16 Jun 2009

Wilderness Years

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William Voegeli, in the Claremont Review of Books, contemplates the conservative prospect after electoral disaster.

He notes that lost elections have previously been claimed to mark conservatism’s final defeat very prematurely. The difference this time seems to be a vacuum in our national leadership and a new accommodationist internal (Brooks, Frum, Douthat) movement urging conservatives to concede on liberal positions and scuttle toward the center in hope of finding a majority.

Voegeli disagrees, arguing that we should nail our colors to the mast; and, like Whittaker Chambers, resolve to stand upon the side of truth and liberty however adverse their prospects.

One measure of its strength is that conservatism’s policy victories often engender conservatives’ political defeats. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 paved the way for Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, in the same way that the success of the surge in Iraq in 2007 took the war off the front page in 2008, and made it impossible for John McCain to gain electoral traction as its chief advocate. The tax reduction and simplification achieved by the tax reforms of 1986 cleared the canvas for liberals to immediately begin advocating new increases and complexities. Even as the memory of the great crime wave from 1960 through 1994 has been effaced by the expectation of safe streets over the past 15 years, liberal activists and writers are laying the groundwork for a campaign against America’s “scandalously” high incarceration rates. Their “logic” is that safe streets have rendered full prisons unnecessary-rather than full prisons having rendered safe streets possible.

In short, America’s political division of labor finds conservatives cleaning up liberals’ messes, and liberals sweeping into the newly tidy spaces to start making new messes. If that’s true, what is to be done? ….

The danger liberalism poses to the American experiment comes from its disposition to deplete rather than replenish the capital required for self-government. Entitlement programs overextend not only financial but political capital. They proffer new “rights,” goad people to demand and expand those rights aggressively, and disdain truth in advertising about the nature or scope of the new debts and obligations those rights will engender. The experiment in self-government requires the cultivation, against the grain of a democratic age, of the virtues of self-reliance, patience, sacrifice, and restraint. The people who have this moral and social capital understand and accept that there “will be many long periods when you put more into your institutions than you get out,” according to David Brooks. Instead, liberalism promotes snarling but unrugged individualism, combining an absolute right “to the lifestyle of one’s choice (regardless of the social cost) with an equally fundamental right to be supported at state expense,” as the Manhattan Institute’s Fred Siegel once described it. Finally, the capital bestowed by vigilance against all enemies, foreign and domestic, is squandered when liberals insist on approaching street gangs, illegal immigrants, and terrorist regimes in the hopeful belief that, to quote the political scientist Joseph Cropsey, “trust edifies and absolute trust edifies absolutely.”

Conservatives have no guarantees that they will be able to save the American experiment from those who cavalierly dissipate the capital required to sustain it. They can only struggle to prudently reconcile the experiment’s deepest needs with the exigencies posed by today’s circumstances and threats. If that reconciliation ultimately requires nothing short of morally disgusting compromises that give up basic principles, the conservative will, instead, cheerfully commit to doing his duty for the duration, fully expecting to die on the losing side.

Read the whole thing.

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But a recent Gallup Poll shows we still outnumber liberals and our numbers are growing.

40% of Americans interviewed in national Gallup Poll surveys describe their political views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This represents a slight increase for conservatism in the U.S. since 2008, returning it to a level last seen in 2004.

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Scott D

The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.

— Alexis de Tocqueville



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