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The Conservative Minority: On the Outside Looking In

I am no conservative (though I once played one in college). But I can usually get along OK with traditional conservatives because their goals are well-matched to mine: Fairness, freedom, equality. The differences, in some ways, are how we get there.

Right-wingers are a different animal, and since their party gave up its  conservative roots a long time ago, I have little concern – and not a little glee – watching the right-wing Republican Party self destruct. When you consider the mess that right-wingers have made of the economy, the environment, our foreign policy, (pick a topic), their current implosion seems a just and fitting reward.

So the web is full of articles from Republicans looking for the way out of their abyss, and with every post they remind us just how deep their problems are.

Consider this article from the The Becker-Posner Blog, a website out of the classical conservative school, called “The Serious Conflict in the Modern Conservative Movement.” They argue that the ideological disparities between classical “economic” conservatives and “social” (or “family values”) conservatives are the culprit:

The Republican Party may encompass both economic conservatives and social and international conservatives even though the philosophies behind each type are inconsistent with each other…However, even large parties are generally stronger and more coherent when different factions share most of the same philosophy.

Well said. But I’d go further:  Social conservatives and traditional conservatives can no longer hold their party together because their inherent contradictions can no longer be sustained.

That’s what you get when you abandon the traditional ideas of small government and the like for the more electorally enticing – though inherently hypocritical – “social issues.” Like “Clear Skies Initiatives” that make it easier to pollute; frantic appeals to gun-toting outdoor-types while undermining the national park system; “small government” that starves public works on one hand but dictates personal behavior on the other and spies on its own citizens; “Christian Coalitions” that appeal to bible-thumpers while ignoring The Beatitudes, the poor, and 90% of Jesus’ teachings.

These were the kinds of hypocrisies that would make a progressive pull their hair out for the last twenty years or so. But ultimately such contradictions cannot continue, because people can be duped for only so long. And in the age of blogs and electronic media such duplicity gets even harder to pull off.

So going after gays/liberals/latte-sipping intellectuals, science and “elites” now makes them look nasty, backwards and foolish. For one, even Republican families have kids coming out of the closet. The culture is moving on and becoming much more accepting in this area. And do they really think Joe SixPack is the kind of guy to navigate the economy? To keep the banks together? Scapegoating and appeals to mediocrity fall flat when the times call for our best and brightest.

And then there’s a bigger problem, one which transcends these internal contradictions.  In an era when Baby Boomers – approaching retirement and living longer – can’t afford their anticipated quality of life; where most people struggle with debt, health costs, college tuition; where Americans have been rejecting consumerism for a more natural, local-based lifestyle, and when yet another financial crisis feeds a growing suspicion of big business’ role in creating these problems, small-government, hands-off ideas no longer appeal in a mass way.

If the Party can’t hide beneath a less-impactful cover of “family values,” and the culture rejects even those old-time conservative economic ideas, then there ain’t much there, there. However the conservative movement comes to define itself, it’s going to be on the outside looking in for a long time to come.

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May 17, 2009   |  Filed Under Political   |    Permalink

1 comment

1 Eric { 03.22.11 at 11:38 am }

Updated March 2011: “However the conservative movement comes to define itself, it’s going to be on the outside looking in for a long time to come.”

Shows you how much I know.

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