One of the interesting things about maintaining a blog is that ultimately, it devolves into a conversation with yourself about what you think regarding a variety of subjects. Some liken blogs to “thinking out loud” and that may be true to an extent. But there is a difference between writing and thinking – a very large difference.
I believe, as Sir Francis Bacon did, that “Reading maketh a full man, conference, a ready man, and writing, an exact man.” Writing forces you to condense your thinking, to slough off extraneous concepts not germane to the subject until you are left with the very essence of your thoughts, allowing an examination and ultimately, a judgement regarding their efficacy relating to your own worldview and ideological principles.
In this way, blogs allow both the writer and the reader to trace the growth of ideas and concepts – buttressing some, discarding others, and amending still more while trying to stay true to a coherent set of principles – a set of core beliefs that would require considerably more than atmospheric changes or transient events to alter.
No human mind is capable of being entirely consistent. We are not, after all, machines. Emotions are constantly in play as we wrestle with our consciences while seeking to remain faithful to our own intellectual self-image. Blogs are extremely useful in this regard because they allow the writer to hold up a mirror and examine their reflection over a long period of time. How has our thinking changed? Where have we taken a different road? Are our principles still intact, our beliefs still valid?
I hope you will forgive this rather lengthy digression into esoterica but to me, this is the interesting part of the journey to self-discovery; trying to ascertain how we think as well as discovering what we think is why writing makes us “exact” in our efforts to know ourselves better.
I bring all this up because I have written extensively over the last three years about the nature of modern conservatism and how it is slowly becoming irrelevant to large segments of the American electorate – largely as a result of the unrealistic and indeed, fanciful adherence by conservative politicians, pundits, and even some intellectuals to ideas and principles that have become as outmoded in their own way as Marxism.
Generalizing the problem, many conservatives are mired in a Reaganesque fantasyland where the mantra “small government, low taxes, less regulation, and strong national defense” is repeated ad infinitum as if saying it loud enough and often enough makes it true – despite the fact that except for a strong national defense, the rest of these “principles” are as outdated as central planning and a command economy.
The essence of the problem is that both liberals and conservatives today see government as almost a living thing to be hated or loved depending on one’s point of view. Government is not alive, although it is close to existing as a force of nature so large and nearly uncontrollable it has become. Instead, government should be seen as a utility to be organized as best as can be humanely done so that it becomes a servant of the people and not their master.
Believing that we can roll back the size of government and make it “small” is a pipe dream and, along with the idea that we can demand government do a million things and not raise the taxes to pay for them as well as ask government to protect us from impersonal corporations who seek to destroy competition, exploit workers, endanger our environment, foist their dangerous products on us, and generally wreak havoc on our lives and families without someone looking over their shoulder is absurd.
The idea that the market will fix dangerous working conditions for miners or force companies to end exploitive work rules and policies in service industries is just not tenable in a 21st century industrialized democracy. Neither will the market clean up toxic waste, sensibly protect the environment, establish minimum standards for drinking water and breathable air, or ensure that some of the remaining green places left in the United States can be enjoyed by our grandchildren.
These are not luxuries that we can afford to privatize or do without. They are as vital to our survival as the new Air Force fighter being developed. The question that should occupy conservatives is not whether we should have strict standards for drinking water but rather how do we reconcile conservative principles with the needs of the people in a modern society?
For conservatism to survive and even thrive, a new paradigm must be realized that recognizes we live in a different world than the one inhabited by our ancestors and that many of the old verities we cherished are just no longer relevant to what America has become. For better or worse, the United States is changing – something it has always done and always will do. Without altering most of the core principles of conservatism, it should be possible to change with it, supplying common sense alternatives to liberal panaceas for everything from health care to concerns over climate change.
Obviously, there is no lack of ideas in this regard if you read the policy prescriptions appearing on the pages of Heritage, AEI, Cato, or other places where academics and policy wonks gather to supply these alternatives. But there seems to be a disconnect between the thinkers and the doers – politicians, pundits, and activists. Having read most of the Republican candidates stands on issues, outside of Fred Thompson’s detailed critique of entitlements and his ideas on a muscular kind of federalism, there isn’t much in the way of deep thoughts being generated in this campaign so far. In fact, there appears to be little in the way of original thinking at all; just a rehash or recycling of projects and programs that wouldn’t stand a chance of passage in Congress.
Now I am not saying that conservatives should compromise their principles to gain success in the legislature nor am I saying those principles should be abandoned in order to gain electoral victory. But there is a difference between having a vital conservative movement that shapes and informs government and one that has no relevancy whatsoever to modern America.
This is where my thinking has taken me these last three years – a recognition that conservatism needs to have its best and brightest strike out and find new ways of defining what it means to be a conservative in 21st century America. Obviously, my poor efforts here on this blog amount to little except some relatively unformed, nebulous thoughts on what I see as a need for this change. I make no claim to being an intellectual or even that thoughtful. But where else can you pour your brains out and examine the contents but a blog? That is what I’m doing here and I hope you take it for what it’s worth; the musings of a concerned conservative who is unhappy with the state of the right as it stands now.
Michael Tomasky at the Guardian got me thinking in this direction this morning:
That is, Americans have now experienced a conservative government failing them. But what lesson will they take? That conservatism itself is exhausted and without answers to the problems that confront American and the world today? Or will they conclude that the problem hasn’t been conservatism per se, just Bush, and that a conservatism that is competent and comparatively honest will suit them just fine?
Conservatives and the Republican presidential candidates hope and argue that it’s the latter. They largely endorse and in some cases vow to expand on the Bush administration’s policies – Mitt Romney’s infamous promise to “double” the size of the detention camp at GuantÃ¡namo Bay, notably. Like Bush, they vow that tax cuts, deregulation and smaller government will solve every domestic problem. Where they try to distinguish themselves from Bush is on competence. Romney talks up his corporate success, Rudy Giuliani his prowess as mayor of New York.
Is it the messenger or the message that’s at fault?