Out With the Old?

So I was flying back from NYC this Saturday and I pretty much read the March 16th Newsweek cover-to-cover. The cover tells the cover story – conservatism has had enough of Rush Limbaugh. The author, David Frum, is a resident fellow at AEI and runs a blog, newmajority.com, subtitled “building a conservatism that can win again.” His conservative credentials are unquestionable. And he thinks Rush should stick a fork in it.

Frum has two main jabs at Rush, as far as I can tell. One is that Rush cares more about promoting himself than the common good of society. Two is that Rush thinks, as he stated at CPAC, that conservatism “is what it is forever. It’s not something you can bend and shape.” And for all you Dostoevsky-reading amateur psychoanalysts out there (like myself), these two are obviously related – of course a man who has made his self-image on the Reagan-era brand conservatism is going to argue for its immutability. 

Frum believes that conservatives should reject Rush’s flamboyance because it makes a bad face for the movement among the voters that we need to reach – especially independents and women. And they should reject his view of the immutability of conservatism because 1) the old form isn’t successfully governing anymore, and thus 2) it isn’t getting us votes (which is the founding purpose of Ex Deserto). 

I think Frum is right for one simple fact: Without votes, conservatism means nothing.

Holding the line in an absolute sense to a certain political ideology is treating politics like religion. It is putting an absolute hope in the political order, as if politics were able to save man, to give him all he needs. That is Marxism. I don’t know about you, but my Savior is a person. Politics is not religion.  Politics is about governing, about ordering society well. In politics, you have to go with what works; you have to do as much good as possible and avoid as much evil as possible; and you are never going to know the exact outcome of your actions. Prudence is the name of the game.

And this is where Frum goes (minus the political theology). His critique of Rush is a springboard into his argument for how conservatism needs to change. Conservatism (in order to actually be a force again, i.e. to reach voters)

1)    needs to become less extreme

2)    needs to modulate its social conservatism

3)    needs an environmental message

4)    (above all) needs to take governing seriously again

I have to write an appellate brief now. But I’m going to cover each of these topics later. You should read the article.

2 thoughts on “Out With the Old?

  1. Compromise-That is what you and Frum seem to be advocating in order to satisfy the desire for “conservative” votes. The question here is not whether we can (or even should) get enough votes for “conservatism”. In fact, you kill the very question that should be asked when you say, “Holding the line in an absolute sense to a certain political ideology is treating politics like religion.” The question is; should we even make a distinction between politics and religion? American culture has taught that there should be a separation between Church and State, where the idea that politics and religion should also be separate. The fact is that people vote according to their conscience, according to what they believe is right and true; which is exactly what religion affects. To try and separate religion and policy is like trying to separate temperature and ice. Temperature affects ice just as religion affects policy.

    You are right in saying that politics is about governance and order, but you are wrong in asserting that you have to go with what works, do as much good and avoid as much evil since what works is not necessarily what is right, and good and evil are viewed differently by individuals. What is right is that there is a practical separation between groups of people with differing ideologies/policies/religion, with well-defined boundaries between properties. Expecting “conservatives” of any type to change the way they think solely for the sake of a party affiliation is expecting them to basically change their religious convictions. If our political system reflected the religion of the people (whatever it may be) instead of parties, things would be much less complicated.

  2. Compromise is, after all, the essence of politics. I think Jade presents an idealistic argument. Obviously, we would love for politics to reflect orthodox Christian belief. But politics is not as dogmatic as religion and for good reason.

    Perhaps the best approach for conservatives in this politically hostile environment is to compromise a bit. Compromise does not, however, mean capitulate. We can refashion our message to appeal to more people on a wide variety of issues. If we are able to modulate our message, as John notes, we can gain votes and seats in Congress and state legislatures. Then, we can begin to pass legislation that is more in line with our religious views.

    In any event, politics will not save us, which is why the analogy limps. To change our society so that it is in line with our religious values, we need a cultural change, not a political one. You cannot impose morality by force of law, but through changing hearts and minds. By attracting new voters, and gaining new seats, we will have a platform to speak about this change in society’s values and eventually win the culture war.

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