What does “conservative” mean today in Texas?
The short answer is: “conservatism means the same thing to Texans that it means to any American—only more so.” And what I believe the term “conservative” means to Americans is based on my understanding of the general definition of that word, and on my understanding of America.
A “conservative” in any society is someone who tries to guide the inevitable change that occurs within society so as to preserve the fundamental principles and relationships that bind that society, so that those principles and relationships may be passed on to the next generation. To properly discharge this duty, a conservative must possess and use the passion of a Thomas Paine tempered by the wisdom of an Edmund Burke. Essentially, conservatives are the active, responsible adults that keep any neighborhood functioning properly.
The paradox of America is that the principles and relationships conservatives are charged with preserving are based on ideas—not geography, race, or clan—and are arguably the most radical ideas around which any society has ever formed: an American Conservative is charged with preserving a society formed around the guiding principles established by the original European Settlers, written in the Declaration of Independence, organized in the U.S. Constitution and our state constitutions, and challenged in The Gettysburg Address; principles focused on the primacy and sovereignty of the individual, and on the primacy of his corresponding responsibilities to himself, his family, his neighbor and his nation, which government is formed to preserve and protect. The radicalism of our founding ideas has led to great confusion over the use of the labels “liberal” and “conservative” from generation to generation, for conservatives are charged with preserving a society formed around liberating principles.
The slowly evolving discussion of these principles through the centuries can be found in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible, St. Augustine, Richard Hooker, John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, and the Founding Fathers (just to name a few); and the evidence of these principles at work in America can be found in de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”. Distilled to its essence, these principles provide a roadmap for addressing the central challenge of Western Civilization brought here by the Settlers: the constant struggle to accept and balance the gift of liberty with the admonition to love our neighbor.
When our zeal for liberty has led to a passion for the libertine, conservatives have had to step in and provide guidance; when our zeal for improving our neighbor’s condition has led to a passion for grand schemes that create inhuman and dysfunctional organizations that impair liberty and do more harm to our neighbors, conservatives have had to step in and provide guidance. But rather than merely stepping in to the breach to correct for periodic lurches from extreme to extreme, the mission of American Conservatives should be to accept Lincoln’s challenge and remain constantly vigilant in our dedication to make sure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” That vigilance should require that we Conservatives take an active role in policy formation at every level of government—not just to periodically adjust the excesses of policy decisions made by others.
How conservative are Texans in general?
I believe that Texas probably contains the greatest concentration of American Conservatives in the nation. I believe this is the case because of Texas’ unique history, and the type of people that are drawn to move here and stay.
Texans, based on the unique history of
- our own settlement, Revolution and sovereignty; and
- our role as a leading state within our Union,
have absorbed the duty of preserving this unique society into our DNA—regardless of whether we were born here or came here later.
I believe that the breadth of the Tea Party movement in this state, and the results of the last election—which led to GOP gains at the county, state, and national levels—show that political independents in this state tend to be conservative in their philosophy toward government, and they are willing to embrace conservative answers to the issues we face.
How conservative are Texas Republicans?
Having grown-up in an active Republican family in the Midwest, I can tell you that the Republicans in Texas are generally more conservative on economic, limited-government, and social issues, than in other parts of the country; the only area of broad agreement has been on foreign and military policy and trade issues. However, I believe that Republicans in other parts of the country are beginning to see the wisdom of what we believe and are moving closer to our positions on many issues.
For this reason, I believe that Texas Republicans can lead the national party toward a new commitment to, and application of Conservatism–but only if we don’t tear ourselves apart first.
What are the top 10 issues for Texas Republicans?
I think listing 10 items is the wrong approach to the more general question: with the historic majorities that Republicans now have across Texas, what should be our priorities over the next two years? However, as you will see, my list of priorities coincidentally tallies to the magic number, 10.
Generally, I would challenge our Governor, legislators and local officials to be bold, and to use the next two years to ignore the federal government and to build a foundation for Texas for the next generation based on conservative principles, which can serve as a model for other states and the nation. In essence, I am challenging the Governor and others to live up to their rhetoric.
Specifically, I would challenge the Republican leadership to do the following 10 things over the next two years:
- Establish now that whatever priorities are set will be accomplished, and that the Texas legislature will be kept in a state of “permanent” special session after the 2011 regular session, until all of the priorities are accomplished;
- Attack re-districting comprehensively (at the state and local levels, by the legislature and local political bodies) in order to preserve as much Republican control as possible throughout the state for the next decade, in order to make sure that the priorities written into law now are implemented as intended;
- Balance the state budget for the next two years, which will require fundamentally reorganizing health care, education, criminal justice, transportation and infrastructure, and pension systems (as well as to opt-out of as many federal programs that mandate spending as legally possible);
- To reorganize public health care delivery, the Governor should follow-through on his idea of opting-out of Medicaid, and then he should work with the legislature and local governments to reorganize our the current structure of our system in order to create a cost-effective public delivery system at the most local level possible for Texans who can not afford, or don’t have the opportunity to obtain, private health insurance;
- To reorganize education, we need to rethink our current approach to, and organization of education—from the classroom to the school district to the university—to determine the most cost-effective way to provide the knowledge needed to become a productive American citizen and a productive American ambassador in the world economy at whatever age a person leaves the educational system, to determine the cost for delivering that education, and then to determine the best method and organization needed for raising and spending the money to accomplish the goal at the most local level possible;
- Reorganize the criminal justice system by creating the most appropriate, cost-effective consequences for crime while keeping non-violent, first-time youthful offenders in school so they can get jobs and build neighborhoods as adults; channeling mentally-handicapped and drug-addicted offenders into proper treatment; and keeping the truly dangerous offenders off the street;
- Comprehensively analyze the transportation and infrastructure needs of the state based on projected population growth, and on the patterns of the movement of goods and people across and through the state, and then to create a long-term plan and budget for addressing these needs;
- Work with state and local officials at all levels of government to begin capping future public pension obligations by converting these programs to retirement-savings plans similar to those used in the private sector;
- Once these fundamental changes are implemented, promote the use of zero-based budgeting at all levels of government through automatic “sunsetting” of all governmental agencies at the end of each budget period, except those needed for public safety or required by constitution (or charter); and
- Secure the border and our ballot with appropriate legislation that protects us from the criminal activity that is currently engulfing parts of Mexico in a virtual civil war, and that allows us to know who is voting so that we can protect the “one-man-one-vote” election system from fraud and abuse.
As we address these priorities, our party leaders should aggressively involve themselves in the neighborhoods where Republicans currently are absent, show our neighbors in these communities that we care about them and that the policies we champion will help all of us, and challenge them to join us—in order to grow the Republican Party on the foundation of our principles.
In essence, what I am advocating is that we should not just say we are conservative, and then cherish our principles as if they are trophies on a shelf; nor should we just say “no” to the growth of government by cutting spending and taxes while leaving the current organizational mess in place. Instead, we should take this historic opportunity to use our conservative principles to improve Texas based on the principles of American Conservatism, which can then serve as a model for the rest of the country. Then, I think Texas Republicans truly will be able to claim the mantle of being the Conservative party in Texas, and the most Conservative party in the nation.
A pdf version of this post is available on Scribd: Fundamental Questions for Conservatives