Chesteron once wrote, in a line which ought to be famous, that he spent a part of his life as a Socialist – this was the era of the Boer Wars – mainly because the alternative was not being a Socialist, which was worse. Somewhat ironically, now that Socialism is the order of the day in much of the Western and Westernized world, I find myself adopting a similarly uncomfortable position politically: I call myself a conservative, because the alternative is not being a conservative.
Truth be told, my conservatism rests on two main tenets, with perhaps a third. In the first place, I believe abortion is wrong; in the second, I believe in fiscal responsibility, which is to say I believe that governments, much like everybody else, should not spend money that they don't have; and last, I believe in the rule of law – or to be less approximate, I believe we are bound by law.
To believe abortion is wrong is not something I see any way to open to debate. A fetus, which is to say an unborn human, is a unique human being, speaking scientifically. Any consistent structure of human rights, whether inspired by religious or logical considerations or both, falls apart if a human being can be denied those rights without personally forfeiting them by evil action. Even cases where there are no options, the "health of the mother" argument – these cannot be viewed as anything more than the lesser of two evils, much like a war. I would be more open, perhaps, to other liberal arguments if there were any significant lobby of otherwise political liberals willing to denounce this murder.
The second tenet is similarly not really open to debate. To live perpetually in debt is a recipe for disaster. True, conservatives have been not much less culpable in the realm of government over-spending, but they have been somewhat less culpable (or perhaps liberals have been more culpable, would be a more accurate phrasing) and tend to at least pretend that it matters. If only to satisfy their electoral bases.
Finally, I believe that laws are binding – and the basis of the United States' laws in the Constitution. Progressive liberalism has stretched and bent and now quite often largely ignores the limits of that document, as populism turns more and more to the center for handouts, and the lower federated governments are themselves largely quite content to let such expansion go unchecked. Even if progressive socialism were an ideal we should aim at – which I admittedly do not think is the case – it is not one that has been brought in honestly. It would take a distortion of ideas and ideals and history to make out the Constitution as a modern progressive document.
This is not to say that I identify unreservedly with all "conservative" causes. To take one example, I tend to think that the United States is currently overextended militarily. Consider, for example, the quite long listing of our military bases. But there are mitigating factors: how many of these bases date from the Cold War? And if the US had not maintained a Western military threat then, who would have done it? Certainly our fair share of military actions and then some were mishandled, from the Korean War on down. Next question: how would withdrawals affect political equations across the world? Are there threats a US presence reduces, and if so who would replace us? It is a tricky question, although it ought to be answered.
But on the initial three factors listed, the progressive liberals seem to stand consciously against them, and for want of a better identifier, I have to say, "I am a conservative".