Can someone please explain what it means to be a conservative today? The values of many conservatives no longer make sense to me. As a child, I learned America’s strength comes from working hard, carefully managing one’s assets, thinking for yourself and tirelessly seeking to form a more perfect union. But today, a growing number of conservatives criticize those whose lives don’t line up A to Z with theirs. More troubling is when they attack others for being a different race or faith, or for expressing different ideas.
As a grandchild of immigrants, I was raised to work hard, be grateful for what I earned, and think twice before spending it. One grandparent managed a boardinghouse, one became a welder, and one worked as a seamstress.
Like their parents, mine passed on the value of hard work and prudent use of money to me. My father worked for one company where he was employed for 47 years, except for the time spent in the Army under General Patton. My mother welded ships during WWII, later raised a family and then became a bookkeeper.
My family’s experience taught me that education and the opportunity to work is the most promising path to a better life. In school I studied late into the night and on weekends. To earn money, I shoveled snow, delivered Newsday papers, pumped gas and stocked shelves. After college and graduate school, I started a business that has employed hundreds of people over the past 30 years. Each year my partner and I hire African Americans, immigrants, and children of immigrants who are eager to work hard and improve their lives.
A core value I learned from my family is a love of nature and passion for its conservation. My grandfather joined NYC's Republican Club when Teddy Roosevelt was a member. The future president was an avid conservationist who made a lasting impression on my grandfather. My father, in turn, identified as a "Roosevelt Republican" and believed that conserving the environment is vital to an individual's and country’s well-being. He also liked Roosevelt because he stood up to the robber barons and corporate monopolies in favor of giving regular Americans a chance to earn a decent wage.
Lastly, being a conservative to me means wisely managing our own and our country’s assets. Like most, I believe in investing as much as is needed on national defense. But can’t we be smarter about how we administer our military spending? And can’t we use the savings on other forms of national defense, such as protecting our communities from rising seas and intensifying storms and wildfires?
Instead of judging and criticizing others who may not look, sound or believe as we do, let’s rally around our nation’s common values. Values that celebrate free thinking. Ones that seek to realize the ideal of respect for all people. And values that champion the importance of hard work and conserving economic and natural resources. Neither conservative nor liberal, these genuine and sound American values have sustained us through the hardest of times, and they continue to offer the way forward to a better future for all.
This guest essay reflects the views of Ed Shoucair, a native of Franklin Square who is president of The Collaborative, an urban planning and design firm.