Uni­fied con­ser­va­tives: That’s the ticket in 2012

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

Ihad the honor of speak­ing at the re­cent Faith and Free­dom Coali­tion con­fer­ence, at which most of the can­di­dates for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion were the star at­trac­tions. The con­fer­ence, led by Ralph Reed, brought to­gether the nation’s lead­ing “so­cial con­ser­va­tives.”

Politico’s re­port­ing of the two-day event typ­i­fied the tone. “The day af­ter Ha­ley Bar­bour im­plored the crowd not to put ide­o­log­i­cal pu­rity over prag­ma­tism for the gen­eral elec­tion as they pick a 2012 GOP can­di­date, Rick San­to­rum took to the podium at the Faith and Free­dom Coali­tion con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton to make a dif­fer­ent case. In a strong pitch to the mostly evan­gel­i­cal crowd on Satur­day morn­ing, the for­mer Penn­syl­va­nia sen­a­tor cast so­cial con­ser­va­tive is­sues as the defin­ing ones for the coun­try — and for the Repub­li­can Party.”

It is true that many con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tors and some can­di­dates see so­cial con­ser­vatism and eco­nomic con­ser­vatism in both con­cep­tual and elec­toral competition with each other. Cer­tainly, Demo­cratic Party strate­gists hope that is how the two main com­po­nents of mod­ern con­ser­vatism see each other.

Be­cause Amer­ica has been a right-of-cen­ter coun­try since our found­ing, con­ser­va­tives tend to lose na­tional elec­tions when we are the vic­tims — of­ten self-in­flicted — of the lib­eral strat­egy against us of di­vide and rule — what James Madi­son called the “repro­bated strat­egy of tyranny.” Once again this sea­son, well-in­ten­tioned con­ser­va­tives and Repub­li­cans see an ide­o­log­i­cal con­flict that need not ex­ist.

My un­der­stand­ing of con­ser­vatism and my ex­pe­ri­ence in pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns, start­ing in Barry Gold­wa­ter’s 1964 pri­mary cam­paign in Cal­i­for­nia against Nel­son Rock­e­feller, is to the con­trary. Strong sup­port for tra­di­tion, cus­tom, moral be­hav­ior and re­li­gious faith (so-called so­cial con­ser­vatism) is the equal hand­maiden of free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism ad­vo­cacy. They are the two parts that make up the one, whole con­cept of po­lit­i­cal con­ser­vatism.

This con­cep­tual unity of prin­ci­ple was es­tab­lished at the very found­ing of cap­i­tal­ism. The ef­fi­cacy of free mar­kets was most fa­mously ar­tic­u­lated by Adam Smith in 1776 when he pub­lished “Wealth of Na­tions.” But Smith had first de­scribed the moral con­text in which cap­i­tal­ism could be suc­cess­ful in his ear­lier book, “The The­ory of Moral Sen­ti­ments,” pub­lished in 1759.

It is only the force of moral sen­ti­ment that bri­dles cap­i­tal­ism from de­gen­er­at­ing into pure ma­te­ri­al­ism. And un­bri­dled, pure ma­te­ri­al­ism — whether of the left or right — ends up in reigns of ter­ror, gu­lags and holo­causts.

These prin­ci­ples were very well rep­re­sented in Gold­wa­ter’s 1964 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, al­though re­cently it has be­come fash­ion­able to mis­char­ac­ter­ize Gold­wa­ter — the po­lit­i­cal fa­ther of mod­ern Amer­i­can con­ser­vatism — as lib­er­tar­ian on re­li­gious and so­cial is­sues.

In his book, “Con­science of a Con­ser­va­tive,” and in the 1964 cam­paign he was any­thing but lib­er­tar­ian on so­cial is­sues.

It was my first cam­paign and I re­mem­ber it pretty well.

Andrew Busch’s 2006 ar­ti­cle “The Gold­wa­ter Myth” in the Clare­mont Re­view is ex­cel­lent on this topic, and from it, I have re­freshed my rec­ol­lec­tion of Gold­wa­ter’s pre­cise words from half a cen­tury ago.

Con­sider how Gold­wa­ter as­serted his re­li­gious “so­cial con­ser­va­tive” prin­ci­ples to rein- force his con­ser­va­tive eco­nomic prin­ci­ples. In his ac­cep­tance speech, he ar­gued, “Free­dom un­der a gov­ern­ment lim­ited by the laws of na­ture and of na­ture’s God. . . . Those who el­e­vate the state and down­grade the cit­i­zen must see ul­ti­mately a world in which earthly power can be sub­sti­tuted for Divine Will, and this nation was founded upon the re­jec­tion of that no­tion and upon the ac­cep­tance of God as the au­thor of free­dom.”

That is the foun­da­tion of an ar­gu­ment that could be used ef­fec­tively to­day against the hubris­tic gov­ern­ment pow­ers in­stalled un­der Oba­macare — mak­ing both an “eco­nomic” and a “so­cial” con­ser­va­tive case.

Con­sider how the vi­tal con­ser­va­tive case for free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism is made more pow­er­ful, more com­plete, in the first chap­ter of Gold­wa­ter’s book:

“The root dif­fer­ence be­tween the con­ser­va­tives and the lib­er­als of to­day is that con­ser­va­tives take ac­count of the whole man, while lib­er­als tend to look only at the ma­te­rial side of man’s na­ture.

“The con­ser­va­tive be­lieves that man is, in part, an eco­nomic, an an­i­mal crea­ture; but that he is also a spir­i­tual crea­ture with spir­i­tual needs and spir­i­tual de­sires.

“What is more, those needs and de­sires re­flect the su­pe­rior side of man’s na­ture, and thus take prece­dence over his eco­nomic wants. Con­ser­vatism there­fore looks upon the en­hance­ment of man’s spir­i­tual na­ture as the pri­mary concern of po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy. Man’s most sa­cred pos­ses­sion is his in­di­vid­ual soul.”

Repub­li­can pri­mary vot­ers should be look­ing for the can­di­date who best ar­tic­u­lates the bal­anced case for con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ing prin­ci­ples.

We should be look­ing for the can­di­date who unites us into a na­tional ma­jor­ity, not the ones who di­vide us into our mere com­po­nent parts.

Sir Ed­ward Coke, the great 17th-cen­tury English com­mon law ju­rist, im­plored Par­lia­ment to work to­gether and avoid be­ing the vic­tims of the tac­tic of di­vide and rule: “Eri­tis in­su­per­abiles, si fueri­tis in­sep­a­ra­biles.” (“You would be in­su­per­a­ble if you were in­sep­a­ra­ble.”)

So, if we bet­ter un­der­stand the whole­ness of our po­lit­i­cal prin­ci­ples, we will unite in win­ning the 2012 elec­tion for con­ser­vatism rather than di­vide in our dis­sent and thus re-elect Pres­i­dent Obama.

Tony Blank­ley is the au­thor of “Amer­i­can Grit: What It Will Take to Sur­vive and Win in the 21st Cen­tury” (Reg­n­ery, 2009).

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