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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The nature of conservatism

I recently had the opportunity to explain a little about conservatism to someone who's leanings are a bit more to the left.
The individual had honest questions about conservatives' positions and really wanted to know why it is conservatives believe what they believe.
The conversation went a little like this ...
"Why is it conservatives say they are against government regulation but then want to ban abortion and stem cell research."
My response was fairly simple, if you believe life begins at conception then abortion is murder -- and murder is illegal.
I also mentioned that even among conservatives there is much debate on the issue. There is no firm "conservative" position on the topic.
As to the stem cell debate, this is a complicated issue much demonized by the media as a convenient club with which to beat the right about the head and shoulders.
President George W. Bush did not and could not ban stem cell research. What he did do was restrict federal funding to already extant lines of embryonic stem cells and prohibited funding further lines of embryonic stem cells because at the time it was necessary to create a human embryo simply to destroy it in order to get the stem cells.
Bush could not and did not prohibit funding to adult stem cell research which has yielded several therapies -- which embryonic stem cell research has not.
He also did not prohibit private funding to embryonic stem cell research.
Moreover, scientists have since found a way to turn adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells so there is no longer a reason to create embryos simply to harvest the stem cells.
And once again there is no hard and fast "conservative" position on the subject.
The problem is that for most people things like this get boiled down to a 30 second sound bite -- which really doesn't work well on issues this complicated.
It's worse on the MSM talk shows.
You'll have a thoughtful, reasoned conservative who actually understands the issue on one side, and on the other a liberal who may or may not understand the issue, but who is there mostly to make the conservative look evil.
The poor conservative will try to explain the complicated issue, in a logical fashion and try to do it in 30 seconds or less. Half way through the liberal will start to rave and foam at the mouth.
"Why do you hate disabled people, don't you know this will save them!?!?! YOU HATE MICHAEL J. FOX!!! WHY DO YOU WANT HIM TO DIE!?!?!"
The conservative, being a reasoned individual will return to his calm tone of voice and try to explain that embryonic stem cells therapies haven't worked but there are some promising lines of inquiry in adult stem cells, only to be interrupted by a screech of "WHY DIDN'T YOU WANT CHRISTOPHER REEVES TO WALK AGAIN!?!?"
The moderator should, of course, step in at this point and get his guest under control.
What usually happens, however, is something more along the lines of, "yeah, why do you want Michael J. Fox to die?"
By the time this is all over the poor conservative is often reduced to gibbering madness and the poor viewer is left either more confused about the issue or believing all conservatives are idiots.
Fortunately we have blogs like this one and Pajamas Media and the rest of the blogosphere where reasoned people can find the truth.
I shudder to think where we would be as a nation right now without the New Media.


  1. There is, of course, fiscal conservatism and moral conservatism. One can be either or both. I personally agree with you on the whole regulation issue. The rhetorical tool is known as "Reductio ad Absurdium". Conservatives don't oppose regulation just as we don't oppose taxes. We simply oppose too much regulation Adam Smith warned that without regulation, capitalism cannot succeed. Regulation is necessary to prevent "asymmetries of information" that give one side or the other in a contract an unfair advantage. What we oppose is onerous regulation - that meant to achieve some political end rather than simply ensuring fair dealings.

  2. You may want to recommend that your friend read Thomas Sowell's "Conflict of Visions". It's an excellent book that gets to the assumptions underpinning the conservative and modern liberal mindsets and traces the roots back over the centuries.

    Also, unfortunately, I think many people confuse politicians with conservatives and liberals. Politicians are different. They just play the strings on these mindsets to get elected.