SHOULD conservatives feel like Tim Howard?

Matt Lewis

Is Matt Lewis outlining a serious concept—or just trolling with his latest column in The Week?

First off, let me just say that—though I appreciated the humor in it—I don’t agree with this tweet by Dan Isett:

Although I feel his pain.

On the surface there’s a lot to agree with.

Matt Lewis, The Week: Why conservatives feel like Tim Howard

Today, Tim Howard is perhaps the most famous and beloved man in America.

The U.S. goalkeeper was extraordinary in Tuesday’s heartbreaking World Cup loss to Belgium. Before it was all over, Howard would justly earn the sobriquet “secretary of defense,” relentlessly guarding the American goal and making an astounding 16 saves. But let’s not forget, the U.S. team lost, 2-1. Which is why making 16 saves — having to make 16 saves — is a rather dubious distinction. The fact that a goalkeeper would have to deliver such a heroic performance is indicative of an American team that was constantly playing defense, while Belgium was taking all the shots.

I knew where he was going…

And that’s why Tuesday’s USA-Belgium game reminded me of American politics. Conservatives are the Americans in this analogy — and no, it’s not because I think conservatives are any “more American” than liberals. It’s because the very nature of conservatism involves playing defense and trying to preserve the status quo. This is an inherent problem for conservatives, who are generally attempting to conserve the things we like about traditional America. Progressives, on the other hand, are on offense. They want to expand government, make new laws, offer new benefits, and overhaul the status quo. They are attacking our net.

Matt goes on to quote from an H.L. Richardson pamphlet that talks convincingly about the contrasting dynamics between the Left, which is always on the attack with innovation after innovation and the Right, which is seeking to preserve the underpinnings that make America possible.

And I don’t disagree with a word so far.

But then:

Realizing that politics is a state of perpetual #war, many conservatives have begun aping the left. You see this when we play the victim card or engage in identity politics — or simply when conservatives overreach so that we “clear the ball,” so to speak, and can go on offense ourselves. And maybe that’s what it takes to fend off a relentless assault on your values.

But in the end, conservatives should not be agitators and offensive-minded political players. We are defenders and goalies. And sadly for us, even if we were to have an effort as heroic as Howard’s, if the other side takes enough shots on goal, some are bound to go in.

Whenever this Left/Right dynamic contrast (or Burke/Paine, if you will) is laid out this way, my mind snaps back to the American Revolution.

The American colonists began by defending their rights as Englishmen. But eventually  they were quite clearly on offense.

All the way to the goal.

All the way to the win.

I believe Burke would be backing revolution about now. Albeit a philosophical/political one rather an armed one.

But a revolution nonetheless.

A revolution of restoration and revitalization.

Therein lies the difficulty I have with the predominant GOP mindset.

It is crouched in a corner, hoarding, when it should be on a white steed charging forth to the rescue.


I’m kind of glad I missed this until Matt passed it along. I might not have put my thoughts into words if I’d read it first.

Matt actually wrote a complementary piece for The Daily Caller that filled in this idea and balanced it out.

He begins with that famous passage in The Catcher in the Rye, where the narrator Holden Caufield describes his life purpose.

Matt Lewis, Daily Caller: The Catcher in the Rye

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” – J.D. Salinger

He concludes:

This is not to say conservatism has to be purely reactionary. There are certainly times when conservatives do seize the initiative and drive the debate. And not all change is bad. One of my favorite politicians was William Wilberforce, who sought to change things — to end the British slave trade, for example.

But while we can change tactics and strategies, the truth is that, fundamentally, conservatives will — more often than not — find ourselves playing defense — attempting to conserve the good things about Western Civilization and traditional values.

This, perhaps, explains Buckley’s line about “standing athwart history.” We’re just the catcher in the rye and all.

Bottom line is, I agree with a lot of this, but I would go further and be on offense much more of the time.

In fact, I would re-martial the language of conservative thought. Picture the conservative movement as the Mel Gibson characters in Braveheart and The Patriot.

When you are defending your home, your family, your country, you take the battle to the enemy.

No time for feeble actions when the stakes are that high.

Something’s making my mind drift to Winston Churchill, the RAF, and the Battle of Britain.

Purely a defensive situation.

Then there were battles around the edges.

Then there was D-Day.

And then there was the long drive into the enemy’s homeland.

Eventually, there was restoration and healing.

I really like this discussion, because it explains a lot of the differences—some conviction, some temperamental—between some of my conservative brethren and myself.

It’s valuable, I think, to hash out these concepts in the light of history, but kept safe from the heat of current political controversies and score-keeping.

Picture credit: Stolen from The Week.

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