Right now there is a lot of debate over what is a Conservative and what is not. Recently in the race for Speaker of the House some idiots have actually called Paul Ryan, Jason Chaffetz, Trey Gowdey and several hard core conservatives, RINO (Republicans in Name Only).
At the point where someone actually thinks that Ayn Rand loving, budget cutting, small government extraordinaire Paul Ryan is a RINO you have you to look at the word RINO and go:
First off, they actually mean conservative and not Republican but we’ll give them that “CINO” makes even less sense than the drivel they’re currently shoveling; so kudos to the dimwits for getting that your acronyms should sound like real words.
But this doesn’t actually solve the inherent question of what is a conservative? There might have been a day we listed off a devotion to certain cardinal virtues, or perhaps listed off things such as a dedication to capitalism, natural rights, limited government, federalism, and deliberate reasoned and careful change…but nowadays there are people who oppose all those things calling themselves REAL conservatives…and they’re not getting laughed out of every building they walk into.
So rather than fight an uphill battle that our brand of “conservative” is the only true conservatism, we’ll deal in reality (a distinctly conservative trait, or at least it used to be) and admit that the word “conservative” no longer has anything resembling one single meaning. And with that comes the need to define all the flavors of “conservative” out there.
Now for this we decided to group conservatives by three main categories, Economic Issues, Foreign Policy and Social Issues (and admit there is another category needed because some of these “conservatives” don’t really care that much about policy). We also decided to primarily look at the ideals of most of the groups because we admitted that conservatives like Reagan might have strong ideals but need to compromise to get things passed.
For economics we defined conservative economics as believing in capitalism: small government, low and flat taxes, low regulation, low barriers to trade, but still a belief in the need for some regulation and a social safety net (just one much smaller and more efficient)—a strong belief in federalism and limits of government power would also go in this category. Moderate economics would believe in a larger safety net and government money to push certain pet ideas. Liberal economics would believe that government should have it’s hand in everything and tax and regulate the population to near death to get their way.
For foreign policy we defined conservative as being a need to confront evil where it can be found and reasonably dealt with, and then having the nation rebuilt to ensure it will not fall back into tyranny. As conservatives from Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan to Bolton and Krauthammer, foreign policy conservatives feel the responsibility of America was to spread liberty when and where possible. Now in earlier eras that meant confronting the Soviet regime and making sure it did not spread. In the modern day we no longer have that problem; we can actually make moves forward in spreading liberty rather then just making sure that we do not have to retreat any further. The moderate position would be to help only when and where there is massive genocide and/or our allies are being attacked. A liberal position on this would be feeling that we should be isolationist, that we should not dealing in foreign affairs, that the world can handle itself— that we should only deal in foreign issues if and only if it directly affects us in the immediate present. And you see foreign policy liberals also advocate often economic liberalism like being against free trade and protectionist policy for business. This is actually very liberal position because it’s the attitude that allowed for the spread of fascism (another liberal ideology) in the years before World War II, it is the position that allowed fascism to expand and the position that has allowed evil to expand throughout history.
On social issues, while everyone here at Elementary Politics is not a “social conservative” we’re going to use the traditional labels so as to avoid any confusion. We are going to define a social conservative (around here we call them Progressives for Jesus) as someone who believes that government should have laws that mirror the Judeo-Christian values that modern America thinks America was founded on. (Let’s ignore that most the founders were deists and really didn’t believe in Christianity as it would be conceived of in the modern sense.) This means being strongly pro-life, strongly for a traditional definition of marriage, for strong protection and support of churches and the government money and power to enforce it. A moderate position (sometimes described as a libertarian position) on this would be feeling that government should just try and stay out of these issues as much as possible, or at most leave it to state and local governments. A liberal position believes in just as active government as the conservative position believes, being that they believe they should force pro-choice measures and fully fund them—that they should force gay marriage laws onto the states and prosecute all who don’t agree, rather than the moderate view that would just have government offer a neutral civil union for anyone who wanted it and leave marriage as a church issue. The liberal position holds that government should be atheist, as the “conservative” position holds it should be Christian, both sides feeling they should force their view through law, both ignoring that this is a pluralistic society not an atheist or Christian one. You can have pluralism and secular government, secular government does not require atheism. Theoretically you could also be a social conservative and a fiscal conservative, but to be a fiscal conservative the fiscal conservatism must always take precedence and the size of the government must never be grown to enforce your social conservative beliefs. Regrettably most people that find themselves to be social conservatives will believe in any government program that fits their beliefs and will put their economic views second to their social view.
That said let’s go over the different flavors of conservatism.
There’s a handy chart above, but let’s go over them just in case the chart isn’t that clear.
There are Neoconservatives and Paleoconsevatives. Just a few years ago these would be the only two things you’d have to worry about.
Neoconservatives, like Reagan, tend to be more interventionist in there foreign policy, believing that liberty here is safe only when liberty is save everywhere, and that inalienable rights in America don’t stop being inalienable at the border. Paleoconservatives, like Pat Buchanan, tend to believe that we could leave the world alone and we would still be fine (despite the fact that there is no evidence of this anywhere in history). Both tend to be moderate to conservative on their social issues, with neoconservatives a little more flexible in the social issues, Paleoconservatives tend to be more traditionally conservative on these issue but neither group tends to place too much of a focus on social issues. Both are staunchly for strong economic conservatism.
Then you have your social conservatives, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and their ilk. They tend to feel that the most important thing in the world are social issues. That we could increase the debt however much we like just so long as we outlaw abortion. That we could expand the government in any way, shape, or form just so long as we stop gay marriage. Their understanding of economic conservatism is pathetic, and their understanding of foreign-policy lacks reality and an understanding of history at best.
These three were all you used to have to be worried about.
Now we have all the new flavors that are coming up.
You have Conservatarians. These are people who are very conservative on economic fronts and very very moderate/libertarian in their social view. These people want government out of their lives, period. As to their foreign policy credentials there tends to still be a lot of debate within the Conservatarian group— you’ll find people who are moderately isolationist who would probably still say we need to clean up the mess we made in Iraq and Afghanistan before we leave, and maybe not get involved anywhere else for a while, versus there are some people who are moderately interventionist, who would say that Syria is enough of a problem that we need to deal with this now. None of them rise to the level of neocon in their foreign-policy beliefs but none of them are full blown libertarians in there isolationism.
Then you have your actual libertarian conservatives. The Pauls. While they believe in strong economic conservatism, at least theoretically (the Paul’s aren’t good example of that…also libertarian conservatives along with their full blown libertarian allies seem to nowadays be in a full blown assault on intellectual property rights in complete defiance of any understanding of capitalism), they do we believe we need to withdraw from foreign affairs as much as possible. And they tend also be fairly liberal in their full and not libertarian in their social policy— you would see them actually to try and push for gay marriage rather than just giving everyone civil unions; you would see them push for full legalization of drugs no just getting the federal government out of it or making sure that medical uses of certain drugs are available (as would be more the Conservatarian view).
And then you have the more recent additions the Tea Party/populist wing of the party which doesn’t really seem to care about any ideology. They’re certainly not fiscal conservatives as trying to fight a Tea Party person in the Midwest who doesn’t support ethanol subsidies is unheard of. It’s not that they’re foreign-policy conservatives as they’re all over the place depending on who you listen to and when—they listened to everyone from Allen “I’m going to go Jack Bauer on a terrorist “West to Ben “we should hold hands and sing Kumbaya with the terrorists” Carson. They’re not socially conservative either, as you find them all over the place on that issue as well. What does seem to be defining in this group is that they want smaller government for things that do not benefit them. They were very much anti-tax hikes for them and anti-Obamacare because it affected them. But they’re also very liberal when you look at things like their disagreement with on Common Core–when you get into specifics it is not the violations of constitutionality Obama’s “Race the Top” has put into education, but just the idea that corporations are backing it is what offends many of this group. In this way they’re unquestionably liberal and very populist in their hatred of corporations. An economic conservative sees a corporation as no different from any other individual, it’s an individual acting in an economy and it should be subject to the same rules as everyone else —but the Tea Party is very anti-corporation because they think additional rules should be put on corporations; it’s a very ”US” versus “THEM” mentality that you do not find in any traditional form of conservatism.
But for all the lack of principles that populists show, they’re as steady as the Rock of Gibraltar when compared to that group of people who scream that they’re the only “REAL!” conservatives. The “REAL!” Conservatives. I can’t actually tell you what they believe in. Because apparently to these people you’re a RINO if you believe in free trade; you’re a RINO if you believe in interpreting the Constitution as it’s written; you’re a RINO if you believe in strong national defense; you’re a RINO if you believe in checks and balances; you’re RINO if you believe the Constitution should be changed through the Amendment process not the courts. They’re defined by people like the House Freedom Caucus and Senator Ted Cruz. Sometimes they may spout ideas you would call conservative, sometimes they will attack you for the same idea. There is no real consistency with them…other than Obama must be fought. But when we here at EP say “fought” we mean coming up with a plan that has a reasonable chance of success, works within the Constitution, and doing everything in your power to make sure it gets through…when these “REAL!” Conservatives talk about issues being “fought” it’s like listening to General Picket describe how well his charge will go or Gen. Montgomery tell you what an excellent plan Market Garden is…but having them sing this praise after the battles already proved to be exercises in stupidity. For instance these “REAL!” Conservatives want to overturn funding for Planned Parenthood, which is part of mandatory funding in Medicaid Title X—that takes a majority vote in Congress and a presidential signature, or two-thirds of both houses of Congress, they don’t have that—so they want to accomplish the impossible, or violate the Constitution, or, bend the rules of reality because they want to. Even Don Quixote would look at these people, long and hard, and ask “Are you stupid?” But they call anyone who opposes their suicide missions as RINOS. And worse they are supported by almost every commentator with a microphone out there. And right now their lord high god is a man who is pro-funding Planned Parenthood, pro-eminent domain (i.e. against property rights), an isolationist, pro-cronyism, pro-big government, pro-gun control, against free trade, against deregulation, against limited government. To this group Paul Ryan is a RINO and Trump/Cruz 2016 is the ideal. These are the “REAL!” conservatives.
Rod Serling couldn’t write something this strange.
Finally let’s going to go over some of the rare forms
You have the going out of fashion moderate conservative who literally is moderate on all their issues. But it’s not the ideology the drives them either; what drives them is they want to make a deal with the other side. They think legislation is good for the sake of legislation. Which I think everybody agrees is a problem. This is the Bush’s who passed bills to say they pass bills, and I think we’re all tired of this goddamn family. This is also Kasich who feels that you know he needs to pass things to make government do something. But as I said this is the dying out breed.
Then of course you have the actual RINOS, the real Republicans in name only. This is actually a very small list. If he were still around it would include Arlen Specter, it certainly includes John McCain who will stab the Republican Party in the back at the drop of a hat. And we would include the 41 House Republicans who are voting for the EX-IM Bank… because holy God, you’re voting for something that is against free trade and will actually help fund the Democratic party. You idiots really are Republicans in name only. But its still a very short list.
And at the very very bottom of the list, you have your old blue dog Democrats who were kind a moderate on economic issues, kind of moderate on social issues, but actually believed in a strong sense of foreign policy. This used to be Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman, and now I think all you have left is Jim Webb, who let’s be honest here, he’s not going anywhere.
So those are the main flavors of conservatism and what they believe in.
Now if you have any additions please tell us, we would love to know. But we feel that covers the main branches that you see battling for the heart and soul of the conservative movement and the Republican Party right now. So next time you hear someone say they were conservative, don’t assume that means you know a certain set of beliefs because right now any single belief could pop up and possibly be endorsed by someone who claims to be a conservative. You need no more proof than seeing a man who supports Obamacare, who supports abortion, who supports Planned Parenthood, who supports eminent domain, who is against free trade, and everything the capitalism stands for, who is for cronyism who is for big government, who is against the Constitution is being supported by 20% of the Republican Party claiming that he’s a conservative. If he’s a conservative then the word has no meaning.