Conservatism needs a rebirth

Rabid right-wing authoritarianism is the antithesis of conservatism. Yet by listening to mainstream media over the last few years, one could be excused for confusing the two very different political philosophies. It is time to renew genuine conservatism.

Having served in the NH Senate for 14 years (1990-2004), we Democrats were almost always outnumbered by Republicans who mainly called themselves conservative. Sure, there were the very few individual outliers focused on hard-right social issues. (There was one legislator who argued that demands for gender equality all began when women stopped wearing just skirts and dresses and were seen wearing pants. He regretted that.)

Most of my Republican colleagues, however, were genuine conservatives. Pro-business and against intrusive government.

Today more and more genuinely conservative Republican leaders are expressing astonishment and disgust at what their party has become. Not nearly enough, though.

More shocking than Trump as president is that so many congressional Republicans are actually cowed by his blatant authoritarianism, his apparent disdain for our republican form of government, his overt and aggressive racism, his disregard and total disrespect for the rule of law.

We need a new conservatism, one actually connected to the root word: conserve. Conserving that which we value. Like our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Like the chunk of land and water and air we recognize as America.

How is conservatism best defined? Here’s my attempt:

 • Conservatism is a commitment to individual liberty, tempered by the conviction that genuine freedom entails more than simply an absence of restraint

 • A belief in limited government, fiscal responsibility and the rule of law

 • Veneration for our cultural inheritance combined with a sense of stewardship for Creation

 • Respect for the market as the generator of wealth combined with a wariness of the market’s corrosive impact on humane values

 • A deep suspicion of utopian promises, rooted in the unfortunate recalcitrance of history

Perhaps you agree with me that we need a rebirth of true conservatism, one that fiercely opposes authoritarianism. One that just as fiercely defends freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom from any state-imposed religion. Freedom to dissent. A recognition that America was founded to replace rule by aristocrats with actual democratic self-government. The picture of our government forcibly separating toddlers from parents and caging them is certainly a shocking assault on conservative values.

And any true conservatism cherishes conservation of our ever more precious and fast dwindling natural resources.

Trumpism is a far cry from conservatism. It is the greatest threat to traditional American values since World War II. Warring with our best allies and cozying up to Putin and pretty much any other brutal dictator is sure not conservatism.

Burt Cohen of New Castle is host of the podcast, “Keeping Democracy Alive,” and a radio program on WSCA in Portsmouth.

Categories: Opinion

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