Ronald Reagan used to say, “I didn’t leave my party. My party left me.”
While he was explaining his shift from midwestern Democrat to western Republican, his sentiment also describes the situation for many these days who find themselves conservative but not Republican. It’s a particularly apt distinction in Colorado where a majority of voters now identify themselves independent and unaffiliated. And it’s particularly pertinent this week after the unsettling words and behavior of the newly elected representative for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, Lauren Boebert of Rifle.
After the riotous mob assault on the nation’s Capitol, Rep. Boebert both supported the attempted insurrection while also trying to distance herself from it. After excitedly praising the radical chaos in D.C. by tweeting “Today is 1776,” she later shifted gears to assert the rioters “were not conservative.” Her mistake is in thinking she is. While Boebert correctly asserts “conservatives do not tear their country down,” she naively fails to realize she is not conservative. The representative is certainly a social media sensation. She’s obviously a small business owner. She’s an elected official. She’s a Republican. But she is most definitely not conservative.
The nature of a conservative is to be prudent, cautious, respectful, and opposed to radical change. Going back to its origins with Edmund Burke in the 18th century, it is to prefer stability and continuity to disruption and chaos. In formulating the foundation of the belief system, Burke drew a clear distinction between the American Revolution, which established a shining new republic now 245 years old, and the French Revolution, which devolved into mob action and chaos, resulting in the Reign of Terror.
Representative Boebert should ask herself which one resembles the Wednesday disaster. And then she should explain how she can possibly align the proud and disciplined action of the Founding Fathers with the selfish and immature behavior of the thugs and buffoons rampaging through the Capitol, attacking police officers, vandalizing historic property, and taking selfies in the House Speaker’s chair. Her tweet represents an insult to the legacy of true patriots who fought to establish and to defend the United States.
Conservatism is grounded in preserving and maintaining the institutions that establish and stabilize a civilized society. Conservatism is not radical, it’s not disruptive, and it’s not extreme. Rep. Boebert could learn much from true conservatives like George Will whose latest book The Conservative Sensibility outlines the history and beliefs of American conservatism, which seeks to conserve the founding of the nation.
She would benefit from checking in with Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative. She might even grow and mature by familiarizing herself with the 10 conservative principles in Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. And, if she wants to learn how contemporary conservatives behave, and perhaps align her behavior, statements, and representation of her constituents with authentic conservatism, she should regularly check in with leaders of character like Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and John Kasich.
She could benefit much from reading columnists like David French of the National Review, Ross Douthat of the New York Times, and Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal. Yet while these legislators and writers may help her understand conservatives, they can’t help her become one. Conservatism is a value and belief system, not a list of campaign slogans or points on a party platform. Conservative is something people are; it’s not a political party they join, a choice they make on a ballot, or a piece of metal they show off on their hip.
Lauren Boebert knows American history and conservatism only superficially, and she doesn’t even understand she’s at best a libertarian. Her beliefs are actually just bumper sticker slogans and talk radio platitudes parroting broad generalities about freedom and small government. Her naive understanding of decorum, tradition, and governing dishonors those she claims to praise. Her sidearm and her gimmicky restaurant Shooters do not reflect patriotism or conservative values. From what I hear, Shooters barely represents good food.
Former representative and current Aurora mayor Mike Coffman is a true conservative and a patriot whose life has been spent in service of his country. Coffman’s replacement in the 6th district, Jason Crow, is a soldier and a patriot who has done the same. In fact, in some ways, Representative Crow is actually more conservative and certainly more mature than Boebert, for Crow sought to protect lives and preserve the republic, while Boebert and her cronies attempted to harm people while they dismantled an institution and tradition.
Going forward, Coloradans of the Western Slope must decide whether Boebert truly represents their values and whether she honorably serves her district. And conservatives in Colorado will have to determine whether they still see themselves in the Republican Party. After Boebert’s first few days, and the party’s last decade, it’s not looking good.
Michael P Mazenko is a writer, educator, and school administrator in suburban Denver. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko.