conservative reform

CPAC Agenda Shows Conservatives Still in Denial

The theme of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) should be “Cocooning our way to Irrelevancy” or perhaps “How to lose the next 5 elections in 10 easy steps.”

From my point of view, it really is that bad. With the exception of some effort to bring conservatism into the 21st century communications-wise, the program appears to be an excellent panacea for what ailed conservatism in about 1980. It’s as if the debacles of 2006 and 2008 never happened. Does it matter that the very same people who helped get us clobbered the last two election cycles are running seminars and roundtables at the conference? Not if you’re a movement still in denial that it will take more than “message tweaking” and better utilization of the internet to bring conservatism back and make it relevant to a large portion of Americans again.

The side conference being sponsored by PJTV - “Conservatism 2.0” – looks interesting but here again, we have familiar faces who haven’t expressed much interest in real conservative reform. (Some panelists on the communications side are the exception.) Glenn Reynolds and Michelle Malkin are internet friends of mine and I agree with them on many issues. But are they really the people to be running a “Conservatism 2.0” conference? Perhaps I misunderstand what they are trying to accomplish. And I may be pleasantly surprised. But before we can even get to “Conservatism 2.0” perhaps we should be thinking of taking a remedial course in what conservatism should mean in our modern society. I’m afraid this sort of introspection will reveal how far afield conservatism has strayed but may also generate thoughts and ideas about how conservatism can be relevant in a 21st century industrialized democracy.

Online activism is fine and seeking new ways to communicate is an excellent idea. But does it matter what we will be trying to get across? If so, I’m not sure that this PJTV side conference will accomplish anything useful.

Alright…so. My idea of “reform” is probably a helluva lot different than most conservatives. But maybe we could start with the recognition that in elections, the way you win is by getting one more vote than the other side. And no matter how you want to add up the numbers, the 30% of so of the nation that identifies itself as “conservative” will always fall short of 50% + 1. I hate to break this news to my fellow conservatives; you can use any kind of mathematical hocus pocus you wish but there just aren’t enough of us to only allow “true conservatives” a place at the table. The absence of conservatives like David Frum, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, and others who probably agree with 90% of conservative positions on the issues but have been driven from the movement for their apostasy—real or imagined—is as incomprehensible as it is depressing.

This is the way back? It’s not a question of being “moderate” or “true-blue” but rather how long does conservatism want to wander in the wilderness? Ideas on how to reform conservatism—and I speak of real reform, not the cosmetic solutions that appear will be offered at CPAC —must come from as many sources as possible. Some conservatives might not like the smell inside the “Big Tent” but turning up your nose at people who disagree with you on one or two issues is just plain nuts. “Litmus tests” and the like are all well and good unless you are a minority, getting smaller and less relevant, and don’t wish to find a way back in order to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

Our dire situation doesn’t seem to have sunk in yet. This is evident by how many sessions are scheduled that appear to have been lifted from the agenda of a decade or more ago. To wit:

David Frum, The Big Tent, and Splenetic Conservatives

There are few on the right who have thought more about where conservatism is and where it should be going than David Frum. Frum is a former Bush speechwriter, National Review writer, author and columnist. He just started a new blog called The New Majority which features a wide range of conservative opinion mixed with some nuts and bolts politics.

Along with Ross Douthat, Marc Ambinder, David Brooks, and a precious few other conservatives, Frum is looking deeply and seriously at conservatism's flaws, strengths, and perhaps most importantly and relevantly, how to translate conservative principles into actionable political ideas that can win elections and establish a sound basis for governance.

In short, Frum and his new blog will almost certainly be one of the focal points in the conservative movement for the foreseeable future - or at least, it should be. The New Majority is where ideology and practical politics will merge as various strains of conservatism wrestle with ways to become relevant in the Age of Obama.

That Age is well underway, having begun even before Obama was elected. There was nothing subtle about the media's clear preference in the November election, the consequences of which have yet to play out. The only thing certain is that to a degree not seen since the early 1960's, conservatism as an ideology is being dismissed by the political class as irrelevant. When politicians start running away from basic conservative principles and embrace the milquetoast center or center- left, including bailout mania and other manifestations of creeping statism, you know it's time to roll up your sleeves and get to work rebuilding a shattered conservative polity.

As I see it, there are several tracks to a conservative revival, all working toward the same goal but in strikingly different ways. You have the generalists like Frum and his cohorts who are seeking to infuse conservatism with new ideas and a new frame of reference for the old ones. Then there are the web gurus like Patrick Ruffini and his stalwart band at The Next Right who are trying to drag the Republican party and conservative movement into the 21st century by creating an army of connected, online activists. The libertarian conservatives have entered the fray with a new blog called The Secular Right which features a group of excellent writers and thinkers like Heather McDonald, Andrew Stuttaford, Walter Olsen, and National Review's John Derbyshire. Reason Magazine is a little more independent but still has some solid conservatives contributing.

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