A Movement Led by Sheep

Scanning today’s conservative movement, one cannot help but notice widespread lethargy.  Yes, scores of followers subscribe to its magazines, make tax-deductible donations, attend banquets, and usually vote as directed, but with few exceptions (e.g., the early days of the Tea Party), everything is rather perfunctory.  If the right does get agitated, this typically reflects loathing the left versus any crusader-like zeal for its own cause.

Let me offer an explanation: leaders on the right generally lack courage, and this deficiency undercuts enthusiasm.  Few are inclined to follow a spineless functionary into battle.  Alexander the Great explained it perfectly: an army of sheep led by a lion is more to be feared than an army of lions led by a sheep.  I cannot think of a single conservative leader or organization that could be, even slightly, characterized as lion-like “courageous.”  Energizing the troops has come to mean enticing big donors to open their wallets.   

Alexander the Great exemplified courage when he personally led the charge, even if gravely wounded and an easy target for his enemies.  Similarly, in 1794 when western Pennsylvania farmers offered armed resistance to paying a federal tax on whiskey, President George Washington personally commanded 13,000 militiamen to suppress the insurgency.

Courageous leadership is undoubtedly hardwired genetically as a survival trait, at least until now.  Tribes governed by wimps have long exited the gene pool.  It is hardly accidental that 19th-century Americans favored presidents who had personally displayed battlefield bravery: Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Ulysses S. Grant, and James Garfield among several others had demonstrated their mettle.  Meanwhile, today’s commanders-in-chief travel in huge motorcades, hidden from public view, with a “fake” presidential limousine, hundreds of security agents, even ambulances.

On a personal note, I recall my mother, a lifelong Roosevelt Democrat, shocking me in 1980 when she told me she planned to vote for Reagan.  She explained, “He’ll stand up to them!”  She was, of course, intuitively right.    

Note well, today’s courageousness does not require repeatedly risking life or limb.  The PC- dominated world is target-rich – how about a presidential candidate hinting that we may want to re-examine affirmative action or federal laws mandating strict gender equality?  These suggestions, even couched in the midlist language possible, are now unthinkable.  So much for moxie when challenging the left’s imposed taboos.

But, multiple opportunities for non-life-threatening displays of courage aside, conservative leaders remain cowards.  Indeed, those who manage candidates on the campaign trail are terrified that their charges will go off message and speak bluntly (i.e., honestly) about some “controversial” topic.  Recall Romney’s awkward effort in 2012 to walk back his blunt comments about so many Americans living off government largess.  So deep is this fear that today’s conservative luminaries even avoid once revered terms that the contemporary left deems “offensive” code words – colorblind, merit, self-reliance, and personal responsibility.  Alexander would certainly conclude that modern conservatives are led by timid, cowering sheep.  We live in a time of terror, but even conservatives worship the soft-hearted gods of multi-culturalism, diversity, and inclusion. 

The catalogue of conservatives displaying cowardice in protecting their own is lengthy, and only a few examples must suffice.  We all know about National Review’s Rich Lowry excommunicating John Derbyshire for his impolite racial truth-telling at Takimag.  Then there’s Heritage Foundation canning Jason Richwine in 2013 when he was “outed” for using scientific data to argue that welcoming low-IQ Mexicans would dumb America down.  Recall how Sam Francis was fired from the Washington Times for his racial heresies.  None of these excommunications involved slander, expressing scientifically incorrect thoughts, or physically harming anyone.  Nobody shouted “fire” in a crowded theater.  The sins were all about some vague offensiveness.

Overwhelmingly, however, today’s pusillanimity among conservatives occurs by omission – dogs that do not bark.  Call it self-sanitization or pre-emptive surrender.  I once attended a lunch sponsored by an eminent conservative organization about fixing Detroit.  During the two-hour event, total silence regarding Detroit’s large, troublesome black underclass as a possible source of the city’s travails.  The proposed solutions were totally inoffensive – building infrastructure and attracting industrious immigrants.  When an audience member asked about recruiting entrepreneurs to a city with the nation’s worst schools, Rick Snyder, Michigan’s Republican governor, explained that he had recently visited a Detroit school and found it exceptionally vibrant.  So much for speaking truth to power.

Such silent cowardice is typical.  If America’s educational woes are the subject of a conservative forum, don’t expect respectable conservatives to even hint of group shortcomings in cognitive ability and the shifting demography of America’s K-12 students.  Discussion will address sanitized ephemera – the alleged benefits of school choice, excessive power of teachers’ unions, the centralized curriculum, merit pay and tough testing, the curse of cultural Marxism, and teacher tenure.  Hardly surprising, since nearly all self-defined conservatives discussing education dread being labeled racists, haters, xenophobic believers in false stereotypes, or worse.  Better to get it wrong than cause trouble.

Ironically, compared to most places on the planet, America’s timid conservatives reside in free-speech Utopia.  Unlike Alexander leading his troops against the Persians, nobody will die.  Sad to say, some may lose their jobs or be socially ostracized, though much of this cost is avoidable, particularly for those with thick skins.  Challenging the value of diversity is not exactly defaming the Prophet while residing in Mecca.  Surely Heritage’s Jim DeMint could have painlessly stood by Jason Richwine by inviting critics to debate his IQ data at a Heritage forum.

In today’s America, “courage” is typically applied to closeted gays in entertainment and sports who announce their homosexuality or their decision to alter their genders to a standing ovation.  In effect, the word “brave” can apply only if nobody is offended.  Today’s Alexander would lead his troops against “the enemy,” since, he would explain, 99.9% of Persians are peaceful and thus do not deserve to be stigmatized.     

Chronic cowardice only emboldens the left to bully conservatives.  Al Sharpton and company know that the right almost universally has no stomach for being picketed by chanting rent-a-mob demonstrators carrying homemade signs.  Think about it: prestigious think-tanks with multi-million-dollar budgets, staffed by dozens of Ph.D.s, totally intimidated by a bunch of semi-literates.     

Can spines be stiffened?  I doubt it for the simple reason that blunt honesty (being a “loose cannon”) hinders fund-raising, and if forced to choose, funding trumps being “controversial.”  Walking on eggshells gets the big donations.   

Let’s hope that if the rabid left once more demand some heretic heads, their bosses will say, as King Leonidas did at the Battle of Thermopylae when the Persians demanded that the Greeks surrender their weapons: Molon labe (μολὼν λαβέ) – "Come and take them."

Scanning today’s conservative movement, one cannot help but notice widespread lethargy.  Yes, scores of followers subscribe to its magazines, make tax-deductible donations, attend banquets, and usually vote as directed, but with few exceptions (e.g., the early days of the Tea Party), everything is rather perfunctory.  If the right does get agitated, this typically reflects loathing the left versus any crusader-like zeal for its own cause.

Let me offer an explanation: leaders on the right generally lack courage, and this deficiency undercuts enthusiasm.  Few are inclined to follow a spineless functionary into battle.  Alexander the Great explained it perfectly: an army of sheep led by a lion is more to be feared than an army of lions led by a sheep.  I cannot think of a single conservative leader or organization that could be, even slightly, characterized as lion-like “courageous.”  Energizing the troops has come to mean enticing big donors to open their wallets.   

Alexander the Great exemplified courage when he personally led the charge, even if gravely wounded and an easy target for his enemies.  Similarly, in 1794 when western Pennsylvania farmers offered armed resistance to paying a federal tax on whiskey, President George Washington personally commanded 13,000 militiamen to suppress the insurgency.

Courageous leadership is undoubtedly hardwired genetically as a survival trait, at least until now.  Tribes governed by wimps have long exited the gene pool.  It is hardly accidental that 19th-century Americans favored presidents who had personally displayed battlefield bravery: Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Ulysses S. Grant, and James Garfield among several others had demonstrated their mettle.  Meanwhile, today’s commanders-in-chief travel in huge motorcades, hidden from public view, with a “fake” presidential limousine, hundreds of security agents, even ambulances.

On a personal note, I recall my mother, a lifelong Roosevelt Democrat, shocking me in 1980 when she told me she planned to vote for Reagan.  She explained, “He’ll stand up to them!”  She was, of course, intuitively right.    

Note well, today’s courageousness does not require repeatedly risking life or limb.  The PC- dominated world is target-rich – how about a presidential candidate hinting that we may want to re-examine affirmative action or federal laws mandating strict gender equality?  These suggestions, even couched in the midlist language possible, are now unthinkable.  So much for moxie when challenging the left’s imposed taboos.

But, multiple opportunities for non-life-threatening displays of courage aside, conservative leaders remain cowards.  Indeed, those who manage candidates on the campaign trail are terrified that their charges will go off message and speak bluntly (i.e., honestly) about some “controversial” topic.  Recall Romney’s awkward effort in 2012 to walk back his blunt comments about so many Americans living off government largess.  So deep is this fear that today’s conservative luminaries even avoid once revered terms that the contemporary left deems “offensive” code words – colorblind, merit, self-reliance, and personal responsibility.  Alexander would certainly conclude that modern conservatives are led by timid, cowering sheep.  We live in a time of terror, but even conservatives worship the soft-hearted gods of multi-culturalism, diversity, and inclusion. 

The catalogue of conservatives displaying cowardice in protecting their own is lengthy, and only a few examples must suffice.  We all know about National Review’s Rich Lowry excommunicating John Derbyshire for his impolite racial truth-telling at Takimag.  Then there’s Heritage Foundation canning Jason Richwine in 2013 when he was “outed” for using scientific data to argue that welcoming low-IQ Mexicans would dumb America down.  Recall how Sam Francis was fired from the Washington Times for his racial heresies.  None of these excommunications involved slander, expressing scientifically incorrect thoughts, or physically harming anyone.  Nobody shouted “fire” in a crowded theater.  The sins were all about some vague offensiveness.

Overwhelmingly, however, today’s pusillanimity among conservatives occurs by omission – dogs that do not bark.  Call it self-sanitization or pre-emptive surrender.  I once attended a lunch sponsored by an eminent conservative organization about fixing Detroit.  During the two-hour event, total silence regarding Detroit’s large, troublesome black underclass as a possible source of the city’s travails.  The proposed solutions were totally inoffensive – building infrastructure and attracting industrious immigrants.  When an audience member asked about recruiting entrepreneurs to a city with the nation’s worst schools, Rick Snyder, Michigan’s Republican governor, explained that he had recently visited a Detroit school and found it exceptionally vibrant.  So much for speaking truth to power.

Such silent cowardice is typical.  If America’s educational woes are the subject of a conservative forum, don’t expect respectable conservatives to even hint of group shortcomings in cognitive ability and the shifting demography of America’s K-12 students.  Discussion will address sanitized ephemera – the alleged benefits of school choice, excessive power of teachers’ unions, the centralized curriculum, merit pay and tough testing, the curse of cultural Marxism, and teacher tenure.  Hardly surprising, since nearly all self-defined conservatives discussing education dread being labeled racists, haters, xenophobic believers in false stereotypes, or worse.  Better to get it wrong than cause trouble.

Ironically, compared to most places on the planet, America’s timid conservatives reside in free-speech Utopia.  Unlike Alexander leading his troops against the Persians, nobody will die.  Sad to say, some may lose their jobs or be socially ostracized, though much of this cost is avoidable, particularly for those with thick skins.  Challenging the value of diversity is not exactly defaming the Prophet while residing in Mecca.  Surely Heritage’s Jim DeMint could have painlessly stood by Jason Richwine by inviting critics to debate his IQ data at a Heritage forum.

In today’s America, “courage” is typically applied to closeted gays in entertainment and sports who announce their homosexuality or their decision to alter their genders to a standing ovation.  In effect, the word “brave” can apply only if nobody is offended.  Today’s Alexander would lead his troops against “the enemy,” since, he would explain, 99.9% of Persians are peaceful and thus do not deserve to be stigmatized.     

Chronic cowardice only emboldens the left to bully conservatives.  Al Sharpton and company know that the right almost universally has no stomach for being picketed by chanting rent-a-mob demonstrators carrying homemade signs.  Think about it: prestigious think-tanks with multi-million-dollar budgets, staffed by dozens of Ph.D.s, totally intimidated by a bunch of semi-literates.     

Can spines be stiffened?  I doubt it for the simple reason that blunt honesty (being a “loose cannon”) hinders fund-raising, and if forced to choose, funding trumps being “controversial.”  Walking on eggshells gets the big donations.   

Let’s hope that if the rabid left once more demand some heretic heads, their bosses will say, as King Leonidas did at the Battle of Thermopylae when the Persians demanded that the Greeks surrender their weapons: Molon labe (μολὼν λαβέ) – "Come and take them."