Elizabeth Scalia expresses her relief at the election outcome:
This election has shattered, finally the illusion that if “good conservatives just keep fighting,” somehow “another Reagan” was going to come along and restore the “shining city on a hill”. For too long I have watched friends remain enthralled to the notion that a single man or woman equipped with rhetorical skills, a bit of spine, and right-thinking would be able to resurrect what is remembered by some modern conservatives as a golden age.
It’s not coming back because half the country didn’t want it, or didn’t even recognize what it had and therefore won’t miss it, and because for young adults and the generations coming up the backbone of conservative theory—rugged individualism, privacy, minimal government—is a complete non-sequitur; it does not compute.
As Rod notes, Scalia goes on to make some sound observations about the dangers and corrupting power of pride, but the problem would seem to go beyond that insofar as there have been many conservatives wedded to an idea that “a single man or woman” could revive a supposed golden age. This is the sort of faith in political salvation focused on an individual leader that traditional conservatives have historically mocked and opposed. If a large number of self-identified conservatives in the U.S. have been expecting this sort of political deliverance, it is not only good for them that they have had their illusions shattered, but it is a good thing for America as well. I’m not sure which era Scalia has in mind as a golden age (the 1980s?), but even if some sort of restoration were possible it would require far more than a political leader “equipped with rhetorical skills, a bit of spine, and right-thinking.” The worrying thing is that there were ever people who believed in this scenario.
Regardless, it’s also important to understand that those conservatives interested in a political vision of “rugged individualism, privacy, [and] minimal government” had no major party candidate available in this election. The younger cohorts of voters have never encountered a Republican ticket that supported these things in practice. When it has been in power, the Republican Party they know best has been the fiscally irresponsible, welfare state-expanding party of unnecessary wars, torture, and intrusive and illegal anti-terrorist measures. The modern Republican Party is the party of the entitlement status quo for current beneficiaries, the national security state, and an ever-expanding military budget. That is hardly promoting “rugged individualism, privacy, and minimal government.”
There is a small-government conservative and libertarian faction inside the GOP that defends the things Scalia mentions to one degree or another. The 2012 ticket represents almost everything that this faction has been opposing for years. The disproportionate support for Ron Paul’s candidacy among young voters in the Republican primaries in 2008 and 2012 is one indication that these ideas still appeal to younger Americans in large numbers. I don’t know that most younger voters would immediately or automatically embrace a Republican Party that wasn’t so closely identified with the warfare and security state, but the first step in understanding what the voters rejected is acknowledging what they were being offered.
I suspect that most younger voters wouldn’t recognize themselves in the description that Scalia provides. Just as she misunderstands what it was they were rejecting, she draws some mistaken conclusions about the voters that did the rejecting. Scalia says of younger voters:
Quite unlike their parents, in other words, this is a generation less interested in their personal consciences; one tailor-made for living under authority, and with built-in limits to their liberties.
That last point is an odd one, since conservatives ought to be the first to appreciate that there are built-in limits to our liberties. It isn’t possible to secure the liberties we have without the rule of law, and most conservatives would still agree in principle with Burke that liberty “must be limited in order to be possessed.” The younger generation is a generation less interested in their personal consciences? I have no idea how one would go about measuring that, if it could be measured, but what would be the basis for reaching this conclusion? Are the youngest generations of Americans “tailor-made for living under authority”? That seems to me to be the opposite of what is happening in the U.S. today. If anything, there is a healthy disrespect for authorities that abuse their power, but there is also a generalized distrust of most authorities of all stripes.