A Hare Krishna at the Southern Baptist Convention: Part 1 of the Old Conservatism
I will be writing a lot about "the old conservatives" (some of them at least) and will pass it along to you. I'd be happy to answer any questions I can for readers of the pieces. This letter will appear in my blog, and it serves as a foundation for the columns that will follow.
Paul, aAs I'm sure you've read (you're too young to remember it as a "real-life" experience) Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 election by about 66% to 34%. Oddly enough, however, that 34% was the political foundation for the future. A big defeat in an election does not have to mean the demise of a movement.
Conservatism in the late 1950s and early 1960s didn't exactly seem to be a growth industry. Consider the situation in 1962, when Jack Paar (star of the "Jack Paar Show") invited William F. Buckley, Jr. to be a guest.
Here's how Buckley recreates the scene (in a wonderful March 27, 1962 article available for a buck-ninety-five in The National Review Archives): "You know, he [Paar] confided, one of the reasons why people think we give more breaks to Liberals and left-wingers is because we have more of them on the show. But that's only because there are more of them around, more of them who are interesting people, as people. On the other side, he said warmly, 'there's just Goldwater and you.' I smiled prettily, and mumbled something about my willingness to draw him a somewhat larger list."
Paar was a man of supreme intellectual laziness, but he expressed the common view of the glitterati: that conservatives were almost as extinct as dodo birds. I'll write more later about that Buckley appearance, something that occurred 45 years ago, but which I remember well.
As we consider the electoral wreckage of 2006, we need to remember the woeful results of the Johnson-Goldwater election. Frankly, the death of President Kennedy inclined many voters to resist changing horses in the middle of the turbulent stream, so they went for LBJ.
The national newsmagazines (particularly Time) had foreseen a Kennedy-Goldwater election as potentially a close one, but the assasination changed all that. Goldwater never had a chance.
By 1972, Democrat McGovern carried South Dakota -- period. In 1984, Democrat Mondale carried Minnesota (barely). These great Republican achievements at the presidential level were largely the fruits of the Goldwater Revolution. In their hearts, most Americans knew that Goldwater had been right.
Admittedly, the effects of Watergate derailed, at least temporarily, the possibilities of permanent conservative dominance. Yet the point conservative academics/intellectuals should draw from the first movement is that good ideas eventually bear fruit.
In the sense of electoral combat, Richard Weaver, who wrote the book Ideas Have Consequences, was the least political of men. But his intellectual powers had tremendous influence on the political successes of men like Senator James Buckley, President Ronald Reagan, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Senator Rick Santorum.
A movement dries up and blows away without a stream of compelling ideas. A man like Gingrich made some mistakes in his personal life, but he's one of the great "idea people" in American history. Without leaders like Gingrich, the Republican Party begins to look like a vast array of Dennis Hasterts and Mitch McConnells.
Of course, liberals DO have ideas of a sort, most of them reflecting a kind of vague "goodness," but their views lack grounding in the practical experiences of MOST people. For example, a majority of Americans claim to favor something like universal health care coverage, but almost none of them want to experience the consequences of such a policy -- including waiting in long lines and getting diminished access to medical care.
One thing the "Old Conservatives" emphasized was to ask a tough question about policies. It was: "Does this proposal make sense, logically, experientially, and intellectually?" Also, "What is mankind's past and current experience with such approaches?" Ultimately, "how does this policy dovetail -- or not do so -- with the actual nature of human beings?"
Granted, most people -- including yours truly -- would love a free lunch. On the other hand, we know that free lunches come first with a catch and, ultimately, with a big bill. There are otherwise good ideas that, when implemented, turn out to come at too high a cost. It's not a question of being "cheap." Instead, in a world of finite resources, it's a matter of determining which expenditures make sense and which don't.
When people, intellectuals or otherwise, begin considering of the pros and cons of ideas and proposals, they eventually tend to come down on the conservative side. In 2006, the new conservatives "lost" -- but that was mainly because they'd run out of ideas. Cynicism and corruption crept into the process, as seen by the rise of people like Duke Cunnighman, Robert Ney, and Mark Foley.
The dirty little secret of certain such "new conservatives" was that they weren't conservatives. They were political opportunists to whom ideas were little more than rhetoric. In that view, they resembled many of their Democratic counterparts. "Give the people what they claim to want" -- no matter how disastrous it might be for the nation.
In recent years, Republicans took conservatives, especially evangelicals and ardent Catholics, for granted -- and paid the price. The Republican Party ignored great candidates, the prime example being Diana Lynn Irey, and threw truckloads of money at people who didn't deserve it.
Exhibit A: When Mark Foley resigned during the campaign, his "war chest" totalled nearly $2 million. In contrast, Diana Lynn Irey -- the moral antithesis of Foley -- raised about $900,000, a remarkable sum for a young person challenging a powerful incumbent. However, her opponent, John Murtha, raised more than $3 million, most ot if from lobbyists and people shamelessly buying influence.
Diana has a list of 7,000 contributors, an incredible number. It may be that she had more individuals, many of them individuals of modest means, contributing to her than influence-peddler Murtha did! Some people, a relative few, gave Diana thousands of dollars, but most who contributed sent in less than $200, many of them giving $10 or $20.
Unfortunately, one of Diana's 7,000 contributors was NOT the Republican Congressional Committee. Instead, it was sending millions of dollars to intellectually and ideologically deficient candidates who had done little to advance Republican principles.
At the same time, the Democrats, led by Rohm Emmanuel, were busily recrutiing attractive candidates, including several veterans of the Iraq. Many of those Democratic candidates sounded a lot like Republicans. In the U.S. Senate, PA's Bob Casey (pro-life, pro-guns) looks as out of place among the leftist Democrats as a Hare Krishna at the Southern Baptist Convention. But his election tipped the Senate to the Democrats.
Republicans have a desperate need for conservative, charismatic candidates. It need people to whom the Judeo-Christian tradition is a real determinant of their principles.
In her race against Moneybags Murtha, Diana Irey got 78,000-plus votes. That was 78,000-plus more votes than the Republicans got in that district two years previously, because there was no Republican candidate in 2004.
Part of my support for Diana (and for Melissa Hart, who lost in the 4th district) is that these are people who will bring others to conservative causes and the Republican Party. They're people who aren't ashamed to get down on their knees and ask Almighty God to give them the strength always to do the right thing.
God apparently listens, and Melissa won twice in a congressional district that has a heavy Democratic majority in registration.
Diana faced a similar registration imbalance in her district. But if she had been able to obtain perhaps another, say, $250,000 to spend on organization and TV advertising, she might conceivably have beaten Murtha. The money that went to Republican big-shots and windbags should have gone to people like Diana and Melissa. Why didn't it?
Ideas -- including the idea of giving support to candidates who deserve it -- are critically important for conservatives. Also vital is the winning of elections by people who convey such ideas, such as Diana and Melissa.
The Old Conservatives, of whom I'm one, recognize that developing good ideas, ones with strong appeal, is central to the future of retaining a recognizable America.
Stay tuned . . .