Coming back from New England, I once again found myself musing on the confusion we seem to have slipped into regarding our “political” name game. When I was growing up in a “liberal” household, conservatives were not considered enemies, but simply people with a different way of understanding themselves and other people and the different degrees of obligation we have to each other. The way I learned it was not particularly complicated, nor was it filled with self-righteousness. Liberals thought that people could be improved with good education, good jobs, and good neighborhoods. And that the government had a responsibility to see that all people had a reasonable chance to enjoy the kind of life those “things” would provide. Conservatives were not all that sure that people could be improved, but they were sure, that it wasn’t up to the government to try to find out if they were right or wrong. In their view, people should run their own lives and stay out of the business of trying to run anyone else’s life for them. From that point of view people were expected to be honest, straight forward, neighborly and helpful but not intrusive.
The conservative position as I understood it, was to keep faith with what their traditions and experience had proven worthy of that faith. It was not a wholesale condemnation of the traditions and experience of those who lived by different values. The strength of their convictions could easily withstand the winds of change. “Let others go where they may choose; I will stand here,” was the way I remember their rallying cry. How did xenophobia become conservative? And why are the members of the media unable or unwilling to make that distinction?
In terms of practical political decisions I look most often to the Devonian Lungfish, who when faced with the shrinking and shallowing of their home ponds, did not praise the land as a place for a new adventure, nor did they dig into the mud and die in the sun baked dust. Those that survived chose to use what skills they had to stumble awkwardly from the pond that was disappearing, onto the land, just long enough to get to a better pond. Their intent was to maintain their way of life. The result was to participate in the evolution of the amphibians. They managed to have it both ways.