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Driving in the Right Lane of the Road, Not on the Shoulder, or the Ditch

FILE: Road, Street, Lane

I was asked this morning to contribute columns to this website. It’s very similar to things I’d done in the past, and I’m faced with the same dilemma I’ve been faced with before. “What on earth do I write as an inaugural column?”

While I seem to have a nigh-superhuman ability to make people mad, as opposed to any supernatural abilities, it tends to spring forth from confronting people with the truth.

For example, this morning over at my regular home on the web, at, I took a far more conservative writer to task because he was complaining that there were too many black speakers at Martin Luther King Day celebrations.  Predictably, his defender(s) got mad.

To me, being conservative is about staking out territory that is in the right lane of the road, allowing the principles to guide you through life. And as most people who traverse the highways in our state know, you are most likely to have success if you drive in the right lane. Not on the shoulder, and especially not in the ditch.

There’s extremism on the right, as well as on the left. And unfortunately, the extremists seem to get all too much attention lately, leaving people to wonder why things never get accomplished.

My brand of conservatism is what I learned from my mom. She grew up as an Iowa girl in the 40’s & 50’s as the daughter of a stern matriarch who held the family together after a post WWII divorce, and who later married a hard working blue collar man who I always knew as my grandfather.  In that environment, my mother learned the value of a dollar, and how to outwork anyone.

As I grew up in Pierre, my mom was a school nurse, but also a small businesswoman trying to succeed in an almost completely male dominated profession, auctioneering.  When working with others, she’d smile and wave, when they’d patronizingly point “Hey, we’ve got something new for you – a lady auctioneer.”   But at the same time, she’d grit her teeth, and it steeled her resolve to succeed.

And she did. By the time of her passing from breast cancer in November of 2000, she’d built her business to be the most significant company of its type in the area, and she was satisfied with that. That’s all she was looking for. And I can happily report that she called her last sale approximately 2 weeks before she lost her battle to cancer at age 62.

The conservative lessons I learned from my mom were very much in the vein of a Horatio Alger story, that if you’re honest, and you work hard, you can better yourself from your station in life.  My mom didn’t complain, she didn’t seek special favor, but she would strive for excellence and outwork her competitors.

While it galled her to have to pay anywhere from a third to half of her income to the government at tax time, she was not averse to giving someone a hand up.  At times she would hire on honest people who had a hard run of luck. It might not have been much, but it wasn’t charity. They earned every dime.

She didn’t speak much of her social views, although in her role as school nurse, during a point where condom distribution in schools was under debate in the state legislature, she noted to me that she would quit her job before she would distribute condoms from her office.  Not because of any religious objections, but because that is not the role of government, and most certainly not the role of schools to step in and play parent.

So, you could say that my brand of conservatism is one of fairness, individualism, opportunity, and not looking for government to step in and fill the voids in your life, because someone has to pay for all that extra government, and eventually the bill will come back to you.  Government is not our moms or our dads, and if we look for it to be, we’re in a lot of trouble.

And we should not lose focus on the fact that business remains the backbone of our country, and IT creates jobs and wealth. These are things that people should not look to government for, nor should government impede them.

To me, those are the roots of conservatism. People add a lot more to the meaning nowadays, but in many cases, it seems like a lot of added noise.

Most certainly, life is not fair. But we still allow people to make their own opportunities in our country, one which remains a beacon of hope in an ever unruly world.  And it’s up to all of us to keep those possibilities alive for everyone.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Pat Powers and do not reflect Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its sponsors or subsidiaries.

South Dakota War College

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