Barry Goldwater was on the Tonight Show—yeah, it was a long time ago—and he was asked about the don’t ask, don’t tell policy of the U.S. armed forces. He told Johnny Carson he thought the policy was a mistake.
He said his disapproval wasn’t based on a belief that the Army should be finding and discharging gays. No, he said, he thought the policy was wrong because “it’s none of their damn business.”
Spoken like a true Conservative, with a capital C.
I was thinking about the labels we assign to different viewpoints, like conservative and liberal or religious and secular. By the time most of us get to be adults, these words have so much baggage attached that we sidetrack our conversations by the mere act of invoking them.
I, for example, think of myself as a conservative. But my idea of conservative values is much different than the platforms presented on talk radio. For example, I believe it’s conservative to leave other people alone, just as we’d prefer to be left alone. A conservative wants minimal governmental intervention in his own life, so he doesn’t seek to harness the power of government to intervene with other people. A conservative demands that others keep their nose out of his business, so he is careful to do the same.
A conservative doesn’t believe in gay marriage, because he doesn’t believe in government sanctioned “marriage” of any kind. Marriage is a religious ritual and, as Goldwater said about don’t ask, don’t tell, it’s none of the government’s damn business. In the interest of insuring domestic tranquility, the government oversees enforcement of contracts. Civil “marriage” is a contract, not a rite, which means it should be the same for any two or three or 200 people who agree to the terms.
Similarly, it’s a very conservative position to be protective of the environment, because conservatives…..conserve.
Conservatives believe people should have freedom over their own property, but have no right to damage the property of others. Individuals or companies that soil the air that others will breathe or poison the water that others will drink are, in a very real sense, stealing something of value.
A person who takes clean water from a river and sends effluent downstream is engaged in redistribution of wealth, more a liberal concept than a conservative one. The person upstream gains the value and use of clean water, while the downstream resident is deprived of clean water and saddled with the cost of clean-up.
So, I’m a conservative, which doesn’t necessarily make me a Republican or a Reaganite or a member of the Hannity nation. Like Humpty Dumpty, I get to decide what a word means, at least when it’s a word I’m applying to myself.
What do you think? When it comes to labels like conservative or liberal or right or left or religious or secular…..what common definitions seem contradictory to you? When we use these terms, how much gets lost in the lack of translation?