Shelby wasn’t expecting such difficult questions when she took a job teaching grammar school in middle Tennessee. But it was an election year and little Emily had been hearing a lot of talk about politics. So she raised her hand on the first day of class and asked “Miss Shelby, what is the difference between a conservative and a liberal?” Miss Shelby thought for a while before she replied with a story that was dated but true. It happened when Miss Shelby was just about Emily’s age:
“When I was in the fifth grade, there was a girl named Hannah. She was beautiful and athletic. She used to try to beat the other boys in the 100 yard dash. She lost time and time again. But one day in fifth grade, she beat all the other little boys in a race. Patrick, who used to be the fastest boy in school, got mad. He got really mad. In fact, he picked on Hannah so badly that the school teacher grounded him from recess for an entire month. That made Patrick madder still.
“The boys in the class all picked on Patrick for losing his title as the fastest kid in school to a girl. They even went so far as to say that Patrick probably couldn’t beat Hannah in a fistfight. They teased and teased and teased poor Patrick. Then one day he just snapped did something really stupid: he challenged Hannah to a fistfight after school.
“Being a lady, Hannah declined to fight. That meant Patrick got to save some face. But, unfortunately, Patrick would not give up trying to fight Hannah. So finally, she told Patrick to meet her at the baseball field after school one day. The entire school was buzzing over the fact that Hannah agreed to fight Patrick. There were at least fifty kids who showed up for the fight. There were also a couple of dozen people waiting in the bleachers when Hannah arrived at the ball park. Among them were Hannah’s four older brothers; Ben, Peter, Rob, and Luke John.
“Patrick put up his dukes to fight Hannah. She remained calm with good reason. Patrick never saw the punch coming. He didn’t even see Ben come down from the bleachers and approach him from his weak side. But he felt Ben’s punch to his lower stomach. He also felt it when Ben rolled him over on his back, climbed on top of him, and gave him his very first broken nose. Ben pounded Patrick until his face was a bloody mess. It was made worse by the fact that he was crying uncontrollably.
“It should go without saying that Patrick never picked on Hannah again. In fact, he never picked on anyone again. He was greatly humbled by the experience of getting his nose broken by Ben. He just told his parents he was hit in the nose by a pitch and let the matter go at that. Hannah and her family are all conservative Republicans, by the way.”
When Miss Shelby was done with her story, Emily looked very confused. So Shelby started talking again – sort of the way Jesus did with his disciples when they were too dumb to understand a parable:
“Emily, I know you don’t know much about politics so I’ll explain why I shared this story with you. It illustrates four important characteristics of conservatism. I’ll explain them all in relation to Hannah and her brothers:
Conservatives believe the individual has unique talents given by a Creator. In the fourth grade, the girls started to sprout above the boys in height. In fact, many of the girls could have beaten Patrick but they did not try. Hannah was taught that it was a sin not to fully exploit her God-given talents. So she always tried her best. Even when she was splitting infinitives.2.
Conservatives are more interested in competing than in sparing the feelings of their inferiors. Hannah knew she would upset the fragile feelings of Patrick. But she didn’t care. The joy of competition outweighed the fear of causing personal offense. At first, she kind of enjoyed the reaction of Patrick. Being the target of jealousy and covetousness is much better than being ignored altogether.3.
Conservatives understand that human nature is ugly and must be controlled through fear. Hannah had an opportunity to sit down with Patrick and negotiate over their differences. But Hannah’s parents instilled in her a deep distaste for the United Nations approach to avoiding conflict. She was raised to believe that peace could best be kept by an overwhelming demonstration of force. Ben certainly supplied that show of force. Why negotiate with a punk who fights girls when you have four brothers who play junior and senior high school football? It is better to overwhelm a relatively weak opponent than to risk an embarrassing upset. Just ask the 1980 Russian Olympic Hockey team.4.
Conservatives believe that the family, not the government, is the foundation of society. Hannah could have called the police or told the principal that Patrick was threatening her. But that is not the way she was raised. Hannah and her three sisters, four brothers, mother, and father all have a saying: “Our family is sort of like the Ten Commandments. When you violate one of us, you violate all of us.” Hannah was raised to believe that, unlike the police, her family can always be counted on to respond in a time of need.
When Miss Shelby finished, she knew she had only told half of the story. But she promised she would later tell the story of another friend so little Emily could also understand the liberal mindset. And, dear reader, I promise to share that story with you in my next column about a little girl named Allison who lived in Illinois.