George Graham

Trying my Best to Understand Conservatives

I find it extremely difficult to make sense of American conservatives. After all, I grew up in Jamaica, where both political parties evolved from trade unions; and my education was basically British, with the underlying class structure that implies.

From that perspective, the conflict between the haves and have-nots is crystal clear. The haves want to keep their goodies, the have-nots would like a share. Any sensible voter would choose the political party that promises to fight for his or her best interests.

Moving to Canada as a very young man, I was confronted with a more open social style, and I adapted to it quite easily. But I have lived in the United States for 32 years and I still can’t fathom the American social and political system.

In every poll conducted in this country, about 33 percent of the population emerges as hard-core conservative, believing against all the evidence in Republican propaganda, and accepting – against all experience – the flawed theories of trickle-down economics.

I am tempted to dismiss these people as mentally deficient. But when I talk to one of them, the conversation is reasonably intelligent.  The 33 percent then is obviously not the bottom third of the IQ chart.

So what do they know that I don’t?

Talking with them, I think I get a glimmer of understanding… The American experience with government has been a disaster, it seems. They have a deep and abiding mistrust of the bureaucracy that manages their lives. To them, politicians are inherently crooks and everything the government has ever done, including the New Deal, civil rights legislation and the “war on poverty,” has been a sham or a boondoggle.

Yet, according to Dr. Donald J. Devine, editor of (click here to read his explanation), the opposite is true. Here’s his take on the topic:

The economic conservatives view nature as actually benign, encouraging individualism, experimentation, and entrepreneurship, believing that a “hidden hand” will make everything turn out right. The social conservatives are not so optimistic, but they do think nature can be at least tolerant for human social life if institutions like the family, church and community are vibrant. Both limit government in favor of private institutions and differ from the egalitarians who view nature as ephemeral and fatalists who view it as capricious–both of which views require the strong hand of government to control harmful nature.

So conservatives are society’s innocents, then? Those snarling people I see on TV, with their red faces and flaring nostrils, who seem so mean spirited and unlovable to me, are actually true believers with stars in their eyes?

I find that hard to believe. And yet…

And yet it would make sense that people like these, childlike souls with trusting natures, could be manipulated by the Svengalis of society, the Dick Army astroturfers, the Newt Gingrich scam artists, the Sarah Palin purveyors of shop-worn eye candy and bumper-sticker talking points…

It would make sense that these people would keep hoping against hope that a savior is about to arise from their midst, a man or woman of the people who will rout the wicked bureaucrats and restore America to the glory it never had, an America in which any man or woman could rise to fame and fortune by working hard, going to church, raising a family and voting Republican.

With a little bit of luck, of course. Or perhaps divine intervention.

But how do you square that persona with the murder of Dr. George Tiller or the vicious ranting of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh?

Would true believers with stars in their eyes listen to that kind of poison?

I still don’t understand, Dr. Devine. Sorry.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for