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October 5, 2013

Who are the real conservatives?

By Adrian Kuzminski Local Commentary
The Daily Star

---- — 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.

It is vital to understand, however, that both big government and big business have benefited enormously from their symbiotic relationship. Government has a poor record in curbing corporate power, but in areas like the military, homeland security, and surveillance it has gained almost totalitarian powers.

Similarly, though big corporations have been unable to shrink government, they are able through campaign donations to corner politicians into voting for extensive deregulation. Thus corporations have become largely unaccountable to the public, and able to operate with virtual impunity.

This unleashed government and corporate power is the real radicalism of our time, threatening our liberties, property, and communities. It serves powerful private interests at the expense of the public interest. Our political parties, especially nationally, are part of the problem, not the solution.

The defense of the public interest now relies on local citizens and local governments. This is the real conservatism of our time.

This is why the struggle against fracking for natural gas in New York State is so significant. The only effective resistance came not from government agencies, nor from “green” corporations, nor from national environmental groups. Instead, big government (the DEC), big business (the oil and gas industry), and big environmental groups (NRDC, EDF, the national Sierra Club) colluded to find an “acceptable” way to trash our environment.

It was grassroots, local communities, by passing bans and moratoria using Home Rule legislation, who said “no” to fracking. So far they have succeeded in frustrating the designs of industry and the DEC. Otsego county, with nine municipalities banning fracking, is a leader in the ban movement in New York.

Even more important, the fracking battle has shown that we need to move toward a locally-controlled, sustainable way of life, transitioning to renewable resources and building value-added enterprises.

Sustainable Otsego has developed a 10-point platform for this election advocating home rule, farm-to market agriculture, net zero energy practices, and renewables. For details see: sustainableotsego.org

The candidates supported by Sustainable Otsego in this fall’s election understand the new reality of community power, the need to stand up to big government and big business, and the importance of a positive program to move Otsego County forward on a sustainable basis.

On Nov. 5, for Otsego County Board Representatives vote for Beth Rosenthal, John Kosmer, Gary Koutnik, Stu Anderson, Dan Buttermann, Ed Lentz, and Teresa Winchester.

Adrian Kuzminski is Moderator of Sustainable Otsego