Bored with Governing

August 19th, 2010 at 7:13 am David Frum | 51 Comments |

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Stacy McCain offers this grim observation:


It shouldn’t be necessary to say this in a crucial mid-term election year, but I have been troubled to find that it’s difficult to get conservatives to concentrate on supporting individual candidates in actual elections.

When I spent three weeks covering Tim Burns in the PA-12 special election, traffic to the blog actually went down. That was discouraging.

Everybody’s always saying we need more reporting by bloggers and yet, when I actually go out on the road to do reporting, it produces less traffic than when I’m just sitting here in my basement snarking about headlines.

Part of the problem, I think, is that conservatives don’t really like politics. The grubby business of electing politicians and enacting legislation strikes many conservatives as something uncouth and menial. And there is a notable tendency among conservative bloggers to limit themselves to three basic categories of topics:

  1. Liberals are evil.
  2. The media is biased.
  3. Whatever is on the Drudge Report.

I’d amend Stacy as follows: actually I think conservatives do pay attention to elections. What is neglected is governance. How much do we discuss what went wrong with the US economy in the Bush years? If tax cuts are essential to pulling the economy out of recession, why didn’t Bush-enacted tax cuts prevent the US economy from tumbling into recession in the first place? Why did incomes stagnate between 2000 and 2007? Why did health cost inflation suddenly accelerate after 2001? What went wrong in the energy markets? How can we do better next time?

Interest in these questions varies from slight to negligible. Even our leading think tanks prefer culture war to policy analysis.

David Brooks once optimistically hailed a “conservatism of governance.” We seem instead to have developed a “conservatism of permanent opposition.” If that prospect dismays Stacy McCain, as opposition-minded a writer as I know, it should dismay us all.

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51 Comments so far ↓

  • jg bennet

    what if the GOP had this guy today?

    “Were you ahead of your time?,” I asked Goldwater.

    “Nah, it was the distortions I couldn’t overcome. That media bunch put horns on me, made me into a zealot. That’s not Barry Goldwater.”

    “A lot of so-called conservatives today don’t know what the word means,” he told me with irritation in his voice. “They think I’ve turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. Hell, that’s up to the pregnant woman, not up to the Pope or some do-gooders or the religious right.” Such a statement was in the Goldwater mold: Say what you believe and let the chips fall where they may. Follow your conscience ahead of old partisan loyalties, even if you make some people mad.

    Goldwater was a throwback to a bygone era, one that is just a misty presence to many questing and straggling, coping and floundering in today’s America.

    The nation desperately needs more like him. Few of this time and place understand, perhaps because his agenda and his notion of public service were as guileless and unbending as those of a lonesome cowboy from a distant, simpler past.

    From my encounters with him over the years, I became persuaded his measure of each big issue never was ideological, but simply what he perceived to be the best for his country. Many citizens are hungering for that sort of leader, that kind of candidate in today’s political cesspool. In a letter she wrote me in 1998, former First Lady Nancy Reagan put it well: “there will never be another Barry Goldwater.”

    As the religious right tightened its grip on the national GOP, Goldwater became even more agitated and emphatic.

    When former Republican national chairman Haley Barbour charged critics of this movement with “religious bigotry” and “Christian-bashing,” Goldwater erupted: “That’s a crock. He’s way the hell off base, dead wrong. That religious bunch is crazy….”

    Goldwater was convinced a radical rightwing faction–large, loosely organized, and zealous–has “hijacked” the noble concept of historic conservatism rooted in such ideas as individual liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness, all under the protective cloak of the Constitution.

    Goldwater consistently demonstrated his uncommon ability to separate the ephemeral from the enduring, his unwillingness to embrace as conservative whatever some zealots demanded. Conservatism has become the dominant philosophy in the U.S. Because of its popularity, many seek to fit their ideas, notions, agendas, and prejudices into an ever-expanding box labeled “conservative.” This has become a real hodge-podge, and Goldwater wasn’t buying. He did not believe true conservatism could be twisted, bent, shaped, and/or altered to fit the whims and schemes of those he said don’t understand it.

    Barry Goldwater will stand for all time as a rare icon of political integrity.

    the article;col1