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Nelson: A lesson in understanding differing political viewpoints

Nelson writes, "A new year seems a good time to clear up people's misconceptions about my politics. I've been accused of being a libertarian and a liberal; neither is true, but the accusations are evidence of how little most people concern themselves with understanding political views."

Ross Nelson
Ross Nelson, Columnist
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Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of conservative taste. A new year seems a good time to clear up people's misconceptions about my politics. I've been accused of being a libertarian and a liberal; neither is true, but the accusations are evidence of how little most people concern themselves with understanding political views.

Back in the day I was a Reagan conservative: uncomfortable with his big spending ways but the usual cheerleader for a big military. You might remember those times: we had to have huge navies on both sides of our continent, peace through strength (and meddling everywhere), rah rah sis boom bah. I attribute that view to my callow youth (as opposed to my callow dotage some wag will say, so I'll say it first.) But as I read and observed more I saw that I was wrong, that America had gone astray constitutionally and we had become an imperium—the very opposite of the traditional conservative values of liberty, small government, and low taxes.

George W. Bush was never a conservative and his buffooneries lately reinforce the point. His tilt leftward was clear even before his presidential election. I heavily criticized him and his fell cohort from a conservative stance for his warmongering disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan and center-left domestic policies. Thus was I often labeled a liberal. The thinking was that if you criticized a supposed conservative you had to be liberal, and vice versa. In fact, my assessments for both Democrats and Republicans were based on the same principles applied across the board—a novel approach it seems for most people.

Nor am I a libertarian, although I've studied it much more than any other political movement. Some of its tenets are agreeable and doubtless I've picked up some of its thinking, but libertarianism at its core is profoundly mistaken about human nature and action. The conservative sees that everyone is born into a specific culture, language, history, family and narrative that cannot safely be jettisoned. Mainstream libertarians reject those in favor of an atomistic, no-shackle total “freedom” while incongruously favoring war, vaccine mandates, and the like. There is a “right” libertarian movement that rejects the mainstream, however, that holds some promise.

Conservatives tend to fold under pressure. In politics it's called “growing in office.” Witness U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. A few others have a “road to Damascus” moment in which a single incident flips them to an opposite view. Such conservatism is barely an inch wide and an inch deep. The late Ed Schultz is an example. Originally a right-leaning radio talk show host, he was converted to the left by a single visit to a Fargo soup kitchen.

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This intellectual feebleness shows in our North Dakota legislature, where the so-called Bastiat Caucus which champions responsible taxing and spending, traditional social views and restrained government policies is considered a nest of kook-right snake handlers. Meanwhile, the big spending centrist Republicans (certainly not conservative in any sense of the term) are held up as exemplars of restraint and conservative responsibility. As mainstream thought shifts ever leftward we may expect conservatism, the real McCoy, to appear increasingly unintelligible to the uninformed.

Nelson lives in Casselton, N.D., and is a regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion page. Email him at dualquad413@gmail.com .

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

Nelson lives in Casselton, N.D., and is a regular contributor to The Forum's opinion pages.
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