Steven Hayward's "Is Conservatism Brain-Dead" has been much-discussed in the last few days, prompting some valuable introspection within the Right. I'll excerpt some of the more important points.
The conservative political movement, for all its infighting, has always drawn deeply from the conservative intellectual movement, and this mix of populism and elitism troubled neither side. Today, however, the conservative movement has been thrown off balance, with the populists dominating and the intellectuals retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas. The leading conservative figures of our time are now drawn from mass media, from talk radio and cable news. We've traded in Buckley for Beck, Kristol for Coulter, and conservatism has been reduced to sound bites.
President Obama has done conservatives a great favor, delivering CPR to the movement with his program of government gigantism, but this resuscitation should not be confused with a return to political or intellectual health. [...] When the ideas are absent, the movement has nothing to offer -- except opposition. That doesn't work for long in American politics. [...]
[S]ome on the right think talk radio, especially, has dumbed down the movement, that there is plenty of sloganeering but not much thought, that the blend of entertainment and politics is too outre. John Derbyshire, author of a forthcoming book about conservatism's future, "We are Doomed," calls our present condition "Happy Meal Conservatism, cheap, childish and familiar."
The key to fixing this problem is leadership - among elected officials, traditional movement leaders, grassroots...and, hopefully, new movement leaders. The question is whether those people will pick up this opportunity to lead...or make excuses, point fingers and retrench. I'll repeat what I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 election.
The rebuilding and renewal of the Right will start soon. This will be very important. The Right and the Republican Party are at an inflection point, and there are many directions things can go. The destiny of the Right and the Republican Party will be determined in large part by the decisions you make in the days, weeks and months ahead.
- Some of you will say "we have learned our lesson", and then try to pass off cosmetic changes as Reform. You are the problem.
- Some of you will say "Republicans need to fight/hold Democrats accountable", as if it is sufficient to be against Democrats. The pendulum may eventually swing back to you, but you won't know what to do with it.
- Some of you will say "Republicans need to carry our message to the American people", as if the problem is that Republicans haven't been saying "tax cuts and limited government" loudly enough. The problem is not the inability to communicate; the problem is that you have no idea how to actually deliver on those ideas.
- Others will say "Republicans need to be more principled", as if the problem is a mere lack of personal courage and principle by Republicans. Even the best people can't limit government if there is not an effective strategy for implementation - for getting "from here to there". You don't need better people. You need a better strategy.
The problem is not Republican politicians, although many Republicans politicians are a problem. The problem is not with the basic ideals of limited government and personal freedom, either. The problem is a movement that plays small-ball and cedes responsibility for infrastructure to business interests, leadership that rewards those who make friends rather than waves, an entrenched Party and Movement support system that mostly supports itself, an echo chamber that has rotted our intellect, a grassroots that is ill-equipped to shape the Republican Party, and a Republican Party that has replaced strategy with tactics, substance with marketing.