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Signs Of GOP Hope

A reader left an angry comment yesterday on my post about Jindal’s bad speech, saying that he was going to let his TAC subscription expire because Daniel Larison and I only ever badmouth Republicans, and never have anything bad to say about the Democrats. I can’t speak for Daniel, but I find this a curious complaint.

Personally, I’m not all that interested in what the Democrats do; because my conservatism is primarily social and cultural, the Democrats of 2013 have no place for someone like me. On the kinds of issues that matter most to me, it’s a given that the Democrats will be on the wrong side. I used to be a registered Republican (I’m an independent now), and I would very much like to be able to vote Republican again with confidence, as I’ve done almost my entire life. I am therefore very much interested in seeing the Republican Party reform itself, and become a credible conservative voice, however flawed and imperfect from a traditionalist point of view.

Second, does the conservative press really lack for conservative critics of the Democratic Party, and of liberalism? I think not. I’m more concerned about picking the beams out of our own conservative eyes than I am in picking the motes out of their liberal ones. Most of us conservatives know perfectly well what’s wrong with the way liberals see the world. What we don’t get as well as we should is what’s wrong with our vision. Unless I’m mistaken, about 90 percent of Jindal’s analysis posed the GOP’s problems as a marketing issue. I disagree, and deeply believe that the Republican Party, and organized conservatism, is going to keep losing elections as long as its leaders and rank-and-file tell themselves that.

All of which is one long throat-clearing introduction to a couple of signs I’ve seen recently of a possible Republican revival. The New Republic reports on some encouraging words spoken at a recent National Review confab. Among them:

Living without health insurance is a bummer, and saying you’re going to repeal Obamacare doesn’t do much for voters in that situation. It was Douthat who broke this news. “A lot of Americans don’t have health care. To those people, the Republican message on health care has nothing to say. For people without health insurance, Mitt Romney had nothing to say.”


Governing might involve, you know, government regulation. It was Commentary’s John Podhoretz who broke the news that when a party spends several decades declaring all government regulation off limits, it makes it sort of hard for elected representatives to pass regulations and laws to their liking. It’s one thing to decry Dodd-Frank or the Affordable Care Act, but if you aren’t able to propose rules and regs to replace them, you’re not going to be taken seriously. “The problem with three decades of movement thinking is that it ends up creating dead ends,” he said.

True. And Pete Wehner, writing in Commentary, makes a similar point:

Every political movement, including conservatism, faces the danger of elevating certain policies into catechisms and failing to take into account new circumstances. When that occurs, we lose the capacity to correct ourselves. Conservatism, at least as I understand it, ought to be characterized by openness to evidence and a search for truth, not attachment to a rigid orthodoxy. “If there is any political viewpoint in this world which is free from slavish adherence to abstraction,” Ronald Reagan said in 1977, “it is American conservatism.”

What I’m talking about, then, is a conservative temperament, which affects everything from tone to intellectual inquiry to compromise. It champions principles in reasonably flexible ways that include a straightforward evaluation of facts.

To put things in a slightly different way: Conservatives need to reacquaint themselves with the true spirit of conservatism, which is reform-minded, empirical, anti-utopian, and somewhat modest in its expectations. It doesn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. It doesn’t treat political opponents as enemies. And it isn’t in a state of constant agitation. Winsomeness goes a long way in politics.

There’s gobs more good sense and strong medicine in those last five sentences from Pete Wehner than in the entire speech by Gov. Jindal. If there were anybody in senior leadership in the GOP — I mean, at the gubernatorial or Congressional level — who gave a speech elucidating and elaborating in a thoughtful, policy-oriented way on these simple propositions by Wehner, I would die of shock on the spot, then arise and dance on me own grave singin’ hallelujah. 

In his column today, David Brooks says that we’ve heard more talk about GOP change than actual change. On the Jindal speech:

Jindal spanked his party for its stale clichés but then repeated the same Republican themes that have earned his party its 33 percent approval ratings: Government bad. Entrepreneurs good.

In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn’t already vote for them.

Hell, I voted for Dubya twice, but did not vote in either of the last two presidential elections, because I couldn’t go with Obama, for obvious reasons, but I refused to pull the lever for a Republican Party that cannot face squarely its failures in the Iraq War debacle and the economic crash, but rather relies on the same rhetoric that got us into those messes. They simply aren’t trustworthy. They are ideologues, not conservatives. This is the same party whose president, despite 9/11, delivered FEMA to the hands of that party hack Michael Brown. It’s what happens when you value loyalty to ideology over competence. Unfortunately, GOP leaders are in a difficult position, because the base will punish them as sellouts and RINOs if they dare to question the narrative. Here’s Brooks:

It’s probably futile to try to change current Republicans. It’s smarter to build a new wing of the Republican Party, one that can compete in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, in the upper Midwest and along the West Coast. It’s smarter to build a new division that is different the way the Westin is different than the Sheraton.

The second G.O.P. wouldn’t be based on the Encroachment Story. It would be based on the idea that America is being hit simultaneously by two crises, which you might call the Mancur Olson crisis and the Charles Murray crisis.

Olson argued that nations decline because their aging institutions get bloated and sclerotic and retard national dynamism. Murray argues that America is coming apart, dividing into two nations — one with high education levels, stable families and good opportunities and the other with low education levels, unstable families and bad opportunities.

The second G.O.P. would tackle both problems at once. It would be filled with people who recoiled at President Obama’s second Inaugural Address because of its excessive faith in centralized power, but who don’t share the absolute antigovernment story of the current G.O.P.

That would be me, generally. I’m sure that party would be more socially libertarian than I am, but at least it would operate like a political party, not a fundamentalist church. By that, I don’t mean what Andrew Sullivan means with all that “Christianist” nonsense, but rather that the alt-GOP would treat politics not as a struggle between Good and Evil, the Pure and the Impure, and be eager to demonize and heretic-hunt in its destructive quest to immanentize the conservative eschaton. It’s just politics; it’s not religion. That’s what I mean.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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