Book Review: “A New Breed of Elephant”
posted at 6:01 pm on March 9, 2016 by Allan Bourdius
One of the highlights of my trip to CPAC last week was that I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Meredith Ancret Walker (Twitter: @MeredithAncret). She’s one of the great, young conservatives we can count on to be an ally for liberty and limited government. She’s also one of those “our side” (and I use the term “side” very loosely) tends to marginalize at times because of her sexual orientation.
I’ve had Ms. Walker on my Vigilant Liberty Radio programs multiple times, and counted her as a friend before I had the chance to meet her in person. She’s penned her first book, A New Breed of Elephant: Conservative Outreach, Transcending Identity Politics, and Victory in the 21st Century (currently available for Kindle e-readers and apps, $8.99; paperback version to follow), and it’s a must read for those of us who care about reaching “millennials” – both those inclined to agree with us and those who don’t. It’s a must-read for those who’d rather stick their heads in the sand and think the dynamics of our culture and the electorate aren’t changing too.
Ms. Walker started out with the goal of writing a book simply about minority (of any type) conservatives (yes, they exist!) and counter the usual blowback of self-hating accusations and denial that occurs when someone is confronted with an atypical conservative. It grew into a much better premise: how do we get more minority conservatives?
She took a great approach to building a knowledge base; she conducted interviews with young, minority conservatives across demographics (race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), and better still, shares the results of those interviews by providing their transcripts after the main text. Primary source information is always best, and the book gives you an avenue into hearing multiple points of view from the current/next generation.
The main text is a quick and compelling read. It will take you much longer to go through the assembled interviews, which I encourage you to do also. In the first chapter, Ms. Walker focuses on what it’s like to be a minority conservative, which sadly is often unpleasant. Young minorities with conservative views often get ostracized by peer groups or family, and that isn’t conducive to being open about one’s views.
The second chapter gets into what “conservative” means or should mean, and in this area I’m sure there would be plenty of discussion and argument. Ms. Walker gets deep into discussing what it means to be a “big tent” party, and from my own chair, I think hashing through this is something every conservative, libertarian, or “conservatarian”/”liberaservative” needs to do.
Unfortunately what usually happens with conservatives is they establish a list of checkboxes, all of which must get checked for someone to earn “conservative” credentials. It winds up being an exclusionary quest for the highest-common denominator. This is flat-out preposterous. What we get from the book, and what I see personally as an overarching theme in my own politics, is that we should focus on the minimum principles that can be agreed on: limited government, individual liberty, and devolving power from Washington, DC and the administrative state to be closer to the people.
Now, that might seem to be a very libertarian point of view, and certainly by present-day standards it is, but it was Ronald Reagan who said, “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” Reagan also often is attributed as saying to the effect of “an 80-percent friend doesn’t make a 20-percent traitor,” but that’s actually a paraphrase of John Ensign.
Politicians love to bandy about the saying, “I’m a uniter, not a divider,” but no one ever really seems to do anything about it. Improving how we engage with minority conservatives is the focus of Ms. Walker’s third chapter: outreach. She makes great points on how the conservative movement predictably damages its reputation in short order with minority groups and never gets a second chance. This doesn’t mean we should pander to those groups, but if we stick to focusing on the core issues and policies that unite us, we’ll never exclude anyone.
Ms. Walker also hits on our need to engage in culture rather than knee-jerkingly excoriate it:
I’m going…to tackle the issue of using pop culture and media to our benefit, rather than allowing our cultural illiteracy to destroy our chances with the youth vote.
Instead of mocking popular culture we need to tune into it. 90% of the summer blockbusters share a similar underpinning of conservative themes in their stories, but we are usually too busy getting upset about the politics of the actors in Hollywood to realize that the stories they are selling to viewers are riddled with opportunities to talk politics with the fans. (Kindle, location 634 of 4502)
Hear, hear! There is plenty of mass media that we can use to our purposes. We’re going to get another dose of the evils of central, overreaching authority on May 6th when Captain America: Civil War (I’m totally with Cap, deal with it) hits the big screen, but that will probably be ignored by conservatives…again. Instead, as Ms. Walker bemoans, we’ll be left with garbage.
As for making our own entertainment media, well I suppose a few people have given it a try. But as Yoda said, “do or do not, there is no try,” and while every year we seem to get a handful of independently produced and highly transparent “conservative” films…
Most of them suck.
We got three installments of Atlas Shrugged and only one of them was any good at all (and that’s only if you stretch the definition of “good”, what was up with that?
Too often the films that are made by conservatives are on the heavy handed, poorly written, and badly produced side of things and it would be nice if we could get some decent conservative entertainment made at some point in this century. These don’t have to be TV shows picked up by networks or even Netflix, nor do they need huge red carpet premiers and giant budgets for special effects and A-list celebrities or even complex plots.
Buzzfeed has had an inordinate amount of social influence just through YouTube videos. I’ve fallen down the Buzzfeed YouTube rabbit hole on more occasions than I can even count and I would gladly do the same from a conservative source, but mostly we don’t have them. (Kindle, location 687 of 4502)
And when we get conservative YouTube content, it’s usually of the headdesk-worthy quality of Rand Paul’s “Audit the Ted”. Not only badly made, it attacks our own (yes, that was in the context of a campaign, but still). Progressives do a bang up job of making culture work for them – whether intended or not – and we had better start with whatever we’re given.
As I was driving home to western Pennsylvania from CPAC Saturday morning, Gaelic Storm’s 2001 song “Before the Night is Over” came up on my playlist. It’s fundamentally a love song, but it struck me immediately that the first verse and pass through the chorus can be used in perfect respect to minority conservatives. Repurposing culture for “our” purposes comes easy to me.
Some take their hope,
And hide it away.
It burns in the darkness,
Like gold in a grave.
There’s a spark inside,
That can’t be concealed,
No hurt is so secret,
That it won’t be healed.
So before the night is over,
Make your heart an open door,
Then all we hold inside us,
Won’t divide us anymore.
So before the night is over,
And the time we have is done,
Before our courage fades away,
Let our hearts be bound as one.
Ted Cruz has invoked reaching for Reagan’s “Morning in America” this campaign. If it’s morning we’re headed to, that means it’s Gaelic Storm’s “night” now, and it’s time to have courage, be undivided, and heal.
The tagline for Captain America: Civil War is “Divided we fall.” Either we’re going to unite the conservative movement, including young, minority conservatives, or we will indeed fall – if there is any further to fall.
The time we have is short; let’s hope it isn’t done.
Verse two of “Before the Night is Over” also suggests being this:
Not afraid to fall, not afraid to rise.
That should speak to all of us.
Meredith Ancret Walker blogs regularly at Gay, Conservative, and Proud and will appear on my Their Finest Hour program to talk more about “A New Breed of Elephant…” on Saturday night, March 12th, during the show’s second hour (start at 11pm Eastern, 7pm Pacific) on Vigilant Liberty Radio. In the meantime, you can follow my daily ramblings on Twitter while I’m not writing here (@allanbourdius).