Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Being Conservative

“What’s your conference about?” asked one of the two fairly comely jog-suit-attired girls in the elevator. “I saw you with a nametag yesterday.” “Well, looks like I forgot it this morning,” I quipped and was instantly relieved as the bell signaling that we had arrived at the lobby sounded. What I wasn’t able to do, because I lacked the requisite time, was tell her I was at a conservative conference, in particular the 20th Annual Meeting of the John Randolph Club, which had as its theme “The future of America: ‘Hell or Texas?’

And why couldn’t I? How long does it take to say “I’m at a conference for conservatives…?” About the same amount of time it takes for bile to rise to the mouth and blood to boil at the instant connection of the word conservative to George W. Bush, arguably our worst US president since FDR, but solidly in the top 5 worst of all time, in contention with that worst of presidents, Abraham Lincoln. The blood and bile of course would block out the rest of my words, and no dialogue would have occurred. I have witnessed this on numerous occasions, with people of all sorts of ages and backgrounds.

But could I blame them? For 95% of America and almost 100% of the Left, “conservative” means the likes of simian buffoon Sean Hannity, windbags like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, strange, disingenuous people like Glenn Beck, and the chores of their compatriots, waterboys, and spear carriers at National Review, Fox News, and The Weekly Standard, chores which include justifying pre-emptive war, torture, rendition, wiretapping, and senseless jingoistic NATO nostrums, among other pleasantries.

Indeed, had I told those twenty-somethings, who were in town for the Rock-n-Roll Marathon, that I was “conservative” – and I was dressed the part, in Brooks Brothers with a pocket square – they might have rolled their eyes or laughed. And that would have been the end of that.

Conservatism, like anything of value or merit, needs more than a catchy tagline written by the Don Drapers of today. It needs deliberate, thoughtful, and perhaps most importantly, civil explanation and discourse. The consequences may still often be the same, demonstrated by my liberal friends: opposition. The best that you might achieve often sounds like, “I had never thought about it that way.” And of course this is an homage to a celebrity conservative of yesteryear, who once quipped that a liberal is one that professes openness to another point-of-view and then is shocked to discover that there is one. But in these exchanges, at the very least, the visceral reaction to self-righteous cable news pundits is diffused, ears are temporarily opened, and an actual sharing of ideas occurs.

And if nothing else, the conservative ironically teaches the liberal some tolerance, for the conservative understands that people don’t change because their government tells them to (you will accept gay marriage!), or because the mean-nothing words of some guy who is apparently “looking out for you” compels them (I have an idea, why don’t you shut up, Bill?), but rather they change due to the lathing effects of tradition, time, family, community, and religion.

Of course, I’m not advocating being mute or running from the label “conservative.” Like any title worn by fallen children of our first two parents, it carries its own baggage, for better or for worse (think of the word “Catholic”). What I might have done that would have planted a mustard seed might have been to, instead of avoiding the question, which our current President possesses inimitable skill at doing, have answered: “We are conservatives who believe that Fox News is warmongering propaganda masquerading as news and who think that Tea Parties are not the answer.”

Elevator bell dings.

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