I’ve been at a family reunion, so I missed this Washington Times article, but I think it is very important. The basic problem is that yesterday’s conservative movement is having trouble revitalizing itself with new leaders:

"Younger across-the-board conservatives are harder to find because younger folks often do not like the war in Iraq, but I have no problem in getting social conservatives to work with economic and defense conservatives once they learn the reality of things," Mr. Weyrich said.

Mr. Keene said the problem in finding young leadership is that "the so-called conservative movement of today consists of many young people attracted to politics by one or another politician but without a lot of thought about the philosophical underpinnings that united previous generations of conservatives."

I’m going to get in trouble for this, but I wonder if Keene is underestimating how much of the current generation was attracted to Reagan, and the previous to Goldwater, rather than deep philosophy. That said, there is a real difference between reading Russel Kirk and Hayek and reading Ann Coulter and Michael Savage.

I also wonder if something deeper is going on. As Michael Gerson pointed out in a widely criticized, but substantially correct, to my mind, piece in WaPo recently:

Catholics who regard themselves as pro-life, pro-immigrant and pro-poor; young evangelicals more exercised by millions dying of AIDS in Africa than by the continued existence of the Education Department; … All this alienation may, in a saner time, be the basis of a movement that mitigates polarization instead of glorying in it.

Perhaps there is just a disconnect between the leaders of today’s conservative movement and their future base. Contrast Gerson’s statement with Tony Perkins:

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, 44, who presided over the initial two-day meeting, said, "Immigration is bringing conservative angst with GOP leadership to a boiling point."

It strikes me that the next generation of young evangelical leaders are more comfortable with voices like Rick Warren, Michael Gerson, and (perhaps) Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, than they are with the older voices. Now, if that is the case, what does that mean for some parts of the coalition? As Hallow noted:

Illustrating the growing rift in the movement, far fewer economic conservatives — who are irate over government expansion and federal spending under Republicans — showed up for the summit than religious and social conservatives, who have been meeting in a smaller "executive committee" format since.

Part of me would notice that the economic conservatives are in line with Warren’s and Gerson’s evangelicals on immigration, the issue that Perkins says is destroying the coalition. But I am someone who is highly sympathetic to Warren, Gerson, and substantial parts of the program of economic conservatives. When you throw in the growing consensus in the development community on trade, the need for education (for business, among others), immigration, and other issues, it seems like there is lots of room for a new conservative consensus.

This increasingly suggests to me that what the party needs is a new model of conservatism. Perhaps Keene’s critique that people are attracted more to candidates than the movement is less a problem with the shallowness of the people and more a problem with the inadequacy of the movement?

In the end, this brings me back to the 2008 race:

Some social conservatives say they hope former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee will emerge as the Reaganesque nominee who keeps the coalition together. But contentious disputes over foreign policy and immigration continue to tear at movement unity.

But who should be the candidate if the current coalition is wrong? What is the future?


4 Comments

blackop71 · June 23, 2007 at 8:11 PM

I guess I’m weird. I was reading Russell Kirk at 14 years of age and Hayek at 17. I actually met Ruessell Kirk at an ISI event in Indianapolis in 1990. Anyway to the point of your post. I agree the movement is fractured but it always has been. WShy was Bush 42 picked by Reagan? To shore up moderate R’s (read: green eye shaded R’s) that were leary of Reagan. The coalition of yesterday was built on defeating the frontal assualt on liberty from the USSR. I think a beginning would be to get reaquainted in the ideas found in M Stanton Evans book : The Theme is Freedom would be nice. I think we need to forge bridges with segements of the libertarian movement and realize the shifting sands of time change stone, wood, and political coalitions.

eye · June 24, 2007 at 7:24 PM

BlackOp,

The fracture between Reagan and Bush isn’t a fracture of a movement. It is just a difference in a party, not a movement. No one called Bush a conservative. The point here is that conservatives can’t get on the same page.

I also don’t think that “Green Eye Shade” is the right descriptor for moderate Republicans, although it used to be. I think that Schwarzenegger and Gerson would both call themselves moderates, just along various different axes.

Perhaps a larger point is that there are no books for the conservative movement today. They read Ann Coulter and rant, not have any deeper philosophical grounding. I do wonder how different that is though.

Soren

blackop71 · June 25, 2007 at 5:38 AM

I don’t disagree with anything you said. Seems like the same point is being made in this post…..
http://www.savethegop.com/2007/06/25/in-defense-of-myself/

Patrick Ruffini :: links for 2007-06-24 · June 24, 2007 at 8:24 AM

[…] | Struggles of the conservative movement (tags: movement) […]

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