The con­ser­va­tive civil war

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Belt­way con­ser­va­tives are turn­ing against Rush Lim­baugh. The most re­cent as­sas­sin is David Frum. The for­mer Bush speech­writer and fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute wrote an ar­ti­cle, “Why Rush is wrong,” in the March 16 edi­tion of Newsweek, at­tack­ing the pop­u­lar talk ra­dio host.

Mr. Frum ar­gues that Mr. Lim­baugh should not be the “pub­lic face” of the con­ser­va­tive move­ment. Mr. Frum says Mr. Lim­baugh is caught in a time warp, cham­pi­oning small gov­ern­ment and tax cuts when eco­nomic re­al­i­ties have changed. Mr. Frum crit­i­cizes Mr. Lim­baugh‘s Feb. 28 speech at the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Action Con­fer­ence. Mr. Frum also ex­co­ri­ates Mr. Lim­baugh for say­ing he hopes Pres­i­dent Obama fails. This sup­pos­edly puts con­ser­va­tives on the de­fen­sive, mak­ing us look mean, petty and un­sym­pa­thetic to the suf­fer­ing of Amer­i­cans dur­ing the fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

More­over, Mr. Frum main­tains that Mr. Lim­baugh’s ma­cho, cigar­chomp­ing, bom­bas­tic per­son­al­ity, com­bined with his an­gry lib­er­tar­ian pop­ulism is driv­ing key seg­ments of the elec­torate — women, His­pan­ics, in­de­pen­dents and col­lege grad­u­ates — away from the Repub­li­can Party. In his view, Mr. Frum wants to “en­large” the Repub­li­can coali­tion while Mr. Lim­baugh seeks to “nar­row” it in the name of doc­tri­nal pu­rity.

Mr. Frum is part of a grow­ing num­ber of elit­ist con­ser­va­tives seek­ing to re­vamp and rede­fine the po­lit­i­cal right. Oth­ers in­clude David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Rei­han Salam, Ramesh Pon­nuru and Newt Gin­grich.

Th­ese con­ser­va­tives are am­a­teur Machi­avel­lians pos­ing as so­phis­ti­cated po­lit­i­cal strate­gists. They of­fer pol­icy pre­scrip­tions that will sup­pos­edly trans­form the GOP into a na­tional gov­ern­ing ma­jor­ity once again. How­ever, they are ef­fete pol­icy wonks who lack firm prin­ci­ples. Dur­ing the 1990s, Mr. Frum ar­gued that the prob­lem with Repub­li­cans is they lacked the will to fight the lib­eral rul­ing class. They had aban­doned their anti-statist, tax-cut­ting, so­cially con­ser­va­tive roots.

Now, he ar­gues the very op­po­site: It’s time for the GOP to ac­com­mo­date pre­vail­ing so­cial lib­eral forces. Mr. Frum rec­om­mends that the GOP jet­ti­son in­come tax cuts and em­brace freemar­ket health-care re­form. He sug­gests Repub­li­cans adopt proen­vi­ron­ment poli­cies and gay rights. He also wants the party to be more re­cep­tive to pro-choice vice pres­i­den­tial candidates such as Tom Ridge who, if cho­sen as John McCain’s run­ning mate, would have made Penn­syl­va­nia more com­pet­i­tive in the Novem­ber elec­tion.

In other words, Mr. Frum now wants to cre­ate a pro­gres­sive con- ser­vatism char­ac­ter­ized by ex­pand­ing health-care cov­er­age, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and hos­til­ity — or at least in­dif­fer­ence — to tra­di­tional val­ues. This is not adapt­ing con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples to cur­rent re­al­i­ties, but di­lut­ing them to the point that they morph into lib­er­al­ism. He is not sav­ing con­ser­vatism; he is de­stroy­ing it.

Mr. Frum is con­sis­tently wrong. For ex­am­ple, he has led the charge in de­fense of un­con­trolled im­mi­gra­tion, claim­ing it is good for busi­ness and Amer­ica. When con­ser­va­tives point out that no na­tion can ab­sorb such a mas­sive in­flux of im­mi­grants — both le­gal and il­le­gal — without pro­found so­cial and eco­nomic dis­lo­ca­tions, Mr. Frum dis­misses them as “na­tivists.” The very His­pan­ics vot­ing for the Democrats by large ma­jori­ties are the di­rect re­sult of the open-bor­ders poli­cies ad­vo­cated by the likes of Mr. Frum.

Mr. Frum has taken credit for coin­ing the phrase “Axis of Evil.” He pre­dicted the war in Iraq would be quick, decisive and easy. In­stead, it has de­gen­er­ated into a pro­tracted, bloody ex­per­i­ment in na­tion-build­ing.

Elit­ist con­ser­va­tives, like Mr. Frum, are con­sumed by power. They are not gen­uine, in­de­pen­dent pub­lic in­tel­lec­tu­als. Rather, they serve as the com­mu­ni­ca­tions arm of the GOP. Ideas are sim­ply pieces on a chess­board in which to check­mate the Demo­cratic op­po­si­tion. Prin­ci­ples, truth, moral­ity — they are all ex­pend­able in the grand game of pol­i­tics. They are de­ra­ci­nated nar­cis­sists who live in a pol­icy bub­ble and are de­tached from the val­ues and in­ter­ests of Mid­dle Amer­ica.

What Mr. Frum and his ilk don’t un­der­stand is that most vot­ers don’t care about free-mar­ket health-care re­form — or other bou­tique pol­icy is­sues, such as hy­brid cars, health sav­ings ac­counts or par­tially pri­va­tiz­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity. Vot­ers do care about the state of the coun­try. What they have seen un­der Repub­li­can rule dur­ing the Bush years has been colos­sal in­com­pe­tence: ram­pant cor­rup­tion, ru­n­away spending, soar­ing deficits, fail­ing schools, bro­ken bor­ders, cor­po­rate plu­toc­racy and quag­mire in the Mid­dle East.

The GOP has lost the elec­torate’s trust as a re­spon­si­ble party ca­pa­ble of gov­ern­ing. Pos­ing as pro­gres­sive Repub­li­cans will not solve the prob­lem. In fact, it will only re­in­force the elec­torate’s cyn­i­cism about the GOP’s lack of prin­ci­ples and hon­esty.

The Repub­li­can Party is sup­posed to be not only the con­ser­va­tive party, but the na­tion­al­ist party. It has stood for great tran­scen­den­tal causes — abol­ish­ing slav­ery, pre­serv­ing the con­sti­tu­tional repub­lic of lim­ited gov­ern­ment and fed­er­al­ism, de­feat­ing to­tal­i­tar­ian com­mu­nism. If it aban­dons the sem­i­nal is­sues of our time — the de­fense of the fam- ily and the un­born — then it has lost its his­tor­i­cal pur­pose. So­cial con­ser­va­tives and pro-lif­ers will leave in droves. The GOP will be­come morally and ide­o­log­i­cally rud­der­less; its var­i­ous fac­tions will frac­ture, re­duc­ing a on­ce­dom­i­nant party into a rump.

Many elit­ist con­ser­va­tives — in­clud­ing Mr. Frum — backed for­mer New York Mayor Rudy Gi­u­liani to be the 2008 Repub­li­can stan­dard-bearer, even though it threat­ened to rup­ture the GOP. He was their dream can­di­date: pro-choice, pro-gay rights, proen­vi­ron­ment, pro-im­mi­gra­tion, pro-ed­u­ca­tion re­form — the ideal nom­i­nee for women, in­de­pen­dents and ed­u­cated pro­fes­sion­als. Mr. Gi­u­liani’s can­di­dacy, how­ever, crashed and burned. His fail­ure should have served as a warn­ing.

First, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was dis­par­aged by the elit­ist right. Now, Mr. Lim­baugh is the tar­get. Mrs. Palin en­er­gized ac­tivists across the coun­try, and Mr. Lim­baugh and talk ra­dio mo­bi­lize and get the mes­sage out to tens of mil­lions of lis­ten­ers.

By con­trast, elit­ist con­ser­va­tives sit in their ivory tow­ers build­ing cas­tles in the sky as their coun­try burns.

Jef­frey T. Kuh­ner is a colum­nist at The Wash­ing­ton Times and pres­i­dent of the Ed­mund Burke In­sti­tute, a Wash­ing­ton pol­icy in­sti­tute.

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