LECTURE 5: THE NEXT CONSERVATISM AND POLITICS
By Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind (source)
While culture is more important than politics, and the next
conservatism must include a new movement to restore our traditional culture,
politics remains important, too. The political question is, what vehicle should
the next conservatism choose in politics? Even a powerful new culturally
conservative movement will need a relationship with a political party.
Just as George W. Bush appointed Ed Gillespie and then Ken Mehlman, two very able technicians, the candidate we back in 2008 must be ready to appoint the best political technician in the country - someone who knows about re-taking the party. That will be done state-by-state and, eventually, precinct-by-precinct.
Unless we have a Presidential candidate who will give us the best political operative in the country, we won't get control of the party. The Goldwater people worked their hearts out all over the nation and were able to win state after state. But before long, the man who had brilliantly engineered the Goldwater primary victories, F. Clifton White, was out on the street replaced by an establishment GOP Chairman and an establishment manager. To this day many believe Goldwater's devastating defeat could have been less severe had White been in charge for the general election. It is not sufficient to take over the party at the precinct level without a commitment that the right people will be in charge at the national level.
Once we have succeeded in re-taking the Republican Party for the next conservatism, we cannot stop. As surely as anything, the usual Washington types will re-take it from us under our noses, telling us what we want to hear while doing the opposite. The next conservatism needs a virtually automatic mechanism to primary any Republicans who stray. We have to make absolutely certain that any Republican who sells us out pays a price.
If we succeed in re-taking the Republican Party, and then keeping hold of it, we will have a powerful ally in keeping the state out of our faces and off our backs as we work to recover our culture. That is why politics must remain important to all of us.
Because the next conservatism seeks to restore the American republic, it should want a Democratic Party that offers a viable alternative to the Republican Party. No political party can remain in power for long without becoming at least somewhat corrupt and also losing sight of its agenda. In fact, as I will argue in my next column, our political system needs third parties as well as two serious major parties if our republic is really to work.
At present, the Democratic Party does not constitute a viable alternative, as many Democrats recognize. While it criticizes President Bush, it has virtually no ideas of its own to offer. Even on the war in Iraq, an adventure which many conservatives criticized from the outset, the Democrats' voice has been muted and incoherent.
As someone who has observed and participated in national politics for four decades, here is my prescription for reviving the Democratic Party. What I recommend here does not necessarily reflect my own views on specific issues. In effect, I am playing the role of "political doctor," offering what I think would work for my "patient," the Democrats.
First, if the Democratic Party wants to be able once again to appeal to a majority of Americans, not just a collection of special interest groups, it needs to dump Political Correctness. Political Correctness, which is really the cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt School, condemns whites, Christians, men and non-Feminist women. They represent a majority of American voters. So long as these people know the Democratic Party sees them as enemies, they will not vote for it, which means that even if bad times get the Democrats in once, they will soon be out again. Political Correctness condemns the Democratic Party to long-term minority status.
Then, the Democrats need a new platform, one that amounts to more than whining about the Republicans. I would recommend their new platform include the following planks:
o A realistic foreign policy based on interests and prudence.
With the Republicans adopting Wilsonianism and the war in Iraq not going too
well, the Democrats have an opportunity to appeal to a majority of voters by
opposing adventurism in foreign affairs.
Again, the fact that I am recommending these positions to the Democratic Party does not mean I agree with all of them personally. I strongly believe that abortion should be against the law.
But I think that a platform like this could make the Democratic Party a potential majority party once more, so long as it is coupled with showing Political Correctness the door. That will be the toughest challenge for the Democrats, because so much of their party's money comes from elites that hate traditional American culture and the Christian religion. The Democrats face a choice: that money or the votes of average Americans? I doubt they can get both.
When visitors come from abroad to study our political system they are most often told “the United States has a two-party system.” Well, that is true to some extent. But there have been times when third parties have achieved a course correction for one or the other of the major parties which was absolutely necessary.
We could almost go back to the beginning of our political system to examine the role of third parties. The Republicans, now in power in Washington, were a third party when they were formed in Ripon, Wisconsin. They ended up replacing the Whig party which disintegrated in a very short time. Just a few years after they formed their party, Republicans ended up electing their Presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, in 1860.
But let us look at third parties during the 20th Century. Twice, third parties were ego-driven and achieved little lasting effect on the major parties. But twice they were ideologically-driven and did have an impact on the two major parties.
One of the ego-driven efforts was that of Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Progressives. Roosevelt had been William McKinley’s running mate in the 1900 election and when McKinley was assassinated in 1901 Roosevelt assumed the Presidency at age 42. He was re-elected in 1904 and in 1908 decided not to run again.
The Republicans chose rotund William Howard Taft as their Presidential nominee. By 1912, when Taft was running for re-election, Roosevelt was dissatisfied with Taft’s policies. He was too conservative, Roosevelt said. But mostly, Roosevelt wanted to be President again. So he founded the Bull Moose Progressives who promptly nominated Roosevelt as their standard bearer. The result of Roosevelt’s candidacy was to defeat Taft and elect Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt did not change the Republican party much at all and few historians argue that he had much of an effect on the Democrat party.
Then came the “back to normalcy” era of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Elected in large part as a reaction to Wilson’s leading the United States into the First World War, these two candidates were very conservative. Harding died in 1923 and Coolidge became President. He ran for another term in 1924. The Democrats nominated John W. Davis. Davis, if you can imagine, was regarded as more conservative than Coolidge.
Meanwhile, since both parties were in the hands of the conservatives, the Progressive party, which had been successful in electing a number of Governor and Senators, nominated one of its founders, Governor Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin, for President. Burton K. Wheeler of Montana (long a Senator from that state) was his running mate. In the end, Coolidge crushed Davis, receiving nearly 16 million some votes to Davis’s eight million. Coolidge won the electoral college 382 to 138.
LaFollette did win his home state’s 13 electoral votes and received almost 5 million votes nationwide. LaFollette had run on a program of reform, promising to do for the nation what he had done for Wisconsin, which was then and is now regarded as one of the more honest states politically. That shocked the Democrats, and they made a concerted effort to recruit Progressives into the Democrat party. They wound up with a number of elected officials who did join.
The Progressives were not really a factor in 1928. Many of them supported Herbert Hoover since he supposedly was more liberal than Coolidge. But by 1932 it is fair to say that the Progressives of Bob LaFollette were comfortable with FDR’s reform agenda and they helped Franklin D. Roosevelt win a landslide victory. The Progressives greatly influenced the Democrat party, except in Wisconsin where the Progressive party lasted into the 1940s. The son of the LaFollette Presidential candidate, Robert Junior, was also elected Governor but then ran for the US Senate as a Republican. He was defeated for re-election in a GOP Primary by one Joseph R. McCarthy, who complained, by the way, that LaFollette wasn’t liberal enough.
In any case, in Wisconsin the Progressives, when they broke up, went into both major parties and there was a sort of Progressive wing of either party at least into the 1970s. LaFollette was effective because of his platform and agenda and that agenda in turn was a major influence on one of our national parties.
The other third party of the 20th Century which had an agenda was the American Independent party of George Wallace. Wallace was Governor of Alabama. He shocked folks by entering the Democrat primary in supposedly progressive Wisconsin and getting a third of the vote. When Sen. Barry Goldwater won the GOP nomination in 1964 and was popular in the South, Wallace was persuaded to drop his plans to run as a third party candidate. But when Goldwater got trounced in 1964 by incumbent Lyndon Johnson, and more liberal Republicans again came to the fore, Wallace repeated his pitch that “there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between either party.”
While some of Wallace’s support was segregationist, not all of it was. Many populist lower middle class conservatives saw Wallace as a way to protest the liberalism which had infected both of the major parties. Wallace ran in 1968 under the banner of the American Independent party. He carried a number of Southern states and received a respectable showing nationwide. For a time it appeared that he would deprive Richard M. Nixon of the Presidency. Enough conservatives, fearful of Hubert H. Humphrey, switched back to Nixon at the last moment that Nixon was barely elected.
Wallace did achieve his objective, however, as his candidacy inspired Kevin Phillips to write his famous book on the Southern strategy. Nixon followed Phillips’ advice and the Wallace vote was folded into the GOP by the end of Nixon’s first term. That vote would have stayed with the Republicans but for Watergate. But it eventually returned. Most Senators and a majority of Congressmen from the South are now Republicans. So while Wallace did not have the kind of platform LaFollette had, he did represent an ideological course correction for one of the two major parties which saw the advantage of going after the Wallace vote.
The final third party effort was ego driven and that was the 1992 effort of H. Ross Perot. When Perot first entered the Presidential race, he almost immediately began polling in first place. But after a series of bizarre happenings he withdrew from the race. By the time he got back in, his credibility had been eroded. He did achieve his objective, however, of bringing down the Presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush, whom he intensely disliked. The Bill Clinton people and the Perot people were openly working together in some states at the end. Perot did not carry a single state but he received close to 20 million votes. Beginning in 1993, Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole began claiming that he was representing not only the Republicans but also the independents who voted for Perot. The Republican adjustment to the Perot vote as well as Clinton’s overreach resulted in landslide victories for the Republicans in 1994.
Perot was a multi-millionaire who largely financed his own campaign, at least at first. The problem today is, absent a multi-millionaire who already has strong national name recognition, it is next to impossible for a third party to do what the LaFollette Progressives did or even what George Wallace accomplished. The two parties have conspired both at the national level and in many states to make it next to impossible for a third party to get on the ballot. But even if a third party does that, the two major parties now run the national debates and exclude third party candidates, even those who are well known. Ralph Nader ran twice and could not be included in the national debates because the bar has been set so high by the two main parties that not even a well known candidate like Nader could meet it. The major parties have also given themselves special mail privileges which a third party can’t have unless it gets in power.
So today, for a third party candidate to have an impact, one would have to find a multi-billionaire with unlimited resources who already had name recognition of the kind that Lance Armstrong or some other athletic figure has, and even then there would be all sorts of barriers to his being on the ballot in all 50 states. This is a pity, as third parties have provided a valuable service to the American electorate. In our Republic, there should not be the kind of barriers to third party success which the Democrats and Republicans together have enacted.
The Next Conservatism should strongly advocate repeal of all unfair advantages the two major parties have given themselves. Then, if one or the other of the major parties does not make room for real conservatism, that party should either be replaced by a new party or shaken up enough by a third party showing that it will correct its course.
The race issue is the elephant in America's living room. We all wish it wasn't there but it's too big to ignore. So what should the next conservatism say about race?
Of course, the cultural Marxism we know as Political Correctness tells us we can't say anything. It argues that only blacks can say anything about the race issue, and even then blacks are only allowed to spout the party line. Political Correctness defines any conservative black as "white." It says the same thing about "women's issues." Only Feminist women are allowed to have a say.
This is baloney. America's race problem affects us all, blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics. As conservatives, we cannot ignore it. Nor can blacks, who suffer more than anyone else from the failure of past policies.
The next conservatism attempts to look down the road to see where we need to go in the future. I think that on race, our starting point needs to be a realization that the civil rights era is over. The main problem facing American blacks is not white racism or discrimination. In fact, under "affirmative action" it is whites and Asians who are discriminated against. The main problem facing blacks is a cultural breakdown within the urban black community, a breakdown that has had tragic effects in terms of crime, drug use, illegitimacy, abortion and an unwillingness of too many young blacks to get a good education so they can join the American middle class.
Ironically, it is the values preached by the cultural Marxists in the 1960s that are mainly responsible for this breakdown. People like Herbert Marcuse preached a culture of instant gratification: "If it feels good, do it." Middle class white college kids "did it" in college, but then went on to law school and successful lives. In the ghetto, black kids just kept on doing it, resulting in the sort of values we hear in rap music and see in action in our inner cities. It has been an enormous national tragedy, one that has wasted countless lives.
It is important that we, as conservatives, remind ourselves and other Americans that it wasn't always like this. The black inner city of 50 or 60 years ago was not a bad place. Yes, it was largely poor and then blacks did suffer from outright discrimination, which was wrong. But the black community was not disordered. It was not unsafe. The problems in black schools were the same as in white schools, running in the halls and talking in class. Children were not shot and killed on their way to or from school for their jacket or their shoes. As late as the 1950s, 80% of black children came home from school to a married mother and father. If you were white, you could walk through those neighborhoods in complete safety. The people you met there were friendly to you.
Fortunately, some courageous black leaders are beginning to address the real issue. They are pointing out to other blacks that the black community's current problems are a making of blacks' own behavior. They are addressing the culture of instant gratification that has spread so widely, especially among young blacks. They are telling their own people that they must recover their old culture, a culture where the black church was strong and blacks, like whites, followed solid middle class values, which start with delayed gratification.
This ties in directly with the next conservatism's rejection of multiculturalism. We recognize that America needs to have one common culture. That culture in turn needs to be based on middle class values that start with delayed gratification and include the merit of hard work, education, saving, lifetime marriage and strong families and the importance of God and church. Again, these were values the black community shared with whites only a few decades back. No one has ever known more sincere, self-sacrificing Christians than the black "church ladies" who were the backbone of the old black community.
So it seems to me that the next conservatism's position on race needs two elements. First, we will not fall for the line that America's racial problem is white racism. That was true once but it isn't any more. Most whites wish blacks well.
Second, we need to make it clear that we will support in any way we can the black community's efforts to recover from its own cultural collapse, a collapse springing from the disastrous era of the late 1960s, which of course affected many whites as well. It is vital for blacks and whites alike that blacks, especially black young people, adopt sound, functional middle class values. Again, the same is true for young whites, and Hispanics and Asians (it is precisely these values which enable Asians to do so well.)
Our goal, as conservatives, is the same as the goal of the civil rights movement of the 1940s and 50s: an America where skin color is merely incidental, a country where blacks, whites and everyone else has equal opportunity to live prosperous, safe, middle class lives. It is appropriate that the next conservatism should point out that in order to move forward, we need to look back and recover good things from the past that we have lost. That is true in many areas, for blacks and whites alike.
A problematic question for the next conservatism is the politics of "gender" (formerly known as sex). It is also urgent.
A critical change in the Left over the last few decades has been the shift from the economic to the social and increasingly the sexual. What was once a semi-socialistic attack on property and enterprise has become a social and sexual attack on the family, marriage and masculinity.
The consequences are incalculable. No ideology in human history has been potentially so invasive of the private sphere of life as Feminism. Communists had little respect for privacy. Feminists have made it their main target.
Like other radical movements, only more so, Feminism’s danger comes not so much from the assault on freedom (which traditional tyrannies also threaten) but specifically from the attack on private life, especially family life (which traditional dictatorships usually leave alone). "Radical Feminism is totalitarian because it denies the individual a private space; every private thought and action is public and, therefore, political," writes Former Judge and Solicitor General Robert H. Bork. "The party or the movement claims the right to control every aspect of life."
The Left’s brilliant move has been to clothe its attack on the family as a defense of "women and children." Marian Wright Edelman openly acknowledges she founded the Children’s Defense Fund to push a Leftist agenda: "I got the idea that children might be a very effective way to broaden the base for change." This climaxed in the Clinton Administration, in which radical policy innovations were invariably justified as "for the children." Using children to leverage an expansion of state power by eliminating family privacy is succinctly conveyed in Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s aphorism, "There is no such thing as other people’s children."
This nationalization of the family under the guise of protecting it leaves pro-family politicians in a difficult position. One way out is to join in the demonization of those who literally embody the Feminists’ hated "patriarchy" - fathers. Relabeled "deadbeat dads," "batterers" and "pedophiles," fathers are now railroaded into jail through methods one recent scholar, writing in the RUTGERS LAW REVIEW, calls a "due process fiasco" and Bryce Christensen says is leading to a "police state."
Knee-jerk calls to "get tough" on criminals have unintended consequences when the penal apparatus has been commandeered by ideologues who redefine criminality to include an assortment of gender offenses that bear little relation to what most Americans understand as crime.
The evolution of the Justice Department’s Office of Victims of Crime illustrates the deception. Proceeding from President Ronald Reagan’s 1982 Task Force on Victims of Crime, this agency has since been hijacked by Feminists, and most of the "crimes" have been redefined in Feminist terms. By definition, the "victims" are all women, the "perpetrators" are all men and the "crimes" are mostly political: sexual harassment, date "rape" (which is seldom rape), domestic "violence" (that is not violent), child abuse (that may be ordinary parental discipline), "stalking" (fathers trying to see their children), and so forth.
Far from softening the hard edges of male-dominated power politics, Feminism has inserted calculations of power into the most private corners of life and subjected family life to bureaucratic control. This is what makes the dream of a more "caring" public sphere through Feminism not only naïve but dangerously utopian. For as Feminists correctly pointed out, the feminine functions were traditionally private; politicizing the feminine has therefore meant politicizing private life. This is why the "totalitarian" potential which Bork senses is already being realized.
"All politics is on one level sexual politics," writes George Gilder. At least sexual politics is the logical culmination of all radical politics, which is the politics that has defined modern history. More than any other threat, Feminism demands that the next conservatism examine conservatives’ own reflexes and habits in a world in which radical assumptions have permeated well beyond the ranks of Leftist ideologues. It demands that a new conservative agenda challenges not just this doctrine or that, but the very concept of a politics defined by ideologies, activists, organizations, opinion-mongers, and a professional political class for whom politics is all-consuming (even when we agree with them). The next conservatism must try to recover a civic life of citizens, householders, parents, churches and synagogues, local communities, and values that transcend political calculation. Czech - dissident and later President Vaclav Havel called this "apolitical politics”: a world where, contrary to Feminists and Communists and all ideologues, the personal is not political.
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