The Conservative and Democracy

In several recent comments, Mike D. has made a handful of points stating that conservatives should have a rather hostile view toward democracy as granting political power to the people can result in a lot of non-favorable results for the conservative mindset.  There is certainly some merit to this argument, but first I feel the need to clarify an important point.  First, you have to understand the fact that our country was not really founded as a democracy and is not really a democracy today.  “How can this be?” you ask.  Well, what is a democracy?  Historically there have been two types of democracy, direct and representative.  Direct democracy is a system whereby all voting citizens are allowed to vote individually on each law or rule that the state wishes to enact as well as create legislation.  This sort of democracy is rare by today’s standard, as a populous country such as our own would find the system to be quite unwieldy.  It does exist, to some extent, in states like California with procedures like the referendum, but it is certainly the exception, not the norm.  Obviously we do not have a direct democracy.  How about a representative democracy?  A representative democracy is one where by voting citizens elect representatives to promote their interests in some sort of national assembly.  Do we have that kind of government here? Yes, we certainly do; however, we are still only a quasi-democracy.

One very important feature of democracy is the idea of majority rule.  Whatever side has 50% +1 of the votes, be it through direct democracy or representative democracy, can enact whatever legislation they wish regardless of the wishes of the remainder of the population.  Believe it or not, many of the founding fathers did not want the government to be democratic and held a dim view of democracy.  As James Madison put it in The Federalist #10, “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention, have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property, and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths”.  I am very thankful that we do not have majority rule, as do traditional conservatives.  But wait, we do have majority rule here.  Not so, the reasons why we do not include the constitution and its amendments, checks and balances, and federalism.  Although I run the risk of sounding like an episode of School House Rock, let’s start with checks and balances.  The United States Government as well as every state in the union (with the exception of the unicameral Nebraska) has both upper and lower houses of government.  In order for a basic bill to pass, both houses must approve it by majority.  After that, it is still not law, as the executive (be it the president or the governor) has to either sign or veto it.  If it is signed, it becomes law while if it is vetoed, it will not, unless both houses of the government can pass it again under a super majority (typically two-thirds or three-fourths).  After that, if challenged, the Supreme Court can rule the law to be in violation of the constitution and therefore it is no longer law.  This system of checks and balances serves the interests of the traditional conservative quite well, as a bill must pass through a significant number of hoops in order to become law, and defeat for any bill is quite likely.  Compare our system to that of the United Kingdom.  Their system is much closer to the democratic ideal of majority rule.  In Great Britain, they too have two houses in their parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  The real power rests with the House of Commons.  The House of Lords, unlike the Senate, cannot defeat a bill and can only return it to the House of Commons for further consideration.  In addition, their Prime Minster, unlike our President, is the leader of the majority in the House of Commons.  He, by definition, is supported by the majority in the House of Commons and therefore approves of the majority decisions.  In the U.S., divided government is quite common.  How many times in the last twenty years has one party controlled the House, Senate, and the Presidency?  It happened for a couple of years under George W. Bush, and from 1992 to 1994 under Bill Clinton, never under George H. W. Bush or even Ronald Reagan before him.  In addition, in Britain, the courts have no power to declare laws unconstitutional.  Yes, the system of checks and balances in our national government and state governments certainly stifle the prevailing winds of majority rule.

Then we come to the issue of the Constitution.  Supposedly the Constitution lays out what sort of powers the government does and does not have.  If you read the Constitution, the expressed powers of the federal government are very limited, and, as the 10th Amendment reminds us, powers not granted to the federal government are reserved to the states and the people.  Should the Federal Government create laws that exceed its authority then supposedly, if challenged, the Supreme Court should declare the law an illegal usurpation of power.  Unfortunately, for the most part, the Supreme Court has fallen down on its duty.

Another stumbling block for majority rule again, closely tied to the 10th Amendment, is federalism and the power of the states.  It used to be that if a state government had determined a particular law was in violation of the Constitution or the state’s laws, the state could simply ignore the law.  John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was the most vocal proponent of this principle known as nullification.  In addition, as Mike D. points out, there was also the idea of secession.  Should a state feel that the federal government was too far out of line with the wishes of its citizens, the state could secede, or withdraw from the union.  This was an option that was not to be taken lightly, but certainly served as an ultimate check against federal tyranny and usurpation.  Regarding the idea of secession, you may not know that one of the earliest discussions of secession occurred during the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson.  Unlike the more famous example in the 1860s, the states in question were in New England.  They were concerned that the purchase of the Louisiana Territory was unconstitutional and would severely weaken the influences of their respective states.  In response to this threat of secession, Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1803 “God bless them both, and keep them in union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better” and in 1804 “Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part” which were markedly different responses than the one given by Lincoln some fifty years later.  After the war, the Supreme Court in Texas v. White ruled secession to be unconstitutional.  Despite this ruling, the idea of secession still exists.  Secession groups exist in a number of states today, with some of the most vocal in the states of Vermont, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

So, I suppose the take home message for this article is that we do not have a truly democratic government because we lack the critical component of true majority rule.  As to Mike’s statement, “The vote seems to be a problem for the conservative worldview because its very existence indicates a possibility for disagreement or potential change.” I would answer, sure, changes can happen, but they can do so under any form of government.  What if there was no voting?  Dictators can change the laws easier than any other form of government, but of course we are not a dictatorship.  Unitary, majority rule democracies like Great Britain can make sweeping changes too, but fortunately, we aren’t that kind of government either.  In countries where voting actually counts, voting serves as yet another critical and important check against our leaders.  Although our form of government is not by any stretch perfect, I believe the idea of quasi-democratic republic, protected from the fickle whims of the majority through the adherence of checks and balances, the Constitution, and federalism, serves both the nation and the conservative quite well.

Divided We Succeed?

If you’ve been involved in politics in the last nine months or so, you have almost certainly seen the purple logo of the half donkey/half elephant of the group Divided We Fail.  As listed on their website, their mission is “we believe that:
* All Americans should have access to affordable health care, including prescription drugs, and these costs should not burden future generations.
* Wellness and prevention efforts, including changes in personal behavior such as diet and exercise, should be top national priorities.
* Americans should have choices when it comes to long-term care – allowing them to maintain their independence at home or in their communities with expanded and affordable financing options.

And

* Our children and grandchildren should have an adequate quality of life when they retire. Social Security must be strengthened without burdening future generations.
* Workers should be provided with financial incentives to save, should have access to effective retirement plans, and should be able to keep working and contributing to society regardless of age.
* Americans of all ages should have access to tools to help manage their finances, and save for the future and better, easy to understand information to help them increase their financial literacy and manage their money wisely.”

Now I admit that these goals sound nice.  I mean who wouldn’t want everyone to have affordable healthcare and suitable retirement?  Heck, going one further I would certainly like a check in the mail that covers all my needs every day, but wait…there are a number of nagging questions.  Who pays for it?  And what do I have to give up in order to get such a benefit?  The problem comes with implementation.  As they have lobbied every member of Congress for support that means that they are seeking oversight and increased power for the federal government.  As a believer of limited government and the private sector, such suggestions are appalling.  If you truly want some sort of socialist utopia where the government controls every facet of your life from birth to death, I hear that many of the Scandinavian countries have such programs in place.  Why don’t you try living there for a while?  Although ignored consistently, our Constitution doesn’t grant the federal government such power.  Doesn’t the AARP (who has created Divided We Fail) know that simple truth?  Do they want to drag us one step closer to the nanny state?  Can’t we still be allowed to succeed or fail based upon our own decisions and merit?

Looking through the list of Congressmen and women who have signed on to this pledge, http://www.aarp.org/issues/dividedwefail/about_issues/congressional_pledge.html you will notice that the majority are Democrats or Pseudo-Republicans.  Fortunately a majority of Virginia’s representatives have not signed this pledge of support.  Now I could be wrong, as there are several limited government conservatives who have signed up or have given letters of support like Rep. Scott Garrett of NJ or Rep. Paul Broun of GA, but this movement does give me considerable concern.  If my understanding is correct, which I’m fairly certain is the case, then I hope we do remain divided so that this group does fail.

The 31 Flavors of Conservatism

I realized from a recent comment on my blog that the term “conservative” could mean many things to many people.  Although I consider myself a conservative (hence the name Virginia Conservative), others may consider themselves conservative and have considerably opposing viewpoints.  Like a political Baskin Robbins, conservatism can take many forms, many flavors. The purpose of this article is to sort out some of the differing kinds of conservatism and what type of philosophies or aims that they embody.

Traditional Conservative– Dictionary.com defines conservatism as, “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.”  Even though this definition likely applies to all Conservatives to some extent, it is by no means all encompassing.  For example, in the American Revolution those in the colonies who supported the British were called the Tories or Conservatives.  They opposed separating from Great Britain and favored the monarchy.  Now do all conservatives support a return to the monarchy today?  Hardly, though it is true that many of them hold notions of some sort of supposed idyllic past be it the 1980’s, 1950’s, or even the 1850’s.  Classic Conservatives do oppose change for change’s sake and embrace the old ways, customs, and traditions.

Fiscal Conservative– Someone who believes that they have a greater claim to their own money than the government.  Although fiscal liberals would often label them as greedy and selfish, a Scrooge McDuck (if you want a popular culture reference), that negative stereotype is often incorrect.  Many are quite generous with their funds but they believe that they should decide how to use their money, not someone else.  They see any form of wealth distribution as a kind of state sponsored theft.  They favor low taxes and little to no government spending when it comes to aid (be it personal, corporate, or international).  They hold to the ideals of capitalism and free markets and believe the government should neither regulate the supply, demand, or price, of goods.

Social Conservative– These type of conservatives believe that the government should take an active role in protecting and even promoting the traditional cultural values.  Although not necessarily overtly religious, certainly most in the movement wear their beliefs, to some extent, on their sleeves and their activism is an extension of their strongly held convictions.  Key issues to social conservatives include:  opposition to abortion, opposition to gay marriage, school choice/privatization, some level of religious promotion in society and government, support gun ownership, and are against affirmative action.

Constitutional Conservative– A conservative who opposes the significant expansion in governmental power, especially when it comes to the United States, or federal, government.  They favor limiting the government to mainly the expressed powers given to it in the Constitution while curtailing or eliminating the implied powers granted by the courts or outright taken by the legislature and the executive branch.  They also support the system of checks and balances as a means to further restrain the government.  The question for Constitutional conservatives is if these powers were stripped from the federal government, to whom should they go?  States-rights Conservatives would favor greater power to the states and the people, while Libertarian Conservatives would favor giving the power almost exclusively to the people.  Both, I think, support a strengthening/stricter enforcement of the 10th Amendment.

Foreign policy.  When it comes to foreign policy, there are two competing schools of thought, the neo-conservative and the paleoconservative.  Unlike other kinds of conservatism, these two stand in stark contrast to each other as they battle for the title of “true conservatism”.  One cannot be both a neo and a paleo at the same time.

Neo-conservative– Seeks an active role for the United States in world affairs.  Like the Social Conservative, seeks to promote his values on his own nation, as well as others, often tying opinions and relationships of other nations to their internal policies such as form of government and human rights.  In the trend of Woodrow Wilson, believes that we need to make the “world safe for democracy”.  Willing to use various forms of manipulation including diplomacy and military force to affect internal changes in nations.  Supports nation building and instillation of new, pro-U.S. governments.  Wishes to establish bases in many parts of the world, especially volatile regions in order to increase U.S. security.  In domestic affairs, is more tolerant of big government as long as the increase serves some sort of greater good such as to promote society’s values or increase internal stability.  Favor close ties with the state of Israel.  Practically all are strong supporters of the war in Iraq and prefer increased immigration.  Often labeled by its detractors as imperialistic and militaristic.

Paleoconservative
– Wishes in the words of Rep. Ron Paul a “more humble foreign policy”.  Opposes nation building and meddling in the internal affairs of other nations.  Promotes trade with other nations, often times including ones with non-democratic governments and poor track records on human rights.  Against the League of Nations and the United Nations.  Practically all are opponents of the war in Iraq.  Usually support strict limits on immigration.  Labeled by its detractors as isolationists and xenophobic.

Well, it may not be 31 varieties, but my point is that there are many kinds of conservatism out there and that often a person can adhere to one form without embracing another.  So the next time someone calls him or herself a conservative, bear in mind that that does not necessarily mean they support limited government, pro-life legislation, an end to corporate welfare, and winning the war in Iraq.  The simple term “conservative”, just like the word liberal doesn’t hold too much meaning without getting into a discussion on the heart of issues and the individuals who hold them. One last thing, if I’ve failed to include a particular variety of conservatism or you feel I’ve misrepresented any term, please let me know.

A Link to Something Important

Good evening.

I hope you all have noticed the increasing numbers of links added to the right side of the page.  Although I think they are all of value (otherwise I wouldn’t put them there), I want to direct your attention to the newest one, American Patriots Committee.  Earlier today I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Herb Lux, the leader of this new political action committee.  The purpose of this organization is easy to understand and extremely important: to elect and support statesmen who understand and uphold the United States Constitution.  Although our leaders and government are supposed to be restrained by the Constitution, it’s high time that we, the activists and voters, hold them accountable.  So I strongly encourage you all to click on their link.  Find out for yourself and I’m sure you will agree with them.  Tell’em the Virginia Conservative sent you.

The Curious Case of the 2008 Senate Race

When examining the present Senate race here in Virginia, there are two factors that one should keep in mind:  the events leading up to and including the Republican convention, and results since that time.  For those who attended the convention or keep up with party politics, most of this information will be redundant for you, but I hope to bring others who have not followed as closely up to speed.

In the end, the fight over the Republican nomination was very heated and very close.  Initially, it was shaping up to be a showdown between Rep. Tom Davis of Fairfax vs. Former Gov. Gilmore of Henrico County.  Davis was the liberal candidate and Gilmore was the conservative.  While Davis advocated a primary, Gilmore supported a convention.  When the state party voted to hold a convention, Davis withdrew from the race.  The reasoning was simple; conventions typically favor the more conservative candidate.  With Davis gone, Gilmore officially announced his intent on Nov. 19th of 2007.  For a little more than a month, Gilmore stood as the only Republican candidate.  Then, on Jan 7th of 2008, Del. Bob Marshall of Prince William County entered the fray.  Marshall’s challenge stood as a serious problem for Gilmore as he is more conservative on a number of issues.  One issue in particular was the issue of abortion.  While Gilmore supports allowing abortion in the first eight weeks, Marshall opposes abortion from minute one.  Time and time again a number of the party activists hammered Gilmore on this issue.  The question for Gilmore was, given that a more conservative challenger had arisen, and the nominee was going to be selected by a convention, how could he win?  The answer his campaign settled on was relevancy.  As Gilmore was a former governor, he had far more name recognition that a delegate (which is, of course, very true).  Until the last several days he approached the campaign as if he was already the nominee, hardly ever mentioning his opponent, instead choosing to contrast himself with Mark Warner.  He had already won they said, all that was needed was the vote to make it official.  Although, of course, I supported Marshall, as a delegate to the convention I was insulted by the insinuation that my vote didn’t matter, that it was more of a coronation than an election.  I understand that if Gilmore got everyone to believe that his win was inevitable then no one would oppose him, but it produced the opposite effect in me.  In the last several days, the fight got quite ugly as accusations and names were thrown around.  In the end, although the vote was extremely close, Gilmore won by about sixty-five votes out of the over ten thousand cast. Borrowing someone else’s terminology, David nearly slew Goliath, but fell painfully short.

Now that Jim Gilmore is the GOP nominee, he finds himself in a similar position in which he placed Bob Marshall, fending off the supposed coronation of Mark Warner.  Prior to the convention many delegates supported Gilmore, not because of his political positions, but because they claimed he had a better chance of Mark Warner.  Now, although I could find no polling data pitting Marshall and Warner, the data of Gilmore vs. Warner was grim.  Prior to the convention, Rasmussen Reports charted the match up from Oct. 30, 2007 to May 5, 2008.  During that time frame, Gilmore was favored by 37% to 39% of likely voters, while 53% to 57% supported Warner.  If Gilmore was indeed our best hope as those delegates claimed, our hope was very small indeed.  In fact Rasmussen estimated Gilmore had a 15% chance of victory.  15%!  Who can be happy with those odds?  Even worse was the fact that 42% of those polled had a negative opinion of Gilmore.  The news gets ever worse.  In the latest poll of June 16th, Warner now leads Gilmore 60% to 33%.  We are headed in the wrong direction!  They now say that Warner has a 90% chance to win.

How did we get in this situation?  The answer has several parts.  The first is our President, George W. Bush.  Regardless if you like him or hate him, you should recognize his approval rating hovers at about 30%.  Two key issues here are the war and the economy.  Most voters now feel the war in Iraq was a mistake and that our economy is either in a recession or headed in that direction.  Fair or unfair, these opinions reflect poorly on Bush and thus reflect poorly on the party of Bush, the Republicans.  To the best of my knowledge, former Governor Gilmore has not distanced himself much from the President and thus will be viewed as a continuation of many of Bush’s policies, which means that a number of voters’ dislike is based simply on association.  Second, it is a proven fact that a party who controls the White House usually loses seats in Congress (must be that whole divided government ideal thing).  Third is the public perception of Gilmore and Warner.  Although very incorrect and unfair in my mind, many voters blame Gilmore for the financial turmoil suffered in the Commonwealth during his later days in office and the early days of Mark Warner.  One can see a similar parallel between Hoover and FDR.  People blamed the depression on Hoover and credited the recovery to Roosevelt even though facts of the matter spoke otherwise.  Fourth, as a result of his “brilliant leadership” as governor, Mark Warner enjoys the highest popularity of any Democrat in the state.  Fifth, to the best of my knowledge, after winning the GOP nomination in late May, Gilmore has made no efforts to reach out to Marshall supporters to tie the base back together.  He needs each and every vote possible to have a chance against Warner.  Sixth, although money isn’t everything, so far Mark Warner has raised far and away more money than Gilmore.  Unless Gilmore closes this gap quickly, we will see fewer ads, less signs, and an overall weaker campaign.

So, I suppose the question is, after fending off a spirited assault from the Marshall supporters, does Jim Gilmore have the ability to beat Mark Warner?  I certainly hope that he does, but every day that passes further fills me with concern.  Unless Gov. Gilmore and his campaign quickly and effectively address the numerous issues I mention above, the chance of success looks bleak.  Although the road ahead is very difficult, we can and must win.  We need to all work together.  To those who supported Gilmore at the convention, where are you now?  You said then that he had the best chance at victory.  So now you, above all others, must back up your claims and help the former Governor win!  We cannot afford another Democratic senator (and one far more liberal than Senator Webb).  Go Jim Gilmore!  Beat Mark Warner!

Winning the Veep-stakes

Since the conclusion of the Presidential Primary process, questions have been circulating regarding choices for Vice President. Although I personally think the idea is not very important (other than setting up someone for a future presidential run), apparently some people alter their vote based upon a running mate. Therefore, I thought I should give my $.02.

The John McCain/Republican Ticket
Many conservatives feel that John McCain is not nearly conservative enough to carry the banner. That is his greatest weakness. Be it the environment, immigration, or political free speech, they feel that something is missing there. Therefore, he should select a running mate who is seen as strong on one, or, ideally, all of these issues.

Although I have never thought of it until a few seconds ago, what about Rep. Tancredo? I know that Tancredo doesn’t really care much for McCain, but when I think of fighting illegal immigration, Tancredo towers above just about everyone. I suppose Massachusetts Mitt wouldn’t be a bad choice either (though I still believe he would have had a better chance of winning the general election than McCain). Although historically unlikely, if Romney could pull Mass into the GOP column, it would force the Dems to spend resources in one of their “safe states”. Other folks have suggested Gov. Bobby Jindal from Louisiana. Although he is, in my mind, more conservative than McCain, and far younger, the problem with him as VP is two-fold. First, and most important is the fact that he has stated he doesn’t want the position. The second is that as the northeast trends Democratic, the South trends Republican. If McCain wants a southerner in order to pick up votes in the South, it shows a serious problem for him. If he can’t win the south with minimal effort, he should pack it in now and salute the new President Barack Obama. Personally, although I know others suggest Huckabee, need I remind you that he is not a fiscal conservative, and frankly he is a scary reminder of what the GOP could become.
Bottom Line: McCain needs to reach out to wary Conservatives if he wants to win.

The Obama/Democratic Ticket
One thing that amazes me about the Obama ticket is his paper-thin experience. Back in 2000, if you recall, George Bush was lambasted for his lack of experience and gravitas. Apparently this time around experience doesn’t matter. Obviously if a long-term veteran of politics like Clinton can’t knock off Obama, experience will be a relative non-issue. Therefore I think Obama’s best bet is to pick up another newcomer and work the change angle for all its worth.

Personally, I think picking up someone like freshman Senator Jim Webb is a great idea. Granted he won his seat with the slimmest of margins, but he is portrayed as an independent voice who is always fighting for some cause or belief. If Obama is able to keep the commonwealth in play, it will force McCain to spend his capital in a state that hasn’t gone to a Democrat since 1964. Clinton, on the other hand, would be a terrible idea. She polls very high negatives and I think would likely cause Obama to lose votes. A dream ticket? Yeah, it would be…for the GOP. Biden’s too old and brings little to the table. Richardson would be ok and might help with the ever-expanding Hispanic vote.
Bottom line: If Obama makes inroads into the South he will win.

Agree or disagree? Post your thought, predictions, and recommendations here!

You Can’t Legislate Morality?

I find that when social liberals debate social conservatives, sooner or later the liberal will use the phrase, “You can’t legislate morality”. I find this argument to be frustrating, inane, and pointless. What I believe is meant here is, “Hey, don’t push your religious or political beliefs on me.” The simple fact is that just about any statute has some sort of moral teaching behind it. For example, if I advocate the elimination of abortion (which I do), I am also conveying the message that life has some value and that parents should not kill their children. None would argue that the above statement is not a moral message. But how about the reverse, does the other side support some sort of moral legislation as well? I would certainly argue that those who stand for the “freedom of choice” do. It is, that I (or you) have a right to privacy and what a person does with his or her own body is no business of the government. The same idea applies to fiscal matters as well. The social conservative advocates lower taxes because he thinks that he has a greater right to his money than the government. The social liberal, on the other hand, would claim that the government should take an active role in wealth distribution so that all people can enjoy at least a minimal level of prosperity. “It’s my money and not the government’s.” That is a moral statement. “The government should provide for the needs of the poor.” That, too, is a moral statement.

How about less controversial issues? Just about everyone agrees that the government should set some sort of penalty for murder (be it the death sentence, jail time, or some other form of punishment). And yet, any law against murder is, in fact, a moral statement. Murder is bad. Same with concept speed limits, speeding is bad. All seek to enforce some level of conformity to accepted societal norms and thus all are ways to legislate morality.

The simple fact is that laws are merely an extension of the morality of the society, or person who created them. Certain actions are acceptable and should be allowed, other actions are forbidden and should be punished. Is that not the principle that intertwines both law and morality?

So, next time a liberal friend, or you yourself use the line, “you can’t legislate morality”, pause to think about what you are saying. Liberals, conservatives, libertarians, constitutionalists, greens, communists, Christians, Muslims, and Jews (just to name a few) all use some sort of personal or shared morality to temper their opinions and legislation. Don’t use the same tired old line to push what you are really thinking. Instead try, “Hey, don’t push your religious or political beliefs on me.” It is far more honest.

Join the Fun!

As I continue to learn more features of this website, I am proud to announce that links have now been included on the right side of the page. So far I have added some of the folks from the Jeffersoniad, but more will be added, as I deem appropriate.

Heck, we may not agree on every issue, but hopefully it will give a diverse spectrum of the state of politics here in the Commonwealth.

Enjoy!