Challenges Ahead for Conservatives

From Dean Esmay, “Is Conservatism Becoming More Muscular?“:

Eric thinks so, but me, I’m not seeing it. Sure, people who call themselves conservatives are more angry right now, but they also seem a lot less thoughtful and well-informed than the conservatism I remember from 10, 20 years ago. A movement once full of stellar intellectual thinkers is now dominated by the likes of Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. And while this may increase the movement’s strength in some areas, it diminishes it enormously in others. When the answer to every question, before you even ask it, is either “the market” or “the Bible,” how coherent can your agenda really be once you take power? If the only thesis of your movement is that our own government is always and everywhere our enemy, what exactly is that movement going to accomplish? It’s increasingly looking to me like conservatism is more of a twitch than an actual intellectual point of view. Which I find disappointing and a little disturbing, because it didn’t used to be that way.

The citation for “Eric” goes to Classical Values, “My biggest problem right now is that I can’t stand Obama, but that has not translated into loving conservatism.” But I’m just going to stay with Dean’s comments above (Eric, a longtime libertarian, can’t get in all the way with the conservative agenda). The bottom line for Dean is “what will conservatives do with all that angry energy,” because they sure don’t have much up their sleeves policy-wise.

I’m not exactly sure of Dean’s political orientation, but I’ll go with a moderately classical liberal, from what I can see of his writings so far.

In any case, the blogosphere and its media-piggybackers had the huge debate over conservatism late last year and early this one. Indeed, with all the jubilation over Barack Obama’s election — and the not unexpected hubris on the left (especially the condescending attacks on right-wing “knuckle-draggers” that continue today) — I admit to being a little depressed at the prospects of being in the wilderness for a while. Happily, my confidence in the movement was restored with the April 15th Tax Day Tea Parties, and it’s been all speed ahead since then!

Readers know I’m no super-duper philosopher. I go with my gut instincts on things, and I apply the real political science expertise I’ve developed in my training and teaching. As for my orientation, my initial entry at this blog [American Power] lays out my transition over the last few years. See, “Welcome to American Power.” Also, I don’t reflexively hate any and all government, obviously so in the case of foreign policy. See, “Constitutional Conservatism,” where I cite Peter Berkowitz, who argues that that those on the right need to reconcile with public-goods structures of the American state. That is, a wholesale roll-back of government is impractical, but a limitation of the expansion of the state is an imperative. Those more in favor of a state-centered federalism — one way of advocating small-g conservatism — obviously won’t have much truck with the Berkowitz thesis. That said, “constitutional conservatism” is pragmatic and firmly based in classic conservative thought.

I’ve also previously cited an agenda I called “Core Values Conservatism.” There I draw on the best short essay published after President Obama’s election: Richard Land’s, “Stay Faithful to Core Values.” (In Land’s model, a conservative agenda starts with the unequivocal support for life — a total pro-life agenda — that sweeps all the way to a Reaganite foreign and defense program. To top all of this off, I’d simply remind folks that the best book to read on what the right should be doing is Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative. Writing in 1960, perhaps Goldwater was optimistic that conservatives could actually rollback the size of government. I’m less optimistic than he was, and while Berkowitz’s “constitutional conservatism” is more up my alley, Goldwater’s ideals would easily satisfy the programmatic goals of those on the political right today — and I’d happily be on board for scaling back the domestic scope of government in exchange for continued support for a robust foreign policy orientation.

But let me address this backlash we see against Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity (cited by Dean), and not to mention Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh, who also bear the brunt of leftist attacks on the movement:

First, if folks are looking for intellectuals they should go to the library (humor alert — library or not, we’re all online anyway). Actually, there’s lots of good deep-thinking conservatism around, though it’s out of the limelight of the polarizing debates. Berkowitz writes often at Policy Review, for example. He’s joined there by a stable of great writers who straddle scholarship and policy studies. City Journal is also quite an impressive intellectual flagship. I think Heather MacDonald and Abigail Thernstrom, two Manhattan Institute scholars, represent some of the best writing on civil rights and social policy today. But talk radio and and Fox News are where the conservative rubber meets the road. And that’s where it’s at today. We’re not going back to William Buckley’s urbanity on Frontline. And at that, it’s not as if Buckley wasn’t one to mix it up now and then: Recall Buckley in 1968 against Gore Vidal: “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in you goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” No, the shock jocks on TV are simply partisan, but what they’re doing is no different that what Markos Moulitsas did in the heyday of Daily Kos (i.e., hammer a polarizing agenda geared to winning ideological power).

Actually, my issues are what might be termed the right’s vulnerability to racial blackmail. The Democratic-left under Obama has established the race card as its main claim to viability. The party’s pushing a non-transparent socialist agenda, but to even mention that word in the context of this administration is to be branded a bigot and lynchman. Look what’s happened to Robert Stacy McCain just today. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow advanced Charles Johnson’s scurrilous “racist” smear on national television. Maddow’s no better that the most demonic left-wing Internet troll — it’s despicable frankly. Here’s the transcript:

I do think that there’s a little bit of reckoning that needs to happen on the right for Sarah Palin’s success. I mean, she was the vice presidential nominee, she is going to sell a kazillion books and she is the biggest brand name in Republican politics still right now. And she’s chose … Lynn Vincent, who’s written a book with a white supremacist, to write her book, and she’s the biggest name in Republican politics.

This is pure libel. But fighting cheap smears like this is costly, and thus she’s unlikly to be challenged — and hence her attacks are even more insidious. Robert Stacy McCain’s just a stepping-stone for Maddow to smear Sarah Palin as a bigot. We’ve been hearing the same lies since last August. It’s riduculous. Contrast to the real communists at the top ranks of the president’s administration, and it’s almost comical the lengths the Democrats will go in with their racist smokescreens and radical coverups.

Unfortunately, while utterly outlandish, there’s an efficacy to these attacks that’s disturbing. Just to be identified as one who admires traditional Southern culture is to be attacked as a white supremist, due to the sad legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction. My sense is that even the most principled conservatives, those who understand that in the post-civil rights era, the South has been the ideological base of the party, while at the same time being that region that’s most thoroughly reconciled questions of race and resentment, would hesitate to claim an openly Dixie-ish ideological heritage (see The Economist, “The Southernization of America“). I have a sense that my good friend Stogie has removed the image of a Confederate calvaryman from his blog’s masthead, to be replaced with images of Continental soldiers from the colonial-era, for that very reason. I guess just an image of that history is likely to bring out the race-baiting leftists, who’ll defile, libel, and smear good-hearted people without the slightest bit of remorse.

This may well be a problem for conservatives. That is to say, while those of us who are activists engaged in the tea party and online right-roots movements are anti-racist through and through, those few isolated cases of extremism — often falsely attributed to the conservative right — are sensationalized as if folks are listening to “Dueling Banjos” all day and calling black folks “boy” or “Auntie” in a throwback to Jim Crow. Of course, the Contessa Brewers of the world world will even lie on national TV in attempting to make the charges stick.

I’d have more to say on this, and to especially to clarify some of the points here, but this post is getting long. Suffice it to say that conservatives are the ones who’ll truly lead on those issues Democrats claim as their moral foundation, i.e., civil rights, education, anti-poverty, etc. Conservatives will win debates on these issues because they believe in the power of the individual. But they have to fight hard to beat back down the endless cries of racism coming from the left side of the spectrum. That’s all the Democrats have, and they’ll attack conservatives with race just like Chicago’s Democratic youth thugs beat and killed Derrion Albert last month.

Cross-posted from American Power.

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