News of the Death of Conservatism Has Been Widely Exaggerated

“To be conservative is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”

– Michael Oakeshott (1901 – 1990)

Today’s departure of Mitt Romney from the 2008 presidential race has brought disappointment, disenchantment, frustration and trepidation to many conservatives, including myself. Many of us viewed Romney, as imperfect as he was, to be the only chance left at having our ideals represented in this November’s election.

Over the past few weeks, conservative voices such as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham have all touted Romney as the only conservative alternative to Sen. John McCain. Beck and Levin, citing statements made by Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family (and others), adv
anced the idea of sitting out this election rather than vote for a man who, as Dobson said, “has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eye” of conservatives. Controversial [and bird-like] columnist Ann Coulter even mentioned that, with a McCain nomination, she would personally campaign for Hillary Clinton in an effort to keep the Arizona senator out of the Oval Office. Even yours truly, with a whopping four weeks experience as a “commentator,” articulated as best I could that I believe John McCain to be, in many ways, more dangerous than Hillary Clinton.

I will stand by that sentiment until McCain, now the inevitable GOP nominee, proves me otherwise in one way or another. Today’s speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee (sponsored by the American Conservative Union), an event that he snubbed last year, proved that McCain is at least able to acknowledge and discuss his various misgivings — and that’s a start. It will take this and much, much more to convince myself and other conservatives that the discouraging spectre of his record is not a harbinger of future unfortunate decisions.

Still, with Romney no longer competing for the GOP nomination, the blogs and the talk radio circuit will no doubt be buzzing with Chicken Little types, screaming about the death of conservatism. I even saw a clip of Rush Limbaugh on Fox News Channel today, saying something along the lines of “the conservative movement will never be the same.”

I couldn’t disagree more.

Conservatism is bigger than John McCain, bigger than 2008, bigger than Ronald Reagan, even. Conservatism wasn’t invented by Reagan, by Barry Goldwater, Teddy Roosevelt or anyone else. Conservatism isn’t a trend, isn’t a fashion or theory designed for fleeting consideration before fading into fodder for books that will never be read. Conservatism has been written off before — it was written off in 1976 after the disappointment of Ford-Dole; it was written off in 1992 after Democrats obtained control of the House, Senate and the White House; it was written off again in 1996 after Bob Dole’s anticlimactic presidential run.

The sea change pending for the Republican party is a direct result of the so-called “Big Tent” approach to party politics, which blurred the lines of the basic tenets of conservatism — strong national defense and foreign policy, responsible and pro-growth fiscal policy, rich and grounded family and moral values. The more people the GOP tried to cram into the left side of the Big Tent, the more those on the right side, the ones that had been there from the start, were pushed out into the rain.

Over the next few months, some of the debate among those on the right will include analysis of the relevance of conservatives and conservatism. If conservatives are so plentiful and so powerful, they’ll ask, why couldn’t they get Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson elected? Over the next few months, the pundits and pinheads will put forth the proposition that the country as a whole is moving to the left at a rapid pace. Look at the turnout numbers in the primary, they’ll say, pointing to the popular vote count discrepancy between democrats and republicans.

Once John McCain secures the nomination as he most likely will, expect the mainstream media to do as much as they can to foster discontent within the GOP base. A fractured base brings out those aforementioned “suicide voters,” a fractured base causes people to simply stay home.

But don’t believe it. The core principles of conservatism–starting with a limited central government–are the very principles on which this nation was founded.

John McCain may or may not be a conservative–his stance on the First Amendment, his ignorance of problems caused by illegal immigration, his stubbornness on the tax cuts and his embrace of global warming propaganda cement that distinction for me–but the movement transcends the candidate.

It doesn’t matter what McCain says or even, in this exceedingly superficial America, how he says it — he knows what he has to say, what we want him to say. It doesn’t matter how many no-tax pledges or pro-life pledges or no-gun-control pledges he takes — pledges are simply a tool of distrust. What matters is America. What matters is who replaces the aging Justices on the Supreme Court, what matters is how we approach the gathering storm of Islamofascism, what matters is when the country can emerge from the looming economic crisis.

Conservatism will survive 2008 and John McCain. Believe it or not, it would even survive Hillary Clinton or Barack Hussein Obama. Conservatism will be there, years down the road, when the Global War on Terror is decided and freedom has won.

In the meantime, should McCain show the leadership acumen to actually earn party unity, conservatives everywhere will need to bite their tongue and rally around the GOP nominee for the sake of the country. It may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t mean that we cannot insist that our ideals be at the forefront of the party platform. It doesn’t even mean that frequent shots of constructive–and maybe some not-so-constructive–criticism are off-limits. Regardless, this particular time in America is not the time to abstain in order to make a cheap, short-sighted political point. News of the death of conservatism has indeed been widely exaggerated, and it will be around for years to come whether the Republican party learns its lesson or not.

Here are the two speeches, Romney’s exit and McCain’s olive branch, from CPAC today:


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