The Tenacious

I think that Peter Berkowitz is missing something basic and structural in his prescription for “recalibrating conservatism”:

Because we live in a progressive age, it’s easier for American conservatives to focus their best energies on saying no to more and more government. The natural tendency of big, centralized government to grow bigger and more centralized has been amply demonstrated by the federal government’s post-New Deal trajectory. Rising income equality and declining social mobility notwithstanding, popular culture and shared norms for generations have been steadily trending more egalitarian and more permissive. Conservatives rightly regard these tendencies as major threats to individual liberty and equality under law. And they properly make resisting them a priority.

Yet as Edmund Burke observed in “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” a complete statesman must possess not merely “a disposition to preserve” but also “an ability to improve.” Never has that counsel been more appropriate. The American people have developed expectations—by now deeply rooted and widely shared—that the federal government must provide a social safety net and regulate the economy.

That conservatives will generally seek a more modest social safety net and more restrained regulation than progressives does not relieve conservatives of the responsibility to devise measures to ensure a social safety net as well as economic regulations that are, consistent with conservatism’s principles, effective and affordable. Indeed, since conservatives are bucking the temper of the times, it will be necessary for them, especially if they wish to win national elections, to craft policies with greater care and to support them with more compelling evidence and arguments.

The authors of the new e-book, “Room to Grow: Conservative Reforms for a Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class,” have risen to the occasion. Published by the YG Network (YG stands for young guns), their short volume comprises a collection of essays by prominent conservative thinkers responding in particular to “the worries and anxieties” of middle-class Americans—those who work for a living and regard themselves as neither rich nor poor but who can imagine themselves as becoming either—by articulating a “concrete conservative governing agenda.” 

and that is this. Technocrats and social conservatives will always dominate Republican Party politics because libertarians and small government conservatives don’t have the patience with government or sticktoitiveness to pay their dues. There will be the occasional senator or period of ascendancy but they will always inevitably return to the sidelines.

Whether meek or bold the tenacious will inherit the earth and there’s nothing like the conviction that your life or livelihood depends on an institution to make you sufficiently patient to toil in the vineyards long enough to have real influence. It’s the drummer in the band who sets the beat.

7 comments… add one

  • jan

    Thoughtful consideration of the challenges facing conservatism were part and parcel of Berkowitz’s article, as were the comments provided in Dave’s thread surrounding the excerpts. However, I think the obstacles, of what has become the average citizen’s progressively-adjusted mind set, may be too deeply embedded, disallowing for any sincere processing of reforms that might dissuade anyone from the current socially accepted government dependency policies of the day.

  • michael reynolds

    Indeed, since conservatives are bucking the temper of the times, it will be necessary for them, especially if they wish to win national elections, to craft policies with greater care and to support them with more compelling evidence and arguments.

    I’ve occasionally warned Democrats that they need to figure out “what next” because, in effect, we’ve won. More than half the country now lives in states with marriage equality. We won on civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights. In the end we’ll win on abortion – at least outside of the sticks, and the sticks are dying. We’ve won on big government, a mixed economy, environment, a safety net, now a federalized health insurance plan. We’re even winning on foreign policy as the country turns away from the neo-cons.

    So far the GOP has given us a free ride by failing to come up with any sort of agenda that doesn’t boil down to naked greed and general dickishness. But it could happen. The Republicans could, theoretically, come up with, you know, an actual idea not based in white panic or money grubbing. Not likely but possible.

    Democrats are running out of folks to liberate and reaching the limits of how big even we want the government to be. We are a bullet losing velocity and dropping. The only thing saving us is that the GOP are clueless.

    On my wish list: Immigration reform, simplifying the tax code, and, I don’t know, world peace? It’s all clean-up. I realize we’re about to get hammered in the mid-terms, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the enemy line has been broken, and now we’re down to defeating him in detail.

    Then what?

  • ...

    Running out of limits on how big you want government to be? That’s a laugh….

  • steve

    Central to the effort to reform conservatism will be the need for them to acknowledge the extreme failure and destructiveness of the Bush foreign policy. We dont get a choice between perfect foreign policy and policy crafted by Democrats. We get to choose between policy by Dems which may have faults, but is not given to the kinds of excesses committed by Bush and co. Seeing those same Bush advisors on the campaign staffs of new GOP candidates should give one pause, a polite way of saying scare the sh*t out of you.

    Steve

  • Guarneri

    Well, Michael is correct, as I noted in a recent comment, the left has in fact won. There is no denying that promising to cure all ills and giving away stuff on someone else’s nickel does have its appeal. However, if we can have a moment of sobriety on efficacy and the costs – like a thoughtful person and not just a rank, garden variety cheerleader….

    “marriage equality.” Hmmm. I really don’t give a damn who is banging who. But I just find it hard to place the issue up there as an important issue or victory in the same league as those that confront most people. Perhaps we have become so soft we have the time to noodle in such puffery.

    “We won on civil rights” We?? Revisionist history.

    “women’s rights” Which would be? Opposed by who? And visible how?
    “gay rights.” See above.

    “In the end we’ll win on abortion”

    I can see both sides of the abortion argument. But I have a hard time understanding any glee in “well, you “win,” women. Yes, you have the right to assert and usurp your rights over this baby you made but are now going to kill.” Seems to me its really a more unseemly voting issue. Last time I looked, babies in the womb didn’t vote.

    “We’ve won on big government”

    Yes. And the nation is basically broke and can’t meet the promised liabilities it took to get the votes. The “War on Poverty” has made basically zero dent in poverty, while creating the equivalent of the American Indian perpetual pauper class. Congrats.

    Economic growth is abysmal. Unemployment ridiculously high. Incomes stagnant. Businesses seeking all manner of ways to exit the US or minimize their exposure to the US climate. Regulatory capture in full flight to the detriment of the little guy. Yep, you won.

    ” environment” Really? I thought the world was about to end.

    ” a safety net” Claiming that as yours is an exercise in narcissism and complete self-unawareness.

    “now a federalized health insurance plan.”

    Good for Michael and a few more sheckles in his pocket, bad for most, with worse times to come.

    “We’re even winning on foreign policy as the country turns away from the neo-cons. ”

    Syrians and Egyptians thank you. Oh, and 5 terrorists who no doubt are shaking in their boots about Qatar restrictions or drones. Something about red lines and such.

    Yes, you won alright. And most importantly, homosexuals can get married. All is good in the world.

  • Modulo Myself

    Rising income equality and declining social mobility notwithstanding, popular culture and shared norms for generations have been steadily trending more egalitarian and more permissive. Conservatives rightly regard these tendencies as major threats to individual liberty and equality under law.

    Wow. Egalitarianism is a major threat to legal equality and individual liberty. And Berkowitz isn’t even talking about laws. Just what the freedoms of other people are. “Women, gays, blacks–when they’re equal, they’re all a major threat to my liberty.” If conservatives wanted to do their movement some good, they would ask how it is possible that this stuff just passes without any thought or consideration. Because I don’t really believe that Peter Berkowitz is threatened by the equality of gays or black people or women–I just think that his expressive world is so shrunken and stunted that encounters with gay people or feminists produce crap like this.

  • jan

    “However, if we can have a moment of sobriety on efficacy and the costs – like a thoughtful person and not just a rank, garden variety cheerleader….”

    Thoughtful consideration of the rising costs — or should I say the redirection of costs to the middle class, and others less fortunate — is something the progressive movement completely bypasses in it’s steamroller attempts to “win.”

Leave a Comment