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Why I’m a Conservative

(Photos: Courtesy GOP.org, Democrats.org)Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve definitely been amongst the minority of Americans who paid close attention to politics and government. Throughout the majority of my 33 years, I’ve been involved in some way in politics or the government, either through volunteering for campaigns, working in congressional offices, or my current tenure with the Department of Defense. My path to politics and government was the path of a conservative who believes strongly in the greatness of America, and that our great country provides lessons in prosperity that leaders all over the world would do well to heed.

My answer to why I’m a conservative cannot necessarily be condensed into once sentence as Brian Williams condensed his liberalism in his article Why I’m a Liberal. I, like anyone else, could have been born into any situation, good or bad. My fortunes in this regard were good, however, and I had a comfortable middle-class childhood and was raised by two wonderful parents. These were all blessings I certainly did not earn, and I am grateful God bestowed them upon me. Certainly, I am not naïve enough to think that everyone is born into such ideal circumstances.

Bagram-air-base_0During my six month deployment in Afghanistan, it was apparent how many people lacked the basic comforts we consider necessities in the United States. On many occasions I flew around the country during the day and returned to my “home” (Bagram Air Base) in the evenings. It was striking to look out the window of the rickety prop plane and see the villages on the ground in total darkness, revealing their complete lack of electricity. Going to sleep in a climate-controlled wooden shack didn’t seem like such a tough existence after that, and it certainly didn’t seem like one when, on other flights, I would sit a few feet away from frightened and dirty detainees. It was surreal to think that these people had probably never been this close to an airplane below, much less flown on one. It was a very vivid illustration of how being born in America is a blessing that bestows a number of advantages that simply aren’t present in most of the world.

Indeed, such poverty as exists in places like Afghanistan and elsewhere is relevant to America. It is relevant because it should lead us to ask, why does the United States enjoy a greater degree of prosperity than has ever been seen in world history? What have we done differently, and how can our blessings best be spread throughout the world?

The reason America has succeeded and created a prosperous nation can be summed up in two words: freedom and capitalism. Socialism, though its aims are noble, has instead locked people into poverty rather than lifting them out of its depths. Capitalism, through all its faults, has lifted people out of poverty and created an environment where people are able to transcend the circumstances of their birth and become successful because of their own talents, not because of who their parents are. In the United States, such stories are not needles in a haystack, they are part of the very fabric of our nation and its history. Not everyone born into poverty or poor circumstances can become President of the United States the way Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton (all born to very poor families) did, but they can nonetheless become successful and live comfortable, middle class lives. My grandfather is one of these millions of success stories, as he and grew up in poverty on a farm in Virginia, but went on to run his own successful business for 40 years. These success stories are not exceptional (though my grandfather was certainly an exceptional man) in America – they are simply examples of the benefits of capitalism and freedom.

None of this is to say that there are not poor people in the United States who need help. There are millions of American citizens who do need assistance from the government, and many of them are doing the best they can to scrape by. However they wound up where they are, the goal should be to lift them up and give them a chance to leave poverty behind – not to make poverty more comfortable for them without any regard to whether or not they can ever escape it. In January 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced a “War on Poverty”. By any objective standard, we are at best in a stalemate, despite $16 trillion spent by the anti-poverty side (the government). Thus, new ways of thinking are needed. Simply screaming “You’re hurting the CHILDREN!” every time conservatives suggest that maybe throwing endless dollars at programs that have questionable results might not be wise isn’t going to help a child escape the poor neighborhood he was born into. Conservatism dares to ask for a positive result, not merely a noble intention.

Conservatives believe in one ideal of equality just as liberals do. And just like liberals, we want people to be prosperous and successful. As conservatives, we believe in a safety net placed underneath a citizen to catch them if they fall – not one thrown over top of them to ensnare them while they’re standing (an example of the latter situation is the millions of health insurance policy cancellations resulting from the Affordable Care Act). And as conservatives, we believe inequality matters when it comes to how low the floor is, not when it comes to how high the ceiling is. Giving those at the bottom an opportunity to move up is necessary and important, and helping those who can’t help themselves attain a life where they can live in comfort is a necessary function of any government.

Taxes-DueWhat conservatives do not believe in is dragging down the economic ceiling and punishing people simply for being successful. This is not because we think all wealthy people are noble and should not pay their fair share in taxes, but because we know that soaking them can drag them – and even middle class Americans – down a rung on the economic ladder, while doing nothing to help those at the bottom rise up. A clear example of this was a luxury tax enacted in 1990 that applied to expensive boats and other items. The tax, designed to get more money from the rich, failed to raise significant revenue, but succeeded in decimating Maine’s boating industry. Yacht sales fell 70 percent over the next year. Some businesses went under, while restaurants, marinas, and boat repair shops saw major drop-offs in their already struggling bottom lines. At the urging of liberal Democrat Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-ME), the tax was repealed in 1993, and the industry made a rapid recovery.

Conservatism is not about economic Darwinism or wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to poverty in America or the world. It’s about recognizing that the best way to lift people out of poverty is to create an environment where they can climb out of the circumstances of their birth – just as my grandfather did – and live a better life than their parents, while creating a better life for their own children. Policies intended to help those in poverty should be carefully considered, and when those policies aren’t working, conservatism believes in changing them because of their poor results, not keeping them simply because of their good intentions.

Paul A. Hart
Paul Hart graduated from Old Dominion University in 2003, with a B.A. in English with an emphasis on Journalism. Upon graduating, he worked in the Virginia House of Delegates. In 2004, worked on the reelection campaign of President Bush in the critical state of Ohio. Since then, he has worked for the US Department of Defense since 2009, and completed a 6-month civilian deployment to Afghanistan in 2012.

11 thoughts on “Why I’m a Conservative

  1. Geez…I thought when I clicked on this your article might give me some new insight into what would make a 33 year old man a “conservative”. I guess that was asking too much. Then as I started reading I was thinking, “Ok he’s going to explain how “liberals” have made things worse with their policies”. Wrong again, there are no facts here to back up your “beliefs”, “feelings” or whatever you call it. There are only more conservative talking points. Just because you can write a sentence without making to many grammatical errors doesn’t mean you haven’t made an error in judgement. Hell you could have plucked this entire “Why I’m” right out of every other conservative followers site. It’s all the just same tired attempt at justifying a political ideology that is in it’s death throes. People are finally waking up to what being a professed conservative really means. “I’ve got mine, and I’m going to hang onto it with my all my might even if I have lie and distort history to do it.”

    1. If he had that ‘I’ve got mine’ mentality why is he working for the Government that has frozen his salary for 3 years and proposed a ONE percent raise for next year? Working for the Public Service sector is not about ‘having to lie’..it is about serving others. Perhaps you could share your story?

      1. We don’t know what this man was doing in Afghanistan. He could have been a private contractor in which case he was making very good money for his efforts. Given that he was there for six months, I tend to think he wasn’t just some enlisted soldier.

  2. I thought this was a really good article. I enjoyed Brian’s article as well. I like the idea of a person essentially opening up and giving testimony about their experiences and what has shaped their political view. This article seemed crafted as to show a clear personal account of separation of liberalism and conservatism, yet not bashing liberalism in the process. Which is so often the case in which one side can’t seem to defend their beliefs without ridiculing the other. I never got the feel of an “I’m right and you’re wrong.” tone to it. Well done.

  3. This article fails to fully explain why you’re a conservative since it only gives one concrete example (view on poverty/economic social programs) to explain a complex ideology. I have yet to hear a liberal say they want to throw money at ineffective programs, and many would probably agree with your assertion that such programs need restructuring. I feel like many moderate liberals could have easily written the same article with the same rationale for explaining their beliefs. I would be more interested in reading your justifications for supporting a political party that has become the beacon of discriminatory policy and misogyny.

  4. I must agree with the commentor before. I don’t hear a well articulated explanation of why the writer supports conservatism here. What I did hear, I mostly agreed with (outside of the tired talking points we all have heard a million times over already ie Liberals want to throw money at problems with out demanding any results…). If you think this was an explanation of conservatism then I think your challenge will be finding a conservative party that reflects these beliefs and positions.

    1. Mr. Williams, it seems to be a habit of yours to just dismiss an opposing argument without addressing it directly or bringing empirical facts to base your conclusions. You merely dismiss any argument against you as “talking points” and you have determined that anyone that doesn’t agree with you on the means of addressing poverty must hate the poor. Paul here brings up legitimate points that you completely ignore. The United States for the past 80 years has had a progressive income tax bracket where at times the highest marginal rate has reached over 90%. Until the 1980s the highest marginal rate was 70%. This means that the government pretty much confiscated 70% to 90% of all income that you made over a certain amount. If you made $2 million a year, whatever money you made over let’s say hundred thousand, 90% of that would be taken away by the federal government. Thus, at times in the United States, you would often pay more money to the government and taxes then you actually took in as income. In addition the United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. All of this means that the rich pay a much higher rate of taxes than everyone else. And despite all this, poverty continues in this country. Now, safety nets have done much to help the elderly as well as the very poor and that’s a very good thing that should be recognized. However, the fact that poverty persisted despite very high marginal rates shows that at some point the effect of government spending levels plateaus and cannot be the final answer for ending poverty. The Brookings Institute is not at all a conservative organization, but in their recent study on poverty, they concluded that safety nets were not sufficient in attacking poverty. Other critical factors determine meaning the poverty rate include the state of one’s family, and the ability of the economy to provide jobs. These are things that I rarely hear liberals ever address. You should read their study, because they have concluded that since the 1960s, when social spending grew from one third to two thirds of our federal budget, the poverty rate has actually increased. See here: http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2013/11/19-war-on-poverty-what-went-wrong-haskins. What the study says is that the state of families in America are just as important if not more important when it comes to poverty than how much we spent on federal programs.
      Evidence suggests that government intervention, while having good intentions, could actually hurt the poor. The president’s recent plan to increase the minimum wage for contractors seems intuitively to help the poor, but the nonpartisan CBO reports that this will actually potentially cost 500,000 jobs. http://m.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/minimum-wage-hike-could-kill-500000-jobs-but-help-alleviate-poverty-cbo-reports/2014/02/18/d171c130-98de-11e3-80ac-63a8ba7f7942_story.html. The Washington Post is not a conservative newspaper btw. That’s an additional 500,000 people at the lower income rate that won’t have jobs! With facts like these, it is clear that there are times were government intervention, despite having good intentions, could actually hurt the poor.
      Now, I fully expect you to just dismiss all my points as part of some Republican talking points and fail to actually address them but, the facts above explain why conservatives believe that other factors like state of the family in America and the overall strength of the economy are just as important in attacking poverty rather than government spending alone.

      1. Mr. Lim, you once again fail to understand something you’ve read. I said i mostly agreed with it and pointed out some of the tired rhetoric that was also involved “America is so great because we have FREEDOM.” We are hardly the only country to have freedom and we aren’t even the country with the most freedom. You are once again arguing with yourself.

        But just to humor you though, your same article says 900,000 people WILL be lifted out of poverty and that job losses could be slight. The “slight losses” goes along with what the vast majority of economist say when asked what a rise in the minimum wage would do to unemployment (I’m currently in a place with poor internet, so please forgive me for not linking to the number of studies and the study of the studies that shows this.)

        As for your progressive tax rate, well, Reagan destroyed that. Mitt and other millionaires are paying next to nothing, Boeing paid 0 in taxes last year and we know this hasn’t done anything to fix poverty either. In fact, it would seem to have made things much worse based on the current state of the US and the concentration of wealth in the 1% that is largely responsible for it.

        And again, Im fine with the idea that a two parent house hold is better economically and better for kids…So how does it work with your freedom agenda to tell people how to live their lives with something as personal as how to plan, have and maintain their families?

  5. I thought this was a great thought exercise on conservatism. Liberalism and conservatism are both ideologies so you don’t need facts to explain your personal views of either viewpoint. I thought this was great. Good work!

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