08/20/2012 01:49 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

U.S. Conservatism: An Evolutionary Dead End?

The Maine heat was stifling. Accompanied by parents, boys and girls bursting with excitement filled every available space in this kids' tourist train. Across from me in the antique rail car sat an extended Maine family. Even in these challenging economic times, the group seemed satisfied with their lot. They laughed at their Republican Governor LePage who put up state welcome signs, 'Open for Business'. The signs, they reported, were made in Arizona. We discussed the glut of lobster. Low prices caused them to work longer hours for less pay. Both young men said Maine would get it right. Lobsters are thriving and Maine's other natural resources are recovering, said one young man. The family was proud of Maine. The men said the people are rebuilding their lobster and other fisheries and they would get the mix right. All the fishermen and related workers are committed to not raping their natural resources; they reported.

The small group was encouraging. What was the difference here versus the rage in so many other states? The sense of we are all in it together may be the reason. Maine is a small state in population while vast in area. The citizens work to solve problems together and depend on each other. While other states, like West Virginia, appear to rip their mountains literally apart for coal and resources leaving wasting people and land behind, Maine's people realize they do depend on each other. Small business versus coal giants, companies working together or companies seeing employees as a liability seem to provide the contrasts.

The Maine family's values reminded me of military families. We build solid communities which means working together, maximizing everyone's strengths and minimizing their weaknesses to achieve a goal. We help each other when we fall and take care of each other's loved ones and families. These military values are the values that built this nation. Many Americans are in a rage. They don't realize they miss this community. Conservatism, as espoused now, denies the basic truth that humans are social animals. We thrive as a species not only because of the individual but because of all individuals' ability to work toward a common goal. When the pioneers and settlers moved into new land, the community erected schools, churches and courthouses.

It is about commitment. The family in Maine worked hard but felt they had a say in the outcome and a future to build. People unable, or barely able, to feed themselves realize that they have no future. They are chained to the present. The key to progress is providing opportunities to be independent and responsible. Working at jobs paying less than required to house or feed an individual, is a trap difficult to escape. With little chance of success, the vitality is sucked out of an individual and a society.

The military man or woman, whether soaring through the skies or on ground patrol, has control. They are masters and mistresses of all they survey. If things go awry, they are assured they, and their families, will be provided for. Returning to civilian life, especially in the current economic and social environment, too often all the above is stolen from them. When public service and community are denigrated, when personal greed overcomes public service, the entire community suffers.

Conservatives are fond of condemning how few people actually pay federal taxes. I agree with those conservatives. Workers of all classes found income stagnant, or declining. Costs were kept low through outsourcing and lower taxes; so life appeared good. It was a false reality. Individual growth was stifled. The number of working citizens not earning enough to pay taxes is a national scandal. Long ago, conservatives convinced working class families that paying union dues and taxes were for suckers. Union membership collapsed and taxes were reduced. Tax loopholes prospered. Services were maintained as Americans set about consuming the investments of the greatest generation. It could not and did not last.

Reagan's 1980 election to president established conservatism as the dominant U.S. political philosophy. The individual and the 'me generation' were established as the epitome of society. Government and government workers were publically identified as THE problem facing America. Take stock of where this philosophy led and what it accomplished. When Reagan became president, the United States literally led the world in every area of human endeavor from science to the arts from healthcare to agriculture. Today, the dismal truth is that the U.S. is now the clear leader in none of these areas. The conservative cult of the individual and denigration of public service is a failure. The cult of the individual stripped of the mantle of civic responsibility led to stagnation and decay. The only question remaining is when will the American people realize it?