- I remembered the tenth anniversary of the passing of my mother, whose principles and values formed the basis for how I would approach my life;
- I remembered my late father, who, though blind in one eye from birth, memorized the eye chart to pass his Army physical, and when caught at the end of basic training, had already proven himself to the point that, though he never went overseas, he spent the duration of his tour of duty during World War II training marksmen for the Army—and his quiet tenacity shaped how I would attack every challenge in my life;
- I received a letter from my oldest daughter, who moved to Los Angeles after graduating from college last year, telling me that she would be producing and starring in her first professional theatrical production this summer;
- I talked to my middle daughter about her plans to move to Austin by the end of the summer to strike-out on her own; and
- I saw my youngest daughter receive the highest academic awards from her school as she graduated from 5th Grade.
My reflections also turned to that small band of people, who starting in late 2008, I worked with as we began the struggle to re-awaken our local GOP to needs it has to address, and to how these friends have seized this last year and a half to make a difference with Tea Parties, with radio shows, with internet blogs, with national organizations in African-American and Latino communities, and with grass-roots efforts in our precincts. But, on Friday, I received a phone call from another of these friends who worked with me over this time, who told me of an extraordinary project he has now undertaken. Of all the many projects this group has undertaken, I think I may be the proudest of what he is now doing (and that is saying a lot). To explain my special pride in this effort, let me digress for a moment.
I’ve always believed that American Conservatism is more than a political movement. For it to work, American Conservatism must promote principles for individuals to live as neighbors in a community of free people, and our political principles and policies should flow from and compliment these “life” principles. I believe Goldwater was talking about this when he wrote in The Conscience of a Conservative:
Conservatism is not an economic theory, though it has economic implications. …It is Conservatism that puts material things in their proper place—that has a structured view of the human being and of human society, in which economics plays only a subsidiary role.
…Conservatives take account of the whole man, while the Liberals tend to look only at the material side of man’s nature. The Conservative believes that man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires. What is more, these needs and desires reflect the superior side of man’s nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants. Conservatism therefore looks upon the enhancement of man’s spiritual nature as the primary concern of political philosophy. Liberals, on the other hand—in the name of a concern for “human beings”—regard the satisfaction of economic wants as the dominant mission of society. They are, moreover, in a hurry. So that their characteristic approach is to harness the society’s political and economic forces into a collective effort to compel “progress.” In this approach, I believe they fight against Nature.
Surely the first obligation of a political thinker is to understand the nature of man.
An American Conservative knows that this land was settled, and this nation was founded, by people who tried their whole lives to understand the nature of man in this temporal world, to reconcile it with man’s relationship to his Creator, and to forge a real society based on that understanding. Because we appreciate this basis for our unique society, many people of faith naturally are drawn to American Conservatism, though, as a political movement its principles are broader and more encompassing than the tenets of any one religion or sect. Newt Gingrich, tried to discuss this unique “American Civilization” in a college course he taught in the mid-1990s, and he was ridiculed at the time by the left for his effort.
In fact, Reagan, in the famous 1964 speech that launched his political career, conveyed the political dilemma every American Conservative faces when they try to debate public policy:
…[A]ny time you and I question the schemes of the do-gooders, we’re denounced as being against their humanitarian goals. It seems impossible to legitimately debate their solutions with the assumption that all of us share the desire to help the less fortunate. They say we’re always “against” things — we’re never “for” anything. Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.
When I started to seriously consider how to fix the problems that confronted our local GOP and drafted a plan, I wanted to do more than just talk about the nuts-and-bolts of party building and management. I wanted to discuss this bigger challenge to re-orient the discussion among conservatives to how we re-engage in the debate about achieving society’s humanitarian goals by using and implementing our principles in creative and dynamic ways—of addressing urban issues and education; of addressing the need to revitalize our understanding of the responsibilities of being a neighbor and maintaining a neighborhood; of what Steve Parkhurst, Jill Fury and I called “Renewing the American Community”.
In “Renewing the American Community” we wanted to remind conservatives that the American Conservative movement is not just about life and liberty, but—to be true to itself—it must address the third inalienable right: the pursuit of happiness. Not the purely material happiness that so many of our fellow citizens dwell upon, and that the creed of the Democratic Party focuses upon, but the happiness of the whole man (of the economic and spiritual sides of man)—what the ancients called “a whole life well spent,” and the challenge that St. Paul describes in his letter to the Galatians:
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Above all else, we wanted to remind our conservative friends that we will not succeed politically in the long-run if all we say is “no” to the Democrat’s schemes and plans—we must show and pursue an alternative course for addressing the needs of our society based on rebuilding our bonds as free people, as neighbors, and as fellow citizens, and on pursuing policies that use those bonds that De Tocqueville found so unique—rather than government—to address pressing needs. Our unique society can not work, and we can not limit the size and role of government in our lives, without these bonds. Neither liberty, nor “the pursuit of happiness” can long survive where free men and women isolate themselves from each other. In fact, de Tocqueville’s observation crystallizes this dilemma:
When no firm and lasting ties any longer unite men, it is impossible to obtain the cooperation of any great number of them unless you can persuade every man whose help is required that he serves his private interests by voluntarily uniting his efforts to those of all the others.
Without the bonds of relationships and interdependence—of family, of neighbor—action for the common good must be bribed or coerced, and the only entity with power to do that will be a government with the power to do great harm (as our parents learned throughout the last century).
Well, back to my friend’s new project. His plan is write a book and develop a seminar with a simple premise: to re-teach our neighbors that conservatism isn’t just a political movement, it is a way of life; and that if we re-adopt this way of life, we can lay the groundwork for taking back our government and society based on the political principles of American Conservatism. At his request, I look forward to mentoring him with this worthy project. If he succeeds, than so much of what we all set out to do in late 2008 will be set in motion.
Thanks to my family, and to everyone who I’ve had the pleasure of working with over these last 18 months, for making this a memorable holiday weekend.