Conservatism

Up The Establishment

Conservative Tea Partyby Lance Thompson

The media has focused on the growing rift between new conservative stars and their Tea Party backers versus the old guard establishment Republicans.  This difference has been highlighted in races in Florida (Marco Rubio over Charlie Crist), Alaska (Joe Miller over Lisa Murkowski), and most recently Delaware (Christine O’Donnell over Mike Castle).  In each case, a conservative outsider has overcome long odds to beat an experienced but more moderate candidate backed by the Republican establishment.  This trend shows every indication of continuing.
 
Christine O’Donnell, now the Republican candidate for Delaware’s open Senate seat, will face Democrat Chris Coons in November.  Polls show O’Donnell trailing in double digits.  This is a familiar situation to conservative candidates this year.  Marco Rubio trailed governor Charlie Crist by double digits in the Florida primary before winning the Republican Senate nomination.  Crist then declared himself an independent (refusing to return the millions in Republican campaign funding he had already received), and again took a double digit lead.  This race has reversed to Rubio’s advantage.  Joe Miller in Alaska was also behind in the polls before his win over Lisa Murkowski.
 
In all of these cases, old guard Republican strategists and pundits warned voters that the conservative Tea Party candidates were too extreme, and would not have the appeal to win.  Let’s examine both arguments individually.
 
First, in an era of rampant and unchecked socialism rammed through by an ultra-liberal President and Congress, there is no other possible cure than a conservative resurgence.  We didn’t get socialized medicine, skyrocketing debt, and a crippled economy by half measures and bipartisanship.  We arrived here thanks to a Democratic steamroller that paved the way for every item that’s appeared on the liberal wish list for the last two generations.  The only way to reverse this trend is to put strong, principled, undiluted conservatives in office and in power.  Moderates will not do.
 
Second, the fact that Tea Party candidates are prevailing all over the country, in states previously thought too blue to bother, demonstrates that the enthusiasm, power, and momentum this election year is with conservative candidates who connect with the people.  The pundits who now tell us that these candidates, once nominated, can’t win the general election are the same ones who told us earlier that these candidates would not win in their primaries. 
 
Have we not nominated moderate conservatives before?  Wasn’t John McCain known for reaching across the aisle?  Wasn’t he always tougher on conservative Republicans than he ever was on Democrats?  His even-handedness and bipartisan reputation was supposed to guarantee support from independent voters and the press.  Instead, his inept campaign was so ineffective that an opponent with no executive experience, less than one full term in the Senate, and no discernible aptitude for world leadership beat him handily in 2008.
 
And even when the Republicans place moderate, established, electable candidates on the ballot, and they do actually win, they are notable undependable when needed most.  Moderate Arlen Specter enjoyed the support of the GOP and President Bush over conservative challenger Pat Toomey for the 2004 Pennsylvania Senate primary.  Specter prevailed and paid back the GOP with liberal votes on the judiciary committee and by switching parties prior to his 2010 re-election bid.  He failed to win the Democrat nomination, and is now thankfully out of politics.  Moderate electable candidates do not serve conservative causes or interests.
 
If we believe in conservative principles, we must nominate and elect conservative candidates.  This year, more than ever, watered-down, moderate, half measures are not enough.
 
The American people are restive.  They are preparing to throw out a record number of Democrats from Congress and state governments across the country.  If the Republicans who replace them don’t put our nation back on the right course, they will be thrown out as well.  We won’t get a second chance to get it right.
 
Christine O’Donnell is a principled conservative.  She deserves our support.  The establishment may fight her tooth and nail.  But Christine O’Donnell has already defeated them.  They just don’t know it yet.  Burt Lancaster said it best in the film “Sweet Smell of Success,” when his character, powerful columnist J. J. Hunsecker, tells struggling publicity agent Sydney Falco that Falco’s influence is over.  “You’re dead, kid.  Go get yourself buried.”

 

Being a Conservative Is Not For The Faint Of Heart

 Fishing For Truth! Dr. Bill Smith, Editor, ARRA News Service: The other day I was sharing about standing strong and warning that being a conservative is not for the faint of heart. As it turns out an article was written 9 months ago addressing this very point. I was unaware of the article until after my remarks. But, I have learned over the years, there is "nothing new under the sun." (which is also written over 2000 years ago). Good ideas are eternal and bad ideas are doomed to be repeated until someone again finds the truth.

As we face the upcoming election with the necessity to be constantly involved while also finding ourselves and our families bruised, battered, and stressed out by the constant attacks from Big Government and its mouth pieces, it is critical for us to face the truth of our situations so we can complete the mission. A beginning point folks, is to accept that there is no near term "final solutions" on the horizon. Yes, we hopefully will have interim victories. Also, while it is fact is that our government is driving us off a cliff or just rolling some down a ever steepening hill, it is also a fact that it took considerable time to get us up the hill or to the cliff. It was during this lengthy period of time that many failed to be involved. Yes, while life appeared good, it was easy to fail to focus on the truth of our situation.

Presently, we have are experienced a re-emergence of involvement, of activist groups, of TEA parties, of cries for accountability and transparency, of fear of enemies, etc. And now, we are sprinting to November, 2010. We have hope for success: fresh faces elected to Congress who oppose socialism and elitism and bring conservative values to bear in Washington, D.C. Lord, may it be so!

However, even if there was maximum success in November in getting elected people with conservative core values to Congress, to State offices, to county offices and to local government, this will not turn everything around and would not put things back in good order. Which means, we will not be able to return to a state of indifferent concern. The "battle" for our ideals does not stop with any measured success on November 2010. While we can gain a reset point, the job will not be done for conservatives. Conservatives will need to continue to be vigilant in holding elected people to their promises, in demanding that the influence of government in our lives be rolled back, and in preparing for the next election with even greater involvement by the people.

And while we are doing this, we cannot ignore an ongoing threat. While "We the People" have awakened, the majority of children and grandchildren are still being educated by a liberal system of education. Therefore, we will also bear the responsibility as parents, grandparents, and friends to educate or re-educate our children and grandchildren. It will be critical to offer safe haven of truth verses the pablum of false teachings by liberal progressive elitists.

It will be necessary to focus on becoming abolitionist for those enslaved by big government. American citizens, regardless of social status, relationship stratus, racial or gender classification must be freed from the controlled tyranny of government interfering with almost all avenues of people's lives. We will not agree on everything but we must all be freed of government overreach so that we may continue to be free to openly disagree, to associate and disassociate in our lives with each other, and to live our own lives in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness as we see fit based on our own merits and not the largess of others or the control of government. Remember, when someone from the Government says, "We are here to help you." Run for your lives.

Faced with the difficult road ahead, conservatives must not be faint of heart. Yes, in the interim until November, 2010, we work hard. We hope to win a lot of elections; if so, we give each other some high fives, go to bed, wake up the next day. Then, we continue on!

The article alluded to previously was written by Salena Owens in November 2009. I do not know Salena. But, I hope we meet along the way for she has got it right with respect to the fact that "Conservatism is not for the faint of heart. Never has been." While Owens' writes from the perspective of a traditional values Christian, her words are also appropriate in principle for those who do not share her faith or beliefs. And, for those that do share her faith and beliefs and have not joined the battle to reclaim America from Big Government - please Wake Up; we need you and all other conservatives!

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RightOnline Day 1 - Building Coalitions

Las Vegas is insane.

Everything I've heard about this Disneyland-for-adults is true: neon, sparkles, bells & whistles, herds (and hordes) of people, STAR WARS slot machines (pictures later)...I will definitely have to come back here one day for purposes other than business. My friend Jon Henke (@JonHenke) and I flew from DC yesterday by way of Newark, NJ and didn't even land in Vegas until 1am PT...it was a long day, and I slept in a bit. It was easy to do in my posh suite at the Venetian, with my sunken living room and remote-controlled drapes! Life is hard.

The first panel I attended today featured Todd Thurman (@toddthurman) of the Heritage Foundation, Brian Faughnan (@brianfaughnan) of Liberty Central, and Alexa Moutevelis (@alexashrugged) of the RNC, all moderated by my Liberty Pundits co-blogger Melissa Clouthier (@melissatweets). The panel focused on connecting grassroots activists in the field to policy shops in DC - like Heritage, Cato, or other think tanks - as well as to communications resources and activism training like those offered by FreedomWorks or the Leadership Institute.

Probably one of the better bits of information passed along during the discussion was the notion that activists in the field shouldn't be shy about engaging DC-based resources. Yes, DC is busy. Yes, DC occasionally has a heightened, over-inflated sense of self. But DC is also sitting on piles of your cash, looking for a way to return value back to you. So don't be shy about sending emails or picking up the phones to ask for help.

But more than just connecting grassroots activists to DC to get talking points and policy papers to support candidates back home, the panel focused on connecting activist to activist using technology - that means Twitter, Facebook, the blogosphere, and other online resources. The RNC announced some nascent, new API and they are transitioning all of their online tools to an open-source platform...the API is apparently already available for developers...more on this later. Despite this move to make RNC resources more available to more people, there was some grumbling in the audience that the RNC fails (on occasion) to return voter vaults back to activists on the ground once they pull out of town following a race. This makes people currently involved with components of the Tea Party movement a bit reticent to cooperate with the RNC in Washington.

After a few questions, and after some dancing around the issue, I asked the panel: is there a sense, going into this November's elections (and subsequently in 2012) that the Right should be worried about the Left exploiting a growing rift between conservatives and libertarians? If so, how can we, or more appropriately, should we be doing anything differently than the suggestions you've all made here today to, strengthen the coalition between these two groups?

The consensus from the panel seemed to be that there's not really any danger this year - libertarians and conservatives agree in principle that the prevailing issue of this election is the economy, stupid. Throwing the bums out is priority #1 in 2010. But the funnel of candidates is currently full, and the new Congressional primary begins, effectively, on November 3 - it is possible that infighting on the Right might get nastier in 2011 and 2012.

Todd Thurman told me after the panel "We just need to make sure we're talking, and that we're sticking together in areas where we agree." I agree in principle with this strategy, but only inasmuch as it's a first step. Because there is potential for infighting to become nastier on the Right as we approach 2012, it's important to talk about areas where we disagree too - libertarians remain (rightly) mistrustful of the Big Government GOP - the same GOP that is trying to ride the Tea Party Tiger into new majorities this fall. Ignoring our differences now can be our foil later.

Cross-posted at Liberty Pundits and Intelligence, Please...

Internet Journalism… The Left’s Truth Serum.

It doesn’t take much… we carry a message that rings true to Americans. The Conservative message stands on its own, it always has. You don’t see 3,000 page bills where Conservative Republicans legislate. I believe that some of that has to do with the observation that what is in the convoluted mishmash of duplicitous bureaucratese of that DeMarxist health care bill is full of convoluted self-justification. It’s the language of the left, full of deceit and false promise.

Conservatism is a much simpler philosophy to follow. The message of Conservatism is simple because the language of freedom is straightforward and easy to understand. Smaller government, lower taxes, freedom from government interference in business, individual responsibility and respect for the rule of law. We see the individual as the most important asset this country has, as opposed to the left who sees the individual as a part of their machine which exists to service the state.

Americans really resent the attempt to entrap them into Barack Obama’s Marxist Nirvana. It shows daily, with more and more people turning to Patriot groups and Tea Parties to combat what most of us now see as an attempted Marxist takeover of our country. There’s not much doubt about exactly where Obama stands any longer… and the more we look the farther left he gets. He was out bashing Arizona again today and pandering to illegal aliens.

The blogosphere… I hate that term… Internet New Media if you will, is Obama’s, the left’s and their lapdog LSM press’s truthometer. They can’t go very far with any of their usual canned, fake story lines because Conservative internet journalists do a lot of research… there’s a plethora of really smart people out there and the truth gets equal time in our world.

It really has taken a toll on the left’s believability factor and makes it much more difficult for them to generate one of their faked media feeding frenzies. Put one of their ideological rants up next to a simple and concise Conservative idea and there’s just no comparison. Truth has its own language.

Semper Vigilans, Semper Fidelis

© Skip MacLure 2010

Sherpa Conservatism

Frequently the liberals on this blog moan and lament that they wish there was a "viable", "sane", "rational" conservative party in this nation.  Now, I think this is mostly a passive-aggressive swipe at the Tea Partiers.  But, I'm sure a few mean it sincerely.  And for those, I've been puzzled by the remark.  Don't they understand that a "viable", "rational" conservative party is one that will compete with liberals and actually win elections from time to time, thereby threatening the liberal agenda?  Why would good, sincere liberals want conservatives to win elections?

And then after reading this column from Jonah Goldberg, it struck me.  They don't want real conservatives.  They want "sherpa conservatives".  They want conservatives that serve merely as guides to the ones who really ought to be in charge, the liberals.

I think this is what turned off so many conservatives to John McCain.  They saw a sherpa-like quality in him, someone willing to "reach across the aisle" to assist his "good friends" on the other side, when that assistance constituted chiefly to modify awful liberal ideas to slighly-less-awful liberal ideas.  Case in point: campaign finance, cap-and-trade, amnesty.  Bully that they are slightly-less-awful; but they certainly shouldn't be heralded as victories for conservatism.  And, quite frankly, I think this is what turns many of the Tea Partiers against the establishment Republicans, other than the clear cultural differences.  When a guy like Cornyn comes out and makes equivocal statements about repealing ObamaCare, the Tea Party crowd gets suspicious that maybe Cornyn isn't entirely opposed to ObamaCare himself.

Well, I want no part of sherpa conservatism.

My Closing Remarks at the LiberTea Debate

To learn more, please visit: www.chuckforcongress.com

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Putting Conservation Back Into Conservatism

[Blogger's Note: I began this sometime last fall before COP15, but lost track before the holidays; despite my time management ineptitude, these topics are still as timely as ever.]

James Murdoch, son and heir-apparent to conservative media magnate Rupert Murdoch, argued near the end of 2009 in the Washington Post that conservatives and conservationists make natural allies...or at least they ought to. It's a refreshing read, too, because with both major parties playing Alinsky politics it's easy to forget that, aside from the sum of our available natural resources, our future economic growth and cultural-historical legacy are on the line. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a fisherman since I could hold a rod and reel, I'm a habitual recycler-reuser-reducer, I really appreciate having had the good fortune to visit some really cool places during my short time thus far on the planet, and I firmly believe that there's an economic opportunity here - involving the free market - that we don't (or shouldn't) want to miss.

Follow me: author David Pink argued in one of his books that right-brained people will rule the world one day. Certainly we can't get along without the analytical types, but it's the creative ones - the technological innovators - that have ushered man through various epochs across time and which policy makers seem to agree are the backbone of the American economy (this, by the way is true; small firms' marginal costs of production are lower than those of larger firms). Pink's argument goes something like this (and I'm paraphrasing here, not directly quoting):

Raise your hand if you own an iPod.

Lots of you? Good. Keep your hands up.

Now, keep your hands up if you knew you wanted one before they ever had been invented.

No more hands? I didn't think so.

How could you possibly know you'd want a thing before it came to be? It's the people thinking about what you want before you know you want it who really transform society - these are the people that reshape and redefine paradigms in a society.

This argument extends to green products, technology, and sustainable services. Glenn Beck may have assassinated Teddy Roosevelt's character on live television at CPAC this year, but like my good friend J.R. Lind (@jrlind on Twitter) at Nashville Post Business once reminded me, sustainability is good business. Something tells me ol' Teddy would be awfully proud of today's Republican Party if they could find a way to get on board with sustainability-as-economic-policy ethos. It's just going to require re-framing the debate to some degree.

Personally, I liked the way President Obama put it in his State of the Union address:

 

I don’t like the way the President and progressive Democrats are going about shaping and “solving” the problem…but I liked the way the President put it: whether or not the science is settled is not the chief issue here – there’s an economic opportunity to be had, and in the wake of an unemployment around 10%, it’s time for the Congress to act. We on the Right agree that bad science should not inform policy, but it’s equally important to remember that policy activists and elected officials are NOT scientific experts (unless by coincidence), and to paraphrase Dr. Richard A. Muller, PhD (Physics) the falsification of one area of data does not discredit an entire theory en masse. The Right is terrified that going green will mean capitulation to a radical socialist agenda [sic]; the most devout opponents of anthropogenic warming theory will reject any and all green movements. Of course, new regulatory schemes should be opposed, but it’s possible to look at conservation through our own lens.

Republicans won a major concession in the State of the Union, when President Obama included nuclear energy in his energy strategy. Nuclear power plants will help provide safe, renewable energy, and will create some jobs. Wind and solar will take a similar nibble out of the jobless numbers – but wind turbines are expensive and inefficient, and solar panels will get more expensive before they get cheaper.

The Right needs to go further. Falling back on small government and low tax rhetoric, too, simply won’t fill the bill – the average American doesn’t take our high polemic seriously anymore (beyond sharing our disdain for the sitting Democratic government – we should recognize that this could only be temporary). Republicans have plenty of momentum in their favor, and, like Rep. Paul Ryan, can seize this opportunity before sliding backward into campaign mode this year. Here’s the good news: it’s entirely possible to be green and pro-business all at once.

The government contracting apparatus provides the perfect setting for a pilot program to see the benefits of sustainability, with minimal impacts to the private sector. Last fall, President Obama signed an executive order establishing sustainability goals for greening up facilities and processes across the federal government, including prime and subcontractor goods, facilities, and practices. Contracting and procurement reform in this area – since it has to take place anyway in order for businesses to comply with as-yet undetermined standards and definitions – is our chance to establish a tiered, incentive-based approach to green business. Rather than allowing the federal government to bludgeon businesses everywhere by standing up new regulatory apparatuses with cap-and-trade schemes, the Right should prop up a reformed procurement system which gives preference in the awards process to contractors who meet certain tiered sustainability goals.

This is also a nice way for traditionally pro-Big Business Republicans to throw a nice-sized bone to small businesses, since the marginal costs of pollution abatement are lower for small firms than they are for large firms; the costs of risk-taking in green innovation are also smaller. The conclusion of this policy approach is a set of sustainability practices in the contracting environment (no pun intended) which can be voluntarily extended into commercial markets by companies who see real long-term benefits from sustainability in procurement space – just like John Q. Public who never knew how awesome the iPod would be before it was invented. Small businesses thrive, costs are lowered, small and large businesses collaborate, and the government is largely kept out of interfering with commercial markets – we merely reform a legacy process for the purpose of achieving a policy objective that has several fringe benefits. There are long-term political benefits to this strategy as well, as there is clearly a well-expressed demand for green products and investments/practices.

We – and certainly I – are a long way off from having an exhaustive, comprehensive approach for going green, framed within the context of our own ideological narratives. But it’s not altogether impossible with a little bit of creative thinking. We don’t have to agree on the science of global warming, but we should probably start from the same basic assumption that sustainability is good for business. Finally, we need to remember that we have a real chance to wrestle this issue away from the Left, but we have to act quickly and intelligently, and remember that committing to this policy arena is not capitulation if we come to the table with our own detailed approaches. Here’s hoping we have a champion on to take the reins and lead the Right into a new era.

Cross-posted at IntelligencePlease.com

The Teapublican Moment

Why are we so shocked that a generic conservative third party called the "Tea Party" would come out ahead of the Republican Party in a poll?

The notion that there are lots of people on the right who consider themselves conservatives first and Republicans second is not new (though a national reporter once e-mailed me professing shock at hearing someone say this for the first time). What is different this time is that the tea parties lend some modicum of organization to the right's rabblerousing opposition, and the D.C. mandarins are busy trying to figure out if this power can be wielded electorally and whether that helps or hurts Republicans.

Rasmussen's question actually explains a lot. Like the fact that the national GOP is poised to pick up a bunch of seats while their numbers remain in the toilet.

Depending on the poll, approval of Congressional Republicans (and their leaders) is in the high teens or low twenties, close to the GOP number in today's survey. In the progressive blogosphere, this is the most common talking point against the notion that Republicans might win in 2010.

Though a curiosity, Congressional GOP approval is actually irrelevant to next year's election results. That's because a big chunk of the disapproval comes from the "Tea Party" that thinks the GOP is not doing enough fast enough. Combined, the Teapublicans get 41 percent of the vote to the Democrats' 36 percent. If I'm solely concerned with electoral strategy, I want people to be highly motivated to vote, because turnout is everything in a midterm. And the more Tea'd off these voters are, the better for Republicans. The good news for Democrats is that a mythical right-wing splinter party splits the base down the middle. The bad news is that they still vote Republican in a two-way, and the Tea Partiers are singlehandedly driving a massive enthusiasm gap over the left that renders a Republican victory even more likely. As we saw in 2006 and 2008, enthusiasm gaps matter.

The prevalence of the Tea Party movement does hold a cautionary note for the GOP -- if they win. The danger is that Republicans will interpret a victory as a sign that all is well in the party, and that they can go back to their old ways pre-2008. In other words, they'll confuse a Teapublican victory for an old-school Republican mandate.

However, the reason that Republicans are now at the mercy of the tea parties to drive their GOTV is because they drove spending through the roof (at least in pre-Obama terms) and agreed to the bailouts. The protests were as much a reaction to Republicans selling out as they were to the incipient Obama administration, though the passage of time has shifted the focus to the present Administration. The notion that the Tea Party  -- of all people -- will be unenthused about voting in November 2010 is wishful thinking, particularly when a clear opportunity exists to do damage to the left. The question is whether they'll abide the same Republican Party that set the bailouts in motion to begin with -- after the election.

Right now, the fact that the Tea Party is willing to hate on the GOP Congressional leadership but ultimately be their most enthusiastic foot soldiers is testament to the fact of the Republican Party's powerlessness on Capitol Hill. The party may suck, the reasoning goes, but that's irrelevant now because it can't actually shape policy. There is only one question in this election, and that is whether Congress can put the breaks on the left's unfettered rule. And if the GOP gets some measure of influence back, will it change?

Where are they? Who are they?

Reading the blogs and op-eds out on the net it is clear that we are reaching a point where the Conservative message is at a crossroads.  A lot of the talk has been about a leadership vacuum.  In my opinion, the Right is currently undergoing a massive manhunt to find the one person (or perhaps a handfull of people) who can clearly articulate that Conservative message.

This begs an obvious question:  What is the Conservative Message?

People are throwing around the usual catch-phrases:  "Limited Government" or "States Rights" or "Fiscal Responsibility".  All well and good, but the problem is that there doesn't seem to be anyone out there who can articulate this message AND survive the attacks on their record which the Progressive / Statist left will undoubtedly unleash in order to discredit them.

Another problem is that way too many of the "conservative" pundits out there are really just watered-down Progressives.  Neo-Statists or Progressive-lite commentators who have accepted that government intervention (vs regulation) is the solution to the majority of the problems we face.  I don't think there are many true Conservatives who would argue for outright anarchy.  Of course there's a need for government.  The question is how much do we need? Are the solutions to be found utilizing the power of the Federal Government, the State Governments, or the Private sector (The People).  Better yet... What is the right mix? The Federalist system our founders handed to us seems to be disappearing before our eyes.  It has taken nearly a century to get to this point, but it is disappearling.  Progressives have successfully framed the debate.  We, as a country, don't even blink when presented with a problem.  We immediately run to the Federal Government.  This wasn't how it was originally intended to work, but that's an argument for a different time.

Back to the question of message. We on the Right need to rally around a single message.  The idea of Limited Government is my personal favorite because it really encompasses what Conservatism is all about.  But we must also remember that "Limited Government" doesn't mean "No Government".  It means going back and checking the playbook (The Constitution) to see which entity should be the force behind implementing a solution.

Where are the leaders who have consistently approached a problem from this perspective?  Who are they?  Who looks at a problem and doesn't immediately think, "Let's create a Federal Program around it"?  Where is the politician who can consistently make the case that nearly every problem we face today is a direct result of Progressive policies that have slowly erroded our Federalist foundation?

Or is there a larger question?  Are we on the Right sure if we really believe that anymore?

I know my answer.  What's yours?

Conservatism is Dead! Long Live Conservatism!

 Conservatism Is Dead!  Long Live Conservatism!

             I am 23 years old.  I have been told that my ilk and I are the future.  To say the least that assertion frightens me.  Statistics, while reassuring, can only attenuate my anxiety slightly.  For while the sweep of history that Obama disciples say their savior rode into the White House on this past November might not have been as strong as they once thought – voters 18-29 resoundingly turned out to vote for Obama, yet overall the difference between the ostensibly crucial youth vote’s turnout in 2004 and 2008 was just 3% higher – the consensus among my peer’s is that centrist-liberalism – the form of liberalism Obama does not practice but I think successfully conveys – has become the accepted norm.  Why?  Because it feels pragmatic, tolerant, and, above all, it is imbued with a sense of competent realism.  Gone are the days of stereotypical bleeding heart liberal – at least that is the perception a lot of people my age have. 

            Conservatism as a movement has been vanquished in the eyes of many young politically minded people I speak with.   It has proven not only morally bankrupt –after starting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, advocating torture, and impinging on civil liberties – but also intellectually bankrupt.  Where before a liberal friend of mine had begrudgingly admitted that conservatism’s redeeming quality for him was its emphasis on practical solutions, reliance on hard data, and fiscal frugality, today, in the wake of the financial and economic chaos that engulfs us it is no surprise that that reputation has been sullied. 

            I am not going to argue the merits of those qualms with modern conservatism.  My concern is the perception-reality gap; that is, how people, especially younger Americans, perceive conservatism, and, by extension its partisan vessel, the Republican Party.  There is a worthwhile debate to be had over whether the Bush era was, in fact, a traditionally conservative one.  William F. Buckley himself once remarked that Bush was conservative, but not a conservative.  He was not a part of the movement in the sense that Ronald Reagan was or Newt Gingrich continues to be a torchbearer for. 

            Much has been written on the subject of movement conservatism since the Republican Party was handed a disastrous defeat in the last general election.  While the former President Bush is certainly culpable to a certain extent for the humiliating electoral referendum of what has passed for conservatism these last nine years I think that all conservatives, myself included, need to look at the changing demographics and national economy and render a verdict on whether or not the conservatism embodied by our current representatives is the sort of conservatism that can subsist and win in 21st Century America. 

            Clichés can ruin empires.  They can also ruin political movements.  Unfortunately, conservatism has fallen prey to rampant clichés that are promulgated by a myriad of comedians and entertainers.  To my fellow youthful Americans, Stephen Colbert and comedians of his kidney hold great sway over perception of conservatives (comedy does have a liberal bias, after all).  I am hesitant to bring Mr. Colbert into a serious discussion about the state of modern conservatism as an intellectual and political movement, but I would be remiss not to highlight how entertainment media has successfully reduced conservatism to a set of ugly cultural symbols:  the gun-crazed, the gay basher, and the God fearer.   Conservatives have long wrestled with images of backwardness, bigotry, and zealous piety.  In the 1940s, when the postwar conservative movement was still in its adolescence and sowing the fundamental intellectual seeds of its platform, liberals decried nascent conservatism in America as an attempt to reinstate medieval feudalism.   Meanwhile, the average college student is, I can safely confirm, denied any knowledge of the conservative intellectual history that could challenge these nasty generalizations.   The domination of the nation’s universities by a liberal professoriate is complete.   Men like William F. Buckley Jr., Friedrich Hayek, Frank Meyer, Russel Kirk, and Wilmoore Kendall are scarcely mentioned outside of being the butt of many bad jokes.    Instead, conservatism is treated as a reactionary force in American politics – the default position of obstinate country bumpkins and avaricious plutocrats. 

            But really, who can blame these critics?  Conservatives of late have made themselves easy targets for two reasons.  First, conservatism has become ideologically rigid and rhetorically trite.  In the 1980s and 1990s, the small-government, free market message resounded because it contravened liberalism’s decades long insistence on the power of federal programs to correct society’s ills – the results of which were Leviathan bureaucracy and stagflation.  So while the totalizing nostrums of liberal policymakers had been compounding inefficiencies since the New Deal, Reagan represented the culmination of a conservative movement that offered sound reasoning for why liberalism had failed and what it could be replaced with.  

            Today, however, the twin pillars of the conservative economic policy – low taxation and deregulation – are held in disrepute.   Cut taxes and deregulate it repeated ad nauseum will not do.  As much as I agree with these mantras (in most instances) it must be acknowledged that as rhetorical tools they have become useless pabulum.   Conservatives must articulate a more nuanced economic policy that stresses long-term fiscal solvency, debt reduction, free trade, measured and responsible deregulation, and sensible arguments for why tax cuts – not spending programs – are the stuff of real economic growth.   A government-phobic stance only reinforces the perception of doctrinaire intransigence.  If conservatives can admit the necessity of limited economic regulation they will win not only more respect from non-ideological voters who are skeptical of dogmatism in any form, but they will be returning to a pragmatism that is the very essence of conservatism.

            I would also like to stress the supreme importance of shedding the image conservatives have garnered for being socially parochial.  I have been contemplating this article for some time now, and in the way of research I made it a point to start conversations with young people of different political stripes and with varying degrees of interest in politics.  To someone with only a fleeting interest in electoral politics social issues are what matter, and often function as a first foray into politics (more than likely because social issues elicit emotional responses and do not require one to be well-versed on an issue).  To win young voters, or at least not alienate them, conservatives should apply the “Don’t Tread on Me” ethos they champion in the economic sphere in the social one, as well.  This does not mean we shirk the greater task of reintroducing meaning, civic duty, religion, and something beyond shallow materialism and licentiousness into American society.  On the contrary, conservatives should fully embrace their rhetoric of individual responsibility by purging the movement of its puritanical authoritarianism so as to eliminate the inherent contradictions in their positions.  For how can we praise the right to individual choice and responsibility and still support the interminably futile “war on drugs,” which not only wastes millions of the taxpayer’s dollars but exacerbates racial tensions?  How can we continue to speak of justice and liberty when homosexuals are not allowed to marry their loved ones and when the majority of Republicans in congress opposed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?  

            To accomplish all of the above and remain relevant conservatives must follow point two of my thesis, as well:  they must govern effectively and remain principled.   My generation’s formative experiences occurred during the Bush administration and under the auspices of a Republican-dominated congress.  Two wars, a rash of scandals (Mark Foley, the Delay-Abramoff connection, the Valerie Plame leak, the Terri Schiavo episode, Black Water, etc.), and the financial crisis have severely damaged the Republican Party and conservatism’s image.  The recovery will be slow going.  But if conservative politicians can begin to shed their reactionary mien, offer alternative policy ideas that bypass hackneyed platitudes, and live out their lofty rhetoric and lead by example we may yet see the movement regain its strength and political clout. 

            It goes without saying that the party out of power naturally seems adrift and leaderless.  And already the steady stream of articles proclaiming conservatism in America “dead” seems conspicuously outdated.  A recent Gallup Poll finds that more Americans in all fifty states identify themselves as conservatives rather than liberal or very liberal.  The Democrats health care reform salvo is on precarious footing thanks to a grassroots conservative revival across the country and a smile-worthy Rasmussen Poll concludes that fifty-seven percent of Americans would vote out the entire congress – including those ossified Republican relics.  This has to mean something, right?  America has tried “change” in the Obama vein and is disappointed, yes?  Well, in a word, no.  First it is too early to predict how Obama will recover from these setbacks and second I’m afraid the president, despite his sinking poll numbers of late, represents a new breed of liberalism that has successfully adopted superficial conservative hues; in particular, conservatisms mild-mannered pragmatism.  Essentially, Obama has won the vital center by shrewd deception and still enjoys the support of those who might not agree with him on certain controversial issues, such as health care, Afghanistan-Pakistan, or bank bailouts, but who trust his judgment, nonetheless.  Like Reagan, he’s Teflon (for now.)

            The backlash Obama and the Democrats have faced this summer is, most likely, ephemeral.  The town hall meetings will eventually cease and the endless news cycle will make it all seem like a dream, as the angry voices of protest that once commanded front-page attention are lost to the archives.  I hope I’m wrong, but this is more than often the case; sustained popular outrage has a relatively short life expectancy.  If conservatives want to win in the future it will require a new language, a more tolerant and less rigid ideological platform, and exciting and articulate figures like William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, and Ronald Reagan to lend action to ideas.  If you’ll notice, those three aforementioned heroes of the conservative cannon are no more.  Conservatism, though, can live on.  One, because it is the movement of the individual and his quest for self-improvement, not only for himself but his country and mankind, and two, because that quest is the ongoing story of the United States.

But, then again, I'm only 23 -- what do I know?

 

           

 

 

       

 

 

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