First, let us start with the dictionary definition of conserve: to keep from being damaged, lost or wasted; to save keep, or preserve. In politics, a conservative is defined as someone tending to conserve or preserve established traditions or institutions.
Now let us ask a leading question. Is it worthwhile to conserve or be a conservative? George Santayana, Spanish-American poet and teacher of philosophy at Harvard University, wrote in his book Reason in Common Sense: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
I am a child of the Great Depression - oldest child of a mother set adrift in that economic disaster with three youngsters. One week we lived on a peck of dried peas - morning, noon and night - which my mother, in great humiliation, obtained from the government surplus food depot.
I mention these painful, personal memories so that you will understand I am not unmindful of the hardships of poverty and circumstance, or the role of government in mitigating disaster.
I cast my first vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt - believing then, and still today - that government has a responsibility to "prime the pump" in great emergencies.
Unfortunately, when Democrats discovered the vote - getting power of free, social services, they would not return to the requirement of individual responsibilities. In 1951, while lunching at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., President Truman and his press secretary came in and took stools at the bar next to our table. After sandwich and soup, the president turned and said hello to my host. With this we engaged the president in conversation.
That morning, a headline on the front page of the "Washington Post" was -- "Inflation Hits 3 percent." None of us in the group had ever heard of inflation. So I said, "Mr. President, excuse my ignorance, but what is inflation?
Mr. Truman smiled and replied, "Don't apologize. I was asked that same question at the cabinet meeting this morning. I explained it was like a hunter stung by a bee -- and here he told a locker-room joke, the gist of which was the hunter's desire for a salve that would remove the sting but leave the swelling.
I laughed, but I realized he was deliberately pumping up inflation for political gain - by running the printing presses overtime at the Bureau of Engraving.
Truman already had confiscated the real cash in the Social Security Insurance Fund to help pay for World War II, replacing the insurance reserve with I.O.U s. Thus, the hedge against old age retirement ceased being insurance and became a "trust." Some of you may recall the liberal argument: "There is nothing to worry about. We owe it to ourselves."
I became alarmed, because common sense told me that Social Security, and even the nation, would go bankrupt if inflation - at 1 percent, or whatever - continued indefinitely. That's when I became a conservative.
When Social Security approached its first short-fall in the early sixties, I wrote a column warning about the impending crisis. The amount of angry response by readers, including some close friends who should have grasped the facts, astonished me. I was called irresponsible for suggesting that Social Security was in trouble.
However, the Washington politicians fessed up a year later and raised the employee/employer Social Security taxes for the first time. Such increases have occurred periodically every since. Another is needed right now, as is Medicare and Medicaid.
The critical problem is that working-and-saving Americans now must cough up to government - federal, state, and local - at least a third of what they earn. I am a student of history, and I have learned that all previous civilizations have collapsed when approximately 40 percent of the fruits of producers go to support non-producers - government functionaries being the largest non-productive consumers.
We are closer to the edge than our politicians like to admit. In our time, the Soviet Union slipped over the edge. The Communist Manifesto - "to each according to need, from each according to ability" - has a wonderful, compassionate ring. But socialism always has been a nation-killer, and liberalism is nothing more than slow-motion socialism.
The United States national debt is 5 and 1/2 trillion dollars. Interest on this debt takes the top 35 percent of federal taxes. Social services that the borrowed money provided has been consumed and forgotten.
If we balanced the federal budget next year, and every year forever, we would never escape the 35 percent overburden on our federal revenue without repudiating the debt, or confiscating your and my savings by drastic devaluation of our money.
Don't laugh! President Nixon did it overnight in a small way. Mexico and Russia did it last year big time. Inflation does it more slowly, but just as surely. How much did you pay for your last home or car that 20 years ago cost one-fourth as much?
We must move on from balancing the budget and start working earnestly toward reducing the national debt. It's the economy, stupid.
After the economy, the principal problems plaguing the nation center around the liberal dissipation of established traditions and institutions.
We have destroyed the family and the work ethic with no-questions-asked welfare, encouragement of out-of-wedlock teen-age pregnancies with free condoms in school and welfare after delivery that rewards the disappearance of impregnators We have dumbed down education with the hope of keeping kids in school - but, still, the drop-out rate in inner-city schools is 45 percent and unemployment of young, black males is 55 percent. A lost generation.
Pornography and gutter language is common on prime- time television. Teen-age drug addiction is soaring. Street violence is commonplace.
Liberals laugh at morality, family values, religious faith, hard work, high educational standards, courtesy, patriotism, chaste sexual conduct, individual responsibility, pre-marital abstinence, polite language.
To conserve, one has to be smart enough to know what to keep and preserve from 10,000 years of civilization, so we don't keep repeating grievous mistakes. Our nation, our culture, our civilization depends on conservatism - either to save what is good and workable, or to rescue us from anarchy when the nation goes belly up.
I close by recommending the "Serenity Prayer" delivered at the height of the Great Depression - by Reinhold Niebuhr, the famous American clergyman:
"God grant us the courage to change things we can, accept the things we cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference."
September 25, 1996