Being conservative is as complicated as being liberal is.
So, you say you are conservative? I am certain you have a list of policy positions that immediately pop into your head that qualify you for that designation.
But does every policy opinion that you have qualify as “conservative”? That is a far more difficult question.
When I have this conversation, I usually stump those who are absolutely certain of their “classification” by asking where they stand on foreign policy.
An essay headlined, “The future of conservative foreign policy” was published by Colin Dueck of the American Enterprise Institute in November 2018.
It illustrates my point. Dueck is clearly a qualified scholar, capable of answering my stumper question above, but his article displays how fluid the answer to the question actually is.
The real answer is that it depends on the conditions of the day.
Health care has been the best example of this challenge for the past decade. Conservatives hate the Affordable Care Act and have run three or four election cycles using it as their foil. Liberals celebrate it, though many see the landmark law as merely an intermediate step to universal health care.
The problem is that, as partisan Americans fought about the details and consequences of the ACA, its popularity among citizens steadily grew. Most Americans actually do see health care as a right today. No, that does not mean “Medicare for all” is broadly popular. It also doesn’t mean a system of “socialism” in health care has a consensus of support. It does mean that we don’t turn our backs as a nation on the poor, sick or injured.
Emergency rooms respond. Medicaid responds. And as inefficient as that is, lives are saved. Even our bloated prison population receives health care, after all.
So, it is not really a question of whether America should or should not care for those who need health care; it is more a question of how to do it. “What is the most efficient way?” That is a far better question than, “Do you believe health care is a right?”
Immigration policy is another one. Conservatives in America want to limit the number of new people entering the country. Asylum seekers, illegals, those outstaying their visas are all undesirable entrants in the eyes of today’s GOP. Liberals are often generalized as those who advocate “open borders.”
Then the reality of our immigrant/asylum detention centers becomes known and the hardliners begin to reconsider their hard line. Then a photo of a drowned father and daughter in the Rio Grande river goes viral and it forces yet another new perspective with it. Before we know it, we are all talking about the original question with nuances and conditions.
As we should.
I believe we need to find a way for our system of asylum to be reasonable and predictable. I believe it should be organized in a way that makes attempting to gain entry illegally an irrational option. Finally, I think that, as long as we have a worker shortage, and therefore a people shortage, we should not be talking about locking people out.
The families in the detention centers on our southern border are not all that different from my family members who immigrated through Ellis Island in the late 1800s.
Being conservative is as complicated as being liberal is. It doesn’t take an abundance of extra time to learn a little about the details of, or even an acquaintance with, a candidate before casting him or her aside as being one of “them.”
After learning more, you still might decide the candidate is one of them. But at least you will know the person better, and in turn, will no longer be “lazy.”
Michael Leppert is an author and governmental affairs consultant in Indianapolis. Send comments to [email protected].