Maybe it’s the overall, general sense of dissatisfaction with the current President that has brought out so many candidates so early in the 2008 campaign. Whatever the reason, with so many choices and so much time, I’m taking more interest than ever in trying to evaluate the candidates currently in the competition. But something interesting is happening on my way to November 4, 2008—I’m evaluating myself more intensely than the candidates. In looking for a candidate who I believe can best lead our great nation I am finding that I really must begin with “what do I believe?”I’m conservative. But does being “conservative” make me “a conservative?” I think not, and herein lies my problem. Since the advent of the color television and the computer, we’ve all been reduced to labels — “Blue States,” “Red States,” “liberals,” “conservatives,” “democrats,” and “republicans,” as if each of these could be used interchangeably, so that today “a conservative” equals “a republican.” But is “a conservative” necessarily “conservative?The distinction becomes increasingly important when the Republican frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani, has some very non-conservative values. Can I—will I–support a candidate whose values differ so greatly from my own?The “Republican equals conservative” paradigm is giving authentic conservatism a bad name. David Greenberg wrote in the NY Times (How Bush Stayed True to Conservatism, May 15) “….so few were the obstacles that conservatism was able to run amok. The result—in the assessment of not just liberals but also other observers—has been disaster: a mess of a war, the failure to plan for Hurricane Katrina, the erosion of the church-state wall, widening inequality, the loss of civil liberties including habeas corpus, and scores of other ills…This was the fruit of modern American conservatism.” Notwithstanding Mr. Greenberg’s faulty logic (that’s an issue for another article), he pins the problem on “conservatism” not Republicans.Additionally, David Brooks writing in the New York Times (April 29, Grim Old Party) about the stagnation of the GOP says, “As it has aged, the conservative movement has grown into a collection of special interest groups that restrict its mobility.” While this may well true of the Republican Party, it is not true of conservatism. In fact, authentic conservatives simply make up one of many groups which today find a grudging home in the Republican Party. But the collective movement of these special interest groups does not define conservatism.This very close identity makes it difficult for authentic conservatives to disagree with Republican politics. We might be with aligned with the Republicans on a great many things, but the current usage of the word puts authentic conservatives in the uncomfortable position of feeling like traitors if we stand opposed to Republican policies. A recent Newsweek article profiled the descendents of Presidents Eisenhower and Roosevelt–presidents more in touch with authentic conservatism than any we’ve had since Ike left office–noting their dismay with the Republican Party and their willingness to consider not supporting a Republican in 2008. Are these people traitors to “modern American conservatism” or Republicanism or are they steadfast adherents to authentic conservatism?Another dynamic at work is the name calling on conservative talk radio. Many who generally agree with Republican politics often find themselves in general agreement with Rush Limbaugh, Michael Medved, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham and other conservative talk radio hosts. Moreover, as frequent listeners, they hear the way the hated Democrats are belittled whenever they dare to call and voice an opinion. I believe many Republicans have come to fear being identified with Democratic politics in any way, lest they should find themselves scorned by conservative talk radio listeners who are parroting the entertainment they hear on the airwaves. Conservative talk radio, of which I am a part, has served to further polarize America by devaluing opinions that are not the deepest shade of red.Mr. Greenberg’s dismay over conservatism is a theft and abuse of truly conservative ideals. However, being conservative myself, I must acknowledge my tacit facilitation of the theft since I have not defended the word “conservative” with the proper vehemence. I have allowed differing factions to borrow this term in order to promote themselves only to discover that their use of the word has worn it out and rendered it nearly useless. However, now, we authentic conservatives need to take our adjective back and restore the word to its previous luster.Meanwhile, conservative people probably find themselves asking this question: “Being conservative, must I support the Republican-led conflict in Iraq?” If I decide that I am a conservative or a Republican, almost certainly. (Just ask Senator Hagel how Republicans against the conflict are received.) But if I conclude that I am authentically conservative, my options open up. In 1800 John Adams angered his Federalist Party leadership by not supporting a war with France. The Federalists saw to his ouster but President Adams knew that he had done the right thing by avoiding a disastrous war. Upon his return home to Massachusetts he stated, “Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war.”Conservative people generally eschew war as wasteful—a liberal use of our most valuable resources, mainly our citizens. But conservative people also know that in order to conserve the higher values in a community sometimes an investment of blood is required, and this may be just such a time. However, conservative people also understand that discretion is often the better part of valor and conservatism, resting confidently on the successes of the past and learning from previous failures, has nothing to prove by wanton displays of strength and power. It is liberalism, not authentic conservatism, which uses resources today, in order to protect today, without regard to the future.Even intelligent, authentically conservative thinkers will disagree on the necessity of the conflict in Iraq. The point is not to answer that question, but this one: are you conservative or are you a conservative? If the former, then I contend you have significantly more latitude in the expression of your conservative views than the Republican Party’s three leading candidates provide you. Thoroughly evaluating the many Republican candidates for the Presidency in 2008 may help you discover an authentically conservative candidate outside of Mr. Giuliani, Romney or McCain. Furthermore, I think it’s time that authentically conservative people pay attention to what’s going on in the Democratic Party as well. If someone as traditionally non-conservative as Mr. Giuliani wins the Republican nomination, we may be forced to look for authentically conservative credentials within the Democratic Party.Authentic conservatism is bridge building and desirable in both blue and red communities. A candidate who understands this and builds his vision for America in 2016 on these authentically conservative values stands a good chance of healing perceived, polarizing differences in our country and restoring America to its esteemed position as the legitimate leader of the global community.