Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fareed Zakaria’s “The End of Conservatism”

I love Fareed and Thomas Friedman not just because they confirm my bias most times but because sometimes they do not, and when they don’t they deny me in a way that is void of party politics and hyperbolic rhetoric. I also have been known to learn a thing or two from them. So… When I saw Fareed’s piece at Newsweek online I had a bit of a start. Certainly Fareed has not sided with the 24 hour cable news pundits. That would be crushing. Or perhaps I was wrong and he was right? Scared of either outcome I read on. It turns out that Fareed’s shorter than normal piece is kind of a musing rather than anything else.

Fareed starts out with the accounts of a Bush insider who is writing a book defending Bush and his policies and makes some good points. But that certainly doesn’t spell the end of Conservatism? He goes on about how “conservatives” are voting for McCain. Hmmm, not really Fareed. They are voting republican and McCain is the most Republican. You see Fareed even a great mind like your own forgets that Republican and Conservative is not interchangeable. He commits this error in the first sentence! “Conservatives are a gloomy bunch at the moment. Many believe that their party—the Republican Party—has lost its way and that it has done so by abandoning its principles. You see Fareed’s assumption here is that Conservatives own the Republican party. We do not. He also assumes that as GW Bush is the de facto head of the Republican party for a time he is also for a time the head of the Conservative Movement. He is not.

Conservatives have not had a politician as a leader since Reagan. And to be fair, Reagan was not absolutely conservative. Only in hind sight do we see that he was the most important conservative leader of our time but by no means the conservative messiah. He was not the embodiment of conservative principles. But he was close. Certainly the closest of my generation.

So how can Fareed infer that because of McCain and Bush being the head and temporary head of the Republican party that the Conservative Movement is dead? Only by assuming that the Party and the Movement are inextricably linked. Again with much respect, he is wrong.

Conservatives are at a crossroads and we are in effect defining ourselves. (Not “re” defining ourselves. The principles of the movement have always been there. Conservatism is a priori. ) The world is seeing that Conservatives are not just Republicans and that we are not necessarily white Christians. Now, if you are wagering that the next conservative to come through the door will be a white Christian that would still be a good bet. But more and more conservatives are defining what we are and what we are not. We are casting off stereotypes that have haunted us and revising flawed policy. This distinction between us and the Republican Party is what is being confused as “the end.”

You see, the Conservative Movement has pushed the Republican Party for a long time. But it is not the only influence. Christian and Social Conservatives have also done some pushing. And modifying Conservative with “Christian” or “Social” makes one something other than a true Conservative. Your heart may belong to God but when it comes time to render unto Caesar your ass belongs to the Movement. And unfortunately on issues like abortion and gay marriage the opposite has been true. There is no way you can call for less government intrusion and call for a Constitutional ban on gay marriage. There is no way a rights minded conservative that understands the meaning of “slippery slope” will be for any federal mandates or influence on abortion. And don’t even get me started on Federalism and education or immigration!

These issues are being discussed like never before. Conservatives are not coming to an end we are actually streamlining and defining what we are. The next logical step is that we remove from the Movement the modifiers. Modifiers are fine in a political party but you are either a conservative or something else. I welcome with open arms the Social Conservatives and Christian Conservatives and the Security Conservatives, all three legs of Rush Limbaugh flawed conservative stool/table, to the Republican Party but there is only room for true conservatives to lead the Movement. I know this is tough for some to hear. I am sure Rush would call me Judas for my notions on abortion or gay marriage. Or, maybe Rush knows that abortion is a State’s Rights issue and gay marriage was a useful tool for Rove in ‘04 that never had a chance to be law but is ultimately bad for the country. Which ever it is we shall see.

So, Fareed’s eye catching title did its work. I immediately clicked that link and read what he had to say. On this subject however he is off the mark. Conservatism is much broader than any party and is not tied to the failures or successes of that party. Conservatism is what Conservatism is, a movement, an ideology, a values system. And neither McCain nor Bush can do permanent damage to it.


RAWilliams said...

One of the problems with Conservatives is that they view it as an ideology. It is not an ideology, but rather a political theory. Conservatives should be looking to make radical change (neo-cons), that is for progressives. However, as Burke said, circumstances matter, and it is up to conservatives to deal with a changing world by grounding their ideas and beliefs in history, and making the best "conservative" judgment.

Benjamin Cook said...

You couldn't be more wrong.

Conservatism is an ideology, a movement and a political "theory".

So called "Conservatives" need to change, conservatism needs no change. It is what it is. True Conservatives needs only to enlighten those who don't understand it.

History serves conservatism (classical liberalism) well. In fact, it is historically the only system of political behavior that consistently works on any scale. Unlike socialism (liberalism) that fails when you apply it to either large land areas or large populations.

What conservatives need is to openly define and display the movements positives and remove the modifiers that make the movement/ideology appear to have negatives where there are actually none. (social, christian, neo modifiers do damage)