Liberals believe in big government, the nanny state, high taxes, uncontrolled spending, disregard for debt and deficit, avoidance of personal accountability, and unbridled intrusion of government into the private lives and liberties of people. That’s pretty much what most of my self proclaimed conservative acquaintances believe, and, if they are members of a religious faith, they add a variety of anti-religion and secular humanist adjectives to the list.
It’s a curious thing since liberals, at least in the historic sense, are the ones who have championed religious and political freedom, the rights of the individual, the expectation that government should be responsive and accountable to the people, and that society should be as fair and open as possible. Moreover, as Theo Hobson wrote in the September 18, 2013 issue of “The Christian Century,” modern liberal democracy is firmly rooted in the Christian faith. It is a working out in secular society something of the fullness of Christ’s teaching, and the here and now of the presence of God’s kingdom.
I can understand where some of the conservative angst comes from, especially when I watch the performance of our state legislature, to say nothing of congress. There are legislators who promote whatever spending they think is needed for whatever good idea they have come up with regardless of our ability to pay for it. If those good ideas are aimed at helping the poor, they are labeled as liberal. If they are aimed at helping business and industry they are labeled as conservative. I think they are cut out of the same cloth.
It is said that conservatives favor limited government and balanced budgets. If the Republican party is the litmus test, they don’t live up to their hype. It is true that, on the whole, liberals are not afraid of government, and are willing to use its power martial resources for the improvement of society. Contrary to Tea Party types, when conservative whine about big government intrusion into their lives, it seems they have no objection to using it to protect their own interests, including behavior that is oppressive, selfish, favoring the advantages of the already advantaged, and, as we have often discovered after the fact, environmentally destructive.
Nevertheless, conservatives raise a valid point. Government has only one form of power, and that is coercion. We must be very careful about how that power gets used, because once out there, it’s all but impossible to take back. I wish we could rely on conservatives to be an effective loyal opposition working to keep governmental excesses in check. It doesn’t seem to work that way. When people claiming to be conservative, and backed by powerful corporate interests, get the chance to use the power of government, they tend to be ruthless and reckless with it. They go apoplectic over liberal socialism but are perfectly happy with corporate welfare, the more the better. Whatever they are afraid of, it’s not big government.
It gets complicated and confusing, but what really confuses me is the tendency of those struggling at the lower end of the middle class to support policies intended to benefit the richest and most powerful, with those in the upper middle class riding along for free. Give them their unlimited right to guns, promise them lower taxes, and they don’t much care what else happens. Add to that their conviction that folks on welfare are living the easy life while they struggle from paycheck to paycheck, and you’ve got an easy sell for a weird Dickensian alliance between those with power and those subjected (sometimes abusively) to that power.
The only thing I’m fairly certain of is that, as a Christian, you cannot live by the gospel and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal at the same time. Gee, somebody else said something like that. You can’t serve both God and wealth, you have to choose. Wasn’t that it? Who said that?