Conservatives, as other politically interested Americans, are now deeply into post-election efforts to sort out the results; to determine what, if any, lessons may be learned for future contests; which tactics may work and which may not; what issues should be emphasized, which avoided. This process takes place after every election, "sorters" being found in every major party & among participants representing almost every definable "point of view." Yet while the process is customary, the election of a new President from completely outside the American mainstream, adds a new aspect, and for Conservatives, at least, a certain urgency, not typical of past defeats.
The immediate Conservative dilemma is further aggravated by Republican losses. It is not that the Republican Party is now, or ever has been, synonymous with American Conservatism. For much of its 154 year history, it was actually the more 'liberal' party. Yet with the McKinley election in 1896, its Conservative wing became more assertive; and with the advent of the New Deal in the 1930s, where much of the Democratic Party abandoned Thomas Jefferson & James Madison for British Fabian Socialist values, a gradual shift began. By the mid 1960s, this had brought a majority of American Conservatives into the Republican Party, to an extent where any substantial Republican defeat became widely associated with a rejection of American Conservatism.
In 2008, the Republican Party did not run on Conservative principles. Yet to fail to consider the popular perception of a significant connection, is to fail to address one of the key aspects in the necessary sorting out
In 'grass-roots' Conservative venues, as in Republican Party forums, circles & councils, there is now acrimonious discussion over what should, or should not, be done to reverse the patterns of the past election. There is not only controversy between ideological wings of the Republican Party. Even among idealistic Conservatives, there is lively debate over which issues should have priority in future efforts; a concern how to marry pragmatism to principle is a way that will lead to success, not prolonged frustration.
We will focus first on where we must not go. A section to follow will specifically address some of the sources for bad advice, treated here only in the briefest outline. The reason reflects the need to avoid confusion. We cannot, in discussing what ought to be, completely ignore the bad advice being freely offered by some with a very definite 'axe to grind.'
The votes were still being counted in several States, when a campaign began to disparage Gov. Sarah Palin; seeking to blame the Republican debacle on her "inexperience" and Conservative image. From the same direction, though not always from the same people, came a cry for Republican Conservatives to divorce themselves from a mislabeled "Religious Right." Pulling in the opposite direction were those concerned with various social issues, demanding a purge of those who did not share their enthusiasm; while those concerned with other social issues advised a purge of those, who wanted to adhere too strictly to traditional American norms on such concepts as Limited Government, States' Rights, Foreign Policy and racial & ethnic questions.
While such advice was directed primarily at the question of direction for the Republican Party, rather than to "grass roots" Conservative organizations, it should be obvious, even among those concerned solely with a political party, that it is idiotic to try to purge adherents based largely on other adherents' priorities. If--and it is an if, not a certainty--that two party dominance of American politics is to continue, such a policy would be tantamount to political suicide. On the other hand, from a purely Conservative perspective, the advice is hardly any better. We need to respect all Conservatives, even those with different priorities, if we are to achieve maximum impact for our own. This does not, however, mean that we need to respect intellectual poseurs or fanatics--such as self-styled "Neocons" or others from the Bush Administration, who only showed respect for State and local prerogatives when they agreed with the application--those, who claim the mantle of "Conservatism" as a form of self-promotion.
Pretending that there is a necessary division between social, religious, economic & legal Conservatives, is always self-defeating. Failing to recognize those falsely claiming to be "Conservative," while acting as Judas Goats to divide Conservatives, could be fatal. And it little matters whether the proffered false leadership results from stupidity or bad intentions.
While organized Conservatism can and must include those with different immediate priorities, so long as they support a general preservation of the cultural heritage and norms of their people; the question of whether Conservatives should become more or less deeply involved in the affairs of the Republican Party invites very different considerations. Any political Party, by the very nature of the entity, has concerns outside the purely philosophic orientation of its members. These include not only such pragmatic considerations as getting adherents to actually vote, but also obtaining patronage for a cadre of party regulars. No Party can simply rely on ideologically driven volunteers to always show up to provide the not very inspiring, certainly not glamorous, "nuts and bolts" of a campaign. Yet the continuity of a successful political party depends upon such availability. Patronage is the compensation for that availability and, as Parties age, the very glue that holds an organizational structure together.
Once this facet of "Party" is better understood, limitations on ideological commitment within a Party structure are clarified. This does not mean that the philosophically committed should abandon the idea of working within a political Party. It does dictate that they be aware of the resulting limitations on success. It dictates a certain skepticism, the need to be always on the alert; ever willing to deal with adversity within the scope of the realities of the political process. The Conservative Republican, no less than the Conservative independent, needs to keep his own priorities in mind. A commitment to the enduring values of society & heritage is no more fulfilled by work within a political Party, than is Faith fulfilled by mere presence in a house of worship.
That said, defeat of what, under the Bush Administration devolved more into a mockery of Conservative principles, could actually prove a benefit to Conservative Republicans, if they are able to win the ongoing debate as to where the Party goes from here. For Conservatives, what is principled is also pragmatic. Conservatism is based upon achieved reality--preservation of achieved reality--and what is always needed is an ability to explain to friend or foe, the sound reasoning behind the traditional values and mores to which we adhere. Yet, in this opportunity, we must be careful to recognize possible benefits in finding a new house, one where the cadres at election time--which includes Primary election time--may be more inclined to work with us, rather than against us. That, again, may depend upon the near term outcome of the present debate.
There is another aspect to the Party question, which we must seriously consider. A bias against American roots, which has dominated United States' immigration policy since 1965, has injected tens of millions of potential voters into the mix; voters, who have no historic or family identification with any of the great issues that have defined American politics from the early settlements through much, at least, of the 20th Century. Whereas European settlers and the European immigrants, who followed, had enough in common with those already here to at least appreciate the differences that framed our politics; it is questionable how many of the now vast numbers from a Mexican or Central American peasant background, really relate to the issues discussed in the Declaration of Independence, or to various State & Federal controversies, from the Constitution onward, which gave mainstream American Political Parties their election platforms, while providing subjects for internal debates that have occupied them through the generations.
As America becomes more fragmented, it seems almost inevitable that we will move towards a multi-party politics. Conservatives may well find their best chance for regaining political dominance, in determining how best to mobilize a cohesive front in a gathering socio/political chaos.
For many decades, it has been a veritable cliche` among self-styled & self-anointed political pundits (particularly among some who afflict the Republican Party), that the only way to win in politics is to avoid appearing too Conservative. Indeed, this has become so common place that few still realize the absolute idiocy of the concept! Why, idiotic? Because the Conservative, unlike every other species of politically oriented being, is about preserving the cultural achievements of a people; about protecting their families, property & values. Conservatism is only distasteful to those who wish to reengineer a political society; those whose agendas conflict with the philosophy and insights to which people have become accustomed. The anti-Conservative, virtually always, has some sort of figurative 'axe to grind'; is always to some extent a threat.
We do not suggest that there are not men and women of good will, who would like to see social change. But to have the sort of fervor which would make someone automatically reject a candidate because he is conservative--there must be more involved than simple disagreement over two or three issues. And the enthusiasm of those offering unsolicited advice, as to why we must change, confirms our point.
A closer look at actual sources for some of that unsolicited advice is yet more revealing. In 1952, the Conservative wing of the Republican Party, under the leadership of Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, was clearly ascendant. The mood across America was moving to the Right. A bipartisan Conservative majority in Congress had overridden Presidential vetoes to enact a tough anti-Communist Internal Security Act--to deal with Marxist influences being actively exposed--and to preserve a sound National Origin Immigration policy. Two thirds of the Senate had agreed to sponsor the "Bricker Amendment," to prohibit Treaties that could alter American Constitutional principles. Eastern Corporate interests, which for 16 years had successfully promoted a non-Conservative "Me Too" response to the New Deal, were being confronted by a rising Conservative tide in the Midwest & South. A Conservative moment appeared at hand.
Unable to persuade Republicans that a Conservative could not be elected, the Republican Left started a movement to draft General Eisenhower; not to debate actual issues, but to play on his status as a War Hero. The ploy narrowly succeeded, when California switched its vote in a deal that put its Governor, Earl Warren, on the Supreme Court. Conservatives know what followed there.
In 1964, Goldwater seemed destined to succeed where Taft had failed. But the same Eastern Corporate & International interests, who had drafted Eisenhower, resurrected the lie that no Conservative could win; and when the Party rank and file rallied to Goldwater, set out to deliberately sabotage his candidacy. While Taft would have had an advantage over the Democrats in 1952, and Goldwater had pulled even with Kennedy in polls before the latter's assassination, wide-spread mourning over the murdered President had given President Johnson a huge edge going into the campaign. Yet Goldwater was regaining lost support, when those same Corporate interests, who controlled much of the media, organized & funded "Republicans for Johnson," while their media outlets smeared Goldwater, not as a Conservative, but as an "extremist" who might start a nuclear war.
When Reagan emerged as Goldwater's successor in 1976, the same special interests again raised the convenient fantasy, that a true Conservative could not win. But Reagan deflected the notion with a pleasant smile, and quips that struck a common chord in the minds of millions; and, in 1980, captured the White House. While most Americans now openly identified with Conservative policies; those Republicans, who cared more about perceived business interests than preservation of the dynamic culture that had made their businesses possible, were only regrouping. For the time, their mantra may have been "Conservatism" with a modifier. There was little that was Conservative in their policies.
Look more closely at those, who say that the Republican Party cannot win elections today unless it embraces more "Liberal" legal & social policies. They are the same ones who have embraced open borders, "no child left behind," and an incredible expansion of bureaucracy in multiple directions; the same special interests that fought Robert A. Taft, Sr., Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. They include not only major media magnates, the Managers of major banks that set new standards for financial irresponsibility--leveraging assets 30 times over;--but, in the case of allies who describe themselves as "Neocons," people who looked for leadership to a man who avowed admiration for Leon Trotsky, chief butcher of the Bolshevik Revolution. Those bank and other corporate managers may include some of the wealthiest men in America; functionally, they are not radically different than the upper echelon of Managers in former Communist Russia.
The importance of "Managers," here as in Soviet Russia, has been based upon control of other people's resources, not upon anything that they have actually created. Such may be perfectly content to interact with huge bureaucracies. They are really complementary to a bureaucracy dominated society. That such interaction strangles genuine initiative, and prevents the bright individual with creative ideas from achieving the type of success, which made America's historic prosperity possible, is no concern. Midwestern entrepreneurs, still running Corporations their families created, were important to the Taft campaign in 1952. They were not the constituency of the Eastern Establishment.
The true strength of any community lies in its internal cohesion, its sense of common interest, common purpose. In human affairs this must never be confused with the pursuit of uniformity, with the pretense of human interchangeability. People who voluntarily identify with a particular community, whether purely geographic, ethnic or based upon some special interactive bond, are able to act and interact constructively within such community. The social cohesion comes not from pretense, but from genuine identification with common ends; not based upon egalitarian fantasy, but from those who so identify, where each puts his best efforts into the common cause. Put another way, the healthy community reflects the sympathetic interaction of those with free will, different personalities, different aptitudes and personal achievements, acting always at least with an awareness of their community, even when they are busy discharging still more basic duties to their own families. This is the socio/political facet of the same human dynamic which enables the free market to outperform any other economic system. Like the free market, it is the antithesis to the monolithic macro society pursued by sloganizing fanatics, whether of the Communist, Nazi or American Egalitarian, variety.
Certainly, a large crowd of people acting as automatons--as in a May Day celebration in Red Square in the Bolshevik era, or in a great Nazi rally in Nuremberg, or in an Obama rally in our own time--may convey an image of solidarity, of mass support for something of the moment. It is not what we mean by social cohesion. Nor is the sole, or even necessarily primary objection, the fact that each of our examples involved a drawing together of people from diverse actual communities. The solidarity of a High School pep rally may involve a species of cohesion. It is only cohesion of the moment, and any corresponding sense of "community," is only community of the moment.
The natural advantage of the Conservative is that he works with the multi-generational pursuits of his people; the social glue arises from generations of shared experience, people struggling together to achieve and preserve, while maintaining their individual natures, with tools derived from the unique qualities of each; the motivations, psychological tendencies that come from human nature, yet with the individual imprint of each participant. Once again, we must affirm that our greatest single weapon is truth.
Consider what everyone knows: You cannot sit in a classroom and not realize that aptitudes differ widely. The claimed justification for most of the radical, collectivist, socialist or egalitarian programs of the past Century, that there is injustice in inequality, is not some untouchable verity; rather, an easily refuted basis for great mischief.
What about the increasingly burdensome bureaucracy that flows from egalitarian programs? Most people, with enough intelligence to hold a regular job, have had some experience that will telegraph, loud and clear, that decisions that depend upon interactive committees are either slow in coming or likely to be tangential & well off realistic targets. Anyone, in our now predominantly urban population, who has had much interaction with their local bureaucracy, will have a very good idea of how much real help, one can expect from a bureaucracy. With a little reason, even an inveterate "do gooder" can be brought to extrapolate from such experiences to appreciate how efficient the path to progress, likely from interaction between a remotely directed Federal bureaucracy and their State or local bureaucracy. Understanding such common perception was Reagan's stock-in-trade.
Conservatives, who have fought in the "trenches" on a College or University campus, will be acutely aware of what others may easily grasp just by applying common sense. The greatest weakness that the Left will exploit is inconsistency in the application of principle. Inconsistency in Constitutional application, such as Republican sheep demonstrated in Congress, in seeking to meddle in a Florida Probate Court case in the Schiavo affair, may--in and of itself--have accounted for more lost votes than the margin for Obama in several key States. The President's mockery of traditional Washington/Jefferson foreign policy basics (such as respect for other people's cultures in their own lands) probably accounted for more than the total margin between Obama & McCain. Or consider, how a Republican Administration actively tried to frustrate popular Statewide initiatives, as to private medical decisions in the far West, while pretending to respect Constitutional limitations on Federal Power! Did they not "earn" the adverse landslides they effectively purchased in those States?
When all the free advice is sorted out; when all the sifting is over; the reality is that the strongest approach to both Society and Politics is a consistent exposition of a cogent and cohesive Conservatism; one that offers reassurance to the tens of millions who have been misled by slogans, confused by half truths, while their accumulations, both material and cultural, have been effectively plundered by a motley collection of myopic simpletons, demagogues & morally irresponsible special interests.