6 Shades of Conservative

Republican BalloonsWhile the mainstream media tends to associate all conservatives with Republicans and vice versa in order to save press space for more nuanced coverage (apparently America is in greater need of an in-depth understanding of ‘twerking’) one shouldn’t assume that all conservatives have the same values and politics. In understanding where I fit in Red-State America I’ve been able to identify six groupings of conservative thought.  Know any others?

Neoconservative (Neocons): Neocons are generally known to be the foreign-policy hawks. They emphasize a realist foreign policy that assumes the worst about the world and that America should primarily be concerned with her own security and interest. Famous Neocons include Donald Rumsfield, Dick Cheney and other architects of the War on Terror. Neoconservatives will generally value security over just about any other political value, reasoning that a stable society cannot be had without safe borders and a strong military.

Progressive Conservatives: These are the populist conservatives who believe in Mom-and-Pop America, the Common Man and generally look at American society today as being very unfair towards the little guy. However, they don’t exactly want the government to fix the problem like a populist Liberal. They are the Reagan Republicans who look at government as being the problem. They want to use small government, fiscal responsibility and traditional values to get America back on track. I’m gonna be a little harsh and say that populist conservatives generally have a mistrust of all things government yet think they know how to figure out the entire political system pretty simply.

Progressive conservatives tend to be very much in favor of social reform, social justice and a strong penal system. However, they’re not all going to be focused on making life miserable for the downtrodden and poor. At times, they can sound like social conservatives but progressive conservatives often reflect present social values (e.g. libertarians) unlike social conservatives that focus more on religious or traditional values.

Constitutional Conservatives: They love the Constitution; practically worship it. While social conservatives make up a strong portion of the Tea Party, the TP got a lot of its animating force from these people who hew to a strict interpretation of the Constitution. This doesn’t mean that they have the best interpretation of the Constitution it only means that for them the Constitution is the defining standard of all things political. Additionally, Constitutional conservatives believe they know (and may be the only ones who know) what the Founding Fathers intended the Constitution to mean. They’re often very well-versed in American history and are very aware of the writings of the Founding Fathers beyond just the Constitution. They would look to the Constitution first in order to determine the policy priorities and the rightness/wrongness of government actions.

Such a thought process can be very good and proper for understanding American politics and I wish more people would take it. However, a problem exists in that Constitutional Conservatives usually emphasize the fact that there’s only one interpretation to the Constitution when in reality centuries of Supreme Court rulings demonstrate otherwise.

Social Conservatives: Social conservatives are also known by the more pejorative title of the religious right. These are people who are animated by something other than their political beliefs in making political choices. What I mean by that is that their religious beliefs or personal philosophies, which are usually in line with what is considered to be traditional American values, are going to be what determines their political choices. Leaders in the social conservative movement are usually in the evangelical Christian right and are a very strong force in the conservative movement.

Fiscal Conservatives: Fiscal Conservatives are also a large portion of the Tea Party movement and are known for their budget hawkishness. They want a stripped-down government with controlled spending and limited government regulation. Such individuals as Paul Ryan and groups like the American Taxpayers Association have given the anti-tax element of the fiscal conservative movement a very strong voice and presence in Washington DC. In fact, fiscal conservatives probably make up the dominant wing of the Republicans currently in power in Congress.

Now this isn’t to say that there aren’t others, or that we don’t jump between groups at a given moment.  What I am trying to make clear is that there is a very diverse range of values and political priorities within conservative America, which makes for some pretty spirited debate on the direction of the Republican Party in particular. Have you found your political home within one of these groupings?  Do you have any others to add?  Let us know in the comments below!


5 Tips to Simplify News Intake and Stay Informed

information overloadIn keeping with my second law for cool conservatives, this little tutorial gives you a few tips on how to stay informed without spending copious amounts of time trying to read every little blog post, Twitter feed and news site. How can you be a conscientious conservative who stays informed and actually knows what they’re talking about? Try using these five simple tips to stay informed with the minimum amount of time.
1.  Scan Headlines
Choose one international new source and choose one domestic news source, preferably one in your home state. When you go to find out what’s happening in the world all you need to do is basically scan the headlines of each of these new sources. 

Typically, I scan the BBC for my international news and then I’ll scan an American paper, which is usually the Wall Street Journal or a local paper in my region.

After about 10 minutes, I have a pretty good snapshot in terms of what’s going on in the world.  If there’s something big and newsworthy I’ll stop and read an article, but rarely read more than 2.

2.  Use News Aggregators
Whoever came up with the idea of aggregators is a genius because there is no other web tool that allows you to see a broad variety of viewpoints, news and stories.  Popular ones in the conservative world are going to be Real Clear Politics and the Drudge Report. 

Of the two I like Real Clear the best because it actually gives you analysis and not just the news. It also gives you analysis of the news from different points on the political spectrum so you can be that much more informed and also helps you achieve another layer of conservative coolness by being able to listen to and understand opposing viewpoints.
3.  Sign Up For Feedly NOW!
With the death of Google Reader at the beginning of the summer there’s a lot of discussion on where RSS would go and if it was done for good.  However, a variety of services like Feedly and Flipboard are stepping in to fill the gap. I really like using Feedly because its similar enough to Google Reader (looks way better) that I’m not lost; and it also allows me to categorize and organize everything in a very cohesive and simple way that’s easy to follow.

Just set up something like Feedly or Flipboard, then begin subscribing to sites and blogs.  Don’t overdo it!  I’d recommend the following

2 or 3 news sites (mine are the BBC, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal).

1 news aggregator (Real Clear Politics)

2 or 3 political blogs (totally optional, but follow this one!)

Your leaders (blogs, hashtags, YouTube channels can all be subscribed to on Feedly).
4.  Set a Time Limit
It’s really easy to get a bad case of information overload when it comes to the news.  To avoid this, set a time limit for yourself. For me, that comes down to about 15 to 30 minutes every morning to go through the things I just gave. I might look at different articles throughout the day as I see them pop up on Twitter, but for the most part I only look at the news in focused way for a few minutes at the start of my day.
5.  Talk to Others
The easiest way to actually stay informed and actually sound cool is to talk to people. Ask questions.   Don’t just tell people what you’re reading, but ask them for their thoughts. Ask them how they understand what’s going on in the world. 

I’m suggesting quality over quantity here so you don’t have to ask every person standing in line at Starbucks, but you could choose a couple of your more well-informed friends and engage them in conversation. I actually get some of my best insights into the news by actually talking about it with people I know. They may not all be experts, but it helps me understand how the news is affecting the common man and that’s often missed in the world of entertainment-based mainstream media.
Killer Tip!
Stop watching television news. They are often too short to really give you an idea of the complexity and diversity of the many issues in our world.


5 Laws for Cool Conservatives

How to Argue with LiberalsConservatives are often characterized as being out of touch and hopelessly out of date. But that’s not necessarily true.  The concept behind “Conservative is Cool” begs the question “What would make a conservative compelling?” As I’ve reflected on this question I’ve come up with five laws that all conservatives desiring to be cool (read, “relevant”) should follow in order to make a positive impact on the political discussion in America.

1.  Don’t Argue With Die Hard Liberals

If you’re dealing with philosophical zealots, and are one yourself, it’s really hard to persuade to conversion.  Any discussion on political topics merely becomes an argument without resolution. Such arguments that add no value to discussion become shouting matches exchanging volleys of talking points.  They aren’t constructive to actually finding solutions and reaching consensus. That doesn’t mean you don’t discuss or debate, but pay attention to who you’re engaging with. A lot of people are actually pretty flexible on their political viewpoints and there are some things that they’re willing to be persuaded on.  Learn to listen and then respond to those areas in which you can engage constructively.

2.  Stay Informed
Most people in America don’t know where certain countries are, don’t know the first thing about American history and don’t know how the government works. Don’t be one of them. Find a couple of good news sources, follow them and read up on what’s happening in the world.  This way you can actually make constructive, intelligent and ultimately helpful comments in those political discussions and debates you do take part in. There is nothing that makes conservatives look less cool than when they sound like uninformed loud mouths shouting gratuitous generalizations.

3.  Establish Safe Zones of Agreement
What I mean by this is that we should work on finding areas of agreement with people rather than just trying to brow beat them into accepting our view of how the political system should work. The beauty of the American system is that it can encompass a variety of viewpoints and potential solutions.  It leverages the power of consensus to seek solutions to society’s issues. By establishing safe zones and being willing to actually agree with someone who may not initially agree with you communicates that you’re approachable, thoughtful and don’t just toe some party line. This brings people to you to talk about politics. If you want to be a cool conservative consider what political issues you’re open to different opinions on and focus on discussing those.

4.  Read, Listen to, Watch the Other Side
I get really frustrated when I hear conservatives just listening to other conservatives because guess who they begin to sound like? This creates the perception that conservatives don’t have anything original to contribute to political conversation in America. This perception contributes to the caricature of Republicans as a party, and conservatives at large, as being out of touch and being opposed to actual progress. This simply isn’t true as I’ve written before.  Reform-minded Republicans actually have been at the forefront of many good social reforms. Those past leaders were willing to read, listen to and watch what other people were saying.  Additionally, if you’re going to meaningfully critique the other viewpoint you need to know what it actually is. Quite often political discussion in America degenerates down to logical fallacies, name-calling and people making arguments that have nothing to do with the actual issues. Unfortunately most congressional leaders of both parties fall into this category of communication. Don’t be one of them.  Be a cool conservative who actually listens, pays attention and can actually make a thoughtful critique that builds people’s understanding.

5.  Stop Posting Stupid Things on the Internet and Calling Them Fact.
I see it frequently on Facebook, but won’t give it the credit to linking to it:  Reactionary groups often engage in slanderous comments, outright name-calling, illogical arguments and everything else that liberals love to use in lampooning conservatives. I know, every philosophy and every party has a few nuts in the house and that’s okay. But a line gets crossed when we start to use punchlines and (distasteful) jokes as evident for argument. The easiest way to be a cool conservative is to not be a Facebook philosopher who boils everything down to a philosoraptor caption.

Following these five “laws” doesn’t mean that you throw away debate, doesn’t mean that you don’t stand up for your beliefs and it doesn’t mean that the liberals are right even if they’re shouting the loudest. What it does mean though is that now you are the one communicating effectively and you just look cooler because you can handle turbulent political issues without losing it.


4 Surprising Ways Conservatives Have Made America Awesome

AwesomeFor purposes of this post, Republican Party = Conservative.  I know some might disagree, but historically and practically, the Republican party represents “American conservatism.”

Here is reason #1 conservative is cool: The Republican Party has built an awesome America.

I know. That Republican Party. That crony capitalist, warmongering, cowboy-worshiping, good ol’ boys club Republican Party. But not all is as it seems. A cursory review of the history of the Republican Party demonstrates that America’s conservative party has been deeply involved in making America a better place from the beginning, and that conservatism has something good to offer on some critical issues:
1.  Slavery
I think this one’s pretty easy. Republicans founded their party based on one idea: end slavery. They got their man Abraham Lincoln elected and he did what he was elected to do – he ended slavery. Beyond that it was a Republican Congress that passed the Constitutional Amendments 13-15 that outlawed slavery, guaranteed minority voting rights, and established civil rights as a foundation element of American jurisprudence.

2.  Women’s rights
Not only was Susan B. Anthony, the George Washington of women’s rights in America, a Republican, but her draft for a constitutional Amendment giving women the right to vote was put forward by a Republican Senator and passed by a Republican-led Congress in 1919.  This legislative support capped off a groundswell of support for the female vote in Republican ranks. In 1912,one of the most pivotal elections in modern American history, one of the first major elections in which the issue of women’s votes became a major discussion. Guess who were the candidates reaching out to the female voters? Yep, the Republicans:  Incumbent Howard Taft and Bull Moose challenger Teddy Roosevelt. Historical note:  Democrat Woodrow Wilson won that election because of the split Republican vote, and he was not the biggest supporter of women’s voting rights.  Though, to be fair, he did come around to it once it became obvious that’s the way the wind was blowing.

3.  Environment
Less than conservative filmmaker Ken Burns made a whole documentary series explaining why our National Parks were “America’s Best Idea.”  Guess who got that ball rolling? Republican president Ulysses S. Grant (He’s buried in Grant’s tomb for those who haven’t figured it out yet).  This was a first major step towards preserving the American landscape and making environmentalism a concern of the American people. Jump ahead a little bit and you find Republican Teddy Roosevelt.  I would run off all his environmental achievements, but I think our friends at Wikipedia do that just fine:

Roosevelt set aside more Federal land, national parks, and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined.

Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five National Parks, and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 new U.S. National Monuments. He also established the first 51 Bird Reserves, four Game Preserves, and 150 National Forests, including Shoshone National Forest, the nation’s first. The area of the United States that he
place under public protection totals approximately 230,000 acres.

Fast forward 60 years and you have another Republican president establishing the Environmental Protection Agency and signing the Clean Air Act: Richard Nixon. Not going to excuse his lack of morals, but he took a huge step forward in preserving the environment for America like President Roosevelt before him.

4.  Labor Rights
In America’s heyday of crony capitalism, brutal working conditions and corporate trusts it looked like the Common Man of America didn’t stand a chance. Republican Teddy Roosevelt began cleaning house. A rash of new legislation was passed and signed on TR’s watch that made America a safer place to work, and insured more representation and protection for workers who wanted to unionize. Teddy Roosevelt was all about a strong America, a good America and an America that really did give everybody a decent shot.

I get really upset when people don’t understand this part of conservatism and its party. Conservative Republicans have come to represent reactionaries who are not concerned with the needs of America, but with the politics of the moment.

This history of Republicans leading the way to a better America says otherwise and demonstrates that conservatism today is narrowly defined when it has a lot more to offer.

My question to conservatives is what are we doing to win back the moral high ground on these issues?  Why did we lose that ground in the first place?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Obama AWOL on Egypt… Again.

Where is the President on Egypt Now?Egypt and the Referendum on Obama’s Foreign Policy
With new reports of bloodshed coming out of Egypt in the wake of President Morsi’s removal from office, the jury is officially in on the Obama foreign policy as it pertains to the Middle East:  It has failed miserably.

In at least three areas, the response of the Obama administration to Egypt demonstrates a decided lack of strategic thought that undermines American efforts to encourage democracy and oppose radical Islam in the Muslim world.

Backing the Wrong Horse Too Early
The president would have benefited from a cursory overview of modern Egyptian history that demonstrates a “democratic” process that usually means one party getting elected, and then using its power to muzzle opposition.  Egypt is a complex political society divided between Christians, Arab nationalists, Islamic radicals and more.

However, the Obama administration failed to recognize this fractiousness and quickly moved to support the democratic opposition that seemed to be at the root of initial uprisings in 2011.  The administration concluded that democratic rhetoric coming from the streets of Cairo amounted to real democratic reform and subsequently embraced it.  This step unwittingly gave a huge credibility boost to opposition groups (the Muslim Brotherhood among them) and undermined then president Hosni Mubarak.

This policy dramatically backfired when the Muslim Brotherhood took control.  In keeping with history, Morsi immediately began to amass autocratic power all but ensuring the current wave of violence and making the US appear to be the backer of another dictator.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Speaking last fall on the Arab Spring, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton denied the power of radical Islamic groups in the Arab Spring when she referred to violence sweeping the region as perpetrated by a “small number of extremists.”  This betrays a naiveté regarding radical Islam that has been on display in the White House throughout the Arab Spring.

True, adherents of radical Islamic views are few in number, but they have demonstrated a consistent ability to punch above their weight in the political arena, both at the ballot box and on the battlefield.  Choosing to ignore this rather obvious historical fact is irresponsible and is demonstrated to have dire consequences: The Clinton administration chose to ignore the growing threat of Al-Qaeda throughout the 1990s, belittling its intentions and resolve.  The events of September 11, 2001 were the result.

“Change” Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means
Even a child understands that if her parents say one thing and do another, something unjust has happened.  Choosing to continue to fund and arm the Egyptian army, even while Morsi was in power, demonstrated that the Obama administration’s main concern was propping up the status quo and hedging its bets that Morsi would not last.  This undermined Morsi, emboldened the military and ultimately preserved a political order in Egypt that subjects true representative governance to the whims of the generals.  In this instance, such an approach may be effective, but long term it demonstrates that America is more interested in stability than true democratic reforms, destroying our credibility in the region.

When I was in North Africa in 2009, a young boy in the streets asked me if I was from America.  When I replied in the affirmative, he smiled, gave me a thumbs up and jubilantly declared, “Obama!”

Four years later, that perception of Obama as embodying an America that Muslim nations could trust and follow has evaporated in the winds of war that blight the promise of the Arab Spring.


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