What Does a Conservative Believe?July 12, 2012
Let's lay out the belief system of a conservative, as applied in the 21st century. If you're a conservative -- or if you know someone who claims the conservative label -- here's what it means:
Government's job is to protect the individual's rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. A conservative America looks to the government as an enforcement body, one that steers clear of individual ambition and activity and makes way for a person's freedom to do (or not do) anything at all, so long he doesn't infringe on someone else's rights in the process. Conservatives do not look to the government to solve problems.
No person has any rights at all OTHER than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A conservative believes that the Constitution lays out a federalist system and utilizes a separation of centralized powers to ensure that no branch of government get too strong or too imposing on the people. The Bill of Rights makes very clear exactly what the general government CANNOT do, so as to protect the right for an individual to protect himself and seek to stay alive, the right for an individual to exercise free will, and the right for an individual to pursue his own hopes and dreams. No one is entitled to anything else in the United States.
Congress's legislative powers are outlined in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 lays out 18 enumerated powers, or areas of responsibility, granted to Congress that it may fund through its taxing power. A conservative believes that Congress's scope of legislative powers is finite, limited only to those 18 powers.
The "general welfare" clause of the Constitution is not a power. Despite misunderstandings by so many Supreme Court justices, James Madison made very clear in the Federalist Papers that the statement preceding the 18 enumerated powers does two things: 1) it establishes Congress's power to lay and collect taxes, and 2) it sets the purpose of the taxing power as the funding of the 18 enumerated powers that follow. Madison defines the term "general welfare" precisely AS the enumerated powers that follow it -- meaning that if a particular federal program or line item does not appear on that list, it was never intended to be a power of Congress to create or legislate. A conservative understands and believes this.
"Necessary and proper" is not a power of Congress either. This statement was included at the end of Article 1, Section 8, granting the Congress the power to pass any laws necessary and proper to exercise its powers as defined in Article 1, Section 8. This means nothing more than, "Hey Guys -- we need a new coin called a penny. Let's pass a law and make it so." It is not a license for Congress to do whatever it wants or an excuse to expand its power.
The needs, wants, and desires of individuals are the responsibility of individuals. Conservatives believe that government has no appropriate role in your birth, your health care, your lower education, your higher education, your food, your recreation, your housing, or your retirement. All of these needs, wants, and desires can be serviced in the private sector and in fact all traditionally have been. Where the people of a particular state DO want government involvement in some or all of these things, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution allows for this by state and local governments, but these are NEVER functions of the central government.
Your need, want, or desire for something isn't my obligation or responsibility to provide it. Conservatives believe that society at large is not responsible for that which is sought by some, but they also understand that in a free market, that which some want will be provided by others in exchange for money. The average farmer grows food not for the common good but for the opportunity to sell it through the marketplace and make a profit. A doctor practices medicine for the same reason, as do plumbers, bankers, retailers, stock traders, and entrepreneurs practice their trades and run their businesses: to serve market demand and earn a living. Further, a conservative believes that the intensity of someone's need has no affect on the government's power to compel others to provide it.
Be charitable and help people. Conservatives who live their beliefs understand the importance of helping others as an offset to government encroachment. Those who need a hand up should be able to reach out to family, friends, religious institutions, neighborhood programs, local assistance, and, as a worst case, to a state-level safety net. The best assistance, however, is temporary and provided by those closest to the person who needs it. The value of donating time, money, and resources to the people and causes conservatives care most about cannot be overstated.
Some specific policy beliefs:
Free markets invariably yield better products than government monopolies. Education, for example, should be fully returned to the private sector: let educators compete for students, eliminate property taxes used to fund education, and let parents send their children to the private schools of their choosing -- or let parents send their kids nowhere at all. Your desire to have your children educated is not my responsibility to pay the teacher or teach your child. And your desire to have 15 kids AND send them to school is definitely not my obligation to shell out dollars to educate them. Part of your choice to have 15 kids should be the consideration that you'll need to educate 15 kids.
Public housing projects should be eliminated in favor of allowing folks with less money to find housing they can afford, even if it requires relocation. No one has a right to live in a particular city, and nothing good comes of large concentrations of disadvantaged, public-subsidized folks living in tight quarters together. Further, your desire to live in, say, Manhattan is not my obligation to contribute tax dollars to the apartment you can't afford. Pick yourself up and move somewhere with lower rent.
Public budgets should be balanced except in case of emergency.
Everyone should pay taxes and enjoy identical tax rules. As the government has no need to know the intricate details of our employment and our incomes, a flat consumption tax applied to everyone at time of purchase is the best way to fund central, state, and local governments. This approach also eliminates the IRS.
Eliminate Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), Obamacare, and all other federally funded social programs that exceed the general government's constitutional authority. End all taxes for these programs and return this money to the states and the people who earned it to make choices for themselves. States, of course, may choose to evaluate and enact some or all of these programs for their own residents and tax accordingly, but that is permitted via the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution.
Get federal funds out of all non-profit organizations, charities, and universities. Taxpayer dollars are only to be collected for the purposes outlined in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, and the Congress of the United States has no power to distribute tax dollars for any other purpose. In a free enterprise system non-profits and charities should have to compete for your dollars in the marketplace of ideas. They should NOT land a windfall from the federal government as simply an outcome of a successful lobbying effort.
Be a better person, and hold your elected officials to the same standard. While we all complain about the corruption in the government, we vote for corrupt candidates over and over again. Hold your representatives to the same high standard you hold yourself, and things will begin to change.
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