Saturday, July 18, 2009

If Labels Don't Matter, Why Doesn't Smith Call Herself a 'Conservative'?

An understanding of the proper role of government is no substitute for a society's way of life.

"Politics is not like an ocean voyage or a military campaign… something which leaves off as soon as reached. It is not a public chore to be gotten over with. It is a way of life." - Plutarch

I have noticed recently that a number of Danielle Smith's supporters have been pushing some new arguments. The argument is that her candidacy creates a fusion between those political philosophies of 'libertarianism' and 'social conservatism'. As if to further emphasize their point, they make the argument that the party's policies and principles will remain the same regardless of who is leader. Lastly, they have argued that labels like 'libertarian' and 'social conservative' are not nearly as important as the principles that lie behind these two political philosophies. Are they correct in making these arguments? I would say that they are partially correct, but that they are not entirely so. I have several points that I would like to make beginning with the last and weakest argument.

The argument that there is no real distinction between self-described 'libertarians' and 'social conservatives' beyond the labels is something that those from both camps would surely deny. The first question we ought to ask is, if these labels are meaningless than why does Danielle Smith insist that the first one be used to described her? If there is no real substantive difference wouldn't she be indifferent to being described using either label? Obviously there is a substantial difference that make the labels necessary. While 'libertarians' have an absolute belief in a very limited role for the state, 'social conservatives' have an absolute belief that the first and foremost role of the state is to protect human life. These two beliefs needn't always contradict, but sometimes they do. In a case of euthanasia, a libertarian might believe the state has no business to intervene in someone's personal choice whereas a social conservative might believe the state has the legal duty to intervene and save a human life.

The other argument that the policies and principles of the party will remain the same regardless of who is leader. Someone should have told members of the old federal PC party that they should have had nothing to fear with David Orchard becoming leader because their party's policies would have remained unchanged. Even if the Wildrose Alliance is a party that is more grassroots-driven that most, a genuine leader is not pushed any which way but ably leads a party in a certain direction. Therefore, the principles and policies that Danielle Smith calls her own will be extremely important in determining which direction the party is led. What proponents of this argument also forget is although some of these 'hot-button social issues' fall under federal jurisdiction, they are not entirely irrelevant to the Premiership. Who would deny that having the Premier of Alberta speak openly and frankly to Stephen Harper about these social issues would have no effect on how the Albertan-based Prime Minister?

The most potent argument that Smith supporters are making about her candidacy representing a fusion of libertarianism and social conservatism is also the most disconcerting. It is wrong for two reasons. The first is that conservatism is split into different ideologies when it is first and foremost a way of life. Yes conservatives have ideas and policies, but these must always reflect and safeguard a pre-existing way of life and not the other way around. The second is the assumption that there are other factors of electability that are more important than holding Alberta's mainstream conservative values. While factors such as personality, age, and talent should be considered, ultimately the most important factor in electability is a candidate's conviction to maintain our province's conservative values. The values of Albertans ought to be exemplified in the public and private lives of her political leaders. They must provide a moral example to young Albertans of the meaning of faith, family, and freedom.

I will conclude with a few others observations. Like Preston Manning, I myself believe that there is a larger label that both 'libertarians' and 'social conservatives' fall under and that is the label of 'conservative'. To press home my point I note that Randy Hillier did not run his campaign on the label of being 'a libertarian-social conservative candidate', but as a 'conservative leader for a conservative party'. While Danielle says she is modeling her campaign in many ways with that of Randy Hillier's campaign for the leadership of the Ontario PC Party, the fact that she has kept 'libertarian' label speaks volumes about her convictions as a candidate. Unfortunately, her supporters would do well to remember that politics is not just a political campaign, but an entire way of life that goes far beyond mere public image. Therefore, I believe that the candidate for the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance party with the most electability is also the candidate that lives the values of ordinary Albertans.