From a Wall Street Journal essay by The American Spectator‘s R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. The date is — wait for it — March 27, 1987:
The conservatives’ weakness is not radicalism or extremism but parochialism. The ordinary conservative looks within himself and purrs. The ordinary New Age Liberal lets out a roar, organizes ad hoc committees, marshals protests! He is political , outgoing and, by my lights, a public nuisance. The conservative rearely reaches out. He is only sporadically political. Often he is hardly social. Conservatives, alas, are narrow.
I have been among them for years. Each has one or two solutions to the republic’s problems: Supply-side Economics! Traditional Family Values! The Eternal Verities! Economic Education! Beyond their one or two wonder cures they lost interest. Moreover, they can see only one or two ways to get these solutions across to their fellow Americans: Seminars! Position Papers! Political Action!
Owing to their parochialism they have never quite succeeded in creating a political community comprarable to the liberals’ community, and they have no idea of a cultural community. In America, New Age Liberalism is our culture. There is no alternative. From the fantasy of “Hair” to the fantasy of “Platoon,” New Age Liberalism has served up its semtimental pifflings and all Americans either savor them or take their leave.
Conservatives simply do not take much interest in the world around them. … Throughout the Reagan years the conservatives have been off pursuing their one way to save the republic: The Seminar! The Commemorative Banquet! Fund Raising! The narrowness of America’s conservatives is a mystery. I have seen it retard fuddy-duddies like Russell Kirk [Ouch! -- RD] and the liberatarians, who can become violent at the first departure from orthodoxy. But it also overcomes conservatism’s new recruits, the neoconservatives who gave up on liberalism when its utopianism became intolerable. The neoconservatives, too, have their own ways to save the world: The Quarterly Journal! The News Letter! Anti-Communism! Economic Growth!
The result is a conservatism composed of conservatives who do not integrate their narrow values into the broad range of human experience. Their views are sound enough but each is only one recipe on life’s menu. Yet they must all be vegetarians.
The conservatives have not adapted to an era that is moving beyond the problems of the early 1980s. They have not even thogth of maintaining enduring instiutitions comparable to those of the liberals. …
This ran 25 years ago, but most of it is just as relevant today. I would love to know what Tyrrell thinks of his own words now, especially given the role he and his magazine played in the conservative establishment in the past quarter century. Any mea culpas to be found there?
The problem with this sort of thing is not the diagnosis, but the fact that even thoughtful conservatives who agree with it (and I do) have no real idea what to do about it. The fact that Tyrrell could have written this 25 years ago in the most prestigious conservative journalistic platform of its time, and very little since then has changed, suggests that the problem among American conservatives goes very deep indeed, and is not something that is going to be “solved.” It may simply be the nature of the beast in this time and place.