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?