Gingrich's Practical Conservatism
Newt Gingrich identified the very core of conservatism with his remarks in the first South Carolina presidential debate. His vision of conservatism is the one that most Republicans don't understand and most Democrats don't want you to know.
Gingrich was asked to explain his views on work ethic and the government erosion of that ethic through (at least in part) federal and state entitlement programs like food stamps. He suggested that poor high school students be given opportunities to perform janitorial services in their schools as a way to earn money and to learn how to work at a job.
He then cut to the chase on why a jobs program like that would benefit everyone involved: "I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their Creator with the right to pursue happiness," he said. "And [even] if that makes liberals unhappy, I'm going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn some day to own the job."
So there you have it -- the very practical essence of what it means to be a conservative today. It's not about keeping taxes low, although that generally makes the most sense. It's not about being hawkish in conflicts around the globe, although a strong national defense -- even outside our borders -- is crucial. It's especially not about favoring one group -- big corporations or small businesses, white or black, poor or rich -- over another.
Conservatism is about conserving our unalienable rights -- among these being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- and preserving, protecting, and promoting those rights for the benefit of everyone in the country. It's a lofty goal, for sure, and one well-served by helping poor people to learn how to get a job, move to a better job, and then eventually own businesses that provide more jobs. The key to conservatism is that ownership -- not entitlement -- becomes the key. Ownership is the hallmark of a strong community, while entitlement is the mark of a strong government. A conservative knows which one to choose.
If Newt had been tying food stamps solely, or even primarily, to the black community -- which I don't think he did -- he would have been wrong. While slightly more than a quarter of food stamp recipients are black, nearly 60 percent are white. For the poor in our country, a conservative knows that short-term help is necessary. But a conservative knows that the short-term help often must come from the community itself rather than from the government. Governments generally administer programs badly and largely for the benefit of those in charge. Communities, on the other hand, provide help to those who need it because it is good for the community and because the individuals in that community have chosen to give their help as a way to pursue their own happiness.
Most politicians whom I know -- from either party -- do not understand the true role of a conservative or, if they do, have chosen to ignore it. Why else would we have the constant move to greater government involvement in all matters fiscal and even social, with increasingly poor results? All the while, we have families and individuals that have become dependent on entitlements that we cannot continue to afford and that do not serve to promote an ownership-based society.
Why can't we elect leaders who will allow the American people to grow their own businesses, to hire people to work at those businesses, and to have enough non-taxed income so that they can pursue their own happiness and give assistance to those in their communities who need it? While this article is not intended to be a paean to Newt Gingrich, at least he understands that work provides great advantages to the poor, not the least of which is the opportunity to earn money. "Only the elites," he adds, "despise earning money."
And the next time you speak to your elected officials, especially if they claim to be conservative, ask them to tell you what it is that they are conserving. You may need to remind them.