Usually when someone calls me a conservative, I correct them.
Conservatism is a political philosophy that seeks to promote and protect traditional institutions and stands opposed to large-scale change within society. Conservatives got their name because they fought for a relatively static, stable society that emphasized continuity and resisted liberal attempts to alter the way things were.
Indeed, the word itself implies a certain level of timidity. Those who are conservative with money focus on saving it rather than risking it. Those who dress conservatively cover up rather than being somewhat exposed. Those who are conservative in love tend to guard their hearts and bodies rather than risk being hurt or used.
In short, conservatives hate change, and they hate risk.
I am without a doubt a member of the right-wing of American politics in virtually every way, but I am not a conservative. I don’t want things to remain as they are, I want to see wholesale change — often somewhat risky change — at virtually every level of government.
I want to see the tax system blown up, rewritten and simplified. I want to make fundamental, market-based alterations to social welfare programs so that they are actually sustainable and insulated from large-scale demographic changes. I want to see a wholesale deconstruction and decentralization of the federal leviathan and a rebalancing of the three branches of government.
The list goes on, but suffice it to say that I’m not particularly fond of defending the status quo or being called conservative.
On Tuesday, Christine Rousselle of Scarborough struck a nerve, and perfectly captured this distinctly right-leaning, anti-conservative radicalism and the sentiment that “things need to change.”
Her description of the time she spent working at Walmart in Scarborough — and watching up close the fraud and abuse rampant in the welfare system — quickly went viral on the Internet this week, being shared more than any single item from Maine I have ever seen.
Her eyewitness account of extravagant purchases made with food stamps, customers with expensive electronics who used the system and people on welfare longer than she had been alive was punctuated by a clear, not-at-all-conservative statement: “Something must change.”
This is something you rarely hear out of Maine Democrats or their political kin around the country.
The credo of the modern American left is, as George Will recently put it, “whatever is, from Social Security to farm subsidies to the Chrysler Corp., should forever be.” This distinctly conservative attitude makes them the contemporary defenders of the status quo.
Attempts to change Social Security in any way are ruthlessly attacked by these modern-day conservatives. Any move to reform Medicare results in rabid scare tactics from the left, resisting change.
Name a government program that currently exists and you will find the supposed radical change agents of our society — liberals — fighting tooth and nail to make sure nothing changes.
In Maine this has been the modus operandi of the Democratic Party since it lost its vise grip on the corridors of power in Augusta a year ago. Like the proverbial one-trick pony, Democrats reflexively oppose efforts to make all but the most superficial of reforms to Maine’s tax system, welfare system, regulatory environment or most recently structurally bankrupt bureaucracies such as the Department of Health and Human Services.
In Maine and across the country, we are seeing the eventuality of bloated, outdated programs that were designed decades ago for a different time. A house of cards was built, and over the years rather than rebuilding the house, members of both parties have just stacked more cards on top.
Busted budgets, unfunded liabilities and painful cuts are what we are looking at well into the future. Unless, that is, something changes.
And so, ironically, the real modern conservatives are those on the left, stubbornly protecting what is broken and resisting any sweeping change, all in the name of going down with the ship.
Maine, and indeed the entire country, deserves better. As Ms. Rousselle’s manifesto made abundantly clear, something has to change. So call me whatever you want, but I’m no conservative.
Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.