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Guest Column

October 5, 2013

Who are the real conservatives?

The old way of thinking about politics doesn’t work anymore. Let me explain why the current stereotypes fail us.

Conventional wisdom divides people into opposing camps: conservatives and liberals, libertarians and progressives, Republicans and Democrats, right-wingers and left-wingers.

If you’re a conservative you’re probably inclined to libertarian ideas, likely to be a Republican and tagged as a right-winger. If you’re a liberal you’re probably inclined to progressive ideas, likely to be a Democrat and tagged as a left-winger.

These identifications are widely taken for granted and deeply inform our thinking. Unfortunately, this left/right dichotomy obscures more than it reveals.

Conservatives rail against big government, but are notoriously blind to the evils of big business. Liberals rail against big business, but are notoriously blind to the evils of big government.

Conservatives who run small businesses have an understanding of what it takes to meet a payroll, fill inventories, satisfy customers, deal with competition, etc. They naturally admire the success of larger corporations, and tend to identify with them.

For many conservatives then, the government, with its regulations and taxes, is the natural enemy. They want “to get government off our backs.” They tend to give business a pass, ignoring abusive corporate power.

Liberals, by contrast, tend to be removed from the business world. If the favorite haunts of the conservative are groups like the Business Council and the Chamber of Commerce, those of the liberal are often institutions, usually nonprofits. These institutions — schools, universities, hospitals, foundations, etc. — are usually tied-in to government funding.

Liberals tend to take government for granted, and to see its regulation of business (health and safely, the environment, etc.) as a necessary check on bad practices. Since large corporations resist regulation and use their power to influence politicians and governments, liberals tend to see corporate power as the enemy.

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