Conservatism

W‌hat does it mean to be a conservative in today’s chaotic world? We are bombarded from all sides with pernicious messages: The American dream is dead and gone. Socialism is the wave of the future. The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule are fusty and old-fashioned and should be cast aside.

But the liberals and their media sycophants are wrong. Americans keep the American Spirit alive through their countless voluntary associations—social, religious, educational, racial—that solve problems without government prodding or regulations. The sinews of a good society are still there, if a little atrophied.

How, then, should a conservative candidate go about answering the prophets of doom and gloom? By raising high the conservative banner of freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and a civil society. By brushing up on conservatism, dipping into Barry Goldwater’s best-selling manifesto The Conscience of a Conservative (3.5 million copies sold!). Challenged to define conservatism, Goldwater replied that the conservative approach is “to apply the wisdom and experience and the revealed truths of the past to the problems of today.” Simple yet profound.

The conservative candidate should quote the Sharon Statement that says that “the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government.” He should consult the late great diplomat Jeane Kirkpatrick, who said that to survive in the world of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction “requires the necessary power and weapons.” And, of course, he should go to our favorite President, Ronald Reagan, who said that at the heart of the conservative message are five simple familiar words: “family, work, neighborhood, freedom, peace.”

A conservative candidate is fortunate in that he can draw on the historic documents of the American Revolution—the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. He can quote approvingly the First Principles of the Declaration: Government receives its just powers from the consent of the governed; all men are created equal and share a common human nature and an ability to reason that sets them apart from all other creatures; and all men are endowed with natural rights that cannot be taken away or transferred.

A conservative candidate can praise the Constitution for its brilliant resolution of the conflicting demands of liberty and order. He can point out that the delegates meeting in convention in Philadelphia some 230 years ago created a national, but not an absolute, government. They formed a government of laws, not of men. They affirmed America as a self-governing nation that has weathered a thousand political and economic storms.

A conservative candidate can draw on the wisdom of Nobel Laureates like F. A. Hayek, who said, “Liberty and responsibility are inseparable,” and Milton Friedman, who warned, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” He can turn to the life and career of “Mr. Republican,” Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, who said in 1952 while running for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party: “I have come more and more to believe that the consideration which ought to determine almost every decision of policy today is the necessity of preserving, maintaining, and increasing the liberty of the people of our country.”

What does it mean to be a conservative candidate in 2018? It means being guided by fundamental principles that have withstood the test of time:

  • The private sector can be depended upon to make better economic decisions than the public sector in 99 out of 100 cases.
  • Government serves the governed best when it is limited.
  • Individuals need freedom to exercise responsibility.
  • Good men and women produce a good society, not the reverse.
  • Peace is best protected through strength, economic as well as military.
  • America should not hesitate to use its power and influence to shape American interests and values in the world.
  • There can be no lasting liberty without virtue—public and private.

America is the most successful experiment in representative democracy in human history. While other nations have declined or fallen, America has survived foreign invasion and terrorism, civil war and a cold war, a Great Depression and a Great Recession, rancorous politics and political correctness, “democratic” socialism, and extremism on the Left and the Right. America has always emerged triumphant and ready for the next challenge.

What are the sources of America’s strength and endurance? Our abundant natural resources? Our fortuitous geographical location between two great oceans? Our free enterprise system? Our national will? The wise men and women who have led us in peace and war? Or are we a people blessed and guided by a Creator?

America is an exceptional nation because of all these things and one thing more—the American spirit. By turns bold and pragmatic, individualistic and communitarian, generous and prudent, the American spirit has sustained the American experiment for more than two centuries.

What more important pledge can a conservative candidate make than to say that he will do everything he can to preserve and protect the American spirit for this generation and generations yet to come?

But how can a candidate best fulfill this pledge? The Heritage Foundation’s briefing book, as its name Solutions suggests, seeks to answer that question for candidates by providing a policy manual on more than 30 different domestic, economic, and foreign policy topics. Each chapter of Solutions begins with an introduction providing a summary of background information and a history of the given topic. Specific policy proposals, along with an explanation and justification, provide a roadmap for the candidate to address the given policy challenge presented in the introduction. A section on facts and figures provides useful data points supporting the policy proposals, and provides further context for the arguments made throughout the publication. Finally, each chapter concludes with a bibliography of additional resources for candidates to continue their education on a policy topic. Armed with this information, a candidate would be prepared to fulfill that pledge to preserve and protect the American spirit.