2013 primer for conservatives

By James Flanagan / Guest CommentaryJanuary 17, 2013 

As we Americans move into 2013 as politically and socially divided as always, let us remember some basic elements of ideological debate and the history of American disagreement. There has been a valid and sincere argument on the best way to govern in the United States since the founding of this country.

First -- let's get rid of the ignorant and often disgusting non-issues. No, President Obama is not comparable to, as columnist J.R. Froelich suggested, a modern day Adolf Hitler. No, this president is not the antichrist. No, being a community organizer is not something bad, wrong, or "un-American." Community organizing has been a very American pursuit overall. Community organizing is also a staple of faith-based groups and political campaigns. President Bush established a department called the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2001 to encourage community organizing.

We are a country of divided interpretation and application, yet conservative ideologues have gone too far. A changing America is not representative of them or represented by them. So my primer for the 2013 conservatives is to re-learn how to argue, to re-learn how to disagree.

First of all, tax rates are the lowest since before the Great Depression. Under Reagan, the rate for wealthiest Americans was 45% -- today it is 35% and Obama's proposing an increase much less than 45%. Between 1980 and 1982 (the first two years of the Reagan presidency), the unemployment rate went from 7.1% to 9.7%. We know that this increase was a delayed effect from the Carter years -- we know national numbers move that slowly. So we all know that Obama's unemployment numbers are for the same reasons. Come on, conservatives -- you've been there before.

First resolution of 2013: Obama is not the economy-destroying, job-destroying, government-bloating socialist that conservatives say he is. Simply read unemployment trends and tax rates since 1913.

Also, let's throw out the absurd communist accusations once and for all in 2013. The passage of Medicare didn't have Americans "awake to find that we have socialism" as Ronald Reagan warned in 1961, and if Obama is determined to "redistribute the wealth" then why are his proposed tax increases lower than H.W. Bush's, Reagan's, Nixon's and every president's since the Great Depression?

Second resolution for 2013: We are no closer to a sinister communist take-over of America than we were 10, 20, 50 or 80 years ago.

Finally, federal regulation has been alive and well through both conservative and liberal administrations. The Great Depression was so devastating in large part due to an unregulated stock market. It was Nixon who created the National Environmental Policy Act and the Council on Environmental Quality.

The Brookings Institution published a paper in 2000 analyzing the U.S. government's achievements over the past 50 years. What they found "put the lie to the notion that the federal government creates more problems than it solves. To the contrary ... the federal government is fully capable of tackling important, tough problems, and succeeding."

That paper showed that conservatives and liberals alike found much success in our government's endeavors. Liberals rated improving health care, reducing workplace discrimination, and voting rights as the government's best achievements, while conservatives considered free trade expansion and immigration control as more important achievements.

Third resolution of 2013: No more false, make-believe worlds of crushing liberal regulation and robust conservative freedom. Both parties regulate. From the EPA to the Patriot Act, from the Affordable Care Act to the Defense of Marriage Act, from safe food and drinking water to workplace safety, we all regulate. There is fair, honest and real disagreement among conservatives and liberals. But the differences should not be reduced to lies and myths.

Look at the rich complexity of political debate in the first 100 years of this nation: Federalists like Hamilton believed in a strong central government. Republicans like Jefferson believed in states' rights. Federalists created the Bank of the United States and essentially created American capitalism. Republicans saw banks as scams to fleece the public. Federalists wanted a permanent army. Republicans thought the militia could do the job, and so on.

This same complexity and interchange of values continued into the 1800s with the Progressive Whigs and the Jacksonian Democrats. Since then, we've fought over slavery, the Union, reconstruction, the role of government, civil rights and privacy. Important issues. Real issues.

Fourth resolution of 2013: If we're going to disagree, then let's disagree in reality and not in some neo-conservative world of lies, myths and make-believe.

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