I honestly don’t know how I missed this.
In an earlier post (The Two Conservative Divides) I outlined my theory on some of the conflict taking place on the Right.
In the post, I posited two divides:
- Insurgency vs. Establishment
- National Security Hawks vs. (alleged) Isolationists
I gave some personalities and examples. Timothy Carney provides another one with his excellent piece on intraparty conflict in The Examiner (Conservative insurgents strike blow against GOP Establishment) that serves as a vivid example of the first divide.
I think the divides I originally outlined are valid, but I’ve realized in the last few days I missed a key divide, probably because it overlaps with the first one.
Whole lotta conflatin’ goin’ on
As I’ve engaged with various people, especially on Twitter, I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of unnecessary argument is occurring simply because a lot of folks, especially in the press, conflate an ideological point of view with a partisan one.
There’s a difference.
Greg Sargent is a liberal ideologue. As I read his stuff, the Democratic Party comes in as a distant second in his priorities. Frankly, if they’re not going to move the progressive ball forward, he’s not going to defend them, or spin things to help them win elections.
E.J. Dionne, on the other hand, though he’s also a progressive working at a progressive think tank, will consistently and without fail spin every Democratic defeat as a win and advise the Republican Party how it can win the hearts of voters if they will only become more like Democrats.
Partisans want their party to win elections and be in charge.
Ideologues want to change the world. (Or, maybe change it back…)
I can hear you saying now, “I want to do both things.”
So do most of us.
Where you determine the divide is by discerning where the greatest, most consistent focus of your efforts points.
In my earlier post, the Establishment (which includes GOP congressional leadership AND many in the conservative commentariat) was dead set against Cruz and Lee’s efforts to defund Obamacare or face a shutdown.
The GOP leadership position, I can sort of understand. A party quite naturally must be a good steward of coming elections. (What I don’t understand is why a partisan would think it’s a dandy idea to crucify your party rivals in public and feed the press toxic talking points they’ll then use against your rivals—and you—during the next election.)
What I couldn’t see then was why the Lowry/Lewis/Ponnuru wing of the conservative movement backed them. With a vengeance.
My theory—at least until Lowry and friends refute it—is that the part of the conservative commentariat that sided with congressional leadership against Cruz and Lee sees the ideology of their movement through a partisan lens.
Partisans vs. Ideologues
Partisans want to expand their party and win elections. Then, their perspective tells them, they can govern.
The trouble is, moving the ideological football down the field always takes second place to winning the elections that will put them in/help them stay in power.
Meanwhile, ideologues in the stands watch and wonder. What they’re wondering is why we’re playing a game that consists entirely of gaining custody of a ball that’s always going back toward the other guy’s goal?
What’s the point of winning power if you’re so afraid of losing it—you end up not using it at all?
GOP leadership had more fear of electoral backlash from a (partial) government shutdown than they had vision to see the way to ultimate repeal of the worst legislation in their lifetimes.
Fear vs. vision is one of the worst downsides of partisanship.
What about the conservative commentariat?
They’re a leading part of a movement.
Why did they (seem to) go squish?
I think it’s because, in their thinking and (can we be honest here?) in their feeling—their view of the conservative movement has morphed into a quasi-partisan mindset.
It’s not that the Rich Lowrys, Matt Lewises, and almost the entire staff of The Washington Examiner, are less conservative than Cruz, Lee, et al. It’s that they’ve developed an entirely different perspective on how to build the movement.
The “partisan ideologues” view conservatism as a container that isn’t nearly full enough. So they’ve morphed into The Party That Refuses To Offend. They’ve become an analogue to the GOP party structure. They want to slow the growth of government. Their fear is always focused on avoiding losing the next election.
Without intending to, they have hitched their wagons to the GOP star.
The “idealist ideologues” view conservatism as a movement of convictions and ideals that needs more adherents. So they go as warrior-teachers into the marketplace of ideas. They take stands. They publish papers. They count votes. They name names. They recruit. They raise money. They make themselves the targets of leftist vitriol. They want to reverse the growth of government. Their fear is focused on what will happen if we reach a tipping point where freedom and opportunity are lost forever.
They agree with each other on most issues.
Sadly, they keep letting each other down.
Personally, I think both perspectives have a good point.
At this juncture, though, I’m with the side that is determined to keep that ball moving toward our goal.
Whether we have the ball—or the other guy does.
I wrote about this after the 2008 election, in a piece called Priorities:
After listening to some of both the stupidest and smartest discussions of what the Republican Party and the conservative movement need to do, here’s my list of priorities (written from the perspective of an amateur member of the conservative movement):
- Principles before programs (principles meaning both values and a clear-headed view of how the universe actually works).
- Programs before personalities (programs being the practical application of principles).
- Personalities before political calculus (meaning, getting away from the horserace—especially the premature horserace—aspect of elections in favor of actually examining leaders, their ideas and their readiness to hold a particular office).
Right now, I believe with all my heart that we are going about all this bassackwards, completely from the wrong end of things. That’s why—at least as it appears to me—we have this false divide between “traditionalists” and “reformers.” I think the traditionalists are trying to put first things first: examine and re-embrace First Principles, while the reformers are more interested in expanding the Party than they are teaching and winning hearts and minds with actual conservative principles. (If that is NOT what reformers are actually trying to do, then they need to change the way they’re describing their purpose. It’s their own fault that we’re interpreting them as political appeasers.)