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The United States is a nation of risk takers


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In America the line forms on the right. As a people we are careful and cautious. We are conservatives.

As a nation, however, America has from its earliest days been expansive. We are risk takers, explorers, the architects of freedom. America is liberal.

Now that Labor Day has passed, we are once again focusing our attention on the election campaigns and those opposites of personal conservatism and community liberalism which make our political campaigns both interesting and important. Republicans appeal to our conservative personal desire for stability and restraint. Democratic policy engages us as a liberal community of opportunity and experimentation.

From America's earliest days, people have tried to resolve this dichotomy by dividing into political factions: Whigs, Republicans, Federalists, Democrats and, from time-to-time, other sometimes important but fleeting political parties. The U.S. Constitution makes no mention of parties, but our founders understood their necessity. Referring to the many competing interests in our young country, James Madison wrote, "The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of government."

From the outset, various interests made alliances with one political party or the other. Business gravitated toward the more conservative party, early-day farmers and workingmen toward the more liberal party. For more than 200 years, the shifting networks of partnerships between people and party have been not only colorful but have also enlightened our understandings about the necessity of seeking the enactment of our policy preferences through organized groupings-parties.

Here in the seven states of the Rocky Mountain West there are 22 U.S. House seats, five Senate seats and five governor races to be decided this November. In doing so, we try again to reconcile that historic American tension between the conservatism of our individual lives with our insistence that government provide vigorous progressive leadership.

Perhaps the West is the best region of the nation in which to observe the machinations of our candidates and their parties as they attempt to reconcile our differences. Our western political leaders are expected to properly reflect and protect our personal western values while at the same time "bringing home the bacon." Our representatives, particularly in the Congress, must reflect our steely-eyed, tight-fisted, rugged, go it alone western independence-our conservatism. But we also have demanded that our farmers receive those important agriculture subsidy payments, that our highways are laid and maintained with taxes paid primarily by the many people living outside our region, and we insist on cheap electricity rates through federally purchased hydroelectric dams. And on and on it goes, including Montana's latest proposal, by conservatives, that we reduce our own income taxes and shift the burden instead to tourists through selective sales taxes. These tensions may not be as ironic or hypocritical as they first appear but they do demonstrate our political schizophrenia here in the West and across America.

As we enter the fall campaign season, we consider once again how to reconcile our own personal preferences for caution, restraint and comfort-conservatism-with the liberal instincts that we Americans be a people of grand designs, recognized around the world not only for the might of our armaments and the glitter of our wealth, but also for the splendor of our ideals.

Pat Williams is a former U.S. Congressman and is a senior fellow and regional policy associate at the Carroll and Nancy Fields O'Conner Center for the Rocky Mountain West


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