In an interview Donald Trump was ask to define a Conservative. Mr. Trump’s answer was “Someone who wants to conserve.” While it is difficult to argue with this type of insightful commentary, I would like to explain what being conservative means to me. There is a difference between a movement Conservative and being conservative. A movement Conservative is someone who, after study, holds a set of positions that have been fleshed out over the last 70 years beginning with people such as Senator Robert Taft, continuing through Senator Barry Goldwater, President Ronald Reagan, and to modern Conservatives such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. For people who are conservative, it is not a matter of ideology, these beliefs are who we are. We are not conservative because of a comparative study. These beliefs are almost in our DNA. So what are some of the things that make a person a Conservative?
1. The Supremacy of the Constitution
The United States Constitution was debated over a period of years. The official end of the Revolution was in 1783. The Constitution was ratified in 1789. The debate over what kind of government we would have after the war began well before the end of the war. What came of all of this debating is a document unique in human history: a country built on the idea the government governs best that governs least. While many sought to define government to the letter, the Founders of this nation, especially James Madison, considered the father of the Constitution, wanted to leave the majority of the decisions in the hands of the people. Indeed, the Founders spelled this idea out in the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The Tenth Amendment states:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
The Bill of Rights consists of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. During the debate over the Constitution, a number of people wanted to have certain “guarantor freedoms” enumerated. These rights are considered the ones that allow us to have the freedoms Jefferson referred to as “unalienable,” in other words rights we gain not from the whim of government but from being born.
People who are conservative believe that the Constitution does not change with the times. Technology may change, but human nature and the ideas of how best to govern do not. We again look to Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence for guidance:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
Let me give a few examples of the difference between necessary changes and “light and transient” changes. Necessary changes include:
The 13th Amendment ending slavery
The 14th and 15th Amendments dealing with citizenship
The 19th Amendment dealing with women suffrage
Unnecessary changes include:
The 18th and 21st Amendments dealing with Prohibition of alcohol
The 16th Amendment creating a Federal income tax
The 17th Amendment changing the way we elect Senators
The 22nd Amendment creating Presidential term limits
The necessary amendments deal with unalienable rights denied by the government. The unnecessary amendments deal with changes to the government done not to increase freedom but to expand the power of the government or change the relationship of the government to the people.
As someone who is conservative, I believe we should have a vigorous public debate before we make changes to the way we govern. These debates should end with changes made by legislation, not by the whim of executive orders or judicial precedent. In both of these cases, the changes are made either by a single president or by a small group of judges and not by the majority of the people. In many cases the desired changes will come about in the normal order of our society and without government intervention of any kind.
When next we meet, I hope to give you my feeling concerning freedom of speech, the First Amendment and the first of the guarantor freedoms. Until next time.
P.S. Below you will find links to our nation’s founding documents if you would like to do more reading.