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Most Influential ‘Conservatives’

The Telegraph of London has an interesting article up on the “Most Influential Conservatives“. It’s really sort of a bizarre read and I can’t quite figure out what definition of conservatism they’re using.

Rudy Giuliani (who by all accounts is fiscally conservative, but not at all socially conservative) comes in at number one. Ok, so they must be basing this on fiscal conservatism, right? Well, apparently not. President Bush comes in at #21, despite an almost total absence on matters of fiscal conservatism for the last 7 years. With the explosion of spending by the federal government that he presided over, and the runaway sending of Congress that he rubber-stamped, it’s clear that fiscal constraint is not necessary to get you on the list, but non-stop pandering to the religious right is.

So what, in the Telegraph’s opinion is a conservative?

P.J. O’Rourke made the list, as did Drew Carey, with their libertarian conservatism. Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer both made the list (as did Mike Huckabee) with a solid record on social issues, but little in the fiscal ledger.

In explaining the fact that 43 didn’t make the top 20, the Telegraph explains:

So why isn’t George W. Bush, president of the most powerful nation in the world, wartime commander-in chief and leader of the Republican party not even in the top 20 of the Telegraph’s list of influential American conservatives? That’s a fair question. The short answer: the list is about the future rather than the past.

It also appears to be about perceptions of conservatism, versus actual conservatism. By listing, as ‘conservative’ both people who oppose social conservatism and people uncommitted to fiscal conservatism, the article actually serves to muddy the waters and confuse people who want to understand what conservatism really means.

If I were to make a list, I would argue that conservatism is defined by three things:

  • A recognition that political power in the US begins with the people, and ever smaller amounts are passed down to the federal government. Too often our politicians seem to get that backwards, and lately that includes a lot of ‘conservatives’.
  • A recognition that, as Milt Friedman said, “The government solution to a problem is usually worse than the problem.” That applies to government mandates in any aspect of life from economic policy down to the politics of abortion.
  • An understanding that it’s not the government’s responsibility to save me from going to hell. That’s between me and my God. If I screw it up, I have nobody to blame but myself. The constitution is quite clear on this matter. A law that codifies your religious beliefs about my behavior is a law that establishes a religion.

I will readily admit, however, that my belief in these three principles is what often sets me at odds with much the party is doing. However, I still maintain hope that the party will return to a belief in small government and fiscal responsibility first and foremost. If they do, there will be no misunderstanding of what does and does not make someone conservative.

Written by Michael Turk