Purple and Proud
Recently I was accused by a colleague of being a liberal. This is a charge I vigorously deny. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with being a liberal. And while I like the color blue, I also like red. None-the-less, his accusation inspired some self-examination. Which I realize is more of a liberal than a conservative trait. But our founders believed in the market place of ideas hence their embrace of free speech as foundational to representative democracy. And competition of ideas requires debate whether internal or external.
Obviously the first question about what political camp my views are closest to is defining Liberal and Conservative. This is a little tricky for me since the meanings of both of these terms have changed over my lifetime. When I first registered to vote, the fundamental tenet of Conservatism was the idea the humans are flawed and that the job of government was to prevent those flaws from stripping people of their basic rights given by “our creator.” Liberals, on the other hand, believed that humans were only flawed due to circumstance and that government’s job was to remove the impediments to their success. In this argument, I sided completely with the conservatives and therefore the Republicans.
But I ran into an immediate problem. It was a conservative position that wars should only be fought to counter direct and immediate threats to our physical welfare. This left out Vietnam, a war many Republicans opposed. Yet in 1968, my first opportunity to vote left me choice between a Democrat who wanted to continue the war and a Republican who promised to win the war. So I wrote in Eugene McCarthy. It wasn’t the last time I faced a choice between candidates who were untrue to their Liberal/Conservative principles.
To help me sort out this problem I dove into the founding documents and their creators. I studied the history of democracy and the philosophies behind it. I studied Smith, Friedman, and the fundamentals of capitalism. I read Conservative thinkers like Ayn Rand and became a big fan of William F. Buckley. But as much as I agreed on a philosophical level with the writers I studied, I was troubled by some practical aspects of their ideas. Civil rights was a perfect example. I agreed with the idea of States rights as being important. But when state and local government conspire to prevent citizens from exercising basic rights, then of course the feds should step in. Who else can guarantee people’s Constitutional freedoms? How is this NOT a Conservative principle? Yet Buckley et al. argued against Civil Rights legislation.
Conservatism has taken an even weirder turn since Ronald Reagan (a Conservative I happily voted for.) Take the abortion issue: traditional Conservatism says the government should stay out of people’s private business. Tomi Lahren, a younger Ann Coulter Conservative, lost her job at the Blaze for pointing out the hypocrisy of modern Conservatism which has been hijacked by Evangelical Christians and turned into a one-issue party. Abortion has become the only policy that drives many Conservative voters. I can’t go along with this. Although I am personally opposed to abortion, it is based on religious beliefs that I refuse to impose on others. Separation of church and state is another foundational principle that was important to our founders. The brutality of the religious wars in Europe and England were fresh in their mind when they wrote the Constitution. Why have Conservatives abandoned this idea?
It is my rejection of modern Conservatism that leads some to call me a Liberal. Republicans have done a great job of making the characterization of Liberal a dirty word. “Bleeding heart Liberal”, “Libtard”, and “Snowflake” a few examples of their marketing genius. I don’t reject this label on those grounds. Rather I disagree with modern Liberals on a number of issues. Take guns as an example. I’m a firm believer in the Second Amendment and worry about Liberals/ Progressives gutting it. I want a universal concealed carry law. But on the other hand, I’m fine with universal background checks and laws against felons owning guns. There are people who simply shouldn’t have legal access to firearms in the interest of public safety. So what does that make me? Am I a Liberal for supporting some restrictions on guns? Or am I a Conservative for supporting universal carry?
Gay marriage is another litmus test for Conservatives. They are against it and I don’t understand that from a philosophical standpoint. Why should the government be involved in a person’s domestic situation? It seems contrary for Conservatives to argue in favor of government interference in such matters. And please don’t bring animals, children, or polygamy into the discussion. Gay marriage is about two adults deciding how they want to live. Animals and children do not have a legal standing to make such decisions. As for polygamy, the state has a compelling interest if any children are produced by a marriage so they get a pass from me on this one. A reluctant pass but there are enough social issues created by the children of polygamists that I’ll go with the state on it.
So if I agree with the political position of a Liberal but for Conservative reasons then what am I? I’m making the argument that I am a thoughtful Independent who takes many things into consideration before voting. I refuse to mark all Democrats or all Republicans on my ballot. I don’t know who came up with the idea of labeling Conservatives red and Liberals blue. Seems awfully simplistic to me. Party affiliation is a lazy way to vote. So are single issue votes. Neither party suits me. I have red shirts, blue shirts, and purple shirts. I wear what I think is appropriate. When it comes to voting, on most days, purple wins out.