The Tax Day Tea Parties are becoming a rallying cry for the conservative movement. Not unlike the Iraq War for the left, the right is now enthusiastic about its own ideas and its activism. Unlike the left, these tea parties are not coordinated by national or international protest groups like ANSWER, Food Not Bombs, Code Pink, and so on. The tea parties are decentralized, local movements connected through a network of internet sites and radio shows. Each party has its own agenda aside from protesting the expansion of government under President Obama. Some are going after loose cannon representatives, others going after mayors or governors, some trying to reestablish free markets and capitalism as the primary economic view in the hearts of Americans. What is most important about the rise of this new conservative enthusiasm is the opportunity it presents to conservative leaders and intellectuals: the chance to direct the conservative movement for the next decade, at minimum.
The Old and The New
Reagan was swept in to the White House on the ballots of the so-called “Religious Right”. For better or for worse, the conservative movement was defined, above all other descriptions, on the moral and religious platforms it put out: abortion, intelligent design, marriage, religious freedom. For decades, the conservative movement and the Republican Party were accurately labeled, but inappropriately pigeonholed, as religious-based.. The next conservative candidate's victory (may it be 2012 or later) will be on the momentum of the 21st century conservative movement and whatever public image it decides to reveal.
In the aftermath of the Obama victory, there was talk of trying to rid conservatism and the Republican Party of this Reagan-era religious influence (or stigma, to some). I'm an atheist, but I don't think it was simply the religious faction within conservative politics that spelled the end of the Republican Revolution. The Bush Administration's “compassionate conservatism”, otherwise known as big government conservatism, made a mockery of the basic principles of small government, fiscal responsibility and free markets. Former Newt-style Republicans had to choose between voting against the party and the President or going along with a big government plan to be able to get influence later on. Along with Bush's anti-cosmopolitan personality, the complete massacring of his image in the press, the actual mistakes Bush made with Iraq and the non-starter economic plans like national searches for health insurance and privatizing Social Security; the conservative movements steam pretty much went dry. With the combination of big government conservatism and the religious talk that seemed to gain the ire and undue attention of press, the Republican brand became less a revolt against government and more an example of how to grow fat and pious in power.
My Ideal Movement
With the ability to redefine the conservative movement, my personal hope would be that the new movement take hold of three specific areas: history, economy and security.
Throughout the decades, proper history has been avoided or distorted by the populist sects of the left and right. For example, the left whines about the atrocities of Vietnam and the evils of the war even though it was liberal icon LBJ that escalated the war from an anti-insurgency operations under Eisenhower and Kennedy to a full blown military boondoggle that involved massive air power and insane rules on holding enemy territory. The right had (or still has, depends on who you ask) its own historical blunder in the afterglow of the victory over Saddam Husein's government. For months after most of the public had realized that our intelligence (and the intelligence of countless allied and neutral nations) on Iraq's WMDs turned out to be faulty, the right's populist wing and some of its intellectual circles were still insisting that the weapons were somewhere, maybe in Iran or Syria. Although it was plausible, the lack of any WMD attack on American troops and the unlikely pairing of Syrians and Iraqis (their respective governing Ba'ath parties detested each other) cast much doubt on the existence of any threatening WMDs.
Conservatives need to teach history if we are to inspire and educate the students and the citizenry at large. We should not simply hearken back to Ronald Reagan, though a great man. Are we to believe all Americans can't think past 1980? Conservatives should invoke the words of John Adams (“We are a nation of laws, not men.” “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”) or Barry Goldwater (“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”). We should explain the idea of federalism, true freedom of religion (not the freedom FROM religion, as the left interprets the Establishment Clause), true free speech (not the politically correct version) and the long, dignified history of the Second Amendment that stretches back to the English Civil War and the protection of individuals from the English state. We should finally put the rest the idea that statist, anti-freedom, anti-capitalist fascism can sprout from an ideology rooted in freedom, small government and free markets.
Republican politicians should hold seminars on how to best right these historical wrongs and historical hoaxes by the enemies of free thought. Conservative leaders should be nuances in their usages of ideological and historical references, so that no media nor any rival could take their words out of context (though its bound to happen). We need to educate ourselves on our history so we can educate the rest of America on their proud legacy of freedom, liberation, intellectual complexity and ideological roots.
Under Bush, the economy and the government were seen not as rivals, but as partners. Bush's philosophy was that instead of downsizing government, he could harness government for conservative ends. Unfortunately, very few things aside for social goals, corralling judicial overreach and defense, involve harnessing government instead of reducing it. The economy is basically the one thing that could always use less government control, outside of basic modern regulation, of course.
The tea parties are already focusing on the economy and economy policy, which is a great start, but like my proposal to teach proper American history conservatives much emphasize the details of a free market economy and of capitalism. You can't let a leftist talk about capitalist oppression or capitalist exploitation without a response on the how no one is forced into a job in a capitalist society. You can't allow people like Maxine Waters, Chuck Schumer and their ilk talk about reigning in corporations when all they are doing is creating monopoly-like conditions for their big bank and industry donors. There's a reason Schumer outed a California bank's shaky finances, which caused a bank run, and then later turned around and defended the solvency of his Wall Street donors. There's a reason Maxine Waters wanted to nationalize oil and nationalize Wall Street, but thought regulation didn't need to touch the bank she and her husband were involved in.
We must get out the word on the freedom of the capitalist system, the fair play of the market and the prosperity it all brings. We must educate the nation on how government interference creates the lobbyist, who in turn uses that government power in the economy to direct the money hose to his friends and not yours. We must not simply say, “Its the best system” without a damn good reason behind it.
The world doesn't stop at our borders. The dangerous nations don't become peaceful because we want them to. The violent nature of humanity isn't easily cowed by the behemoth of civilized life. The left believes that if you can change the culture you can change the very core of humanity. This a false utopia based upon bad sociology. Humanity is humanity. Civilization is a small, temporary cage of our inner beasts. Religion, laws, government; they all rise and fall eventually and through many dark ages within many different civilizations have the worst of our nature shown itself. Simplistic belief in the power of nurture does not make a good policy nor a good society. Conservatism is based, as its always has been, on the idea that good people are the only defense against the scourge of our own evils.
With that, we must not succumb to the ideas that have allowed countless crimes and holocausts to happen. We cannot believe every culture or nation is equal and worth the respect of a civilized nation if that nation is murdering children for questioning their religion, or wiping out whole ethnicities to please some kind of caveman blood hate, or unleashing zealots with bombs for the imperialist agenda of its unelected leadership. We must acknowledge the reality of evil acts and evil people, no matter the natural or supernatural reasoning we apply to explain them. We must de-legitimize the idea that words without the threat of action will sway our enemies to see reason. The world is still anarchistic, despite the facade we try to put upon it, and we cannot allow our dreams to get in the way of the way the world really is. We must emphasize the idea that to leave peacefully, we must make violent intent a very costly choice. If we are to live peacefully, our enemies must fear our wrath than that of their fanatics.
Change We Need
The conservative movement changes all the time, despite the common knowledge of some “educated” people. Before Reagan's Religious Right, Barry Goldwater led a Republican Party and conservative movement based on classical liberalism. Previous to that, President Theodore Roosevelt both enforced free market ideas as well as expanded government into areas it had never been before. President Taft had a totally different version of conservatism and is the icon of a branch of isolationist conservatism called paleoconservatism. There is no reason why we have to stay in the 1980s.
There are many new conservatives and conservative minded people out there: gay conservatives, a large new demographic of minority conservatives, libertarians, center-left national security hawks, and so on. As stated before, conservatives need not drop religion to sate the moderates or the left, but it must be able to raise up new issues on par with its religious and social traditionalism.
The new movement must be able to take on the left in all categories in all things. With that flexibility and that initiative, conservatism can take back the nation from those who would lambaste the people, the institutions and the events that gave them the freedom to think differently.
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