At the 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago, Barry Goldwater famously told conservatives to “grow up.” It’s time we hear that message again.
As in 1960, the conservative movement seems grumbling, disaffected, even downright angry — and, most importantly, it sometimes seems more interested in complaining and moaning than in uniting, constructively, to achieve political success.
What’s worse is that we seem to be fighting among ourselves. Every chance we get, we take shots at other conservatives. Nobody, it seems, is good enough. We moan that nobody is another Reagan. Nobody is another Churchill. Nobody is another Washington.
To which we ought to say, so what? There’s only one Second Coming, and He isn’t running for anything.
It’s time we look at the good things we’ve got — and the good people, and the good times. Take stock of those goods, and celebrate them, and consolidate them in an attractive way, and build, build, build upon them.
Before going further with this argument, let’s try a little exercise. Let’s consider the major Republican presidential candidates, and recognize just how solid they are by saying something good about each of them:
Fred Thompson has built a career as a reformer with a solidly mainstream-conservative record. He did the legal work that helped imprison Ray Blanton, a corrupt, Democratic governor of Tennessee. And Thompson is a very good communicator.
Rudy Giuliani was quite arguably the best big-city mayor in the history of mankind. And his record in New York was conservative on just about every count.
Mitt Romney is a superb businessman; he rescued the Winter Olympics in Utah; and he figured out how to get elected statewide as a Republican in Massachusetts and, once there, governed more conservatively than he campaigned.
John McCain is an American hero. And he has the political courage to stick to his guns in foul weather. He’s terrific in support of the military, and against wasteful spending.
Not to belabor the point, but the same could be said for some of the lesser-known GOP presidential contenders. For instance, Duncan Hunter has spent 25 years as a wise, stalwart and effective supporter of our military, and he is a kind and palpably decent human being who sticks with friends through thick and thin.
And Tommy Thompson, in his three-plus terms as Wisconsin’s chief executive, easily proved he ranks with Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, Florida’s Jeb Bush, and Alabama’s Bob Riley as the best governors of the past half-century.
And so on.
Okay, this game is fun. How about noting that the two Republican congressional leaders have some serious bona fides as well?
Mitch McConnell is running rings around Harry Reid in the Senate, and John Boehner was an essential and crafty leader of the back-bench movement that culminated in the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994.
Finally, of course, there is President George W. Bush. He rallied the country in inspirational fashion after 9/11; inspired effective pro-democracy movements in places such as Ukraine and formerly Soviet Georgia; helped bring an end to Moammar Ghadafi’s nuclear program; toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan, cut just the right taxes domestically to spur a huge economic boom; and appointed a host of excellent appellate judges (e.g. Bill Pryor, Brett Kavanaugh, Janice Rogers Brown, Diane Sykes, Jeff Sutton…) and two absolutely superb Supreme Court justices in John Roberts and Sam Alito.
Meanwhile, when some of the Democrats come over to our side, they too are invaluable. Joe Lieberman has been superb in battling the Communists, in fighting terrorists and, domestically, opposing the smut that plagues our culture.
NOBODY WOULD CONTEND THAT all of these people, and other leaders, always have made the right calls. But it’s not as if the conservative cupboard is bare. Indeed, compared to 1960, our cupboard is packed. Conservative think tanks, publications, and websites proliferate and do fantastic work. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of conservatives have been credentialed in congressional and executive staff positions, and in the legal field. Conservative newspapers and clubs abound on college campuses nationwide, and organizations such as the Leadership Institute, Young America’s Foundation, and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute have trained tens of thousands of conservatives to venture successfully into the worlds of politics, media and academia.
The importance of marshaling these resources against myriad challenges and overcoming them will be magnified in 2008. Our enemies, the terrorists, are evil; and our domestic adversaries, the left, are so terribly misguided that they don’t recognize that the terrorists are a serious, ever-present, imminent threat. A United States government run by Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama alongside Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, and Chuck Schumer would likely be more ruthless in extirpating conservative influences at home than in battling international jihadists. It’s a dangerous proposition.
The left flat-out doesn’t understand, much less value, the key facets of the American Experiment. And the left will undermine that experiment if we conservatives don’t grow up and buckle down for a fight. Any one of the Republican contenders for president will do an exponentially better job of safeguarding and promoting the American Experiment than any one of the Democratic contenders would do — because every one of the GOP candidates has shown at least a decent grasp of the principles involved.
If we conservatives do a decent job of explaining those principles, then the principles continue to earn the public’s support. The American people still favor, and conservatives still advocate, limited government. The populace joins with conservatives in favoring a muscular military. Together, we favor judges who are deferential to the actual text of the Constitution and of statutes passed pursuant to its rules.
Together, we favor a communal respect for timeless standards of conduct — not “hidebound tradition” but enlightened tradition. We favor strict, clear, and consistent standards of law and order. We favor maximum liberty within the law (but not libertinism, although we would rely on private communities rather than on government to uphold the distinctions between one and the other).
We oppose abortion-on-demand and partial-birth abortion. We believe that the public square should not be utterly hostile to expressions of faith. We believe private property deserves strong legal protections. We believe in free markets. We believe that governmental power in most cases should remain as localized as possible. We believe that the U.S. national interest is, by its very nature, a moral interest, and that we are the “good guys” on the world stage. And we believe that private citizens almost inevitably make better decisions, and achieve more effective and humane results in almost every sphere of life, than does the bureaucratic state.
Those are principles that the majority of the American people still support in their very souls, and they are principles on which we can and must win. Let’s stop moaning, grow up, and get to work.