A century ago, it was conservative stalwarts, not liberal reformers, who were the natural party of government. And they were forthright about what they stood for as well as what they were against: They were for rule by a better class of people, for a Hamiltonian state in which business was unified with government. And conservatism is still for those things, tacitly at least. Just look at the rÃ©sumÃ©s of the folks the president has appointed to the Departments of Labor, Agriculture and the Interior. Or scan one of the graphs that economists use to chart the distribution of wealth over the last hundred years. The more egalitarian society we grew up in is gone, snuffed out by the party of tradition in favor of an even rosier past that lies on the far side of the 1930’s. ~Thomas Frank, The New York Times (sorry, NYT Select)
Well, actually, conservatism isn’t for either of those things necessarily, and certainly not the latter. Mr. Frank doesn’t understand Kansas, and he doesn’t understand what motivates ordinary conservatives, either. The second point of “business unified with government,” has been a hallmark of Republicanism from day one, and there used to be a time when the plain republicans and conservatively-minded folks in the Country tradition recognised that the Republican combination of government and business interests was pernicious, oligarchic and dangerous to the Republic. They managed to believe this without becoming New Dealers. As for being ruled by a “better class of people,” it was Jefferson who believed in the virtue of an aristocracy of those with talents and gifts, and I think he was right to believe that. In my view, the real conservative tradition in America is the one that kept faith with the Country tradition of dissent. To the extent that orrdinary Republican voters belong to the same tradition, they can continue to kid themselves that they are not enabling massive corruption that benefits the few of the Court, but no one should be fooled into thinking that the GOP is lacking an establishment mentality. They have used the language of populism, but in its leadership and its politics the GOP has never ceased to be a party of the Eastern Establishment and its cronies.