Wednesday, December 01, 2004

COLUMN -- A challenge to conservatives

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:26 AM |  

Dec. 01, 2004

I led with my chin and nobody punched.

Since the election, there has been no shortage of discussion about "moral value" issues and how Republicans owe the November election results to overwhelming support from voters that cast their ballots on "moral issues." Not to be outdone, Democrats have vowed to make "moral issues" out of their domestic agenda of education, health care, social services and even environmental policy.

All well and good for both sides. Any move to principle in politics ought to be applauded; but before one claims a moral position, one ought to recognize a moral position when one sees it, which brings me for a moment to my bout with those who took exception to my column, "The moral imperative for school choice."

I don't intend to re-debate that column here, but only wish to note with interest that not a single school choice opponent who wrote to me addressed the moral question at the heart of the column — Is it ethical for "public" education to deny children and parents the choice of a school that meets their needs regardless of their economic situation? I led into what Democrats claim is their moral strength with a moral question, and no critic took up the challenge. Nobody punched back.

Not that I'm surprised. In the quest for control, the present Democratic Party has lost sight of both traditional liberal dedication to the actual improvement of life for the less fortunate and the essence of what constitutes a "moral" issue.

In a local newspaper article lavishly praising the documentary film "WELLSTONE!" there appeared this remarkable statement: "Like Illinois' Democratic Senate shoo-in Barack Obama, he [Wellstone] cared more about public morality (the policies that define a culture's decency) than private morality (the actions that determine an individual's character)."

Yikes! If that is not the definition of a police state, then at the very least it's the manifesto of a ruling elite for whom the individual is but a means to the end of their utopian vision. It's the blueprint for a society that is not held together by the inherent morality of its people but cemented by whatever coercive policy is required for the state to enforce a collective view of "social justice."

Collective morality is insidious. It robs individuals of the necessity of making individual moral decisions that build individual character. When government uses force to impose pseudo "public morality," it destroys authentic morality that otherwise naturally governs the voluntary interactions of individuals one with another. It robs recipients of government largess of their self-esteem. It robs coerced benefactors of their natural ability to be truly benevolent. It robs society of its moral vigor.

Where is the moral virtue in A and B getting together to rob C for the benefit of D, which is the format of so many Democrat proposals?

Such moral myopia presents real opportunity for conservatives. But as Democrats dismissed the moral sentiment swirling about issues like gay marriage and abortion, conservatives are guilty of conceding to Democrats and moderates within their own party the moral high ground on domestic issues. There is no reason to do so.

Traditional conservative principles of limited government and free-market solutions to domestic problems are morally superior positions to positions that deny individuals choice about the schools their children attend, the kind of retirement plan they want or the kind of health care they need.

Because the policies that conservative principles beget are justified by their results rather than just good intentions, conservative policies are not far removed from the traditional liberal belief that government policy ought to empower the less powerful, not domesticate them.

But there is a catch. Taking the moral high ground from Democrats on social issues requires more than conservatives serving lunch to one another or blogging among themselves. They won't win converts to their cause by reaffirming their virtue to each other. They can win — they can unite the country — only by repeatedly making their case to now captive Democrat constituencies that aren't particularly predisposed to hear their message. That takes some guts, and, dare I say, "moral courage." It requires authentic conviction in one's beliefs. Conservatives might even, occasionally, have to lead with their chins.

NOTE: A click of the mouse to Mitch Berg at Shot in the Dark for this great post that started me thinking about the ideas that became today's column. Thanks, Mitch!