Debate #1 Of 3: John Hawkins Vs. Conor Friedersdorf: What’s Your Advice For The Right Going Forward?

(Hawkins’ Note: Conor Friedersdorf challenged me to a debate. I accepted. This is the first of 3 posts from the two of us on this subject. A link to Conor Friedersdorf’s piece will be listed at the end of the article. The follow-ups will run Wed and Fri. Neither of us read the other’s piece before writing our initial piece)

In some ways, the conservative movement is in better shape than it has ever been before. We’ve got a larger media presence, more intellectual firepower, better organization, and a mass movement in the streets, in the form of the tea parties.

But, we have some structural weaknesses that need to be addressed as well.

1) The movement has been fractured by infighting and some conservatives have unreasonable expectations of what can be accomplished.

2) The welfare state has grown tremendously. We may be getting to a tipping point.

3) Ideologically, too many conservatives are latching on to a 30 year-old Reagan agenda.

4) America is changing demographically and conservatives haven’t even begun to do an adequate amount of outreach to minority groups and younger Americans.

Let’s address these issues point by point.

1) The Republican Party is the tool which conservatives use to enact our policies and quite frankly, it’s not serving our purposes as well as it should. Conservatives provide the overwhelming amount of money, intellectual energy, and manpower to the Republican Party and yet moderates seem to run everything. Conservatives should no longer tolerate that.

That’s not to say moderates should be purged or not allowed to have any say, but the Republican Party has to better reflect the ideology of its members. That means it needs to be a center-right party with a center-right ideology instead of an organization that abandons key conservative concerns to cater to the middle.

2) There’s always a debate over whether conservatives can win if they tout fiscal conservatism as opposed to giveaways from the treasury. However, we’re spending so much and leading so many people into dependency that the debate is now academic: Either we start to hone back the size and scope of the welfare state or the country is doomed to go into a deep decline. That makes it a do or die issue for conservatives. After all, what good is being captain of a ship after it has already hit the iceberg and is destined to sink beneath the waves?

3) Too many conservatives confuse principles with a political agenda. Political agendas can and should change based on the political landscape. Principles should not.

Conservatives WILL NOT win by following the “Reagan agenda” because Reagan’s agenda was designed, using conservative principles, to deal with the political situation of his day. Some of those battles have been won. Others have been irrevocably lost. Some have grown in importance. Others have lessened.

What we need to do is take the same conservative principles Reagan used and apply them to today’s issues. We’ve got to do what we can, with what we have, on the issues that matter to Americans today.

It’s too bad, for example, that Republicans weren’t really pushing health care reform during the Bush years. How about environmentalism? Instead of making it all about whether we buy into global warming alarmism, how about we emphasize a positive, reasonable clean air, clean water, clean environment agenda as opposed to the extremism offered by the Democrats? On trade, instead of just repeating the words “free trade” over and over, why aren’t conservatives demanding that our government reduce barriers to American manufacturing overseas? We can go on and on with examples like this one — and it’s important that we do so instead of relying on a static agenda.

4) The biggest problem with conservative minority outreach is that we talk about it, but don’t do it. We don’t support even friendly minority organizations, we make no effort to reach out to younger Americans, and we give people the impression we don’t care. Since that’s the case, it’s no surprise the GOP has done so poorly with minorities and younger Americans.

I have had more than one conservative Hispanic activist tell me that Hispanics get the idea that Republicans don’t like people like them because we simply don’t show up at anything. Hispanic groups hold events and a dozen Democrats show up, but no Republicans. Hispanic radio shows do debates about immigration and the only person willing to appear will be a Democrat who tells everyone that no Republican is around because the GOP hates Hispanics. It’s no different with young Americans. The GOP has been slow to embrace social media and to reach out.

With black Americans, Democrats treat people like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton as “spokesmen” for the black community and black Americans respond to it. Instead of insisting that black Americans, about a third of whom are actually conservative, meet us on our terms, why not use the same tactics as the Democrats? Why not have a conservative NAACP? Why not have black conservative “spokesmen” whom we look to, to: determine what’s racist and what’s not? Some people may not like the idea, but conservatives have to play by the rules of the game as it is and is likely to be for the foreseeable future, not as we’d like it to be.

The long and short of it is that conservatives should adhere to our principles, but make some changes to our agenda and our tactics and help lead this country into the future.

You can read Conor Friedersdorf’s part of the debate here.

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