In light of this coronavirus crisis, it has become abundantly clear that the conservative approach to government that too many of my fellow Republicans still cling to ultimately results in a failure to govern effectively at all.
Conservatism is just no longer a valid competing style or philosophy of governance in my eyes. Rather, it’s plain and simple abdication of governing justly and competently all together. It yields primarily instead to the forces of might makes right, to survival of the fittest or richest or ”purest,” to Hobbes’ state of nature for those who haven’t the privilege to escape it — at first, anyway.
It does absolutely nothing to advance life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.
Conservatism’s aim, whether intentionally or not, is pointing much more closely towards feudalism for the many, not freedom and justice for all.
While President Donald J. Trump has embodied the fullest manifestation to-date of what the conservative Republican approach leads to, he doesn’t bear the responsibility alone by any means. This has been a decades-long movement fomented by thousands of disaffected Americans, who masqueraded this “conservative”set of policies as virtuous, God-given, authentically American and enlightened — which, yes, even I had believed for a time — when it really is anything but.
When it comes to establishing justice, promoting the general welfare, ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, and securing the blessings of liberty for ourselves and future generations, the conservative answer of reducing the public sector’s role and capabilities towards those ends is fully against the good design of our constitutional republic.
This isn’t to say fiscal responsibility, or deregulating when just and virtuous to do so to foster a competitive and reliable market, or preventing government over-reach and abuse aren’t important values. They are! But they’re not conservative values. They are fundamentally American constitutional good government values. No one party or movement owns those, and God help us if only one ever really should!
However, there is zero virtue in putting money over people at all costs, even if one thinks it’s in the service of equal opportunity for all. It just isn’t.
My good friend, Brooklyn Young Republican Club (BKYR) President Joel M. Acevedo, brought a quote to my attention from a letter Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1859, where Lincoln said:
“Republicans are for both the man and the dollar, but in case of conflict, the man before the dollar.”
If contemporary Republicans weren’t largely afflicted by conservatism, this might be truer yet today — except examples like the following keep happening instead:
Failing to take decisive action in an epidemic in order to protect the stock market and 401(k)s only for everyone to be sitting ducks in a dire and deadly crisis later.
Trying to gut the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to dismantle an alleged socialist takeover by health care with few, if any, alternative health care options for most people to afford in order to stay healthy.
Deregulating industry to help put people “back to work” despite automation and in less safe, less secure, and still fewer positions than they once had.
Conservative these policies may be, but they are radically opposed to anything I could ever imagine our Founders hoped for from the republic they built.
Nor does it represent any kind of world I would actually wish to live in, either as a lifelong Republican from Brooklyn or as an American.
Now for those of you who identify as conservative because of your social, religious or moral values, well, they can remain your social, religious and moral values — for yourself. That’s absolutely fine. But let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking there’s any way those values are effective governing values that honor the design of our constitutional republic’s mission to serve the people well with liberty and justice for all. They have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Good values are neither conservative nor progressive, socialist nor libertarian. We all already know the fundamentally good values of truth, honesty, fairness, charity, service, conscientiousness, and kindness. No movement or party has a monopoly on those; the rest is personal preference.
So it’s time for conservatism in the Republican Party and in American government and politics to finally go the way of the novel coronavirus.
Yes, it caught some of us off guard.
Yes, some of us didn’t think it could be so bad.
But now we know better.
Coupled with effective social distancing and frequent hand washing, most of us could be rid of it in a year or less. The damage will be contained. Then it will largely live consigned to the history books and manuals for better prevention in order to avoid mass reinfection later.
And then finally American government at all levels can get back to doing the profound, competent and just work for all people that our Constitution intended.
Jonathan J. Judge is the former President of the Brooklyn Young Republican Club (2008–2011) and currently serves as a member of its Board of Directors.
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