Many well-intentioned people have described conservatives to me as a horde of predominantly senior, white, middle class Americans digging their heels against the inexorable advance of progress (which is a bit like Luke Skywalker and company trapped in the garbage compactor on the Death Star). For them, the conservative’s dilemma is exactly this: How can you stand by a movement that seems to be an antithesis of progress?
It’s not like they don’t have evidence. The Republican Congress has proved expectedly intractable in the face of Obama’s agenda. In the past two months, Republicans have blocked efforts to keep guns from terrorists and cut greenhouse gas emissions—substantial victories in their eight-year strategy of congressional constipation, as this Vanity Fair article calls it. Obama’s congressional woes continued to mount and he responded by bypassing Congress and pushing through a number of executive actions, much to the Republicans’ chagrin.
But these days, any GOP attempt to collaborate with the White House is deemed fraternizing with the enemy. Early in the Republican primaries, Senator Rand Paul condemned Governor Chris Christie for hugging President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It was tantamount to a betrayal of party and party values. Accompanying this widening rift is a tendency to villainize the “other side” by stamping the opposition with an “ist”—racist, sexist, idealist, socialist, reactionist, traditionalist. It’s easier to poke and jab an enemy restrained by the bonds of nasty connotations and unfortunate associations. It is extremely entertaining to count the number of times a Republican candidate has bashed Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. However, the fork isn’t just upstream.
Progress can never be achieved so long as the other side believes collaboration is a step back instead of a step forward. Examples such as Rand Paul’s above comment are representative of a greater trend toward evasion and aversion—evasion of the hard questions and aversion to different answers. In response, we must recognize that the key to collaboration lies in our ability to recognize universal values as conservative values and proceed from there. Here’s a shining example: David Brooks, one of the few true conservative columnists remaining, wrote a New York Times article titled “I Miss Barack Obama.” In it, Brooks praises Obama’s temperament and moderation compared to the fiasco that comes on at primetime. Through this, Brooks has gained credence with the opposition.
What I described as the conservative’s dilemma is, in fact, America’s dilemma: the continued portrayal of opposing ideas as ignorant and of opposing people as demonic. You see, professionalism, moderation, and virtue are traits every human being can stand behind. By imbuing the conservative movement with these universal goods and recognizing it in others, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum, we are able to establish a common ground of principle. Thus, progress rests not on our ability to pass our platform despite the opposition (or our ability to deny the opposition the same pleasure), but on our ability to dialogue and collaborate with the opposition. In the end, conservatism will not be seen as the antonym of progress; rather, division will be.
Joshua Cayetano is a Richter Scholar and a student in the William Penn Honors Program at George Fox University. He is majoring in political science and history with a focus on Middle Eastern studies. Originally from Pacifica, California, he enjoys traveling to different countries, sitting on the beach with any good book, or playing basketball.