Deconstructing Conservatism

In his column in the Washington Post Michael Gerson breaks down the sub-groups in the Republican Party:

On one side there are Rejectionist Conservatives, who come in a variety of forms. There are libertarians who view federal taxation, except to fund a few night-watchman roles, as theft. There are tea party activists who believe that any federal power must be specifically enumerated in the Constitution — and then interpret the Constitution as if it were the Articles of Confederation. And then there is Ron Paul, who seeks to overturn the Lincoln and Hamilton revolutions.

But Obama’s overreach has also produced another conservative reaction — a Reform Conservatism. The key figure here is Paul Ryan, the main author of two House Republican budgets. The movement’s intellectual headquarters is National Affairs, a journal of small but potent distribution. Its brain trust includes thinkers such as Yuval Levin, James Capretta and Peter Wehner.

Why do so many Democrats immediately attack the motives behind Republican proposals? Other than tribalism, oppositionist impulses, and too few recognize any debate strategy other than personal attack, I mean? I think it’s because they discern, correctly, that the real power in the Republican Party is in the hands of social conservatives, conspicuously absent from Mr. Gerson’s analysis.

In my view that was always inevitable. Social conservatives are highly motivated and willing to persist, get their hands dirty, and do the necessary organizational work. They prevail in the Republican Party for much the same reasons that public employees’ unions prevail in the Democratic Party.

Mr. Gerson’s “Reform Conservatives” play a role somewhat similar to the “Rockefeller Republicans” of forty years ago. They may appear prominent but they are unlikely ever to wield real, practical influence in the party. Whatever proposal the Reform Conservatives propose, however reasonable it may appear, it will inevitably be twisted in a socially conservative direction in the vise of political necessity.

Mr. Gerson’s column had another section I found interesting on which I plan to comment later today.

3 comments… add one
  • Drew Link

    From my perspective your observation is substantially correct. But then I would, considering myself a Republican residing somewhere along the libertarian, conservative spectrum.

    I think Gerson wildly overstates the libertarian position. Any complex, cohesive society needs more than a few “night watchmen.” But said society doesn’t need a government employee on every street corner either. There is not a doubt in my mind that the aggregate cost of federal, state and local government could fulfill all of its administrative, protective and humanitarian functions at half the current cost. And since I’m a deal man, I’ll take 2/3rds and call it a deal. Hell, I’m feeling accommodating. Make it 3/4ths. Shake?

    The problem is that the liberal mindset invents on a daily basis new social ills and aggrieved people. So another government program is needed……..or you are a nihilist. There comes a point when the society crumbles under the weight. See, Europe.

    I hold no brief for the social conservatives. I think they are well intentioned. I just think they make the same mistake that the liberals make: the state is to be a control mechanism and the fight is on (“we” know best….no, no, “we” know best!) , and liberty is lost.

    I’m a Romney guy, and have been for years, because I think his stewardship of the economy will be vastly superior to the current president. First, I think he understands that the tax and spend recklessness simply must stop. He’s an LBO man. How he attenuates it will be a pickle, but he understands economic reality. Second, I can’t imagine a more boneheaded Obama policy than his energy policy. If you want consumer purchasing power, if you want job creation, if you want to avoid the episodic necessity of foreign intervention to protect your energy supplies and if you want manufacturing renaissance you exploit our country’s vast renergy resources. You don’t hum Steely Dan’s “are you with me Dr Wu,” er, Chu, pander to the mindless greenies, and shake your beads and chant to the sky for a solar or wind miracle. Romney will discard this crap.

    Third, I just dont think he is a social meddler.

  • I’m a Romney guy, and have been for years, because I think his stewardship of the economy will be vastly superior to the current president.

    The problem is the office of the President isn’t the steward of the economy. What can Romney actually do all by himself should he be elected? Not much I’m afraid. Any substantive changes require Congressional action.

  • Drew Link


    The answer is you work with Congress, and you communicate with the American people, who vote for Congressmen/women.

    If you were to follow what in my opinion has become nothing but an exculpatory argument for Obama’s failure to it s logical conclusion, perhaps we should just neuter our Presidents, and only let them opine on foreign policy.

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