Last week, I asked a question that seems like an oxymoron: Is President Barack Obama’s immigration policy actually based on conservative principles? After providing an introduction to the policy and some context surrounding it, this week I plan to delve into the principles upon which the policy is based.
Russell Kirk, the Father of Modern Conservatism, established his ten conservative principles, four of which are especially relevant to this conversation:
1) the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order;
5) conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety;
6) conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability; and
10) the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be reconciled in a vigorous society.
While Kirk is not infallible, there are few conservatives who would actually take issue with these principles, and they probably form the best standard of conservatism we have available to us.
- he called for the protection of immigrant families;
- the maintenance of American competitiveness through diversity; and
- the end to a hypocritical system of enforcement.
These three principles seem to be in line with what Kirk espouses as “conservative.” First, the president alludes to an enduring moral order which includes a deep love for the family and a desire to keep families together. Second, he recognizes that diversity is important for our nation to remain competitive (I argue that diversity is actually a conservative idea here). Finally, he realizes that there is a "principle of imperfectability" in our current system, and calls for reform.
It is no secret that the president is politically liberal. After all, his first campaign slogan was “Change We Can Believe In.” Why, then, does this policy seem to be so conservative? Because liberalism isn't contained in the actual policy, but in how he has implemented it. As president, Obama has the authority to enforce the law, but not to make it. In writing an executive action to carry out this plan, the president quite possibly overstepped his bounds. So while his policy appeals to conservative principles, his enactment of those policies are very liberal.
Here we see a combination of liberalism and conservatism that Kirk espouses in his tenth principle. Conservatism (permanence) and liberalism (change) will always be necessary for a vigorous society. The goal in any policy-making decision is to balance these two so we preserve our heritage while allowing for improvement from past failings.
This then leads to a very important question: Did the president appropriately balance conservatism and liberalism in enacting this policy? Since that question merits an in-depth answer, that will be the subject of the final article in this series.