Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – Here’s the headline from the magazine post: “Why the Tea Party Can’t Govern.” Here, let me give you the tease, “Something is seriously wrong with conservatism.” Let me stop right there. Damn skippy, yeah! Hello!? Conservatism is an advertising slogan. That’s what’s wrong with it. Anything that becomes an ism, you might say, is probably, going back to Frohnen’s post about “What is this Thing called Virtue?” is something that is not going to produce results that people think it’s going to produce. Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Daniel McCarthy over at The American Conservative Magazine website, amconmag.com, one post is an essay that is contemporary, meaning based on current events. Another one, I believe, was in the last print issue of the magazine, and they have now released it so that you can read it in digital or internet format. This is intriguing. Here’s the headline from the magazine post: “Why the Tea Party Can’t Govern.” Here, let me give you the tease, “Something is seriously wrong with conservatism.” Let me stop right there. Damn skippy, yeah! Hello!? Conservatism is an advertising slogan. That’s what’s wrong with it. Anything that becomes an ism, you might say, is probably, going back to Frohnen’s post about “What is this Thing called Virtue?” is something that is not going to produce results that people think it’s going to produce.
Something is seriously wrong with conservatism. Since Ronald Reagan’s last year in office, Republicans have only twice won a majority of votes cast for president—both times with a George Bush atop the ticket. And neither Bush was a conservative.
For 25 years, something has prevented conservatives from winning the White House and prevented the Republicans who do win from governing as conservatives. What could it be?
The Tea Party has an answer: RINOs—liberal Republicans in Name Only—have sabotaged the right, most recently in October when they collaborated with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown. Once RINOs are extinct, true Tea Party conservatives like Ted Cruz will prevail. They will close down the federal bureaucracy and stop Washington from borrowing a penny more until Obamacare is defunded and the welfare state brought to heel. If this is extremism, it’s what Barry Goldwater called extremism in defense of liberty.
But the Tea Party is wrong: this is not extremism in defense of liberty, it’s extremism in defense of failure—the failure of conservatism as it has been defined since the 1970s to become a philosophy of government.
The Tea Party’s critics in the conservative establishment—National Review’s Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru, for example—are also wrong. They insist that if only conservatives support the “rightwardmost viable candidate,” with an emphasis on “viable,” they may elect another Reagan. This, of course, is what Republican voters did every time between 1988 and 2012, when they nominated two Bushes, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.
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What the NR editors won’t say is that, for them, this is good enough: they had their differences with George W. Bush, but on the whole his economic, social, and especially foreign policies were praiseworthy. To those who disagree with that judgment—the Tea Party, libertarians, crunchy cons, millennials, and a majority of Americans—the conservative establishment has nothing to sell. The viable right had its turn in power, and the country decisively repudiated the results.
The virtue of the Tea Party is that it has shaken up a Republican Party that under Bush had become a failure on every level: in foreign policy, in responding to a changing culture, in preserving prosperity. Some of the new leaders and new ideas the Tea Party encourages are among the most promising developments on the right in a generation.
Mike: Eric, you weren’t here when AG and I dared to say a cross word about some of the actions about Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, which will bring the full force of his marauding band of promoters and defenders, I call them Teddy and the Cruzers, will bring them down upon your head. Someone may misunderstand and think that this is I saying this and not Daniel McCarthy. Tell young Evan to get ready. Get ready to get pummeled. I will notify my ISP that hate mail is on the way as well. Back to the story:
But the vices of the Tea Party are just as real, and Senator Cruz exemplifies them. His foreign policy is characterized by reflexive, if partisan, nationalism—before opposing Obama’s plan to bomb Syria, Cruz had in fact called for “a clear, practical plan to go in. … The United States should be firmly in the lead to make sure the job is done right.” The Texas senator’s domestic policies, meanwhile, are the same ones the right has championed since the 1970s. Indeed, Cruz represents a brand of conservatism that belongs to that era.
Before the days of platform shoes, mirror balls, and Jimmy Carter, a different kind of conservatism held sway. It was less populist, less confrontational, and far less successful. There was a reason William F. Buckley Jr., founding father of the ‘50s right, could only say of National Review’s mission, “It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”
The 40 years from Franklin Roosevelt’s election in 1932 to Richard Nixon’s re-election in 1972 were an epoch of center-left hegemony. That was true even when Republicans won the White House. President Eisenhower was a “modern Republican,” not a conservative, and National Review refused to endorse him for re-election in 1956. President Nixon imposed wage and price controls on the country, expanded affirmative action, and inaugurated the Environmental Protection Agency.
Mike: That’s not all he did, Daniel. He also concocted this god-awful scourge on the medical industry, which ultimately led to Obamacare, called HMOs. That was Nixon’s ideas or one of Nixon’s advisors’ ideas. [mocking] “Hey, I got an idea. Why don’t we get involved in healthcare? Yeah, yeah. We already do Medicare and Medicaid. Yeah, yeah. Why don’t we set a national tax policy that’ll do this and that and the other? Yeah, yeah, lets’ do that.” Nixon also took us off the gold standard, illegally I believe, and unconstitutionally. His list of travesties is long. Back to the essay.
Through most of the Western world, the gamut of practical politics ran from social democracy and socialism on the left to the mixed Keynesian economy on the right. Nixon himself said in 1971, “I am now a Keynesian in economics,” a remark often conflated with Milton Friedman’s 1965 pronouncement, “We are all Keynesians now.” The one Republican leader who bucked the consensus, Barry Goldwater, was dealt a crushing defeat in November 1964.
The eventual Reagan revolution of 1980 was less a culmination of conservatives’ toil during the 1950s and ’60s than the result of an unexpected twist in the 1970s. All around the world, the postwar consensus on what modernity meant—steady, scientific progress toward political and economic centralization—shattered, as foreign-policy journalist Christian Caryl shows in his recent book Strange Rebels. Caryl points to 1979 as the bellwether year: that was when Margaret Thatcher became leader of Britain’s Conservative Party; Deng Xiaoping rose to power in Beijing and moved the People’s Republic toward capitalism with Chinese characteristics; Iran’s Islamic revolution toppled the Shah; and Communism’s final, fatal struggle with nationalism and religion commenced with Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
But the right’s ideological laboratories kept refining the product, making it ever less user-friendly in the quest for theoretical perfection. Being out of power afforded the luxury of irresponsibility—of not having to live within the limits that governing imposes on what one can imagine as desirable and possible.
Mike: That’s interesting, isn’t it? In other words, when you’re out of power, you can sit out and pretend like you’re a think tank. You can create and concoct all these John Taylor of Caroline-style ideas for a very limited republican government, but if you actually achieve power and try to implement them, then bammo! You get clobbered. You get Christine O’Donnell’d. You get Todd Akin’d. You get Richard Mourdock’d. You get Ken Cuccinelli’d. You get clobbered in the previously-reliable State of Virginia if you are a “conservative.” I might have some difference of opinion of this, by the bye. Back to the story:
Consider the religious right. There was an absolutely natural backlash in the late 1970s against the hasty push from the left for further sexual revolutions. Contraception, abortion, and homosexuality had all gone from being little spoken of and sometimes restricted by law to becoming “rights.” Many Americans, particularly Christians, felt disenfranchised.
Mike: If you think they felt disenfranchised in the 1970s, what on earth would you feel today? That is a really good point to make and bring up here. You’re basically not allowed to think ill of any of those things anymore, and if you do, you’re some kind of supercharged, religious fanatic bigot. You must be targeted for extermination or extinction. [mocking] “We’re going to hunt your kind down. We’re not going to let you sit out there and nitpick. We’re not going to let you sit out there and undermine the new rights we’ve discovered in the Constitution that have to be defended by the Fourteenth Amendment. You guys need to stand down.”
By the bye, I am usually alarmed and do ring the alarm bell here when I read of certain conservatives advocating that an amelioration with abortion and with homosexual marriage and with new forms of sexual revolutions [mocking] “Come on, you guys are just gonna have to give in. You’re gonna have to accept that change has come and you no longer are going to be able to practice your silly brand of republicanism and conservatism. Those days are over.” It’s almost like you can hear the line in the beginning scenes of The Big Lebowski with David Huddleston playing Big Lebowski, [mocking] “Your revolution is over, Mr. Jefferson. The republicans lost. Do you hear me, Lebowski? The Republicans lost! The republicans will always lose!”
Christian conservatives are as well-adjusted as anyone else on these questions in their own lives. But the Christian conservative who accepts sinfulness in reality cannot accept it in theory, and one who tries is liable to be trumped within the community by someone who asserts a harder line. Religious right activists thus radicalize one another and continually refine their ideology—then demand professions of principle from candidates.
Mike: I don’t agree with that line. If you are following tradition, custom, through your faith and through canon or dogma as you have been taught it through religion, especially what used to be the more orthodox religions, how is that being a radical? If that’s being a radical, what are we to say, that the martyrs of ancient Christianity, going back to the first century AD, were the martyrs and radicals, should we not have — what about some of the saints? Was Augustine a radical? Should he not have been canonized? To read this description is to say: You need to go along and get along with the times. Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what Augustine did? He said: You know, I was going the wrong way. I was going along and getting along with the times. Man, I was out there as radicalized of a new bohemian Roman as they had. Then through my mother I found Christianity and changed and stopped all that, and helped found and establish the canon of the Church. Was Augustine therefore a radical? Is he someone [mocking] “We shouldn’t follow that guy. He’s an extremist!” Is faith and defending a principle always necessarily a radical exercise or is it the true conservative exercise?
To answer that question, I think, requires a challenge. Can you answer that question while participating in what it is that you are ostensibly advocating opposition to? What I mean by that is, you’re not being theoretical. In the one instance, the modern conservative is charged or accused of being nothing more than a theoretical proponent of living a republican or Christian life. In the other instance, he is then chastised because he lives that republican life and thinks the political powers that be ought to live it, too, and therefore that radicalizes him. I’m not going to say there aren’t radicals out there in these movements because there are. But an adherence and a defense of a tradition, especially if it’s a faith-based one, and of a custom, is anything but radical. It’s the opposite of radical. It’s the opposite of extreme. The extremist is the one that refuses to let the lamp of history be the lamp, as Patrick Henry said, by which his feet are guided. That’s the radical.
End Mike Church Show Transcript