Skip to comments.At Low Ebb ("American conservatism is at one of its low ebbs.")
Posted on 05/21/2006 12:19:24 PM PDT by quidnunc
American conservatism is at one of its low ebbs.
Conservatives are divided, dejected, and drifting, caught between anger and indecision. The political party they've made theirs is headed for setbacks in this year's congressional elections, and further defeats loom ahead.
Of course I'm talking about the state of American conservatism in 1854, when the Whigs were crumbling fast.
Isn't that just like a conservative, to be always looking to the past to make sense of the present?
In 1854, the party of national unity and free enterprise the party of Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln's beau ideal would come apart over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which opened the territories to slavery and the country to turmoil.
Without the Whigs, and with the Democrats soon to shatter in turn, the two parties that made up the two-party system could no longer hold the Union together. Soon the greatest of our national tragedies would be upon us: The War.
How did it happen? The forces that had united us lost their hold on public opinion. And as Mr. Lincoln once observed, "With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed."
One needn't go all the way back to 1854 for examples of midterm elections in which conservatives foundered, and for much the same reason: a failure to shape public sentiment. Call it a failure to engage the issues directly and engage the country's moral imagination.
After the Grand Old Party took a fall in the off-year elections of 1958, Whittaker Chambers wrote a letter to his young friend, William F. Buckley Jr., at the still new conservative magazine, National Review. If the Republican Party, he warned, "cannot get some grip of the actual world we live in and from it generalize and actively promote a program that means something to masses of people why, somebody else will."
Then the Republican Party, Chambers warned, "will become like one of those dark little shops which apparently never sell anything. If, for any reason, you go in, you find, at the back, an old man, fingering for his own pleasure, some oddments of cloth (weave and design of 1850). Nobody wants to buy them, which is fine because the old man is not really interested in selling. He just likes to hold and to feel."
Some of us can remember the intellectual atmosphere of the 1950s, when to be a conservative was considered less a persuasion than an eccentricity.
At the time, the Hiss-Chambers case had divided Americans into two hostile camps. Lionel Trilling, a professor of literature at Columbia and the author of The Liberal Imagination, scandalized his colleagues in the academic establishment when he described Whittaker Chambers as "a man of honor." It was Professor Trilling who, on scanning the political scene, made one of the most memorably wrong political analyses of his time. He announced that he could see no conservative ideas in prospect only "irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas."
Lionel Trilling's assessment was all too accurate at the time. With a few exceptions like Whittaker Chambers and young Buckley, American conservatism in the '50 s was as bereft of any real ideas as the Whigs had been a century before.
Conservative thought had lost its traction with the American people during the Great Depression and never regained it. The right was fast retreating into its dark little shop, where it would fall prey to the paranoia of outfits like the John Birch Society. And once conservatives let themselves be identified with bullies like Joe McCarthy, the very phrase, "conservative intellectual," would acquire the air of an oxymoron.
Who with any political sense in the '50 s would have predicted that, by the end of the century, conservatism would come to dominate American political thought, and that the audacious Bill Buckley would begin an intellectual renaissance that only now has begun to fade?
How did it happen? It came to pass because American conservatism was able to articulate the country's values in a way that made sense to a new generation of Americans.
And what are those values? A faith in freedom in the right to life, liberty and our own property. In foreign affairs, conservatives would display a constancy of purpose that would prevail despite unsteady allies abroad and the old lure of isolationism at home. Who, besides Ronald Reagan, would have thought that the end of the Soviet Union would come not with a bang but a whimper? And with it, the end of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race between the world's two great superpowers. Talk about seizing the moral imagination .
A battle is always raging for the soul of American conservatism. It is a battle between those who would find a familiar place to hunker down, and those who would risk engagement with ideas and the world. There have always been those who would reduce the conservative impulse to something narrow and mean and afraid an exclusive little club restricted to Our Kind of People, rather than a great, open, embracing faith.
The great political achievement of Ronald Reagan was to transform a cozy club into a populist movement, and his example remains instructive. Like Lincoln before him, The Great Communicator was willing to accept the know-nothings' votes, but he drew the line at substituting their prejudices for his principles. In Mr. Lincoln's day, the Know-Nothings actually had a party, and its bogeyman was the Roman Catholic church. Today's demagogues use the latest wave of immigrants to much the same effect.
This era's struggle for the soul of the Republican Party can be seen up close and all too personal here in Arkansas. The party of Lincoln is being told it should demand that all illegal immigrants be deported, even if that means breaking up families, disrupting the economy and denying mothers medical care and their children an equal right to a college education.
Does anyone think these children will forget how their families, their mothers and fathers, were treated once they grow up to become voters, as they surely will? Childhood hurts endure, and their fruit is bitterness. Do we really want to let that kind of bitterness take root? Immigrant families once instilled an undying gratitude and reflexive patriotism in their children. Are we going to plant resentment instead?
Cracking down on these newcomers and their children may be a good way to win the next election and lose the next generation. In short, if Jim Holt is the Republican Party's future, it doesn't have one.
If these are times that try conservatives' souls, it might be instructive to inquire: How did conservatism make such a great comeback in American politics and thought? And how revive its appeal now?
Beyond specific policies and programs, there was something vital in the conservative cause that would prove irresistible to Americans. It was a recognition of the central, animating spirit behind values like family, community, country and Constitution. Call it the spirit of liberty. Its fruit is generosity and fellowship, not fear and suspicion. It unites, not divides. The spirit of liberty cherishes the liberty of others as well as our own. It respects no, reverences the innate dignity of each human being. It is the spirit of Lincoln, and it waits to be revived again.
Our faith in liberty may be obscured from time to time, but it is always there. All we need do is articulate it, act on it, and it will shine again. If this is a low ebb for American conservatism, there is a tide in the affairs of men, and, out in the future's depths, the next great wave of conservative sentiment is forming even now. It will yet prove cleansing, uniting, lifting, and restore the nation's confidence. No, I can't prove it, but I believe it.
Low ebb? Some would call it, the calm before the storm.
Clueless does not being to describe this nitwit.
I have my doubts. In fact the writer seems to be experiencing a bit of denial.
Please see the results of the recent Pennsylvania elections.
i can smell a major bust for the dems in nov.
with all the hype of disaster for the pubs, one can safely predict the nov elections will be underwhelming for them at the very least.
Perhaps a low ebb amongst its alleged "leadership".
The bedrock rank and file seems quite healthy thank-you, this Forum being Exhibit A.
Woof, is right. To hell with compassionate conservativism. To be compassionate for someone else, you have to take the money from my wallet. How about mean old conservatism for a change? The kind where people are treated like adults and are responsible for their actions? The kind of conservatism where good intentions mean squat. Conservatism which protects liberty and not big government. That's what we have to offer and it's not the same as statist paternalism (i.e. socialism) that the RATs are selling. Grrrr!!!!!!
If they are back in Mexico, I could care less what they think...
Conservative crack-down in progress. Rino's and rats beware.
When did rewarding criminality with welfare state entitlements become a 'conservative' value?
I guess he forgot to mention what a POS the rat party has become.
Um, in the 1850's, Catholics were no threat to outnumber Protestants anytime soon. Now, in Southern California alone, "white non-hispanics" will be a small minority in a generation. That is already a fact.
It is not "immigration" when 25-40% of a populous country leave that country and colonize another. It is, in fact, invasion.
And it is not immigration when hundreds of thousands of those people march in the streets of America under the flag of a foreign and hostile nation, while claiming the land and political power of America for themselves. That is sedition, treason, and an open declaration of war against the United States.
There are no "demagogues" on the Right on this issue. There is no historical precedent for anything like what is happening - a literal takeover of a country by what can only be called "immivasion". The only demagogues are those on the Left who refuse to allow any discussion of it, save to engage in name calling like "racist", or "nativist", or whatever idiot epithet they can hurl.
and the rats dream on, da la la, and the rats dream on.....
NOTHING in this WORLD would make a rat more happier than to be back in power...
If the author by conservatism means the party of big government, the party of internal improvements, national banks, the party that would destroy federalism and centralize the power in Washington DC I suppose he is correct. If by conservatism he means the party of limited government he isn't talking about the Whigs or the early Republican party
""Now, in Southern California alone, "white non-hispanics" will be a small minority in a generation. That is already a fact.
It is not "immigration" when 25-40% of a populous country leave that country and colonize another. It is, in fact, invasion.
And it is not immigration when hundreds of thousands of those people march in the streets of America under the flag of a foreign and hostile nation, while claiming the land and political power of America for themselves. That is sedition, treason, and an open declaration of war against the United States.""
Because we only have one credible party capable of national governance right now, all substantive debate takes place within that party.
I'm not drifting at all, nor caught between anger and indecision. The GOP is.
And, as of now, there is no "liberal Buckley" preparing our undoing.
We may be divided between the "desperate" conservatives who think we should grab as much as possible before the tide turns, and the "method" conservatives who think we can conserve the momentum.
Chambers answer, which Mr. Buckley called "a paragraph unmatched in the literature of supine gloom, even though finally resisting despair" was thus...
It is idle [he rebuked me] to talk about preventing the wreck of Western Civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and needs some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth,
I am beginning to share his sentiments in this regard.
I think you make the point with the quotations....
Exactly. Where the GOP went wrong was in trying to out-happy the Democratic party. It can't be done without losing your sense of self-identity.
from the May 19, 2006 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0519/p09s02-cods.html
Bush may be losing his base
Conservatives are openly dissenting from policies of Republican leadership.
By Daniel Schorr
WASHINGTON - The term "base" is not in William Safire's political dictionary, but he tells me it will be included in the next edition. "Base" refers to that solid core of political supporters who will stick with you through electoral thick and thin as long as you are perceived as advancing their principles. Most often, the term is applied to religious conservatives.
Something seems to have gone off the rails between President Bush and his base, judging by a recent Gallup poll that shows his support among conservatives down from a long-standing 80 percent to a current 50 percent.
Religious conservatives have found the administration and Congress falling short on issues such as same-sex marriage, obscenity, and abortion. They have expressed disappointment that the president has not been more active in seeking a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The issue of the week is immigration. In what he called a compromise proposal in his television speech on Monday night, the president sought to allay the criticism of conservatives by proposing to deploy 6,000 National Guard troops along the Mexican border.
There may be less there than meets the eye. The Guard troops will be mainly in support roles. The arrangement may not last more than a year. And the president, who also has a business base, felt compelled to propose a "guest-worker" (not amnesty, repeat, not amnesty) program.
At the same time, the administration was trying to shift attention to consensus Republican issues such as tax cuts and judicial nominations. But, the dissension within Republican ranks was evident. The $105 billion war-spending bill, passed by the Senate, was called "dead on arrival" by House speaker Dennis Hastert. When Senate majority leader Bill Frist called Gen. Michael Hayden the "ideal man" for CIA Director, Speaker Hastert announced his opposition to having a military man in the job.
Influential conservatives have begun speaking openly of their reservations about the Republican leadership. Dr. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, has said that he might turn critic of the administration unless it does more to deliver on conservative goals.
At this point, the thunder from the right may be in the nature of admonition. But I can recall a time when evangelicals shunned the ballot box. If that were to happen again, it would change the face of American politics.
It would be interesting to see how quickly a true intellectual conservative like Medved could destroy your arguments in a debate.
This guy became a celebrity during the Clinton years, but I always suspected he was really wink wink winking at them.
"even if that means breaking up families," No families will be broken up. No one will be forced to stay. If they choose to abandon family members, It's their call.
" disrupting the economy" It can be done at a pace where illegals can be smoothly replaced by legal and law abiding immigrants or citizens.
"denying mothers medical care and their children an equal right to a college education." Absolutely. No medical care except in a life threatening emergency and then only enough to stabilize to the point where the illegal can be safely returned to point of origin. there is no right to a college education for American citizens. How can anyone even suggest such a right exists for the spawns of illegals?
This guy has ingested way too much Flavor Aid. Even Bush hasn't actually claimed that. Close, but not that far over the edge of lucidity.
Maybe he didn't think this word out much.. as many/most "conservatives" don't..
"Conservative" decribes what RINOs are all about.. "more of the same"..
After falling/driving a party into a ditch it takes radical action/thought to get you out..
Democracts are conservative in that sense.. as are RINOs..
More of the same or even much more of the same..
A republican SHOULD BE a radical.. as many were in 1992/4..
Spouting a "VISION" to get out of the ditch..
ie. "Givernment is not "A" problem, IT IS (THE) PROBLEM.."
LOL!! You were listening to a different debate on Friday, apparently.
In any event, you're under the impression only one side has any truth in the issue of immigration. You debate as an ideologue, and ideologues are eventually ignored.
Did it ever occur to you, that if such folks can't secure a job, and make a living, that most of them might leave?
We have a guest worker program right now.
I agree. They said the same thing about Lincoln before all his opponents pulled out in 1864, and the same thing about Reagan after his 1976 loss. What's happening is that the conservatives, for the first time really in 12 years, are flexing their muscles and this time we aren't going to be satisfied with a symbolic "Contract" with America that is partially passed. This time we insist on action.
You and me both. Conservatives are about to show the people we have been electing that we sent them to Washington for a reason. Status quo is on its way out.
Warning: it won't happen instantly. Our primary here in OH proved that. It will take some selective weeding of RINOs who are vulnerable to primary challengers. But it will happen.
Gee I did not realize emotionally hissy fits by pseudo Conservative Talking Heads about a political glass not 100% full some how trumped LBJ's landslide in 1964 or the aftermath of Watergate or Jimmy "Peanut Head" Carter's Presidency or the 8 years of Clintonittes.
My bad, I was under the impression that Conservatives were the ones who thought their politics, not FELT them. I see. Now it all about how the Perpetually Pissed FEEL. Gee SORRY you are all mad. Get over yourselves. NO one gets 100% of what they want. Posting complete nonsense rants because YOU are not getting 100% of what YOU want in Politics is the behavior of spoiled brat children. All Life requires compromise. Anyone who cannot understand that a glass 60% full of pure Conservative Water is far better then a glass 100% full of Leftist poison has no business lecturing other people on politics.
Take your pet issue. Illegal Immigration. Prop 187 would have gone a LONG way to preventing most of what you spend all your Free Republic time posting about from happening. A Leftist Judge just imposed their emotional whimsy and overturned the will of the votes. Now we have this mess.
Real Conservatives understand just how utterly vital the Judiciary is to our future as a nation. Pseudo Conservative petulant brats rant and rave because their own emotional whimsy is not being imposed by Presidential decree.
The Perpetual Whiners better wake up to the reality of American Politics. We are a Constitutional Republic, NOT the President Dictatorship the Always Bitching seem to fantasies we are. 100% of their personal political whims cannot be imposed upon the American people the second they wish them. They better go take some basic Civic since they seem horribly confused. They seem to believe that the US form of Govt works like their favorite TV show tells them it does. It does NOT.
Good comment, and I agree.
Illegals unemployed in the US is an absolute hell. You don't get a damn thing, except emergency medical care, and free education for your kids.
A misapplication of history, convincing only to those who share the writer's prejudices. He also deliberately neglects the incredible cost of his solution and the bankrupting of Social Security and Medicare by 2010 if this amnesty goes through as planned. That's when we'll see real bitterness and diviseness that will harm the country for generations.