Thursday, September 15, 2016

Even if no one is left to embrace them, the principles endure

With the sidelining of conservatism in the current election cycle, there has appeared a number of pieces reviewing the history of this body of thought - "movement," if you will, although it has existed as the former characterization longer than the as the latter. As we know, its development can be traced at least to the age and works of Montesquieu, Locke, Burke, Smith and Madison. In the nineteenth century, it was further fleshed out by the likes of Bastiat, Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. Then came the great works of the early-to-mid-twentieth century: Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver, The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk. And then, of course, came the founding in 1955 of conservatism's flagship magazine, National Review.
Over the sixty years since that historic occurrence, it's become more apparent that the most important contributions NR's founding editors made were to establish standards for what they termed a "responsible Right," serving notice to Birchers and Objectivists that they were not welcome, and bringing together what have come to be known as the three pillars.

The three pillars have been articulated a number of ways. Herewith is a reiteration of how LITD chooses to depict them:

1.) Free-market economics, beginning with the precept that a good or service is worth what buyer and seller agree that it is worth, period. No other entity has any business being involved in coming to that agreement - certainly not government.

2.) An understanding that Western civilization has been a unique blessing to humankind. History has distilled Western thought into two great contributions: Judeo-Christian morality, and Greco-Roman notions about organizing society according to a representative-democracy model.

3.) A foreign policy based what history tells us about human nature, that is, based on one's country's allies knowing that one's country has their back, its adversaries respecting it, and its enemies fearing it.

I suppose it's mainly because celebrity worship has so strongly characterized the last several decades of our popular culture, but in any case, those who either vaguely or explicitly embrace these three pillars have, in recent years, tended to make heroes out of conservative icons, beginning with Reagan and Thatcher, but extending to pundits and talk-show hosts, and, more recently, bloggers.  Products of our age like to gather in large venues and pump our fists at the sight of those whom we have made stars.

We are now reaping the disappointment that was sure to result from placing ourselves in the position of fans:

I’m torn between crediting him for acknowledging a painful truth and criticizing him for having apparently thrown in the towel on what should be the entire point of his show, trying to convince people that smaller government is better. “Do you think the argument over big versus small government’s still going on, or do you think it’s over?” Rush wonders. “And if you think it’s over, who won?” He doesn’t answer the question but the answer is clear. Big government won, or else the Republican nominee for president wouldn’t have spent his evening yesterday proposing a new health care entitlement. More to the point, if big government hadn’t won, we wouldn’t have Trump as the Republican nominee in the first place. Rush is admitting a simple truth here in so many words: Most Republican voters don’t view through the world through a sharp ideological lens, especially when it comes to economic policy. If you doubt that, go find a poll measuring GOP support for protecting Medicare or raising the minimum wage. There’s no getting around this. Big government won, even on the right, and Trump is the ultimate proof.
What do you do, if you’re America’s most famous conservative talk radio host and you’re staring down the barrel of the fact that even your own party doesn’t much care about conservatism? You can rail against it and try to persuade them to reconsider small government — but you’ve spent 30 years doing that and it hasn’t worked, and if you double down now you’re going to alienate listeners, especially if it leads you to attack their new leader, Trump. You go that route and you’re gambling your status as an influential right-winger on it. The other move you can make is to go along to get along, noting in passing that you might personally prefer smaller government but most Americans don’t and, well, under the circumstances maybe we shouldn’t get so hung up on that anymore. The debate’s over. We lost. All that’s left now is to salvage what we can by supporting the candidate who’s a bit closer to conservatism than the other is. What this is, in other words, is a sort of apologia for the last 16 months of Rush’s show. If you’re annoyed that he insists on “analyzing” the election every day instead of calling Trump out sternly for his left-wing tendencies, well, that’s because you’re still under a delusion that conservatism is viable in America. It isn’t, so let’s deal with reality as it is. This is Rush waving the white flag. And he’s not necessarily wrong to do so. I just don’t know what the point of his show is now.
It appears Rush is going to cast his lot with the "analysis" schtick:

You can read the transcript of his whole monologue here, but let me highlight this part. If you want to know what most, not all, of conservative talk radio might sound like during a Trump presidency, this is a fine example. A new government entitlement? Well, people like that stuff. At least it’s better than Hillary’s plan. If Republican voters prefer this sort of thing to conservatism, why dwell on it? Most of conservative media will do nothing whatsoever to hold President Trump in check. Rush is telling you that, in his own way, up front.
RUSH: Look, bottom line: I am the last person on earth who wants any expansion of the government. But I am also the first person on earth to understand that we have a mess in child care because of government and because of the left. We have a mess. As I read through Ivanka’s piece, it seems to me that there’s more weight given to lowering taxes — tax deductions for child and elderly care. It seems like that’s every bit as important in her plan, Trump’s plan, as is the expansion of government. 
There’s another way of looking at this, too, folks. In looking at Trump’s plan for child care and maternity leave and elderly care, conservatives can lament that it’s not the Ted Cruz plan. “Oh, my God! If this was Cruz, we’d have 10% flat tax and be done and there wouldn’t be any of this mess.” You can look at it that way as, “Oh, what if,” or you can look at the Trump plan and describe what it does and compare it to Hillary’s, assuming she presents one after recovering from what may be the mildest case of pneumonia in history. 
That, it seems to me, is what the comparison needs to be. Other than an intellectual exercise, you can’t say, “Oh, what could have been! Oh, how bad! Oh, I told you!” I know there’s a whole bunch of I told you so’s out there, but I think politically… You wait. I think just for people that are not ideological — which is a hell of a lot of people in this country. I think they’re gonna respond so positively to this, and it’s gonna disappoint a lot of people. “Oh, my God, do people not even understand the whole concept of Big Government destroying the country?” They don’t, folks. They don’t look at it the way you and I do in that regard.
Is this what Rush wants to do with his time for the next four years? Reassuring his not-very-conservative listeners that Trump’s latest proposal may be a complete betrayal of what Rush himself believes but that, politically, it’s a “home run”?
But at least Rush tried to maintain this objective-analyst stance. Those talk-show hosts who were positively giddy about Trump from the moment he announced are now obligated to those whom they have whipped into a frenzy to be overtly supportive of this child care plan Ivanka has pushed her father into.

Then there are those such as Mark Levin, who have with supreme reluctance moved from a #NeverTrump stance to declaring that they will vote for him, but are going to continue to call him out for these decidedly un-conservative policy pronouncements.

My position is most nearly aligned with that of Guy Benson:

Given today's state of play, I continue to criticize Trump, occasionally harshly, when it's warranted.  But I'm currently using much more of my time and energyleveraging my various platforms to point out the disqualifying flaws of the Democratic nominee.  I also do not expend almost any of my efforts trying to dissuade people from voting for Trump.  In many cases, I understand and respect the calculation they've made.  I will, however, defend my choice to cast my one little vote as a firm "none of the above" statement.  My partisanship has its limits.  And I will also continue to push back hard against faulty accusations that all or most 'Never Trump' conservatives are driven by ulterior motives, or that our refusal to embrace this man means we are in favor of Hillary Clinton.  If Trump loses in less than two months, I will fight against the inevitable cries that people like me are responsible for his failure -- as opposed to the many, many factors that led me to discern that he is unelectablelong ago.  A Trump loss would rest squarely on the shoulders of the candidate, his campaign, and the people who thought it was a good idea to nominate him.  I'd spend the ensuing four years adamantly opposing much of (::shudder::) President Clinton's agenda, and praying for the health of conservative judges across the country.  
If he should win, I'll admit that I was wrong about his viability (I've consistently pegged his chances of prevailing at about 20 percent, largely because his opponent is so terrible), celebrate America's delicious rejection of Mrs. Clinton, relish the brutal affront to Obamaism, and set about supporting and opposing Trump's actions in office, as necessary. I appreciate that many will disagree with this approach, but it's the best I've got under the circumstances.  My job, as I see it, is to offer political reporting, analysis, and commentary rooted in reason and prudential judgment, and guided by a moral compass -- and to do so with intellectual honesty and transparency.  In that spirit, I offer this explanation of where I stand, where I don't stand, and why.
Which gets us back to the clarification of just what conservatism is that began this post. If it's about anything, it's about immutability.

I have yet to hear an excuse from an "objective analyst" like Rush, let alone a Trump-bot like Laura Ingraham for the rudderlessness that Trump routinely demonstrates. Yes, a huge swath of the electorate is fed up, not only with the arrogance of the statist overlords, their squish enablers across the aisle and the mass media which don't even bother with the pretense of credibility anymore, but with the ineffectiveness of actual conservatives of the past thirty years. I get it. They have not been able to stop the "A"CA, transgender bathrooms, the perpetuation of lies about cops and race, illegal immigration, solar-energy subsidies or North Korean nuclear tests.

But the immutable principles remain.

And they remain the only hope for escaping the doom into which we're plunging headlong.

That's why outlets such as this blog maintain the position they do regarding Donald Trump.

There is no doubt that we are a tipping point, but let's be clear about the nature of that tipping point. It's not just about keeping the hands of the Clinton machine and the Democrat party off the levers of power.

It's about continuing to make available to humankind a blessed possibility that had not even been considered until 240 years ago, and is about to be removed from humankind's array of possibilities again.

Maybe I'm talking about faith. Maybe I'm talking about refusing to acquiesce to the argument that "here is where we are, and the way forward leaves no room for might-have-beens."

The last of the candidates who might have championed the immutable principles may be gone, but the principles still remain.

Those of us who hold this position are not morally preening. We are refusing to let loose of truth.

Without that life preserver, drowning is a certainty.

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