Bridging the Conservative Divide – Part 1

Why have we moved so far to the left if we’re a center/right nation?

And we are a center/right nation. Yes, progressive websites regularly trot out polls asking loaded questions like whether people would rather see universal healthcare or babies dying on the street and old people eating cat food; or old people on streets and cats eating baby food. They’re all pretty much the same and the results are as false as the choices they offer.

Meanwhile in the real world, survey after survey shows that self-identified conservatives outnumber those who call themselves liberals by double digit margins.

Not surprisingly, these same surveys show majorities of those in the mercurial middle who place a premium on amicability over expression, and whose opinions more often swing on specific issues than political philosophies fill out a centrist column that is also moving to the right.

And just for the mandatory disclaimer to head off troll comments, the racists, mask wearing Marxists, and other fringe elements who self-identify with each side pretty much only matter to themselves so we’ll leave them out of our descriptions of Left and Right. They’re mostly narcissistic loud mouths and don’t belong in a serious discussion about serious people, even misguided ones.

So in a mostly conservative state that’s in a mostly conservative nation, why do we have a president and entire slate of state constitutional officers in Helena who come from the party of the Left? Obviously conservative beliefs don’t always translate into conservative votes.

The reason for that, I think, is that the Center/Right and, for lack of a better term, libertarian Right tend to either scare or disgust one another; while the Center/Left and, again for lack of a better term, progressive Left are much more effective at coalescing around central themes and voting as a bloc.

The anti-war Left, for example, was largely co-opted and nose-ringed by the Center/Left Democrats when their earliest and most vocal advocate Howard Dean was made chairman of their Party. You don’t – and won’t – see a Ron Paul elected by Republican insiders as that Party’s chair anytime soon. It’s not that they wouldn’t love to co-opt Paul’s more libertarian leaning followers. It’s that they think those guys are nuts who have no interest in being co-opted at any rate.

Those leaning more libertarian, meanwhile, think institutional Republicans are more interested in power than principle and care more about place settings than problem solving. Each is looking at the other through a soda straw that shows a piece of the picture but not enough to make out its true colors.

One result of this narrow view of each other is that the institutional Right doesn’t see much difference between the libertarian Right and the progressive Left on a lot of issues. The political spectrum actually circles around and meets on several key issues near and dear to conservatives, at least in their respective definitions of the problems. The libertarian Right and progressive Left have remarkably similar opinions on overseas wars, drug policy and civil liberties: think Iraq, medical marijuana, and the Patriot Act. That’s scary to traditional conservatives.

But what’s often lost is that where the libertarian Right and progressive Left sometimes agree on narrow policy outcomes with these issues, they’re completely at opposites on what the real problem is and how to fix it. That’s why it’s becoming increasingly clear (even to those who wish it were true) that the Occupy (fill in the location) and Tea Party movements are not chips off the same block. One is a kid rolling on the floor pounding its fists while the other is demanding an adult conversation.

The Left, meanwhile, can coalesce around seemingly disparate issues because they have a set of constant, predictable solutions in search of whatever problem they can exploit, or even fabricate. They want more government, more spending, and more control. Global warming, global cooling, overpopulation, poverty, wealth inequality, and ironically government corruption – all have identical solutions: more government, more spending, more control. They want to put government bandaids on top of government bandaids covering wounds that no longer exists, if they ever did.

Meanwhile, the libertarian Right sees the root of all evils as statism: too much government doing too many things and not leaving people to exercise their liberties, while centrist Republicans focus more on the practical impacts of unsustainable spending and economy stifling regulations. And that’s where the opportunity to bridge the conservative divide lies.

Those who lean right of center – either slightly or over on their ears – do share broadly agreed upon themes. You can reel in the most compassionate conservative or the most icy-veined libertarian by talking about things like free market economics, capitalism, and the founding principles of freedom, responsibility, and limited government. The trick is in taking those broad themes and distilling them into actionable policy options and building messages that bridge the divide between the practical and the principled.

But even that’s not enough. To reach that broad center that leans Right but is put off by the perceived lack of compassion in policies that call for people to take responsibility for their actions, or that is scared by the constitutional arguments for and conspiratorial sounding threats demanding devolved federal power, we have to find common ground on where we’ve gone wrong and how we get back to the basics of founding principles like federalism, limited government, and a true market economy.

And finally, we need simple, intuitive, and truthful arguments against the traditional statist Left’s arguments for more spending, more government, and more control.

Check this space for Part 2 that will offer suggestions for bridging the divide and countering the big government arguments with common sense ideas.

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