As a self-defined “mainstream conservative,” it is no wonder Michael Gerson is “strangely disoriented” by the Tea Party movement. Whenever conservatives put a qualifier in front their name, it is often followed by a dismissal of all others not quite so enlightened as themselves.
Gerson’s former boss, President George W. Bush—suggesting every conservative before him was hard-hearted and unsophisticated—wanted to be called “compassionate.” He then implemented government policies to intervene in charitable activities. Then, when he decided to grow government with numerous taxpayer funded programs like costly prescription drug benefits, “No-Child-Left-Behind,” and TARP, he became a “strong government” conservative.
What Mr. Gerson fails to grasp is that conservatives have always stood for limited government, not just when it is politically viable. The Tea Party movement has stirred those fires in a group of Americans who weren’t politically active before the passage of TARP and the Obama administration’s take-over of private industries. They’re now awakened to the fact that federal, state and local governments have taken control of almost every aspect of their lives. For this reason, in order to preserve their liberties, yes, those liberties that were enshrined by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, they are in a state of revolt.
Will the Wild West return or will heads virtually roll in the streets of Washington? Not bloody likely. These Tea Partiers are law-abiding citizens who believe in the rule of law. That’s why the injustice at the border is more than they can endure. These Americans, who have waited their three days to obtain their guns, who have registered for their hunting permits and fishing licenses, who’ve paid their traffic tickets and their taxes, simply don’t understand how the government can allow lawlessness to continue on the borders. These are the business owners who have tried desperately to confirm the citizenship for their farm workers with the Social Security Administration, who have filed all the paperwork and been to City Hall hour after hour to make sure they were not violating the law in hiring someone of Hispanic descent.
Yet, the federal government, instead of trying to find solutions, has decided to sue Arizona for trying to enforce the law they implemented. This is incomprehensible to common sense Americans. They are not thinking of what the best talking point is for the Republican Party to pander to Hispanics in the next election, they are thinking of justice and the protection of their liberties for themselves and their children.
Like the Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, conservatives believe that our rights as human beings come from God. They do not come the state or the ruling class. If the state can grant rights to you – civil rights, parental rights, or any others, they can take them away. Ask residents of the former Soviet Union what is was like to have no rights and that they only existed at the whim of the ruling party.
When the government gets in the business of granting rights or dispensing charitable deeds, it does it on the premise that it knows what is best. Thus, the bureaucracy, the government institution, not the individual, will determine who is worthy of receiving those funds. And when an institution becomes self-perpetuating the people become secondary. Thus, the ultimate goal is to shrink the independence of men and women, but enlarge their dependence on government.
The American people are the most giving in the world. They give to causes and do more to help the weak and those in need in greater measure than anyone else in the world. To suggest that the government is the only one who can dispense our “social commitments” as Mr. Gerson indicates shows a complete lack of understanding of what it means to be a conservative and maybe even an American.
The fundamental principle of conservatism is freedom. Hard-working, law abiding, compassionate Americans whose motivation revolves around this principle are not to be feared but to be embraced.
Thankfully, those little people, the Americans who don’t understand Mr. Gerson’s “mainstream” conservatism will continue on in their fight for liberty. After all that’s the duty of all true conservatives.
Diana Banister and Craig Shirley are partners of the public relations and government affairs firm Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. Mr. Shirley is the author of Reagan’s Revolution and Rendezvous with Destiny.