Toxic Values: What does conservative mean today?


By David Cook, president of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655

In the heart of the campaign season, politicians tend to speak in broad strokes. They talk about “conservative values” or “Christian values” in uplifting ways, but rarely offering concrete specifics. It’s a problem so common, even taking the time to mention it seems a waste.

But sometimes we get real-world examples of what these mean to some elected officials. As some Republican candidates continue to drone on about “strong conservative values” and “Christian values,” there may be no better example of what those values actually mean to some than the crisis unfolding in Flint, Michigan.

Flint’s families were forced to drink poisoned water because a handful of elected and appointed conservatives wanted to save some money. How Flint’s water became so toxic is a long story, but at the heart of the problem are Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a self-proclaimed conservative Republican, and a handful of appointed bureaucrats who cared more about cutting spending at all costs than they cared about protecting the taxpayers.

It was Snyder’s appointed city emergency managers in Flint that originally decided to use the Flint River and a waste facility only ever intended as an emergency backup to supply the city’s residents with water. Citizens were told the water switch was made to save the city money. We now know that it was the decision not to add anti-corrosive chemicals to the water – which cost about $150 a day – that ultimately eroded the aging lead pipelines. As anti-government rhetoric reaches its peak, the question I have is, is this what “conservative values” mean in today’s world?

My concern is that moderate Republicans who understand the balance between the need for government and the fight for individual liberty are few and far between today because they can’t win in a primary election. So what we end up with are the far right “slash government at all cost” Republicans who have now attempted more than once to shut down the federal government. Today’s conservatives appear ready to slash and burn government at every opportunity, innocent lives be damned. As Flint’s residents see their children rushed to hospitals from toxic water and face life long consequences, men like Ted Cruz are proposing to eliminate key governmental agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and he isn’t the only one.

Missouri residents would do well to watch the Michigan crisis closely. We have our own gubernatorial election rapidly approaching, and too many Republicans in the race are all in a mad scramble to prove they are more “conservative” than their opponents. In Flint, Republican officials put saving money before saving lives, not only refusing to act as the crisis became more known, but making efforts to hide it.

Are those the values of Missouri? Setting aside partisanship, should we tolerate any political party (Democrat or Republican) that would prioritize cutting budgets so thin that people quite literally die? I believe Missourians care about one another. My hope is we value our fellow citizen, and we believe that all of us should have a chance at a healthy and happy life. Politicians — worried about nothing but re-election or the bottom line — shouldn’t get to make those decisions for us.

This new wave of hyper-conservative lawmakers isn’t interested in good, small government. If they were, they wouldn’t try to inject government into certain labor-friendly contracts between employees and business owners. The stark reality is that this new ultra conservative Republican Party often do not reflect principles of small government. It just reflects the principles of eliminating the parts of government they don’t like. And that is no way to govern. If they really wanted smaller government they would not continue to push legislation that puts more government in a business’s business only to drive down the wages and working conditions of working Missourians.

Now let’s talk about “Christian values.” I grew up in a Catholic household and although I do not attend church regularly, I try to live the Christian teachings I learned as a child. Nowhere in those values was did Christ teach us to ignore our neighbors. Quite the opposite. I learned to help my fellow man. The values of charity, unconditional love, and a sense of community were pillars of faith and yet too many Republican candidates (both nationally and right here in Missouri) appear to have ignored or forgotten these simple core tenants of their faith.

Does the “moral majority” approve of what Snyder has done to Flint? How do regular church goers feel about politicians who turn their backs on the poor, abandon working people, and let the elite steal as much as they can carry? Christian values as they relate to politics ought to mean more than debates about LGBT rights or abortion.

I am not anti-conservative. Although I do lean more liberal I would only caution my fellow Missourians who want to vote more conservative, or for a candidate claiming to have Christian values, to ask this important question: What does that candidate mean when they say conservative or Christian values? That is a question that every Missourian should ask before casting a ballot for someone that may not value them or their life.