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I think we conservatives sometimes feel inadequate, as if we lack the joy and enthusiasm that the left seems to bring to its various causes. It’s hard, after all, to wax rhapsodically about fiscal responsibility, deregulation, federalism, and other principles that distinguish conservative philosophy from the ever-expanding universe of leftist passions and causes. We don’t do sit-ins. We don’t chant. Conservatism is, well, conservative, and just not very exciting.
But if you scratch the surface, if you look beyond superficial enthusiasm and consider the worldviews that truly motivate left and right, you discover something interesting and, I think, counter-intuitive. You discover that it is conservatism that is optimistic, positive, enthusiastic, innovative, and forward-looking — in short, hopeful — and the left that is, overwhelmingly, motivated by a grim, desperate, fearful, and impoverished view of both humanity and our prospects.
Ever fretting about an environmental apocalypse, the left tells us how we must light and heat our homes, drive our cars, sort our trash, water our lawns. If the left had its way, every decision involving energy consumption would involve the Washington bureaucracy, and our lives would be smaller, slower, darker, colder. Conservation has it place, but that place must not be as the primary motivating principle of our lives: that is a call for stasis and an ever-diminishing existence, and is the very antithesis of the progress, innovation, and increasing prosperity that has always defined our nation.
The left’s response to the expense of health care is to make health care less free, less innovative, less varied — to diminish choice and quality by imposing the same poor standard on everyone. Rather than allowing the market to drive health care in new directions, creating new treatments and new delivery systems, new price points and service levels, the left’s vision of health care is, like that in other countries with socialized medicine, of a commodity product that’s “good enough,” and needs only to be spread as cheaply as possible over as many as possible. We could guarantee care for the poorest among us while trusting the reduced regulation, the free market, and individual choice to take care of the rest. Instead, the left would prefer, once again, that an elephantine bureaucracy impose its sclerotic vision on the most innovative health care system in the world, and that everyone be forced to live with the consequences.
I don’t doubt that this approach to health care is motivated by a desire to provide health care to those who can’t afford it. The problem is that the left’s impoverished vision is of a country in which most people can’t afford health care, and in which most people never will be able to afford health care unless health care is diminished in quality and variety, reduced to the medical equivalent of a McDonald’s Dollar Menu selection.
On matters of race and identity, the left’s vision of comity and tolerance is dark: we are, by their reckoning, a nation perpetually at war with itself, dividing and sub-dividing into ever smaller and more passionately aggrieved micro-identities. No victories have been achieved, no improvements made, and every victim group remains as oppressed today as it ever was — this despite countless examples to the contrary. It is a worldview rooted in pessimism, promising nothing but anger and resentment and ever smaller factions fighting for the title of most downtrodden.
Again and again, the left’s assumption is one of failure: people will fail — fail to provide for themselves, fail to arrange their own affairs in a sensible way, fail to move ahead, fail to get along, fail to be responsible, fail to prosper. This is certainly true for some people, but it isn’t true for most people. The left’s answer is, almost without exception, to restrict: restrict choices, restrict markets, restrict freedom. Whether we’re talking about the environment, or guns, or health care, or free markets, or even free speech, the left’s perspective is one of fear, pessimism, lack of confidence in people and their ability to make choices — and, consequently, a desire to reduce those choices, and to herd the public into an ever narrower and less optimistic future.
America has always been an optimistic country. We still are, the shrill protests of the left’s angry pessimists notwithstanding. It’s time conservatives appreciated that we are the ones with the optimistic vision — that we are the true champions of progress, in that we embrace the principles and practices that have achieved the astounding real progress of the past two centuries. The left, with its tired ideas of central control and forced redistribution, with its vision of ever smaller, ever more pinched and restricted lives, is mired in a fearful past, unable to imagine the bright future most of us take for granted.