For your Sunday afternoon reading assignment and essay material, I’d like to direct your attention to a pair of new columns on a very old topic. The golden oldie in question is the joint effort of “defining conservatism” and whether or not it needs “fixing” for the modern era. The first piece come from the now admitted non-conservative author, Josh Barro, in his Business Insider column, I’m Not A Conservative And You Shouldn’t Be One Either.
What if the problem with your political party is that the policies it advocates are bad?
You can’t fix that problem by “rebranding” the same platform or finding younger, less-white candidates to promote it. You definitely can’t fix it by leaning into your failed policies and becoming more extreme.
The solution is to change your ideology. And that’s exactly what Republicans need to do.
There’s a large collection of specifics which follow, but those few, introductory grafs really do describe the material which follows. But to be fair, give it a look, just to see where he’s coming from.
For the opposing side of the aisle, we offer Matt Lewis of Daily Caller fame, with his response, I am a conservative (and so can you).
Look, I’m sympathetic to the idea of reforming conservatism — of making it more relevant to 21st century Americans. For this reason, I wrote a Guardian column in September of 2012, called “A GOP running on empty,” and the morning after Romney lost, I think I coined the phrase, “modernize, not moderate.”
But Barro has apparently decided we must destroy the village in order to save it.
In fairness, some of our disagreement might hinge on semantics. Barro believes that “conservatism is whatever ideology is shared by most of the people who call themselves conservatives…” That’s a sort of philosophical relativism. Just because a bunch of people call something “conservative” doesn’t mean they get to own the word.
To once again invoke the hackneyed old standard, read the whole thing. But I have a couple of additional questions on the subject, both for Josh and Matt as well as the community here. Coming from the fine old tradition of the NERP community, (Northeastern Republican Politicos) I’m no stranger to the endless debate over who gets to define what is or isn’t conservative. It’s been going on since well before many people reading this were born. But can we honestly stick a flag on a particular set of hills and claim some purity on hammering out the One True Conservatism? We can’t even decide on the definition of “red” in all cases, not even if you’re talking about a specific frequency of light in the visible spectrum. Is it red? Is it maroon? And what the heck is salmon?
Is your sister pretty? I suppose that depends who you ask. That’s the problem with adjectives, and “conservative” is an adjective when applied to American politics. Our language unfortunately evolves as we go, and words take on new or shifting meanings, much to the frustration of those who came before.
Even if we hammer it down to a few first principles, what “brand” of conservatism is the defining standard? Is it fiscal conservatism, social conservatism or foreign policy conservatism? Can you “qualify” on one or two but “fail” on the other and still be a member of the club? Barro is talking about “bad policies” that don’t fit in with the modern era. I call hogwash on that, since a lot of things which become less widely popular are not suddenly “bad” just because they are too hard for some people to maintain in their personal lives. But I do agree with Matt that simply finding a new delivery vehicle to win over a new generation of voters isn’t an answer. Policy is what it is. It either “works” or it doesn’t. And in our system, the majority gets to pick the people who implement policy. Coming up on the short end of that stick doesn’t mean that your own personal philosophy is “bad” but it does mean that more people want to do things a different way. You can still live up to your own ideals and make your case to convince others while respecting the differences between people.
Oh wait… that’s crazy talk. Must be all the coffee.