The death of con­ser­va­tivism again and again . .

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Through­out my new book, “Af­ter the Han­gover: The Con­ser­va­tives’ Road to Re­cov­ery,” I posit a se­ries of ob­ser­va­tions pro­voked by the lib­eral me­dia’s pro­nounce­ment af­ter the 2008 elec­tions that con­ser­vatism is dead. We con­ser­va­tives have been hear­ing this claim on a reg­u­lar ba­sis since mod­ern Amer­i­can con­ser­vatism’s birth in the 1950s and even af­ter the Rea­gan revo­lu­tion re­shaped main­stream Amer­i­can pol­i­tics ac­cord­ing to con­ser­va­tive val­ues.

Calmly, pa­tiently, even avun­cu­larly in “Af­ter the Han­gover,” I quote the obit­u­ar­ies for con­ser­vatism, paus­ing to note the ob­vi­ous: The con­ser­va­tive corpse has arisen again. Then I ob­serve some­thing sur­pris­ing, to wit, the re­peated death notices that lib­er­al­ism has re­ceived, be­gin­ning with the tri­umphs of Ron­ald Rea­gan. I based these and sub­se­quent ob­ser­va­tions on solid news ac­counts, polling data and sim­ple acts of log­i­cal de­duc­tion. I go on to posit sev­eral of my care­fully ar­rived-at the­ses about con­tem­po­rary pol­i­tics, which I hope are at once in­struc­tive and amus­ing. Pol­i­tics, af­ter all, is of­ten amus­ing.

My des­ig­na­tion “kul­tursmog” is fun­da­men­tal to un­der­stand­ing the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal scene and the con­di­tion of con­ser­vatism. Kul­tursmog is the be­fouled con­di­tion of our me­dia and our po­lit­i­cal cul­ture, pol­luted as they are by lib­er­al­ism. An aware­ness of the lib­er­als’ pol­lu­tion of Amer­i­can cul­ture has been abroad in the land at least since Nov. 13, 1969, when a re­cent con­vert to con­ser­vatism, Vice Pres­i­dent Spiro T. Agnew, first raised the is­sue to a na­tional au­di­ence dur­ing a speech in Des Moines, Iowa. In­ter­est­ingly, the speech was writ­ten by a Nixon speech­writer, Pat Buchanan, who went on to make quite a mark as a con­ser­va­tive.

Lib­eral me­dia ap­pa­ratchiks de­nied ev­ery­thing, but they did be­gin their self-con­scious prac­tice of open­ing an “opin­ion page” to writ­ers dis­sent­ing from the lib­eral or­tho­doxy. The New York Times even in­vited a speech­writer from the Nixon White House, Wil­liam Safire, to be­come a Times colum­nist. Since then, the kul­tursmog has re­mained un­treated. Its pres­ence ex­plains an­other of my the­ses in “Af­ter the Han­gover,” the marginal­iza­tion of con­ser­va­tives even in time of con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal pre­pon­der­ance, for in­stance, dur­ing the Rea­gan 1980s, the Gin­grich Congress and the pres­i­dency of Ge­orge W. Bush.

This marginal­iza­tion is not caused only by the un­wel­com­ing gases of the kul­tursmog. It is also caused by what I re­gard as a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween con­ser­va­tives and lib­er­als. Namely the con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal libido is re­strained by com­par­i­son to the lib­er­als’ po­lit­i­cal libido, which is pos­i­tively in­clement. Thus, the con­ser­va­tives’ po­lit­i­cal fail­ings are of­ten the prod­uct of in­ac­tion, while the lib­er­als’ are the prod­uct of hy­per­ac­tiv­ity. The con­se­quence of the kul­tursmog and of the pro­found dif­fer­ence be­tween the po­lit­i­cal libido of the con­ser­va­tive and that of the lib­eral is that con­ser­va­tives man­i­fest what an­thro­pol­o­gists study­ing Caribbean so­ci­ety iden­tify as “crab an­tics.” Crabs at the bot­tom of a bucket, when the bucket is tipped, pull one an­other back in the scram­ble to reach the top. Con­ser­va­tives pull one an­other back, too. That might ex­plain why so few high­qual­ity lead­ers are rec­og­niz­able among con­ser­va­tive in­tel­lec­tu­als and politi­cians. As I hope I make clear in the book, the con­ser­va­tive lead­ers are out there.

Doubt­less, lead­ers will be rec­og­nized. I re­mem­ber Ron­ald Rea­gan’s brief cam­paign in 1968, his more suc­cess­ful cam­paign in 1976 and his elec­tion in 1980. In each elec­tion, I did my small bit. Not all con­ser­va­tives shared my con­fi­dence in him. His man­i­fest tal­ents eluded them. Yet, at least dur­ing those early years of the con­ser­va­tive move­ment, we did not have to over­come prob­lems that ac­cu­mu­lated dur­ing the pres­i­dency of Ge­orge W. Bush; when, as the fa­mous long­shore­man philoso­pher Eric Hoffer once an­tic­i­pated, a “great cause” de­scended into a “busi­ness” and then into a “racket.” The Bush years wit­nessed the ar­rival of the con­ser­va­tive hus­tler. Some­times the hus­tlers were crooks, such as Jack Abramoff. Other times they were the in­tel­lec­tual op­por­tunists who thought they could ad­vance in the kul­tursmog by tut-tut­ting es­tab­lished con­ser­va­tives. I have in mind such re­formed con­ser­va­tives as the Da­vid­i­ans, David Brooks and David Frum(p), and the oc­ca­sional mini-cons, for in­stance, Tucker Carl­son, and now crowned by a Pulitzer for her sem­piter­nal chid­ing of con­ser­va­tives, Kath­leen Parker. Let us hope for Miss Parker’s sake that she is not found guilty of pla­gia­rism or fab­ri­ca­tion as nowa­days hap­pens with Pulitzer man­nequins.

For­tu­nately, as has hap­pened ev­ery time that con­ser­vatism has plateaued and sub­sided from 1964 on, con­ser­vatism re­cov­ers and comes back stronger. Mean­while, lib­eral- ism, hav­ing episod­i­cally given it­self over to its rav­ing pas­sions, ap­palls the av­er­age Amer­i­can voter and en­joys ever-briefer pe­ri­ods in of­fice.

To­day, af­ter nearly a half-cen­tury of these os­cil­la­tions, con­ser­vatism is the most pop­u­lar po­lit­i­cal des­ig­na­tion in the coun­try, out­polling even mod­er­ates and out­num­ber­ing lib­er­als by a ra­tio of 2-to-1. If the process con­tin­ues, as I pre­dict it will, the lib­er­als’ pop­u­lar­ity even­tu­ally will be on a par with that of the Amer­i­can Pro­hi­bi­tion Party. Even nud­ists will be more nu­mer­ous, par­tic­u­larly in Cal­i­for­nia.

What is has­ten­ing this de­cline is not only the lib­er­als’ propen­sity for im­mod­er­a­tion but also the kul­tursmog’s threat from what I have called new me­dia, which is to say, the ris­ing con­ser­va­tive coun­ter­cul­ture. Talk ra­dio, cable talk shows, the In­ter­net, the es­tab­lished con­ser­va­tive think tanks and the mag­a­zines of the con­ser­va­tive move­ment are all flour­ish­ing and sum­mon­ing com­pelling per­son­al­i­ties armed with the tried-and-true ideas of the con­ser­va­tive move­ment. Fox News alone brings in more rev­enue than the com­bined rev­enue of CNN, MSNBC and the evening news broad­casts of what are called “the net­works,” ABC, CBS and NBC — all re­li­able smokestack­s for the kul­tursmog. Time, Newsweek, the New York Times and the Washington Post are like­wise fi­nan­cially frag­ile.

With this shift, it is go­ing to be ever more dif­fi­cult for the re­formed con­ser­va­tives and the Da­vid­i­ans to ex­ploit the kul­tursmog and make names for them­selves. David Frum(p) has al­most com­pletely slipped from sight. To get pub­lic at­ten­tion again, he will have to jump off Washington’s Me­mo­rial Bridge.

Viewed from the per­spec­tive of his­tory, the lib­er­als have been in a long, slow, but ap­par­ently un­avoid­able de­cline since the 1960s. That is about the time when, for them, his­tory stopped. From their ex­cesses in the early Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, it is clear that they com­pletely missed the 1980s and 1990s. They have be­come fan­ta­sists. They be­lieve all the leg­ends that they have cre­ated for them­selves in the kul­tursmog. As one af­ter an­other is de­feated at the polls, it might be dif­fi­cult to get them to va­cate their of­fices. Spe­cial coun­selors may have to be called in. Some lib­eral politi­cos have al­ready availed them­selves to sex coun­selors. I have in mind our 42nd pres­i­dent. Oth­ers have em­ployed anger man­age­ment coun­selors. Af­ter the 2010 con­gres­sional elec­tions, there will be many evic­tions. They must be han­dled del­i­cately.

Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal cen­ter is now a cen­ter shaped by con­ser­vatism. With the growth of the con­ser­va­tive coun­ter­cul­ture, the prospects are good for con­ser­vatism now to do what it should have done in the 1980s and act not merely like a po­lit­i­cal party, but like a po­lit­i­cal cul­ture.

Fi­nally, the con­ser­va­tives can stop pulling back one an­other. They stand poised to cre­ate what the New Deal cre­ated, a new or­der. His­tory rarely re­peats it­self, but it does oc­ca­sion­ally ap­prox­i­mate it­self.

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