Friday, February 18, 2005

Conservatives on the March

I am posting this from a computer donated for public use, by townhall.com, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the American Conservative Union. It is a bit odd, of course, for me to be here, given that I have been so consistent in stating that I am not a conservative. However, this is not as strange as it may seem. For the political meaning of the word conservative, as I have frequently noted, has evolved into something synonomous with the Right. This conference confirms that notion.

It is interesting, for example, that one of the people who just spoke to the assembled masses about Social Security reform was a member of the Log Cabin Republicans. The speaker did not receive a huge ovation for his politely veiled reference to allowing any old kind of "domestic partner" to receive death benefits from Social Security under a new system allowing personal retirement accounts. But that is exactly the point. Although his position on many issues is hardly describable as conservative, his views on Social Security are certainly of the Right.

This brings up what is to me one of the most important questions of the day, for the Right. Can born-again Christians join with Log Cabin Republicans to support changes in Social Security and then go out separately to very different places afterward, and still see each other as true allies? This is a question that should be central to the discussion on the Right, as we seek to consolidate recent successes and create a movement that can truly compose a long-term majority of the American people.

There has been a certain amount of triumphalism among the speakers at the conference, and that is surely understandable given the political success of the Right in recent elections. Seeing the great variety of organizations and speakers at this conference--from Midwestern Eagle Forum traditionalists and the National Rifle Association to Log Cabin Republicans and groups for the legalization of marijuana--clearly this is a movement that includes a large variety of very different people. It suggests the possibility for a true, long-term political majority being established by the Right.

The question is whether these disparate groups can agree on a set of central principles that is sufficiently broad and yet also exclusive enough to sustain a definable mission to which all can assent. When the time for self-congratulation has finally passed, that is the conversation I would like to see on the Right.

2 comments:

Mike D'Virgilio said...

That is a great question. In a way to build the kind of governing majority we need in such a diverse country we have no choice. We have to make it work, but there are serious challenges. Your question about Evangelicals goes to the heart of the issue and includes conservative Catholics and Jews as well. These are people of faith in the culture wars, or the social conservatives of the coalition. The secular/religious split we see in the greater culture is the same split within the Republican Party. The relationship between the so called “moderates” (AKA liberals) in the party and social conservatives goes to the heart of the issue. I get the feeling that many “moderates” have a visceral disdain for social conservatives. For those in the Democratic camp hate is certainly not too strong a word to describe this. Howard Dean has openly admitted such.

Can issues like tax cuts, limited government, and a muscular foreign policy overcome that? I don’t know. Ronald Reagan and George Bush being social conservatives themselves were somehow able to pull it off. So that suggests it can be done. But without strong leaders who can bring people together is it possible? I am much less sanguine that a strong “moderate” leader, like a Rudy Giuliani, could do the same thing. Because the party is dominated by social conservatives for a Giuliani to win the nomination he would have to moderate his social liberalism to have a chance in the primaries.

For some reason I am optimistic Republicans can do it. Compromise is the art of the deal, and none of us will get our version of nirvana. Yet I believe that conservatism as understood in the modern context has a much healthier understanding of, and respect for, religion in the context of a secular state than liberalism. Seeing these questions in light of the utter vacuity of the Democratic Party and its lock-step liberalism makes me think that a broad yet exclusive set of principals to which we all can assent is possible. We have an interesting road ahead.

Evanston said...

Most often the side that wins a war is the side that is less stupid than the other. Sure, Republicans represent a hodgepodge of interests but the Democrats have gone completely bonkers. They need to grow a new generation of leaders who have dealt with real problems as mayors, then governors. Instead their leadership is big money or loudmouth fools who start in Congress and represent a viewpoint instead of people. For now, Republicans can (and are) coasting given the absolute wreck that is the Democratic Party.