Fair enough. Now we know.
Yet we might consider another conservative approach, practiced by other politicians in other countries and in other centuries. That other conservative approach seemed to work pretty well, both for actually winning elections and also for governing effectively.
Benjamin Disraeli, who was Prime Minister of Great Britain and an important figure in British politics for four decades, had a different philosophy of elections and of governance. He wasn’t interested in the 47 percent, or the other 53 percent–he was interested in the 100 percent.
Born in London in 1804, Disraeli was horrified by the impoverished conditions of the English working class, but he was also horrified by the thought of French-style radicalism and revolution coming to his country.
Seeing that stand-pat rural-dominated conservatism was destined to fail in the face of industrialization, urbanization, and proletarianization, Disraeli picked up his pen; he wrote not only political pamphlets, but also novels that mixed high-society intrigue with reformist politics.
Elected to Parliament in 1837, he articulated a “One Nation” conservatism, championing policies–and more to the point, an overall approach–that he believed could bring the English working class into the Tory fold.
Indeed, Disraeli described English workingmen as “angels in marble.” That is, they were natural Tories, in terms of basic attitude; so just as a sculptor, confronting a block of solid marble, chisels away everything that’s not an angelic form, so, too, would One Nation Tories carve out new voters from the lower levels of English society. In no sense was Disraeli a redistributionist liberal; still, by seeking to assure at least a minimum for all, Disraelite Tories believed that the rich and the poor could be bonded together in a national–and nationalist–unifying sentiment.
It was a winning formula; Disraeli was twice Prime Minister, serving for a total of seven years.
And it’s worth noting that the most admired politician in the United Kingdom today is solidly in the Disraeli tradition. That would be Boris Johnson, the mayor of London. In a 2010 interview, Johnson described his governing philosophy:
I’m a one-nation Tory. There is a duty on the part of the rich to the poor and to the needy, but you are not going to help people express that duty and satisfy it if you punish them fiscally so viciously that they leave this city and this country. I want London to be a competitive, dynamic place to come to work.
In other words, Johnson was seeking to be both pro-business and pro-worker. And so, for example, even as he played the role of London’s chief booster in the 2012 Olympics, he had also supported a higher “living wage” for the city’s workers, explaining, “One thing you have to do politically is identify the ties that bind society together and try to strengthen them.” Johnson was re-elected by a comfortable margin in 2012.
America, too, has a tradition of One Nation conservatism, tracing its origins, interestingly enough, to Mitt Romney’s own Massachusetts. Centuries before Disraeli or Johnson, in 1630, John Winthrop preached a shipboard sermon to his fellow Puritans, even before they made their historic landfall, entitled “A Modell of Christian Charity.” In that address, remembered in history as “the City on a Hill” speech, Winthrop expressed a communitarian ideal: “that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knitt more nearly together in the Bonds of brotherly affection.”
Winthrop’s proto-One Nation sentiments found more direct political expression not only in Massachusetts, but also across America. In the early 19th century, Henry Clay of Kentucky outlined his “American System,” intended as a political and economic strategy that would unite the young nation. In a speech to the U.S. Senate in February 1832, spread over three days, Clay took up the question of a Congressional colleague concerning the “future destiny of this growing country.” Clay’s answer: “Thus viewing the question, I stand here as the humble but zealous advocate, not of the interests of one state, or seven states only, but of the whole Union.”
The Union then, we might note, consisted of 23 states, all but two of them east of the Mississippi River. Yet Clay’s American System was a conscious plan of industrialization and infrastructure-building across the whole of the continent. And so, three days and 116 pages of text later, Clay closed with the thought, “This is the spirit … on which it seems to me that a settlement of this great question can be made satisfactorily to all parts of our Union.”
Clay himself was never successful in enshrining his American System as national policy, but Abraham Lincoln–a leader who regarded Clay as his greatest hero in politics, “my beau-ideal of a statesman, the man for whom I fought all my life”–was successful in achieving Clay’s goal.
Even during the Civil War, Lincoln launched such Clay-ish national projects as the Homestead Act and the Morrill Act, establishing the land-grant colleges. The sixteenth president probably never asked if the beneficiaries of those government programs were taxpayers or not–although we can be sure he hoped that they would be future good and productive citizens. But then, of course, Lincoln was, like Disraeli, a One-Nation 100-percenter. As he said in his immortal Address, the Union dead at Gettysburg had given their lives so that America as a unitary whole could have “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
We might also note that Lincoln’s vision proved to be effective electoral politics for Republicans; the GOP won six presidential elections in a row, from 1860 to 1880, and 11 of 13 national ballots from 1860 to 1908.
Indeed, well into the 20th century, Lincoln’s One Nation vision–not liberal, yet not libertarian–was carried on by leading Republicans. Theodore Roosevelt is remembered as a champion of American nationalism; less remembered is the 26th president’s determination to base that nationalism on a domestic vision of social justice and harmony. In a 1915 speech to the Knights of Columbus, TR denounced all forms of ethnic balkanization and prejudice; the nation’s goal, he declared, must be “to maintain a new American type and then to secure loyalty to this type.’” And yet, he continued, “We cannot secure such loyalty unless we make this a country where men shall feel that they have justice and also where they shall feel that they are required to perform the duties imposed upon them.” In other words, we will secure the just rights of the people and, in return, insist on the just rights of society.
To be sure, many in today’s Republican Party and conservative movement regard Roosevelt as a sort of rogue liberal, and so they feel that his views can be disregarded, or at least minimized.
However, Calvin Coolidge remains in good standing with “the movement,” and yet we must remember that he, too, advocated One Nationism. On January 7, 1914, Coolidge accepted the post as president of the Massachusetts Senate, and he began his address by echoing the spirit of Disraeli:
The commonwealth is one. We are all members of one body. The welfare of the weakest and the welfare of the most powerful are inseparably bound together. Industry cannot flourish if labor languish. Transportation cannot prosper if manufactures decline. The general welfare cannot be provided for in any one act, but it is well to remember that the benefit of one is the benefit of all, and the neglect of one is the neglect of all. The suspension of one man’s dividends is the suspension of another man’s pay envelope.
In other words, Coolidge was, in his own way, keeping faith with his fellow Bay Stater, John Winthrop, from three centuries before. Neither Winthrop or Coolidge were “liberals,” but they did share a conservative sense of public order, social harmony, and common responsibility. And in the 20th century, as well as in the 17th century, it was a successful formula; Coolidge went on to be the 48th governor of Massachusetts and our 30th president.
So where does this leave Mitt Romney, the 70th governor of Massachusetts, who hopes to be the 45th president? Well, we’ll know in less than seven weeks. But one thing we know for sure now: Romney is no Disraeli. Nor a Clay, nor a Lincoln, nor a TR–not even a Coolidge.
James P. Pinkerton is a contributor to the Fox News Channel and a TAC contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter.