State Power and Conservative Ideology
It is increasingly apparent that there is an important ideological conflict going on in the modern conservative movement
between supporters of increased state power and supporters of limited government. The conflict pits the Bush Republicans
against traditional conservatives. While both groups give lip service to the term limited government and use the same
“conservative” label, they are very different creatures.
The Bush Republicans advocate a “neo-con” approach to state power that critics fear is a potential creeping fascist
ideology disguised as conservatism. Secret prisons, torture and unlimited detention in prisons without trial are all
examples of policies supported by the Bush Republican that outrage both traditional conservatives and civil
Traditional conservatives rely on the rule of law instead of personal rule by a strong leader or leadership group. The
Bush Republicans seem to believe that anything the Bush Administration wants to do should be permitted because they
claim that they should be trusted not to abuse the power of their offices. Traditional conservatives believe that the
system of checks and balances should be strong enough to survive good or bad White House or Congressional leaders. The
Bush Republicans seem to view the checks and balances system devised by our Founding Fathers as obstacles to imposing
their views on our government and nation.
The falsely named Patriot Act should have been opposed by traditional conservatives. However, many traditional
conservatives have been reluctant to break with the Bush Republicans over this measure. Traditional conservatives since
the Reagan era had come to see the Republican Party as the vehicle to put conservatism in control of the federal
government. They allied themselves with the “neo-cons”, the so-called Christian Right and greedy Corporate interests in
the quest for power via the Republican Party. Under Reagan, the traditional conservatives were the dominate faction in
the coalition. Under Bush, they have become increasingly silenced and voiceless in policy decisions. Only the
conservative label remains in vogue.
Fear of being branded as dreaded moderates or worst liberals have helped keep traditional conservatives from fighting
the Bush Republicans on policy decision after policy decision. The huge budget deficits and exploding national debt is
as frightening to traditional conservatives in the Republican Party as it is to liberals, moderates and conservatives in
the Democratic Party.
Conservative Democrats like Congressman Lincoln Davis (D- Tennessee) have been effective in gaining support from both
traditional conservative Republicans and Democrats of all ideological stripes. Congressman Harold Ford (D- Tennessee)
seems to be doing the same in his campaign for the US Senate seat being vacated by Bill Frist. Fiscal conservatism has
become a very important element in Democratic election successes. Restricting the invasions of privacy and erosions of
freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights is another element of the appeal of many Democratic candidates to traditional
It is clear that traditional conservative need to start ignoring the Democratic or Republican labels when voting. Issues
matter. Policy positions and actions matter more than empty words. Traditional conservatives should be looking at the
actions and beliefs of the Bush Republicans, “neo-cons”, so-called Christian Rightists and greedy Corporatists and
deciding if these are the kind of people that should be using the “conservative” label!