I Shall Not Mourn The Death of America’s “True Conservatism”
Something that called itself “The Conservative Movement” died with Ted Cruz’s Presidential election campaign a few weeks ago, and I’m glad.
While I know this will cause pain to some of my friends gripped in the madness of so-called “True Conservatism,” it was always a fable. A serious-minded conservative who never bought the “True Conservative” madness is Ross Douthat, who describes it well in the New York Times:
True Conservatism likes to portray itself as part of an unbroken tradition running back through Ronald Reagan to Barry Goldwater and the Founding Fathers. It has roots in that past, but it’s also a much more recent phenomenon, conceived in the same spirit as Bushism 2.0 but with the opposite intent.
If Bushism 2.0 looked at George W. Bush’s peaks — his post-Sept. 11 popularity, his 2004 majority — and saw a model worth recovering, True Conservatism looked at his administration’s collapse and argued that it proved that he had been far too liberal, and that all his “compassionate conservative” heresies had led the Republican Party into a ditch.
Thus True Conservatism’s determination to avoid both anything that savored of big government and anything that smacked of compromise. Where Bush had been softhearted, True Conservatism would be sternly Ayn Randian; where Bush had been free-spending, True Conservatism would be austere; where Bush had taken working-class Americans off the tax rolls, True Conservatism would put them back on — for their own good. And above all, where Bush had sometimes reached for the center, True Conservatism would stand on principle, fight hard, and win.
Yes that was the fable. To a “T.” And it has been a consistent loser at the polls for decades, especially once you realize Ronald Reagan was no “True Conservative,” even if he used some of its trappings as part of his image.
So perhaps it’s time to admit it, now that it’s been so thoroughly trounced: “True Conservatism” was always a fantasy, and we should be happy to see it go. That’s why I very much hope my friends caught up in it, whether they be Christian or modern-day atheists who just like the mythology: I hope they finally see it was always a mythology.
Yes, there’s the regressive Left and “Social Justice” crowd, and postmodernism and all the Utopianists are still out there and still a threat. But America’s “True Conservatives” didn’t always give the best or most coherent answers to the radical left because they were caught up in too many fairy tales of their own to have their feet planted in reality, and they thought winning elections was how you save the world.
Just for the record? America’s Founders were often hypocrites and sometimes scoundrels. Reagan was massively imperfect and was never a “True Conservative” doctrinaire. Barry Goldwater and his ilk also wouldn’t have liked a lot of what Reagan did–and still less what people spouting his name have often done.
I don’t write as an anti-Reagan man. I admit Reagan to have been both consequential and great. Who like all consequential and great men was terribly flawed and imperfect. Those who constantly invoke his name are invoking prayers to a false idol. (Which was not a status he ever sought, so far as I know.)
The same is true for America’s founders. All of them. “Constitutional Conservatism” or “True Conservatism” was a fairy tale. Not a single one of the founders ever governed that way. A hint would have been those who selectively quote people like James Madison without quoting his contemporary critics who said he was full of crap–and were proven right once he was elected.
The deification of the likes of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, and the others, along with the likes of Goldwater, Buckley, and Reagan (all of whom I admire by the way) far exceeded anything at all they or their contemporaries or their immediate progeny would have accepted. The founders especially often hated each other, and until the day they died the framers were arguing over what they wished they could have changed in a Constitution they didn’t really like! Including Jefferson and Adams both, who thought the Republic would fall because the Constitution was so poorly designed and had so many hopeless internal contradictions and unintended effects.
In almost two and a half centuries no President (no not even Fabled Reagan Himself) or Congress has approached that document the way Ted Cruz or any other self-proclaimed “Constitutional Conservative” says we should. Guys like that have been showing up in Washington with those words on their lips for generations now, and when they get there they all fail to deliver because it can’t be done: their variety of “Constitutional Conservatism” was always a sentimental idea, never anything real or practical.
This phony “True Conservatism” has lost at the polls more often than it’s won for decades. And even when it does win, occasionally, what it delivers isn’t what was promised. It starts to look a whole lot like this old cartoon people of a certain age will remember:
Better get a new hat, guys. Seriously. Real conservatism starts with acknowledging the limits of elections in the first place.
You know why Glenn Beck’s media enterprise has finally collapsed? He was selling false history, false mythology, raising the US itself to deity status. One might almost call it idolatry. That vision, Glenn Beck’s vision, was of an America that never existed, and never will exist.
And by the way no, there is no Special Providence for the United States. Yes, God bless America–and when America finally falls, as all countries do, may God bless whatever comes next. The things that truly are eternal will remain. In 2000 years, I doubt the United States will exist, but things which are eternal will exist and will still matter far, far more than the fact that the USA was ever even here.
And if the thought of the USA fading away bothers you, I have to ask why. You weren’t, like, thinking America was God or something, were you?
It’s not an entirely unserious question you know.
To dejected True Conservatives: get over it, and snap out of it. Life isn’t about getting True Conservatives elected. In fact, the elections don’t matter. They’re a freak show anymore, with power players controlling the media we get to see and what the candidates even can say to get elected. Even if Cruz had won, the story would be the same. Ditto if Sanders or some other fool got in.
When you put your energy into politics rather than doing what you’re supposed to, starting with loving and caring for your family and your fellow man, you’ve already got distorted politics. And it always ends exactly like this classic song by The Who:
To Hell with the elections. To Hell with the government. What are you doing to make the world a better place today?