Friday, April 06, 2007

Is it possible to be a progressive conservative?

Today I traveled to Ames to a quarterly Iowa Farmers Union board meeting. There, we had a presentation by a representative of Iowa Citizens Action Network, or ICAN, about an initiative they are working on called "Our Common Values", a "multi-sector, statewide initiative to change the political conversation".

Here's what the flyer says:

"Ever felt like your highest values - justice, equality, the common good - have somehow gone missing from mainstream political conversation in recent years?

Ever notice that some core right-wing ideas have been repeated so often, on such a wide range of issues and for so long, that they're starting to pass for 'common sense' with a lot of people?**

**For example:
Government = "wasteful; always the problem, never part of the solution"

Markets = "always the best solution, no matter what the problem"
Poverty = "your own fault"
The individual in society = "You're on your own".

If you didn't realize it by now, ICAN is a "progressive" organization. While it fits well with what IFU is about, it made me think a little more critically about how your conservative nut-job author was part of the process.

For example, the host had us close our eyes and imagine the world in 2, 4, and 6 years, when our favorite presidential candidate is elected, when the Congress and State House come together and pass your legislation, and finally, when victory can be declared.

When asked to share, some spoke about clean elections, reduction of corporate welfare, etc. I said my dream would be Tom Tancredo as president in 2008, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA as his Secretary of Defense, and the Dept. of Education abolished! I sure got some looks! :)

The presenter also provided us with a visual description of "Corporate-Conservative Themes", which included a triangle with the following at each corner:
1) Individualism
2) Anti-government (but pro-military)
3) Free market competition

I thought this was waaaay too simplistic, and rather stereotypical. My triangle of liberals, for example, would have Abortion, Gay Rights and Socialized Medicine. This too would be stereotypical, but it illustrates how each side can go after the other with broad, sweeping suggestions rather than try to find common ground.

The basic point is that ICAN, with material like this, wants to hold meetings throughout the state with various "progressive" organizations in the coming months and work to change the political discussion to their favor.

Here are my thoughts:

I didn't disagree with everything the presenter said. Issues such as building communities and having a responsive government of the people are likewise conservative issues. The big difference between my beliefs and ICAN, however, is what is government's role in the day-to-day life of people?

To me, the government should exist to provide basic structure of rules, justice, and services. Services are defined as police, fire protection, roads, etc. Justice means that no one is getting hurt by another party unfairly, and enforcing penalties if necessary. Stability is the goal of the government so that commerce can operate smoothly. I think the people should have a voice in the decision making process; that means talking to their elected representatives, running for office, and basically being active in the process. Or they don't have to, but they have the opportunity.

However, I don't think it is government's role to do everything for everyone with the idea that it is a "neutral" party, separate from the private interests of individuals and corporations. While ICAN oftentimes thinks of corporations as "evil" and "greedy", some of us see government as a monopoly, as the "only game in town" for various services that have been taken out of private hands and put in the public. ICAN would say that at least with government you can vote people out and change the system; that's true to an extent, but the bureaucrats will still be there, and there will still be only one "service provider", instead of many competing for your business.

I guess ICAN has never dealt with the Farm Service Agency, or Dept. of Motor Vehicles, or the Dept. of Natural Resources? These are a few of the examples where we, the people, pay others to stand around, make nit-picky rules for us, take our money, and make us feel bad when we're finished. These organizations are not customer-centered, but rather employee-centered. They exist, or appear so, to be organized to benefit the person working that job. There's no competition to make the DMV better, so you get what you get.

In addition, I don't see anything wrong with being individualistic, as long as you don't take it too far. You have to take care of yourself and loved ones first, as no one else is going to do it for you; certainly not the government, as Katrina victims found out the hard way. I think if you choose to live in a community you need to respect the rules of it, such as not parking 5 Monte Carlos on blocks in your front yard, in order to obtain benefits of it, such as police and fire protection. Individuals working hard have built this country, not diversity committees or union stewards.

Finally, being forced to give does not constitute a gift, and only when something is a gift will another truely appreciate it as the sacrifice it is. If someone is in need, I would rather give of my own to him/her rather than be forced to by a faceless inhuman government agency. When "gifts" are turned into welfare payments and entitlements, they no longer carry the same values as they did before, and the recipient is less thankful for it.

I am "progressive" about helping others; I want to see others in my community succeed; I want to help them open new businesses, get better jobs, make a better life for themselves and family. I want the town to be clean, safe, and healthy. I would like to see racism, bigotry, and animosity wiped out, and equal opportunity for all.

Does this sound conservative? In a way, yes. Conservatives, at least the true ones, have cared about these issues for a long time. Only recently has the term been hijacked by "neo-cons", and our core mission distorted.

While progressives and true conservatives may agree on the end goal, the tools used to get there are totally different. Progressives believe the government is the best to solve problems. Conservatives believe that individuals are best. Progressives worship the god of Government. Conservatives base their decisions on faith in a Higher Power and years of generational wisdom.

So, can one be a progressive conservative? At the risk of sounding oxymoronic, yes, I believe so. It just depends on who is defining the terms, and what their bias is.

Or better yet, to get beyond the nametags, "isms", and stereotypes, you can just call me Bob.

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