Tuesday, May 17, 2005

It's Pat!

Pat Buchanan is back this week with more controversial (!) statements, this time telling the Washington Times that conservatism is dead.
Mr. Buchanan, a former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, says conservatism "is at war with itself over foreign policy, over deficit hawks versus supply-siders."

Unnamed phonies, he suggests, have infiltrated the movement.

There are "a lot of people who call themselves conservative but who, on many issues, I just don't consider as conservative. They are big-government people."
Let us say, first, that if conservatism is at war with itself, this is a good thing. The alternative -- standing still and refusing to take a critical look at what you really believe in and why -- is not an effective strategy for long term success. (See: Democratic Party.)

And there does seem to be a disconnect between old-school conservatives (like Buchanan) and the new breed of conservatives (which, for lack of a better term, have been labeled "neoconservatives"). Now, we're not the National Review, so we're not going to get into a big exegis on what conservatism means and the history of the movement, but we can speak about what Buchanan discussed from an anecdotal perspective. We grew up in a red state (that even voted for Dole!) in a conservative, religious household. We went off to college in Los Angeles. A few weeks into our first semester, 9/11 happened. And all of a sudden, everyone was a conservative.

When it came to the defense of our country, there wasn't much debate over the best philosophy for action. We were surprised at how many of our fellow students supported the President and the war in Iraq even in the face of left-leaning professors invoking the spector of Vietnam. These kids, for the most part, were not raised in a traditionally conservative household; instead of going to campus church services, they were in their dorms smoking pot. Socially, they were probably closer to libertarian than anything else. And as far as foreign policy, they were conservative.

These kids (and their parents) are a big reason why John Kerry couldn't beat George W. Bush. Sure, the less solid converts went back to their old ways when things went bad in Iraq, but a sizeable number of the new conservatives stuck with the President after realizing that Kerry didn't understand the War on Terror the same way that they and the President did.

And these people, along with a large percentage of long term conservatives, aren't quite as militant in their beliefs as Buchanon would like. That's the chasm between the old and the new. Whereas Pat and Friends are very concerned with the deficit, most of the new conservatives accept that certain government programs (like Social Security) can be beneficial and certainly aren't evil. As a idealist, we'd like to see the government involved in people's lives as little as possible; as realists, we know it's going to happen to a certain extent, so let's be smart about it.

Part of it, we think, is due to the change-the-world attitude that often infects the country's youth. That makes it easier to accept that the government functioning as a safety net without thinking that the sky is falling. Is this a softening of conservative values? Perhaps, but conservatism has always been something of a fluid notion to begin with; ironic, considering the base meaning of the term, but we're not talking about revising the basic principles here. Only adjusting to what degree they're carried out.

On a recent appearance on C-SPAN's Q-and-A series, Charles Krauthammer listed FDR as the greatest president of the 20th Century (this was before the President made his remarks about FDR at Yalta), in part because he saved democracy by "softening it up." It's easy to forget how communism was sweeping other parts of the world at the time; there were certainly many Americans frustrated with the current system and enamored with the ideas of Karl Marx. At that point in time, we practiced a very pure form of capitalism. Yes, it brought the country great wealth, but there was a heartless side to it as well. When the stock market crashed, that side was fully exposed. Someone had to do something, and because FDR softened up our economic system, he was able to ward off what may have been an impending revolution, one that would have been extremely destructive and difficult to recover from.

And what Pat Buchanan laments about contemporary conservatism sounds do us a bit like the softening up that FDR did back in the 1930s. For hard liners, it's not a welcome change, but in the long term, it might be just what the movement needs.

His other concern, about cultural decay, is not something that can really be controlled or impeded politically (and certainly not legislatively). In the end, the most effective way of turning the tide is to let things get "bad" enough that the majority of Americans see that taking a libertarian point of view on these kinds of social issues is not the best idea. And usually that happens when they start having kids of their own.


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6:25 PM  

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