Defining the conservative versus liberal divide

Posted: Apr 26, 2010 12:00 AM
Defining the conservative versus liberal divide
Now that President Obama is getting ready to make his second Supreme Court nomination, the usual banter is taking place about the court and judicial philosophy.

The Supreme Court, of course, profoundly influences the character of our country.

Although, for instance, many look back on the policies of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal programs as the beginning of the real growth of the American welfare state, it is really key Supreme Court decisions during that time that enabled all of this. Court decisions changing the interpretation of “general welfare”, interstate commerce, and the authority of the federal government to tax changed the game and opened a new era of big government.

At the beginning of the 1930’s, the federal government’s take of national GDP was a little over ten percent. By the mid-1940’s it was over twenty percent, and the trend has been only upward since.

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Although much of the discussion about judicial philosophy contrasts how conservative and liberal judges relate to the constitution, I think the real key to conservative and liberal divergence is the world view these judges already have when they sit down to interpret the constitution.

The statement of vision defining American values appears in the Declaration of Independence. Understanding that vision is where I think the most fundamental conservative versus liberal divide exists.

Consider how President Obama relates to the Constitution, as he wrote in his book The Audacity of Hope – “Implicit in its structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth….”

Our president is a moral relativist. So we may expect that he doesn’t take very seriously the idea, as state in the Declaration of Independence, that there are absolutes. That we have God given rights that precede government and that the job of government is to secure them.

Rather than seeing government’s job as securing our rights, the liberal sees it to invent them. The politician – or the empathetic judge – defines what is moral and just.

There’s a lot of speculation about what is driving the tea party movement and why, as reflected in the latest survey by the Pew Research Foundation, Americans’ trust in government is at an all time low.

I think most fundamentally it’s discomfort with this moral relativism that is driving the pervasive unrest.

The whole unique idea of American government – the idea of human liberty – was that there are absolute truths and that individual citizens can and must be protected from arbitrary rulers – whether it is a king or a political class with arbitrary powers.

President Obama said the other day regarding the kind of court nominee he will seek, “…I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights…”

What in the world can this possibly mean from our president who has just signed into law a health care bill which will force every single American citizen to buy a government defined health care insurance policy? A health care bill that opens the door to unprecedented government control over how private individuals manage their health care and the most private decisions they make over their own lives.

Or what can it possibly mean coming from our president who opposed the Supreme Court’s decision a few years ago banning partial birth abortion – which is pure and simple torture and murder of a live infant?

The real differences over liberal and conservative judges is most fundamentally about the world in which Americans will live. Whether we live and will live in a nation in which there are absolute truths or one in which we are at the hands of political arbitrariness in which our lives and property are up for grabs.

Our country is being governed today by those with the latter view of the world and, fortunately, more and more Americans are deeply concerned.

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