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Conservatism: Criteria for consideration

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted June 6, 2005

I love Patrick J. Buchanan. I've known him since he was a young speechwriter and special assistant to President Richard M. Nixon. I admired his courage before the Senate Watergate Committee. I have read his columns and watched him on television for years. I tried to help his 1972 Presidential Campaign behind the scenes. While I did not agree with his departure from the Republican Party in 2000 I admired his courage. I am grateful for his publication, The American Conservative, which seeks traditional conservative positions on issues.

On occasion I differ with Pat. Recently he suggested that conservatives no longer could unify because the movement has "broken up, crumbled, dismantled." Having just spent months working harder than ever on the "constitutional option," which seeks to restore 215 years of Senate tradition by requiring a simple majority to confirm judges, I can assure Pat that the entire movement was involved -- the tax people, the gun people, the pro-lifers, the pro-family groups and the school-choice groups. We are together and we remain together because the constitutional option is still on the table. We could claim victory for President George W. Bush's judicial nominees, which have been better than President Ronald W. Reagan's appointees.

Likewise the movement has supported embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). DeLay likely will survive because a unified conservative movement supports him.

Can the movement fall apart? Of course, it can. If the Republican Leadership dramatically doesn't change its immigration policy by early next year it could lose control of Congress. If this movement again fails to advocate smaller, less intrusive government it also could fall apart. It wouldn't take long to ascertain the movement's position on these and other potentially divisive issues. Some of these are values issues such as the right-to-life and traditional marriage. If Republicans fail to support these issues, regardless of polling results, then the pro-family movement could opt-out of the GOP and start its own political party.

Right now the movement probably would remain together because we have a Republican President and because we are at war. The war in Iraq grows increasingly unpopular but conservatives are loyal. While President Bush is not conservative on everything, he is conservative enough to keep the movement from disintegrating unless he insists on an immigration policy opposed by 80% of the people.

What happens to the movement after President Bush? That is a subject I intend to tackle beginning in the middle of July for 12 subsequent weeks, continuing with another series on the "next conservatism" and how I believe it should be shaped. Each commentary will examine how conservatism could be applied in modern society.

Conservatism is not an ideology. It is a way of life and the "next conservatism" will be written in that context. Things will remain constant while President Bush is in office. After he leaves office there will be a contest for the soul of the Republican Party, the likes of which we have not witnessed since the 1964 Goldwater-Rockefeller Presidential race (especially because his brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, made a Sherman-like statement about not being a 2008 Presidential candidate). If a conservative emerges from that contest the candidate must understand where to lead the nation.

That is what the "next conservatism" is about. It would provide a framework for conservatives who hope to guide the nation beyond 2008. It is, of course, not exclusively about the Presidency or Congress or the States. It is about the reconstruction of the movement based on its traditional roots.

Will everyone like what I have to say? No, my recommendations are intended to spark debate and discussion. Big government advocates will hate the next conservatism because I stress that so-called "big- government conservatism" is not conservatism at all. Modern-day Wilsonians won't be thrilled with this framework either. The next conservatism takes on many interests - even big business. It will cover subjects which conservatives seldom discuss, such as cities and farms.

I thought carefully and at length about this series. I don't expect the movement simply to adopt and apply every position. But I would remind folks that in the mid-1980s the Free Congress Foundation introduced "cultural conservatism." We audaciously suggested that economics was not at the heart of conservatism. We suggested that, in fact, good economics could not succeed in a failed culture. At first we were labeled as traitors to the conservative movement. Staffers from one prominent conservative organization independently chose to call the trustees of the Free Congress Foundation to suggest that they leave our Board. Thank goodness they did not. Now our position is accepted by many in the conservative movement. Even Libertarians argue that what changes they want in government and economics will not happen in a dysfunctional culture.

I hope the leaders of our movement will challenge what will say. In some cases, such as with cultural conservatism our views may, in due course, prevail. In other cases, the challengers could develop better ideas.

We cannot have a vibrant, majoritarian movement unless we discuss, debate and think about our future. I hope readers will find these columns on the next conservatism challenging and will join in the debate.

Do you think summer is a time of political doldrums? Think again. These commentaries, which will continue on a weekly basis after the original 12, are guaranteed to make for one red-hot summer.

Paul M. Weyrich is the Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.


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