evils of trade unions and how unfair unions are to non-union workers … because unionized workers have the temerity and greed to do better that their un-oragnized brethren.
    … and they ignore the collectivist, “Leninist”, nay neo-Stalinist organizational forms employed by the US Chamber of Commerce in its war on working people.

    It’s OK for the power of the State to be used violently against working people, the poor, minorities if they dare stand up for themselves; but it is always wrong for The State to provide any bulwark against Libertarians’ Darwinian Dream World and its true Dickensian face.

    Phonies, blowhards, prevaricators … or more charitably … Utopians, pied-piping us merrily on toward the hell of generalized poverty and subservience, they, the panting loyal spaniels to their class masters, and The State they pretend to abhor.

  8. It seems to me that the left, or what passes for the left in the U.S., understands too well the conservatives train of thought, to the extent that they act and think just like them in too many situations. An example being the decisions of our once lauded leader, now seeking re-election.

    The doors of Janus were closed only 2 of 500 years.

  9. Salvador Sanchez says:

    I used to cry when progressives ridiculed George W., and called him an idiot or illiterate on whatever he did. It truly was difficult for me to fathom why wouldn’t these liberals reason that they were just playing into his hand. A progressive student told me this semester that he had realized that conservatives are deep thinkers with better ideas and than we liberals just engaged into ad hominem attacks? Do we?

  10. kerry c. says:

    An attempt at a comprehensive site on critiques of Libertarianism.


  11. Gavin says:

    Although I am a Dem. – I do understand conservative values and what drives the Republian party. I do not always agree but respect when it is presented in intelligent fashion. What i object to is the lack of real governernce, partison ppolictics, which includes the ability to work with others. The Republican’s recent agenda indicates a sole mission to just get Republicians elected or reelected as their prime mission. They seem to forgotten why they are there. I base my opinion on actions not retoric.

  12. Eamon D. says:

    I think the basic problem with conservatism is the laissez-faire economic mentality that the conservatives have, where we should all be able to equally survive in a free-market economy. There is little or no appreciation for the fact that we are all not born with the same privileges, and that for some there is an absolute need for safety nets and social programs. The whole tax cut debate reeks of this mentality. Tax cuts should be targeted to the working class and middle class Americans and not the rich (who don’t need them), these are the people that ultimately pour money back in to the economy.

    Also internationally, from my experience, conservatives tend to favor policies based on American interests, as opposed to American ideals, and have no real interest in multilateralism, and little or no regard for international law.

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