December 19, 2008

What does being a conservative mean?

Some fodder for the conservatives first principles and process discussions.

What does being a conservative (or a Republican) mean to you? It's not a meaningless question. Being conservative means different things to different people. Most commonly conservatives are broken into into three categories: Social conservatives, fiscal conservatives and national security conservatives. Then there are also all sorts of other labels applied - country club Republicans, neo-cons, Reagan Democrats, libertarians (yes, I realize there's a nuanced difference) and various other groupings. But I'd like to concentrate on the first three.
To varying degrees, there are overlaps of each of fiscal, security and social conservatism in a conservative individual. Some might be all three, others, strictly one. How do we reconcile those shades? Do we need to do so from a building the base perspective?

Fiscal conservatives are obviously concerned with economic issues like balancing the budget, national debt, earmarks, trade deficits, free trade, taxes and entitlements.

Security conservatives focus on a strong military, anti-terrorism, homeland security, immigration and border security. There are other issues e.g. around the idea of nation building versus a homeland security only approach.
Social conservatives are concerned with morality, family, crime, cultural values, religion, the sanctity of life. It seems to me, anecdotally at least, that there is a big gap between social conservatives and libertarians. This would also be true for conservatives interested in nation building (spreading democracy).

These are the three main legs of the conservative chair, if I can use a metaphor. We talk about being a Big tent, but that doesn't mean diluting our principles. It means educating people about our beliefs and trying to get them to understand the rationale for our beliefs. Because there are different legs to the chair, different approaches are required to explain our beliefs and why we think we are right about these issues.
But given that we have these legs, and that for example, African Americans and Latinos voted the way they did on California's Proposition 8, the conversations to educate and enlighten don't need to go as far as one would automatically assume. There are some pretty specific enumerations of the size of these population segments. They are important voting blocks that are traditionally stacked against Republicans. Why? Outreach. What are we doing to explain our common ground? Not nearly enough.

We know what the opportunities are. We have more in common than we are given or taking credit for. Hispanics, African Americans, Jewish people all have degrees of commonality with traditional conservative views in some or all three of these areas. And that's just ethnic population segments. What about other pockets? Factory workers - traditional family values, a strong economy work in messaging these people. So-called Feminists - true conservatism is founded on individual liberty and the opportunity to become all that you can. That precept should be leveraged in every conversation with a self-described feminist.

It's our job to remember to educate -- and don't lecture. Preaching to the choir is okay, but it doesn't solve the electoral deficit. During the 2008 election cycle I converted three of my friends to the GOP viewpoint. These were lifelong liberal-Democrat-supporting-types. Another one I got to question the Democrats view more often, and one seemed to be a lost cause. But that's not a bad conversion rate. Unfortunately for the GOP, me being Canadian means I converted only Canadians. Furthermore, McCain more than overbalanced me by turning off Republicans and Democrats alike. So much for the middle ground Senator.
Perhaps you can't go out and do outreach where the RNC needs it done. Maybe you aren't connected. Maybe you don't have the confidence or opportunity to broach the subject. But you do have control over your own conversations, and you can pull the levers slightly at first if that's what's called for. And despite what you might think about your own conversational skills re: politics, you can do it. Learn the hot button triggers of those you engage. Be softly persuasive. Be patient. In politics epiphany does not usually come over night. It can take weeks or months. Or longer. But getting that light to come on is quite worth it. And as an added bonus, it could just turn out to be viral.

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