Morris: Conservatism Defined — Sort of

February 19, 2018

by Leo Morris

Are you a conservative?

You are? Really? What does that mean? How do you see yourself when you embrace that label?

Would you like to know what I mean when I say that I am a conservative? I’ll offer you a wager. Come up with a definition acceptable to me, and I’ll give you $1,000.

That’s a bet I can’t lose. Only I know what I mean by conservative, and nothing you can come up with will even be close.

The only thing either of us can say for sure is that as conservatives we are not alone.

According to a new Gallup survey, more states now lean liberal than did in 2016 but more states still lean conservative overall, 39 now compared with 44 then.

Gallup says the slight shift left can be attributed in large part to the low approval ratings of President Donald Trump, the person most associate with conservatism today, which just goes to show how careless people are when they fling appellations around willy-nilly. If Donald Trump is a conservative, I’m a three-toed sloth.

Everybody knows Trump is a populist, which means “yahoo who is not to be taken seriously except by other yahoos.”

The organization also says that 36 percent of Hoosiers consider themselves conservative, while only 22 percent self-identify as liberal. Believe it or not, that classifies Indiana as only “about average” for its level of conservatism, which will mightily confuse those who don’t understate why the state still doesn’t have a hate-crimes law.

The largest group of Hoosiers, 37 percent, claim to be “moderate,” which is what people call themselves when they want to be seen as having thought deeply about something that they haven’t thought about in the slightest.

What does it all mean? As far as I can tell, just that the idea that our actors, artists, mainstream media members and other elites are deliberately antagonizing half the country is a gross understatement. The level of their stupidity is truly astounding.

Otherwise, it means absolutely nothing. It is gibberish. Nonsense.

Gallup defines neither conservative nor liberal. It just assumes that we all know what the words mean and that we all mean the same thing when we say them.

But I couldn’t begin to say what other people mean by conservative, since I’m not even sure what it means to me anymore, and I consider myself one, at least in part.

In the more innocent days of my youth, I thought “fiscal conservative” was redundant. But the national debt is over $20 trillion, and we just watched congressional Republicans who decried President Obama’s deficits gleefully vote to add billions more to the debt.

A belief in traditional morality and uplifting values? Liberals and Democrats might still be slightly ahead of conservatives and Republicans in indictments, scandals and abuse allegations, but I think it’s about dead even for those caught in shameless lying.

Surely conservatism still means a fealty to the Constitution, especially its exaltation of the individual over the group, the foundation of our republic. But to consider some of the decisions of our supposedly conservative Supreme Court is to weep.

For a small part of my personal definition, I still cling to the first – and in many ways the best – exploration of conservatism I ever learned, from the seminal work of Sir Edmund Burke explaining why the American Revolution, moored to the past, was the right call, and the French Revolution, which aimed to throw everything away and start over, was tragically wrong. Conservatism, properly understood, does not resist all change. It merely seeks to hold on to what has worked as a foundation on which to build change.

Somehow, I doubt that’s what Gallup had in mind, or what the people answering the poll were thinking about.

This was just another sad exercise in Red State/Blue State “which-side-of-the-bitter-divide-are-you-on” foolishness.

Too bad. A good revolution, properly managed, is just about what we need right now. Liberals don’t really believe that, and moderates don’t understand it. I think conservatives get it.

Are you a conservative?

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is this year’s winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at


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