I’ve suffered a bit of conservative conviction whiplash in the last few months as events have swirled through the nation and the world. We’ve incorporated and disincorporated Cliven Bundy, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khatallah, support for veterans, and our commitment to free enterprise. But I have survived, still fully conservative and much the wiser.
One of the most important elements underlying the conservative outlook is respect for community. Community is based on shared experience and a shared set of beliefs and principles. As a conservative, I have had to make some effort to keep up with the changing beliefs of my community, but by the supremacy that conservative thought instills in us, I have been successful.
Our conservative community is largely defined by its arbiters, and these are the sages on our talk shows like Sean Hannity, Dr. Ben Carson, and Allen West, along with institutions such as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.
I used to be a law-and-order conservative, but I fully supported the true American patriots who poured into the Cliven Bundy ranch in Nevada when faced with the danger to our freedom from a government which threatens the very right of the cattle which Cliven Bundy runs on federal lands without paying taxes. True patriots in America are those who are willing to take up arms against such an oppressive government, as Kevin D. Williamson so convincingly makes claim in The Case for a Little Sedition.
Still, I had to retreat along with arbiter of conservative thought Sean Hannity first when Bundy’s views on “the Negro” were seen as a bit too extreme and second when Bundy followers Jerad and Amanda Miller took sedition a bit too seriously, targeting instruments of the state’s oppression machine and killing two police officers and a third civilian in Las Vegas, and when Bundy follower Brent Douglas Cole shot a CHP officer and a BLM ranger.
Which brings us to the VA scandal. It is a crime that the Obama Administration has so incompetently ignored the needs of America’s warriors and let the VA scandal fester. But I am with Republicans who voted against additional funding for veterans, as they did in February when they blocked a bill which would have provided new medical facilities to help the VA system overwhelmed by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. If soldiers are merely tools of an oppressive government, why should my taxes go to support them?
The need to temper my veneration of the military continued when confronted with the case of prisoner-of-war Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Until persuaded that true patriots were those at the Bundy ranch resisting the government, I had thought that true patriots were America’s soldiers, laying down their lives for their country. As such, I was appalled at the abomination of an Obama administration not doing everything possible to rescue Bergdahl and bring him home. Until I realized that Obama’s success at doing what it takes to actually bring Bergdahl home revealed suspicions that the sergeant might not have the necessary moral stature, perhaps having Muslim sympathies also revealed in his father’s telltale beard, that warranted his rescue.
Subtlety and nuance are not a conservative’s strength, but sometimes required, in the Bergdahl case as well as in the case of Benghazi instigator Ahmed Abu Khatallah. I was livid with the Obama administration’s dithering in bringing Khatallah to justice. Benghazi is the most important scandal of this administration, and it was clear they were trying to deflect attention from it by not pursuing Khatallah more vigorously. In addition, in a clear case of the fundamental incompetence of government, Allen West found out from a seatmate on a plane flight to Detroit more about what really happened in Benghazi than all of those Congressional hearings. What he heard was such an indictment of the Obama administration’s mendacity, that it was clear why the administration was trying so hard to deflect attention away from Benghazi, stirring up interest in incidents like the Boko Haram kidnappings as distractions. But like so many of my fellow conservatives striving for knowledge in the haze of government obstruction, I failed to see the complete picture. In a bit of jiu-jitsu which belies its incompetence, the Obama administration did what Allen West had been advocating, bringing Khatallah to justice, but timing it so exquisitely as to bring Benghazi into the limelight so as to deflect attention from its other scandals like its handling of Putin and the Ukraine, and the ISIS advances in Iraq. And so my admiration for the perspicacity of those arbiters of conservative thought grows.
Still, the most difficult confrontation to my conservative belief comes from recent events in Kansas and Ohio. I had had an unsophisticated conviction in the superiority of free enterprise as the cornerstone of America’s greatness. America is greatest when government gets out of the way of entrepreneurs and lets them unleash their brilliance on the nation’s prosperity. This is why I have such respect for David and Charles Koch and all of their efforts to free the American economy from government stranglehold. Here again my views have turned out to be a bit shallow. In Kansas there is a burgeoning industry providing wind power. And while I usually commend entrepreneurs starting new industries which will add jobs and increase the country’s prosperity, in Kansas the Koch brothers and their ALEC council teamed up with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce to propose a bill to repeal green energy mandates, since these mandates threaten the stability of the current conventional energy companies like those of the Koch’s. Unfortunately the green energy coalition triumphed. Free enterprise unfettered from the political influence of established industries requires some limits. Fortunately, the Koch coalition was more successful in getting taxes and surcharges approved on citizens using solar power in states like Arizona, California, and Oklahoma. Most recently, in Ohio, they were successful in getting the legislature to roll back renewable energy targets in the state’s energy consumption mix.
Conservatives have an unwarranted depiction as rigid and inflexible. But recent events have shown us to be quite capable of an unexpected subtlety and nuance. As we go forward through new government transgressions, we need to be mindful of tribal solidarity and informing our minds by the arbiters of our conservativism.