In light of Judith’s post, it seems appropriate to give a response from the opposite side. Although my beliefs have become increasingly moderate with the growth of my faith (God is not a Republican nor a Democrat), I still have a tendency toward conservatism which I think is justifiable.
I come from Orange County – a beautiful red oasis in the otherwise disgustingly blue state of California. My memories of driving to and from school are filled with the voices of Larry Elder and Michael Medved. My parents are both registered independents, but my father watches Fox News regularly over dinner. While in recent months, I have turned off the television whenever the likes of Glenn Beck shows up, I did purchase his book when I saw it on sale as a gift for my father. For the past two years, I’ve attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C. I’m the secretary of the Harvard Republican Club, and I went campaigning for McCain-Palin in New Hampshire. I’ve had a back-and-forth with Newt Gingrich and shared lunch with Karl Rove. I have the photographs from 12 different months of Ronald Reagan taped to the wall in my room. These are my credentials for being called a political conservative.
Theologically, I come from a church that uses grape juice instead of wine, that shuns liturgy, and that would never dare to let one of the weaker vessels preach a sermon in front of the entire church. We have a high view of scripture, and a low view of homosexuality. Though we are evangelistic, we are not evangelical. Our tendency is to avoid talk of politics altogether, although there is much denigration of Republican right for claiming that faithful Christians must be conservative. In fact, I have heard many more arguments like Judith’s for Jesus’ being a liberal who cared about the poor.
I do not know my family history nearly as well as Judith, and although I never consciously thought about what that history meant, I think it shaped the attitudes of the family members who surrounded me in my youth.
I know very little of my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, other than that he died in a bicycle accident when my grandfather was young (which often prompted the lesson – always wear a helmet). My grandfather was from a tiny village in Switzerland, but he and his mother moved around often because they never had enough money to buy a house. He only went to school until the 8th grade because after that, he had to work to support himself and his mother. He immigrated to the United States when he was 19, with a small amount of money in his pocket (was it $3? was it $17? I can never remember that detail). His dream was to buy his mom a house and to have his own farm. After two years of working here, he returned to Switzerland and finally bought her the house that she would keep until her death. A short time later, he was able to buy his own farm, a small five-acre plot in the small town of Ramona, where he raised chickens. He married a nice, hard-working woman of Swiss ancestry who had been born in California. (My grandmother’s father and immigrated as well, and after my grandmother’s mother died, he remarried a harsh woman who was rather like the evil step-mother of Cinderella. Or at least, that was always my impression of the situation, which had perhaps been unduly influenced by my grandmother’s framed portrait of herself from high school in which she looked as beautiful as a princess).
My grandfather’s business did very well, and was able to buy a larger plot of land – 18 acres just a short distance from his other plot. My uncles and cousins helped him with the work, and they hired a few other people. My uncle drove the delivery truck, and his wife kept the books. It was an honest family-business. Next to the egg processing plant, there was a room with a refrigerator full of flats of eggs in it. Any one from town could drive up and pick up the eggs they needed. There was a box with a slot in it, where people could drop the money for the eggs. Sometimes the numbers added up, but sometimes they didn’t, and that was okay. My grandfather figured that if they didn’t pay, they must have really needed it. Although he did make the slot smaller when he found one of his hired workers using a stick with duct tape to steal money out.
As the regulations for chicken farming got stricter, my grandfather found it harder and harder to keep the business running. He spent a large portion of his retirement trying to keep the chickens on his ranch, but after a while he just couldn’t afford to keep it running. He sold all of his chickens and became an egg processor instead. This eventually became too difficult as well, so he finally retired around age 70.
I am a conservative because I saw my grandfather go from being destitute to being in the middle class. I saw my mother and father go from lower middle class to upper middle class. I can see myself going from upper middle class to being in the upper class, if I so desire. (Although as soon as I imagine such things, thoughts of camels and the eyes of needles start running through my head.)
I’ve seen a country in which opportunity is afforded to all – the lowest classes included – and which rewards hard work. That is something that I want to preserve – the ability to eke out for oneself. I am for any measures that will preserve this opportunity – whether that mean giving health care to poor children (I am pro-SCHIP) or ending (real) racism or fixing inner city schools or limiting environmental pollution or keeping taxes low. I am opposed to measures which will inhibit these opportunities: high tax rates on businesses and individuals, abortions which have stripped millions from even the chance at life, regulations that end up making it harder for businesses like my grandfather’s to stay afloat, and unbridled illegal immigration that lowers the working wage for Americans. I am a supply-side economist, so I believe that improving the free market is the best way to ensure the economic growth that will raise the level of wealth for all Americans. I could give you the data to demonstrate this, but that would take a rather long time.
But most of all, I am a conservative because I believe that the state’s primary purpose is to protect the liberty of its citizens, not to make sure that their every care is met. Paying between a third and a half of your income in taxes does not sound like liberty to me, even if that money is spent on noble causes. Having the government tell you the minimum or maximum amount that you may be paid does not ring of freedom. Spending more than one out of every ten tax dollars on interest for the federal debt that our fathers racked up does not sound like emancipation to me.
I understand why some liberal Christians feel that Jesus’s pleas for the poor and needy would trump some ideological commitment to fiscal liberty. Although I treasure the verses in the Bible which detail our obligation for the poor, I know of no verse that says the government should be the entity to fulfill that obligation. Rather, I see God giving us a personal mission and duty to care for the less fortunate. There are strikingly few verses in the Bible which speak of governments, and absolutely none which detail what the goals of a democracy should be. One of the most notable is from Matthew 22:21 – “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” I think this verse applies to all aspects of morality, whether that means premarital sex, adultery, idolatry, honesty, or caring for the poor.
This honestly makes me lean more toward libertarianism than toward Republicanism: I would overturn laws against homosexuality as swiftly as I would lower the deficit. But my vision for the country aligns more with conservatives than with liberals: I do not see the government as the solution for all of society’s ills, but as the cause of a great number of problems by providing perverse incentives. I do not want schools to be run by teachers unions, but to have charter schools which try new methods to improve the education of the least fortunate children in our nation. I do not support unlimited and unregulated illegal immigration, but a reasonable number of legal naturalized citizens. I do not desire for the government to cap the opportunity – and thus the incentives – for the best and brightest among us, but to improve the opportunities available to every American. For I want to preserve the vision of America that I have seen: one which protects a man’s property and liberty and dignity, one which promotes responsible and ethical behavior, one which gives every person the opportunity to have a good life through honest work and perseverance. This is what makes me a conservative.