Stillwater News Press

Opinion

June 7, 2014

HAROLD SARE: Why I am a conservative

STILLWATER, Okla. — First, let me point out that I am not a superficial conservative focusing on a foundation of emotion and ideology. I have rejected the superficial advocates of both conservatism and liberalism and have referred to myself as a pragmatic humanist.

But, that term is not always easy to understand. Upon reflection, after hearing a young political scientist referring fondly – in fact enthusiastically – to President Reagan’s “11 principles of conservatism,” and defining his general definition of conservatism, I determined that my own political orientation was really conservative. President Reagan, according to him, defined conservatism as relying on or supporting institutions and processes that have been historically tried and had demonstrated to best serve the people of the nation. The concept and reality of freedom which he refers to cannot be taken lightly. Freedom is complex in any society and, especially in a democracy, is not to be bandied about as some political football.

I grew up during the Great Depression is a conservative family that always voted for conservative candidates and argued strongly that liberal politicians were ruining the country. That family was poor and made its living farming as share-croppers. World War II made it possible for them to find paying jobs, and even when their economic status improved somewhat, their politics did not change much.

As a person, I learned to be frugal, work hard, and not to spend my limited money on foolish things. I stuck to necessities and saved as much as I could. After serving in the latter stages of World War II, I became observant of our political system, and decided to major in political science in college. I could afford college because of the GI bill, and I made the best of it. I learned to appreciate the political and economic order that I was a part of while serving in the U.S. Army overseas and also in college during my studies. In my view, our Founding Fathers and those who followed had provided a workable and desirable system of government.

As I studied economics, a second major, I became agreeably a supporter of the private enterprise economic system. Living and studying in India, when India’s leadership was firmly ideologically socialist, I learned that the private enterprise system, in spite of its problems is the best. Both, our political system and our economic order in my experience and study were historically tried and were serving the people very well.

But, that stance did not mean that careful change and adjustment was not necessary when problems of disparity in income distribution in the late 1920s, the wide unemployment and the Great Depression of the 1930s came about. Something had to be done. The Hoover administration took careful policy steps without much cooperation from the Democrats, who finally won control of Congress and the White House. New Deal policies were put in place, but President Roosevelt’s budget-balancing effort in 1937 took the country back in depression. Then World War II came along, and all able-bodied men were drafted or put to work and the economy began to recover. These experiences were instructive, at least for a while, Our political and economic systems faced up to the economic and political challenges.

During the Great Depression, a number of policies were tried to resolve the economic problems. Growing out of that experience was the Social Security System, policies to stimulate employment, feed the hungry, care for the sick and assist the youth and the aging.

The Social Security System has proved its usefulness historically, even though today it probably needs adjustments to keep it economically viable. Cal Thomas, a conservative syndicated columnist, in a new book “What Works” supports Social Security and also Medicare, a major policy established under the Johnson administration of the 1960s.

See Part II of “Why I am a Conservative” in next Sunday’s edition.

Harold Sare is Regents Service Professor, Emeritus Political Science, Oklahoma State University.

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