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Contemptible Conservatives?
by Trevor Bothwell
23 October 2003The Conservative Mind

Conservatives are not opposed to welfare programs; they're opposed to enabling a life on welfare by not imposing responsibilities on recipients.

I often debate an old college buddy, a self-proclaimed liberal, who is one of my best friends to this day. Interestingly enough, he was a conservative and a Republican in our college years, which pretty much means we used to merely "discuss" issues back then.

Our debates primarily arise from my own column topics and opinions, which my friend reads regularly and, I am sure, study quite fervently. I regret to report that I cannot say this of many liberals I know, most of whom cannot be bothered to consider the opinion of a conservative to be anything but disreputable.

I admit I am fascinated with my friend's political conversion from conservative to liberal, as it is quite universally believed that of people who convert ideologically, most begin as liberals and become more conservative as they get older.

While I'm always interested in my friend's opinions on important issues, none has struck me as so inaccurate as when he provided his actual explanation for his conversion to liberalism. Specifically, he stated it is "(hypocritical) to be so conservative when liberalism (i.e. government spending) gave us so much."

This is faulty logic. Indeed, this is just as silly as when people say blacks should not be against affirmative action because many have benefited from it. Should blacks be discouraged from attending universities, simply because social engineers in admissions offices advance the all too prevalent impression that few would could gain admission by their own merits?

One of the biggest misunderstandings of conservative ideology by the left is the belief that since conservatives made it on their own in life, they think everyone else should too. Hence, my friend's accusation of hypocrisy since I benefited from state-subsidized education.

It is true that I benefited from public schools, both throughout high school and college. However, during those years, my parents paid into the system with their own hard-earned tax dollars. When I turned sixteen and began working, I paid into the system as well. Not totally unrelated, I'll also be repaying personal college loans for many years to come.

Conservatives don't believe that state residents shouldn't pay state taxes (federal income taxes are quite another matter). Without a doubt, one of the most important responsibilities of any state is to provide a public education that offers opportunities to children so they can one day contribute to society. It is here that conservatives may begin to disagree, as some would admittedly like to see public education totally privatized.

But I do not share this view. Some families need the support of taxpayers, especially when it comes to the education of their kids. If nothing else, state-subsidized education gives the individual no excuses for not acquiring the skills necessary to lead a meaningful life. It is wise to remember that it is liberals who have corrupted public education by eroding traditional academic instruction, and their efforts to eliminate voucher programs that allow parents to choose the best schools for their children.

The State of New York granted me the opportunity to take advantage of a free education through high school. It partially subsidized college tuition so in-state residents were offered an affordable higher education. In my friend's own words, the state "gave me so much." But this is where its responsibility ended, as far as I was concerned. It provided me a means to an end, a tool with which to accomplish a task. It was still up to me to work every step of the way to achieve anything I did.

While conservatives believe individuals are responsible for themselves, with or without the help of government assistance, liberals play identity politics and categorize Americans into a caste system. Instead of treating everyone equally under the law, liberals Balkanize society by identifying with disparate racial, ethnic and income classes, not a unified "America." Although this multicultural mindset is politically attractive to the left and garners Democratic votes by encouraging some to begrudge others who are more successful, it does little to effect meaningful advancement of those who are otherwise capable of becoming independent.

Thus the liberal outlook promotes a culture where the "haves" must support the "have-nots."  Abandoning logic, liberals believe the higher one's income level rises, the greater his responsibility to support those less fortunate; "the rich" should be responsible for supporting "the poor."

This may seem sensible on the surface, until one realizes the contempt the left has for "the rich." Liberals won't tell you that families grossing $100,000 yearly are considered "rich." Ask a family of five making a hundred grand a year in Lower Manhattan if they're rich and see what they say. These are the families President Bush aims to help with those despised "tax cuts for the rich." This is Middle America; these are the families that consistently support "the poor."

Conservatives are not opposed to welfare programs; they're opposed to enabling a life on welfare by not imposing responsibilities on recipients. They aren't opposed to public schooling; they're opposed to liberal bureaucracy that strengthens teachers' unions and weakens children's minds. And while conservatives are not opposed to government spending (many are not opposed enough!), most are opposed to making that the primary means of one's livelihood.

There is a difference between lending a helping hand to someone in need, and building one's existence around the direct support of others. Unfortunately liberals are all too willing to keep others dependent upon them by endorsing the latter. Perhaps their intent is to retain a voting base, revel in their own self-congratulation or simply to confirm their own high-mindedness. But they can't accuse conservatives of hypocrisy for refusing to do the same.

Trevor Bothwell is the editor of The Right Report

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