Doomed Again to Repeat the Past?
In Townhall Magazine's February 2013 "Closing Argument" section, S.E. Cupp provides Republicans with what she considers some sound and timely advice on the subject of how not to lose future presidential elections. Republicans, always in need of counsel and a quantum of solace after each new electoral or legislative defeat, might see in this a welcome and needed tonic.
Conservatives, however (many of whom happen to be Republicans), are now locked in a two-front political conflict. One front deals with the left and its main institutional representative, the Democratic party. The other comprises conservatives' own party, which has become a "centrist" party of Machiavellian political self-interest that tends many times to the left in practice if not in ideology.
Faced with an indigenous, ideologically committed progressive/socialist party on one hand and a Republican Party of philosophically shallow, Plasticine managerial elitists on the other who confront dedicated ideologues within the Democratic Party with technical discussions of policy, many conservatives now see themselves in open-ended political and cultural retreat.
The reason, Cupp says, why Obama won re-election despite a ruinous economic situation and any number of other open sores in the nation created by his presidency, has little to do with conservative ideas. While this is plausible on the surface, it may also well be true that the culture has changed, and changed substantially in the last thirty to forty years, and that we are now facing a fork in the cultural road that transcends electoral politics.
While the conservative intellectual movement has stood athwart history yelling, "stop," the Republican Party has acclimatized itself to a number of those changes. It has resisted them in some areas, true, but with ever less assertiveness over time and in a continual retreat from first principles into technocratic policy wonkism. The Democratic party - the party of Julia - is the party that speaks to those invested in those cultural changes. Given this, I propose a few amendments/corrections to Cupp's electoral advice.
First, Cupp says that the Democrats "aren't the Visigoths." "We won't," she says, "attract voters by convincing them liberals are terrible people." And yet, a large and growing sense of frustration, anger, and incomprehension has arisen (and not just recently) within both the conservative intellectual movement and the conservative grassroots regarding the inability, unwillingness, and apparent discomfort among many conservative Republicans when the time comes to do ideological battle and associate real names and faces with bad policy, bad ideas, and yes, real, palpable evil.
Even less in evidence is the ability or desire of many ostensibly conservative Republicans to defend their core values as a matter of first principles, and even less to subject leftist ideology and ideas to relentless, withering criticism for the same reason the left does this to conservative Republicans -- to delegitimize their ideas in the minds of the electorate.
This is the first ever-repeating doom we must avoid. The second, which is not just wrongheaded, but disastrous, is Cupp's counsel to cease engaging the left ideologically at all. While many leading conservatives and many in the grassroots believe that it was, to a great extent, Romney's and his campaign's utter failure to engage and defeat Obama and his ideology in the arena of ideas that contributed substantially to Romney's defeat, Cupp wants Republicans to back out of the marketplace of ideas even farther.
Two statements here are of particular interest. "Our policies," Cupp says, "exist apart from the president and apart from Democrats." We should explain and articulate our policies "without referencing the Left." We are to "banish the "'O' word" from our political vocabulary.
This is where conservatives have a responsibility to stand athwart the Republican Party yelling, "Stop!" To assume, as Cupp appears to do, that one's beliefs, values, and ideas can exist in a philosophical compartment apart from those that oppose them -- and which are therefore in direct and implacable competition with those ideas for the hearts and minds of a people -- seems startlingly naive. Here also we see the present tortuous electoral conflict between the state of the culture, the need to win elections, and the temptation to abandon core principles to appeal to that culture.
Months of upbeat, cheery pop-capitalism and patriotic pep-talking from Mitt Romney, nice as it was to hear, was not sufficient to do what needed to be done: grasp, hold, engage, and educate a progressively economically illiterate and intellectually inert American public about the fundamental principles of the Founding; why they are important; why they need to be understood, revered, and preserved; and why Barack Obama and his party are a threat to those founding principles. Romney, his campaign, and the Republican establishment failed (yet again) in this core necessity, and hence, the election fell to him who is always the last man standing: Santa Claus.
Too many establishment Republicans are trapped in the desire to escape hard, cultural truths, and even harder choices, at the expense of electoral success. Conservatism can win elections, but only by engaging the left vigorously where it's the most vulnerable: the marketplace of ideas.