We active independents are a tricky group to define within the context of any political landscape. Just the very notion of an extreme moderate is a contradiction that’s hard to pin down. There are, however, a few concrete commonalities amongst us that tend to drive our decision to passionately deny alignment with a uniformly conservative or liberal perspective. I know I risk painting with too broad a brush here, but I’m going do it anyway for the sake of making a very important point about why we end up where we do, free to decide based on circumstance or specifics to choose how we feel. I’ll start with the right. When it comes to conservatives, we struggle with a few things. The first one is something that should have come through loud and clear if you have read anything produced by this venue over the past six months. Independents struggle to support policies that seek through indifference or actively sought objectives, to exclude people. Over the past 230 plus years, the American experience has been an effort to expand the definition of who is included in “We the People.” The conservative point of view has historically been on the wrong side of that argument, present circumstances included. Which kind of segue’s into a second issue. Most independents can’t fully embrace a point of view that yields policies that don’t take into consideration the fact that most poor people were born that way. We see value in giving voice to the idea that when you’re poor, the obstacles that stand between you and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” at this point in our country’s development are often insurmountable. And so we feel we probably need to invest in changing limited aspects of the American experience to help them. Denying the existence of that gap between being born into poverty and everything else is a non-starter for us. And so we struggle to adopt platforms that don’t address that issue. And so you have it. 180 words or so on why many of us independents are not conservatives. Satisfied? I wasn’t either. Because it doesn’t answer the next question. Why then, are we not liberals? It’s a great question because it gets right to the heart of why we so desperately need strong conservative leaders now more than ever.
If my opinions are informed by those two basic progressive notions of inclusion and social welfare, it’s fair to ask the the next question then. Why, if you find yourself at odds with conservatives on such major foundational beliefs, do you not go the final mile and call yourself a liberal? It’s a question I’ve put some time into thinking about over the years. Here’s what I figured out after some honest reflection. It’s not because we lack conviction to “pick a side”. It’s not because we want to reserve our right to choose based on circumstance. Those things certainly can contribute but the core reason is something else. We openly choose not to call ourselves card carrying liberals because in our hearts, many of us want the very core belief of conservatives to be right. When it’s all said and done, like many conservatives, we hunger for the vision of Jefferson’s “wise and frugal government”. The reason we’re not liberals is pretty basic. In our heart’s we’re closet conservatives. These days however, it’s becoming enormously difficult yet still equally important to maintain a connection with our conservative inclinations. Here’s why.
Public policy tends to lag public opinion; rightfully so. When it’s the other way around, things can go terribly wrong. At times that lag is so great that it creates a progress “bubble” if you will. Eventually it bursts and as history has shown us, our policy rushes forward to align with our opinion, sometimes violently. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of progress for the American people. From racial tensions to health care to gay rights, the loudest and most effective voices have been those in favor of progress and so progress has arrived in areas we desperately needed it. But if we’re not careful, we’re going to miss something very important. We’ll miss the value in the conservative point of view and the fact that it cannot and should not be discarded. It’s no less important now than it ever has been. In fact, it may be more important than ever. Let me explain.
Our country has important problems to solve and we’re gearing up to choose a leader for the free world. We need to be able to count on a strong conservative forward-looking point of view to be a part, not all mind you, of the American conscience again as we do so. I confessed earlier. I secretly and desperately want to live in a world where our country needs as little government as possible to get the outcomes we need. But we’re going to have to demand more of our conservative leadership to get it. First things first. Stop fighting the last battle. The healthcare and same sex marriage debates are over. Every Republican presidential candidate should be jumping for joy that the Supreme Court took those items off the table for debate because the present conservative points of view on those issues are losers for anyone outside of the conservative party. Which is most of us. Remember, independents struggle with the notion of exclusion. Secondly, start figuring out a conservative point of view that matches the modern American constituency and stop focusing on the good old days. Here’s something that the rest of America has figured out already. The good old days weren’t that good for a lot of people. They weren’t good for blacks. They weren’t good for women. They weren’t good for gays. They weren’t good for anyone who got sick or suffered from mental illness. They weren’t good for women who didn’t want to choose between a career and a family. They weren’t good for families with special needs children. They weren’t good for senior citizens, mainly because they died 15 years earlier than they do now so we didn’t need to consider them in policy. The good old days weren’t good for what now represents about 75% of our population. So stop building your policies around getting back to them and you’ve got a chance. Here’s what that looks like, from a conservative perspective:
STOP: Advocating for legislation that makes it harder for minorities to vote. We don’t have a voter fraud problem. We have a voter turn out problem. Everyone outside the conservative party that looks at this problem for 10 seconds sees the motives of fear and exclusion at work here.
START: Minimizing the impact of social programs that don’t work and waste government resources by coming up with more efficient effective ones that do work.
See, its pretty simple when you free yourself from the past.
There’s also a part of the rhetoric that comes from some conservatives around traditional values that we independents can’t really figure out how to separate from racism, misogyny or homophobia. Especially when it comes in a thoughtless meme or a bumper sticker. I know those are strong words but that’s how it looks to us. Try not to shoot the messenger with your freely carried firearms on that last one. I want the conservative point of view to succeed and I’m just trying to help here.
I have to believe that there’s a conservative point of view that benefits modern America. We have 25 million jobs to create over the next decade. We have a federal budget to balance. We need energy independence. These are things in the middle of the conservative strike zone. So swing away. I’ll leave you with some words from the great patron of American conservatives, Thomas Jefferson himself. Let his words not be an excuse to exclude or divide but instead guide your path to a platform for the 21st Century American conservative.