May 17, 2005

Buchanan: Conservatism is Dead

Pat Buchanan says American conservatism is dead.

“The conservative movement has passed into history,” says the one-time White House aide, three-time presidential candidate, commentator and magazine publisher.

“It doesn't exist anymore as a unifying force,” he says in an interview with The Washington Times. “There are still a lot of people who are conservative, but the movement is now broken up, crumbled, dismantled.”

I almost never agree with Pat Buchanan. I’m rather partial to Stephen Greene’s argument that Buchanan is, as ever, a Nazi apologist. And I don’t use that term lightly. Neither does Stephen.

But Buchanan is right about this. “Conservative” is as useless a label as “liberal.” Neither term describes anything unified. “Conservatives” are a coalition of competing, and often mutually hostile, groups of people with different ideas. So are “liberals.” Just because we have two dominant political parties doesn’t mean there are only two kinds of Americans or only two schools of political thought.

Let’s say (just for fun) that conservatives are defined as those who are members of the Republican Party. Well, you’ve got your isolationist and traditionalist paleocons like Pat “Old Right and Old Church” Buchanan. Then there are the socially liberal Wall Street conservatives like Steve Forbes, whom Buchanan and his ragtag band of “peasants with pitchforks” deeply despise. Liberal Republicans like Arnold Schwartzenegger and Rudy Giuliani can plausibly be called RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) because they are really only “conservative” when compared with their fellow blue-staters. Libertarian Republicans - most of them anyway - are only Republicans in the first place because they think the GOP is the lesser of two evils. Theocons like James Dobson often make libertarian Republicans wonder if the Democrats might be the lesser of two evils after all. Don’t forget the neoconservatives – recent converts to Republicanism who still retain some of their old liberalism (whatever that is these days).

Lord only knows where swing voters who pulled the lever for Bush fit in – if they fit in at all, which is unlikely.

Cox and Forkum summed up the fight on the right quite nicely in one of their cartoons a couple months back.

Schiavo Rift.JPG

Here’s more on Buchanan:
He suggests that in some respects, traditionalists might be fighting for a lost cause. “We say we won a great victory by defeating gay marriage in 11 state-ballot referenda in November,” he says. “But I think in the long run, that will be seen as a victory in defense of a citadel that eventually fell.”

As he later says, “I can't say we won the cultural war, and it's more likely we lost it.”

The evidence? He says it was all over the tube, in prime time, at last year's Republican National Convention, which featured California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Gov. George E. Pataki and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, all social liberals.

“They are indifferent to those moral issues because they see them — and correctly — as no longer popular, no longer the majority positions that they used to be,” he says.
That’s how it goes. Buchanan’s brand of conservative wants to freeze history in place and leave everything as it is. Such people are useful as a social anchor, but they are doomed to fail always and everywhere. People change, cultures change, history rolls on. What is conservative today was progressive yesterday.

Sometimes I feel sorry for Pat, even though I think he’s wrong about practically everything - especially foreign policy, from World War II to the present. He no longer recognizes his own country. He’s experiencing culture shock inside his own country. It must be ten times worse for the Islamists of Saudi Arabia.

Today’s more mainstream conservatives, those a bit to the left of Pat Buchanan, can expect to feel a similar sort of alienation if they can’t adjust to the times as they grow older. The same can be said of some of the so-called liberals (of the 1960s variety) as well. Like I said before, there are many kinds of conservatives.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 17, 2005 10:59 PM
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