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Back alley conservatism

By Brian Wise
web posted June 2, 2008

Four years ago I stumbled across the Libertarian convention on C-Span.  It's hard to take a political party seriously when those who gather to pick its nominee so closely resemble a bar crowd stumbling into a Denny's at three o'clock in the morning.  But there they were, in some hotel conference room, bleating and carrying on randomly as though there were no real format for the proceedings … I lasted about thirty minutes, until the moment someone rose and suggested Howard Stern should be the party's nominee.  That Howard Stern.

Libertarianism is basically conservatism with a few critical departures, those having mainly to do with edifying stoners and tweaking the fancies of terribly unserious people.  But for the first time in recent memory, Libertarians have nominated a reasonably serious man, Bob Barr, who in the final analysis could be just enough to the right of John McCain to satisfy disaffected conservatives.  A significant thing, since Republicans haven't bothered with nominating a conservative since 1984.

Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry.  Democrats nominate liberals, and will again this year.  Yet there is no real disconnect between moderate and liberal Democrats as to the ideological purity of their nominees.  In fact, what is passing as unrest between Obama and Clinton supporters boils down to a simple matter of preference: the debate isn't over who is the better Leftist, if there can be such a thing.  It's over the physical form that Leftist takes.

But ours is a climate where even the most generic of preferences can be stretched and twisted into something "newsworthy."  Polls suggest Obama supporters won't vote for Clinton if she somehow steals the nomination, and vice versa, if Obama is given the nod.  Don't believe them.  It would sting at first, but in the end Democrats will talk themselves into voting for whoever heads their ticket, being that their only reasonable alternatives are John McCain, who will at least masquerade as a Republican and who will have to run to the right if he hopes to win; Bob Barr, who lead the Clinton impeachment crusade in the House; and Ralph Nader, who in no small measure cost Gore the Green the presidency eight years ago.  Democrats absolutely will not resist the temptation to bury Republicans in November.

Whatever delight the Right has pulled from the Clinton/Obama mess, it also knows that federal Republicanism (which regrettably is the closest we can get to federal conservatism) runs the very real risk of not only remaining a minority party, but of suffering a blow on the scale of the post-Watergate bloodbath.  And in this scenario, electoral conservatism – already relegated to dark corners wherever it lingers in Washington DC – stands only to be consigned to back alleys.

Still, only conservatives mean it when they say they would rather stay home than vote for the likes of John McCain, because the conservative movement is separate from Republicanism.  You will never hear a sober liberal say that Democrats deserve to lose elections because their candidates aren't liberal enough.  Not so with conservatives.  You will never hear a liberal say that a Republican administration is an acceptable price to pay if the end result is a purer, more liberal administration in the aftermath.  Not so with conservatives.

If recent history is a reliable guide, Americans will only stand unrestrained Leftism for so long before lifting Republicans back up as a counterbalance.  Democrats are fine as an occasional breath of fresh air, but by their own intellectual and ideological design are prone to suffer squishy backbones and bend to socialist tendencies.  Of course, Republicans haven't been much better these past years, significantly differing from Democrats only in their willingness to find and destroy terrorists, which would be enough if bomb toting heathens were America's only threat.  We await a conservative ascendancy, though the mood of the country seems to be against self-discipline of any sort. ESR

Brian Wise's web site can be found at http://www.brianwise.com.


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