What Did I See At Cpac?

February 27th, 2009 at 9:58 pm | 57 Comments |

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The hatred of professionalism. Tucker Carlson mildly suggests that conservatives need more than their feelings. That, whatever you think of the bias of the New York Times, they at least care that they spell your name correctly, and they actually do something: gather news. 

He was booed and challenged by the audience of course.

Joe the Plumber was the star of the day. I haven’t confirmed this, but I was told he recently briefed a group of Republicans on his trip to Gaza.  I don’t care what your foreign policy is: Joe the Plumber shouldn’t be informing it. 

All day, the message I got was this: The movement enjoys being hated by its enemies, more than it cares about its own goals. It is populist, and irresponsible. A little popularizing is good, a little political theatre is good.

CPAC is just unpleasant. And it is not just the elites flattening the ambitions of the people, it is the people dumbing down their own elites. Well-adjusted people, even if they feel alienated from certain parts of American society don’t wish to be hated by society. People who want to advance some goals, want more responsibility, not less. I hate that CPAC seems to give credibility to Adorno: that conservatives have defective personalities.

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57 Comments so far ↓

  • Chekote

    Dragonlady. I think I may join you.

  • MSheridan

    Chekote, dragonlady, when you say this site has nothing good to say about conservatives, I believe you have mistaken its basic premise. There are posters here ranging from liberal through moderate to very conservative, and of course you’re likely to disagree with at least some of them, but they are not the site (and trust me, if NRO allowed reader comments on every page, you’d see the same there). I read NRO daily, and I see writers there just as critical as the most critical contributors here, but the difference is that the MAJORITY of writers for NRO appear to believe that no change is needed in the conservative movement and that it is only necessary to discredit the opposition for conservatism to flourish once again. This site was founded on a different premise: instead of (or in addition to) simply waiting for liberals to fail or convincing the public that they have already done so, it is an effort to find a conservatism that is more relevant to the populace at large. As conservatism in this country has been in a near constant state of flux since its beginning, this is not necessarily an ignoble form of surrender but could possibly be a necessary step forward. I look in on this site (although I’m far from conservative myself) because I can appreciate the value of having actual conservatives (as the term was once understood) participating in the sphere of public discourse. I do see the continuity between the past and present versions–oldstyle conservatives were also pessimists who distrusted people’s inherent evil tendencies, thought governments only exist to keep all that evil bottled up but are otherwise not that useful, and believed that the accumulated wisdom and practices of the past are not to be lightly set aside. Even though I might well disagree with all those ideas as they intersect with any specific political issue, I recognize that it is nonsensical to deny that they have their place. But they aren’t received truths–they sprang out of a body of well thought out philosophy. I would argue that the Know-Nothingism of too many modern conservatives (and no, this isn’t aimed at either of you) is far more repugnant to the general public than their actual politics. It’s far easier to deal with someone holding well-thought-out ideas based on differing assumptions who is prepared to engage in honest debate than someone with a gutful of unexamined prejudices whose mind is nailed shut. I realize that this description could just as easily apply to some liberals, but they’re not the ones dominating talk radio. The day I hear that Limbaugh has quoted Burke or Hobbes (or even, gawds help us, Russell Kirk) will be the day I have a fleeting glimmer of respect for his understanding of what actual conservatism means. If you do leave, don’t do it because you disagree with the commenters or some or even all of the writers. Leave because you think the conservative movement is perfect as is and should not change in any way.

  • Chekote

    “it is an effort to find a conservatism that is more relevant to the populace at large” Please tell me what is irrelevant about freedom? Please tell me what is irrelevant about believing that individuals generally make better decisions for themselves and their families than government bureaucrats? What is irrelevant about believing that the American experiment is something special that should be cherished? That’s our American values have built the greatest standard of living on earth and before throwing everything out we need to stop and think. Do we really have to tinker with the sanctity of contract law just because 8% of the people can’t pay their mortgages? There is nothing irrelevant about conservative principles because they are the principles upon which this great country was built on. People voted against Bush, not against conservatism. If Frum and others want to help the cause, instead of railing against CPAC, Palin or Rush, he should point out that the reason we lost was because Bush did not govern as a conservative. It was because despite controlling both end of PA avenue, the GOP expanded government. That would be more useful instead of constantly attacking conservatives. How about a couple of threads on how disasterous Bernanke has been? A thread on Paulson who will go down as the worse Treasury Secretary? How the Paulson bailout plan has been a utter and complete failure? A thread on why the GOP did not hold to its promise to get rid of the Department of Education, HUD and Commerce? I think a discussion about the topics I listed would be more constructive.

  • MSheridan

    There is nothing irrelevant about freedom. Coming to an common agreement on what it means is the hard part. To the extent that conservatives champion freedom as I understand it, I’m in full agreement with them. As for individuals making better decisions for themselves and their families than government bureaucrats…well, I’m not convinced conservatives can claim to stand for that in every or even most circumstances. Aside from the largish minority of libertarian conservatives, I believe the majority of the conservative movement is in line with the tradition of conservative thought on individual choices. Most oldstyle (Hobbes, Burke, Kirk) and modern conservatives tend to believe people have no natural inclination to be good and must be prevented from evil, very often think governments are not incredibly useful aside from their prime justification of defending nations from threats both external and internal (aforementioned human tendencies toward evil), and generally believe that the accumulated wisdom and practices of the past are not to be lightly set aside. I can’t claim there’s no validity whatsoever to these beliefs and I recognize there is a little wiggle room there for respect for individuals’ choices, but I hardly think it’s integral to the philosophy. As far as the theory of American exceptionalism you mentioned goes, I subscribe to it myself, aside from the canard that we’ve got the highest standard of living on earth. It doesn’t matter to me that a few European nations have higher, because I believe in America’s future and think standard of living is no certain gauge of national greatness anyway. But I don’t think that belief in American values is a conservative/liberal split either. The only difference I’ve seen regarding patriotism is that conservatives are more likely to subscribe to “My country, right or wrong” and liberals to Carl Schurz’s (19th C German-American patriot) more complete statement “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” For this, liberals are very often accused of hating America. As for the discussion topics you suggest, they might be quite interesting to many readers. I only ask whether you think the result of said discussions will help Republicans win in the future, supposedly the point of this site. I absolutely do not doubt the sincerity of those conservatives who blame the recent Democratic wins on the failure of conservatives to govern in a fashion consistent with their principles. I simply do not see how restating those principles will help, when it wasn’t lack of clarity as to what they were that was the problem. Even if it were granted for the sake of argument that TRUE conservatives would do much better, how are they to be elected in the first place when it would seem that the electorate has largely given up on them, at least for now?

  • MSheridan

    Please forgive the grammatical errors–”an common agreement” [shudder] and the accidental duplication of material from the previous entry (completely forgot I’d already said that–it’s late). It would be really nice if there were a preview button on this site so we could see how our posts would look before finalizing them.

  • Chekote

    “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” For this, liberals are very often accused of hating America”. That is not why they are accused of hating America. When Reid goes to the floor and declares that the surge has failed before it has even taken place, that is cheering for our troops to fail. John McCain was very critical of various Bush policies. Did anyone on the Right call him unpatriotic? No. Sure he was called a RINO but no one ever questioned his patriotism. There is a difference between benig critical of certain individuals or policies, and saying that America is in its essence a racist country or a force for evil in the world. Above you don’t cheer for the troops to fail because you don’t like who is in the White House. You don’t call a decorated general a traitor or liar. I think that the problem with the conservative movement in America is that the message was undermined by joining with certain religious leaders for political expediency. You cannot say that you want limited government and at the same time advocate for the government to run people’s bedrooms. You can’t argue for a limited federal government and get involved in the Schiavo situation. Let’s face it. What hurt conservatism was their leaders constantly undermining conservative principles for political expediency. What conserns me about this website is that there is very little discussion about how we regain credibility with our natural constituency and instead it focuses on how the GOP can use the federal government to solve people’s everyday problems. It seems to take what our political opposition says about us as fact and wastes its time devising policies to assuage their criticisms. I don’t believe that this course will lead to a new majority. Instead of focusing on “what’s wrong” with conservatism, we need to focus on what people who call themselves conservatives are doing wrong.

  • dragonlady

    MSheridian: “Leave because you think the conservative movement is perfect as is and should not change in any way.” If you’ve read Chekote’s or my posts, you will see we have no problems with constructive criticism of Republicans, moderate and conservative alike, so I reject your insinuation that we are incapable of political self-examination. As far as the posters on this site, I have no problem with disagreeing civilly with well thought out arguments such as yours. There are certain posters here that just reflexively spew out ideological dribble from the blogosphere and I simply ignore them. But the posters, to an extent, are a reflection of the site and there are few conservative posters or defenders around. Im all for making the GOP back into the Big Tent party but I do not want to sacrifice its core conservative philosophy or principles. You say mouthing principles is not enough. That is true, but if the party has no underlying philosophy, its nothing more than a populist poll-chasing movement doomed to be short-lived. I am critical of the GOP because I believe they havent applied their principles in governance. They have been unimaginative in formulating conservative solutions to current problems in a manner that resonate with voters, and have failed to broaden the appeal of the party. On social issues, I can see how the strength of the ideologues have hurt voter perception which is why Ive called for forming non-theological approaches on these issues. And Ive continually said social issues should not be a litmus test. But Im tired of the base being bashed as a bunch of ignoramuses or being looked down as unsophisticated. We can navel gaze all day long, and its called for with the recent electoral loss. But I will not apologize for not wanting to move towards European style democratic socialism. So lets debate the degree of governments role in current issues (such as regulation vis a vis the marketplace, health care, etc ) and how they can empower individuals; thats what we need to be doing. Is it too much to ask the NewMajority to stop eating its own and focus on forming principled, sensible opposition to the Democrats? Conservatism to me means BOTH individual freedom and responsibility. If that is somehow outdated to you and the majority of voters, then we need to fight for it again.