A CONSERVATIVE POINT OF VIEW –
“PRAIRIE” CONSERVATISM, THAT IS –
APPLIED TO HEALTH CARE REFORM:
I have long made a distinction between “current conservative thought” and what I call “original conservative thought”, and also refer to as “prairie conservatism.”
As a child on the farm in Kansas, I was surrounded by “conservative thought”.
Conservative thinking as I knew it then was heavily based, in story/tradition at least, on slavery and the Civil War as an issue. “Freeing a people” was respectable and honored, no matter the party for which one voted.
Conservative thinking drove countless daily and long term decisions. We were farmers, after all, the lot of us. Those who were no longer farming had roots in farming via grandparents and/or uncles/aunts. They understood “conservative thinking” as it applied to farming.
“Prairie conservatism” as I knew it meant avoiding debt (taking out loans when necessary – say for farm machinery – a decision based on keeping the farm going.) Machinery, however, if it needed replacing, was first sought as “good condition second hand”. Similarly, cars and trucks were commonly “second hand”. Generally, if something could be fixed with resources on hand (bailing wire for instance!) it was fixed with minimal cash outlay, and no debt.
“Husbanding resources” was a “Biggie”! This ranged from looking after the land with contour farming practices, to maintaining wind-control trees along section lines, to stashing anything that might turn out later to be useful. Boards and machinery parts stashed outdoors; fabric and garden produce indoors.
“Personal integrity” was fundamental. “Deals” were made as best as possible with both parties holding interests of one another in mind. Word and handshake were honorable, and were honored. Local small town grocers and mechanics provided goods and services at this level of integrity. “Big Profit” was “foreign” to their practice.
Christian teaching was important in the prairie conservatism I knew. It had almost nothing to say of “hell fire and damnation” and promoted living by the New Testament – the teachings of Christ. There was woven through the culture an awareness of “the human family” *
It did not surprise me, when later living in Canada, to learn the Canadian single-payer health care system originated in Saskatchewan (a solidly prairie province; we called it “Kansas North”). Not only did the concept of “husbanding” the essential human resource first show up in the Canadian prairies, the individual driving it was a Methodist minister! (Tommy Douglas, member of the Canadian federal parliament.).
From a prairie conservative point of view, Universal Health Care made plain and common sense as “husbanding a resource”. Single payer made “economic sense” as well, in a ‘hands down’ way: Pool everyone, share the cost, look after those who need looking after as need arises.
From a Christian, compassionate, view, the Canadian HC system also made plain and common sense : address suffering.
As a child in Kansas, I experienced a lot of enthusiasm for Dwight Eisenhower. In current times, one of his last remarks lingers like a bell still ringing: “Beware the military-industrial complex”. I have no doubt he would weigh in today, extending his caution. His remark might now be: “Beware the military-industrial-mega corporate-lobby complex.”
Truman, in my part of Kansas, was less enthusiastically honored. But the agrarian Kansans I lived among knew the heart-message of Truman’s: “The Buck Stops Here”. Individual responsibility – toward self, toward all, toward husbanding resources, with a strong dose of compassion was understood. People understood the phrase“individual responsibility” included the full range of possible individual human choice. They also understood, as citizens, and as Christians, there was individual responsibility to matters of “common weal”.
Current, “urban Conservatism” is a very different beast from prairie conservatism as I remember it. “Urban Conservatism” has little to do with practical economical means of “husbanding resources”, and has little “compassion”. It has become “profit-driven”, uses “profit likelihood” to override any vestige of moral compass it may once have had.
The story of Christ driving the money-lenders out of a “sacred” place makes no “connection,” in the mind of a “modern Conservative,” to modern times. “Sacred place” is corporate headquarters. There is no imaginative extension of a generalized concept of “sacred place” to mean, for instance, anywhere, everywhere, including the earth itself, structures and institutions, and physical bodies of the living. “Husbanding”, as in “stewardship” – at the center of “prairie conservative” practice – is short term, if it exists at all, in modern conservative thought, and is narrowed to “costs of productivity” against “profit”.
The stereotyped “modern Conservative” that I hold in mind supports, and becomes part of, that which Eisenhower warned against. Individuals of this persuasion, do not hold themselves to a “moral compass check” of “the buck stops here, with me, personally”; they do not appreciate the ‘teaching’ of Christ chasing out the money lenders; they do not understand “husbanding resources” by practical, common sense government policy.
It turns out, wonder of wonders, and hope of hope, that the “Father of Reaganomics” supports a Single-Payer Insurance system! Thoughts and rationale of Paul Craig Roberts may be read at http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=144312962&blogID=511334466. I cannot say how well my thoughts line up with those of Mr. Roberts on a point-by-point checklist. But I suspect I agree with him “in general” as much as I agree with arguments in favor of Single-payer.
I also cannot say how far this economist has moved from the disastrous results of a “trickle down” approach to general economic theory. Who knows, “trickle down” might have had more positive effect if “prairie conservatism” had been in practice, rather than the “Corporate Profit-Motive Conservatism”, already functioning at the time of “Reaganomics”.
*(“Reality check”, personal fantasy adjustment on my experience with Prairie Conservative values: What I have laid out above is “the best” as I experienced it in the 1950’s. and was very real. Sadly, no majority of those same wonderful folks appreciated need for strong labor unions to balance power between workers and corporations. They were also relatively silent on living and working conditions for the “urban poor”. They did not “connect”, could not easily relate, to what it “must be like” to not live on ones own land, to not be in position to raise ones own food. Many, despite personal generosity, were not members of agricultural cooperatives in their region, in those times, and others were! I had questions about “unions” and “cooperatives” as a child. I asked for adult insight once, to my memory, and did not ask again. The response was: “Too close to ‘communism’, not close enough to individual responsibility”. It wasn’t consistent to avoid organized cooperative venture with other dominating beliefs and behaviors – especially as these are among the most democratic of all non-governmental market institutions. But human inconsistency is not uncommon – One might well want to examine cultural ‘mind-set’ during the Cold War, and also to explore sources of “facts about socialism”. Odd that Scandinavia was scarcely mentioned during the 1950’s to foster more realistic understanding of “socialism”.
Since a great deal of my “personal world view” was strongly oriented toward “personal responsibility to cooperation whenever possible”, I did not fully accept the answer. Later, farming on my own, and as a union member through my career, I was able to participate in “cooperative” ventures, and to witness and deeply appreciate a need for unions as “power balancers” between “workers” and “management”. I touched on “Reaganomics” above. Perhaps, if the heart and principle I found so valuable in “Prairie conservatism” had been practiced by “management”, if management had viewed “employees” as “a resource to value and honor”, unions would not have developed!!
Further to “reality check”, I acknowledge Tommy Douglas was not of the Canadian conservative party. Far from it, but he was deeply intelligent, deeply thoughtful, and deeply committed to human well-being at the grass-roots level. “Integrity” is an excellent word to use as a stand-in for the name Tommy Douglas. Everything he stood for lines up with my experience of “the best in prairie conservatism”.
My Best To All! – MaggieAnn