Bethany Blankley over at Townhall.com gives us a very helpful working definition of conservatism, explained by none other than Mr. Calvin Coolidge. Blankley shows how Merriam-Webster gets it wrong as a belief merely opposed to any and all change. She counters that it is conservatives who oppose the status quo, the default setting that continually attempts to curtail rights and deny responsibilities, stifle freedom and disregard higher laws than those passed by legislative majorities or executive fiat.
Blankley goes on to examine, with the perspective of that most deliberate and methodical of thinkers, Cal Coolidge, what conservatism really is, upon what grounds it, and how it translates into a governing philosophy in the real world. She illustrates how Coolidge – “perhaps the most conservative president of the last century” – achieved his administration’s goals not merely for the economy or some false separation of social vs. fiscal policy but by keeping “life-giving policies” in their primary place as the Founders did.
As Blankley puts it, “Conservatism guided Coolidge to relieve a country crippled by debt and severe economic depression, institutionalized segregation, and class warfare to eliminate the progressive policies Woodrow Wilson and Congress created. Progressives devalued life by institutionalizing oligarchy in America through the 1913 Federal Reserve Act, segregating federal employees, and making illegal interracial marriage. Coolidge evidenced fiscal responsibility by significantly reducing tax rates and the national debt by nearly one third. Debt, he argued, stifled freedom, limited entrepreneurship and economic growth. He advocated for personal responsibility and accountability through the rule of law, attempting to make illegal lynching and racial segregation, and hate crimes. He also sought to create national commissions to help bridge racial divides—yet progressives fought him at every step.” This was more than an economic battle Coolidge waged, it was a moral battle, illustrating that the nature of conservatism is not merely reactive – opposing “progress” for its sake – but rather advances the genuine progress of human life and ordered liberty.
“The root of conservatism is not laissez-faire economic policies that create personal financial profit and power, but principles that value life-giving activities that improve societal welfare.”
Blankley furnishes a perspective on Coolidge and conservatism too few understand or appreciate these days. It is long overdue that Coolidge and conservatism not only find coherent expositers among those running for office in this next election but, just as important, that conservatism is restored to American government after so many years in exile.