“There is no tonic like winning. He came in third last year, and he was booed the year before when he talked about putting boots on the ground in the Middle East. I think Susan is right. This is a coming together of the conservative movement or at least a part of it. This is mostly the younger, more-edgy part, the one that would’ve been more receptive to a Milo presentation. I think it marks an important moment, and what was interesting was Bannon. He came in. He had no horns. He sounded rather amiable. But on the other hand he was absolutely unswerving, and he sort of gave intellectual heft to Trumpism. He was very specific about the three major goals: foreign policy, domestic economic policy, and what he called the undoing of the administrative state, the first volley in that war was the abolition of the “bathroom bill” or at least the directive coming from HHS — essentially, the federal government has no business here — and in all the cabinet opponents. So I think it was a real plus for them, and it presented a picture that for many conservatives — not all, some have trouble about the trade issue and the protectionism issue — but for many conservatives it was a kind of homecoming.”
Read more at the corner
I’m happy to be back with you in this annual event after missing last year’s meeting. I had some business in New Hampshire that wouldn’t wait.
Three weeks ago here in our nation’s capital I told a group of conservative scholars that we are currently in the midst of a re-ordering of the political realities that have shaped our time. We know today that the principles and values that lie at the heart of conservatism are shared by the majority.
Despite what some in the press may say, we who are proud to call ourselves “conservative” are not a minority of a minority party; we are part of the great majority of Americans of both major parties and of most of the independents as well.
A Harris poll released September 7, l975 showed 18 percent identifying themselves as liberal and 31 per- cent as conservative, with 41 percent as middle of the road; a few months later, on January 5, 1976, by a 43-19 plurality those polled by Harris said they would “prefer to see the country move in a more conservative direction than a liberal one.”
Last October 24th, the Gallup organization released the result of a poll taken right in the midst of the presidential campaign.
Respondents were asked to state where they would place themselves on a scale ranging from “right-of-center” (which was defined as “conservative”) to left-of-center (which was defined as “liberal”).
- Thirty-seven percent viewed themselves as left-of-center or liberal
- Twelve percent placed themselves in the middle
- Fifty-one percent said they were right-of-center, that is, conservative.
What I find interesting about this particular poll is that it offered those polled a range of choices on a left-right continuum. This seems to me to be a more realistic approach than dividing the world into strict left and rights. Most of us, I guess, like to think of ourselves as avoiding both extremes, and the fact that a majority of Americans chose one or the other position on the right end of the spectrum is really impressive.
Those polls confirm that most Americans are basically conservative in their outlook. But once we have said this, we conservatives have not solved our problems, we have merely stated them clearly. Yes, conservatism can and does mean different things to those who call themselves conservatives.
You know, as I do, that most commentators make a distinction between they call “social” conservatism and “economic” conservatism. The so-called social issues—law and order, abortion, busing, quota systems—are usually associated with blue-collar, ethnic and religious groups themselves traditionally associated with the Democratic Party. The economic issues—inflation, deficit spending and big government—are usually associated with Republican Party members and independents who concentrate their attention on economic matters.
Now I am willing to accept this view of two major kinds of conservatism—or, better still, two different conservative constituencies. But at the same time let me say that the old lines that once clearly divided these two kinds of conservatism are disappearing.
In fact, the time has come to see if it is possible to present a program of action based on political principle that can attract those interested in the so-called “social” issues and those interested in “economic” issues. In short, isn’t it possible to combine the two major segments of contemporary American conservatism into one politically effective whole?
I believe the answer is: Yes, it is possible to create a political entity that will reflect the views of the great, hitherto, conservative majority. We went a long way toward doing it in California. We can do it in America. This is not a dream, a wistful hope. It is and has been a reality. I have seen the conservative future and it works.
Let me say again what I said to our conservative friends from the academic world: What I envision is not simply a melding together of the two branches of American conservatism into a temporary uneasy alliance, but the creation of a new, lasting majority.
This will mean compromise. But not a compromise of basic principle. What will emerge will be something new: something open and vital and dynamic, something the great conservative majority will recognize as its own, because at the heart of this undertaking is principled politics.
I have always been puzzled by the inability of some political and media types to understand exactly what is meant by adherence to political principle. All too often in the press and the television evening news it is treated as a call for “ideological purity.” Whatever ideology may mean—and it seems to mean a variety of things, depending upon who is using it—it always conjures up in my mind a picture of a rigid, irrational clinging to abstract theory in the face of reality. We have to recognize that in this country “ideology” is a scare word. And for good reason. Marxist-Leninism is, to give but one example, an ideology. All the facts of the real world have to be fitted to the Procrustean bed of Marx and Lenin. If the facts don’t happen to fit the ideology, the facts are chopped off and discarded.
I consider this to be the complete opposite to principled conservatism. If there is any political viewpoint in this world which is free for slavish adherence to abstraction, it is American conservatism.
When a conservative states that the free market is the best mechanism ever devised by the mind of man to meet material needs, he is merely stating what a careful examination of the real world has told him is the truth.
When a conservative says that totalitarian Communism is an absolute enemy of human freedom he is not theorizing—he is reporting the ugly reality captured so unforgettably in the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
When a conservative says it is bad for the government to spend more than it takes in, he is simply showing the same common sense that tells him to come in out of the rain.
When a conservative says that busing does not work, he is not appealing to some theory of education—he is merely reporting what he has seen down at the local school.
When a conservative quotes Jefferson that government that is closest to the people is best, it is because he knows that Jefferson risked his life, his fortune and his sacred honor to make certain that what he and his fellow patriots learned from experience was not crushed by an ideology of empire.
Conservatism is the antithesis of the kind of ideological fanatacism that has brought so much horror and destruction to the world. The common sense and common decency of ordinary men and women, working out their own lives in their own way—this is the heart of American conservatism today. Conservative wisdom and principles are derived from willingness to learn, not just from what is going on now, but from what has happened before.
The principles of conservatism are sound because they are based on what men and women have discovered through experience in not just one generation or a dozen, but in all the combined experience of mankind. When we conservatives say that we know something about political affairs, and that we know can be stated as principles, we are saying that the principles we hold dear are those that have been found, through experience, to be ultimately beneficial for individuals, for families, for communities and for nations—found through the often bitter testing of pain, or sacrifice and sorrow.
One thing that must be made clear in post-Watergate is this: The American new conservative majority we represent is not based on abstract theorizing of the kind that turns off the American people, but on common sense, intelligence, reason, hard work, faith in God, and the guts to say: “Yes, there are things we do strongly believe in, that we are willing to live for, and yes, if necessary, to die for.” That is not “ideological purity.” It is simply what built this country and kept it great.
Let us lay to rest, once and for all, the myth of a small group of ideological purists trying to capture a majority. Replace it with the reality of a majority trying to assert its rights against the tyranny of powerful academics, fashionable left-revolutionaries, some economic illiterates who happen to hold elective office and the social engineers who dominate the dialogue and set the format in political and social affairs. If there is any ideological fanaticism in American political life, it is to be found among the enemies of freedom on the left or right—those who would sacrifice principle to theory, those who worship only the god of political, social and economic abstractions, ignoring the realities of everyday life. They are not conservatives.
Our first job is to get this message across to those who share most of our principles. If we allow ourselves to be portrayed as ideological shock troops without correcting this error we are doing ourselves and our cause a disservice. Wherever and whenever we can, we should gently but firmly correct our political and media friends who have been perpetuating the myth of conservatism as a narrow ideology. Whatever the word may have meant in the past, today conservatism means principles evolving from experience and a belief in change when necessary, but not just for the sake of change.
Once we have established this, the next question is: What will be the political vehicle by which the majority can assert its rights?
I have to say I cannot agree with some of my friends—perhaps including some of you here tonight—who have answered that question by saying this nation needs a new political party. Read the rest of this entry »