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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 29, 2003

Right thinking

By Robert Rees

In a sure sign that political ideologies are for the moment passe, self-proclaimed conservatives and liberals are difficult to find these days. That's partly because ideologies are viewed now as part of the old-fashioned notion that politics has to do with principles.

Among Hawai'i's conservative thinkers and policy-makers are, from top, Colleen Meyer, Charles Djou, David Pendleton, Bud Stonebraker, Mike Gabbard, Galen Fox, Peter Carlisle, Mark Bennett, Richard Kelley, Richard Rowland, Sam Slom and Fred Hemmings.

Photo illustration by Greg Taylor • The Honolulu Advertiser

As for conservatives, it's also because some of Hawaii's most astute conservative thinkers have eschewed the label altogether.

State Attorney General Mark Bennett says labels are misleading and that the characterization as conservative even of people like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia "causes you to lose something." Bennett maintains that "the only way to judge people is by what they do, not by labels."

Bennett says the political dissertations that most influenced him as a student of political science were Thomas Hobbes' "The Leviathan" of 1651 — a defense of absolute power for government — and John Locke's "Two Treatises of Government" that ushered in liberalism in 1689. Bennett notes that he remains in the Locke camp.

Attorney Patrick Hanifin, whose recent death during heart surgery was a setback for jurisprudence in Hawai'i, was another conservative who exorcised the label of conservative. Hanifin had been top counsel for the Hawai'i branch of the Pacific Legal Foundation (an organization headquartered in Sacramento and dedicated to private property rights) and lead attorney in the lawsuits aimed at special "race-based" programs for Hawaiians.

Yet, reflecting on his own conservatism only weeks before his death, Hanifin pointed out that labels lack subtlety, and that what most influenced him as a young man was the classic liberal defense of individual freedom, John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty."

Still other conservatives in Hawai'i tend to be tentative and even defensive. Joan White, executive director at the Hawai'i Institute for Public Affairs, at first describes herself as a liberal-turned-conservative but then retreats: "You have to provide a little heart, so I see myself as somewhere in the middle."

In fact, the titular leader of the conservatives in Hawai'i, Gov. Linda Lingle, is not a conservative so much as a Republican/almost Democrat centrist.

Conservatives may be hard to find, but they claim to be on the ascendancy. Hawai'i's conservative blog on the Internet, Malia Zimmerman's Hawaii Reporter, reports, "It is clear from the last two election cycles that this state, along with the rest of the nation, is moving toward the right."

If it is true that Hawai'i is moving toward the right, it may be to distance itself from the politically correct intolerance that now characterizes the left. Liberalism has adopted what Richard Hofstadter in 1964 termed "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," a combination of "heated exaggeration, suspicion, and conspiratorial fantasy" that then characterized conservatism.

One who moved to the right as a result of the paranoid style appropriated by the left was University of Hawai'i law professor David Callies. A leader in the legal battle to protect private property against public intrusions, and a grantee of the Pacific Legal Foundation, Callies recalls that he moved "modestly to the right of center" because of the viciousness of the personal attacks leveled against him by liberals who objected to his defense of the private property clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Conservatism, however, is far more than just a reaction to liberalism. What conservatism most stands for is the belief that unregulated and unmitigated pursuit of economic self-interest by individuals results in the best possible society. It combines Herbert Spencer's Social Darwinism — that what's best for society is the survival of the fittest — with Adam Smith's notion that an "invisible hand" guides the greedy toward the common good.

Any syllogism that adopts these two premises must conclude, as does conservatism, that the best government is the one that governs least.

Even while arguing for a minimalist government, however, many conservatives paradoxically maintain that government must clamp down on individual freedom when it comes to morality and social issues. Conservatives, then, are apt to heap praise on monetary economist Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose" even while opposing the right of a woman to choose abortion or of a terminally ill person to choose suicide.

As Libertarian Richard Rowland of the Grassroot Institute of Hawai'i puts it, "Conservatives want to tell people how to behave when it comes to social issues. Liberals want to tell people how to behave when it comes to economic issues and business."

The Libertarian Party of Hawai'i, taken by this writer to be conservative because it almost invariably winds up supporting a free-spirited version of Social Darwinism, offers a quiz on its Web site to help you determine whether you're liberal or conservative.

You're a conservative, for example, if you agree that "minimum wage laws cause unemployment" but disagree that we ought to "repeal laws on sex for consenting adults." You're a liberal if you answer the other way around. You're a Libertarian, says Libertarian Party Chair Tracy Ryan, if you agree with both statements.

Some of these mirror-image differences between liberals and conservatives evolved because liberalism and conservatism began with precisely the same problem: How to resolve the conflict between social cohesion and individual liberty.

Hawai'i offers a colorful pallet of five conservative attempts at resolution. We have addressed these from left to right or moderate to extreme.

Free-market conservatives

What distinguishes almost all conservatives is a professed devotion to free market dynamics. As Sen. Fred Hemmings puts it, "The wealth of Americans can be found in the freedom of its citizens."

One prime proponent of the free market is associate professor of economics and political science at Hawai'i Pacific University, Ken Schoolland. He is the author of a childlike series of books, "The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible:

A Free Market Odyssey," wherein the hero encounters silly socialists, conniving communists, phony progressives and filthy fascists who threaten the natural well-being that flows from a state of unregulated nature.

The advocacy group Small Business Hawaii, another proponent of free market conservatism, publishes Schoolland's books. SBH's director is Sam Slom, an incumbent state senator who once heatedly insisted that Adam Smith never would have uttered one of Smith's most famous aphorisms: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."

As well as sometimes losing track of their own doctrines, free market conservatives have been known to violate their own principles by seeking the government help they profess to abhor. Dr. Richard Kelley of Outrigger Hotels, for example, once proposed a conservative revolution—to be led by "a Revolutionary Business Roundtable, a Militant Chamber of Commerce and an Insurgent Hotel Association" — to break the chains of government even as he was seeking government help for expanding his hotels.

GOP conservatives

The same basic differences that distinguish liberals from conservatives separate Democrats from Republicans. Nicholas Lehman in the New Yorker magazine notes that Republicans want less government, the Democrats more.

Economist Paul Krugman in the New York Times Magazine maintains that it is no longer simplistic "to describe Democrats as the party that wants to tax the rich and help the poor, and Republicans as the party that wants to keep taxes and social spending as low as possible."

Republicans also believe under the guise of law and order that rights for the accused somehow infringe on the rights of victims.

However, because the Republican Party of Hawai'i now seeks to be a "big tent," it has backed away from its more strident right-wing stances of a few years ago, ones that drove some of its elected representatives to the Democrats. Lingle has marginalized less tolerant religious conservatives, and the Republican Party today never describes itself as conservative.

In fact, religious or not, there aren't that many bona fide right-wing conservatives among the Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings, when asked to cite the leading conservatives in our Legislature, is able to name only a few besides himself: Rep. Galen Fox; City Councilman Charles Djou, a former member of the state House; Rep. Colleen Meyer and Sen. Sam Slom. The latter, says Hemmings, is "almost a conservative."

Theo, social conservatives

More extreme are the Theo and social conservatives, those who want to apply messages from God and other prescriptions for moral conduct to the constructs of Adam Smith and Herbert Spencer. This group seems to represent the plurality of the right wing in Hawai'i.

Theo and social conservatives are not comprised entirely of Republicans, but Republicans are more apt to lean that way. White House political strategist Karl Rove notes as a matter of fact, "People who went to church on a frequent and regular basis vote overwhelmingly for Bush."

One of Theo-conservatism's emerging leaders in Hawai'i is Rep. Bud Stonebraker, a Republican who is pastor at Calvary Chapel of Honolulu and who attended the Calvary Bible College in California. He and about 20 other state legislators are members of what they call The Fellowship, a group that attempts to incorporate eclectic religious thought into the law-making process.

Asked for an example, Stonebraker responded, "We noted that murder, theft and perjury were incongruent with good government."

Another important Theo-conservative, Rep. David Pendleton, has written in Hawaii Reporter that the U.S. war on Iraq met all the criteria for good war set by Jesus Christ.

An outspoken disciple of Theo conservatism in Hawai'i is radio talk show host and MidWeek columnist Rick Hamada. He has opined, for example, that the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, because it had "rejected God" and school prayer. As for crime and punishment, he recently proposed that the eyes of car thieves be removed "so they cannot steal another car."

Single-issue conservatives

Sometimes even more extreme than Theo and social conservatives are the single-issue conservatives. Pre-eminent among these is Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who has worked hard to delimit our Bill of Rights for the sake of protecting society.

Carlisle, for example, collaborated with state Attorney General and former federal prosecutor Mark Bennett on an article "Plain Error?" published in the Hawai'i Bar Journal of September 1998. Carlisle and Bennett concluded that the Hawai'i Constitution goes too far in protecting the rights of the accused.

Other single-issue conservatives are William Burgess and Ken Conklin. In what they see as a battle for the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, they have concentrated on litigation and argument aimed at special "race-based" treatment for Hawaiians. (Incidentally, Attorney General Bennett makes it clear that the Lingle administration's contrary support of the Akaka recognition bill is based on the premise that special recognition is not race-based.)

Honolulu City Council member Mike Gabbard, who has built his reputation on opposition to equal rights for homosexuals as a class, is another example of single-issue conservatism. So is the Hawai'i Rifle Association, a group that sees itself as defending the Second Amendment the way others rally around the First Amendment.


Neo-conservatism, the newest and most extreme branch of contemporary conservatism, as of yet has almost no adherents in Hawai'i.

Propagated by prominent members of the Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, neo-conservativism traces its youthful lineage to the 1950s and 1960s.

That's when University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss supposedly incorporated Plato's philosopher kings and noble lies into a Straussian Weltanschauung. (Strauss' daughter, professor Jenny Strauss Clay at the University of Virginia, disputes the characterization of her father as the mastermind behind what she says are "Bush administration figures hoping to subject the American people to rule by a ruthless elite.")

Whatever its origins, the neo-conservative view of the world holds that only a gifted few Americans, those able to distinguish reality from shadows, should decide what's best for all the rest of us, including those of us in Iraq or Iran.

Neo-conservatism hasn't yet reached Hawai'i, but some of Hawai'i's conservatives have flirted with it tangentially.

Hawai'i's just-confirmed Republican loyalist on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Richard Clifton, came close to neo-conservatism during a recent panel discussion at the U.S. District Court of Hawai'i conference. In an argument for judicial quietude, Judge Clifton allowed that inroads into civil liberties made by the Bush administration since 9/11 are marginal. Some truly great American presidents, Clifton noted, have taken similar actions, and the courts should trust the executive branch.

Along these same neo-conservative lines, Sen. Fred Hemmings says "Saddam Hussein was aided and abetted by the liberal left." Hemmings adds: "The talk about finding weapons of mass destruction is a non sequitur. We must do something about liberalism in media."

Neo-conservatism takes us full circle back to the radical left. Writing in the New York Times, Paul Krugman observes, "It's no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted. ... The people now running America aren't conservatives: they're radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have ... "

• Next: Liberal thought in Hawai'i.

Robert M. Rees is the moderator of 'Olelo Television's "Counterpoint" and Hawai'i Public Radio's "Talk of the Islands."