Friday, February 08, 2008

Why conservatism?

(Maybe for Lent I should have given up *not* blogging... hmm....)

One of the big political stories over the last couple of weeks has been the response of conservative talk radio to the ascension of John McCain as the front runner and now presumptive Presidential nominee for the Republican Party. Almost across the board, the leading lights of conservative talk shows have come out against McCain, due to his deviations from conservatism on issues like tax cuts, immigration reform and free speech/campaign finance reform. The father of all conservative talkers, Rush Limbaugh, noted a few weeks ago that if McCain or Huckabee were the GOP nominee, "it's going to destroy the Republican Party." Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and other conservatives made similar comments.

In almost every case, the general argument has been something along these lines: because of his stance on issue X, McCain isn't a real conservative, and therefore shouldn't be the nominee.

Regardless of whether or not McCain is a real conservative (and I tend to be sympathetic to Limbaugh et al. here), I think many of these critics are missing an important link in their argument: they need to explain why conservatism is the better position. We're twenty years removed from the presidency of Ronald Reagan and 10 years from Gingrich's speakership, and it's no longer sufficient to simply demonstrate that position X is not conservative, because it's not evident to many people (including Republicans) that the conservative position is the better one on any number of issues.

What Limbaugh et al. need to do is go back to the basics -- or do a more thorough job of going back to the basics -- and explain why conservative positions are the stronger positions. Speaking as someone who is generally conservative on political matters, I agree with these talkers that conservatism is the better political philosophy in our day and age, but I don't often hear an extended argument on talk radio demonstrating why conservatism is the better position. This simply needs to happen.

In the meantime, I'll vote for John McCain for president, even if he's not as conservative as I'd like.


Steve said...

Don't you think it's a rather worse state of affairs than it appears to be if you have to explain to conservatives (the listening audience of the talk radio hosts in question) what the value of conservatism is?

Sure, they could do with a history lesson on the movement, an idea of who the formative thinkers were, etc. - but to start over and pretend they really don't know? Not sure I'm buying that conservatives are that far off base.

Then again, those willing to vote for McCain seem to prove your point...

Anonymous said...


I agree with your desire to explain the why's of conservatism but El Rushbo has done exactly that on a daily basis going on 20+ years strong. I think right now its more intra-party analysis than analysis of conservatism per se. That being said I'm sure if you listen to Ma-ha-Rushie as we venture down this maverick path you'll hear more of the kind of debate that you suggest is needed.

El Deecho

Anonymous said...

There are some talk show hosts that think McCain is fine in many ways. Bill Bennett isn't trashing him. I've looked at all the issues and as I listen to Rush I get pretty dissatisfied. But then I think about the difference between McCain and the Dems and I realize he's far better. There's a big gulf between their positions. In an age when we have security issues and the need to know how to deal with foreign affairs, McCain would be better than they are. In Obama's headquarters in Texas, he has Che Guevera's picture up on a wall. Che Guevera? Castro's right hand man? Help!

mark said...

Mr. Burgwald,

I think the problem stems from the divination of Ronald Reagan. Conservatives can't keep saying "what would Reagan do". The principles that make conservatism so attractive predate Reagan. That is why Reagan had such a sound understanding of conservativism - he had a well formed conscience and understood the truths discoverable in the natural and divine law...

So, Conservatives have a great opportunity to further "define" the roots of those principles - the natural law through the divine law, which allows human law.

What I don't like about american politics is that we are left with little "choice". In fact, we are forced to choose the lesser of the two evils - well, I why should I have to choose evil at all?! The two-party system does not seem very democratic in the regard...

mark said...

On Voting for McCain -

What is the measure of culpability in voting for McCain vs. voting for a good person who "doesn't have a shot"?

In voting for McCain we could be assisting in the evil that he allows to persist in America. Disregarding "what he says", he is for civil unions, pre-emptive warfare, embryonic stem-call research... well, you know the list. Also, I am almost sure that he would nominate judges in the mold of Stevens, Breyer, Ginsburg.

So, what "evil" are we preventing by voting for McCain?

mark said...

Yeah, when push comes to shove I will likely vote for J. Sydney McCain...but, I definitely respect those who truly do not see much difference between McCain and Obama/Hillary.

He's not pro-life ( He's for a danger exception, rape/incest exception, exceptions for everyone!

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Kyle Cupp said...

Limbaugh et al could use a refresher course on conservative thought from Aristotle to Edmund Burke to Russell Kirk themselves. Although, that may have them questioning whether they themselves are conservatives.

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