Huntsman: The Truer Conservative

Written by J.D. Hamel on Wednesday September 7, 2011

Here’s a brief biography of two candidates:

One of them presided over arguably the best business climate in the nation, so good that Forbes magazine ranked it as the best state for business and careers. As governor, he enacted free-market health care reforms, balanced the budget, and thus far is the most public advocate of the Ryan plan to reduce long-term entitlement spending.

The other guy endorsed Al Gore and in a letter to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, asked for the government’s charity during its health care reform efforts. He has lured jobs to his state with subsidy programs which have cost his state’s taxpayers nearly $14,000 for every new job “created.”

The conservative punditry’s verdict on each man is clear: the first is a squishy moderate RINO, while the second is a principled conservative. Welcome to the modern Republican Party.

Jon Huntsman is, of course, the first guy. He took to the airwaves recently to declare himself the “center-right candidate for a center-right country.” The obvious implication is that he’s more moderate than Rick Perry (the second guy mentioned above) or Michele Bachmann or whoever else.

Huntsman does a disservice to conservatism by branding himself as a moderate. He’s not a moderate. He believes in low taxes, free markets, balanced budgets, the importance of the family, and the wisdom of an active—but measured—American foreign policy. His career is a testament to the vitality of these ideas. He shouldn’t run from them.

Perry and Bachmann’s conservatism is defined by what it opposes: science, liberalism, and gays. Others insist that their conservatism is reflexively anti-government, but each supports the Federal Marriage Amendment, a proposal that would annul the marriages of gay couples—ripping apart new families, many of which count young children as members.

Their assertions that evolution is “just a theory” miss the mark, and discourage otherwise sympathetic voters from joining the conservative cause. Jonah Goldberg recently argued that the Democrats are just as anti-science as Republicans, citing the president’s unwillingness to increase our nation’s nuclear energy production. I agree with Goldberg that the president’s policy is wrongheaded, but until President Obama tells the American public that nuclear physics is “just a theory,” I’m going to continue to give him the edge over Perry and Bachmann when it comes to science.

I became a conservative after reading Robert Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah. I did not and still don’t accept all of its arguments, but what made Bork’s book so compelling was the way it described the American Left. Bork theorized that in the absence of religious faith, the modern Left had become a substitute spiritual movement for many Americans, complete with prophets, heroes, rigidity, and often inexplicable passion. That struck a chord with me: the liberals that I knew and saw on TV were passionate to a fault. The conservatives always seemed more mature and reasonable. That’s a big reason for why I became a conservative—I didn’t want to join the camp of unreasonable people.

With few exceptions this observation has been turned on its head. The American Right is no longer a bastion of maturity, but a factory of anger and contradiction. We fulminate against federal power, but our frontrunner would have the U.S. government destroy marriage rights created by the states. We criticize federal spending, and then lambast Jon Huntsman, the only candidate to endorse a serious plan to control it.

That same movement is ready to coronate Rick Perry, a man with no serious plan to curb entitlement spending. I am told by the talking heads that he is the true fiscal conservative, yet his jobs strategy has been built around confiscating the wealth of taxpayers and using it to bribe businesses to relocate to Texas.

I don’t buy it. I don’t buy that I’m a moderate because I don’t think the government should steal money from individuals and then redistribute it to large corporations. I don’t buy that I’m a moderate because I think that the federal government should not be in the business of taking away rights. I don’t buy that I’m a moderate because I think that families—all of them, even the ones headed by gay people—are vital to the survival of the Republic. I don’t buy that I’m a moderate because I believe what scientists say about evolution.

That’s why I’m not ready to buy Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann—not as my candidate, and not as conservatives.

Here’s what I will buy: that I am a conservative, and that my political philosophy has something to say about how this country should be governed. That’s why I’m supporting Jon Huntsman, the most conservative candidate in this year’s Republican field.