“What Are We Going To Do About This?”

by Dennis Sanders on September 25, 2012

My apologies for going so long without a post.  Part of it has to do with me being a bit more cynical about politics these days.  But something has made me want to write a post, so I’m back at least for a little bit.

As the Romney campaign seems to be behind in the polls, there has been a raft of articles about the state of conservatism and the Republican party.  Here’s David Brooks talking about the loss of traditional conservatism. There’s Rod Dreher talking about his losing faith in the GOP after Katrina. Here’s Conor Friedersdorf talking about how conservative media is not helping the GOP. Doug Mataconis talks about how to fix the Republican Party.  Economist Scott Sumner calls the GOP “the stupid party.” I could go on.

There was a time that I was invested in articles like this and would write blog posts talking about how the GOP needed to change and so on.  I still believe the GOP is in trouble and needs to change, and I don’t disagree with what these writers and others have to say about the party.  But I can’t say that I’m excited enough to run to my computer nodding in agreement.  Acutally, reading some of the articles leave me more annoyed than anything.  I’m annoyed because I know these as much as these cris de coeur make sense, I know that they won’t really lead to any real change.  There were a number of these articles four years ago after McCain lost the election and nothing much came from them.

In an email I wrote to Rod Dreher, I explained what I think is missing in these denunciations:

Rod,

I’ve been reading your posts on how the GOP should change with some interest.  I’ve been involved at some level of Republican activism for about a decade now, mostly through Log Cabin Republicans and Republicans for Environmental Protection.  Politically, I am probably a mix of the old Rockefeller Republican with a healthy dose of libertarianism mixed in.  While I found your articles engaging, I also came away frustrated.  I believe its important to read some of the great conservative philosophers but I am left feeling that reading Kirk and ignoring Fox is not enough. 

What has frustrated me the most about heterodox conservatives is how much they complain about what is wrong with conservatism and how much these folks disdain the give and take of everyday politics.  It’s as if people want something different, but they don’t want to get their hands dirty in trying.  Over the years, I’ve seen people who seem to have some passion in changing the GOP get fired up for a bit and then leave.  There’s no will to stay and change things for the better. 

The thing is, if people want a Republican Party that has a less hawkish foreign policy, is fiscally conservative and is interested in the common good and not just the self, then people have to get involved.  Yes. we need an intellectual foundation, but we also need other organizations that can support and put forth candidates that can carry these ideas and bring these ideas to fruition.

But all of this means getting involved and having to actually persuade people towards this vision of conservatism.  And that’s something we don’t want to do.

So keep up the writing on this topic.  But unless folks move from thinking to action, don’t expect the GOP or conservatism to change.

I’ve written about this before.  I’m not saying things are great in the GOP.  There are a lot of problems.  But I am reminded of something I said a few years ago to a colleague as she complained about the lack of a children’s ministry at the church I am serving at.  I basically told her in my usual subtle way, “What Are You Going to Do About It?”

“What Are You Going to Do About It?” Yes, I know you have aren’t crazy about the GOP. Good for you for sharing it.  But, so what?  Do you really think the Eric Ericksons of the conservative blogosphere give a rip what you think?  Do you really think just bitching about how wrong the party and the conservative movement is will make things change?

The thing that bothers me is not that these folks are complaining: it’s that they aren’t really offering ideas on what should happen next, let alone how to refashion American conservatism.

In 2010, I wrote about “Why Moderate Republicans Suck.”  What I wrote back then applies to those heterodox conservatives as well:

…the hard right is a movement. There are groups of like-minded individuals that come together and are able to force change in the party. A single person realizes they are part of a larger movement and that gives them the stregnth to march forward.

On the other side, moderates are at best a collection of individuals.  We tend to feel lost and alone and don’t feel a connection to anything greater than us. Because we are isolated, we don’t feel as empowered and tend to give up easily.

If the GOP is to moderate, then there needs to be an effective moderate movement within the GOP forcing change. Nothing will ever happen unless these collection of frustrated individuals come together and organize.

Hence, why we moderates suck.

If we want to see the GOP reform, there has to be Something more: think tanks, political PACs to help hetrodox candidates run for office, committed activists.

I don’t expect Brooks or Friedersdorf or any other the other writers to take up the busy work of a countermovement.  But I would like to hear them urge folks to be “mad as hell and not take it anymore.”  I want them to urge people to run for office or organize a bunch of people to go to the next state caucus.  I just want something that will move this beyond the complaining stage.

“What Are We Going To Do About This?”  It’s a question I fear we are afraid of answering.

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“What Are We Going To Do About This?” | The Moderate Voice
September 25, 2012 at 9:16 pm

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Bruce R. Gilson September 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm

You describe yourself as “a mix of the old Rockefeller Republican with a healthy dose of libertarianism mixed in.” This probably describes me pretty closely too, which is why I’ve found a lot to agree with in your blog. But the question of what we should do is not easy to answer. Between a Democratic Party that has been taken over by the SEIU and Move On on the one hand, and a GOP that increasingly reflects the kind of extremism that our mutual hero Nelson Rockefeller rejected on the other, it is discouraging to look at the options. I still cannot follow Arlen Specter and desert the GOP for the Democrats — they are still further from me than even the newly extreme GOP — but I do not know how to reclaim the space within the GOP that the Rockefeller Republicans had, especially since its former stronghold of the Northeast is now so heavily Democratic.

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