Sand in the Gears

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The new Conservatism

February 21st, 2010 Posted in Curmudgeonry

Mickey Edwards explains why he didn’t go to CPAC, the annual Conservative self-lovefest, arguing that the traditional conservatism of America has been supplanted by a state-aggrandizing European-style conservatism. I’m not sure if the shift is even that intellectual, or if it’s simply that Conservatives — like members of any tribe facing an enemy tribe — are desperate to win, to crush their enemies, so much so that if their tribal leaders want to give the state enormous power, they will gleefully go along, and shout down anyone who opposes this, because, well, the people who oppose such measures are not in our tribe and therefore can’t be trusted. The rise of people like Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin as thought leaders is less, to me, evidence of an intellectual shift than a burning desire by tribe members for leaders who can sling the sharpest barbs at the people they despise.

A real American conservative, to me, is someone who understands that markets are the best means of allocating resources, that liberty is essential to human thriving, and that man is sinful and in desperate need of checking and elevating institutions like the Church and marriage and childrearing. A real American conservative believes in aspiring, at the very least, to truthfulness and humility and thoughtfulness, which means he can’t help but cringe when he hears the likes of an Ann Coulter bellowing about her enemies being traitors. A real American conservative understands that the ills of mankind will not go away if we could only just have a lower tax rate and less regulation. A real American conservative is not, I’ll submit to you, at home in the maneuvering and manipulation of state capitols, and certainly not in Washington, D.C. A real American conservative does not trust large government or mass democracy or even himself, certainly not himself, which is why he wants to keep undivided power out of any man’s hands, including his own.

By these lights, I suspect there are more American conservatives than we think. But I also suspect that they weren’t very well represented at CPAC.