A 'liberal conservative' speaks

March 01, 2010|By Mike McGrew

What's wrong with political labels? Plenty! Today, the word "liberal" has been lambasted so severely that most Americans are loath to use it positively.

Disparagement of "conservatives" wasn't quite as bad when liberals championed Social Security, Medicare, workers' and voters' rights, the end to racially discriminatory practices, and critical environmental protections. Despite conservative opposition at the time, both parties eventually embraced most of these accomplishments. But partisan negativity has since intensified greatly.

My Merriam-Webster dictionary defines liberal as: "open-handed," "generous," "broad-minded" and "not bound by authoritarianism." Conservative means "a cautious or discreet person," "avoiding excess" and "disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions."

Since my political and personal views reflect major parts of each definition, and I am fed up by both parties' politics (as well as being repulsed by stereotypes associated with "liberal" and "conservative"), I recently became both. This occurred after an old friend, a Marine general, called me a "Jesuit radical." I responded that his perspective was warped. Surprisingly, he agreed, and was both amused by and interested in my declaration of conservative liberalism. How can I defend my self-proclaimed label? Well, I'm a pro-life conservative (anti-abortion) and liberal (anti-death penalty). I'm conservative in desiring lower income taxes and increased fiscal restraint but liberal in wanting higher energy and carbon taxes to balance our budget, offset pollution and promote conservation and energy-efficiency in cars, homes, industry and individual choices.

I also support added environmental regulations and incentives to develop clean (and nuclear) power and energy efficiencies, and to stimulate traditional American innovation and economic growth. We could break our foreign oil dependence and lead the way in addressing our global ecological crisis. But why shouldn't conservation of our planet's resources be a conservative trademark?

Regarding health care, I liberally support universal coverage as part of "liberty and justice for all" -- but only for medically necessary prevention and treatment. I am unwilling to cover elective abortion, unwarranted tests, cosmetic procedures, fertility treatments or Viagra. Anyone who wants "extras" can obtain a supplemental policy, as people currently do for long-term care. Shouldn't smart, cautious determinations regarding health care entitlements be considered conservative in "avoiding excess"?

Militarily, I'm a realist, supporting strong, flexible armed forces focused on conservative missions. I also believe in mandatory, multi-option national service, within which those choosing the military are paid the most "liberally." However, I liberally believe gays should receive equal family benefits in civilian and military life. Furthermore, I characterize most arguments against allowing homosexuals to openly serve as the same that previously kept our forces racially segregated. Social policy-wise, I would cautiously restrict all new drivers to a blood-alcohol content of zero during their first three years on the road. However, I would liberally re-extend traditional beer and wine drinking rights to 18-year-olds, who can serve and die for our country, get married, and live independently as adults.

I conservatively condemn parental permissiveness in allowing children's excessive and inappropriate exposure to TV, movies and video games. I also decry the lack of limit setting and accountability that characterizes many liberal child-rearing styles. But I liberally believe corporal punishment is not part of good parenting.

Educationally, I desire more nontraditional evening classes as options for high school students who seek old-fashioned daytime training as apprentices. I also support mandatory after-school, Saturday and summer school classes for our most disruptive daytime students.

Personally, I manage my money conservatively and pay off my credit cards monthly. While cautious in my dress and demeanor, I'm very open to differences in how others look and carry themselves. I'm also quite receptive to more efficient, effective, meaningful or tolerant ways of doing things that have become dysfunctionally traditional.

So, what's in a political label? If you stereotype me as "liberal" for my anti-death-penalty, gay rights, universal health care, radical environmental, and government supportive views, you're missing my anti-abortion, balanced budget, pro-military, social and personal conservatism.

What if we gave up pigeonholing people as "liberal," "conservative," or even "moderate" and try to understand complex perspectives, respectfully seeking common ground, as I do with my Marine friend? Who knows, this approach could trickle up to pundits and elected representatives who cling so rigidly to party lines and power bases that what's good for America gets lost in unproductive and unsavory political battles.

Take it from me -- a cautiously broad-minded, moderately excess-avoidant, conventionally realistic, radical green, conservative-liberal bird sporting traditional plumage. A mouthful, but it reflects my beliefs better than one-word stereotypes.

Mike McGrew is a school psychologist from Carroll County. His e-mail is mcgrewclark@hotmail.com.

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