Conservatives Should Talk About Love and Betrayal | Opinion

The following is a modified version of a 2013 essay that originally ran at National Review Online.

"Love." It's the most powerful word in the English language. When surrounded by two pronouns—"I" and "you"—it becomes the most powerful sentence in the English language. Those three words change everything.

But if those words aren't followed by loving actions and deeds, that's where confusion begins. That's where betrayal begins.

As a guy who was unmarried through my early 40s, I used those three words more casually than I should have, not worried about the heart I was wounding.

Then I met the love of my life. She impressed me. She scared me. I knew she was the one for me. I had no idea if I was the one for her.

I loved her. I wanted her to love me back. Coward that I was, I'd never taken that risk with my heart—with my life—before.

On the night I said those three words to her, it was the first time I'd ever meant them. How did I know? Because I was afraid. Afraid for the same reasons we're all afraid to be the first person in a relationship to say those three words: I was afraid I wouldn't hear them back.

Luckily for me, I did. We've been married almost 18 years.

"I was 32 when we met, and 62 when she died, the heart of my life, the life of my heart," the writer Julian Barnes confessed in a memoir about his late wife, Pat. "You put together two things that have not been put together before," he added, "and the world is changed."

That's the power of love. The world is changed by it. Without love, the world is barren.

Love, regrettably, is so utterly absent from anything we talk about as conservatives. Even though we believe deeply that love is the answer to so many of the world's problems, we don't say the word.

We believe—many of us—that every child born is a child of God, with unique gifts, and we don't say the word.

We believe poverty is often a symptom of kids growing up without fathers, being born to mothers who are kids themselves, and we don't say the word.

We believe that leaving children stuck in dysfunctional schools is a form of child abuse, and we don't say the word.

We give far more to charity, to the needy and the poor, than our political opponents, and we still don't say the word.

We believe cops are the first line of defense against anarchy, and that without safe streets life is intolerable, and we don't say the word.

We believe America is the best hope for immigrants around the world, and we also believe it's unfair to cut in front of the line and come here illegally, and we don't say the word.

We believe people should be judged not by the color of our skin, our gender or our sexual identity, but by the content of our character, and we still don't say the word.

GOP elephant
The elephant, a symbol of the Republican Party, on in a rug in the lobby of the Republican Party's headquarters in Washington. Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis/Getty Images

We love our Constitution, and believe it's a good and beautiful thing that our government derives its power from us, and not the other way around, and we don't say the word.

If we started talking about betrayal, we might win more hearts, too. That's because it wasn't conservatives who betrayed people living in cities across America during the height of the "defund the police" movement—it was progressives.

It wasn't conservatives taking over our public schools and force-feeding our ideology down the throats of captive students—it was progressives.

It wasn't conservatives who made it harder to produce and move oil around in America, and who hoped against hope that higher oil prices would usher in an electric vehicle revolution Americans can't afford and haven't asked for—it was progressives.

It wasn't conservatives who betrayed the people of Detroit, driving the place into bankruptcy. It was the UAW and public-employee unions—and their locally elected enablers—who treated the once great city like an ATM. Until there was no cash left to withdraw.

It's conservatives who think about how ATMs get filled. To build savings and wealth—spiritual and material—requires patience and sacrifice. No one can give you these things. It takes years, even decades of discipline and deferred gratification—and love—to build resilient businesses and families. It takes much less time to destroy them.

All of that work, sacrifice and love exhibited by American entrepreneurs creates the tax base that pays the salaries of teachers, social workers, firemen and other public servants. It's progressives who endlessly ponder how to transfer the fruits of that labor and love, and who lecture us about our lack of compassion when we point out they can't keep penalizing the hard-working risk-takers who fund their policy prerogatives.

This isn't a debate we must have, but a competing human narrative we must construct—a story of love and betrayal.

One conservative wasn't afraid to use the word "love." In his 1987 "Tear Down This Wall" speech, President Ronald Reagan talked to Berliners about their city's rise from the wreckage of Nazism. "What keeps you here?" he asked them. Then he answered:

Something that speaks with a powerful voice of affirmation, that says yes to this city, yes to the future, yes to freedom. In a word, I would submit that what keeps you in Berlin is love—love both profound and abiding.

Reagan used the word "love" twice. But he wasn't finished.

The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexanderplatz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower's one major flaw: treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind.

Yet even today when the sun strikes that sphere, that sphere that towers over all Berlin, the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.

Let's start talking about love. About building things the way only people who love can build things. Let's talk about real hope, not the false dystopian hope peddled by modern progressivism. And let's serve up practical real-life solutions to Americans trapped in bad zip codes.

Let's talk about love and betrayal, and the kind of people who make promises they keep. And the kind who don't.

Let's talk about the kind of guy who tells the girls he loves them, takes what he wants—and then leaves. And the kind of guy who says the word love and means it—and stays.

I know those guys. I've been both.

Americans know them too.

Lee Habeeb is vice president of content for Salem Radio Network and host of Our American Stories. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his wife, Valerie, and his daughter, Reagan.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.