I’ve been a little too hard on conservatives lately – largely due, I think, to my overall frustrations over healthcare reform, but also because of the antics on the right which I find distasteful and discouraging. Part of what draws me to conservatism is its respect for tradition, restraint and of course the conservative disposition (which I realize is awfully vague and fairly apolitical). This includes not saying wildly outlandish things or using scare tactics to make your case. Somewhere along the way, all this has been tossed aside, along with many conservative principles such as limited government (i.e. not “save Medicare from the Democrats”). Loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck dominate the conservative airwaves, and the GOP itself is headed by the inept Michael Steele. Several weeks ago, after watching that horrible Colbert segment with Andy Schlafly, I let myself sink into despair.
The conservative movement – nay, conservatism itself – was dead (to me, or so I thought). Or, if not dead, it was damn near. Andy Schlafly and Sean Hannity were dancing on its grave sputtering nonsense about Jesus and the free market, giving anti-capitalist progressives all the ammunition they’d ever need to spout their own brand of crazy-passionate-yet-uninformed. What little remained of conservatism’s once robust intellectual movement seemed cordoned off, populated by a few economists, a handful of paleocons and dissidents, and some libertarians. The neocon’s secret mission to destroy the movement from the inside out was working – had worked. Game over.
Then came the special election in Massachusetts. The Scott Brown victory, if nothing else, has restored my faith in the possibility of Big Tent conservatism. Whatever Brown’s flaws or inconsistencies – and like every politician, they are many – he nevertheless represents a shift away from vapid purity tests and toward a more regionally representative Republican party. The lesson of the Brown victory is not that moderate/liberal Republicans should be the model for conservative candidates country-wide, but that there should be no status quo at all – no precise model for what works, no one-size-fits-all-conservatism. What works in Tennessee will likely not work in New Yrok (nor should one politician attempt to change their political views entirely to appeal to each of these states consecutively).
Furthermore, Republicans should run more broadly appealing candidates rather than hyper-partisan ones, even if the hyper-partisan candidates are the best at rousing the base. Republicans can still run very conservative candidates so long as those candidates can speak to a wide swath of voters. – Bob McDonnell in Virginia, for instance, is just this sort of candidate.
Moreover, the liberal reaction to Citizens United (Glenn Greenwald notwithstanding) has made me realize that my recent lack of faith in conservatives/conservatism is more a reflection of my overall lack of faith in humanity/politics. People on both sides of the aisle enforce that lack of faith on a daily basis. Liberals and progressives can be just as over the top, emotional, and absurd as their conservative and libertarian counterparts.
On the other hand, all these groups can be well-intentioned and simply disagree fundamentally on very core principles and ideas. That disagreement exists does not make one side more wicked than the other. Obstructing the majority’s agenda is not in and of itself wrong. For instance, Republicans actually did compromise on healthcare reform. Quite a few of them backed the Wyden/Bennett bill which was a much better bill than the one the Senate eventually produced. Big Labor was the lurking opposition to that bill’s passage, and guess who happens to be situated deep in the pockets of Big Labor?
Hint: it’s not the Republicans.