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.