Patrick Garry
Focusing the conservative message
FacebookTwitterGoogle+
By Patrick Garry
November 9, 2010

One thing is clear from last week's elections: the vote in 2008 was about changing the party and people running the government; it was not about changing America, despite Barack Obama's mistaking it was. Contrary to what liberal commentators have said about the Nov. 2 election, the voters were not angry — they were protective of America, refusing to let the essential identity of America be undone.

Voters have taken a beating from the left. They've been called irrational and uninformed and blinded by fear. But in reality, thank God for the voters. The American voter has often been the anchor in the turbulent sea of politics. Every time the left has tried to change the identity of America, the voters have pulled in the reins. It happened in 1968, as the left was waging its cultural revolution. It happened in 1980, after the left tried to convince America that it was no different than, and maybe even inferior to, the rest of the world. It happened in 1994, after the Clinton administration tried to turn America into a big-government entitlement state. And it happened again in 2010.

In these turbulent times, with voters perplexed about how to keep the American dream alive, conservatives have the edge, because their whole political philosophy is based on the preservation of America's historic identity. The essential difference between modern liberals and conservatives is this: whereas conservatism sees America as a great and unique gift, with the challenge to each generation being to safeguard that gift; liberalism sees America not as an exceptional gift, but as a deeply flawed society that must be reformed. That was the Obama mission: to remake America in the image of Europe, and by so doing to make America worthy of its place in the world community.

The controlling issue of the 2010 elections was America itself: how is America to be defined in the future? Will it be the constitutional democracy of limited government as foreseen by the framers? Or will it become a state-dominated society in which individuals are more like government clients than sovereign citizens. It was an election ideally suited for conservatives. But now conservatives must demonstrate that they are best able to preserve and unite America. For this purpose, the conservative belief in the freedom and dignity of work may provide a lasting foundation on which to build that unity.

Ever since the 1930s, the left has promoted the myth that only it represents the interests of the average working American, and that conservatism is concerned solely about the wealthy and powerful. But under Abraham Lincoln, a belief in the freedom and dignity of work came to define American conservatism, giving birth to the Republican Party. Yet during the 1930s, conservative opposition on constitutional grounds to FDR's big-government New Deal agenda was portrayed as an indifference to the plight of the unemployed working class. Eighty years later, however, in the wake of the left's arrogant defiance of working Americans' needs and interests, conservatives have an historic chance to rectify a distorted image that has long maligned their ideology.

The left often tries to impose equality on the ultimate outcome of work, dictating how it will be performed and who will do it and how the rewards will be distributed. But this diminishes work in favor of political action. Rewards and opportunities flow not from individual work, but from political action. This in turn diminishes our individual dignity, since our rewards and status in life are not determined by the worth and quality of our work, but by the outcomes of some distant political battles waged on our supposed behalf by paternalistic elites.

The conservative belief in the freedom and dignity of work shows itself in the argument that all workers ought to be able to choose, by secret ballot, whether they wish to be represented by a particular union. The belief in work also reflects the conservative approach to education. Conservatives see education as vital in developing an individual's talents and abilities to work, and therefore focus their educational policies on what is most important: the substantive knowledge being imparted to students. Liberals, on the other hand, see education from a wholly different standpoint. They look at all the parts and stages of the process, rather than at the end point of knowledge conveyance. They focus on the interests of the teachers' unions, the salaries and benefits of teachers, the demographic mix of the students in the classroom, and the 'due process' rights possessed by students who seek to use school as their own personal venue of rebellion. Liberals focus on everything except that which most directly relates to actually developing the students' abilities to work.

Conservatives want individuals to be able to chart their own course in life, but this can be done only if the individual has the ability to work. Work not only gives independence, it is also the best way in which individuals can assist and benefit society. The left wants to create a dependency between individuals and the state — to make the individual dependent on the state for his sustenance, and hence to erode the freedom and dignity of work.

Contrary to what the left claims, the state cannot create jobs. Only a dynamic and vibrant economy has the flexibility and energy to continually create the kinds of jobs that can tap the abilities and skills of individuals. As the framers foresaw, a government can protect and defend and regulate and provide public commodities like roads and sewers, but it cannot be a dynamic employer flexible enough to respond to all the changing needs and resources of a complex society. Therefore, to increase the power and size of government is to correspondingly reduce the social area available to private employers to hire and promote and reward their employees.

Conservatives need to focus their message on work, because it is this issue that has the broadest appeal to an increasingly diverse American society. Liberals, ever since the 1960s, have been focused on Europe; but Europe is not a place that is encouraging of work. Europe is a place where street riots occur if laws are proposed allowing people to work more than 30 hours per week.

People come to America to work; they have always immigrated to America to work. And this is why we want them to come to America. We want them to work, and we want them to benefit from their work. (We don't want them to come to America just because certain political activists or parties will benefit from their votes.) And we want our laws to support these goals. Therefore, Republicans should become the party of legal immigration. Let the Democrats become the party of illegal immigration. Let the Democrats encourage people to come into this country and then have their work exploited because of their legal (or illegal) status.

Many of the 'rights' proposed by the left have nothing to do with what is most important to people — the opportunity to work and the ability to make the most of that opportunity. Liberals want immigrants to have the 'right' to retain their native language and never learn English — but what kind of work opportunities will those immigrants ever have? Indeed, that 'right' is just another way of trapping people in a state of dependency on government and denying them any real economic opportunity.

The left wants to erode that which made America the place it is and defines America as a land of opportunity. The left wants government to define America, rather than have America be defined by the work its citizens perform. But the voters last week announced that they intend on retaining America's special identity. And this identity is expressed through the deeply held American belief in work.

© Patrick Garry

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)


Patrick Garry

Patrick Garry is a professor of law at the University of South Dakota, and Director of the Hagemann Center for Legal & Public Policy Research... (more)

Subscribe

Receive future articles by Patrick Garry: Click here

More by this author