The reasons for the dismay of those on the right are easy to state. In short, they see an ongoing, and in some ways, accelerating erosion of the political philosophy and cultural mores that strongly defined the nation from the eighteenth century until the beginning of the twentieth.
When reporting the results of exit polls in Republican presidential primaries, the media often offers up the numbers according to various groupings. Common categories that are meant to identify the different components of the right wing of the Republican Party include: Tea Party supporters, those who consider themselves very conservative and Evangelical Christians. Many in these far from disjoint camps, as well as some libertarians, are of the opinion that the fundamental political/cultural structure of the country is broken. This is a serious accusation – one that is likely to be ridiculed by those on the left and which, in addition, will probably mystify those in the middle.
The purpose here is to explain why those who believe that the Republic is in need of repair feel as they do; then to describe why liberals consider the charge ridiculous, and also what accounts for the puzzlement in the middle. Lastly, the question of whether any conservative political or cultural leaders are really attempting to change the country’s progressive politics and corrupted culture is taken up.
The reasons for the dismay of those on the right are easy to state. In short, they see an ongoing, and in some ways, accelerating erosion of the political philosophy and cultural mores that strongly defined the nation from the eighteenth century until the beginning of the twentieth. The original political philosophy emphasized individual liberty as the raison d’être for the US, to be achieved via: separation and strict enumeration of powers in a representative, but sharply limited government; equality before the law; federalism; and sovereignty of the people, not the government. The cultural mores embraced: free markets; American exceptionalism; strong families and communities; pursuit and promotion of virtues like modesty, honesty, industriousness and tolerance; strong morals grounded in religious faith; and rugged individualism.
This entire program has been under relentless assault by progressives for a century and – sad to say – they have been remarkably successful in undermining it. Those who believe that the original political/cultural structure of the nation has been drastically altered see, in its stead: a gargantuan federal government that is bankrupting the nation via profligate, irresponsible spending and crippling its markets via obtrusive, irrational and counterproductive regulation; liberty sacrificed before the alter of equality and fairness; the vassalization of the States by an exceedingly powerful central government; infidelity to the Constitution; a land of opportunity morphing into an entitlement society; the denigration of American history; the destruction of the family through the encouragement of promiscuity, out of wedlock conception and same-sex marriage; marginalization of religion and its virtual banishment from the national discourse. The list could be extended, but one can sum up with the observation that early twenty first century America looks less and less like the society envisioned by Locke, Montesquieu, Jefferson or Madison – to whose ideals we were faithful for more than a century – and more and more like a Euro-style, social welfare state in which a massive, benignly-intentioned, but tyrannical central government dominates the lives of its citizens. In the process, said government destroys liberty, hobbles the economy, weakens the nation’s defenses and corrupts the people’s morals. That is not the country for which our forefathers pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor.
Any liberal who reads the preceding would deem its author at best sadly mistaken and at worst completely daft. Liberals/progressives are motivated by the conviction that while the society established by our Founders might have been appropriate for a small, agrarian, homogeneous country in the eighteenth century, it is completely inadequate for the governance of a third millennium nation that is vast, diverse and post-industrial. Anyway, the original structure was deeply flawed by its acquiescence to slavery, ill treatment of women, jingoistic patriotism and neglect of the downtrodden. The changes that the Progressive movement has brought to America have made it a fairer, more just and enlightened society. Conservatives indulge their reactionary fantasies when they envision a return to “founding principles.” Au contraire, we must strive to perfect America further by completing the progressive tasks left unfinished thus far.
And then there are those “in the middle” who either rue or are mystified by one or both of the two opposite points of view just enumerated. They consider hardcore conservatives or dyed-in-the-wool liberals to be extreme. They see some value – and much craziness – in both sides and feel that the correct course is to select what is beneficial to the country from each and disregard the rest.
The author considers himself on the right (not to mention in the right). I see the country’s structure as broken and I believe that the continuing progressive onslaught will eventually – if it has not already – destroy the constitutional republic established by the Founders. But in some ways my greatest scorn is reserved for the puzzled folks in the middle. The lefties have a clear vision of where they want to take the country. They are tragically wrong in their goals and it will be our ruination if they succeed. But they are clear-headed about their aims. The moderates, centrists and independents are, on the other hand, either confused, apathetic or inattentive. They try to tread a line in between traditionalists and radicals. But the visions of the left and right are irreconcilable and it is logically incoherent to attempt to blend them or cherry pick from between them. In fact, because the national conversation has been so skewed to the left for so long, the mystified middlemen wind up, in the end, the unwitting accomplices of the left in the implementation of the Progressive agenda. It is clearly, therefore, an urgent task for rightists to help the centrists to see the tea leaves as they truly are – and to convince them of the justice of the cause of restoring America’s original political/cultural structure.
So is that happening? Are there any conservative political or cultural leaders who see the situation clearly and are attempting to do something about it? Among the “final four,” not so much. Gingrich represents those who understand, but who are so undisciplined, quixotic or self-aggrandizing that they are willing to subvert the cause by sitting on the couch with Nancy Pelosi. Santorum represents those who are sincere, but also basically clueless about the opposition. If they gained influence and power, they wouldn’t know what to do with it. (OK, Santorum has dropped out; but “final three” is not so catchy.) Then there is Paul, who understands, but whose solutions only address half the problem. His policies in pursuit of the other half might make matters worse. Finally, Romney, an “establishment Republican,” might actually understand but fears that expressing such an understanding is neither a means to power nor a way to exercise it should he get it.
There are indeed some who are trying valiantly: Paul Ryan, Jim DeMint, Mike Pence among the politicians; various pundits like Rush Limbaugh; business executives such as the Koch brothers; entertainers like Jon Voight; and Foundation heads like Edwin Feulner (Heritage), Edward Crane (Cato) and Arthur Brooks (American Enterprise Institute). But I am not so sure that the people want to be led where these conservative leaders would take them. The Founders were great leaders. But they took the people where the people already wanted to go. If there is to be a conservative restoration, it can only come about if the people wish it. Unfortunately, for several generations, the people have been subjected to a progressive brainwashing by the mainstream media and government-controlled public schools. Perhaps that is where conservative leaders need to focus their efforts.