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Posted by on Feb 27, 2009 in Politics | 32 comments

Conservatism’s Path Out of the Wilderness

With CPAC in full swing, much of the focus has been on examining the root causes of the electoral trip to the woodshed which the Republicans took in the 2006 and 2008 elections. In the usual fashion, it’s expected that if you can determine what you did wrong last time you will hopefully avoid those mistakes in the future and improve your prospects. Yesterday, at Pajamas Media, Rick Moran examined their progress, noting that conservatives are talking the talk, but wonders if they can walk the walk.

Conservatism has become loud, obnoxious, closed-minded, and puerile, while its classical tradition of tolerance and hard-headed rationalism has been abandoned in favor of emotional jags and a vicious parochialism that eschews debate for “litmus tests” on ideological purity.

Can CPAC accomplish anything that will begin to address what conservatism has become — both the perception and reality?

Not when some major conservative figures kid themselves that there is success in unity and victory in simply standing up and saying “no” to the Obama bailout culture.

I was never what you would call a social conservative, (a chief factor leading to my departure from the GOP in 2005) but always took comfort in the validity of my small government, fiscal conservative principles. Unfortunately, as Rick goes on to point out, even fiscal conservatism is having a rough time attracting converts these days. Hard core conservatives are aghast at the spending spree currently going on in Washington, but it has truly become a minority opinion. Yes, it’s true that most Americans are unhappy with growing deficit numbers and are worried about the economy. But in a recent Rasmussen poll, less than 1/3 of respondents felt that the recently passed stimulus package will hurt the economy. A full 2/3 feel that President Obama and his Democratic majority Congress are doing a good job in dealing with the fiscal crisis. This is not an environment where a fiscal conservative message will send voters rushing to the polls to return Republicans to power.

So where is there left to turn? Rick points to some damaging facets of modern conservatism which I’ve been complaining about for some time. In an examination of a particularly hopeful analysis by David Keene, Moran offers the following:

While there may be an agreement by conservatives regarding that critique, it presupposes that there were not other, more fundamental aspects of what conservatism has become that were roundly rejected by huge swaths of the American electorate. The movement is seen as intolerant of gays, immigrants, and other non-white, non-middle class citizens — a perception that the Republican Party does little to counter and makes attacking conservatism on these issues extremely easy. When one of the stars of the conservative movement (and a CPAC speaker on Saturday), Ann Coulter, can get up in front of conservatives at the CPAC conference in 2007 and refer to Arabs as “ragheads” to loud applause, there is more to reform than just the message.

Coulter is certainly one of the symptoms of a larger problem. She also famously stood before her conservative fan base at one time and referred to John Edwards as a “faggot” to raucous applause. This year’s CPAC audience also broke out in while cheering when John Bolton suggested nuking Chicago and Cliff Kincaid referred to the President as a communist and then accused him once again of not having been born in the United States. This hardly seems like a performance which will inspire the suspicious and disaffected potential Republicans and conservatives to come thronging back to the party. In fact it does, as Rick suggests, make it extremely easy to attack the movement and paint conservatives as intolerant, out of touch clowns.

If you can’t frame your social issues in a more tolerant, reasonable fashion and your economic message isn’t selling, where do you turn in your efforts to regain traction? The assaults launched against Rick in the comments section of his column carry a similar theme. There seems to be a belief in the core of the party that Americans didn’t reject the Republican Party or conservatism in general, but rather punished them for not being conservative enough, or perhaps not fighting hard enough against the gays and communists leading the Democratic party down a path to America’s destruction. Such delusional thinking isn’t going to lead to a path back out of the wilderness… it’s going to dig an already deep hole further into the graveyard soil.