John Hood


By John Hood

March 30, 2011

RALEIGH – With all due respect to my right-leaning friends who are diehard NC State or UNC fans, they should not let their affection for their favorite sports mascots obscure a deeper truth about themselves: they have little in common with wolves or sheep.

Conservatives are cat people. They are picky. They are fastidious. And they are impossible to herd.

That’s not to say that conservatives can’t be dog lovers, as long as they don’t let their personal preferences in pets cloud their analogical judgment (this will make more sense if you read each link in order). But when it comes to political behavior, conservatives are more feline than they are canine, ovine, bovine, or equine. They don’t run in packs or amble in herds.

You can see our feline nature at work in recent political debates here in North Carolina. On the issue of school choice, for example, some conservatives support a compromise bill to lift the charter school cap, arguing that it is the best solution available to the tens of thousands of families on waiting lists for current charter schools, while other conservatives oppose the bill as an unnecessary and counterproductive compromise with teacher unions and other charter foes. They’d rather wait for another session with larger pro-charter majorities in the General Assembly and a pro-charter governor.

North Carolina conservatives have also disagreed this year on ABC privatization, gambling laws, budgetary priorities, and a host of procedural concerns related to the wording of bills, the scheduling of votes, and the adjudication of disputes.

There is nothing particularly new or particularly worrisome about any of this. Just within my own conservative think tank, the John Locke Foundation, staffers and affiliated writers have expressed significant disagreements over the years. For example, some favored the U.S. military interventions in both Afghanistan and Iraq, some opposed both, and some split the difference. On abortion, capital punishment, marriage rights, homeland security, drug and alcohol laws, and many other subjects, we’ve had persistent differences of opinion and robust debate.

On education, the biggest enterprise of state and local government in North Carolina, most of us favor a reform agenda that would set higher academic standards and expand parental choice and competition while retaining district-run public schools alongside chartered public schools, private schools, and home schools. But some would like to turn all public schools into chartered schools, and a few would separate school and state altogether.

There is no requirement to work or write for JLF that you adhere to any particular view on education or any other issue. Our guiding philosophy is just that: a philosophy, not a catechism.

As I have previously observed, modern conservatism is best understood an alliance of those who accept unchangeable facts rather than trying to wish fantasy into reality, remake human nature, or avoid economic tradeoffs.

Traditionalists embrace timeless morals, even when they deny one immediate gratification. Libertarians embrace the sovereignty of consumer demand and the sometimes-disorienting effects of technological change, even when the result isn’t to one’s personal liking. And hawks embrace the reality that America lives in a dangerous neighborhood, one full of bullies, pirates, and fanatics who respond to gestures of good will with contempt, larceny, and brutality.

Many conservatives embrace all of these arguments, of course. But some don’t. The movement encompasses a wide variety of ornery cats: cultural conservatives who are deeply suspicious of free trade and transnational corporations, economic conservatives who are also gay and seek legal recognition of their unions, and national-security conservatives who oppose major changes to Social Security or Medicare.

We may hiss and scratch at each other on occasion. And like the protagonist of Rudyard Kipling’s famous Just So story, many a conservative considers himself to be a cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to him.

Like that cat, he’ll negotiate differences and make deals when necessary to accomplish his larger objectives. But he won’t be enticed to forget his principles, yield his freedom, or lose his individuality. He won’t be herded. Athletic allegiances aside, he prefers the mascots of Davidson and Cullowhee to those of Chapel Hill or Raleigh.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.


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