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Opinion | There’s conservative and then there’s Conservative

One is consistent, principled and solution-oriented. The other seems hell-bent on picking fights.


One thing is crystal clear: There’s conservative … and then there’s Conservative. The two are miles apart.

One is consistent, principled and solution-oriented. The other seems hell-bent on picking fights, settling scores and launching attacks against anyone who disagrees with them.

It’s important to know the difference between them. Especially for those of us who are liberal, who need to remember that reasonable people can disagree about our state’s problems and how to solve them.

A person isn’t evil simply because they have a different point of view. The evil comes when folks – whether conservative or liberal – are more concerned with winning ideological and partisan battles than solving problems.

Intuitively we know this. Many of us have a relative or friend who is a die-hard conservative Republican. She opposes a woman’s right to choose, same-sex marriage and doesn’t believe race is a factor in the mass incarceration problem.

Let’s call her Aunt Dot.

Aunt Dot still loves us despite our different views. And we still love her.

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We just agree to disagree and don’t talk about these tough topics. Or maybe, because we are just a cantankerous bunch, we come out swinging before the dishes are cleared.

Either way, before we say good-bye, it’s hugs and kisses all around. Because we know that we are family no matter what.

Plus, no matter how wrong Aunt Dot is about abortion, same-sex marriage and mass incarceration, she makes the best potato salad – with mustard, not mayo.

Aunt Dot is conservative. She has her beliefs, just like we do. But she doesn’t have a callous heart.

But that’s not the conservatism that defines our state. Nope, not even close. The Alabama brand of conservatism is callous and unyielding. It’s gleefully punitive.

Which is weird because it also claims to be a Bible-based, church-centered conservatism.

Let’s take the shocking case of poor Thomas Lee Rutledge, the 44-year-old inmate at Donaldson Correctional Facility who – according to a federal lawsuit – “was literally baked to death in his cell.” This happened two years ago when Rutledge was being held in a mental health unit that apparently had a deficient heating system.

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The feds say that nothing was done to help Rutledge or any other inmates in that dorm. In fact, it appears prison officials knew that the heat had caused other men to die there. Some of the men reportedly had been prescribed psychotropic medications that made them especially susceptible to heat.

A corrections investigator reported opening another inmate’s tray door – the opening used to deliver an inmate’s food – and said it was like “opening an oven,” according to “Hotter than three hells.”

Since we’re now talking about Hell, and Alabama’s conservatism loves to conflate itself with Christianity, it’s a good time to ask: What would Jesus do?

Remember when conservatives were asking this question constantly? They even turned it into a famous acronym, WWJD.

And it wasn’t a bad question. As a church-going Christian myself, I appreciated the essence of it. All of us who claim His name should be measuring our thoughts and actions by what we believe His were.

Not that we can come close to replicating His way of thinking or doing. That’s why we need grace. 

But our frail humanity shouldn’t stop us from trying.

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So how is it that in this state that boasts of being of Christian – 86 percent of our 5 million residents say they are – we allow prisoners to be “baked to death” in their cells?

Do the incarcerated not matter? WWJD?

He told us in Matthew 25, where He said some folks will be going to heaven because they visited the incarcerated, fed the hungry, was kind to strangers (immigrants, in my opinion), and the sick. Others, however, will be banished to Hell because they didn’t care about the incarcerated, along with other underprivileged people. 

Where are the Matthew 25 conservatives? They seem to be a dying species.

We need more Aunt Dots. Conservatives who understand that being tough on crime doesn’t mean baking inmates to death.

Conservatives who really care about what Jesus would do.

David Person is a media personality and consultant who has been working in the Huntsville market since 1986 as a talk show host, columnist, and director/producer. David co-hosts the podcast Alabama Politics This Week.

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