Via RCP, this is a better use of your late-evening hours than any “Quotes of the Day” post would be. Skip to 53:30 to watch or click here and read the transcript of his address today to the Heritage Foundation. Here’s the passage that’s getting most of the attention online today since it sounds, oddly, like an establishment critique of tea partiers even though it’s one of the leaders of the “defund” movement who’s delivering it. Read the full speech, though, and you’ll appreciate what he’s trying to do with this. It’s not about RINOs versus conservatives, it’s about fashioning a policy agenda for the party that’ll attract enough people from both sides that we’ll all stop caring so much about RINO/tea party distinctions.
Especially in the wake of recent controversies, many conservatives are more frustrated with the establishment than ever before. And we have every reason to be.
But however justified, frustration is not a platform. Anger is not an agenda. And outrage, as a habit, is not even conservative. Outrage, resentment, and intolerance are gargoyles of the Left. For us, optimism is not just a message — it’s a principle. American conservatism, at its core, is about gratitude, and cooperation, and trust, and above all hope.
It is also about inclusion. Successful political movements are about identifying converts, not heretics. This, too, is part of the challenge before us…
If our generation of conservatives wants to enjoy our own defining triumph, our own 1980 — we are going to have to deserve it. That means sharpening more pencils than knives. The kind of work it will require is neither glamorous nor fun — and sometimes it isn’t even noticed. But it is necessary.
The centerpiece of the speech is his ideas for “a new conservatism of the working and middle class.” If you want a precis with brief comments, Reihan Salam has one. This is a perfect example of why, candy-ass RINO though I am, I think it’d be nutty for establishment types to try to primary Lee of all people in taking revenge on the tea party for the shutdown. “Defund” was a futile excursion — weird, even, for Lee, given the seriousness he displays here — but he has enough potential as a legislator who can do genuine good that he should be quickly forgiven. Whether there’s a durable audience for the sort of policy initiative he has in mind, though, I don’t know. Lee himself seems to wonder or else he wouldn’t be chiding listeners to spend a little less time on outrage and a little more on how to govern. My sense is that, now even more than in the past, political identity is less a function of policy preferences than of cultural identity. Lee’s speech here should be a real event, but I expect it’ll get one one-thousandth the attention his “defund” efforts did even though that was less about trying to enact a viable policy than it was about extending a grand middle finger to ObamaCare. Maybe he thought that the visibility he got from that would draw a little extra interest in stuff like this? I think he’s sorely mistaken — if anything, some centrists will dismiss him out of hand now as a “tea-party nutjob” — but I hope I’m wrong. Sincerely.