By Sam Clovis
From the start, one must be reminded that the goal of the Republican Party this election cycle is to replace the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in our nation’s capitol—or at least it should be. With what appears on the surface to be some very serious in-fighting, many Republicans are concerned that the goal may not be achieved. In Iowa, the Republican Party of Iowa (RPI) has had to deal with some missteps with the caucus, the loss of a very effective party chairman and the perception that the party is disorganized and essentially eating itself. I am not sure what everyone else saw at the county or district conventions, but as contentious as some issues might have been, at the end of the day, things were done and the processes worked. The fact that the party might want to address its processes is fodder for a different discussion.
I had the honor of chairing the 4th District convention this year. As busy as I was with making sure all tasks were accomplished, I could not help being an academic observer. With what I saw at the district convention tied to what I saw at our county convention, it became very clear that we have three political philosophies vying for center stage in RPI operations. The three philosophies—Centrism, Conservatism and Libertarianism—uneasily co-exist right now. Avid advocates of each philosophy are working hard right now to gain as much power inside RPI as possible. Though this competition might otherwise be healthy, prolonged internal fighting is never healthy in the long run.
The purpose of this series of articles is to compare and contrast the philosophies identified above. Because I know conservatism best, I will make those comparisons based on a conservative template. What I am hoping to achieve is to provide a clear picture of not only where we as Republicans might disagree but also where we might find common ground. Though our values and principles might be different, our goal should be the same.
I am a disciple of Russell Kirk and William Buckley. From them I have developed a clear picture of what conservatism means to me. In the paragraphs below is an abridged outline that will be used as the template for further discussion. That said, let us begin.
Conservatism is built on and around four cornerstones. The first deals with honoring the institutions of American government and governance. The Constitution clearly outlines the limits on the central government, the separation of powers and the checks and balances that were intended to mitigate the accumulation of power in any branch of government and the balance of power between the national and state governments. The Bill of Rights and other amendments were added to the Constitution to ensure the sovereignty of the individual.
The second cornerstone is focused on fiscal responsibility and free markets. Again, the Constitution is the starting point for understanding that the intent of the Founders was to ensure that Americans would be allowed to flourish economically. Thus, one of the enumerated powers for Congress was the Commerce Clause. This clause was to ensure that states would not take advantage of each other and that our central government would protect the states from foreign powers. It is without question that the Founders envisioned free enterprise and capitalism as the economic system that would allow America to gain the greatest possible economic power and freedom. Thus, conservatives believe that the role of government in the economy is limited to five distinct functions.
- Correct market failures. A market failure is defined as the private sector not able or unwilling to provide a good or service that the public demands. Subsequently, the government is then called upon to provide those goods and services. Government does not always get it right, however.
- Correct negative externalities. A negative externality is a by-product of an exchange that has spillover effects. Those spillover effects are sometimes negative. This is the case with pollution.
- Ensure fair and free markets. Government should make sure that consumers are given every opportunity to make choices in the marketplace. Anything that inhibits competition should be eliminated. This includes collusion, monopolies or regulatory barriers to entry into markets.
- Ensure a sound financial system. How’s that working right now?
- Provide for the common good of the people. Such services as national defense fall into this category.
The second element of this cornerstone is demanding fiscal responsibility from our government. There are 39,000 general-purpose jurisdictions in America. In all of them save one, elected representatives are required to not spend more than what is taken in. The exception is the national government. The current debt is in excess of $15 Trillion and the chief executive of the government is proposing budgets with deficits in excess of $1 Trillion annually for as far as the eye can see. Conservatives believe that the central government should operate within its means.
The third cornerstone of conservatism is a strong national defense. Having a modern and powerful military is an essential element in ensuring that this nation never bargains internationally from a position of weakness. This is not to say that the central government should engage in adventurism, policing the world or nation-building. The military element of national power should only be used to protect American interests around the world. Conservatives never lose sight of the fact that it is our nation’s youth that bear the burden of national defense in the face of the nation’s enemies.
The final cornerstone is based on social protections and traditions. The protection of life from conception is fundamental to furthering the ideals announced in the Declaration of Independence. Endowed by our Creator, we entitled to certain unalienable rights. First among them is life. In furtherance of protecting life, one must protect those institutions that allow life to flourish in a nurturing environment. Thus, the nuclear family and traditional marriage must be protected, as well.
Now that one has a starting point, one can proceed to make the comparisons that might add context to the current tensions found in the RPI. The next installment will outline libertarianism and the variances with conservatism that exist today.
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