Ph.D. Octopus

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The Problem with Big Tent Conservatism

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by Weiner

In theory, I appreciate the effort of the authors of the Mount Vernon Statement. You know, the new Conservative Manifesto, their version of the Port Huron Statement, or something like that? The seek a big tent conservatism, inclusive of economic libertarians, faith-based social conservatives, and foreign-policy hawks. They’re calling this a “Constitutional Conservatism.”

A Constitutional conservatism unites all conservatives through the natural fusion provided by American principles. It reminds economic conservatives that morality is essential to limited government, social conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to moral self-government, and national security conservatives that energetic but responsible government is the key to America’s safety and leadership role in the world.

It sounds nice (if you’re a conservative). The problem is, these things just don’t go together. The economic libertarians I know, the smart ones at least, have no use for social conservatism. They are pro-choice and pro-gay marriage and think Intelligent Design is for morons. Most religious conservatives would have a big problem with this. As for foreign-policy hawks, a good bunch of them are Jewish, and pro-choice and possibly pro-gay marriage. They may also be fiscal conservatives, but they would have much to argue about with the isolationist Ron Paulites, who apparently dominated the recent CPAC poll. Pat Buchanan would be proud.

Uniting people with radically different views is difficult, as those trying to rally disparate groups behind Obama’s big tent pragmatism know well. As a progressive, part of me loves to see the conservative movement fractured. Despite their apparent anti-Obama unity, I still think that ideologically the conservative movement is in shambles. And it would be nice for them to stay that way. But really, I would rather see smart conservatives, like David Frum and those who contribute to his website, prevail. Or people like Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, whose “Roadmap” for American economic recovery is at the very least an intelligent proposal.

I don’t agree with much of this Roadmap, and I don’t agree with much of what’s on Frumforum, but they represent the best of the conservative movement: thoughtful people trying to push the bigoted, pro-life, homophobic, anti-intellectual Palin/Beck/Limbaugh wing to the margins. If they can succeed in that, maybe there can be real intelligent debate in American politics.


Written by David Weinfeld

February 22, 2010 at 22:59

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