Rebuild the Right: No longer the Party of Ideas

Yesterday, Heritage Foundation founder and President Ed Feulner wrote a post at The Next Right, arguing that the failures of the Republican Party were not a failure of the conservative movement.

At the risk of losing my invitation to the Heritage Foundation Chrismas party: Ed Feulner is exactly wrong. 

The Movement doesn't want to take responsibility for where we are, but "personnel is policy" and the conservative movement is the personnel of the Republican Party.  A political Party is an empty vessel, only as effective and healthy as the ideas and incentives behind it.  We can't buy a "we'd be fine if only we could trust politicians" theory of politics.

Whether it is because the movement's ideas have been ineffectual, because the movement's infrastructure has become complacent and entrenched, or because the movement's incentives have become perverse, the failures of the Republican Party are precisely the fault of the movement. 

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.

As The Economist pointed out recently, the Right has been losing the intellectual battle of ideas, becoming "a modern-day version of the 1970s liberals it arose to do battle with: trapped in an ideological cocoon, defined by its outer fringes, ruled by dynasties and incapable of adjusting to a changed world."

Unfortunately, the result of that movement complacency has been the erosion of the Right's organizing agenda - its ideas.  There has been a lot of conversation at The Next Right in recent days about that, and at Heritage's conservative blogger briefing on Tuesday, Feulner argued that the Right excels at ideas...

[W]e believe the ideas are fundamental and you've got to get the ideas right before you can start trying to market them. Yes, marketing is important, but that's only the second stage. The first thing is to get your principles screwed on straight and make sure you understand what they're all about.

But is it really true that the Right has the fundamental policy ideas?  What effective ideas has the Right had recently?  How far have those ideas gone?  Where are we?  Unfortunately, we're even farther behind than we were. Government is not more limited; our problems have not been reformed.  Indeed, the problems ahead of us

The Right needs to push the reset button on ideas. 

I’m not talking about the general ideas – free markets, limited government, strong defense – but the way to get from here to there.  Robert Bluey says argues that have an abundance of the policy thinkers.   Well, ok, but yet we haven't had the notable, transformative ideas to move the ball forward on the core ideals.  Sure, we have plenty of ideas for agencies, programs, details, each purporting to keep markets free, government limited and defense strong...but those are ideals, not ideas, and they aren't being matched to a politically viable and organizing agenda.

The current set of ideas either hasn't worked: they either haven't been viable or they've been small.

At this stage, do we need the 900th white paper on trade, even more policy recommendations on Taiwan or new reams of paper devoted to education policy?  Well, yeah, we do.  In theory, those can be important.  But practice is more important than theory, and we've had precious little practice lately.  Our ideas have become brush strokes on a painting, fine-tuning a work that has already gotten too busy to be beautiful. 

The Right has replaced strategy with tactics; pouring gas in a car that isn’t going anywhere.  We are tinkering with an agenda that doesn't capture the public imagination.

Fine-tuning should be secondary to the big picture.

2008 was the year in which that inverted idea agenda, policy and message problems finally extracted its toll and things all fell apart.  The Right has replaced strategy with tactics. We are tinkering with an agenda that is not going anywhere.

Mr. Feulner is wrong.  We have to push reset on the movement itself - not by eliminating the old guard, but by developing a new guard to compete with the old guard - making it better or filling new roles, but always making it work harder.

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Comments

I agree with the last paragraph

More than anything it seems like the most important aspect of rejuvenating the Republican party. What's the point of distilling new ideas and convincing the American people if you're just going to pass it off to the same tired elected officials that have failed time and time again?

Republicans need younger, smarter, and more effective representatives whose visions aren't cloud by the problems of the old GOP.

RE:

At this stage, do we need the 900th white paper on trade, even more policy recommendations on Taiwan or new reams of paper devoted to education policy? Well, yeah, we do. In theory, those can be important. (Thesis Writing) But practice is more important than theory, and we've had precious little practice lately. custom essay Our ideas have become brush strokes on a painting, fine-tuning a work that has already gotten too busy to be beautiful. dissertations

Implementing ideas is just as important

One of the major problems with conservatives as shown by the Bush Administraiton is the inability to implement any idea.  Too many conservatives come off sounding like nerdy high school kids because they have an idea but have to idea how the government works or how to implement the idea.  Repulbicans keep making proposals withouth any means of implementing them or creating the mechanisms of to keep the left from avoiding the policy.

As an example, conservatives in California pass an initiative that said that the STate of California cannot take race or ethnicity into account for such things as college admission.  Yet, they did not include any enforcement mechanisms.  So even today, blacks and Hispanics are admitted to the University of California System with much lower grades or test scores than many whites who were rejects. A thinking man's party would have built in enforcement such as allowing class action lawsuits against universities that refuse to stop taking race into account.

A little o/t

Are people currently barred from bringing class action lawsuits against universities in California? If so, that's the first I've heard of it.

Or was that a hypothetical situation and I was just too thick to get that?

Clarification

As far as has been reported, the initaitive did not include any enforcment mechanisms.  Compare that to progressives passing things such as the Endangered species act where liberal activist write in the ability of citizen initiative third party lawsuits to force the government to comply.  If conservatives want less government restrictions or want the government to stop discriminating, they have to inplement laws with real, concrete enforcement mechanisms in them.   The anti- racial quota people have not learned that lesson yet.

"Transformative ideas" can backfire

In 2001 Bret Schundler rn for Governor of NJ. His opponent, Jim McGreevey was a Democrat who played "small ball". He had to. While Schundler has presided over the renaissance of a downtrodden city, McGreevey's claim to fame was not doing much of anything running a suburban town.

In 2001 NJ had the "eight year itch" from two Republican terms as Governor, so the Schundler camp decided to think "big".  Rather than running a race on resume and personality, they focused the race on the "transformative idea" of statewide school vouchers.

On paper, this looked good. It was supposed to address the issue of poor urban schools and high suburban property taxes at the same time.  Yeah, until the NJEA dropped infinite sums telling suburban parents it would be bad for their kids.

The big idea yielded a big result: McGreevey won big despite doing little more than carping over NJ's high car insurance and high property taxes. Swing voters bailed.

Mr. Henke, remember, there are big risks in thinking big. 

ramblings from a progressive with interest in topic

for me this sentence captures the problem of conservative movement and GOP:

the Right has been losing the intellectual battle of ideas, becoming .... trapped in an ideological cocoon, defined by its outer fringes, ruled by dynasties and incapable of adjusting to a changed world."

Jon's summary also intrigues me, as I see problems (don't understand) what seems to be some of the foundation of conservative ideology:

".....Sure, we have plenty of ideas for agencies, programs, details, each purporting to keep markets free, government limited and defense strong...but those are ideals, not ideas, and they aren't being matched to a politically viable and organizing agenda."

how I see it :

-too free of markets have much to do with financial crisis and trillion dollar bailouts,

-limited government offers nothing to the growing numbers of unemployed and uninsured / under insured   (I see access to affordable healthcare as a basic right.)   I also value govt investment  on infrastructure,  including a  well educated workforce.  We need opportunity for all in the form of quality schools, affordable college education.

-using our strong defense in the war against terror (Iraq) was a very expensive boondoggle. The opportunity costs are too high in outspending the rest of the world combined on military.  Our domestic needs are too great to sustain current high level of pentagon spending.  Also aid to other countries in the form of support for schools and other development needs might be more effective than providing weapons.

Lastly the whole post ignores social conservatives,  how do they fit into the focus on updating conservative ideas for the times?  I have no clue how party realignment happens but maybe it stems from disarray like in the GOP today.  Maybe a less partisan era is the answer with good reps bringing a range of views to the legislative process. 

My intent is really not to advocate progressive policy on your right leaning site.  It just happens, as it is my frame reference in my attempts to understand a different viewpoint. So sorry for that.

 

 

Bogged down in superficial, pocket-book issues...

...and not getting to the core/root of the issue.  That describes the GOP, Conservatives and the Heritage Foundation.  (Again, I'm a Member-so I've a right to be critical).  We Repub's/Conservatives have put our Nation way down on our list of priorities.  And as a result , well look at us!!  Look what is happening to our Nation!!  We have been conned out of much of our wealth by our very shrewd "friends" in the international community.  And HF and the GOP have been at the forefront of allowing that to happen.  All in the name of wide open, unrestrained global free trade.  No rules.  Throwing all or any form of protectionism out the window.  Any measurement or element of protection for our Nation, not even allowed to be discussed.  Unspeakable!   The results = the diminishing of the Middle Class (now HF would pull out their charts and graphs and argue with that).  The Middle Class in our Nation have known for years that they are on very thin ice.  Now we see they were right.  The elites have chosen to remain in denial.

Nation & its Citizenry First!  There is a single pole, double throw switch within the GOP that has been been switched over to 'internationalism" for the last couple of decades.  Someone within the GOP needs to have the courage to grab that switch and throw it back to the "Nationalism" setting.  In all decisions and in all policy making -  put Nation and its Citizenry First

The Heritage Foundation is "Top Heavy" in phd's.  Their byproduct has become clinical/ sterile and lacks a real grasp of reality.   The Academic Elite have assigned themselves some sort of  god-like infallability.  They can and have erred.  They need to come down out of their ivory towers, roll up their sleeves and work with the rest of us.  We have a monumental task ahead of us.    Darvin Dowdy

It's The Culture, Stupid

All the dabates about strategy and tactics, about what conservatism is and should proclaim are all good debates and necessary. The problem that most in the conservative movement ignore, however, is a culture in America that is completely dominated by the left. Yet there is very little discussion about how to strategically address this issue. A majority of Americans are apolitical. Let's say it's 60%. These people are all but completely ignorant of the right's media influence in talk radio, magazines, blogs, Fox news, books, etc. Their worldview is primarily shaped by the mainstream media, education, and entertainment. Is it any wonder why conservative, classically liberal or libertarian views don't gain much traction with them. It's a complete no brainer that the conservative movement needs to address this strategically, but everyone seems to blather on about tactics, strategies and philosophy. Again, all important things, but if we lose the culture we lose politics and policy. Period.

We've started an organization to address this specifically called (for now) The Culture Project. Our hope is that the wider movement would figure out that our sole focus on politics and public policy, while we ignore or simply gripe about culture, is a recipe for failure. I was encouraged recently to read the final page of National Review and see Mark Steyn write the following:

"That’s the problem, and pulling the lever for a guy with an “R” after his name every other November isn’t going to fix it. If the default mode of a society’s institutions is liberal, electing GOP legislators eventually accomplishes little more than letting a Republican driver take a turn steering the liberal bus. If Hollywood’s liberal, if the newspapers are liberal, if the pop stars are liberal, if the grade schools are liberal, if the very language is liberal to the point where all the nice words have been co-opted as a painless liberal sedative, a Republican legislature isn’t going to be a shining city on a hill so much as one of those atolls in the Maldives being incrementally swallowed by Al Gore’s rising sea levels."

As only Mr. Steyn can say it, indeed!
 

Culture War is the real battle

All the dabates about strategy and tactics, about what conservatism is and should proclaim are all good debates and necessary. The problem that most in the conservative movement ignore, however, is a culture in America that is completely dominated by the left. Yet there is very little discussion about how to strategically address this issue. A majority of Americans are apolitical. Let's say it's 60%. These people are all but completely ignorant of the right's media influence in talk radio, magazines, blogs, Fox news, books, etc. Their worldview is primarily shaped by the mainstream media, education, and entertainment. Is it any wonder why conservative, classically liberal or libertarian views don't gain much traction with them. It's a complete no brainer that the conservative movement needs to address this strategically, but everyone seems to blather on about tactics, strategies and philosophy. Again, all important things, but if we lose the culture we lose politics and policy. Period.

Well said. The culture war is the real strategic battle over the hearts and minds of the American people. Media, academia, entertainment, the churches, the other institutions, all are a part of the ongoing battle. The obama election - the election of the most left-wing person ever- is just an indicator of how far things have gone.

 

such hyperbole...

what makes him lefter than Carter?

judging by his foreign policy actions, he appears to be rather fond of realpolitik. and if we judge that the republicans are bound by such things (as indeed the Pew would), then he can't be terribly left, can he?

The "fatal" flaw

"the Right has been losing the intellectual battle of ideas, becoming .... trapped in an ideological cocoon, defined by its outer fringes, ruled by dynasties and incapable of adjusting to a changed world."

In some ways, the ideological Right almost has to lose the batt.e, because of an inherent contradiction.  Politics of government are about granting power to someone.  What sort of power and how much are the main grounds of argument.

But the central traditional tenet of conservatism is small government.  That means "less oower", folks.  In order for a movement to gain the upper hand, it needs to gather allies and consolidate enough force to regain influence.  Now, what that means in practice is that you have to ally with all sorts of folks--isolationists, religious moralists, essentially lobbying groups of all sorts.  What most of them want is not actually smaller government, but more power for themselves (or their group).

So you're trying to achieve a state of "less government" or less power by means of groups who actually want MORE power, and the movement is ideologically mixed up from the very beginning.  This will probably always be true, and is why the traditional conservative view will always be on a teeter-totter of gaining, then losing influence.  It's almost guaranteed that the "right" will be plagued with groups or trends which betray its ideals, because they needed the body count to win elections.  That's my guess, anyway.

Culture & Fatal Flaw both true

Thanks for the Culture Project -- looks good, and VERY needed.

On the fatal flaw, part of the problem is language. "Public schools" instead of "government schools".

Whenever voters vote for a political/ government solution to any problem, they are increasing the power of government.

Small gov't folk need step by step methods to use gov't to limit problems and support non-gov't solutions to problems.  Easier said then done, I know.

A focus on loans rather than grants for all gov't support would be a good early step.

Educrats love that 'public school' label

On the fatal flaw, part of the problem is language. "Public schools" instead of "government schools".

Good point. Education should be centered on the child, not the school. Talking about education about being for or against 'public schools' is basically conceding the argument to the edu-crats before the debate has begun.

We see this again and again. Liberals define the issue itself in terms of the liberal solution - Social Security - rather than "Retirement security - owned and govt-run".

A good book on getting out of the 'small government' dilemma is "Leave Me Alone", Grover Norquist's book. Basically, there IS a majority for small government, so long as the different parts of the movement understand how to work together.

 

 

to 'understand how to work together'

involves removing the religious right from power in your party.

funny, that.

Party of Ideas???

 Jon, 

You are spot on in your analysis and critique of Ed Feulner's article.  The conservative movement itself needs reform, retooling, and yes, needs to be reset as you conclude.  As I have opined on this site and the Race 4 2008/2012 site, the present-day conservative movement as all but abandoned substantive intellectual grounding in favor of highly simplistic "culture war" rhetoric and little else.  The conservative movement that Ed Feulner and I once knew and in which we were involved was identified with the likes of Russell Kirk, Bill Buckley, James Burnham, F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Art Laffer along with the politics of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.  Solid proposals based on free market/free choice principles were developed that addressed the real concerns of voters at the time.  In the latter '90s all was abandoned in favor of a focus on "culture war rhetoric" and Karl Rove's campaign tactics that led to strategic disaster. Unless the "conservative movement" and the Republican Party once again address the real concerns of voters in the context of the issues of the day, we are likely to remain in the wilderness for a long time.

Well said.

If we can develop an online structure that will give every registered Republican a voice, allow them to speak and to be HEARD, which, of course, structurally speaking, is the hard part, we can't lose!

ex animo

davidfarrar 

I agree

But that would require ridding ourselves of the presnet leadership and they are doing everything in their power to hold on to it.  The rank-and-file be damned.

The Internet Age

While the Republican/Conservative movement certainly could some kind of cohesisve policy, there is an obvious need to learn to use the Internet to its full extent.

Whenever there is a campaign of any kind, the Internet blogs and e-mail sources must be saturated with comments and requests for money PAID FOR by the various campaigns. As matters now stand, the Liberals have a free run of the online resources and they are using paid posters and responders. They make the Internet look like a Liberal owned business and give the world the impression that Liberalism is how Americans think. It is all a highly financed and orchestrated facade.

There needs to be a Republican/Conservative Internet czar to coordinate a resounding Internet presence. It is political suicide to let the Liberals have a free run with the most important communication medium in our lifetime. Just look at what they just did with the Obama craze. Admitedly, they probably overdid it and elected someone who will fall flat on his face when hit with the real world.

 

No czars, please

While I agree that conservatives need to be more savvy about the New Media, I'm adamantly against "czars".  In a fast-changing field, we can't rely on a single person.  Instead, form an advisory board, who have to make their case for inclusion of different tactics.  Let that board's composition be relatively fluid - changing circumstances may necessitate new blood periodically.