Some Open Questions For Conservatives

A controversy arose last night on Twitter, revolving around someone’s assertion that a person cannot be both gay and conservative, presumably because a gay person would favor legalizing gay marriage.

My question was, and is, how many conservative positions must one hold on the issues in order to be considered a conservative? The person who started the controversy contends that you must hold the conservative position on every issue, “with some minor variations.”

Beyond that, who gets to decide the “official” conservative position? What are the key issues that are central to conservatism?

Please leave a comment; I’m looking for as much input as possible on this.

Update: Here’s a gay conservative’s opinion on what makes a conservative.

The conservatism I believe in is a combination of lower taxes, less government spending, freer trade, freer markets, individual liberty, personal responsibility, and a strong anti-communist foreign policy.

snip…

Many have asked me how I can be gay, yet call myself a Republican or a conservative. To them, I say the answer is easy. It’s similar to answer I give to those who pose the same question about me being black and Republican. A long time ago, I looked at the issues on both sides of the political spectrum. While there are a few on the left I agree with, there are many more on the right that fit my belief structure.

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “Some Open Questions For Conservatives

  1. To me, “conservative” means keeping to the ways set up by the Constitution. That means limited central powers, maximum freedoms, minimum nannying. It does involve living morally, but that is only because it is a must for the self-discipline that’s necessary for the system to continue to work.

    As for “cannot be a conservative homosexual”, I know for certain that is false because a former coworker is homosexual, and is very conservative.

  2. Well, I have a gay cousin who votes Republican and considers himself a conservative libertarian. He’s not for gay marriage (he could care less) and he does’t tout the often angry gay agenda. He just asks to be accepted and I find his gay friends, many of them, have the same mentality.

    I don’t think there’s a set number things that make a person conservative. Maybe you identify with that label more than any other. It’s really up to the individual and how much importance they place on various issues. So, I guess I’m saying there’s not really a right answer.

  3. Being conservative isn’t just about what positions you hold, but why you hold them.

    A conservative could, for instance, be for gay marriage because he or she doesn’t believe that it is the government’s job to define marriage.

    In that way, being for gay marriage could be considered a politically conservative position, if one defines politically conservativism as favoring limited government.

    That being said, if someone believes that the government should force religions to accept gay marriage, that’s a liberal position because it means an over-reaching of government.

  4. I actually don’t have an issue with gay marriage. However, I think that if we extend marriage beyond “one man and one woman,” I think that polygamy and incest should be legal as well (as long as all parties are consenting adults). At least as far as the government is concerned.

    I’m in CA, and one of the main reasons I voted for prop 8 was the hateful attacks on anyone that disagreed with gay marriage.

  5. Definition changes constantly and evolves. Limited government, personal freedom & individual liberty, constructionist view of the Constitution… yada yada give you a baseline for a “conservative.”

    After that, a lot is up for grabs.

    I PERSONALLY am not a proponent of gay marriage & believe in the traditional definition. With that said, I believe in states rights and individual choice. If a state wants to legalize gay marriage, good for them. If a state wants to ban gay marriage, good for them. Based on their state constitutions, they can do as they please. You know that thing, states rights, yeah.

    Anyway, of course a gay person can be a conservative and of course a straight person can believe in gay marriage but still be conservative. Anyone who says different is an idiot. There is no stone tablet for conservatism with commandments on it.

  6. Oooh, PureCognition hit the nail on the head for me!

  7. In general, the conservative point of view is just the “constrained” vision of the world, as Thomas Sowell put it. So on big issues, generally conservatives like to take incremental steps. On healthcare (“let people buy across state lines”, or “how about some tort reform?”) or immigration (“secure the borders first!”), that constrained, incremental view of problem solving is what conservatives tend to be for. Even on something like marriage, most conservatives are for making sure gays can pass on their valuables to their partner if they die, or even giving them the same tax status as married people. Contrast that with the “unconstrained” view on healthcare (“single payer for everyone!”), immigration (“no human being is illegal! Grant them citizenship!”), or marriage (“equality for all!), and you generally know beforehand what the conservative point of view on issue A or B is.

  8. Why can’t support for gay marriage be a conservative position? There are solid conservative arguments on both sides of the issue – conservatives are not a monolith and will not always agree and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    I’m pro-same sex marriage, but I do tend to get frustrated when other pro-SSM conservatives describe themselves as “socially liberal.” There’s no reason liberals should own this stance. If one is a conservative, why not, as PureCognition suggested, make a case for gay marriage based on conservative principles and values?

  9. I consider myself a conservative, but I don’t always agree with their views and policies.

    My reason for disagreeing with gay marriage is because of my religious beliefs, not political. I do not, however, look down to anyone who is gay. I have gay family members and friends who I love dearly.

    There seems to be a stereotype that if you’re against gay marriage you hate gays.

  10. Anybody who says there is no such thing as a gay conservative is clearly a blithering idiot. First of all, as others have said, being gay doesn’t even necessarily mean you are for gay marriage. I can think of 3 gay people I know who are opposed to it. One of them is a flaming liberal – yes, I did that on purpose :-) – but the other two I would consider conservatives.

    More importantly, how important is a single issue in defining a movement? If you won’t accept someone who agrees with you on every issue you can think of but one then you probably aren’t part of a movement….. you are more likely an island…. a deserted island where you have no chance of changing anyone’s mind on anything.

    I always go back to the Reagan definition… someone who disagrees with me 20% of the time is my 80% friend.

    I don’t know that I would call someone who holds 20% “progressive” views a conservative but there are certainly few single issues that would lead me to disqualify someone from the club… and gay marriage & abortion are not amongst them. Being for card check might cross you off. Being for “progressive” gun control certainly does but that one unravels the whole republic.

  11. The same-sex marriage part of this question is kind of irrelevant, because as the other responses indicate, we don’t even have a consensus as to what being “a conservative” is in the first place. So you can use any issue you want as the stalking horse for this debate.

    Right?

    No. In fact, there is only one true definition of “conservative” — mine, naturally. And the reason for that is that mine is William F. Buckley’s, and his definition goes like this:

    Conservatism aims to maintain in working order the loyalties of the community to perceived truths and also to those truths which in their judgment have earned universal recognition. . . .

    Anything that seeks to propound the theory of equality other than in the eyes of God is, in my judgment, unnatural. So that any emphasis that’s put on equality that defies a general intelligence makes a mistake on the altar of that equality which is injurious.

    Works for me. And therefore, the answer to the question presented is “no.”

  12. One thing that I think important that I’m not seeing in these comments: Is it possible to get a definition of “conservative” that doesn’t reduce “liberal” to stereotypes?

    I think we have to start with the notion that conservatism and liberalism are ideologies and necessarily imperfect. An ideology by definition is not a search for wisdom: it already assumes it knows everything in order to move people’s passions. This can more easily explain why extremes on the Right and Left are both prone to embracing New World Order conspiracy theories where “Obama = Bush” and all that junk. Now of course, the crucial point is that when someone does that, they become apolitical – no less than Aristotle says that a democracy that is too much a democracy ceases to be a democracy.

    It also would be very prudent to distinguish American conservatism from European strands. In some ways, American conservatism is becoming more like European, where fascism is a genuine threat. Just because the Obama administration will label anyone the worst enemy of mankind ever doesn’t mean that things aren’t getting ugly over here: I’ve run into way too many militias and openly white supremacist groups talking about things like Glenn Beck to find common ground with more reasonable people. There’s a lot on the line when one attempts to define conservatism, and one has to be very careful with even the most innocuous sounding rhetoric. While there are exceptions, the main reason why anyone brings up “states’ rights” is to say that the Civil War was inherently unjust. I’m sorry, but I’ll take big government over slavery any day. And our institutions work, as evidenced by the fact that just winning an election can make the opposition think twice.

  13. Curtis

    To my mind, the answer to the basic question is simple: a homosexual is sexually attracted to someone of the same gender. A conservative is a person who self-identifies by virtue of his or her subscription to certain sociopolitical values, which may or may not include the tenet that homosexuality is socially unacceptable or even morally wrong. In terms of logic, there is nothing mutually exclusive about the two: in fact, many self-avowed homosexuals live their life in part or in whole feeling very conflicted because their sexuality does not square up with their political or religious beliefs. So, certainly, conservative gays are quite possible and hardly unheard of.

    There seems to be a more complex, secondary question in play about what makes a person a conservative. Well, this not only varies by culture, as has been pointed out, but from one individual to another. Thus a statement from the Tweeter in question such as, “I could not be homosexual and conservative” may be quite valid in terms of his or her own definition of conservatism, but the more general statement that was given is, in my opinion, imposing a certain conception of ideology upon others. I am not aware of any standards which universally define conservatism.

    I recently read an interesting article about psychological studies which attempted to show the basic ideological underpinnings of conservatism and liberalism, at least as we broadly understand them in the states. It’s just about the most illuminating thing I’ve read on the topic.

    These studies found that people who identify as conservatives tend to see society as an orderly system which is held in place by more or less concrete principles and which which must be vigilantly guarded against inevitable dissolution. Such people generally only welcome change if it is in the direction of a prior state of affairs they see as more representative of the aforementioned principles. Thus, conservatism is essentially a defensive psychological posture.

    Liberal personalities, on the other hand, while perhaps also envisioning society as a system of well-defined rules and relationships, do not see the balance as being threatened by dissolution. Rather, the threat is one of stagnation and exploitation, so, in contrast to the conservative mindset, liberalism is constantly seeking to innovate and renovate. Along these lines, liberalism can be seen a creative psychological posture.

    In my experience, these findings, while oversimplified, are quite accurately borne out. Thus, my brother-in-law, a staunch political conservative, constantly speaks of the impending breakdown of the moral fabric of society. He is always referring to the U.S. as a country that has lost its way from the wholesome principles that once made it the envy of the world. Virtually everything that goes wrong in our nation is, according to him, because of a corrupt and inept government and a people who have lost The Way. But my college professor, a relatively liberal-moderate personality, sees our country as full of intolerance and too rigidly structured around principles that no longer have the same meaning they once did. For her, the elephant in the room of American sociopolitics is our reliance on an unsustainable, competitive, and divisive economic model. Both of these people seek change; they just seek change in opposing directions.

    One observation I’d like to make is that, while this is a generalization with many exceptions, liberalism is far more prominent among the highly educated than conservatism. Some conservatives say this is because of liberal “brainwashing” in educational institutions, but this can hardly be supported by evidence. I think it is because those who do tend to do well and seek to progress in higher education are those who are inquisitive and who continually seek to find new answers rather than looking for ways to defend old ones. This is why the majority of college professors in the U.S. are politically liberal; the answer lies in basic psychology, not some liberal conspiracy.

    Another observation is that the tenets of Christianity (and Abrahamic faiths in general) strongly promote conservatism by portraying mankind as innately dirty and sinful. This is quite resonant with the conservative viewpoint that society is about to fall apart at any moment because the “rules” are breaking down.

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  15. David

    I am a Registered Democrat. The last Time I voted for a Democrat was for Henry Jackson. Since then The Democrat Party has been taken completely over by Folks that are way too liberal for me. The Liberal wing is not what I wish for America or trust.

  16. I have been told that I am not a conservative because I don’t believe that abortion should be illegal in all cases.

    I personally don’t believe that it is the social issues that make you conservative. Let’s look at some general demographics. Historically, the black community is against gay marriage and very supportive of the democrats and social liberals.

    Trying to fit people into a single box is a dangerous thing. That is something that communision does. We need to accept that no group of people are going to be in lock step. Otherwise we may as well just be computers.

  17. Curtis, above: “Some conservatives say this is because of liberal “brainwashing” in educational institutions, but this can hardly be supported by evidence.”

    I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale, I know Curtis will be interested in it. One reason why I say conservatives don’t care about education is precisely because the academy is so far to the Left that conservatives have to be a part of the problem. That isn’t to blame conservatives so much as to assert that “things are insanely bad.”

    Things Curtis should read and take seriously:

    http://chronicle.com/article/Taking-the-Right-Seriously/48333/

    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/10/08/politics

    I cannot take a commentator who will not admit that the Left dominates the academy seriously in the least. It’s pretty much a statement that one is a partisan hack.

  18. dcbigpappa

    I am heartened by the many positive and thoughful comments left here. As a homocon (gay conservative) and e-friend of Paula’s, I was very curious to see what the responses would be.

    Well done to the lot of you.

    I’ve now been inspired to write on my blog my definition of conservatism. Hmmm, this should get interesting.

  19. For me, being a conservative means a LOT of things…primarily it means that I have studied the history of our founding, read our founding documents and I base my stance on what our founders intended when they wrote the Constitution. Being a conservative, to me, means believing that ALL men were created equal by God, and that ALL deserve to be free. While I believe that one cannot be a conservative and be anti-God or amoral, I do realize that not every conservative is going to agree on all things…that’s the beauty of FREEDOM!

  20. This has been a sticky question for me. GWB was accused of “not being a conservative” because his spending policy was more inline with that of the libs. I define myself as a Christian first and a conservative second. Because of that, I am firstly a social conservative (I’m definitely NOT pro-gay marriage, but I’m not some homophobe either) and secondly a fiscal conservative.

  21. I do believe that when we refer to “conservatives.” we are referring to those that are both fiscally and socially conservative. When I say socially conservative, I am referring to the same sense that has, over time, come to be understood by the majority of people.

    And really – all politically correct talk aside – you know exactly what I mean because you all know what has come to be basically understood over the last few years. If there weren’t already an accepted Standard, you wouldn’t all be here arguing your point.

  22. texas

    I believe PureCognition’s definition would best define a Conservative.

    When I was a child I would ask my Dad why he was a Conservative. He would simply say I believe the Government should stay out of our business, and let Americans prosper. My Dad was a WWII Vet and worked his whole life in the Produce business. (He shipped fruit and vegetables from Coast to Coast.) Anyway, my Dad had his share of horror stories about Government intrusion & needless oversight as he tried to farm and ship produce. (It was always the worst when Democrats were in office.) It’s as though Democrats can never leave well enough alone and they staff their bureaucratic Admins. with senseless “clip board people” that know nothing about a man’s business but, want to tell him exactly how to run it. The are not very small business friendly. The Democrats also want to over tax everything!

    Conservatism isn’t about judging another human being, it is a belief system of positive ideals for a better Life, a better America & Freedom.

  23. Wow.

    This is a topic that can be discussed, reflected upon, and further discussed.

    The question:

    “how many conservative positions must one hold on the issues in order to be considered a conservative? ”

    Why not ask, “how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?”

    The answer to the latter being, “the world may never know.” This may also be the answer to the former question.

    IMHO, a conservative is a person who does not expect to live off the gain of others. Now, I said, EXPECT. Of course we should provide for those who ARE UNABLE to care for themselves, and lend a hand up to those who need one so that they can care for themselves.

    As a conservative I enjoy giving to charity, I also enjoy being able to give to charity, I would rather give to charity than have the government rip it out of my hands.

    I do, however believe that the government is supported by taxes, and that I have a duty to pay taxes. This being said, I would much rather give a man a hand up so that he can also work and pay taxes.

    I am off track…………..this topic can take you off track, as you can read in the many comments to a simple question.

    You can be a heterosexual liberal, or a homosexual conservative. Neither does race affect who becomes a liberal or conservative.

    As to, “how many conservative positions must one hold on the issues in order to be considered a conservative? ” We must first issue the list before we check mark it.

  24. Rob Stubbs

    Yes you can be homosexual and be a Conservative. As to defining what positions should be good enough to dub people Conservative to be in office which is my main concern. If they are Big Government which includes higher taxes and regulations as a subset, Weak National Defense which includes not securing the border and not being proactive against Islamic Terrorists as subsets, and unwilling to check all they do against the Founding Documents. They have no business being in public office. And anyone who thinks these are not fundamentally moral issues and just Fiscal policies needs to have a serious long and in depth rethink about it. Start telling people why its moral to hold these fundamental beliefs and stop trying to make it just spreadsheets and numbers.

    As to the whole Liberal thinkers in higher Education some how being more willing to entertain new thoughts because their psychological mindset is different than Conservative thinkers. Its ridiculous . The reason Professors and The Liberal Intellectuals are liberal is because their mindsets don’t get challenged in the realm of pure conjecture. Thats why the translation of liberal thinkers from academia to reality so often leads to pure chaos as the models they are certain work in theory don’t consider what happens in an unpassive reactive thinking world. And notice its never the fact the theory could be wrong but conditions aren’t right yet and must be manipulated or controlled to ensure the end goal

    This is why Communism,Socialism ,Marxism are all embraced by liberals so passionately. The underlying theory is not these mindsets are failures because they do not work when applied in reality but that the proper person has not stepped in yet who can do it correctly.

    Conservative mindsets are not because they are afraid of thinking new thoughts but the realization that the old ideas just need to be applied properly in the context of the current world. Life. Liberty. Pursuit of Happiness. Responsibility. Saving. Investing Wisely. Honor. Integrity. Morals. Ethics.

  25. Pingback: Gay & Conservative « DCBigPappa's Blog

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