Some Issues Where Conservatives Are Missing The Boat

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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I style myself a political conservative, but it seems to me that conservatives, in several cases, are failing to act on, even opposing, issues that are naturally suited to conservative thinking.

Alienating Academia

Considering that academics wield influence far out of proportion to their numbers by their control of the educational system, it would make a lot of sense for conservatives to try to regain command of the loyalties of academia, or at the very least stop alienating academics. A few suggested strategies:

Education is fundamentally a conservative activity: preserving and passing on the accumulated knowledge of the ages. Only the most incompetent mishandling could have created the situation today, where academia is opposed to political conservatism.

Sexual Harassment

I have never heard of a case of real sexual harassment that didn't violate traditional Judaeo-Christian sexual ethics in a major way. The harasser is either seeking illicit sex or at the very least is engaging in obscene conduct. So why are conservatives so lukewarm if not downright hostile on this issue?

First, there are some legitimate problems with sexual harassment law. In some cases it has been abused for personal reasons or to silence, for example, classroom discussion on topics like abortion. More importantly, it creates a climate of rule by the most touchy, since the standard is whether the individual considers the conduct offensive, not whether a "reasonable person" might. And even "reasonable persons," under our legal system, are getting steadily more unreasonable.

Having said that, the vast majority of sexual harassment complaints are legitimate, since it's an embarrassing thing to make public and the litigation process is painful. Not many people are willing to undergo that sort of thing lightly. And far more sexual harassment goes unreported. So why aren't conservatives all over this problem since it involves wholesale violation of traditional Judaeo-Christian sexual ethics?

First, a lot of conservatives don't care beans about traditional Judaeo-Christian sexual ethics. They're in it for the money: lower taxes, less regulation, or both. A lot of these folks feel that sex with desirable female subordinates is a legitimate perquisite of power.

Second, a lot of conservatives who do care about traditional Judaeo-Christian sexual ethics also think women should not be in the workplace. To these conservatives, sexual harassment is a natural outcome of women being where they don't belong.


Conservatives are skeptical about overpopulation for a variety of reasons. Some are concerned that a declining population would lead to economic contraction, loss of tax base, declining worker pool, higher labor costs, and so on. Many think that personal decisions about reproduction are no business of the government. Still other are concerned that population control would mean easy access to contraception for minors and intolerable pressures for abortion on demand, maybe even coerced abortion like in China (interestingly, these include many of the same conservatives who turn a blind eye to sexual harassment).

There's one reason, above all others, that conservatives should back population control despite all their other concerns. You can take this to the bank.

Population = Regulation

We will return to the level of taxation, freedom from government regulation and personal freedom we had in 1880 when we return to the population density we had in 1880. Not before. Actually, we won't even get it then. 50 million of us in 1880 made worse messes, in many ways, than 280 million of us do now. It only took 50 million Americans to wipe out the passenger pigeon; I doubt if we would do that now. Canada geese and white-tailed deer used to be rarities in many areas when there was no regulation and less than half our current population; now they are nuisances in some places. Some regulation is here to stay.

I lived in California for a decade and visit it frequently. California voters routinely pass the most aggressively conservative, if not reactionary, initiatives in the country. And you never saw a state so strangled in regulation at all levels (well, maybe Massachusetts). You just cannot cram 35 million people into 160,000 square miles and not require micromanagement of everything to keep people from stepping on each other's toes.

Now you can move to Wyoming where the population density is low and buy yourself a little time, but as long as New York and California are growing, they will send regulation-prone representatives and presidential electors to Washington, and those people will regulate Wyoming, too. After all, most of the land in Wyoming is Federally owned. And those states will send excess population to Wyoming, too, driving up real estate prices, demand for services, and pressures for regulation (since, after also, the newcomers think like Californians). Population pressures in the rest of the world will also create immigration pressure on the U.S.

Conservatives who are warning about population declines as a danger to Western civilization seem to fit into one of the following groups:

Here's a simple test of your commitment to population  growth. Don't tell me earth can support far more people, or technology (or God) will solve the problem. Are you willing to see a lot more people where you live? Are you okay with rezoning all the houses in your neighborhood as multiple-family units, and having occupancy limits removed? Are you okay with homeowners building another house in their back yards and renting them out? Are you okay with high rise apartments going up on your block?

And if your plan is to retreat somewhere far away out in the boonies, guess again. After equality of income, health care, and so on, the last entitlement will be living space. Lots of other countries have confiscated land to redistribute to the landless.

Population growth as advocated by conservatives is the ultimate Ponzi scheme.

Global Warming and Ozone Depletion

There are lots of serious scientific questions about how real these effects are and whether humans are responsible. There is also lots of data supporting the idea that these effects are real and human caused. These issues are neither the mere propaganda that many conservatives believe nor the slam dunk that many eco-activists believe.

The conservative approach to any problem is to prepare for the worst case. Therefore, conservatives should assume that these problems are real and take precautions against them. You can always earn that profit next quarter or go back to buying SUV's if it turns out we reduced fossil fuel consumption unnecessarily. Undoing a ten-meter rise in global sea level is a lot harder. And if you think taxes are bad now, just wait until we have to protect or relocate every coastal city and compensate every property owner along shorelines with Federal disaster assistance.

Form Versus Substance

Conservatives frequently create problems for themselves by arguing for less Federal regulation or judicial activism on some issues, only to come under fire themselves for wanting the Federal government to override State authority, or wanting the Supreme Court to make some novel ruling on other issues.

It's not Federal versus State, or judicial activism versus conservatism. It's the specific decisions. If the States were to start passing laws that were extremely hostile to business, conservatives would certainly, and rightly, expect Congress and the Supreme Court to override them.

The problem isn't judicial activism. It's activism in favor of the anti-social. I'd love to see a Supreme Court that is as activist in favor of the middle class as the Warren Court was for sociopaths. I'd like the Supreme Court to declare that the right to privacy extends beyond abortion to my financial records, that immunity to unreasonable search applies not only prohibits the police from invading the homes of drug dealers, but to extends to regulatory bodies invading the premises of businesses, that right to free counsel applies just as much to a homeowner facing a frivolous lawsuit as it does a petty crook like Gideon.

Government and Government

I tell liberals that I'm not nearly so worried about being wrongfully executed for a crime as I am about being wrongfully executed for the crime of having something somebody else wants to take. I'm not nearly so worried about the police ransacking my house without a warrant as I am about a burglar ransacking my house without a warrant.

When an organized group interferes with my personal freedom, as far as I'm concerned, they're government. Say I'm driving a highway out west. Mile after mile, there's open land with a fence and a red, white and blue sign saying "U.S. Government Property. No Trespassing." Then that fence ends, and there's mile after mile of open land with a fence and signs saying "Private Property. No Trespassing." What's the difference? Both are equally impeding my freedom of movement. So why should I care when the guy with the "Private Property" sign complains that the people with the "U.S. Government Property" sign are interfering with his freedom? He doesn't respect mine; why should I respect his? There are vast areas of public land that are landlocked by private land and inaccessible to citizens. So why should I care when those same people complain the Government is trampling on their rights? The government raises my taxes and there's little I can do about it. The phone and the utility companies and the insurance companies and the cable companies raise my taxes (called rates) and there's little I can do about it. Rates, taxes, what's the difference? They're money out of my pocket. The NSA invades my privacy; the software companies and the RIAA invade my privacy. What's the difference?

If conservatives want to cut the power of political government, they need to slash the power of private government as well. People may be dumb, but they're not dumb enough to cut regulatory government and leave themselves solely at the mercy of private government. It was the growing power of private interests over individuals that led to pressures for government regulation in the first place.


Ken Layne nailed this one on Wonkette (July 29, 2008). Speaking of John Edwards' extramarital affair:

It reminds us that John McCain left his wife, after she was disfigured in a car accident, so he could chase women in bars until he met the beer heiress of his congressional-district dreams.

It reminds us that Bill Clinton squandered a successful second term in a prosperous, peaceful America by shaming his family and the country with his dumb redneck inability to keep his pants on, and it reminds Hillary supporters that she would likely be the Democratic nominee today if Bill wasn't such a self-centered jackass.

It reminds us that the last Agent of Change in Washington was an ambitious young legislator named Newt Gingrich, who divorced his first wife while she was fighting cancer, and left his second wife after she was stricken with multiple sclerosis, and carried on an adulterous affair with a young congressional aide -- now his third wife -- while leading the charge to impeach Bill Clinton for having "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky.

It even reminds us that Barack Obama and his picture-perfect wife and kids on the cover of People magazine are not "normal" at all. They are the idealized American family, successful and attractive, somehow rising from modest backgrounds and all the American prejudices against single parents, minorities and mixed-race kids.

It reminds us that politicians in Washington are creeps and weirdos, and whether they're Senator Larry Craig cruising for gay sex in an airport bathroom or ex-Senator John Edwards hiding from tabloid reporters in a Beverly Hills hotel bathroom, they are twisted little Caligulas pretending to be statesmen, on your dime.

Although Layne slams left and right about equally in this piece, it's not liberals who base their campaigns on appeals to traditional sexual morality. Some studies indicate that up to half of the population has been unfaithful. That still leaves half who have remained faithful. How hard can it be to find a conservative spokesman unafflicted by a "dumb redneck inability to keep his pants on?"

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Created 26 September, 2003,  Last Update 24 May, 2020

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