Saturday, November 22, 2008

Conservatism Has a Long Way to Go

So here we are, weeks removed from another electoral drubbing, and the soul searching has begun in earnest. Eventually, good ideas will come from this process, and those good ideas will be put into action. But right now, the ideas, the thoughts, the brainstorming just isn't all that good yet. I don't mean to pick on another blog for going through the process, but in reading Commentariat's piece "The real future of conservatism: five ideas," I was able to pick holes in some lines of thought that I think are common but weak right now. So think not of this as a fisking, but rather an attempt to strengthen our thoughts.

#1 Oppose Liberalism
Con-I don't have much complaint with this one given the current circumstances. My only complaint is that opposing is what minority parties do. The surest way to stay in the minority is to be little more than the opposition. The art in politics is have such compelling ideas that the majority opposes and then co-opts you.

#2 Don't give up on social conservatism. But don't emphasize it, either.
Con-I am baffled as to why so many are pointing their fingers at social conservatives right now. But first, I'd like to directly address the author's point. Social conservatives, contrary to what some other conservatives think, aren't stupid. The policy being advocated here is much the same as what a lot of conservatives have already been doing for years. Social conservatives know this, and that's why they were a bubbling cauldron of discontent that made the Huckabee campaign go. As a whole, Republicans have used social wedge issues to their benefit since at least 1980, but most social conservatives feel like their has been scant little in the way of accomplishments. This policy would at best alienate more social conservatives, and at worst would turn some of them back into Carter Democrats (if the Democrats can ever figure out how to accept them).

Now, as to the larger idea that social conservatives somehow shoulder a significant share of the blame here. I'm just not seeing it. 2006 wasn't about social issues. It was about the failure of Republicans to be what they promised to be. And 2008 was one of the least social issue oriented presidential campaigns in my memory. I know that Sarah Palin chafed some conservatives out there, and there is a desire to blame some of the loss on her and her values. But her values had no resonance this campaign. This campaign was about the economy, a desire to move on from the Bush years, and somehow making amends for our history. Still, some want to throw social conservatives overboard, while others want to marginalize them. Both ideas would be mistakes for the long term viability of conservatism and the Republican party.

#3 Dump the drug war
Con-Pointless. It is a worthwhile debate to have, but not right now. This barely registers as an idea for the party and conservatism's future. It just doesn't resonate well with the larger electorate. It is also a wedge issue internally for the party because there is not consensus on this.

#4 Run David Petraus [sic] for President in 2012
Con-Yeah, he has done a hell of a job in Iraq. That's not enough to take this flight of fancy, however. First, we know nothing about his political philosophies, and we probably wouldn't until it was too late. Second, the American public has always had a healthy skepticism against mixing their military and their politics. I'm sure some have visions of Eisenhower dancing in their heads, but I'd like to remind them that Ike was pursued by both parties, and he was hardly a conservative. Bush's brand of conservatism wasn't all that conservative at times, and that has contributed to the splintering of the coalition. You could possibly get even worse in Petraeus. You just don't know.

#5 Found an opinion journal other than National Review and the Weekly Standard
Con-Go ahead. It'll fail unless you can absorb the losses year after year. Start something intelligent on the web, and maybe you'll get a toe hold. But those two publications will still have their place. There is a danger in driving for ideological purity in that it can get pretty exclusive very quickly. Both of those publications have displayed a degree of pragmatism because sometimes, what is good for the Republican party is good for conservatism, even if it doesn't seem like it would be on the surface.

Right now, it feels like we are having a collective brainstorm on the right. The ideas just aren't great yet, though. We have to progress these thoughts and do it quickly. The political world moves quickly. It was just four years ago that the Democrats seemed to be on life support. They righted their ship quickly, but their ideas are no stronger. They will be ripe for defeats if we get this hashed out, and soon.

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